Northern Georgia

A few tips from northern Georgia (USA):

  1. Pigeon Mountain (once a roost of millions of passenger pigeons) is a limestone hill near Lafayette with numerous caves, including the deepest ones in North America. The most accessible is 10-km long Pettyjohns Cave (34.665133 N, 85.363983W) on the eastern side, reached by a 2-min walk from a parking lot on Rocky Lane. Once you get through the entry shaft into the first chamber, you’ll see numerous Eastern woodrat droppings along the wall to your left. You can turn off your light, sit quietly and wait for the rat to emerge from one of small cracks in the wall. Tricolored bats reportedly winter in the cave. (Watch also for cave, green, and Pigeon Mountain salamanders just inside the entrance.) About 100 m west of the cave entrance is an informal campground visited at night by tame nine-banded armadillos. The caves at the summit plateau of the mountain are one of the southernmost known sites for Allegheny woodrat; the plateau is crossed by Rocky Lane but the caves are difficult to find. White-footed mouse was abundant on the mountain while deer mouse occured on the summit plateau and oldfield mouse in the fields along Dixon Spring Rd.
  1. Georgia State Botanical Garden on the outskirts of Athens has huge territory, mostly covered by some of the most beautiful deciduous forests in the state. In summer it closes at 8 pm but it’s possible to stay a bit longer and do some spotlighting (bring mosquito repellent!). I spent two mornings and two evenings there, and saw a southeastern shrew (running across the trail that follows Middle Oconee River) and two old eastern harvest mouse nests (in the prairie under the power line). In downtown Athens, watch at dusk for mixed swarms of chimney swifts and big brown bats, the former sometimes harassing the latter. University of Georgia campus had the highest density of eastern chipmunks I’ve ever seen.
  1. Watson Mill Bridge State Park near Comer has nice mixture of deciduous and pine forests, but the main attraction is the stretch of South Fork River with a pond above an old dam, scenic cataracts and a covered wooden bridge. Bats swarmed in that area at dusk (apparently feeding on winged ants) and sometimes briefly roosted inside the bridge; the species I managed to ID were red, Seminole and tricolored bats and southeastern myotis. The park is closed at night, but the bridge and the road over it are open.

1 Comment

  • Kerry Nelson

    This brings back some memories, spent a lot of time in undergrad in all of those places. I’d add that the trails paralleling the river in the Botanical Gardens are (or at least used to be) a pretty decent area to check for Golden Mouse nests. Not sure if it’s still the case, there have been several major floods since I was there that could have shifted things around, but worth a shot. Also in the area is Sandy Creek Nature Center, with the trailhead for a nice long trail/boardwalk through a mucky floodplain reminiscent of parts further south. Beaver, Muskrat, and Swamp Rabbit are all fairly common. Beaver can also be seen with ease at dusk in Lake Herrick on the UGA campus.

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