Posts Tagged ‘Wilkes County’

My Dream Nature Property (Part 1)

February 6, 2012

I’m starting a new irregular series on this blog–my dream nature property.  My fantasy of living in Georgia 36,000 BP is not really possible.  Instead, I’ll be wishing and dreaming about properties in rural Georgia that I hope to one day purchase.  I’ll stick a trailer or cabin on the land and live out my days there.  So this fantasy has a possibility of coming true.

The first property I’d like to salivate over as a naturalist is this little gem on a Broad River Bluff.

http://www.landflip.com/land.asp?listing_id=7417

It’s 154 acres of mostly wooded land in the middle of nowhere.  I drove through this area of Wilkes County last spring and summer.  I only stepped out of my car for brief periods of time but saw deer and turkey instantly.  This property is only a few miles upstream from the spectacular Anthony Shoals.   I can imagine a nice canoe or kayak trip back and forth to the shoals. Most of this part of Wilkes County is abandoned farmland that has grown up into second growth forest or overgrown fields.  It’s very quiet and there is little traffic, unlike some of our crowded National Parks and National Forests.

Over 4,300 ft. on gently flowing Broad River

View of the Broad River from this beautiful property.

The property itself is said to consist of a mixture of hardwoods and pines.  A satellite view shows the wooded property is surrounded by hayfields and cow pastures.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing–open spaces attract grassland and forest edge species.  Hayfields and cow pastures are a lot better than suburbs anyway.  Because of the river, I’d be sure to see a great variety of aquatic animals and birds.  The bluff forest may hold some rare types of plants as well.  It appears the owners use the land for hunting and fishing.  I’d most likely use it for birdwatching, nature walking, and fishing, though, who knows, I might take up hunting as well.

Unusual open water duck pond

A duck pond on the property.

Scenic picnic & camping area beside river

A nice picnic area for  private beer parties and outdoor grilling or just quiet solitude.  Note the large leaning trees.

The property is selling for $369,668.  I’m going to have to get real lucky on the stock market to be able to afford something like this.  There’s no house on the property, so if I decide to live here, I’d have to pay for that as well.  When considering buying rural land, it’s best to realize how much property taxes will be.  A buyer should understand that not only do they need to come up with the money or credit to purchase the land, but they need to have a lot of money socked away to pay property taxes every year.

I think government should give tax breaks to people who allow their properties to remain natural, especially if they harbor rare environments.  Much of Georgia’s remaining rural land is destined to be ruined by monocultured tree farms and row crops, so the owners can afford to pay property taxes.  They may be more inclined to let it remain wild, if they don’t have to pay property taxes on it.

New Study of Burmese Pythons in South Florida is Ripe for Debunking

The National Academy of Science often publishes some really bad studies.  One example was a paper that proclaimed Ice Age mammal extinction, the Younger Dryas cold phase, and Carolina Bays were all caused by a comet colliding with the Laurentide Glacier 12,900 years ago.  This illogical paper has since been thoroughly debunked.  Another study ripe for debunking is one that made headline news last week. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/01/23/1115226109.full.pdf+html

Scientists claim the populations of medium-sized mammals in Everglades National Park has been reduced by up to 100% since the accidental introduction of Burmese pythons.  I suspect this is alarmist bullshit.  Reptiles have very slow metabolisms and do not eat as much as carnivorous mammals.  Moreover, if an introduced predator reduced its food supply, it in turn would suffer a population decline, because they would have nothing left to eat.  The number of Burmese pythons captured has steadily increased (with the exception of the 2010 when there was a snake-killing hard freeze), suggesting the species is increasing in number.  This increase in python population couldn’t happen, if they were wiping out their prey base.

The method they used to count deer, raccoon, possums, rabbits, bobcats, and foxes is highly questionable and somewhat bizarre.  Scientists drove at night 331 times over an 8 year period in cars with 1-4 people in them, and counted live and road-killed animals within Everglades National Park.  Supposedly, they did the same thing during the 1990’s before Burmese pythons colonized the park, though as far as I know this data wasn’t published then, and they could be pulling numbers out of their ass.

The results confirm (in my opinion) that this study is full of shit.  From 2003-2011 these scientists only counted 9 raccoons and 5 possums.  9 raccoons and 5 possums in 8 years?  No way. No way!  That is 1 raccoon and less than 1 possum per year.  (Why didn’t they count armadilloes?– Another common small mammal in south Florida.)  These results are just not credible.  To get a good estimate of small mammal populations, the scientists should have used live traps which I guarantee would catch raccoons and possums with a high frequency.  I’m certain these animals are still abundant in the park.  In fact a recent series on the Discovery channel featuring a nature park adjacent to the Everglades that is run by the Seminole Indians showed the Indians frequently capturing problem or injured raccoons and bobcats.

The scientists admit they have no direct evidence that snakes are behind the so-called decline in the population of medium-sized mammals in the park, but point to anecdotal evidence.  If all they have is anecdotal evidence, they’ve got nothing.

The introduction of Burmese pythons has been a wonderful addition to an ecosystem that was in desperate need of more large predators.  I have no doubt that the population of medium-sized mammals has been reduced, but there is no way they’ve decreased as much as this ridiculous study claims.  The introduction of Burmese pythons has been highly beneficial for box turtles and birds whose eggs were vulnerable to the overpopulation of raccoons and possums.

By the way, the Everglades is overrated.  The most beautiful and productive ecosystem in Florida was destroyed by Walt Disney.  The creator of Bambi killed more wildlife than a millenia of hunters.  William Bartram and other explorers all agreed that the region now ruined by Disney World and Orlando was the most beautiful wild place they’d ever seen, and this was in the 18th century when just about every place on the continent was wild.

My Expedition to Kettle Creek Battlefield, the Little Kettle Creek Fossil Site, and the Great Buffalo Lick

May 21, 2011

Now that the school year is finished, I finally had a chance to tour some of the sites I’ve been ruminating about lately on this blog beginning with…

The Kettle Creek Battlefield

In Febuary 1779 Colonel Boyd of the British Loyalists sent 150 men to forage the nearby farms for supplies such as cattle which they likely stole.  While the foragers were  busy slaughtering their booty, Boyd hunkered down with the rest of his men on a hilltop near Kettle Creek which is actually more of a small river about 30 feet in width that runs through what today is Wilkes County, Georgia.  Colonel Dooly of the Patriots decided this was a good time to attack because he only had 340 men compared to the 550 remaining Loyalists who were missing the foragers.  Andrew Pickens led a frontal attack up the hill, while flankers led by Dooly and Elijah Clark headed through the woods.  Unfortunately for the Patriots, Boyd’s skirmishers and sentries successfully ambushed Pickens, and the swollen creeks and canebrakes slowed down the flanking attacks, making them well behind schedule.

The Patriots attacked up this hill.  The Loyalist who took this photo was kind of nervous–note the blurry image.  Actually, I took all the photos in this week’s blog entry.

The Loyalists were winning, but the battle turned when a Patriot musket ball struck Boyd in the heart, killing him, and just at that moment the Patriot flanking attacks emerged from the canebrakes.  Now surrounded on three sides,  the Loyalists retreated in panic toward their only escape route–the cold swollen waters of Kettle Creek.  Some made it across, but up to 70 were killed and 70 more captured.  The Patriots suffered just 9 dead.  Some of the Loyalists who escaped were later captured and hanged because they’d previously pledged their loyalty to the Patriots.  This seems harsh by today’s standards, but back then, going back on one’s word and disgracing one’s honor was considered a crime equal to murder.  The battle demonstrated the futility of British efforts to subdue its American colony.  The foraging thievery of the Loyalist militia  turned the countryside against them as well.

Graveyard for veterans of this battle.  Most buried here didn’t actually die on the battlefield.  Some didn’t die until 65 years later and chose to be buried here.  They must have talked about this battle for the rest of their lives.

List of soldiers proved to have fought in this battle.

Monument to the battle

Behind the battlefield, a nice hardwood forest slopes toward Kettle Creek.  The canebrakes are gone.

Today, the Kettle Creek Battlefield sits at the end of a long gravel road that cuts through miles of young loblolly pine stands and old fields where turkey and deer are abundant.  I chased a turkey with my car for awhile, and the turkey chose to try to outrun me for about 100 yards up the road before it flew a little, landed, and finally cut into the brush.  It’s a small battlefield within a woodlot of black oak, post oak, shortleaf pine, and shellbark hickory.  The canebrake is gone, probably due to fire suppression.

The Little Kettle Creek Fossil Site

(For more on this site see my blog entry of March 17, 2011.)

Little Kettle Creek is a much smaller stream than Kettle Creek, but it flows through a surprisingly deep gulley–evidence that it’s a very old watercourse that at times has run much deeper.

Note how deep this gully is compared to the size of the stream.  Both banks must be at least 30 feet deep.  It must be very old and in the past has run much deeper.

It’s obvious the creek is old because it has eroded a miniature canyon here.  This is the only Pleistocene fossil site in the entire piedmont region of southeastern North America, yielding remains of mammoth, mastodon, bison, deer, voles, lemmings, and catfish.  Fossil sites are rare in this region for 2 reasons: a lower frequency of floods during arid glacial climate phases, and acidic soils which completely dissolve bone.  Nevertheless, there must have been a flood that washed fossils into this basin.  I briefly prospected for fossils under the bridge in a likely location behind a rocky dike where lots of smaller rocks and stones accumulated, but I came up empty.  The actual fossil site is a few hundred yards downstream from here, however, I chose not to trespass–the barbed wire across the creek hinted at hostility toward interlopers and a determination to keep cattle inside.  I supposed the area under the bridge was a public right of way, though maybe I was on shaky ground, and I didn’t stay long.  Still, I’m convinced there are more fossils to be had here and in other piedmont rivers and creeks in Georgia.  It’s just a matter of taking the time to look.  They’re just harder to find than they are in productive sites like those in Florida.

A look up Little Kettle Creek.  I just missed catching a deer fawn in this photo.  The mammoths, mastodons, and bison may be gone, but at least the deer are still here.

I did see lots of wildlife here, despite the noise of a nearby hay mowing machine.  A finger of forest along the creekside snakes through hayfields.  I saw a deer, a deer fawn, and lots of deer tracks.  A crayfish observed me swing my hand through sand and rocks in my futile search for fossils.  Swallow nests litter the bottom of the bridge.  A broad-winged hawk flew in front of me, and I almost stepped on a mourning dove.

This crayfish watched my futile attempt to find fossils.

I didn’t find fossils in front of these rocks, but I did find neat stones that were half black and half marble white.

Swallows make mud nests under all small bridges in the Georgia countryside.  I love the speed at which they fly.  They consume vast quantities of flies and mosquitoes.

Wilkes County is still a beautiful bucolic setting, especially the area along Highway 44 between Washington and Tyrone.  It consists of rolling hillsides with rich pastureland and hayfields interspersed with oak woodlots.  There’s less of the monocultured loblolly pine tree stands that dominate much of the rest of the region.  It has a population of only 10,000 people.  They might be outnumbered by deer and turkey.

The Great Buffalo Lick

In 1773 the Creek Indians, after seeing how the British colonists murdered the Cherokees in battle, agreed to meet local British leaders at the Great Buffalo Lick to negotiate a peaceful settlement.  A surveyor’s malfunctioning compass nearly derailed the agreement.  William Bartram reported an Indian chief’s temper tantrum over what he considered a bewitched instrument.  But the instrument’s measurements were disregarded, and the Creek Indians ceded much of Georgia to the colonists, not realizing this was a permanent deal because they didn’t understand the concept of private property rights.  They thought they were merely giving the British temporary permission to use their territory.

My quest to find this site resulted in a comical failure.  According to Dr. De Vorsey, the true site of the Great Buffalo Lick is 5 miles north of Philomath in Oglethorpe County, and .5 miles south of Buffalo Creek. I drove well past Philomath without being aware I’d passed it.  My daughter asked me when were we going to get to the site.  I told her when we passed Philomath, and she informed me that we’d passed it a long time ago.  I drove back and realized why I’d missed it–Philomath consists of just 5 houses and a volunteer fire station.  I went .5 miles back in the other direction and found a hollow that looked just like one William Bartram described in his book Travels.  He observed deep pits that buffalo, deer, feral cattle and horses licked into the clay soil, and some of these hollows filled with grass.  I saw this and assumed it was the site and photographed it.  Later, after I came home and reviewed my notes, I realized I only backtracked .5 miles instead of 5 miles.  Oops.  Nevertheless, my initial error led me to drive past this distance, and I didn’t see a 50 foot boulder, nor did I notice Buffalo Creek–two markers Dr. De Vorsey mentions in his article.

The hollow I mistakenly thought was the site of the Great Buffalo Lick.  Maybe it was a pit created by buffalo licking into the kaolin clay.  However, it’s probably just a dried out old cattle tank.  The owner of the land has Black Angus cows for sale.

This is clay soil that may be part of the Kaolin clay vein the buffalo used to utilize.  They didn’t lick it for mineral salts, but rather to aid in digestion.

I’m not the first to error in locating this site.  There are 3 other sites that have mistakenly claimed to have been the Buffalo Lick site.  Two are in Greene County, and the other is also in Oglethorpe County.  The Oglethorpe Historical Society needs to get off their duffs and put a marker in the correct location. 

Dr. De Vorsey correctly identified the site when, with the help of his students, he luckily found a 1796 survey for a “plat of land” 2400 feet from Buffalo Creek, and the description of land markers matched that of Bartram’s.  See

http://www.bartramtrail.org/pages/articles.html

For next week’s blog entry, I’m going to discuss how state highways mirror the ancient Indian trails.

William Bartram’s “Magnificent” Forest

April 11, 2011

Portrait of William Bartram.  In his classic Natural History book, Travels, this author and botanist gave us valuable information about the original ecology and landscapes of southeastern North America, many of which either no longer exist or occur as extremely rare remnants.  He traveled through South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi,  Louisiana, and North Carolina in the 3 years prior to the American Revolution.

A passage from William Bartram’s Travels inspired my trip to the Congaree National Park last week.  I longed to see a forest of giant trees, the kind that used to commonly occur in the southeast until European settlers raped the land.  Though the Congaree has the largest trees in North America east of the California redwoods, the largest trees there are only half the size of the ones Bartram measured in a forest in east central Georgia.  This incredible stretch of woods was 7 miles long (the width is unreported) and existed in  what today is Taliaferro County.  Here’s Bartram’s description of this forest:

Leaving the pleasant town of Wrightsborough, we continued eight or nine miles through a fertile plain and high forest, to the north branch of the Little River, being the largest of the two, crossing which, we entered an extensive fertile plain, bordering on the river, and shaded by trees of vast growth, which at once spoke of its fertility.  Continuing some time through these shady groves, the scene opens, and discloses to view the most magnificent forest I had ever seen.  We rise gradually a sloping bank of twenty or thirty feet in elevation, and immediately entered this sublime forest; the ground is a  perfectly level green plain, thinly planted by nature with the most stately forest trees, such as the gigantic black oak (Q. tinctoria) Liriodendron, Juglans nigra, Platanus, Juglans exalta, Fagus sylvatica, Ulmus sylvatica, Liquid-amber styraciflua, whose mighty trunks, seemingly of an equal heighth, appeared like superb columns…

(I assume “thinly planted by nature” and “level green plain” meant grass grew between the trees.  For those not up to Latin names for trees, the forest consisted of black oak, tulip, black walnut, sycamore, shell bark hickory, beech, elm, and sweetgum.”)

…To keep within the bounds of truth and reality, in describing the magnitude and grandeur of these trees, would, I fear, fail of credibility; yet, I think I can assert, that many of the black oaks measured, eight, nine, ten, and eleven feet in diameter five feet above the ground, as we measured several that were above thirty feet girt, and from whence they ascend perfectly strait, with a gradual taper, forty or fifty feet to the limbs; but, below five or six feet, these trunks would measure a third more in circumference, on account of the projecting jambs, or supports, which are more or less, according to the number of horizontal roots, that they arise from: the Tulip tree, Liquidamber, and Beech, were equally stately…

 

Painting by Philip Juras.  Bartram inspired this artist to create 68 landcape paintings based on descriptions from his book, Travels.   This painting is of a piedmont woodland opening, much like what Bartram describes in his passage on the “magnificent” forest, though I think the trees aren’t as big. Philip Juras’s portfolio will be on display at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta from May 28-August 14.  I can’t wait to see them in person!

The composition of William Bartram’s magnificent forest puzzles me.  The forest was dominated by “thinly planted” black oaks which implies a forest dependent upon frequent fires for oaks and grasses to grow. Oaks and grasses are fire tolerant but shade intolerant.  However, the other species of trees in this fores are fire intolerant, yet shade tolerant.  I asked Marc Abrams, a forest ecologist from Penn State, about this curious composition of trees.  He explained that Bartram’s description was of a lower slope mixed mesophytic forest with the exception of the black oaks which don’t fit into this kind of forest because it is not pyrogenic.  He had no definitive answer as to how this forest developed.  Reading the next paragraph in Travels, however, gave me an idea.

Not far distant from the terrace, or eminence, overlooking the low grounds of the river, many very magnificent monuments of the power and industry of the ancient inhabitants of these lands are visible.  I observed a stupendous conical pyramid, or artificial mount of earth, vast tetragon terraces, and a large sunken area, of a cubical form, encompassed with banks of earth; and certain traces of a large Indian town, the work of a powerful nation, whose period of grandeur perhaps long preceded the discovery of this continent.

This impressive forest apparently was adjacent to an ancient Indian town, probably a large one.  If I recall my archaeology correctly, the mound-building Indians abandoned their towns between 1300AD-1500AD.  Bartram’s magnificent forest may have been this town’s hunting grounds which they managed by periodically burning it to maintain a grassy oak savannah favorable for game such as deer, buffalo, and turkey.  After the Indians abandoned the area, the fire intolerant/shade tolerant species, first establishing themselves alongside the abundant creeks, colonized this woodland, but the black oaks remained, living to a great age, and thus explaining their size.  Black oaks can live to be 250 years old.  The passage was written in 1773; the moundbuilders abandoned the town some time in the previous 150 years, so this stretch of woods was still an oak forest, but eventually was on the way to becoming a forest dominated by shade tolerant beech, sycamore, and elm.

European settlers probably clear cut this forest between 1830-1860 after they kicked the Indians out of the state but before the Civil War stifled the economy.  They also probably ploughed, flattened, and destroyed  the Indian mounds. I’ll have to take a day trip and explore this area some time this summer and see if I can find any remnants of what Bartram saw.

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An addendum to last week’s blog entry–The natural history of the Congaree

Last week, I wrote that as far as I knew there had been no palynological studies determining the age of the Congaree Swamp.  To prove myself wrong, I google searched and did find one–“Palynology and Paleoecology of Late Pleistocene to Holocene, organic rich, paleomeander/rim swamp deposits in South Carolina, and Georgia” by Art Cohen, et. al. from the Geological Society of America 38 (7) Oct. 2006.  Scientists took cores in a place known as Muck swamp within the Congaree.  The oldest zone dated to 21,000 BP, and they found pollen and macrofossils of water lillies, diatoms, algae, spruce, and an evening primrose flower related to a species found in Alaska.  They interpeted this to mean that Muck Swamp was an oxbow lake during this time period.  It must have been an important refuge for waterfowl because during this cool arid climatic stage, wetlands were scarce.  A younger, undated zone contained pollen of oak, hickory, chestnut, and walnut.  They interpet this zone to be a marsh, but it seems more like an upland hardwood forest to me.  Zone 3, dating to about 3500 BP contained pollen of pine, sweetgum, alder, cypress, tupelo, and magnolia. Cypress was the last of the modern day representatives to colonize (or perhaps recolonize) the swamp.