Campbell Vaughn: View nature’s treasures at Phinizy Swamp, Audubon

I have a cousin, John, who is one of my closest friends and to call him a character would be an understatement. If there were ever a bestselling comedy book out there, it could be about my cousin. When John was a kid about 6 or 7 years old, he needed some money for what I assume was candy.

 

My aunt, John’s mother, loves birds and had a bird feeder that was loaded with song birds. This feeder was right outside a glassed sun room where you could sit and watch the birds feed from sun up until sun down. One day my cousin saw a bird hit the glass door and the little feathered feeder got knocked for a loop. John, always the quick thinker, ran outside and grabbed the little bird and rubbed it back to health.

A light bulb went off when he remembered someone down the street paid good money for a parakeet. Not to miss out on this potential market, John took the bird feeder down from its perch outside and put the feeder inside the glassed sunroom, grabbed some brown paper bags and started collecting the dazed and concussed birds as they knocked themselves out cold coming to feed. My aunt was not happy at all when she drove into the cul-de-sac and there was a wounded bird pet store set up on the curb with the proprietor being my cousin John.

You don’t have to injure our feathered friends to get a good look at birds.

Wildlife watching is a favorite pastime for millions in the United States. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey, more than 86 million people fed, photographed and observed wildlife in 2016. They spent $75.9 billion on their activities.

This survey defined wildlife watching as participants either taking a “special interest” in wildlife around their homes or taking a trip for the “primary purpose” of wildlife watching. This wildlife-viewing hobby outspent the economic impact of fishing ($46 billion) and hunting ($25.5 billion) combined.

Locally we have an abundance of places to get out and watch some of nature’s greatest treasures. Two of my favorites are Phinizy Center for Water Sciences Swamp & Nature Park near Augusta Regional Airport and Audubon’s Silver Bluff Sanctuary in Jackson, S.C.

Phinizy Swamp and Nature Park is located on 1,100 acres with 14 miles of biking and hiking trails. It is hard to believe that you can get so far out into the wilderness and be so close to downtown Augusta. Phinizy is open to the public 365 days a year from dusk until dawn.

A couple of great places to get out and view some wildlife are the Oxbow Lake Observation Deck and the Floodplain Boardwalk and Observation Deck.

The Oxbow Lake has a covered observation deck that offers visitors a tranquil setting for viewing wildlife. Overlooking an oxbow lake (where the Savannah River once flowed), one can see the activities of turtles and wading birds, and enjoy the rustling of cattails and other marsh plants. Also keep an ear open for the calls of one of the resident barred owls.

The Floodplain Boardwalk is a .1 mile wooden boardwalk with a covered observation deck at the end. Overlooking the floodplain of Butler Creek, the boardwalk and deck provide an excellent spot to see many types of birds, including wading birds (such as the great egret), woodpeckers, blackbirds, warblers, and hawks. Also look for the trails through the marsh plants made by beaver, river otter and muskrat. Both of these trails are wheelchair accessible.

The Audubon’s Silver Bluff Sanctuary is a 3,400-acre woodland overlooking the Savannah River and is another treasure for our area. This ecologically diverse haven for wildlife has 700 acres of native longleaf pine, 500 acres of mature bottomland hardwood forests, 100 acres of grassland and 50 acres of lakes and ponds. More than 200 bird species including the threatened wood stork have been spotted in this sanctuary. Visitors can access the 2.75 miles of walking trails Monday through Saturday (including holidays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. free of charge.

Silver Bluff offers private tours as well for a small fee.

Get out and see what great wildlife viewing we have in the area. And leave the birdfeeders outside.

Reach Campbell Vaughn, the UGA Agriculture and Natural Resource agent for Richmond County, by emailing augusta@uga.edu.

 

More