Boats, Balloons, Bikes and Birds.. Oh My!

            Greetings to all my surveying cohorts in MS, TX, OK, KS, TN, GA, and of course MA! The summer season thus far has been a great mix of work and fun! Surveying has given me the opportunity to meet and befriend many of the local folks who spend the entire summer at the recreational lakes here in Mississippi. Some people like the lakes so much they decide to live here long term or even relocate to this part of the country. One person told me that after camping all over the U.S., he feels the campgrounds at Enid Lake are the best in the country. I met a local visitor who goes to Arkabutla Lake every day. He has been mountain biking the trails at Bayou Point and said that so far he has covered six miles a day for the past twelve years. I met several people from Memphis who have visited the lakes every weekend for many years, seeking peace of mind from the busy city life. Local folks who live in close proximity to the recreational sites genuinely appreciate having facilities very close to their homes. Many of these people volunteer their services daily and work diligently to keep the sites trash-free and hospitable. The motorcyclists I meet are among the friendliest visitors to the lakes. They are always willing to take the survey, and many said the long winding country roads around the lakes are awesome for weekend scooter rides. On one occasion, a group of motorcyclists from right here in Oxford were having a cook-out at Sardis Lake and they had a motorcycle on display made entirely from wood.

 

 

 

Many days are very busy with continual surveying throughout the survey periods. Other days are very slow with minimal visitor activity. I am then able to bird watch, identifying and logging numerous species which I have yet to encounter in the wild. My goal is to view one hundred species before the end of the season. I have reached close to fifty and was happy to see new birds. Most of the new species I saw were at Sardis Lake, at the Engineer’s Point survey site, and in a lake cove viewed from the Lower Lake South Outlet Channel. While birding at these sites, a male Northern Cardinal walked back and forth along the dashboard inside the survey vehicle, quite comical. Also, a juvenile Mississippi Kite was perched directly above as the adult would catch and deliver large grasshoppers and cicadas to eat. Most of the visitors I surveyed at all the sites were quite friendly and many were happy to offer comments and concerns.

 

Our recent conservation projects have been satisfyingly interesting and fun, giving us a great sense of accomplishment. The Clear Springs Nature Trail at Sardis Lake was in desperate need of maintenance. A large part of the trail consists of a raised boardwalk leading out into a marshy bottomland hardwood forest. The blackberry and other vegetative overgrowth were creeping onto the boardwalk trail making walking very difficult. Armed with sheers, clippers, rakes, and a backpack blower, we worked with Army Corp Rangers and cut and cleared our way through the trail from beginning to end. At one point the blackberry canes almost completely blocked off the trail, and we were successfully able to tame them back. Good for another year! I’m sure hikers will be happy to see our work! When our project was finished, the Army Corp Rangers treated us to a boat ride around the entire of Sardis Lake. As the rangers showed us points of interest, we saw several interesting geological formations along the shoreline. Brendan almost lost his hat in the wind; we turned around and fished it out! The highlight for me was the Sardis Waterfowl Refuge, and also seeing osprey nesting in cypress snags in the middle of the lake.

 Oxford Community Garden is practically in our backyard and we volunteered our services for landscaping work. This was the final conservation project for John and Nakeda, due to their return to college. Nakeda returned to her home state of Arkansas and John will be returning to Tennessee. They will surely be missed and we wish them all the best in their future endeavors. We took the ¾ mile trip to the garden, two of us rode our bikes, and met with Ben Koltai who has encyclopedic knowledge of gardening, permaculture, and conservation work. The core principles of permaculture are care of the earth, care of the people, return of surplus, and all of these are certainly attained at the community garden. Along the exterior of the garden are numerous herbaceous, and composite plants which are beneficial in attracting pollinators. Bermuda grass, and other undesirable plants and weeds also find this area a great place to put down their roots. That’s where we came in. We cleared the garden exterior of these undesirables so that the more useful plants could continue to thrive. Also along the exterior, millet was planted as a cover crop until it was time to turn it into the soil. This mixing into the soil creates a green compost adding organic matter, nitrogen, and other nutrients. We turned over all the millet, spread it out evenly and mixed it into the soil, and then covered the whole area with a thick blanket of mulch. The next step for this large exterior plot, when the weather gets cooler, is to plant blueberries! I’ll venture to guess blueberries are beneficial for everybody.

 

            In other fun news, our team took a trip to the 2nd Annual Balloon Bash in Tunica. Colorful hot air balloons highlighted the sunset as we climbed in the basket and took a ride up into the Mississippi skyline, well, up about fifty feet anyway. The balloon we rode in was a giant red, white, and blue American flag. It was big time fun. After the Balloon Bash we went into the Hollywood Casino where there were genuine movie props from major motion pictures, and television shows. A sports car from an Elvis movie, the original Bat Mobile from the Batman TV show, and several original props from the movie The Titanic were some of the items on display.

 

            I took a solo adventure during my days off and explored Nuxobee National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Mississippi. The refuge was established in 1940 and provides extensive habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. I was hoping to see one, although a large pileated woodpecker did make an appearance. There are also lots of alligators at the refuge. I noticed a rather large one eyeing me from the lake shore. The Bluff Lake rookery is home to thousands of nesting egrets, herons, and ibis. From the low-lying northwest corner of the lake, through the bottomland, and up to the tree tops along the shore, all is covered in birds. This was a really impressive sight! I camped overnight in Tombigbee National Forest adjacent to the refuge and spent the next day exploring the cypress coves and prairies.

 

This past Friday, we said our goodbyes to Nakeda and John. Although they will be missed in Mississippi, college classes are a’calling. Goodbye and good luck Nakeda and John! 

 

This summer season has positively been full of great experiences, and there are still 3 weeks to go!

 

Written by Keith Ellum.