Native Plants, Habitat Restoration, and Other Science Snippets from Athens, Georgia

Friday: 16 May 2014

Making Way  -  @ 08:05:22
First thing, I'm starting to find some box turtles now, so life is good.

Second thing, I'm working on the annual trails into wild country.

Wild country, below, is the leftmost (westmost) area marked in red, as "New." The part running along Goulding Creek is floodplain. The topo tells you this, as it also tells you that there is a rise to the south to a couple of shoulders that overlook the creek (if you could see it from there, which you can't). The colored lines roughly mark what I call turtling paths, designed to maximize coverage, and the light green circles cover an area of about an acre. Our neighborhood access road is in gray, at upper right.

South of the red block, all the way to Wolfskin Road (about a mile) is developed only in the sense that it's pine plantation on the uplands and old unmolested hardwood on the slopes and ravines. Northward of the red block is a similar stretch that ends at Black Snake Road.

We bought this red-marked area, "new" (plus the heavier black-marked area, "westridge") several years ago in order to add a stretch of creek, which now amounts to just under half a mile from eastmost to westmost points. It's a nice walk, but I was frustrated because by May it had become practically impossible to get through the growth. Not just impossible, but somewhat dangerous - we do have rattlesnakes and copperheads, not to mention ticks, and once the growth started you can't see the ground.

So I was only able to walk on much of this for four months of the year. We do vacate that part of the property from October until January as a donation to the local hunting club. (Not that we hunt, but the club with its strict rules provides a buffer during a 4-month stretch when we would otherwise have poachers entering the area.)

Last year, I got a fairly good swing blade and determined to cut a path along the creek, and then back eastward along the southern red line. It worked great! I was able all summer long to get all the way to the west end and back, in reasonable comfort. In the end, I found 23 new turtles, two of which I rediscovered before the end of the season.

This year I got a late start, but I've been gradually working my way westward. Here's a section before I swing bladed it (Goulding Creek is not visible at right, down a steep slope):

It's mostly six-weeks fescue (Vulpia octoflora) at this point, a native annual spring grass that over the next few weeks will die back and fall over. The evil Microstegium, already carpeting the ground below, will take its place, and it will get knee high and also thoroughly obscure the ground. The taller forbs are mostly crownbeard (Verbesina occidentalis), an attractive tall plant with yellow flowers. You in the West US will have seen this as a relative, V. encelioides. Ours is yellow, yours is golden.

And here's what it's like after swing blading. It's a little hard to tell, even though I waited a couple of days until the cut vegetation browned a bit. But I assure you I'm looking at a 4-5 foot wide cut. It's comfortable to walk through, the ground vegetation is just a few inches tall, and I can see well off to each side. I'm usually able to get a couple of hundred feet cut before I poop out. I figure I have two more days before I get to the west end.

Most of our heavy plant growth comes from April into June. After that there's a lot of die back, and summer grasses and forbs are less luxuriant in their growth. I'll have to do a little trimming in June or July just to keep the Microstegium down, but it's essentially done at this point, and well worth the effort.

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