Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge's Journal

15 April, 2024

Okefenokee Swamp's "Chase Prairie"

Prior to being set aside as a National Wildlife Refuge, White-tailed Deer were commonly hunted on the open prairies of the Okefenokee Swamp...

White-tailed Deer
Photographer: William Wise | iNat Observation: 49829159 - White-tailed Deer hiding on Billy's Island; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 11, 2020. ©williamwisephoto.com

Prior to being set aside as a National Wildlife Refuge, White-tailed Deer were commonly hunted on the open prairies of the Okefenokee Swamp. In an excerpt from the 1926 book History of the Okefenokee Swamp, A. S. McQueen and Hamp Mizell describe why "Chase Prairie" received its name:

"Chase Prairie derives its name from the fact that it was a favorite place to chase down deer that would come out on the space to feed upon the grass and water plants. A number of hunters would gather with dogs around this large Prairie and some would chase the deer from the islands into the Prairie, while others would have boats convenient, and they were so expert with the little narrow boats used in the Swamp that they could propel these boats so swiftly over the water-covered Prairie that a deer would be overtaken before he could cross it."

Chase Prairie
Photographer: William Wise | An Okefenokee Swamp Prairie; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. October 24, 2020. ©williamwisephoto.com

Posted on 15 April, 2024 17:12 by williamwisephoto williamwisephoto | 0 comments | Leave a comment

09 April, 2024

Okefenokee Swamp: Meeting Sophie

“Sophie” is the resident alligator of Stephen C Foster State Park. She has been out there patrolling the waters on every one of our Okefenokee visits, and populates the boat launch with baby gators. My nature journal from March 10, 2015 describes our first meeting with Sophie:

American Alligator
Photographer: William Wise | iNat Observation: 29933513 - Sophie, the resident American Alligator of the Stephen C Foster State Park; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 10, 2015. ©williamwisephoto.com

Tuesday, 6:29 PM – We failed to see any gators out on the swamp boardwalk, so before heading back to camp we decided to check the boat dock and canoe launch up the canal. Amanda called out, “GATOR!” as a ripple splashed in the middle of the boat bay. “It went under right there.” We watched and waited for a minute. When it resurfaced, our gator turned out to be a rather large soft-shelled turtle.

A little bit further on, the water stirred and swelled just beyond the “Danger, Alligators Present” sign. Again we waited. After a minute we spotted a foot-long scaled creature just below the surface. But it wasn’t an alligator. We had been tricked again, this time by a Gar.

Twice tricked, but not giving up while there was still some light, we decided to walk further down the canal. Out towards the swamp we spotted a dark object in the lane between the lily pads. By the v-shaped ripples breaking in front, we could see it was travelling rather quickly in our direction. Finally, a gator, and heading our way! I began snapping photos even though it was low light. It swam all the way in and circled the boat bay; quite comfortable in close association with the visitor’s office. As the sky darkened, I tried some low-light manual camera settings. Using the flash brought out some beautiful red-eyed gator shots that turned out to be my favorite photos from the entire week.

We later learned from the park staff that this was Sophie, the “resident gator.” She frequented the boat bay and had babies along the bank opposite the rental canoes. Each morning and evening for the rest of our trip we stopped to say hello to Sophie. She calmly patrolled the boat bay in the evenings and occupied a small opening or harbor in the lily pads during the day. Just behind her daytime resting spot was a ramp of loose dirt up the bank; no doubt a convenient ascent to her nesting site. Our final morning of the trip, we were finally able to catch a glimpse of one of Sophie’s babies crawling out of the duck weed.

Posted on 09 April, 2024 20:08 by williamwisephoto williamwisephoto | 0 comments | Leave a comment

03 April, 2024

Okefenokee Alligator Battle Scars

During our 2019, paddling trip through the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, we came across a unique...
American Alligator
Photographer: William Wise | iNat Observation: 21703998 - American Alligator; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 15, 2019. ©williamwisephoto.com

During our 2019, paddling trip through the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, we came across a unique alligator. It was on a cypress log just north of Billy's Lake. This big gator was missing the end of its upper snout. I suppose it could have been born with a deformity, but more likely it was injured in a fight with another gator. Its nostrils were missing and a good bit of scar tissue was built up along the edge. Several of the bottom teeth were missing as well. As it was sunning on a log, we pushed our canoe up for some closer photos. But as we crossed its comfort zone, it retreated into the water. We saw it again later in the day as we were paddling back to our camp at the Stephen C Foster State Park campground.

American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis
Friday, March 15, 2019 at 12:56 PM EST
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, red trail East Fork Suwannee River
Coordinates: 30.83796, -082.34352

American Alligator
Photographer: William Wise | iNat Observation: 21703998 - American Alligator; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 15, 2019. ©williamwisephoto.com

Posted on 03 April, 2024 09:58 by williamwisephoto williamwisephoto | 1 comment | Leave a comment

28 March, 2024

Okefenokee's American White Waterlily

When one says, “swamp”, one of the first images related to the flora and vegetation of the habitat is, of course, the towering Cypress trees and flowing curtains of Spanish Moss. The next most common image of swamp vegetation is that of the “lily pad”...

American White Waterlily
© Photographer: William Wise | iNat Observation: 35934505 - American White Waterlily; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 5, 2017.

Like shiny green dinner plates floating upon black water, the white, fragrant American White Waterlily, Nymphaea odorata abounds in Georgia's Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (more abundantly on the eastern side). These verdant saucers are garnished with large, white, sweet-scented flowers. Not only is the American White Waterlily a picturesque part of the swamp, but it is an important part of the ecosystem. Wildlife such as Deer, beaver, and muskrat will eat the leaves and rhizomes; while the seeds are consumed by various waterfowl. The underwater parts of the plant also provide food and habitat for invertebrates, which are also sustenance for reptiles, amphibians and avian life.

Posted on 28 March, 2024 23:51 by williamwisephoto williamwisephoto | 1 comment | Leave a comment

04 May, 2023

Solo Okefenokee Swamp Paddle video

I finally finished editing hundreds of photos from my October 2022 trip to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and cut a few in with some video clips of the five day excursion. Enjoy!

Posted on 04 May, 2023 16:32 by williamwisephoto williamwisephoto | 2 comments | Leave a comment

20 February, 2023

Okefenokee Protection Ad in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution

I’m privileged that I could donate one of my photographs to support the cause to protect the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. A full page advertisement was purchased by the Okefenokee Protection Alliance using a photograph I took on the eastern end of Billy’s Lake in the Okefenokee on March 13, 2019. The ad was placed in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution on February 18, 2023. Go to https://protectokefenokee.org/ for more information and to support the Okefenokee NWR!

Okefenokee Protection Alliance

Posted on 20 February, 2023 15:12 by williamwisephoto williamwisephoto | 1 comment | Leave a comment

30 November, 2022

Okefenokee Swamp: The Heron is at Home

Green Heron Okefenokee Swamp
© Photographer: William Wise | iNat Observation: 29932812 - Green Heron along the Trembling Earth Nature Trail; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 10, 2015.

In 1895, naturalist Bradford Torrey wrote of the Green Heron being at home in "watery woods", such as are found in the Okefenokee Swamp:

"The day was before me, and the place was lively with birds. Pine-wood sparrows, pine warblers, and red-winged blackbirds were in song; two red-shouldered hawks were screaming, a flicker was shouting, a red-bellied woodpecker cried kur-r-r-r, brown-headed nuthatches were gossiping in the distance, and suddenly I heard, what I never thought to hear in a pinery, the croak of a green heron. I turned quickly and saw him. It was indeed he. What a friend is ignorance, mother of all those happy surprises which brighten existence as they pass, like the butterflies of the wood. The heron was at home, and I was the stranger. For there was water near, as there is everywhere in Florida; and subsequently, in this very place, I met not only the green heron, but three of his relatives,—the great blue, the little blue, and the dainty Louisiana, more poetically known (and worthy to wear the name) as the 'Lady of the Waters.'"

  • Torrey, Bradford (1895). A Florida Sketch-Book.
Posted on 30 November, 2022 00:57 by williamwisephoto williamwisephoto | 0 comments | Leave a comment

23 November, 2022

Okefenokee Details

Swamp Spreadwing Damselfly in the Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia
© Photographer: William Wise | iNat observation: 101527589 Swamp Spreadwing, (Lestes vigilax) photographed November 12, 2021 near Kingfisher Landing in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia USA

The Okefenokee Swamp features a variety of habitats within one giant ecosystem. As one paddles, the dark canoe trails through the cypress trees fall off to reveal wide-open, sweeping swamp prairie landscapes. There is never a lack of panoramas for the landscape photographer.

But there are areas of the swamp where the runs constrict and the scrubby vegetation of Titi and Fetterbush not only impede passage, but impede the view. While paddling the red trail north of Kingfisher Landing in November 2021, I could only get a view of Double Lakes by standing in my canoe… a tricky position for a photographer!

But when the walls close in around you, that doesn’t mean the photography opportunities disappear. If your senses remain alert to the natural world around you, one simply redirects focus and explores the details of some of the smaller plants and critters within the National Wildlife Refuge. If the open views are blocked, its time to switch to a macro lens and explore the smaller, hidden world of the Okefenokee!

Posted on 23 November, 2022 19:11 by williamwisephoto williamwisephoto | 0 comments | Leave a comment

23 June, 2021

Imagine Pristine Okefenokee

Cut cypress stumps from logging operations in the Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia
© Photographer: William Wise | Stumps of Cypress trees remain throughout the Okefenokee Swamp from extensive logging operations and clearcuts from the Hebard Logging Company in the 1920s. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. Paddling north on the Suwannee River Middle Fork red trail.

As beautiful as the Okefenokee Swamp is today, I can only imagine the grandeur of the pristine beauty prior to the logging of the early 1900’s. It has been nearly 100 years since the logging took place, but the scars of wide scale timber removal remain to this day. Many of the cypress have been growing back since the saws were silenced, but I do not think we see what the early explorers and swampers saw in the 1800’s.

In his book Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp published in 1927, naturalist Francis Harper wrote, “This was doubtless one of the most magnificent stands of cypress in the country, many of the trees towering to a height of about 100 feet, and having a diameter of more than a yard above the swollen base.”

If the post-exploitation Okefenokee can hold such magnificence today, one can only imagine what it would have been to step foot in the towering cypress cathedrals of yesterday. But as long as we continue to preserve this national treasure, future generations won’t have to use their imagination. Cypress grow slowly, but they do grow! One day.

Posted on 23 June, 2021 18:30 by williamwisephoto williamwisephoto | 0 comments | Leave a comment

17 June, 2021

Okefenokee NWR: A Letter Preserved a Treasure

It was a 1933 letter from Jean Harper to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt which lead to the protection of the Okefenokee Swamp as a National Wildlife Refuge. The efforts and studies of Harper and her husband, Francis, have preserved a treasure for generations:

Alligator swimming in dark swamp water
© Photographer: William Wise | iNat Observation: 35508091 American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis, swimming in tannin stained black water swamp of Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, USA. March 6, 2017.

​Dear Mr. Roosevelt: there is a matter that needs your immediate attention - the preservation of the Okefinokee Swamp. Perhaps you may recall that a few years ago, Francis sent you some of his reprints on the swamp. For twenty odd years naturalist and nature-lovers have been working for the preservation of this marvelous wilderness; unique in its nature not only in this country, but in the world. The character of its fauna, its flora, and its human life is unsurpassed.

Two years ago the Senate Committee on Wild Life Resources visited the Okefinokee and submitted the report recommending its purchase as a national wild-life refuge. But because of the depression, nothing further has been done.

We now learn of the project to put a ship canal through the swamp. You will know what this would mean to the beauty of the area to the wild life. The destruction that would thus be brought on is unthinkable. Our hope lies in you to stop the project before it goes farther, and spend the money in the purchase of the swamp for a reservation, where beauty and scientific interest may be preserved for all time.

Sincerely, Jean Sherwood Harper

Posted on 17 June, 2021 16:45 by williamwisephoto williamwisephoto | 0 comments | Leave a comment