White River National Wildlife Refuge, ARKANSAS

Summer 1996















































































In the 1996, when I was 28, I responded to an advertisement tacked to the job board in Holdsworth Hall and had was accepted as a field assistant for a project run by the University of Tennessee.


The team I was joining was set to live in a motel in the small town of Saint Charles, Arkansas, which lies in the southeastern portion of the state. This location was chosen because it was the only rental property anywhere near a section of the White River National Wildlife Refuge, where we were going to conduct our study. Most of the land surrounding the refuge was unincorporated farmland, which made the presence of a small town of 199 people a lucky thing indeed.

I jumped on a plane at Bradley International Airport (near Hartford, CT) headed down to Nashville where I was to meet up with the project leader. I had never met any of the people I would be working with, so there was a little tension as I walked off the plane, but everything turned out fine.

The Swamp

I will always regret the fact that I had not yet started my photography career and only had a basic point-and-shoot camera with me. A real camera would have allowed me to capture some astounding imagery, but the photos I did take still tell a fairly good story of where I was and what I was doing.

I was in a bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern United States and I was looking for prothonotary warblers, white-eyed vireos, acadian flycatchers, yellow-billed cuckoos, and any other birds that I found nesting in our study sites. I found all of them, but don't have a single photo of any of them.

Say What?

What I did take pictures of was the landscape. The White River NWR is flooded seasonally, but when I arrived the waters had not yet begun to rise. The terrain was flat, wooded with very interesing trees, and filled with snakes (again..no pictures).

An example of how complete the flooding was can be seen by looking at this picture. The sign with the flagging above it was to indicate that only ATVs were permitted on this particular road. We had to put the stick with the orange flagging on top of the sign because the water got so deep that the sign was completely underwater. Whenever we came through this area with one of the power boats we would hit the sign with the propeller, so we needed to know where the sign was so we could avoid it.

Holy Crap!


At the height of the flooding we could no longer get anywhere near the study sites using our truck. So, the roads became routes for our powerboats. As this photo shows, however, the going was never easy. The water was up to 20 feet deep, which meant we had to navigate throught the tops of some of the trees. Our daily work involved getting in the power boat, riding out to a study site where our canoes had been chained up the day before, getting into the canoes and chaining the powerboat to a tree, working in the forest for 8-10 hours, and then heading for a rendezvous point on another study site where we would chain up our canoes and wait to be picked up.

I took this photo while I was taking the power boat to pick up the other members of the team. In order to assure that I had a canoe for the following day I had to lift it into the boat with me and then head off through the flooded forest. This job was one of the real adventures that I have experienced during my career!!

Toward the end of the season I decided that I wanted to get some photos of myself, so I took a point-and-shoot camera with a timer, set it in a tree, and took some pictures. This photo shows the water is just beginning to fall (note the high water mark in the bushes behind me).

I took this next photo on one of the last days that I spent in Arkansas. The water was still falling, and canoes were no longer useful because there were too many places where the higher ground was exposed. So, we had to walk through a combination of dry ground, muddy ground, and completely flooded ground. I had heard a young red-shouldered hawk calling from its nest and decided to investigate, but had to stop when I reached water that was too deep to continue walking in. There were aligators in the area, so I didn't want to feel completely helpless. I took my camera, set it down on a peice of floating cypress wood, and took this picture.

I have told Sue many times that I would love to return to the White River NWR, rent a boat, and retrace my steps with some proper photographic equipment. Until that day, however, I'll always remember the amazing sights and sounds that I witnessed and I will always be glad that I took the chance to go on an adventure!

Copyright 2006 William Danielson