December Headwater Highlights


Calling All Birders To The Trail

Saturday, January 3, 2015, the famous Christmas Bird Count of the Audubon Society for the first time will include South Fork Trails. The annual count braving cold weather to number birds and species in the name of science brings hundreds of binocular-toting bird lovers outdoors.

Join us Jan 3! Photo Atlanta Audubon Society

Join us Jan 3! Photo Atlanta Audubon Society

For decades, bird counters ignored much of Intown Atlanta, under the theory there could be few interesting birds or numbers to count because of concrete and lack of green space.  Two years ago, Atlanta Audubon  president Joy Carter and others brought the CBC  back within the perimeter. Her skill at encouraging volunteers with modest bird knowledge to join the fun re-invigorated the Society's annual count.  Veteran naturalist Charles Seabrook interviewed Joy  for a story in Saturday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"...last year’s intown CBC results — 84 species — showed that Atlanta, although buried under thousands of acres of asphalt and concrete, still has ample green space to provide habitats for a variety of birds. “We’re hoping, of course, for more species this year, and perhaps a surprise or two,” Carter said.

Read Charles Seabrook's entire story 

In May 2014 Joy Carter toured South Fork trails with us and identified 25 species in just ninety minutes of walking. Why not come along in January and see how it compares to Joy’s May list?

Canada Goose, Mallard, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, crow sp., Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow

concrete dumping in creek fall 2014.jpg

Illegal Creek Dumping Hurts the South Fork 

By Sally Sears

The week before Thanksgiving I was driving home when my cell phone rang. It was Ansley Abraham, sounding urgent. "Sally, somebody's been illegally dumping in the South Fork," he told me. By the time I spared Atlanta drivers my inattention by pulling over, he had emailed me photos of what he found.  I opened up the files carefully.

It was hard to believe my eyes. Big concrete slabs lay at awkward angles, slicing into the creek at Zonolite, on DeKalb County public land, across the beach from Zonolite Park. The pile of large pieces included fat chunks of broken concrete.  "What in the world?" I asked him.

Now I know Ansley Abraham is one great creek stewards, often walking miles up and down the banks in a single day after a rain. He's found some of the most beautiful pieces of native American pottery during his hikes, plus birds, unusual trees and rare human beings, too. But this human reminder is against the law.

"How did anybody get the concrete there to dump it?" I wondered. Ansley said he saw fresh scars of bulldozer tracks, eating into the fragile bank, leading back into the flood plain by Johnson Road, toward Noble Drive and Meadowdale Avenue.

Ansley Abraham ( In profile on the right) shared views on John and Teresa Mayes' terrific artifact collection. Also gathered are other creek collectors  and  SFC friends. 

Ansley Abraham ( In profile on the right) shared views on John and Teresa Mayes' terrific artifact collection. Also gathered are other creek collectors  and  SFC friends. 

Neighbors there support in large numbers the idea of connected trails leading from Zonolite Park to the two nearby city of Atlanta parks, Morningside and Herbert Taylor. I figured most would be outraged at someone using the creek as a dumping ground for concrete. 

Soon I emailed the photos to DeKalb County's Natural Resources champion David Butler. He was immediately alert, asking for every scrap of information we could provide. He promised to raise the red flag with state Department of Natural Resources water protection officers.  

The mystery deepened the following week. I walked the creek and saw an old South Fork Friend. He lives within a mile of the illegal dumping. I asked him to inspect the scars from the bulldozer. He did. It seemed to him the tracks lead to a back yard of one of the neighborhood houses.  We passed that information on, too.

Any one up or down the creek who can help identify the culprits? Please email David Butler at or Sally Sears at

From left to right: Troy Wilson, Migratory Bird Biologist, Debbie Harris,  Fish  and Wildlife Biologist, Angelou Ezeilo SFC, Sally Sears SFC, Sallie Gentry, Visitor Services Specialist, Haile Macurdy, Fisheries Biologist, Warm Springs National  Fish  Hatchery, USFWS, Alice Lawrence,  Fish  and Wildlife Biologist, Cindy Bohn,  Fish  and Wildlife Biologist 

From left to right: Troy Wilson, Migratory Bird Biologist, Debbie Harris, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Angelou Ezeilo SFC, Sally Sears SFC, Sallie Gentry, Visitor Services Specialist, Haile Macurdy, Fisheries Biologist, Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery, USFWS, Alice Lawrence, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Cindy Bohn, Fish and Wildlife Biologist 

Bob The Beaver Returns and This Time, We Love Him

Toothy beaver bite photo by Sallie Gentry, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Toothy beaver bite photo by Sallie Gentry, US Fish and Wildlife Service

“He’s baaaaaaaaack!”

Bob Scott led his email with this last week. He didn’t need to say more- we understood. Bob the Beaver and Co. have returned to the Confluence Trail.

A little background:  We were introduced to a fine family of beavers last spring, when they announced their arrival by absconding with some of our hornbeam saplings. Now, we love the presence of wildlife, but we are not  pleased at losing some precious hornbeams. We struck a compromise with the beavers:  Trees Atlanta's Brian Williams taught us how to fence in our most important and expensive new trees & bushes. The non-natives? We left them  up for grabs. After all, a beav’s gotta eat.

By late fall, the return was a surprise. And trail users are keeping a close eye on  beaver-istic  activities on the trail. Last week they relayed surprising (and welcome) news: their new favorite snack seems to be the non-native, invasive Mimosa tree and even some Chinese Privet.

 “It appears the beavers are dragging the saplings and the branches down to the creek, softening the bark, and eating the bark,” reports neighbor Donna Davis. Bob Scott has also continued to update us with their progress, recently informing us that there was “a lot of chomping going on out there.”

Well Beaver buds, this is A-OK with us. Perhaps our furry friends noticed volunteers working tirelessly to push back these invasives and decided they wanted to do their part. Either way, we certainly won’t interfere with this natural invasive removal and Bob the Beaver:  if you’re listening, we’d like to say welcome back! Eat More Privet

Trash Talk

Michael Montgomery's  tireless energy tucked up twelve tires tossed illegally in the creek. Thanks Michael!

Michael Montgomery's tireless energy tucked up twelve tires tossed illegally in the creek. Thanks Michael!

Trash is a common topic of conversation in our office. I know, I know- you’re thinking, “Wow, I wish I could talk about trash all day.” True, it is one of those conversations that can just go on and on… and on…and on.  Disposing of litter pulled out of the creek is a major challenge without a clear solution. Especially tires!  What a tricky, tiresome topic. And we know we’re not alone- many of you have reached out to us with your own concerns about disposing of creek and trail litter. When our wonderful volunteers, huffing and puffing, drag tires up from the creek, they are often full of waterlogged dirt, making them heavy and difficult to move. Ideally, removing them from the creek would be the hard part. Well, we’re here to tell you what actually happens when a tire is pulled out of the creek.

Here’s a recent example: volunteers pulled tires out of the creek and left them at the Lindbergh trail entrance. The ideal solution? Pick up by an organization equipped to manage tired removal We know others who have limited success with this approach, many by simply leaving the tires by the road. However, they sometimes end up waiting months for their removal.

In the end, we went to one of our trusty volunteers, Michael Montgomery, who generously lent his morning and truck to the cause by going with us move a batch of 14 tires to Liberty Tire on Huber Street, where we paid $1.25 per tire to recycle them. While we are so grateful to Michael, we know that this a less than ideal solution to an endemic problem.

The good news? More (and free) options are coming soon.  Next month, in January 2015, a boon for tire draggers and battery hoarders alike will open its doors to the public. LiveThrive Atlanta’s Center for Hard To Recycle Materials (CHaRM) will accept a variety of items for recycling and even better, reuse- see the full list here.

“We’re hoping to be open from 9AM to 4PM, six days a week,” says Peggy Whitlow Ratcliffe, who is leading the effort. “But it may end up being less than that- as non-profit, we’ll depend on volunteers.” The center can take up to 10 tires per person for free, anything more than has to stem from a city-approved clean up (authorization the South Fork and CHaRM can assist with).

CHaRM’s first event is one day on January 3 9-4pm- holiday clean up. Why not go and recycle your holiday waste with at their new facility? At this particular event, they will be accepting old electronics, x-mas tree lights, styrofoam, plastic packaging, etc. 

Checking Traps, Finding Treasure

By Margaret Walker, Volunteer Extraordinaire 

Cars move in and out and around Atlanta on highways designed for speed and access to places I want to get to: to visit friends, go out to eat, drop off the dry-cleaning, attend a meeting or ball game, a concert or hangout at a coffee shop: a net works of streets roads and highways have become like well worn paths.

I often refer to these comings and goings as “checking my traps”.  New to the Atlanta area, I have found myself often musing, “I wonder were this leads to?”  I wonder as I am out checking my traps, driving-the-now-all-too familiar-pattern of rights and left turns, what is under the ground where the MARTA station passes through…more networks and passages.  I am so grateful for these questions…like the prospector…. digging around for a strike, a jewel; an undiscovered fortune.  I admit, as well, to feeling sad and not just a little heart sick when I see buildings replacing green spaces.  I feel connected to the natural world and miss being in it more deeply.

Recently, while “checking my traps” on a bright, cold, and windy Saturday morning, I ran into the South Fork Conservancy tabling at ACE hardware – represented by a gal (Celia Lismore), the white table cloth flapping as if to lift itself from the table and head south.   What caught my eye was a logo of a leaf and I wanted to see it up close… If you are reading this, perhaps you have also examined the logo. The leaf reminds me of the back of my hand and looking more closely, I see that the veins of the leaf represent a waterway and I am hooked by it. This is how I became acquainted with the conservancy their trail plans. I quickly signed up for the next dusk tour.

I love a fall hike…I saw into the heart of the woods; and the creek, the rippling water sliding along.  I saw what I can’t see when there is foliage or when I am driving 50 mph.  When I raised my gaze to judge where I was, my surprise was the nearby buildings…impressive structures with their tall, unflinching backs turned to this serene spot down away and out of sight.  They are on the leaf as well! Following the trail beneath the broad expanse I-85 was a delight I never expected.  A blending of worlds of massive cement pillars and nearby flowing water and native species plants that made us all, well, happy to be in the middle of it.   I saw small well-worn animal trails and a path leading to the creek made by a deer…they, too, check their traps every day, hang out at the stream for a drink…so much I saw and so much I couldn’t see…so much wondering…so wonderful.  

Posted on December 16, 2014 .