Habitats at the Blue Heron Nature Preserve
A wetland is an area of land that is covered by water for part of the year. The soils in a wetland primarily contain clay, which create a water-resistant layer, and decomposing plant matter, which gives them their characteristic smell. Wetlands are sometimes called an ecotone–a place where two different ecosystems meet and overlap. Ecotones bring the best of both ecosystems to create a new ecosystem high in biodiversity. Wetlands are especially important as borders between aquatic (water) and terrestrial (land) ecosystems and are some of the most diverse habitats on Earth. In urban areas, wetlands are especially important for their ability to recharge aquifers, control storm surges, and catch flood water; they even help improve water quality using bacteria naturally found in the soils.
In Georgia, many wetlands are seepage wetlands fed by small underground aquifers. At Blue Heron, the wetland is beaver-created. The beavers build a series of dams in a creek to raise the level of the creek and flood the low-lying floodplain. When the creek level rises, water covers the entire wetland and infiltrates into the ground or is taken up by plants. Most wetland plant species are hydrophillic, or water-loving since the area is almost always wet.
Dwarf Salamander (Eurycea quadridigitata) Tree Frogs (Hyla spp.)
Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)
Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) Eastern Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus)
North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus)
White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Coyote (Canis latrans)
North American Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)
Mosquitoes: Healthy wetlands provide ideal habitat for various species of amphibians, birds, bats, and predator insects that play an important part in controlling mosquito populations. To prevent mosquitoes from hatching outside wetlands, remove items from your yard that can catch water, even a small amount, or treat larger containers (such as rain barrels) with mosquito dunks or mosquito-eating fish.
Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capenis)
Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) Yellow Fumewort (Corydalis flavula)
Butterweed (Packera glabella) American Groundnut (Apios americana)
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) Boxelder Maple (Acer negundo)
Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Black Willow (Salix nigra)
You can find wetlands habitats all over the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, but most notably at our Emma Wetlands locations, right at the end of Emma Lane.
The term “riparian” refers to rivers, creeks, streams, and their surrounding floodplains. Sandbars and floodplains are areas of high geomorphic activity, meaning there is constant movement of rock, sand, and silt from outer banks and deposition of these sediments along inner banks and floodplains. New sediment deposits create areas of primary succession for specially-adapted “pioneer” plant species to thrive, but many other species of tree cannot become established. These pioneer species help keep some sediment in place and build up the stream banks.
Many species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals live in riparian streams and rivers, creating a diverse system of predators and prey known as a food web. At the base of a riparian food web lies algae and water plants, known collectively as primary producers. The producer species provide food for herbivores, also known as primary consumers. The primary consumers are, in turn, eaten by predators which make up the secondary and tertiary consumer level. When one part of the food web is negatively affected by humans or a natural disaster, all levels of the food web may be thrown out of balance.
Take note of the erosion along Nancy Creek and Mill Creek. Erosion is normally a natural process which begins at the source of every stream. However, excessive erosion–a major problem in Georgia–first began during the late 1800s agricultural boom. In Atlanta and other urban areas, runoff is collected by concrete roads and culverts and is quickly funneled into stream. Chemicals, such as oil, fertilizer, and animal feces are also transported into the stream. As the water moves downstream, it continues to increase speed and acts as an abrasive on the stream banks and carries sediment downstream, suspended in the water. The sediments and chemicals make the water murky and can increase the amount of nutrients in the ecosystem, decrease the water’s pH, or even reduce the dissolved oxygen available to fish and amphibians.
Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus)
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) Green Heron (Butorides virescens)
Bluegill Fish (Lepomis macrochirus) River Otter (Lontra canadensis)
Great Blue Skimmer Dragonfly (Libellula vibrans)
Leeches: Freshwater leeches may be found in rivers, lakes, and streams throughout Georgia. Some species are parasitic and feed on mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, or reptiles–while others are predatory and consume prey such as invertebrates, or decomposers which feed on detritus (decaying matter).
River Birch (Betula negra) Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) Basswood (Tilia americana)
River Cane (Arundinaria gigantea) Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum)
Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) Broadleaf Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia)
You can find riparian corridors along the two creeks that run through the Preserve: Mill Creek and Nancy Creek.
Meadows in Georgia are often referred to as prairies. These areas are dominated by grasses and herbaceous plants such as wildflowers. Most of the plant and animal species found in prairies are specially-adapted for fire, which prevents larger shrubs and trees from becoming established. Prairies which are not fire-maintained undergo succession: the area is colonized by subsequently larger species of grasses, herbs, shrubs, and eventually trees. Prairies are also home to a diverse animal community which includes smaller mammals, deer, and a wide range of nectar and seed-eating insects and birds–many of which are pollinators.
Fire is one of the most important disturbances in Southern ecosystems. In pre-colonial Georgia, prairies and savannahs were managed by lightning strikes and Native American controlled burns. As European settlers arrived and forests were replaced by fields, meadows sprang up in fallow fields and clear-cut land but eventually returned to forests. Urban meadow ecosystems can spring up in almost anywhere which is regularly disturbed by humans, such as areas underneath power lines or over buried gas and oil pipelines.
Georgia Power has partnered with Blue Heron to help create our very own meadow ecosystem underneath the Roswell Road power lines. Our goal was to create a pollinator-friendly ecosystem for butterflies, especially the endangered monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Pollinators are especially important to Georgia agriculture, but they affect the overall health of our ecosystems as well. Worldwide decline in pollinators is a serious problem and has been linked to many causes, including pollution, climate change, habitat loss, and disease. You can help Georgia pollinators by planting native species in place of ornamental or non-native plants.
Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulates) American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)
Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) Bumblebees (Bombus spp.)
Eastern Harvest Mouse (Reithrodontomys humilis) Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui)
Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)
Conehead Katydids (Neoconocephalus spp.)
Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes)
Broom Sedge (Carex scoparia) Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum)
Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Bergamot/Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.)
You can explore our native meadow restoration sites along Roswell Road and Lakemoore Drive.
Established forests have 3-4 layers. Low herbaceous plants and shrubs can be found in the forest floor, smaller, shade-tolerant trees and vines in the understory, and the tallest trees make up the canopy and emergent layer. When a canopy tree is knocked down it leaves a gap which allows sunlight to reach the forest floor and creates a new, tiny community within the forest. This allows specially-adapted, fast-growing tree species to reach the canopy.
In the Georgia Outer Piedmont region (from the Chattahoochee River to the fall-line) forests are typically dominated by oak, pine, and hickory species. Georgia forests are home to more species of oak and trillium than anywhere in the US. One species, the Georgia oak (Quercus georgiana), is an endangered species that only grows near rock outcrops such as Stone Mountain and Arabia Mountain.
Blue Heron’s forest ecosystems are directly adjacent to creeks. The sandy sediments deposited by Nancy Creek allow pine trees to dominate the bottomland, while tulip poplar can be found on the north side near the community garden. Along the steep banks near the parking lot trail entrance, a colony of chipmunks can be found darting in and out of underground burrows amongst the tree roots.
Tree diseases are a serious threat to Georgia forests. The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis), hemlock wooly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), and southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis) have decimated native tree populations. The most notable species affected by disease is the american chestnut (Castanea dentate), which was ravaged by the chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) in the early 20th century. To help reduce the airborne spread of tree diseases in Georgia, it is important to purchase firewood from approved or local sources. Store-bought firewood can contain these species and will aerosolize fungal spores or insect eggs when burned.
Five-Lined Skink (Plestiodon inexpectatus) Corn Snake (Elaphe guttata)
Barred Owl (Strix varia) Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)
Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus) Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)
Redbud Tree (Cercis canadensis) Common Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) May-apple (Podophyllum pelatum)
Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) Trillium (Trillium spp.)
Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)
Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) vs. Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia): These species can often be found growing near each other. Poison ivy is a member of the cashew family and grows as a shrub or hairy vine with clusters of three, tri-pointed leaves. Virginia creeper is a member of the grape family and grows only as a vine with a leaf composed of five serrated leaflets. Both species are important food sources for certain birds and mammals.
You can find examples of woodlands habitats along our Woodland Loop Trail and at our Woodlands Field Education Center at our Land O' Lakes location.