Pigeon Mountain and a Second Excursion to Lavender Mountain

Pigeon Mountain is located in northwest Georgia, just west of Lafayette.  This area of the state is known geologically as the ridge and valley region.  The Pigeon Mountain Ridge is parallel to Lookout Mountain with a valley in between them.  Shamble Ridge, a spur of Pigeon Mountain, forms a cove where it connects with Lookout Mountain.  Most of Pigeon Mountain is protected by the state as a Wildlife Management Area.  

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By the time I thought of taking a photo of Pigeon Mountain from a distance, we were late for lunch and tired from hiking, so I had my daughter take this drive-by photo from the car.  It turned out ok.

Pigeon Mountain was formerly a major passenger pigeon roosting site.  Passenger Pigeons roosted in the forest here from late August to early March.  While they were migrating from their summer breeding grounds in the midwest, the flocks were so large they caused solar eclipses that lasted for as long as 6 hours. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/pleistocene-passenger-pigeon-populations/: )  Imagine the din from billions of birds flying overhead.  The dung and feathers dropping from the sky resembled snowflakes.  The ground underneath their roosting sites became white from excrement, and the weight of the birds broke tree limbs and even tree trunks in half.  The trees in their roosting sites usually died from overfertilization, opening up the forest canopy.  Plants, such as pokeweed and ginseng, grew in the sunny, nitrogen-rich spaces.  Passenger pigeons have been gone from Pigeon Mountain for over 100 years because they were market-hunted to extinction in the late 19th century.  Who knows how many plant species have suffered due to the bird’s absence.

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Pigeon Mountain is covered by a nice second growth forest.  White oak is the second most common oak behind rock chestnut oak.

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We walked up a ravine where a lot of beech trees grew.  The abundance of beech is evidence that passenger pigeons once nested en masse here.

I walked on a horseback trail that led up a ravine to a gravel road.  The trail was eroded and muddy.  The abundance of beech and black walnut trees here is relic evidence that passenger pigeons used to forage for mast on the mountain.  Beech trees can grow from sucker roots thereby insuring their survival, even if a flock of passenger pigeons ate every last seed every year.  Black walnuts have too thick a shell for a bird like a passenger pigeon to crack.  Since the passenger pigeon’s extinction, forests that used to be composed primarily of beech are being replaced by oaks because the acorns are no longer vacuumed up by flocks of pigeons.

Other common trees in this area of Pigeon Mountain include rock chestnut oak, white oak, black oak, hickory, tulip, white pine, Virginia pine, and loblolly pine.  I found some ripe wild muscadines that were as sweet as cultivated grapes.  I heard pileated woodpeckers, chickadees, and crows.

The Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail is located within Pigeon Mountain WMA.  I couldn’t find good directions online, but my brother-in-law showed us where it is.  (Take Highway 193 to Mclemore Cove Road and turn left.  Then turn left on Pocket Road.  This turns into a long gravel road that leads to the Wild Flower Trail and Estelle Mines.)  The Wildflower Trail is a wheelchair accessible boardwalk built in a swamp dominated by large sweetgum trees.  It’s surprising to see a swamp like this in north Georgia, though there are no cypress trees.  There are some sycamore, hickory, and red maple trees growing with the sweetgum.

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The Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail is a boardwalk that was built over a swamp dominated by sweetgum.  Reminds me of the Congaree National Park.  There were few wildlflowers this time of year, but the sweetgum trees looked like they might be about 100 years old.

A rugged trail off the boardwalk leads to a cave.  Water springs from this cave and forms the creek that feeds the sweetgum swamp.  Edible-sized bream swim in the clear waters of the creek.

This time of year there are no flowers blooming on the wildflower trail.  However, on the side of the gravel road that led to it I saw blueish-purple bull thistle blooming, and lots of yellow flowers that I narrowed down to camphorweed, golden ragwort, golden aster, or blackeyed susans.  I can’t remember if the disks of the flowers were yellow or black.  If they were black, they were of the latter species, but if yellow they could be any of the first 3 I mentioned.  Many black swallowtailed butterflies were fluttering about.  We didn’t have time to see Estelle Mines, but we’ll come back next month.

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The spring that flows into the sweetgum swamp originates from this cave.

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I’m sure bats use this cave for roosting.

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Inside one of the caverns.

Lavender Mountain

Last time I visited Lavender Mountain located on Berry College campus, I didn’t see any deer, but this time I saw them every time I turned around.

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I saw lots of deer and other wildlife on the Berry College campus adjacent to Lavender Mountain.

Berry College campus is almost like a zoo.  The deer are tame and don’t run away from cars.  I also saw turkeys, over 60 Canadian geese grazing in an unmowed field, and dozens of killdeer plovers in a mowed field.  I’ve seen killdeer plover before, especially around golf courses, but never this many.  On Highway 27 a few miles from Berry College I saw a peregrine falcon perched on a telephone wire not far from a flock of blackbirds.  On a trail next to Lavender Mountain I smelled the distinct odor of a skunk that must have crossed the path that morning.

There is a trail at the bottom of a creek that bisects Lavender Mountain.  An open pine savannah grows on 1 side, but a mostly hardwood forest consisting of white oak, overcup oak, shagbark hickory, and tulip grows on the other.  I’m definitely coming back next month, and I’m going to walk to the top of Lavender Mountain.

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Lavender Mountain.  It is so open there’s no need to follow a trail.  I think next time I’m going to walk to the top.

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A trail follows a creek bed in a ravine that cuts through lavender mountain.  The other side of the mountain is composed of mostly hardwoods.

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The trail through Lavender Mountain follows this creek bed.  You can see where the rest of the trail resumes, but I didn’t have time to walk any farther that day.

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2 Responses to “Pigeon Mountain and a Second Excursion to Lavender Mountain”

  1. jamesrobertsmith Says:

    Well, I’m jealous. When we lived in he vicinity I never had the chance to hike in either place, although we often passed by Pigeon Mountain.

    That area has notoriously seasonal creeks. One month you walk along a rush creek five feet deep, then the next season it’s a bed of dried rocks.

  2. markgelbart Says:

    There are a lot of unique sites within the Pigeon Mountain WMA. Next month we’re going to check out an abandoned iron ore mine. Rocktown also sounds interesting, but from reading the directions it might be hard to find.

    Some years ago, I visited Blue Hole, but that wasn’t very impressive–during a drought it looked like a mud puddle.

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