Posts Tagged ‘Swamp Chestnut Oak’

The Moody Forest Natural Area

April 6, 2012

Between Reconstruction and World War II, lumber companies raped Georgia, clearcutting the beautiful forests that hadn’t already been cleared by greedy, slave-owning cotton farmers.  Jake Moody refused to let them destroy his beloved property, known locally as Moody Swamp.  He made his heirs promise not to allow its destruction.  In 1999 the descendents of his heirs sold 4500 acres to The Nature Conservancy, and today that organization shares ownership and management duties with the Georgia state government.  Thanks to Jake Moody’s foresight and love of nature, a remnant of old growth forest still exists here.

The Moody Forest Natural Area is located in Appling County, Georgia about a 10 minute drive north of Baxley and about a 10 minute drive south of the Hatch Nuclear Plant.  It can be accessed via East River Road, a well-maintained dirt road off Highway 1.  The dirt road is a smooth ride with very few bumpy rutted areas.  Despite being in the middle of nowhere, there are many nice houses on the opposite side of the road from the nature preserve.  The people living here must really enjoy country living–I saw not a single house for sale.  A fat old dog sleeps in just about every resident’s front yard, and many people keep cows, horses, and/or chickens.  One person even had an apiary.  I rank East River Road as one of the best places in Georgia for a naturalist to live.

Big slash pine.  Note the burned trunk.  The Moody Forest Natural Area is burned on a regular schedule to improve habitat for wildlife.  Mature pines and oaks usually survive light ground fires.

A swamp chestnut oak next to an old dwelling of some sort.  There’s space under the shack for chickens and a covered place to hitch the mule up to.  The oak is bigger than the slash pine in the above photo but a size comparison with a person wasn’t possible–by this time on our hike, the mosquitoes had chased my hiking partner into the car.  There are reportedly 200 year old post oaks and overcup oaks in the preserve.  Although dominated by pine, there are a surprising number of oaks here including swamp chestnut, post, Shumards or black (I can’t tell the difference between those species), southern red, overcup, and laurel.

There are 5 miles of trails in the preserve besides the access road that is adjacent to the Moody Family cemetery. Tavia’s Loop Trail is 3 miles long, and the River Trail is 2 miles long but because it’s not a loop that means it’s a 4 mile hike back and forth. If I was by myself, I would have hiked both, but there are no restrooms located anywhere near the preserve, and my wife needed one.  Spending money on a public lavatory probably isn’t a high priority for The Nature Conservancy.  I get the impression The Nature Conservancy doesn’t really want people to tour their protected sites.  The least they could do would be to build an old fashioned rustic outhouse.

Open pine parkland woods.  I didn’t see a single longleaf pine.  Instead,  I saw  loblolly and slash pines.

350 acres of longleaf pine-wiregrass savannah occurs at Moody, but I didn’t see any.  I hiked 1/2 mile up an access road and then another mile on Tavia’s trail, and I didn’t seen a single longleaf pine tree.  There was barely any wiregrass.  At the time of European colonization, longleaf pine savannah was the dominant landscape on the southeastern coastal plain.  Even in the protected Moody Preserve it takes up less than 10% of the land area, showing just how rare it is now.  Perhaps, if I had the opportunity to complete the whole loop trail, I would have come across it.  Instead, I saw mostly open pine parkland dominated by loblolly pine, slash pine, and post oaks.

Information I’ve read about Moody Forest makes no mention of ferns.  This type of fern is by far the most common plant in the undergrowth here. I think it’s royal fern, but I’m not sure.  It’s worthwhile  to see nature in person rather than just reading about it.

Here’s some wiregrass sprouting up after a recent burn.  The only people we encountered were a couple of workers with firestarting equipment.  By setting fires, they are mimicking Indian land management techniques .  Of course, before the Indians,  fires were more irregular and less frequent.  Pleistocene fires may have some times been devastating.  However, more often than not, Ice Age fires were  less severe because the megafauna consumed so much plant material there was less fuel, and dry climate phases fostered less plant growth.

A burrow dug by an endangered gopher tortoise.  I didn’t see the tortoise but I did see 2 rabbits just above the burrow.  I suspect they use the burrow for shelter.  I also saw a red-shouldered hawk carrying a cotton rat, turkey and black vultures, some gray squirrels, pileated woodpeckers, a red-bellied woodpecker, deer tracks, and lots and lots of mosquitoes and gnats.

A place to hitch up the ole mule.  The preserve needs an old-fashioned but working outhouse.  Women don’t like to squat in the wilderness.

This former homesite has 2 fireplaces.  This is one of them.  There are plenty of old ruins at Moody making it doubly interesting to explore.

The Moody Natural Area offers much to explore for the naturalist and the historian.  I barely scratched the surface during the brief but treasured time I was there.  I didn’t even have time to see any part of the River Trail.  Reportedly, 600 year old cypress trees stand there.

This cow pasture sits on the corner of Highway 1 and East River Road.  It’s the only really open space I saw in the vicinity of Moody Forest.  I pretended the cows were long-horned bison and imagined being in the Pleistocene.  There were Canadian geese by the creek, but I don’t think they’re visible in the photo.

Altamaha River Roadside Park

I didn’t have an opportunity to hike the River Trail in Moody Forest, but I wanted to see the Altamaha River up close.  The intersection off Highway 1 and the river has a Roadside Park that I investigated instead.

Graffiti on the Highway 1 Bridge that spans the Altamaha.  I love graffiti.

Spanish moss-draped post oaks.  This is an unusual combination of species.  Post oaks grow on dry upland sites; Spanish moss prefers warm moist lowland sites.  However at this site, they co-occur and dominate.

This is how I imagine a common Pleistocene landscape in Georgia might appear, but with taller grass and populated with bison and horses.

The Altamaha River.  This bend of the river almost looks like a lake.

A scary steep bluff.  Almost looked like a cliff from here.

Here’s proof that a kind of grape other than muscadine grows in south Georgia.  I think this is a River Grape which produces small blue fruit.

The Silver Bluff Audubon Center

November 28, 2011

I planned to visit the Moody Nature Preserve over Thanksgiving break, but I changed my mind because I hate driving.  Instead, I went to The Silver Bluff Audubon Center near Silver Bluff, South Carolina.  It was a 45 minute drive from my house vs. a 3 hour drive to the Moody Preserve.  The shorter distance beat sitting in a car half the day.

The SBAC is located in the boondocks.  Silver Bluff Road runs off Old Jackson Highway, an area of second growth forest, agricultural land, and factories.  The latter are located here to take advantage of the state’s anti-union oppression.  A large wheat field borders the bird sanctuary.  The last 2 miles of Silver Bluff Road consists of unpaved but well graded dirt.  The road leads to the Savannah River but to reach the hiking trails it’s only necessary to drive about half that distance.

Map of the SBAC. I hiked the Tanager Loop Trail.  It’s supposed to be about 2 miles, but I think it’s slightly longer than that.  The Tanager Trail is well marked and easy to follow.

This ancient dwelling is near the beginning of Tanager Trail.  It looks like an outhouse, but someone probably lived in it a long time ago.  Perhaps it was a hunting cabin.  It’s surrounded by overgrown chinaberry trees (I think).

Over 200 species of birds have been recorded at the SBAC, and I saw about 5 % of them in the hour I was there.  I suppose, if I could have stayed all day, I could have easily doubled that number.  I didn’t see any of the rare birds that make this preserve special–bald eagles, Cooper’s hawks, wood storks, Bachman’s sparrows, prairie warblers, Swainson’s warblers, and loggerhead shrikes.  All of these species breed here, but some are migrants.  I didn’t see the ponds where the water level is managed for the wood storks.  Wood storks require shallow water that supports an abundance of small aquatic vertebrates.  They nest close to shallow water, making it easy to feed their young.  I did see a wood stork last spring around the corner from my house as it flew over a wooded stream.

The 10 species of birds I did see were common–white breasted nuthatches, Le Conte’s sparrows, downy woodpeckers, rufous sided towhees, mourning doves, cardinals, crows, redwinged black birds, and turkey vultures.  This was the first time I’d ever noticed and identified the white breasted nuthatch, though I realize now I’ve seen them many times in the past.  They occur in pairs, and I did see 2 flying together.  The other hiking trail is actually named the White Breasted Nuthatch Trail.  On the way to this preserve I drove on bridges over Phinizy Swamp, Merry Brickyard Ponds, and the Savannah River, and I spotted 4 additional species–black vultures, common mergansers, great blue herons, and egrets.  None of the birds in the SBAC cooperated with my attempts to photograph them.  They kept flitting about and perching high in the trees.

There’s an open pine savannah with longleaf pine and wire grass alongside the unpaved road that leads to the trails, but I didn’t stop to photograph it.  I didn’t see any longleaf pine trees along the trail I hiked, though much of the forest is quite open there, and the fires they use to manage the savannah have undoubtedly spread here.

Much of the forest in the SBAC is open like this.  It consists of a few species of pine and many species of oak.  These are loblolly pine, I believe.  Shortleaf pine and loblolly pine hybridize and some of the trees showed characteristics of both.

Many of the pine tree trunks are charred, showing evidence of fires.  The fires used to manage the open pine savannah evidentally spread here.  Both pines and oaks are fire resistant.  Most pine and oak trees over 3 years old can survive light ground fires.  Some species of oak, however, are somewhat less fire resistant.  They may survive, but the fire damage makes them vulnerable to diseases which rot out the wood and create snags.

Here’s an oak tree that was wrecked by a storm, probably earlier this past summer.

Common trees along the Tanager Trail that I identified include loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, hybrid pines, water oak, laurel oak, Shumard’s oak, southern red oak, black or cherry bark oak (I can’t tell the difference), blackjack oak, swamp chestnut oak, post oak, overcup oak, sweetgum, hickory, beech, and tupelo.  The composition suggests what botanists might refer to as a mesophitic river terrace forest because most of the species prefer moist sites.  I had never noticed and identified Shumard’s oak before, though I’ve certainly seen it.  Shumard’s oak can grow to 100 feet tall.  It’s a valuable species utilized for reforesting bottomlands due to its fast growth rate.  Swamp chestnut oak occurs here as well.  It’s also known as cow oak because its acorns are palatable enough for cows to eat.

Spanish moss grows on most of the hardwoods here.

Is this a dried out Carolina Bay?  I took this photo while standing on a boardwalk, but last summer must have been so dry the water here completely evaporated.  Tupelo trees grow here.  They normally grow partially submerged.  I think this might be a Carolina Bay.

There’s lots of snags in these woods.

The tree on the right is a beech.  I’m always excited to find this northern species in Georgia.  I couldn’t identify the tree on the left because the leaves had all fallen off, but there were a lot of hickory leaves on the ground around the trunk.

Note the woodpecker hole at the very top of the debarked tree.  Did the woodpeckers debark their nesting tree?

A windstorm knocked this tree precariously over the trail.  Several other trees were knocked over in a neat row.  Tornado or downburst?

Photo of the trunk of the leaning tree in the previous photo.  The base is cracked.

The trail goes through a planted pine plantation.  I couldn’t believe the trail sign pointed this way.  I thought some practical joker had twisted the sign because a trail criscrossed this one.  Luckily, I did follow the sign.  Trees are harvested here, but for the most part the management is beneficial for the birds.  This was the dullest part of the trail, though a big flock of redwinged blackbirds flew over us here.

I saw deer tracks and heard a squirrel barking–the only mammal life I detected here.  Surrounding this deer track are fallen leaves from laurel oak, water oak, and overcup oak.

If I would have had more time I would have walked down the unpaved road to the river.  I hiker can easily get over 5 miles of enjoyable walking here on the trails and unpaved road.  On the Friday after Thanksgiving there were only 2 other cars parked here, so it’s not at all crowded.