Five rivers feed into the 200,000+ acres of wetlands that make up the second largest river delta system in the U.S. just north of Mobile Bay in southern Alabama. The Mobile-Tensaw delta’s expanse of swamp, bog, natural rice paddies, canals, and rivers makes this area of Alabama a real biodiversity hotspot where you can find more species of fish, turtles, snails, crayfish, and oak trees than anywhere else in North America. Harvard ecologist E.O. Wilson has called it North America’s Amazon, and so it was a real treat to venture out on a small boat to explore some of the smaller waterways of the delta for ourselves.
The southeastern U.S., and the Mobile delta in particular, was a refuge for species driven south during the ice ages of the Pleistocene glaciation. Warm temperatures year-round and plenty of rainfall (averaging 70 inches per year) ensure the most equitable conditions for life to survive, and so it has in this cradle of biodiversity.
We took a car ferry to Dauphin Island which sits at the mouth of Mobile Bay, and then drove west to Pelican Point beach for a (hot) walk in the late morning sun. The beaches along the gulf coast of this part of Alabama are composed of finely ground, minuscule particles of quartz that originated in the Appalachian mountains, were ground down by erosion and river action before being transported to the gulf, where minerals were further reduced in size by wave action over tens of thousands of years. The result is an eye-blinding, fine, white sand that actually squeaks as you walk over it.
I watched adult and juvenile Ring-billed Gulls fish for minnows in a shallow area of the Vadnais reservoir the other day. Their acrobatic flights over the water scoping out the potential fish prey was impressive, as was the success rate of their dives. Either the fish were numerous in this area or these gulls are much better dive predators than I appreciated before. During the time I watched them they were successful in grabbing a fish about 50% of the time.
Prairie parkland landscapes are at their peak golden color now. The fall landscape is transforming daily, and with the nice fall weather lately, it’s a glorious time to be out walking around. I’ve given up trying to find the migrating birds at this points and am just enjoying the golden colors everywhere.
We spent a beautiful morning walking along the St. Croix river at Afton State Park recently, and I noticed that it seems more like fall weather now, and a lot less like summer. What a difference a couple of weeks makes in the climate here.
On a morning hike after a much needed rain the other day, I came across some strange “prints” on the trail.
Were these tree roots exposed by recent rain having washed away soil? Was it a result of moss colonies that had dehydrated and died in the long drought during June and July? I really had no idea why these formations were here in the middle of this part of the trail. But in the first photo, you can see ferns on both sides of the trail, making me wonder if there was some connection between the density of ferns in this particular location and the strange “footprints”. So I kept looking…
I’m guessing these formations might be fern rhizomes exposed by recent rain. Do any of my readers know if this is correct?
At last finally getting a cell signal and an update on the growing Caldor fire southwest of Lake Tahoe, we decided to cut the hike short and head for our exit trailhead. And we were treated to one more clear, beautiful day, just to remind us of how this area usually looked in non-smoky years.
Nine miles and a lot of downhill steps on broken rock later, we exited the Glen Alpine trailhead at the end of what will be an ever memorable 2021 Sierra backpack hike with all limbs intact!
Day 2 of the Apocalypse of the Caldor fire near Lake Tahoe featured a fallout of white ash and black soot. The landscape looked like it was bathed in dense fog, not of moist air but of dry, choking smoke that even KN95 masks couldn’t keep out of your airways.
Views of Lake Tahoe in August 2012 (then) contrasted with views in August 2021 (now) as smoke from the enormous Dixie fire northeast of us continues to pollute the air. The once crystal clear landscape has disappeared.
in August 2012, the view looking west toward the mountains at Pope Beach on the south end of Lake Tahoe looked like this.
Will these current images of this once pristine and beautiful area be the new normal?