Flint River Revisited

Flint River Revisited

After Pitcher Plant Bog we took a break to put some things in order—after visiting five Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in nearly as many weeks it was necessary to iron out some details before launching this website. We hope you like it.

This past Sunday, on the dawn of summer, we celebrated the solstice by revisiting Flint River WMA. Our initial visit had been something of a fluke—a decision hastily made on the way home from visiting Montezuma Bluffs. Both sites border the Flint River and we had selected Montezuma Bluffs in the hopes that it would not be severely impacted by the spring rains and the swollen river. This assumption was mistaken. Two of the hiking trails were inaccessible and the third required frequent deviations from the trail to avoid mud. We didn’t fare much better at Flint River where we found the road rendered impassible by water after just the first bend. Despite those limited visits, what we saw on both sites was beautiful and we were eager to revisit them and share the experience with you.

On the longest day of the year, we set out—optimistic that the dirt roads would be navigable—and took a back-country route up Lake Blackshear and headed north on River Road to find Flint River WMA in Dooly county. We traded highways for country roads in northern Lee county and were delighted to see multitudes deer and wildlife on our early morning drive. Most notable for us was a field pond overrun with Wood Storks and American Egrets.

Shortly after entering Dooly County we encountered a pair of Black Vultures on the side of the road— an insight occurred to me. I frequently draw Rebecca ire by commenting that a seen bird is “just a ______.” A statement I sometimes make when we see Vultures, Crows, Cardinals, and other common birds. In the months since we began birdwatching together it has been a point of some contention, and I deserve the reprimand. These species are common because they have established a niche for themselves and they deserve as much respect and reverence as any other avian regardless of rarity, color, or diet. My dismissal of a bird as “only a Cardinal” undermines how much I love the army of Cardinals that come to our feeders in Radium Springs—and I should remember that when we are out looking for birds in more wild places than our own backyard.

We continued north and found the small lawn and sign that marked the entrance road to Flint River WMA: a 2,300-acre tract bordered on several sides by farmland that abuts the Flint River along part of its southwestern edge. There are two forks and numerous firebreaks. Both forks lead into the eastern section of land where dove fields, a lake, and various small openings are located. Of the various points of interest: the northern campsites are accessible by road, all others require hiking out along one of the permanent firebreaks. For our part, we wanted to see the river and selected a loop trail in the south west quadrant that approached The Flint.

It’s worth mentioning that many of these properties border rivers, creeks, and lakes and as anglers Rebecca and I are always eager to see what sort of shore fishing a given site presents. In this case, the lands’ namesake comes from one of the rivers I galivanted upon as a child, albeit on sections outside of Dooly County. We were eager to reach its banks and see our beloved Flint from a different shoreline.

We pulled onto one of the permanent firebreaks, parked the car, and prepared our kits for the hike. We’d learned from past experiences to spray a Deet based insect repellant on our clothing and legs to curtail mosquitoes, ticks, and gnats. Also, to always pack water and travel light. My kit includes a lightweight hammock in case we took a break, a canteen of water, a flashlight, pocketknife, two lenses, a spare battery, some lens wipes, and my camera. Rebecca and Jodi each carried a camelback, hammock, binoculars, and a handful of other items. As we made for the trail, we were delighted to see a group of deer crossing into the forest a few hundred feet up. North of the firebreak was a large field of crops that provided either a quick thoroughfare or a morning snack for the interloping animals.

As we set out on the trail, we could hear distant calls of Yellow-Billed Cuckoos and Hermit Thrushes. We were excited by the possibility of seeing either and frequently stopped to see if they were close or could be located. The loop trail we had selected was a winding path that navigated the wetland just east of the river, and it showed—there were frequent bogs, bottoms, and sloughs that collected runoff from rains or flooded during high water events. Though still damp, we were glad there weren’t any waist high sloughs or overly muddy bottoms to trudge through.

Eventually the trail broke into a high clearing and a fork— “Do we want to make for the river or follow the forest?” I inquired. “The forest.” Rebecca answered. And as we advanced along the edge of the clearing Cardinals broke from the grass throughout to flit up into the trees, apparently fearful of our passing. On the opposite edge of the clearing the trail curved back into the woods and into the low pine forest that kept us shaded from the morning heat.

Along the path we frequently paused to watch a fleeing deer or attempt to zero in on the elusive calls of the Hermit Thrush. Our path became muddier as we went, and the low areas to either side harbored increasing bodies of water. We eventually came to another fork which we took to mean that we were near the river. We took the young trail—and followed it east to where we could see the familiar muddy waters of the Flint. But trees and brush obscured the river, and so we back tracked to seek out a better vantage further along the loop.

After returning to the trail and finding another clearing, we took a short rest on a group of downed tree trunks. I passed the time watching a pair of naked pines at the edge of the clearing—the stark white posts pocked with divots as would be caused by Woodpeckers. After a few moments, we saw a Red-Bellied Woodpecker enter her high tree apartment.

We continued up the path and at the next clearing spied more deer bolting at our approach. I realized that the three of us would never sneak up on them as a group and by the following clearing I had gained a considerable lead on Rebecca and Jodi. I approached the tree line, searching the clearing beyond the thinning forest, and there I found my quarry. A lone doe foraging in the field. Time to test my sneaking prowess. I paused to assess the situation before moving forward. I took careful steps to avoid twigs and noisier looking leaves, then used a tree as cover for my approach—I was within fifty feet of her!

I stepped out from behind the tree and her head snapped up, I froze mid-step—as she gazed at me, I held my breath. I needed to adjust my footing and raise my camera without spooking her. To do so, I’d have to remain stone still until she broke her gaze. It felt like forever passing. She turned her head, trying to see me—and then went back to her foraging. I finished the step and brought the viewfinder to my eye. Her head came up again, but it was already too late, the camera clicked as I took her photograph. I captured several more shots—just to be safe.

Beyond the clearing we reached one more fork in the trail. We took it south to the river’s edge and looked out over the waters. A small campsite can be found there, and I very much want to spend the night on those wild shores. As I think wistfully about the journey, I’m reminded that the Flint is one of many rivers that travel our great state—and it’s going to take many more trips to explore them all.

-JCM


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