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WILD GEORGIA: In Atlanta, nature’s wonders may be just down the way

Atlanta Audubon Society birders peer at a pine warbler high in a pine tree during a bird walk last weekend in DeKalb County’s Mason Mill Park in Decatur. CHARLES SEABROOK
Atlanta Audubon Society birders peer at a pine warbler high in a pine tree during a bird walk last weekend in DeKalb County’s Mason Mill Park in Decatur. CHARLES SEABROOK

Charles Seabrook’s “Wild Georgia” column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

I love traveling around Georgia to explore and rejoice in its great biological diversity — from vast coastal salt marshes and wide sandy beaches to mountain forests and roaring whitewater streams.

But I find it hard to get out of Atlanta. Within only a few miles of my home in Decatur, for instance, there’s plenty of natural diversity to draw a passionate nature lover like me outdoors throughout the year.

One day last weekend I joined some fellow Atlanta Audubon Society members for a morning bird walk through DeKalb County’s Mason Mill Park, only three miles from my home. Our co-leaders — Jamie Vidich, Gus Kaufman and Jonah McDonald — led us along wooded paths, a grand boardwalk and a stretch of the PATH Foundation’s South Peachtree Creek Trail looking for birds.

During our three-hour stroll, we saw or heard 33 species — a nice tally for a winter day in an urban forest. Some of the birds were a nesting pair of red-shouldered hawks; a flock of cedar waxwings; a yellow-bellied sapsucker drilling “sap wells;” wood ducks and mallards foraging in a wetland; titmice darting amongst red maple blooms; a perky Carolina wren holding vegetation in her beak, probably for a nest.

In the afternoon, I headed to Johns Creek for a walk with legendary national park ranger and naturalist Jerry Hightower in the Jones Bridge unit of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area. A nature walk with Jerry is always fascinating.

We stopped at a fallen, decaying pine log. Jerry explained how rotting logs are invaluable for forest health, harboring countless species of fungi, bacteria, grubs, beetles, ants and other life involved in the decay process and providing food for numerous higher creatures. Many eggs of insects and snakes overwinter in fallen logs. Rotting wood also adds nutrients to the soil and enriches the forest.

So, to enjoy nature’s wonders, Atlantans don’t have to travel far away to the mountains or the coast: Nature’s treasures can be just down the road.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be first quarter on Monday. Venus is low in the west at dusk and sets about two hours later. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are low in the east about two hours before dawn.