Thursday, August 13, 2009

Moss Island Geography

At this point I should give a better overview of the geography of the places I'll be talking about in the coming weeks. This is an "extra" post; I plan on the posting the next regular installment tomorrow. I've put together a labeled aerial photo of the site, showing the roads, trails, and place names (click for 1.0MB larger version):

Place names in quotes are just casual names that we use amongst ourselves; they'd not likely be recognized by the longer-term managers, visitors, and residents. I've also made a cropped version of the scanned USGS topo map of the site (click for 956KB larger version):

Some of the more important features:

"The Barn." This is really more of a shed, though it is always called the barn. It sits atop a suspicious mound of dirt that to my untrained eyes kind of resembles a Native American trash heap. Whatever its origin, this hill keeps the barn above floodwaters. It is a frequent rendezvous and camping spot, plus a place to store boats and other gear. For the 2009 season I just set up my tent in the barn permanently.

The lakes. There are quite a few of these, apparently an increasing number over the decades. The USGS map only shows the four named ones (Mitchell, Rhodes, Forked, and Hushpucket) as open water. The aerial photo reveals something more like the present-day situation, with large lakes having apparently recently opened along Willow Flat, Cocklebur Flat, and between Mitchell Lake and Cocklebur Flat. This last lake is now comparable in size to Rhodes Lake, formerly the largest lake on site; the lake now occupying Willow Flat in terms of surface area exceeds both of them. I have never been able to find anyone who knows a generally accepted name for the large lake southeast of Mitchell Lake; I have started calling it "Flycatcher Lake" after the May day when I was floating there on watch and was serenaded by Olive-sided and Willow Flycatchers. It may not have a name, but duck hunters still know about it and regularly access it from the Obion. As to why these lakes have opened up, the only theory I have heard advanced is that increased beaver activity has raised their summertime water levels and killed off the trees. Willow Flat Lake in particular appears to still be growing; there are many recent snags in it, and its northwestern end is a boneyard of dead and dying trees.

The trails. I have mapped the ATV trails as though they are well-defined. In many cases this is not true. A majority of the complex of trails shown in the area just west of Rhodes Lake are more like traces of former trails. Of the well-defined ones, three are the most important:

1. The trail from the end of Rhodes Lake Road across the east end of Rhodes Lake to Willow Flat. This runs along the structure built at the downstream end of Rhodes Lake to stabilize its water level. This structure has been often called the "levee," but technically I think it is more properly called a "sill." It provides a good vantage point for listening and watching; several of the early double knock incidents happened at or near this spot. It also provides access for fishermen and hunters to haul boats to the put-in on Willow Flat at its eastern terminus.

2. The "Canoe Trail" that runs from the Barn almost due eastward to the northern parts of Willow Flat. It is really an ATV trail, but early in our adventures it was usually flooded so Scott dubbed it the canoe trail and the name stuck. It traverses some of the better hardwood forest habitat at Moss Island, and generally yields large numbers and diversity of woodpeckers and other forest birds.

3. The trail that runs south from Rhodes Lake Road just west of the turnaround. Another area of nice hardwood habitat and high woodpecker abundances. This is the trail I intercepted about 9 a.m. on 3/11/08, and from which I heard the first double knock of the series on that morning. It kind of fades out nowhere in particular near but not quite at the southern edge of the forest.

The fields. The central fields seem fairly stable over the long-term; most are cultivated. The south fields are shown as forest in the USGS map before they were acquired by the state and added to the WMA. They are now being reforested, having been planted with native hardwoods beginning in 2007. One of the technicians planting these trees was the source of one of the early TWRA encounters, a strange woodpecker seen and heard along the south edge of the forest here. The fields themselves are of course not woodpecker habitat, but they provide a vantage point and travel corridor along the edge of these road- and trail-less woods. They also can provide excellent birding for oldfield passerines and wetland birds.

Other posts in this series:


Post a Comment

<< Home

Site Meter