Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Audubon Nature Tour on the Cape Fear and Black Rivers

It was a perfect day for taking the planned Audubon Nature Cruise.  This is the first ecosystem we came upon which are former rice plantations (yes, there once was real Carolina rice which was supposed to be very fine).  In order to properly transport the lovely rice, they dredged the Cape Fear River which caused the Atlantic to intrude upstream and thus killed the rice industry!!  Cypress swamps had been chopped down to create these rice fields. The water was very high today because of the recent rain we have had and the high tide.  We did see egrets (snowy and great) and great blue herons and ospreys but off in a distance.

This was the railroad bridge that had to be lifted to let us up the Cape Fear River.  Unfortunately, there was no one there to lift it for about an hour (budget cuts) so we got an extra tour of the Brunswick River (which really isn't navigable most of the time).  The Brunswick is home to very large gars (fish) which are the preferred food of the local alligators (although we didn't see any).  So we had an extra hour on our tour which was nice.  There were no other boats or people or residences anywhere.

As we ventured up river, the landscape changed to one of cypress swamp.  The cypress have been cleared in the past so most of the cypress now are no more than 100 years old although there were some that were older.  

On the way back down the Black River (black because of the tannin in the water from all the decaying organic materials), the tide had gone down a bit and you can see the roots of the cypress trees and further down, you could see the "knees" as well sticking up in the water.

When we reached the furthest afield part of the cruise, our Audubon guide Andy did a wonderful demonstration/lecture on the ecosystems in the area.  He had lots of live specimens of the various bugs and small amphibians you might find as part of the food chain.  This was a potted purple pitcher plant.  The Wilmington area is known for its variety of carnivorous plants.  He explained that this is because of the nutrient poor acid soil in the region.  This area is the only area in the world where the Venus Flytrap is indigenous.

I would recommend this trip to anyone who wants to get a feel for what the natural world in SE North Carolina is like  -- it changes your perspective when gazing out car windows and makes you thankful that this area hasn't been destroyed like much of the swampland in the Northeast (my old home in Philadelphia comes to mind).  And Gail, supposedly there are lots of Red Cockaded Woodpeckers down here.....

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