Retired US Forest Service Biologist and NWALT Elder Joe Neal often shares great insight about the value of our natural landscapes in Northwest Arkansas. Below are his reflections on a “secret garden” that he discovered while birdwatching at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. The land trust strives to honor wildlife in the region through the conservation of land so that places like this secret garden are protected forever.
Springs pop up all over Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. All it takes is for a couple of these trickles to join down hollow and you have a sparkling flow over a low waterfall — way back somewhere visited by no one but Downy Woodpeckers, land snails, and the odd Autumn Coralroot orchid. They all live in the secret forest. A hike today brought us near such a place, with some secrets revealed when Joan Reynolds initially spotted a Golden-crowned Kinglet splashing around diamond-like beads of water. So much splash you would have thought it a very big bird. But with binoculars, there was a kinglet in a tiny pool where water flows through bright green moss.
Once we saw the kinglet, we picked up the other one, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, then Brown Creepers (2), a Pine Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, plus Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmouse—with Northern Cardinal and White-breasted Nuthatch near, so maybe waiting a turn. I don’t remember ever seeing creepers anywhere but winding up trunks or flying between them. These were creepers at bath, in an Ozark spring.
A person might think this secret forest enough, but soon there was more. Just ahead, Joan spotted three big land snails, close together, on a rotting branch on the ground. I see plenty of the bleached-out empty snail shells at Hobbs, but less frequently, the living creatures. Never before three together. So you probably have already figured out where this is going, right? Even though land snails like this are considered hermaphrodites (all have both male and female parts), they still must mate so the eggs each one carries become fertilized.
While we were watching the snails, Joan mentioned research from a decade ago linking the fate of land snails to Wood Thrushes. These birds nest widely at Hobbs. For the whole story, go here: http://www.pnas.org/content/99/17/11235.full .
Basically, areas in the eastern US heavily impacted by acid rain also saw major reductions in Wood Thrush nesting success. One of the potential links involves calcium derived from foraging on land snails and other insects rich in calcium – all negatively impacted by acidification.
No, Wood Thrushes don’t consume big land snails, but that exchange going on between three snails today could result in as many as 100 baby snails from each. A Wood Thrush, or other birds, and other organisms like salamanders, could handle the little ones.
They are all linked. That’s called ecology. As Aldo Leopold observed, “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: ‘What good is it?’ If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not …”
We hope that Joe’s words have inspired a greater appreciation for those secluded places that provide a sanctuary for wildlife in Northwest Arkansas. Thanks, Joe, for sharing these great thoughts!
Photos by Joe Neal
Feature Photo by Joan Reynolds