Exploring Northeast Georgia The Last Carolina Parakeet Kitty Stratton

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When I think of extinction I picture a bird such as the wonderful Dodo bird which became extinct in 1662. The Dodo was a flightless bird and may have weighed twenty to forty pounds. The bird lived on the island of Mauritius and was first spotted by Dutch sailors in 1598. Unfortunately it was hunted to extinction and all we have are illustrations and accounts which may or may not be accurate.

Dodo

Photo of Extinct Dodo Bird

So what does the extinct Dodo bird have to do with the title of my article? Nothing really, except that I recently read information on an extinct species of bird that used to inhabit this area and most of the Southeastern United States. The Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis, lived in old forest areas and along rivers. As far as we know the last captive one of its species died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918.

Photo of Extinct Carolina Parakeet

Conuropsis Carolinensis became extinct in 1918

The Carolina Parakeet was the only parrot species native to the Eastern United States. The Seminole Indians called the bird puzzi la nee meaning “head of yellow” and the Chickasaw Tribe called the parakeet Kelinky. Two Native American tribes inhabited the Jocassee area of South Carolina, the Oconee and the Eastatoe, the Eastatoes were known as the Green Birds and were probably named after the Carolina Parakeet. The last known sighting of the Parakeet was in 1904 in the Eastatoe Valley in South Carolina.

So what did happen to the Carolina Parakeet and why are we no longer delighted by flocks of wild parrots in the Southeastern states of North America? There are many theories and maybe all of them contribute together to the extinction of this beautiful bird. We know that their feathers were much sought after for making ladies hats. The bird’s colorful feathers from the green body, yellow head, and red from the bill area were much admired. But that alone would probably not have contributed to their complete extinction.

Other likely reasons for their extinction were loss of habitat, large areas of forest where the parakeets nested were cut down to make space for farm land. Unfortunately farmers did consider them a pest and many of them were wiped out but the flip side to this is that they actually fed on the very invasive cocklebur weed. Farmers who understood this benefit would allow the birds to nest in the area unharmed. Another behavior that contributed to their extinction was a response that led them to soon return to a place where some of the flock had just been killed. This led to even more being hunted and killed as they gathered close to other wounded and dead parakeets.

One last explanation for the Carolina Parakeet’s extinction is that they may have finally been wiped out by disease such as poultry disease. Unfortunately their very social behavior may have led to their extinction. In the Travels of William Bartram, he states, “they (the Carolina Parakeets) are easily tamed, when they become docile and familiar, but never learn to imitate the human language.”

Last Carolina Parakeet

Carolina Parakeets by John James Audubon and R. Havell from

Audubon’s Birds of America (1827-1838).

The extinction of the Carolina Parakeet was due to the rapid cultivation of North America. Fortunately we have naturalists such as John James Audubon who painted these birds and left us a visual reminder of something we have lost permanently from our natural world.

 

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Exploring the “Land Beside the Water” by Kitty Stratton

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Exploring the “Land Beside the Water”

Kitty Stratton

When I was a child visiting my grandparents in Seneca, South Carolina I had no idea then, that the places I loved to visit were steeped in Cherokee history and folklore and Civil War History.

Oconee County, the county in South Carolina closest to Rabun County and separated by the Chattooga River, was named “Ae-quo-nee” by the Cherokees or “land beside the water”.   Oconee was a Cherokee Town at a location now called Oconee Station situated off of the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway or Hwy 11 near Walhalla, South Carolina.

One of my favorite places to visit as a child was Stumphouse Tunnel north of Walhalla off of Highway 28. My brothers & I would sing “She’ll be Coming around the Mountain” as my grandmother drove her Oldsmobile up the winding roads heading towards Stumphouse Tunnel.  Our anticipation and excitement were only dimmed slightly by the eeriness of the vast, cavernous entrance to this dark and dripping seemingly endless tunnel.  Hugh puddles of water made navigation difficult in the inky blackness and somehow we never had flashlights but we would edge each other forward until our older brother would grab us or make hideous sounds to terrify us back to the entrance.

 

STUMPHOUSE TUNNEL  S.C.

Stumphouse Tunnel is still there, sadly abandoned during the civil war because of lack of money.  The tunnel was part of the Blue Ridge Railroad system. It was started in 1852 to connect Charleston South Carolina by rail to Knoxville, Tennessee.  Stumphouse tunnel is 1617 feet long but unfortunately you cannot explore the full length.  There is a gate preventing exploration of the complete tunnel to protect visitors from falling rock from an airshaft further down the tunnel.

In the heat of midsummer the tunnel can be wonderfully cool and damp.  I remember being fascinated when my Uncle who taught Mechanical Engineering at Clemson University would tell us stories about the blue cheese making process that was started in the cool damp environment of the tunnel.  The tunnel is still owned by Clemson University but the cheese is no longer cured there!

As well as Stumphouse Tunnel in South Carolina there are also abandoned tunnels in Northeast Georgia.  In Rabun County there are the Warwoman and Dicks Creek tunnels.  These tunnels were started in 1854 but were abandoned due to lack of money in 1858.  What is most fascinating to us today is that these tunnels of this long abandoned railway system were built entirely with hand tools and human labor.  Many of the laborers were of Irish descent and lived close to the Stumphouse Tunnel in a small town, aptly named Tunnel Town.

Dicks Creek tunnel was finished about half way.  From the west end more of the tunnel was completed and extends 1400 feet into the mountain but because the slope of the tunnel goes downhill it has flooded.  The west end is not accessible to the public due to being located on private property.  The east end of the tunnel is much shorter, only about 59 feet.  The entrance is on Chattahoochee National Forest but is difficult to find.

Close to Warwoman Dell picnic area in Clayton you can find the east end of the Warwoman tunnel but the entrance was closed off by landslides and has not been reopened. There is still evidence of the old railway bed at Warwoman Dell.  The west end of the Warwoman tunnel was lost during road construction and grading many years ago.

If you are interested in bringing the past to life there are many reminders of the abandoned Blue Ridge or Black Diamond Railway in Rabun County.  The history is reflected in road names such as Black Diamond Road in the Warwoman Community or in the remains of the 30 to 40 foot tall stacked stone abutment on Warwoman Creek which was built to support a section of what could possibly have been one of the most scenic railways in the Southeastern United States.