Date: 10/17/20 3:52 pm From: Greg D. Jackson <g_d_jackson...> Subject: [ALbirds] Oxford area explorations this morning (17 Oct) and a conservation question
Wanting to do something different, I headed east before sunrise to the Oxford area, arriving just in time for the drive-thru at Panera to open for much needed coffee and sustenance. My first target was nearby Choccolocco Park, based on a brief visit there a couple of weeks ago while returning from a work stint in Atlanta. When Debi and I drove through then, we were thrilled to find vast fields of chest-high wildflowers and mixed grasses, especially at the back of the park, with a great access road and several trails cut through the fields. These led to meandering Choccolocco Creek and some great-looking hardwood forest. Though we didn't have time to really bird then, it was exciting to find such beautiful and accessible habitat.
So when I arrived in the Park I nearly dropped my breakfast wrap. The /entire /park, from entrance gate to the woods, had been completely mowed! I mean every-last-plant-to-the ground kind of mowed. I was crushed! Why would they have gone to the trouble of cutting obvious walking and access trails, just to completely denude the place shortly thereafter? Not even a tiny buffer was left at the woodland or creek borders, as the mowers had worked not only to, but through the trees along the creek. Acres upon acres of great habitat for sparrows and other field species, as well as butterflies and other wildlife, just obliterated for no reason. The "hay" rolls were all that remained, though surely the value of those rolled weedy plants couldn't be too high.
Trying to make some lemonade out of the lemons, I walked the perimeter of the now quite expansive lawn, hoping for a few late migrants in the hardwoods. The creek itself didn't yield much, but I did find a nice flock of migrants at the edge of the back woods, such as Blue-headed and Phildelphia vireos and several warblers including Tennessee, Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, and Black-throated Green. As can be imagined, sparrows were now quite scarce, so I was surprised to find an immature White-crowned.
The change in habitat forced a change in plans. Since I was in the area, I decide to go up beautiful Choccolocco Mountain, in Mountain Longleaf NWR. Driving to Bains Gap, I headed south on the ridge road. Unfortunately, the wind had really kicked up, making birding quite difficult. Even in the few relatively calm spots, bird activity seemed diminished. But what a stunning place! I've been up there several times in the past, mostly in spring and summer, and it's wonderful. The forest is somewhat dry in most spots of the mountain, with some areas mostly pine, others mostly hardwood, and a lot of mixed habitat in a rocky soil. When I'm there I feel like I'm farther north in the Appalachians rather than in Alabama. Winter was already on the mountain in terms of birdlife, with no transients seen but several wintering birds already present. These included my FOS junco, and I'm now officially enrolled in the I've-seen-a-Red-breasted-Nuthatch-this-fall Club.
Now for the conservation question. Choccolocco Park, which I believe is administered by the City of Oxford, is a large tract (370 acres) which seems to pride itself on a multi-purpose philosophy. While sports are emphasized, there are walking trails and even historical/archeological points of interest, as there is evidence of habitation going back 10,000 years and even a mound complex was on the site. The park is a partner with Choccolocco Creek Watershed, so has some conservation-oriented ties already. While the damage to this habitat is already done for rest of this fall and winter season (in Southern Speak: "they've done gone and did it!"), it would be wonderful to work out something to lessen that impact next year. This area has great potential for enthusiasts of birds, wildlife, butterflies, and plants. I don't mind trying to help with this, but I'm just a stranger from Birmingham, likely easily ignored. Trying to go through the Watershed folks might be promising. If anyone has insight into the situation, the organizations, etc., please contact me off list.