The Day We Went to Alapaha : Part I

The Day We Went to Alapaha : Part I

It was another sleepy Sunday when we set out for Alapaha River WMA, and our 6:30 AM departure was behind schedule. Much of the week before we had been trying to coordinate the weekend around visiting Alapaha and meeting friends to paddle the Kinchafoonee. Despite our best efforts to sort the events to different days—both came down to Sunday. We could either give one up or do both. We had committed to a goal back in April when we visited Lannahassee, and our weekly trips are integral to that goal. On the other hand, we hold our friends in tremendous regard and due to the Corona Virus, we had barely seen many of them since the winter.

We did both.

Double booked and with a late start, we traveled northeast on highway 319 from Tifton to find the Alapaha River and the Wildlife Management Area that it borders. From the 319 bridge, we spotted the inky blank waters as they wove under the trees. The waters here are too shallow to navigate even after heavy rains. The space is 6,870 acres of upland pine forest and bottomland hardwood forest. Among the WMAs we’ve visited—it is on the larger side. We were sad that we would not be able to explore it thoroughly because of our afternoon plans, but we were glad to turn off the highway and onto the gravel road that lead into the forest.

Signage near the entrance told us that there were two protected species on the property: The Gopher Tortoise and the Eastern Indigo Snake. The Gopher Tortoise is of particular interest because not only is it our great state’s official reptile, but it is also a keystone species of the longleaf pine ecosystem. The tortoise nests underground and in the process digs out underground boroughs which hundreds of species use as shelter throughout the southeastern United States.

We had traveled some way when we arrived at a fork and decided to consult our maps. Because of the size of Alapaha, there is a great circuit of roadways within its confines that include short roads and small firebreaks that radiate out toward its borders. The central circuit has several crossroads and forks that join into smaller loops that make for nice hikes or rides to spot wildlife.

We parked a little way down a firebreak and hiked out one of the spurs. It was a nice walk, though largely uneventful. We heard distant calls of Summer Tanagers and Pileated Woodpeckers but could not track them between the pines. As we walked, I grew increasingly frustrated. First, by the sun whose harsh light was directly behind many of the subjects I wished to capture, and later by the gnats whose insistent buzzing played hell on my concentration. As we headed back to the car, we considered the efficacy of insect repellant against the later. (DEET is effective against gnats.)

We traveled a short way and tried a different firebreak, one I thought would be better coordinated with the sunlight. The forest here had been burned recently, and there were few birds. We passed the time by whistling. Here, I should confess that I have never been good at whistling and have only recently taken an interest in improving. Rebecca and Jodi are fairly accomplished by comparison. I do, however, think that taking up such a practice later in life yields interesting results. In this case my attempts to discover all the ways in which I can whistle or make whistle like sounds I came upon the thought of whistling while humming. Try it. It produces a strange resonating sound reminiscent of an insect. We spent the walk back practicing it and laughing at each other.

During our walk back to the car we started to think birds were tracking us high in the trees. Apparently, I was not alone in thinking that we sounded like bugs. We tested our theory by taking pauses to see if they closed on us. They did! When we whistled, several small Warblers and a pair of Eastern Towhee’s would move to our position and call back to our whistling hums. The Warblers proved evasive, but one Towhee paused on a nearby branch to study us. We were thrilled to see an insect in its beak, possibly for nearby nestlings.

The car brought with it the reminder of our limited time, and from there we decided to survey the rest of the property from the vehicle and return at a later date to continue exploring. We stopped occasionally when a bird song caught our ear, or a vista looked particularly interesting. During these pauses we caught glimpses of Great-Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Bluebirds, and Fence Lizards, among other beautiful creatures.

We crossed into the bottomland hardwood forest near the banks of the Alapaha River and we were confused to find pink flagging along the road. The markings were at irregular intervals and at varying distances from the road, but we were too hurried to investigate. When we spotted the first Gopher Tortoise it became clear—someone was marking the Tortoise boroughs. We paused and photographed the more congenial Tortoises from the vehicle and were careful to watch for any that may have been crossing the road.

As we hit the highway and sped back toward Albany, I was already looking forward to a return trip. The bankside area of the property had great appeal and I cannot wait to take a closer look. The Alapaha River WMA will undoubtedly take many more days to properly explore.

-JCM


Read about the afternoon we spent on the Kinchafoonee Creek with our friends by clicking here.

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