THIS WEEK ON LAKE JOCASSEE - MARCH 5, 2018
EARTHWATCH, WEEK TWO - NOTES FROM THE FIELD
Rain, fog and wind. That’s the weather report from week two of studying loons on Lake Jocassee with Earthwatch scientists and volunteers. The rain was bearable, the wind was not as strong as forecast, and the fog was just awesome! Beautiful and eerie beyond description, and the densest fog I have ever had to navigate on Lake Jocassee.
Loon in the Mist
At the end of this second week, I have logged over 50 hours of loon observation, and learned more in these two weeks than in years of watching them without the benefit of such astute guidance. One more week to go for this year in this fascinating study we have been so fortunate to participate in. I’ve got many questions that I hope will be answered in the next few days.
HIIDDEN WATERFALLS REPORT. There are several gorgeous waterfalls that are hidden by the leaf cover most of the year along the lake, only to be seen for a few months each winter. Now is the perfect time. The rivers and creeks are flooded and the waterfalls are booming. In particular, there are two waterfalls, Gaddy Falls and Tall Falls, which stand out for their remarkable hidden beauty. They are both on the lower lake, so join us for one of our Wednesday or Saturday tours if you would like to see them. Do so soon, as by mid-April the spring leaf cover will have them hidden again until next winter. ~B
This week on Lake Jocassee – February 26, 2018
Overcast, foggy, foggy, foggy until mid-day, unseasonably warm, rainy, then blue skies, finally, by the end of the day. How’s that for a weather report from Lake Jocassee. You’d have to live here to understand that this is the unusual normal that defines life along the confluence of the Blue Wall and Lake Jocassee towards the end of winter, when the first hints of spring raises everyone’s hope for flowers, birds and sun. The loons are happy, by the way, finding this weather nicely wet and warm, telling them it’s time to get on with their spring, pre-nuptial molt. Time to think of long flights across the continent, wilderness breeding lakes in the far north to return to, mates to rejoin after a long winter, young to rear. Sounds kind of dreamy, doesn’t it.
LAKE LEVEL REPORT. Filled to the gills. It looked on Friday like it was over full pool. Flood conditions on Lake Jocassee, waterfalls raging, wild rivers engorged.
SPRING SONGBIRD REPORT. It’s weeks before the annual spring songbird migration, but when I venture out just before first light, the fading darkness is filled with the sounds of birds, including some sounds I’ve never heard before. ~B
This week on Lake Jocassee – February 12, 2018
We talk a lot around here about Jocassee skies, and Jocassee light, both of which are produced by the near magical confluence of the towering Blue Wall escarpment and this deep, clear mountain lake that defines the Jocassee Gorges. Yet is the sounds of Jocassee, its music, that I am always attuned to. The first sound of Jocassee is clearly falling water. Water that roars down the granite faces of the many waterfalls and wild rivers that end their journey in Jocassee, water that falls copiously from the sky in this temperate rain forest we reside in. We always open the windows in our home whenever it rains, no matter the winter chill. Winter is in fact the recharge period for the Jocassee watershed, so we welcome each rain with open arms, and windows. Soon will come the two sounds of spring in the Jocassee Gorges I most look forward to, the calls of the Louisiana waterthrush and the Black-throated green warbler. For now, and for a short time more, there is the gentle, so peaceful sound of the one syllable hoot of the loons, as they congregate and socialize towards the end of each day. That is the sound, the music that recharges my spirit this time of year.
LOON REPORT. I saw one flying this week, a full two weeks earlier than I’ve witnessed before. But they showed up weeks earlier this year than in the past, so who knows what the future may bring. The thrill of the pre-nuptial molt and all the antics of departure behavior are upon us for the next few weeks.
EAGLE REPORT. One day we see 10, the next day 1, or even none. What gives with these guys anyway? So many mysteries still with this ever- so- studied bird of ours.~B
This week on Lake Jocassee – February 5, 2018
JOCASSEE WINTER BIRDS: HORNED GREBES
Dancing Grebes would be a better name, really. We don’t often get a chance to see their ‘horns’, after all. It’s a part of their most alluring breeding plumage, an outfit designed for and worn in much warmer weather. Every now and then, though, if you’re persistent and downright lucky, you can see the ‘horns’ just as the grebes are preparing to leave us and head to their breeding lakes way the heck up north. I’ve seen a couple, and they are jaw-droppingly beautiful. But I digress. We are discussing water dancing here, after all. Horned grebes are shy birds, and usually depart quite quickly upon being approached. Actually, they prefer to dive down first, clearly daring you to figure out just where they will pop up, then pop up they do, and off to the races they go. Whoever said walking on water was not possible has clearly never tried to sneak up on one of these guys. It’s a wild and thrilling scatter to watch, and if you are ever so fortunate as to be coming in just at dusk from an outing on Lake Jocassee in winter, then the barely visible trail of dozens of horned grebes racing away in front of you is a nearly mystical thing to witness. It’s a wonder. ~B
This week on Lake Jocassee – January 29, 2018
Winter is the time for bird counts around the country, and on Lake Jocassee as well. In January we conduct two bird counts, one for bald eagles, and one for loons. The bald eagle count is conducted by South Carolina State Park Naturalists, with our assistance. Now imagine this: 6 hours, on one of the coldest days we’ve had in years, slowly crawling along every single inch of the 90 miles of shoreline around Lake Jo. And the results this year? A measly 2 eagles. Last year the count was 12, so the count was rather disappointing, to say the least. This past week it was time for our annual loon count, for which we at Jocassee Lake Tours take responsibility. It is, to the best of our knowledge, the only loon census taken on the inland fresh water reservoirs of the Southeast. Last year we counted 144, this year 141. Pretty darned steady population, it would seem. So here is the surprise result of that day. Are you ready? 10 bald eagles were sighted in the upper reaches of the lake while counting loons! From 2 to 20. Where the heck were the rest of them on that cold January day we tried with such determination to find and count them? Ah well, such is the mystery of the natural world.
This week on Lake Jocassee – January 22, 2018
COLDEST JANUARY EVER
Well, probably not, but it sure has felt like it to these old bones of mine. But as my more northerly friends continue to tell me, it’s not the weather, it’s the clothes. So this past week I suit up, and out I go into the cold for long nights of banding loons. Oh, the lengths I go to for the sake of science, and just to spend more time with my beloved loons. A warming trend began this Friday, so hopefully some of you housebound souls will venture out to share with us the wonders of Lake Jocassee this week. The waterfalls are roaring, and the beauty of the barren hillsides is breathtaking.
LOON REPORT. We found flight feathers on the water this week, so the pre-nuptial molt has officially begun. The loons can’t fly now for the next several weeks, but why would they want to, anyway. Life is easy on this wild and plentiful lake. Now until the time of departure is the most interesting time to watch our wondrous winter guests.
This week on Lake Jocassee – January 15, 2018
JOCASSEE WINTER BIRDS
The Ring-billed gull. (Larus delawarensis). Some years Lake Jocassee has hundreds of these wild and elegant birds, sometimes not so many. This year appears to be a modest one, but it only takes one in flight over your head on a grey winter’s day to take your cold breath away. Soaring with ease and grace, Ring-billed gulls are capable in a second of astounding aerodynamic moves in an attempt to catch something to eat. Some folks have a built -in prejudice against these wonders, just because they hang out at landfills and parking lots, but when you see them in flight in a wild mountain setting, then you will witness one of our area’s most beautiful winter visitors. Tarnished as their reputation may be, they deserve your attentive gaze. Even bald eagles spend time at your favorite county
WOOD FROG REPORT #3 The excitement builds. Two days of steady rain have filled the two ephemeral pools I keep an eye on, as do the wood frogs under my neighborhood leaf litter. On this morning the forecast calls for a sunny, cool day. Just the kind of day that might bring male wood frogs to the forest surface, feeling that annual urge for companionship, Off to the forest pools I go on this fine, crisp Sunday morning, expecting to be entranced.~B
This week on Lake Jocassee – January 8, 2018
WOOD FROG WEEK
This is it! I feel it in my bones. Like some people feel the atmospheric pressure dropping and others feel the rains coming; I am certain that I can feel the coming of the wood frogs from under the forest leaf cover this week. All the ingredients for a mass migration to their favorite vernal pools are there. First of all, it’s early January, secondly there is copious rainfall in the forecast, and thirdly the rains are foretelling a winter warming front. That’s what wood frogs need for their hormones to say it’s time to go a’dating. The males get to the ponds first, and commence with a racket the likes of which you’ve never heard. (Refer to last week’s Blue Wall Weekly). It’s a noise that must sound like sweet music to the females, for into the ponds they hurriedly go. You know the rest of that story. It’s time to listen up, people. Time to keep a close eye on your neighborhood vernal pool. It can be nothing more just a deep rut in an old logging road, you know.
LAKE REPORT. FROZEN OVER! Just kidding, but it might as well be since we didn’t get out onto the lake even once this week. Just too darned cold, we told ourselves, but we’re braving up today, Saturday morning, to take a few truly crazy types out to see and photograph the frozen wonderland we all expect to see. A balmy 33 degrees is the predicted high! It should be a chilling thrill. ~B
This week on Lake Jocassee – January 1, 2018
NEW YEAR FROG
REPORTING FROM THE WOOD FROG WATCH - If the spring peeper is a harbinger of early spring, as is the flowering of the Oconee Bell, then surely the explosive appearance of the wood frog announces the beginning of each new year in our neck of the Southern Appalachians. As it has been my experience that the wood frog invasion of ephemeral ponds occurs each year in January, and not even once in December, then surely they are the animal chosen by the heavens to announce each new year. Now is the time for the watch to begin. Every day it is my job, my habit to inspect the neighborhood vernal pools, looking for the large floating egg masses that would tell me that in fact I missed the big event! Not this year, I tell myself. No off to Florida for me in January. I’m not going anywhere until the wood frog army completes its mass march for love. It can happen over several days, or it can happen all in one day, so I can’t let my guard down, or be caught watching football right when the big show is on. If you’re blessed to be outside, near a temporary pond in your neighborhood, and you hear a loud, raucous, duck-like racket emanating from close by, then stop everything you are doing and make it on down to the pond edge.
If you’re at Devils Fork State Park, be sure to walk down to the pond on the Oconee Bell Trail, a reliable place each year for wood frog breeding. If you see a large egg mass floating in the middle of the pond, then you missed it. If not, watch for rain. Although it is not in the literature that wood frogs come forth from the forest floor in search of love just after winter rains, that’s the way I’ve seen it happen here, and it makes sense that they know the standing water they need is there right after rains, and maybe not there for long. As they perch under the leaf litter now, waiting for the rains to come, so should we. Find your pond, watch the weather, be ready. It’s a natural wonder worth preparing for. The sound and fury of the wood frog in hot pursuit of affection is just amazing. Watch and listen here: ~B