It took two days of driving each way to and from Augusta with an overnight stay in Richmond, VA both ways and and an additional half day for getting to and settling into hotels at our satelite locations of Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC.
That said, we really had only five days and a smidgen to enjoy the four cities in our itinerary. (Richmond really got the short shrift with about 4 hours spent roaming around and eating before heading out to Augusta on the way down.) As a result, all the locations we visited on our southern junket could have well deserved more time to get familiar and savor their wonders and such was the case with theSavannah,GA. Fortunately the Savannah NRW (National Wildlife Refuge) managed to give up a few nice surprises to offset the brevity although not the ones I was originally seeking. Humility is good for me.
I was hoping on this trip south to perhaps see some birds in mating plumage and perhaps a species or two that I’d never seen before. April 5th, after spending the early part of the day picking up some supplies we needed, we struck out for the NWR. Several days of the trip had varying amounts of precipitation which pretty much followed a standard meteorological pattern. Sun rises. Sun heats up earth. Surface warm humid air rises. Meets cooler air aloft. The water vapor it contains begins to cool, releasing the heat, and it condenses into a cloud. Viola! Rainstorm. This day was no different and by the time we got to the NRW one could already see the clouds forming. Still I persevered.
The Savannah National Wildlife Reserve is very civilized as far as photography is concerned. The modern visitors center informed us that there was a driveable car loop (I think seven miles of varied environments) with several places to stop along the way. Tripods, camera bags and bodies, water bottles, bug spray and 500mm lenses make for a fearsome load for photographers. This was a heavenly treat to be able to let the car carry my gear while surveying various areas.
We were also told that there had been alligator sightings all day as this was mating season for the crocodilians as well as the birds, As a matter of fact, while it wasn’t common, or so they said, the back entrance was blocked to visitors because a bull gator had decided to hang out there looking for a little action. So, armed with a map and an urge to look around, off we went.
The first area we stopped greeted us with lots of birdsong but most of the calls came from Common Grackles, The rest of the population was hiding low in the grasses with the exception of one bird who showed for a quick sighting and then left the area for parts distant, at least to us. The second stop a little further along teased me with quite a few American Coots and a duck species that I’ve never seen before but I couldn’t get close enough to get a good image. Not only was the off trail deeply inclined, but damp and uncertain footing as well. Having fallen once with gear in my hand and tearing my rotator cuff in the process I’ve learned the importance of checking the footing before I get overly adventurous in persuit of a better viewpoint. (Who says you can’t teach an old dog?)
Then the plot thickened. As I looked down to shorten my tripod legs and put the kit back into the station wagon. I noticed that the ground seemed to be moving! Not an easy trick with no breeze and I not having had a single drink either. Closer examination showed that there were thousands of little bugs on the grass under my feet and to make matters worse a few dozen had started to climb my outer pant legs. Recently, a couple of ticks, fortunately not of the Deer variety, hitched a ride home with me from Concord, MA and used me for a snack for a couple of days before I noticed them. I wanted no repeat of supplying bugs with Cheatham Tartare. Clapping and slapping while trying to appear nonchalant so as not to cause Dotty undue alarm. I decided that abandoning this spot was an excellent way to prove that my common sense hadn’t left the building. And so I did.
From here on however the NWR began to give up its treats. The next few stops presented us with Alligators spottings, young ones first and then the big guys later, swampy spanish moss vista’s and then we were blessed with a change in the weather. Light rain showers bloomed and with each one the clouds changed hues, God rays formed and areas of brightly lit grasses alternated with those in overcast shade. The landscape was flat and allowed a large expanse of sky to be captured along with a distant line of trees. The rain enhanced the colors of all it fell on. For photographers, a threatening or clearing storm can bring the kind of light conditions that make an image come alive, and so they did this day. For fifty minutes I alternated between hopping in the car for cover and hopping out to shoot, sometimes grabbing my tripod and sometimes shooting hand held. (Aha you say, evidence that prior actions aside, my common sense was indeed hanging out with Elvis somewhere not in the vicinity.)
As I am editing now, only a few shots will survive the cutting floor. It’s the nature of the beast, but those that do hold promise for some dramatic images. We left just as the sprinkles turned into a torrent. All in all, a good day. It doesn’t take much for me.