Wild Georgia: Metro area has its peaceful places

After living in metro Atlanta for 38 years, and thinking that I have explored just about every one of its nooks and crannies, I still come across public green spaces that amaze me -- and leave me wondering why I've never seen them before.

Such was the case last weekend when some fellow Atlanta Audubon Society members and I went to a swath of wetland greenery known as Constitution Lakes in south DeKalb County. Constitution Lakes is a relatively new county park that has become a bird watching hot spot, despite its location in a busy industrial area just off Moreland Avenue.

“Most people probably don’t realize this peaceful place is here,” fellow birder Joy Carter said as we bird-watched under cloudless blue skies.

Carter told me that Constitution Lakes is an old brickworks that closed more than 50 years ago. The series of lakes and ponds was created by rainwater filling the holes left from digging out the clay and the canals that connected the brickworks to the nearby South River.

DeKalb bought the 125-acre property in 2003 and added a parking lot, a paved walkway down to the lakes and a boardwalk around one end of the lakes. From the boardwalk, a wooded trail runs to the South River. For part of the way, it runs parallel to some railroad tracks over which trains occasionally rumble and drown out the singing birds. But the disruptions last only a few minutes and everything becomes peaceful again.

During our three-hour bird walk there last weekend, we saw or heard 38 bird species. Several wildflowers were in bloom, butterflies flitted about and turtles basked on logs in the placid water. Some of our birding highlights included:

-- A pair of yellow-crowned night herons, one fishing along the lake's edge and the other perched atop a leafless tree, a breathtaking sight against the bright blue sky.

-- A pair of red-headed woodpeckers in a dead tree, their red heads making another stunning sight against the azure sky -- the first red-heads I’ve seen in more than a year.

-- A red-shouldered hawk and a red-tailed hawk soaring at the same time directly above us; another red-shouldered uttering its sharp keer, keer, keer call from the woods.

-- A belted kingfisher darting, a great blue heron flapping and a flock of wood ducks winging over the lake.

-- Red-winged blackbirds swooping over some cattails; fidgety blue-gray gnatcatchers chasing insects high in some tall willow oaks.

-- A pair of hooded merganser ducks nesting in a duck box.

IN THE SKY: The Lyrid meteor shower will be visible for most of next week with a peak of about 15 meteors per hour on Tuesday night, says David Dundee, astronomer with Tellus Northwest Georgia Science Museum. Look to the northeast from 2 a.m. until dawn.

The moon will be first quarter on Wednesday. Venus and Mercury are low in the west just after sunset. Mars rises out of the east before sunset and sets in the west before dawn. Mars will appear near the moon on Wednesday night. Jupiter is low in the east just before sunrise. Saturn rises out of the east at sunset and is visible all night.