Doerun Pitcher Plant Bog WMA: Part I

Sunday morning, we set out later than what we had become accustomed to. We started, as we usually do, with breakfast. Today’s was purchased from a deli counter off US-19 South outside of Putney, Ga. The breakfast counter was not open yet, but the delay afforded us a wonderful sunrise over a sleepy field. After some quick photos and breakfast, we made all possible speed for our target site: Doerun’s Pitcher Plant Bog.

Pitcher Plant Bog is an unassuming stretch of long leaf pine forest on Highway 133 south of Doerun, GA. The bog, pond, and corresponding forests occupy a 600-acre tract south of Hagin Still Rd, and from the highway seems unimpressive. The countless times I passed it on trips south I had only given it a glance—that had been a mistake.

The turn onto Bog Lane slopes steeply into the low area that comprises most of the western end of the property. We followed the gravel road into a forest of prolific pines. The trees towered over us as we got out of the car at the first parking area. We were a little sad—our third adventurer, Jodi had other obligations today, so it was just the two of us. We collected up our kit and set out into the bog to see what we could find. Walking in the forest floor was awe-inspiring. The high pine branches were filled with bird songs, the sounds echoing the stone still forest—it was like a magnificent concert hall built for these tiny dinosaurs.

We moved hastily along the grassy trail to the observation platform that overlooks the bog—an area dotted with the carnivorous Pitcher Plants. Clusters of tiny green trumpets extend from the ground—each with a leafy cap over an open tube. They give off a mild odor that lures in insects with the promise of a meal, but the slick interior of the tube is a trap and the only meal is the unsuspecting insect.

We stood on the low deck and took in the full view of the wetland[1]. The whole space was stone-still, save for the occasional fall of a solitary pine needle or the flight of a Red-Headed Woodpecker who was always moving away. The sounds of Summer Tanagers, Blue Grosbeaks, and the occasional Bobwhite Quail bombarded us as we waited on the impromptu gallery. We were familiar with the songs: Summer Tanagers frequent the forests around our home in Albany, a Blue Grosbeak serenaded us as we parked, and the low high whistle of a Bobwhite Quail is unmistakable to even the most untrained ear. We could hear them all—but found no other sign of their presence.

The trail beyond the boardwalk quickly turned to mud and despite the beauty of the birds’ symphony—we returned to the car and moved deeper into the wood. As we reached the parking lot, I noted that the information kiosk had been damaged. The information board rested on replacement posts and had two by four braces supporting the roof. Rebecca reminded me of a story she had found in the Moultrie Observer mentioning fire damage to the kiosk and some of the boardwalks by a South Carolina man who was burning garbage. Uncontrolled fires are a danger to all woodlands—I am glad that this one was quelled before it caused irreparable damage.

We wheeled up Bog Lane looking for a deeper, dryer tract to explore. The road turned north through a gate then forked east, leading between two tracts of densely planted trees before coming along a fence, ripe with blackberries and bounding a grassy field dotted with pine trees so tall they must catch clouds on a rainy day. At the end of the fence we found another parking area and a gate, so we left the car to backtrack on foot.

Retracing our steps meant a casual walk along the blackberry fence, which Rebecca found to be quite enjoyable—she paused every few steps to pick and eat a berry or two. I thought about how we should make sure to have a basket in the car for these trips, between the time of year and the type of environments—we are bound to find blackberries, wild grapes, or other fruits ripe for harvest. As she nibbled, I scanned the treetops beyond the fence, the echoes of bird songs were everywhere—but in the high canopies they remained elusive.  

We reached the end of the fence and continued up the gravel road as it passed between the low, dark branches of smaller trees—here they finally revealed themselves! Two Blue Grosbeaks flew out of the trees on one side and landed in the path: a male and a female. The male quickly flitted back up into the trees—but the female held her place on the gravel track. I took some photos of her and she eyed us closely for a few moments before flying up into the trees with her mate. I studied the trees closely and noted dozens of small warblers hoping from branch to branch in search of a meal. They were moving too fast to allow a proper photo to be taken.

Female Blue Grosbeak

We reached the fork and headed north, around the gate and toward the lake. Here they have a small shelter to keep the equipment used to maintain the area. Rebecca and I had a seat in the shade on a large trailer and looked out into the bog forest west of us. Here too, the sounds of singing birds were constant. we rested for several minutes and then we started to see movement. First, a small brown bird—another female Blue Grosbeak. She lighted on a small plant at the edge of the northern trail. Moments later a larger bird shuffled in a tree out in the forest—a Gray Catbird gobbling up fruit before flying to a distant perch. Then I saw it—a near turquoise streak flew across the scene. He landed high in a tree behind us and started to sing his bright melody.

We searched frantically for the speck of blue in the tall pine limbs and after a few verses we found him. The Indigo Bunting: small and stark blue on a lonely pine branch. He craned back and belted out another chorus of notes before flying out into the forest in front of us. His feathers shining a turquoise blue in the sun. He settled on a branch in front of us—partially hidden by a neighboring limb—but I photographed him anyway.

A male Indigo Bunting

A couple of verses later he moved to a closer limb—offering a perfect vantage point in brilliant light. Rebecca commented on his beautiful blue color as he sang for us. Several verses later he moved deeper into the forest and we resumed our walk toward the lake.

He eyes us curiously after each verse.
Male Indigo Bunting
Here he is resting after his song.

As we left the farm equipment behind, I thought about the many adventures she and I have had since we met that year. Music festivals, concerts, camping, canoeing, fishing trips, and extravagant birthdays—too many to paraphrase here—but exploring WMAs together has become one of our favorite things. I hope to write them all out, in time.

Just then I caught sight of a flit through the trees. For those of you who do not know, birdwatching is largely a matter of spotting motion. Bird songs are difficult to zero in on and will mislead you, relying on color spotting is haphazard, but motion, on the other hand, is nearly foolproof. An object in motion falls into one of two categories: involuntary or deliberate. The falling of a pine needle: involuntary. The flight of a Red-Headed Woodpecker between trees: deliberate. It only takes a little practice to note the differences.

A Red-Headed Woodpecker in flight.

I tracked the large, red, black, and white bird as it crossed the path ahead of us and circled around our right side. When, suddenly it crossed paths with a second Woodpecker that was landing on the branch of a nearby tree. I quickly changed my focus and lined up on the stationary bird. It preened for me for a handful of moments before hopping to another tree to have a couple of berries. It was a treat for me— we haven’t seen any Red-Headed Woodpeckers in our yard this year.

The Red-Headed Woodpecker rests on a branch.
The Red-Headed Woodpecker feasts on some berries. Please forgive the Chromatic Aberration.

We followed the trail up to the lake, which was pretty, though overgrown at its edges. The trail ended in a small embankment—a perfect place to launch a canoe or kayak. To both sides a loop trail circles the lake and on the west side forks back toward the bog. We peered at its glassy surface for a few minutes before beginning the hike back to the car. We had made the tremendous mistake of leaving our water and other supplies behind, and now found ourselves parched and in need of a rest.

The walk back was quick. We only paused a couple of times to look at Blue Grosbeaks, Eastern Bluebirds, and Blue Jays—Pitcher Plant Bog seems a favorite haunt for birds of the blue persuasion. Countless other birds and bird songs mocked us from just out of sight.

We reached the car, thirsty for water and fantasizing about a shady hang between the low limbs of some pine trees—and so we set our hammocks and relaxed with bird songs for lullabies, idling away the noonday sun until we were ready to disembark.

-JCM



We had a great time exploring Doerun Pitcher Plant Bog WMA. You can read the stories of our adventures there by following these links:

Part I Part II Blue Grosbeaks of The Bog


[1] Calling it that almost seems like a mistake, but the presence of Pitcher Plants is an obvious tell—parts of this trail are muddy.

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