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  • Writer's pictureBethany Plonski

Swamp Time

The past few months have been pretty hectic, but with the unseasonably cold weather keeping me housebound lately, I'm finally starting to get caught up on my photo backlog. This year I have taken more photos than I have time to review and process, and I suppose that's a good problem to have. I look forward to sharing some of my favorite shots of 2022 soon, but in the process of narrowing that collection down, I'm realizing that a pretty good chunk of them are from Phinizy Swamp.

Phinizy Swamp at sunrise
Phinizy Swamp at sunrise

Swamps have a reputation for being creepy and foul places, but my experience at Phinizy was anything but. Located just minutes from Augusta, GA, Phinizy had a quiet and peaceful feeling, but it was positively packed with beauty and activity. As soon as I set foot there this summer, I knew I had found a special place that I would come back to again and again.

We visited Phinizy twice, in June and October, and I'm so glad I had a chance to see the swamp in different seasons. What I remember most about our visit in June was the dragonflies. I had never seen so many in my life! At any given time or place in the park, I could look around and spot at least 3-4 dragonflies or damselflies buzzing around or basking in the sun.

Of course, dragonflies weren't the only winged things at the swamp. Wetlands are fantastic places for birding, and Phinizy did not disappoint in that respect. I had a chance to see several new species I'm unlikely to see otherwise, including an adorable pair of black-bellied whistling ducks.

Right after I first spotted the black-bellied whistling ducks, I experienced what was probably the best photobomb of my birding life. While I was trying to focus on the ducks, something small and colorful flew into the frame. It turned out to be a male painted bunting -- the first one I've ever seen! He was gone in a matter of seconds and I wasn't able to track him down again, so I'm very happy I managed to snag one shot before he disappeared.

Painted bunting

Common gallinule
Common gallinule

Tree swallow singing on a fence
Tree swallow singing

We also saw large flocks of tree swallows and a pair of bald eagles. One of the eagles perched right out in the open for quite a while surveying the swamp. What a treat to be in the presence of such a majestic creature!

Bald eagle perched on a dead tree
Bald eagle

Wetland areas support all kinds of water-loving plant life, including the lizard's tail, named for its long, curving white flowers, which eventually turn brown and scaly, like its namesake.

Lizard's tail flower
Lizard's tail

Wild blue sage
Wild blue sage

In turn these plants support the whole ecosystem by providing shelter and food for for numerous animals and insects.

Tree frog silhouette on a leaf
Tree frog hiding on a leaf

When we returned for a second visit in October, there was some utterly fantastic fog, and the swamp was filled with beautiful sunflowers.

Swamp sunflowers
Swamp sunflowers

The sunflowers and fog gave me some interesting backdrops for bird portraits. I was especially excited to see my first white ibis during this visit. It was a juvenile, which was lucky for me, as they tend to be a little less wary of people.

Juvenile white ibis standing in swamp sunflowers
Juvenile white ibis

Tri-colored heron stalking prey in a misty marsh
Tri-colored heron

Monarch butterfly nectarine on swamp sunflower
The sunflowers were popular with the monarch butterflies

I absolutely love foggy silhouettes, so I was thrilled that this pair of pied-billed grebes kept circling the pond where I could experiment with different compositions.

I don't know what it is about fog, but like snow, it can give ordinary things such an ethereal feeling, especially in the early morning light. I just love it!

Dewy spiderweb
Dewy spiderweb

My ever-patient partner Andrew is such a good sport about early morning photo adventures. I usually try to get out at or before dawn, and I feel incredibly lucky that he was willing to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to visit a swamp on our anniversary weekend. He's also really good at spotting birds and wildlife. If not for him, I would have completely missed a family of raccoons crossing the swamp!

Andrew at Sunrise Pond

Alligators are a pretty common occurrence at Phinizy, so I knew we'd have to keep an eye out for them while we were near the water. We didn't see any in June, but in October we saw one cruising the equalization pond. It swam around on the far side of the pond for a few minutes before disappearing under the water and making us very thankful for the fence that separated us from the water's edge. In theory, I would have loved to get a closer shot from a better vantage point, but in reality I was quite happy to keep a safe distance from this gator. I'm guessing it was at least 5-6 feet long.

Alligator swimming near the water's edge

Backlit cypress moss

There is definitely a kind of magic to swamps, and I can't wait to get back to Phinizy in 2023.


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