THE GREAT OUTDOORS: Activity in the Alabama Swamp

Douglas H. Domedion

Well, there sure has been a real increase of activity in the Alabama Swamp and not just wildlife. This coronavirus has had folks off work, restricted from close contact from others and staying home. Last week I suggested people get out to the swamp and spend some time observing nature, and apparently many have been doing just that. I have never seen so many folks out on the two state Wildlife Management areas and the the federal refuge.

The discussion last week was partly about how to ethically observe wildlife, and I have seen many doing just that, but other things have caught my eye. One is that a lot of folks who are not used to roaming around in such areas seem to be unaware of the danger of Lyme disease out there. This is a very serious thing, carried by the deer tick, which has just recently become more common in this area. Lyme disease can cause flu-like symptoms, fatigue, joint pain, sleep disturbances, rashes, vision changes, heart problems, mood changes and mental problems. Yes, many of the same problems that COVID-19 causes.

What makes Lyme disease so bad is it not only has many of the symptoms of other health issues, the tick that carries it is small, especially in the larva stage. It's not like the regular dog tick, it's more like a pencil dot on paper. Thus it often goes unnoticed only to raise its ugly consequences later, and maybe in a not so noticeable way at first.

The deer tick is a new problem for this area and all of us who spend time in the great outdoors need to be aware of it and take precautions. My whole life has been spent outdoors photographing, hunting, fishing and trapping and I never had a tick of any kind on me (I always thought I must smell bad!) until last year. A deer tick was found on my lower back and was removed before it got to sucking blood and injecting the disease. About the same time, a friend who is a wildlife technician at the local Wildlife Management areas and spends a good part of her work day out in the marshes, got 17 of them on her one day.

Ticks like to hang out on grasses and bushes so they can attach to passing victims. Many think they are not active while it is relatively cold but that is not so. They are actually more prone to attaching during this time because they are seeking heat and warm bodies stand out.

This does not mean we can't go out and enjoy Mother Nature but we need to take precautions. I have recently seen a lot of folks walking the dikes and trails in the swamp and many obviously are not taking precautions or are not aware of the problem.

So what needs to be done to protect yourself? To start, don't wear shorts, because they expose the legs. Avoid high grass or bush areas and don't sit around on the grass. These ticks are carried by deer and mice but can be on any warm blooded animals like your dog or cat.

There are various tick repellent sprays you can use on your pants and foot gear. I like a product called Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent for clothing, gear and tents. It contains odorless permethrin which, when sprayed on clothing, will last up to 40 days and resists six washings. I have it applied on a pair of light pants and a shirt that I reserve for wearing when I'm out in the field.

Inspection of the body skin is a good practice after an outdoor outing, especially the kids.

And don't forget your pets. Not only can they pick up these ticks, they can contract Lyme disease too. See your vet, as there is monthly pill type medicine available to protect your buddy from ticks and fleas.

So don't let the coronavirus or Lyme disease spoil your outdoor adventures – avoid groups of people, keep that six-foot distance between you and others and use precautionary methods for those deer ticks.

Oh yes, for those who want to experience the spring frog chorus, now is a good time to head to the marshes and wet wood lots in the evenings as air temperatures increase, especially with all the rain we have been having.

Doug Domedion, outdoorsman and nature photographer, resides in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or woodduck2020@yahoo.com .

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