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Seeing & Looking
A LOGGERHEAD TURTLE skull stared out from the corner of the Dungeness Mansion wall. I placed and photographed it there. It symbolized the endangered condition of that sea turtle species.*
We'd arrived at Dungeness, the ruins of the Carnegie mansion, after a hike. With our leashed dog making tracks along the River Walk trail, we hiked through a tunnel of twisting live oaks adorned with resurrection ferns and Virginia creeper, to arrive at the Dungeness dock. Robin, a National Park Service Ranger, answered our questions about Cumberland's wildlife and history. The island horses were feral. Wild pigs, coyotes, armadillos, turkeys, bobcats and whitetail deer all roamed the island, he said. As we walked east through the oak forest on a sandy road, with vultures circling overhead, rustling sounds from raccoons and armadillos in the saw palmettos created an eerie mood.
Robin also told us a longer story when we'd asked him about the island's history. The Coast Guard, during World War Two, was stationed on the island and routinely patrolled the Atlantic beaches on horseback. There were many American ships sunk by German submarines at the time. In a panic, one beach patrol returned to base and breathlessly reported that the Germans had developed an amphibious tank, which had come ashore from a submarine and left its huge treads on the the sand. In fact, the tracks were those of a loggerhead turtle**, whose kin had been laying eggs in the Atlantic beach sand for countless generations.There were human generations nesting on Cumberland, too. The Carnegies, Rockefellers and other prominent families have left their tracks, vehicles, and homes on the island.
Today the National Park Service oversees the island, and our admission fee was waived due to the economic impact of the coronavirus. Cumberland was closed April 3rd 2020, but reopened May 4th, and we arrived on May 9th.That day was World Migratory Bird Day. Cumberland's birds seemed to know about the event; present were blue-grey knatcatcher, Carolina wren, tanager, and yellow-throated warbler.
On a previous trip, one rainy day in January, I came across a motonless great horned owl. To the pique of a group of fire ants, I sat on their colony while photographing the owl. Practicing slow photography, I made three bracketed frames of the owl with a tripod-mounted camera. Later, combining the frames, I used photo editors to boost contrast and tonality.
Timeless and historic, Cumberland Island is a sanctuary of great contrasts. Upon its beaches, the textured tracks of loggerhead turtles stand out in stark contrast to the wind-swept sand. My experiences on this pristine Georgia barrier island have been equally indelible, leaving their own tracks etched into my dreams.
* I found the loggerhead turtle skull washed up on a remote Bahamas island in 2019.
**There are three kinds of turtles that nest on the island: leatherback, green and loggerhead. A turtle research group counted eight loggerhead (Caretta caretta) nests when we were on the island in May 2020. Loggerhead turtles are an endangered species per the Endangered Species Act; only one of 1000 sea turtle eggs reaches maturity.
Plan A Visit: https://www.nps.gov/cuis/planyourvisit/index.htm
Sea Turtle Rescue: https://www.jekyllisland.com/activities-category/sea-turtle/
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages