A Jekyll Island Adventure

Rebecca here! I’m still away on my backpacking trip, but today’s guest post comes from longtime reader Bob Plath, a.k.a. “Catskill Bob.” Reading about his adventures down south brought back some fun memories for me.

About twenty years ago, we spent a couple of days at Jekyll Island, Georgia, as part of a trip to take our then eight year old daughter to Disney World. We regretted that we had only allowed such a short time for a visit because the island clearly merited closer exploration and we promised ourselves we’d return someday.

Then I discovered Rebecca’s blog this past winter, when she was working at the 4-H Center on Jekyll [note from Rebecca: this would have been the winter of 2010-11]. Her enthusiasm and the valuable information she provided, as well as a three week window of opportunity in May to justify the long drive from our home in upstate New York, were all the provocation we needed to begin planning a trip. Our itinerary would include some other points of interest on our route.

We rarely get to the shore, so the morning we spent on the beach in the company of Black Skimmers, Redknots, Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, Oystercatchers and others was probably the highlight of the Jekyll part of the trip. The pond at the old amphitheater yielded Anhingas, Black-crowned Night Herons and Roseate Spoonbills. We also added Painted Buntings, Parula Warblers and Wood Storks to our life lists, but the exotic (to our Yankee eyes) vegetation was also cause for wonder. Who knew that cabbage palmettos put out spikes of showy white flowers? We were like kids in a candy store. Less intriguing were the salt marsh mosquitoes, which put our northern mosquitoes to shame for their ability to land and bite before being detected, robbing the victim of the satisfaction of an occasional pre-emptive strike.

After five great days at Jekyll we headed for Florida’s gulf coast and visited the Lower Suwanee Wildlife Refuge, where we hoped to see a gopher tortoise. Despite getting down on my hands and knees to peer into the maw of a few burrows I found, I didn’t spot any.

Our next stop was at the Okefenokee, where we had a very close encounter with a five foot Diamondback Rattlesnake. If it hadn’t rattled, we might have stepped on it. We retreated to a safe distance and took some pictures. My wife suggested that I move in closer so that my presence in the photo would give a sense of scale, but I demurred. We were much more impressed with the snake’s girth than its length.

Later we read that this, the most venomous snake in North America, is fond of escaping the midday heat by sheltering in gopher tortoise burrows. I recalled with horror my up close and personal inspection of these burrows a few days before.

We wrapped up our trip at Grayson Highlands State Park in southwestern Virginia, where the conjunction of southern and northern hardwood forests produce astounding diversity.

It was a great adventure, and it sprouted from a seed planted by Rebecca in the Woods.
Thank you!

Bob Plath is a 60-something cabinetmaker living on an old dairy farm in the western Catskills in upstate New York.  When he’s not breathing sawdust, he and his wife Annette enjoy hiking and nature photography locally and also in the Adirondacks, and nature-themed trips further afield when we can. They’re both impatient for retirement when they’ll have more time to pursue our outdoor interests.

Newer readers who weren’t around when I lived on Jekyll Island might be interested in checking out the archives. Fun places to start include my encounter with a cottonmouth, my description of the massive live oak we called the Grandfather Tree, my explanation of spring tide, and my photos of sea turtle tracks on the beach.

Jekyll Island on the Silver Screen

I thought I was done writing about Jekyll Island, but after watching two movies this week I realized I do have one more post left. First of all, last weekend saw the release of X-Men: First Class, chunks of which were filmed on the island as I blogged about here and here. (A friend sent me a link to an interview with the cast in which Kevin Bacon talks about filming “on a beach in Georgia” and how people kept sneaking photos of the set and blogging about it… heh heh.) If you go see it, there are two obvious Jekyll bits to watch for.

One, just before Erik and Charles meet for the first time, Sebastian Shaw and Emma Frost and some other folks are hanging out on a boat at a dock in what the movie claims in Miami, Florida. This is in fact the Clam Creek fishing pier on the north end of Jekyll Island, and I hadn’t realized they’d done any filming there, so it was an interesting surprise. Two, the climactic scenes take place on a beach in what’s apparently supposed to be Cuba; that’s the beach at the end of the seawall between Captain Wylly Road and Shell Drive, and that’s the location I wrote about in the posts I linked to above. It was fun to see the wide shots of the beach during that whole sequence and know exactly how much of it was a set and how much was graphics! Although those are the only scenes where you can really recognize the location, some other things were shot in the area as well, including the exterior shots of the Las Vegas casino. I only know that because one of my coworkers was an extra in that scene.

The other movie I watched this week was Glory, about an African-American regiment in the Civil War. The entire second half of that movie was shot in the Jekyll Island area – I swear at one point they march past the bookstore inthe island’s Historic District. The beach battle was shot directly adjacent to the 4-H center where I worked. Of course, this was in the late 1980’s, long before I was there!

I know to those unfamiliar with the island this is all pretty meaningless, but X-Men: First Class is a fun movie and if you like superhero flicks you’ll probably enjoy it. Or if you like James McAvoy. Ahem.

Mapping a Blog

I don’t know that this will interest anyone other than me, but I thought it might be fun to create a map of “my” Jekyll Island, showing the locations that inspired various blog posts.  I’d never played with this functionality of Google Maps before, and it was fun.  As you can see, most of the placemarks are clustered at the south end of the island where I live.

Not every post I’ve written about the island and its natural history is there, because I’ve written a lot of things not tied to specific spots.  I don’t know that I’ll keep this updated, but it was an interesting experiment.

Step into my Office…

Yeah, what can I say, it’s a rough life.

As someone who’s spent practically my whole life in an eastern deciduous forest ecosystem, the thought that in just three weeks I’m going to be teaching beach ecology and salt marsh ecology is a little crazy.  So much to learn!  Take a second look at that photo and notice what you don’t see: big waves.  Because the continental shelf extends out so far from the Atlantic coast, waves hit that and lose most of their energy long before they hit the actual beach.  Unless the tide is coming in you can’t even really hear the surf.

But speaking of the tide!  Jekyll Island is right at the middle of a formation called the South Atlantic Bight, a big inward curve of the East Coast – in fact it curves so far westward that we’re directly south of Pittsburgh.

This means that as the tide comes in, all that water essentially gets funneled toward this specific spot, giving us the most dramatic tides of anywhere along this section of the coast.  A six to nine foot change in sea level between high and low tide is pretty typical.

More later!