Thursday, December 5, 2013

SCNC Ramble Report Dec. 3 2013


  • ·        The next trail walk at Sandy Creek Nature Center (Nature Center, not the Park) will be on Wednesday morning, Feb. 5, 2014, at 9AM, followed by coffee, tea and homemade goodies. Everyone is invited! There will be no walk in December or January. The walks next year will be on the first Wednesday of the month. Mark your calendars!
  • ·        One of our Ramblers, Alice Woodruff, is a potter and invites all you Ramblers to her Christmas Sale open house, Dec. 7-8, 10AM to 5PM at 35 S. Main St., Watkinsville, GA; phone: 706-207-5175.
  • ·        Reminder: Dale or Hugh will be happy to have company whenever they ramble at the State Botanical Garden this winter. They will notify all the Ramblers of the date and time by email. (It is likely not to be early in the morning and the days/times may vary, depending on weather. Think of it as a group of friends just spontaneously getting together. The Ramble Reports will also be on winter hiatus.)

Be sure to visit Don Hunter's facebook album to see all the photos from this walk. 

This post is written by Dale Hoyt and Emily Carr.

We began in front of the SCNC Education and Visitor Center with 18 people, a mixture of Nature Ramblers, newbies and folks who have previously participated in SCNC walks. It was a wonderful turnout for a warm (for this time of year) morning when rain was forecast.

Nandina berries

Walking down the paved Greenway road Emily pointed out that this was the Old Commerce Road, a role now assumed by US 441. We noticed the bright red nandina berries. Nandina is an introduced, invasive species. Gary told us that Cedar Waxwings have died after feasting on the berries. UGA landscaping division is removing the bushes on campus. Here are two relevant links:

Hornet's Nest
We spotted a hornet's nest high in a Sycamore along the Greenway. This is likely the nest of a Bald-Faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata), a large black and white colored wasp. The nest, a large, paper covered structure, about the size of a soccer ball contains a colony of social wasps. It is started by a single, fertilized female, the "queen." She builds the initial comb of hexagonal shaped cells into which she lays a single egg. This starter nest looks very much like the combs of the paper wasps you often see under the eaves of houses or other protected areas. The eggs hatch into grub-like larvae which are fed a protein rich diet of insect "hamburgers" collected by the queen. When the larvae have grown enough they spin a silken cap over the top of their cell and metamorphose into the pupal stage. The adult wasp emerges from the pupa several days later and chews its way out of the cell. The early-emerging wasps are all female workers and they continue to forage for food make paper to enlarge the nest. As the comb grows in size it is covered with the outer gray shell of paper which protects the interior from the weather and predators. Late in the season males and future queens are produced (the queen determines the sex of her offspring). The future queens go on mating flights and overwinter to found their own colony the following spring. The other wasps in the nest -- the original queen, workers and males all die with the advent of winter. The nest is not reused.

Tree growing in brick pile
The erosion of the embankment on the east side of the Greenway sometimes reveals the roots of large trees enmeshed with ancient piles of bricks. This is, of course, because the area was the location of a brick factory, now long abandoned. Emily mentioned that the Nature Center has a photograph of the area taken around the time the brick factory closed (circa the late 1920s-early 1930s). The photo shows a bare landscape with a total absence of trees.
~100 year old forest
So the trees we see on either side of the Greenway are a maximum of ~90-100 years of age. 

Sandy Creek
We walked past the original SCNC buildings, through the power cut, and down to Sandy Creek. As we approached the Log House Trail, Zach spotted a snake in the grass on the embankment above the creek.

Northern Watersnake head
Dale grabbed its tail and extricated a very cold and sluggish Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) from a tangle of grasses. This is a non-venomous snake that is often confused with the Water Moccasin or Cottonmouth. In Clarke Co. you don't have to worry about encountering Cottonmouths -- they are not found here. Notice the placement of the eyes and nostrils high on the head. This permits the snake to see and breathe while keeping most of its head and body submerged.

Baber-Bridges Log House

We headed up the hill to the Baber-Bridges Log House. You can pick up a hand-out about the house at the Education and Visitor Center and explore it at the Open House on January 25th.

As we approached the old brick factory that operated here back in the early 1900s, we noticed the bright flags scattered in the woods nearby. They mark a research project about ant colonies. 

Brick factory "tunnel kiln"
We examined the ruins of the factory and the remains of the “tunnel kiln.” The Claypit Pond below the brick factory was made by workers digging up the clay and transporting it up the hill to the kiln.

Then we descended the hill to Claypit pond.

Claypit Pond

Down by Claypit pond we saw a Great Blue Heron and a group of noisy Canada geese. Canada geese are present on the pond year round and have nested here in past years. We discussed whether these birds were migratory or year-round residents. Here is a link discussing these birds.

Aphid Lion belly up, showing mandibles and bristles that hold trash

We tried to ID a tree near the observation pier and decided we may have to wait until spring and leaves. Emily will check with the naturalists to see if they can help us. As we pondered the tree, Sandra noticed some clumps of lichen moving on the trunk. Closer examination revealed that the mobile pile of fungus was an aphid lion, the larva of a Lacewing "fly."  Be sure to watch this wonderful videoon the life history of these interesting insects. Also check out Don Hunter's video of the aphid lion Sandra discovered.

But why are these aphid lions moving about at this time of year? Surely their aphid prey have been killed by the several hard frosts we've experienced back in November. And how did they survive the frosts?

We continued walking beside the pond looking for beaver signs. After a question about the depth of the pond, Emily checked with Walt Cook, one of the founders of SCNC. He said that it is about 8 feet deep and added:

There is a dike that contains the pond.  It runs from near the log house to near the bird overlook.  It is very obvious in an aerial photo I took in 1974, which is how I discovered the dike.  I assume the dike was built by the brick people to keep the creek from flooding the area of excavation of clay.  Beaver dammed a breach in the dike, then built their own dike from the man-made dike to the natural levee of the creek, to form a zigzag dam, partly man-made, partly beaver-made, and partly creek-made.  Smart beaver!!

We returned to the Education and Visitor Center for food and conversation.

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