No Damsel In Distress

Tom Poland

Posted 5/29/24

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

Late May, I made one last effort to see the rare rocky shoals spider lilies before they play out. Rain and high water had deviled the flowers and me all spring. Not this time. I made three trips in three days and nature rewarded me. Each time I visit the shoals lilies I see life in abundance. These trips did not disappoint.

It’s a remarkable blessing to those of us in Georgialina; we can visit two colonies in one day. Georgia’s Anthony Shoals teems with osprey, eagles, and great blue herons, and great blues stalk Stevens Creek’s shallows. All of this dazzling life takes place among and around colonies of the snow-white, green-colored lilies with their bell pepper-green stalks.

A male ebony jewelwing stakes out its feeding range. (Photo by Tom Poland)

The drive from one to the other takes you along rural highways and if you keep your eyes peeled, as my grandmother would say, you’ll spot deer, coyotes, and backroad ruins along the way. You’ll drive through Civil War history too, crossing paths with Jefferson Davis’s wagon train as he fled the Blue Coats. Nature, though, is the show, and my recent adventure left me with four wildlife memories that will endure and a hard-earned lesson.

Number one. Standing quietly at Stevens Creek I caught sight of a pair of great blues. Up the creek just over the water they came, their great wings spread. Like a pair of gliders they floated by, paying me no mind. The word that comes to mind is “graceful.”

Number two. I watched a male ebony jewelwing damsel fly for 10 minutes. After photographing it, I walked upstream to photograph a lily up close. As I left, the ebony jewelwing was still at his station, fluttering his wings. To get a female’s attention I figured, although it’s early as mating season goes. It perched for thirty minutes next to a shoals lily. No damsel in distress, the ebony jewelwing is quite common. The same cannot be said of its perch, the rocky shoals spider lily, which is under consideration to be listed federally as an endangered species.

These great blues might want to keep an eye on the sky. (Photo by Tom Poland)

Number three. Just minutes from Anthony Shoals I spotted a newly dropped fawn. Dappled white and wobbly legged, it stared at me wide-eyed with those big brown eyes. It was its first encounter with man but I am sure it won’t be its last.

Number four. A great opportunity for a photograph at Anthony shoals. I blew it right from the start. No surprise there. I am a writer first. Photography is a hobby. As I made ready for the steep descent to the banks of the Broad River, I decided not to take my 70-300 mm lens simply because it is heavy. Big mistake. The ospreys were out in force circling the shoals, cupping their wings, then plummeting for fish and scoring.

One osprey kept diving in one spot about 400 yards away. He missed twice. A great blue noticed and moved into the white water running among slabs of tan rocks. I trained my 24-105mm lens on the spot. A collision was imminent. Down drops the osprey right in front of the great blue, squawking and flapping its wings. The osprey got the fish this time, rising into Georgia air as the great blue protested.

I got the photo but it’s grainy and not worth a cuss. Lesson learned. And I learned something else. That ebony jewelwing was staking a claim to it feeding perch. They’ll use a good feeding perch for hours, days even, along a stream. Other confrontations would be forthcoming, but for now no damselfly was in distress. They would be, though, for nature is all about competition, as the great blue experienced firsthand.

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