Sunday, December 9, 2012

Raptor Ambulance Service

Raptor Ambulance Service 

on Hurricane Creek

As Hurricane Creekkeeper, I am often faced with injured animals and birds. Thankfully there is a place where you can take such injured creatures for rehabilitation. That is the "Animal Wildlife Center" at Oak Mountain, just outside Hoover Alabama.

Over the years I have taken many injured adult birds and a few babies which were pushed out of the nest like this "Red Shoulder Hawk chick. This one in the nest was stronger and pushed it's sibling out.
Baby Red Shoulder Hawk on the nest
If it had not been for Alabama Wildlife Center he would have died. As it turned out, the one that was pushed out lived and was later returned to the wild on my land here on Hurricane Creek.

 A couple of days ago I got a call that an Owl was at Tuscaloosa Metro Animal  shelter and in need of transport. My buddy Kenneth Robinson and I took the Barred Owl to the Wildlife Center for evaluation. It had a broken wing and a crushed wrist.
Hurricane Creekkeeper Raptor Ambulance Service
 Chances are this Owl will not make it through to recovery but at least it will not suffer needlessly. Some make it, some don't but I feel that we should do all we can to help these majestic creatures to either recover or cross over in peace.
Injured Barred Owl for transport.
It's always a little depressing when we learn that one will probably not make it so I try to take advantage of the park at the Wildlife Center @ Oak Mountain to reflect and remember why I run a Raptor Ambulance Service. I visit the educational bird aviaries and see the beautiful Red Tail there named "Ireland"
"Ireland" photo from Alabama Wildlife Center brochure
 I happened to run into my old friend Lee Hannah McDonald who works as a volunteer at the center. She came to my house for the Red Shoulder release shown in the video above.  I told Lee about the damage to the campground at Watson's Bend by the Apr 27th 2011 tornado and how the woods have changed so. We are now seeing less of some species and more of others.
Lee Hannah McDonald Alabama Wildlife Center
 One of the many new friends to show up in the camp area is the American Kestrel. I told Lee about them and remarked that they have about the prettiest plumage of all the Hawk family. Lee corrected me to say they are, in fact, in the Falcon family. She then surprised me with a rare opportunity to see and photo one of my favorite of the Raptors, The American Kestrel.
Lee and Legacy @ Alabama Wildlife Center

 Last week I saw one in the campground and shot a few photos of it in flight and on the perch in one of our many snags of a tree, left purposely for the Raptors to roost in. My shots were O/K at best being that the bird was just too far away to get any real detail.

So when Lee brought out "Legacy" or "Legs" for short. It was a gift to be able to get this close to a Kestrel.

While enjoying these photos, please consider a tax-deductible donation to the Alabama Wildlife Center so we can keep getting care and needed attention to our winged Friends!

All photos copyright. Do not use without owner permission.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Your Eye In The Sky

I love flying at Sunrise!

As Hurricane Creekkeeper, part of my job is to conduct aerial surveillance in the Hurricane Creek watershed. I do this with the help of SouthWings. My pilot this past week was Dick McGlaughlin. SouthWings is an organization of volunteer pilots like Dick who help us check out potential pollution sources from the air.

We found plenty of the ugly stuff but can't comment on them yet due to ongoing actions. Sooooo, I want to share with you some of the highlights of the flight. Some pretty, some, not so much.

It was a beautiful morning to be flying into the Tuscaloosa sunrise. With the sun just peeking out of the clouds we could see a light fog rising from the mountain tops all the way to Jefferson Co.
As we closed in on the mouth of Hurricane Creek the sun was up enough to see the creek as it enters the Black Warrior River. With no recent rains it was clear as a bell. Quite a contrast to some flights I have taken before.

This is the same location taken on a flight with Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper on Jan 09, 2008. This was after a rain even of about 3/4 inch over several hours.

The source was poorly designed subdivisions and a failure of both local and state agencies to enforce the law. Photos like these have made a huge difference in how subdivisions now address stormwater measures. We see less of this now but still must remain vigilant to keep it that way.

We flew up the creek for a while to survey the progress on clearing the creek and campgrounds at Watson's Bend. After the tornado we had literally hundreds of trees in the creek along with over 2 tons of scrap metal blown in from the surrounding community.

This was just after the heart of the tornado went right across the campground.

This is 18 months later. No major tree wrecks remain. Some has been cut into lumber using the portable sawmill in the lower shed seen in the center. Some has been chipped into mulch using the donated Altec chipper and used as playground padding as well as garden much throughout the county. None of our trees are going to a landfill or be wasted.

Some beautiful art works have been created by reclaiming branches and stumps. This is one by Maurice Clabaugh called Splendor Restored

Leaving Watson's Bend we flew Eastward to the Cottondale area and into a wonderful sunrise scene.

Along Buttermilk Road, we flew over Camden Lake. I consider this to be huge success story for both the Friends of Hurricane Creek and the developer. It was once a very problematic site and cause a lot of bad will between us and the developer. After a few enforcement encounters the "Builders Group" owner decided to take a few courses in erosion control "Best Management Practices" (BMPs) His entire method of building has changed which is why I now I consider Camden Lake to be a success story.
Camden Lake 02/07/08

Mr. Corder did a good job turning this project around

Camden Lake 10/06/12

Due to the relationship we created during the Camden Lake experience I am now working with him on another project as friends.

Leaving Cottondale we headed up the interstate to Mercedes on Little Hurricane Creek but something caught my eye along the flight. Mallard Lake was covered in what looked like oil sheen.

I later looked at this from the ground and filed a complaint based on the evidence at hand. More details on the results later.

Right after we flew over Mercedes, the clouds rolled in  and cut short the mission. but not until we got a look at the dragline "Mr. Tom". Mr. Tom was considered obsolete until recent prices of coal made it feasible to renew this behemoth mountain killer.  It will be walked across Hwy 216 to tear the tops off of the mountains there for the coal underneath.

We will fly again when the weather is good to get more aerial photos of the watershed. In this way we can compare them to past photos and get an idea of our success as advocates fr Tuscaloosa's Crown Jewel, Hurricane Creek.

Sunrise over the "M" Bend of Hurricane Creek

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pack 85 at PARA Park

Pack 85 at PARA Park, 

A Sunday Afternoon Hike

For many years now, I have been trying to get more kids involved in the protection and appreciation of Hurricane Creek. We have been involved in Boy Scout "Eagle Scout" projects where some very cool trails were built for the public to get out and enjoy the scenic beauty of Hurricane Creek. 

This Sunday I had the privilege of entertaining about a dozen well behaved Cub Scouts on a hike through the park. They were all excited to see the water. For some this would be the first trip to the creek ever. 

First stop was the gravel bar at the swimming hole. As I stood back and watched, I was reminded of times when I was younger and stood on the banks of the Warrior River with my cousins learning the fine art of skipping rocks as far as possible across the river. Of course none made it all the way across but we all felt that we could do anything. 

I could tell that many of these kids were here for the first time but it certainly would not be the last.  I am not completely sure that the dads and Cub Leaders weren't having just as much fun as the Cub Scouts.
After a few minutes of skipping rocks I told them that there was a lot more to see so we had to get going along the trail. As we left the beach area I overheard one of the leaders telling a Scout... "Yes, we can come back"

Once on the trail, the kids soon forgot skipping rocks and started climbing them. It's easy to see the attraction if you come out and look. Hurricane Creek is the Southernmost free flowing stream in the Appalachian Mountains. It is nestled in a canyon of steep rock cliffs that date back billions of years. In one particular rock face, a complete tree can be seen exposed as a fossil. The kids were amazed.

Farther along the trail I began to hear questions about "what kind on nut is this?" "What kind of plant is this?" "How did this rock get from up there to down here?" "Why is mud bad for the creek?" As we walked along I began to realize that this was the beginning of a dream come true.

The Friends of Hurricane Creek have been steadfast in the idea of protecting this area for a teaching facility, recreational outlet, and an investment in the youth of Tuscaloosa County. Our kids need a place like this to learn about nature in a natural setting. You can't learn about the smell of the woods or the sight of a dew covered spiderweb in a classroom setting. We have to keep places like this in protection for our children and their children to learn real life nature science. 

Please consider going to the FoHC web site ans signing onto our petition to get the Alabama Dep. of Transportation (ALDOT) to reconsider destroying this living, breathing, and scenic classroom laboratory for a highway. A highway that will only serve a few developers make more short term money. 

These kids and the many other scouts, church groups and educators deserve this place and want to keep it safe and clean for the entire community. Cub Scout Pack 85 had such a great time that they have committed to coming back and making the trails a community service badge project. Let's help them continue to grow and learn in a natural setting like the "M" Bend Park on Hurricane Creek.
"M" Bend Park. (flight provided by SouthWings)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Caution is the RULE!

It's all fun till someone dies!
Rescue workers search for missing kayaker in Hurricane Creek
Thank Goodness this turned out better than the caption BUT...
It could have turned deadly in a heartbeat, literally.

It began raining on 09/03/12 at about 3 A.M. When I read the rain gauge at Watson's Bend at 07:48 it had rained 7 tenths of an inch. During my patrol that day I was surprised to find that the creek was not very muddy but it had risen about 6 inches.

Watson's Bend 09/03/12 07:45

Late that night it began to rain again. This time it was hard and relentless. By the time I got up and went on patrol at 06:30 AM on the 4th it had already rained about 3 inches since midnight and more still pouring down. The creek had risen to about 6 feet. From the amount of water coming over the waterfall at Watson's Bend it was obvious to me that it was going to get much higher and much more dangerous before the day was over.
While I went out on patrol I saw two "sit on top" kayaks at the put in on 216. I couldn't find the paddlers so I just had to pray that they were experienced enough to stay off until the creek receded a bit. I timed the rise at about 1 inch per minute. As fast as it was rising I knew it would be full of debris so I posted warnings saying not to get in the creek due to the dangerous conditions but knew that many would ignore the warnings and allow the draw of adrynolin to cloud judgement as it sometimes will do to paddlers. I couldn't find the owners so I could not warn them of the dangers of paddling at flood stage. Later as I was compiling notes from the days rain event a neighbor came to my office and said there were helicopters overhead searching for missing kayakers. My heart sank! Could it be the two I saw earlier? It had to be.

I watched as the creek continued to rise to the tune of 1 inch every minute! Even during the height of Tropical Storm Lee it didn't come up that fast. By noon or so it was already at around 12 feet and still rising. It didn't crest until about 4:30 or 5 PM at around 19 feet. 

Hurricane Creek crested at 4:30 or 5 PM around 19 feet.
Kayakers are drawn to this type water but experts will tell you it is dangerous at best to enter a river that is in flash flood stage. Too many unknowns lurk beneath the murky muddy water.
Note the oil drum, center-right of the photo
 By this time it had rained 4.9 inches in 24 hours with .7 inch the day before for a total of 5.6 inches of rain in one event!
.7 inch rain
4.8 inches rain

I am a swift water rescue trained tech. I knew that without knowledge of the creek it was almost impossible to locate the boaters so I went to get my patrol boat and volunteer to help. When I got to the gated land where I keep my boat there was a strange pickup truck inside the gate and no one around. Only one person has a key besides me and FoHC board members so I knew it had to be my friend, John Rogers. My heart began to race as I realized the impact of this if it went bad. Kenneth Robinson and I assisted the Tuscaloosa Police and Firemen locate the area where we thought he had gone down. He was very close to there when he was found. He and a partner had flipped the boat. His partner got out and went for help but John was stranded. He was somewhat shaken but in fact safe and sound.

Tuscaloosa FD came up the creek in a 21 foot outboard rescue boat loaded with rescue techs to where he was and rescued him. They then went all the way to the 216 bridge in the massive rescue boat. This was a tremendous feat for the driver since the current was raging and bringing whole trees along with it. It was very dangerous for all involved and completely unnecessary. Using better judgement and a complete knowledge of the creek or river you intend to paddle is absolutely vital to survival in the conditions we saw here that day.  As good as it is to tell this story with a happy ending, it could have very easily turned deadly in a New York second!

As your Hurricane Creekkeeper, I realize the need for a safety course for boaters on Hurricane Creek or any fast moving stream for that matter. We used to put on such a course as "Strokers Paddle Club". It is my intention to apply for grants to allow us to do this again as the use of the creek is increasing year to year.  As of now, I carry certifications from American Red Cross as a kayak and canoe instructor. I was certified as a swift water rescue technician at Nantahala Outdoor Rec. Center. My certification was as "Siftwater Rescue Technician Advanced (SRTA)"
I will have to renew my licenses but that should not be a problem. We need this course again to keep all boaters safe and a record of NO bad statistics on Hurricane Creek.

Please stay off of these swollen streams unless you are an expert boater with self rescue skills. If you are unsure... DON'T GO!!!

Feel free to email me at if you are unsure of the conditions. I will be happier to tell you not to go than search for you while family stands on the bank in terror and fear of your death.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fertile Soil = Community Garden

Fertile Soil = Community Garden

Hurricane Creek 08/29/12

While out walking the creek yesterday, the darkness of sunset caught me off guard and 1/2 mile away from Watson's Bend where I had parked. Dusk is a bad time to be walking the creek banks because as the light fades things can hide among the shadows which can be potentially dangerous. Snakes, and other reptiles such as the Common Snapping Turtle can render a painful bite if stepped on or cornered in any way.

I approached very cautiously when Smokey Joe started barking uncontrollably at a large greenish object lying in the tall grass on a point bar. I called Smokey Joe back to keep him safe and slowly walked up to the menacing shape... 

You silly dog, that is a Watermelon!

Smokey had spotted, and treed, a full grown and perfectly ripe watermelon!

After I calmed down a bit, I tried to think of how it may have gotten there. It was Kenny Robinson's doing!

Last year we hosted an Americorps Volunteer work day and Kenny surprised us all with an iced cold watermelon for lunch. All of us ate and spit watermelon seeds all over the camp grounds. I have seen vines in and around the work area but they were trampled and torn up by the ongoing work. Not this one! This one was on the beach and had been under water at least 4 times this summer. Even high water couldn't kill it!
It is the perfect Labor Day feast given to us by the creek we all love. In order to keep any other unsuspecting hikers from being startled, I quickly dispatched the menacing melon with my trusty Buck Knife! 
I now have it in cold storage for the Labor Day weekend coming up. It takes up 1/2 of the bottom shelf in the frig.

All of this has brought up an idea I had last Summer. Why not create a community garden here on the creek bank for people to come and till a garden for food? It will obviously grow stuff. A few select people could begin a garden like this for personal food supply and give away all excess to local food kitchens in the area who feed those in need. After the tornado of Apr. 267th, 2011, we lost 100% of the tree canopy along the creek. The soil is now prime for a food garden since we have been adding wood chip mulch from downed trees to the soil. 
UofA Outdoor Action Group, 2012
Now it is almost black and composted into some of the best soil I have ever seen.

I am a fair hand at gardening with several successful seasons canned, frozen or dried to eat all year long and sometimes even 2 years if the rains are good.
Perhaps over the winter a handful of volunteers could come out and set up a garden spot for next Spring planting and a Summer full of good organic food.



Monday, August 27, 2012

UofA Outdoor Action Group

University of Alabama

Outdoor Action Group

2012, Hurricane Creek

 For two years in a row Dr. Fran Oneal and Randy Mecredy have hosted the UofA Outdoor Action Group work day on Hurricane Creek in Holt Alabama. Your Hurricane Creekkeeper has been busy all year clearing and trying to get the place back in condition after the Apr. 27th, 2011 tornado that destroyed most of Holt and our camping grounds at Watson's Bend.

This year the group came in twice the numbers of last year and accomplished far more than I expected. We cleared 3 new fire breaks that will double as walking trails with overlooks placed in strategic locations for viewing features  like "The Watcher"

The Watcher 2011

Working in split crews, they managed to also completely side the wood shed and whitewash it and the sawmill shed. Created new trails to the creek and a small frame for a pavilion next to the "Story Tree" where parents will be able to sit and watch kids in the creek on a shaded bench with a 135 year old White Oak to be marked with historic events from the area. Hopefully it will help people understand the significance of these great specimens throughout history. 
I can't say enough good things about UofA Outdoor Action Group! 
All photos can be seen here