Reelfoot Lake

Wikipedia’s information pertaining to Reelfoot Lake states that “Reelfoot Lake was formed when the the region subsided during the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812.”  The park’s web site states further that the earthquakes caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards for a short period of time creating Reelfoot Lake.  The web site further states that the lake is a flooded forest area with Cypress Trees rising above the water, and that it also harbors virtually every kind of shore and wading bird as well as Golden and American Bald Eagles.  To a bird photographer that latter statement was something I could not resist!

 September 26-27, 2014

According to my pilot’s logbook I spent a few hours at Reelfoot Lake State Park on October 21, 1978.  My wife and I flew up there in an airplane I was considering purchasing just to see the area and give the airplane a shakedown.  That was the only time I’ve been there until now.

I’ve been thinking about going back for several years and just never got around to it until now.  I decided to take a day off from work and drive there on a Friday, spend the night, and come back home on Saturday.  I contacted a staff member at the park for some information on the best places to get bird photographs as well as some sunrise and/or sunset photographs and headed out early Friday morning after fortifying myself with a stop at the local Waffle House.  It was well worth the trip since it is such a magnificent area.

One of the things I wanted to show with this first group of photographs is the size of Reelfoot Lake.  One of the rangers told me that the lake was a hardwood forest before the 1812 flood that created the lake.  After the flood the timber was harvested by cutting the trees off at the surface of the new lake.  Now, 200 years later, the lake is slightly deeper than originally and Cyprus trees have grown everywhere along the banks.  The hardwood stumps left over from the timber harvesting are still there though, just a foot or two below the surface.  There is only one place in the entire lake where the depth exceeds about 10′ deep and I honestly believe that one could walk across the entire lake by jumping from stump to stump.  The rangers call the Egrets and Herons standing in the lake “Stump Markers” because they can see the stumps just below the surface and tend to land on them.  It is so unusual to see a lake this large with birds standing on stumps literally in the middle of the lake.

When I asked where a good place to take sunrise photographs of the lake would be I was advised to go to the Bluebank area.  That was truly great advice since the sunrise there was absolutely spectacular!

I actually made a mistake at this point.  I planned to get there about 30 minutes before sunrise and get everything set up, take my photographs, and get some breakfast at the restaurant across the street.  I lived in the country for years but after living in the city for so long I had forgotten just how dark true dark can be!  I couldn’t see to set up my camera and tripod, I couldn’t see to walk around, I couldn’t see to do anything at all!  So, I revised my schedule and decided to go across the highway and have breakfast first.  It’s a good thing I did to since when I came back at twilight I noticed that there was a low wall at the edge of the lake I could have walked right off of ;)  Guess that’s why it is a “Day Use Only” area.

But I came here ostensibly to photograph birds.  I wanted to see the lake but since most of what I photograph is birds and wildlife that was really the primary reason for my trip.

This is very early in the migratory season so I didn’t expect to see a lot of different species and was somewhat surprised to see quite a few White Pelicans as well as a LOT of Great Egrets.  We NEVER get White Pelicans in Nashville and very seldom get Great Egrets so I was thrilled to see them.  There were also a lot of Double-Crested Cormorants and several Great Blue Herons to be found.  We have lots of Great Blue Herons around home but not so many Cormorants.  Unfortunately Cormorants are very shy birds and do not like for humans to get close to them so the shots I got weren’t all that great.

The White Pelicans were way out in the lake and I was on the shore so these photographs are heavily cropped and not as sharp as I would like.  They are, however, the best shots I have of White Pelicans so they definitely get included!

OK, so there are a bunch of Great Egret photographs.  They were everywhere and I like Egrets so I took a bunch of photographs of them ;)

Not a lot of Great Blue Herons but there were a few scattered around.  There were actually more than I photographed but they tended to fly off as soon as we got remotely close.

The Double-Crested Cormorant is another of my “Nemesis Birds”.  I’ve never gotten a good photograph of one despite having seen many of them.  They take to their wings as soon as a human gets remotely close so I’ve never managed to get within decent range of one.  One of these days I will though.

I was thrilled to see these Bald Eagles in the wild!  Of all the birds the eagle is by far the most majestic to me.  I honestly think I could sit and watch them all day long.

During the late winter Reelfoot Lake is home to several hundred Bald Eagles, and this trip ws actually in preparation for my going back in January or February to see the Eagles.

And a few more random photographs of Reelfoot Lake residents.  I could have easily done without the Cotton Mouth snake but I guess they have their place in nature as well.  As long as it isn’t in the boat with me!

I took a 3-hour pontoon boat tour of the lake and many of the photographs above were taken on that tour.  That was the only way I could have possibly have gotten some of them since the birds came nowhere near the shores that were inhabited.  The eagles, for example, were far back on the lake, about as far from humans as they could get.  Even so, many of the photographs were taken at extreme range and heavily cropped.

The Bald Eagle below was injured and has been rehabilitated.  He is scheduled for release back into nis native wild soon.  One of the rangers told me that when they are working with him they held him upside down and he appears to have learned to enjoy it.  Most of the time when I walked by his enclosure he was hanging upside down from the mesh.  I guess he decided that it’s not too bad once you get used to it, and he may be the only Bald Eagle in the world to hang upside down from the branches of his trees!

The others weren’t so lucky.  They were injured and survived however their injuries were too severe to allow them to be released again since they would not be able to survive.  I feel sorry for them but at the same time glad that they have a good home.  They are safe from other animals, they have food brought to them, and shelter from the rain.  In that respect they do have a pretty good life.

I have to thank the staff at the Reelfoot Lake Visitor Center.  They provided advice on what areas to visit and the best times to do so, they gave me directions, and one even took the time to show me around parts of the park.  Thank all of you so much for the help and assistance, it made my trip much more enjoyable and I am very grateful.  I hope to see all of you again later this year!