Thursday, June 04, 2015

Dwarf Trees and Biting Things

On the way back from a trip we took to visit the rather pleasant town of Apalachicola (more on that in a few days) we took a brief detour into a forest preserve called Tate's Hell State Forest. Just off the really weird highway that hugs the Gulf coast more closely than any road I have ever seen, we took a sandy, unpaved road into the wilds.

There was a sign at the intersection of asphalt and dirt that directed us several miles inland to a spot we'd heard about called Dwarf Cypress Grove. I wasn't quite sure what it was, but had been told that if I was in that area it was well worth a visit. So, we headed down the dusty way in search of this grove, encountering no one at all, passing no vehicles, and seeing nothing except for a coyote that we surprised as we rounded a curve. The coyote took one look at us and dashed into the underbrush, vanishing completely.

After driving for about six miles we located the parking area for the Dwarf Cypress Grove. A well-maintained grassy parking area consisting of a raised causeway and surrounded by swampland greeted us. And even before we opened the doors to get out we noticed that the place was infested with Yellow flies. For those of you not familiar with them, Yellow flies are a type of biting insect that likes to suck your blood, delivering a painful bite in the process. We lathered on the insect repellent.

Climbing out of the truck we approached the boardwalk and observation tower than overlooks the grove of dwarf cypress trees. Before we had walked even partway up the wooden platform, the yellow flies had taken their measure of our insect repellent and had begun biting and drawing blood. Too many to ward off, we just had to bear it for the few minutes we had allowed ourselves to see the grove and to take some photos.

I snapped a number of pictures of the strange grove of stunted cypress trees. There is some kind of pathway gouged through the center of the grove and I don't know why it's there. Was the Forest Service planning to extend a road there? Another section of boardwalk? I honestly don't know, but the grove is almost perfectly bisected by a straight path of treeless causeway.

After taking some photos and the brief video, I followed Carole back down the platform, eager to get away from the bugs who were making off with a generous portion of our blood. Carole then called back to me to take a look off the boardwalk to "see the snakes"! I walked over and looked down to spy six fat Cottonmouth water moccasins. These snakes are notorious for being extremely venomous and most aggressive. I don't know if they deserve the reputation that they have, but I have always done my best to give them a very wide berth whenever I have seen one.

Since we were on a boardwalk a few feet above them, I decided to take the opportunity to take some photos. Unfortunately for me, I had incorrectly attached a polarizer to my camera lens and this ended up making all of those photos slightly blurry! I will make sure not to do that in the future, as it ruined what I assume was a very unique opportunity to photograph this species.

After that, we carefully made our way back to the truck as quickly as possible to escape the flies, but to watch for more moccasins.

The raised causeway leading from the parking lot to the boardwalk and tower.

Dwarf cypress trees.

Looking down on the grove from the tower.

Looks like something was going to be done to make a road or trail. Not sure.

Another view of the grove. It was larger than I had anticipated.

Detail of needles.

One of the six moccasins that we saw.

This was the most Cottonmouth moccasins that I had ever seen in one place. It made me be very careful where I walked on the way back to the truck.

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