Laura was away for a conference, so for the second week in a row it was off for a paddling trip. After last Saturday’s marathon on the Broad River, I was up for something more relaxed. We decided to head back to Sparkleberry Swamp and do a shorter out and back paddle.
This time our paddling group would consist of myself, Dwight, and his two friends Mike and Lisa Webster. Mike is an expert birder, and Sparkleberry is a birder’s paradise. I was looking forward to paddling with someone this knowledgeable about birds.
Unfortunately, none of my paddling companions on this trip have their own boats. Fortunately, I do have enough gear to accommodate several spare paddlers. So, Friday evening I loaded up my truck with four kayaks so I could head out early Saturday morning for the swamp.
I arrived at Sparkleberry Landing at 9:00, just a bit before the Columbia contingent. There were a few boat trailers, with one launching as I got there, but for the most part it was fairly quiet. Soon my friends arrived and we prepared for departure.
The weather was spectacular – clear skies and lower-than-usual humidity. As we started out it looked like it was going to be a great day out on the water.
Having just paddled here recently, I was up for some new territory. After we left the landing area instead of turning south into Sparkleberry Flats, we took a small cut-through to the north, exploring the northern reaches of the flats. Along the way Mike pointed out herons, snowy egrets, anhinghas, and Mississippi kites.
After reaching the upper end of the swamp, we turned back south and headed toward our usual route. Crossing the flats there was one fishing boat and one other lone kayaker out on the water. Other than that it was still very quite.
We made the turn into the deep swamp. This is one of my favorite places in the swamp, and the area we’ve started calling The Cathedral because of the canopy and amazing acoustics. We paused to enjoy the ambiance and look at the prothonotary warblers that were flitting around.
Mike spotted movement, and we saw not one, but two barred owls landing on a branch nearby. We watched them at length. I really wished that I had brought my big Nikon with the telephoto lens rather than my little cameras.
We continued down Mill Creek to Otter Creek. Dwight wanted to head on back up toward Fifty Fools Creek. There are more stands of mature cypress where you can paddle pretty much anywhere you want, and it was his favorite place. Using the GPS, we pretty much cut across the swamp, heading toward the floating cabin.
We reached the cabin and found it unoccupied, as we have every other time we’ve visited. Dwight and I hung out for a bit, waiting for Mike and Lisa, hoping they hadn’t gotten lost along the way. Turns out they had spotted a night heron nest right about the main part of the creek.
Mike and Lisa soon joined us, and we decided to have lunch on the deck. Since Mike and Lisa are new to the south, I had brought a few southern delicacies to share – boiled peanuts (a standard on any of my float trips), dried okra chips, and Blenheim Ginger Ale. We enjoyed the lunch and break from paddling while we speculated as to who the fools were for whom the creek was named.
After lunch I wanted to see the nest that had caught the Websters’ attention. Back on the actual creek we looked up, and there was the nest in a fork of a branch. Two adult yellow-crowned night herons hung back in the trees, but there were three rather large chicks on the nest itself.
We made our way down Fifty Fools and Ballard Creeks, back to Otter Flats. We had a bit of trouble finding a clear path through just as we were approaching the main route, but with the help of the GPS we made our way through. The plan was to paddle west on Otter Flats to an Osprey nest. However, we were getting tired, and we didn’t make it very far. We decided to turn back.
Even so, we came across another osprey nest. One adult was above the nest on a limb while another circled above. The chicks were very loud, calling for their parents. Again, I kicked myself for not bringing my telephoto. However, I improvised. I held my little Fuji up to my monocular and took a shot. Actually, several shots. It was shaky, but at least one of them came out OK.
We headed on back. I didn’t take many shots, but just paddled and enjoyed the scenery. When we made it back to the landing there was a bit of boat traffic at the ramp, but I spotted another landing area. Just south of the ramp was another place where we could pull up our kayaks, and I could even drive my truck around for pick-up.
In all we paddled 5.85 miles – not quite as far as last weekend, but still a decent distance.
Mike also registered all of the birds he saw on ebird.org. Here’s that list…
Sparkleberry Swamp, Sumter, US-SC
Jun 2, 2012 9:10 AM – 4:10 PM
Comments: Kayaking through the swamp with Dwight, Lisa, and Tom.
Double-crested Cormorant 4
Great Blue Heron 2
Great Egret 2
Little Blue Heron 1
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 5 Saw heron nest deep in swamp with 3 young. About 20 feet up on outer limbs of tree above the water. Young were standing on nest, with adult nearby.
White Ibis 15
Turkey Vulture 1
Mississippi Kite 2
Bald Eagle 1
Mourning Dove X
Yellow-billed Cuckoo 4 Heard only.
Barred Owl 2 Great looks at 2 sitting together in close tree. One actually was feeding as well.
Chimney Swift 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker X
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Acadian Flycatcher 6
Great Crested Flycatcher 2
Eastern Kingbird 1
Red-eyed Vireo 2
Fish Crow 2
Carolina Chickadee X
Tufted Titmouse X
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Carolina Wren 3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 4 Heard only
Prothonotary Warbler 20 Numerous in swamp. mostly heard but saw probably 8, mostly brief glimpses in flight.
Northern Parula 15
Yellow-throated Warbler 3 Heard only.
Northern Cardinal 2
Painted Bunting 1 Female at landing
Common Grackle 6
Brown-headed Cowbird 4
Of course, I saw only a small fraction of these.
…and, as usual, here are the rest of our photos from that trip.