Last week, I had the good fortune to visit the Okefenokee Swamp, one of the oldest and most well-preserved swamps in the country. Despite my of swamps, this was actually my first visit here. What an amazing place. The water is very dark from all the tannins and it makes it a perfect mirror for reflections as you can see from the alligator eye above, which has the catchlight and even a reflection of our boat.
Here is a wider shot of the same alligator, which gives you an idea of his swamp habitat. Though the animals here appeared healthier than in many Florida ecosystems I have photographed, these animals do not live in perfect conditions. Most of the water in the swamp comes from rainwater. Water levels fluctuate depending on the amount of rain, but as the swamp is in a remote, undeveloped area there is not a lot of runoff. One would think this would make for ideal water quality, but sadly this water is affected by air pollution. Decades of acid rain have led to high levels of mercury in the water and elevated levels of mercury in the bloodstreams of many creatures. In addition to mercury, the air also has a high concentrate of sulfates from coal burning plants in the eastern United States.
Here is another alligator, this time in the Grand Prairie. It was interesting to see its entire body on the surface of the water as it cruised along.
Alligators were not the only creatures we saw. We also saw a pair of juvenile owls that were beginning to leave the nest and fend for themselves.
It was wonderful to see them in their natural habitat peeking through the moss.
A real treat was seeing a nest with two fledgling hawks and the mother bringing snakes. It was high up in a tree and difficult to get good shots because of all the branches.
The light on the hawks and the composition with the long pine needles and nest against the blue sky (which is a unique color of blue from the burning of biomass in areas outside the park) made for beautiful compositions.
Another treat was seeing a green heron take flight way in the distance between two trees.
Other sightings included a woodpecker, kites, a juvenile alligator, and a great white egret. It was wonderful to see so many creatures enjoying this swamp. Hopefully, coal burning plants will cease operations in the near future, so these creatures can continue to flourish and not be harmed by what is carred into this pristine area by air currents.