Longleaf Keystone: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 55

Take a moment to listen to me read from Travels, on the Gopher:

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Baby Longleaf Pine by Beth Thompson

Baby Longleaf Pine by Beth Thompson

What is Wiregrass Ecology?

Having recently read Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray I have become fascinated with longleaf pine forest and its wiregrass ecology.  Bartram’s Great Land Tortoise, the Gopher, still burrows its way through the sandy soil of Georgia’s remaining stands of longleaf. However, I am unsure if I have actually seen the wiregrass ecology in action.

Gopher Frog, Bear Hollow, Athens GA: by Beth Thompson

Gopher Frog, Bear Hollow, Athens GA: by Beth Thompson

Rattlesnakes and Frogs…

When my husband asked me if the Gopher liked to live alone, I laughed, because the Gopher Tortoise supports the existence of approximately 400 other species though its burrows, including the Eastern rattlesnake.  Thus the Gopher as a species bottom-lines the survival of these other creatures, and is referred to as a Keystone species.

Doris, Sandy Creek Nature Center, Athens, GA: by Beth Thompson

Doris, Sandy Creek Nature Center, Athens, GA: by Beth Thompson

A Gopher named Doris:

The first Gopher Tortoise I met was Doris. She lives at Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, GA. When I met her she was all worn out from playing with children all day. Although I suspected she would rather stay in the dark, she kindly allowed me to turn on the lights, set up my tripod, and photograph her.  I felt sure she would like more sand to create her own burrow.

Gopher Tortoise Forest, Seminole State Park, GA: by Beth Thompson

Gopher Tortoise Forest, Seminole State Park, GA: by Beth Thompson

In the southwestern corner of Georgia….

In November of 2015, my husband and I combined a trip to Bronwood, GA for Thanksgiving and camping at Seminole State Park, home of a longleaf pine forest.   I wanted to see Doris’ natural habitat.  Waking at dawn, I photographed the soft light filtering through the long leaf to the understory of red oak.

Morning Sun on the Longleaf Pine, Seminole State Park, GA: by Beth Thompson

Morning Sun on the Longleaf Pine, Seminole State Park, GA: by Beth Thompson

Then the sun peeked over the horizon and laid a strip of golden light along the trunk of this long leaf pine. I went in to wake my husband  and prepare for our hike. The purpose? To find a burrow for Doris.

We walked to the very back of the Park’s property, passing a pond along the way.

And there, nestled among the pines, carpeted with needles, we found…..

Gopher Tortoise Burrow, Seminole State Park, GA: by Beth Thompson

Gopher Tortoise Burrow, Seminole State Park, GA: by Beth Thompson

Mad Respect for Rattlers…

Of course, I was thrilled to find a Gopher Tortoise Burrow. But mad respect for that Eastern rattlesnake kept me from poking my head in there to say hello to Doris’ family!  I was just going to have to find another way to photograph a Gopher with his Burrow.

Emerging from Lair, Chehaw Park Zoo, GA: by Beth Thompson

Emerging from Lair, Chehaw Park Zoo, GA: by Beth Thompson

Collard Temptation…

Luckily, Chehaw Zoo in Albany, GA provided just such an opportunity.  Apparently Gophers like collards. Who knew?

Collard Temptation, Chehaw Zoo, GA: by Beth Thompson

Collard Temptation, Chehaw Zoo, GA: by Beth Thompson

Amazing Stillness…

What amazed me as I took portraits was this tortoise’s uncanny ability to remain perfectly still. I think he (or she) may have winked once.Having a long lens handy for my Nikon D80, I was able to capture this close up in the dying light.

The Gopher Tortoise, Keystone Species, Chehaw Zoo, GA: by Beth Thompson

The Gopher Tortoise, Keystone Species, Chehaw Zoo, GA: by Beth Thompson

A picture I then transformed….

Longleaf Keystone Chehaw Zoo, GA: Possible Perception Series,  by Beth Thompson

Longleaf Keystone Chehaw Zoo, GA: Possible Perception Series, by Beth Thompson

 * Opening Stanza from “The Pants” by Trip Shakespeare

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One Response to Longleaf Keystone: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 55

  1. Pingback: Bartram’s Snakes: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 57 | Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail

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