Turkey Creek Nature Preserve – an Alabama natural treasure (photos)

Birmingham Alabama
Turkey Creek’s Charles Yeager – photo by Pat Byington, Bham Now

Last week, Bham Now made a special visit to the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve in Pinson, Alabama, to dip our toes in the creek, look for darters and interview Charles Yeager, the Preserve’s manager, about this incredible natural treasure at Birmingham’s doorstep.

Birmingham Alabama
Photo by Pat Byington, Bham Now

First, a few facts:

  • Turkey Creek is a Forever Wild Property.
  • The preserve was made possible by a remarkable partnership between a local grassroots group called START, the Southern Environmental Center at Birmingham Southern College, Freshwater Land Trust, the city of Pinson, Alabama’s Forever Wild Land Trust and countless local citizens.
  • More than 130,000 people visit Turkey Creek a year, primarily in the summer.
  • Turkey Creek Nature Preserve was named a top “natural waterslide” by Trip Savvy.com.
  • Seven federally protected species call Turkey Creek home.
  • The preserve has 7.5 miles of hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Birmingham Alabama
Photo by Pat Byington, Bham Now

It truly is a special place.

Below is Bham Now’s interview with Charles Yeager, including stories about bats, snails, clean water and why Turkey Creek is a natural treasure.

Bham Now: For folks who care about nature, why is Turkey Creek important?

Yeager:  We have seven protected species here in under 500 acres, so relative to its size, Turkey Creek is one of the most critical habitats for a place its size, definitely in the state if not the entire country.  This place is incredibly unique, because we are this last little refuge for things that use to be spread throughout the state.

Birmingham Alabama
Watercress darter – male (right) female on left – by USFWS Apr 22 2009

Bham Now:  Tell us about the seven rare critters in the preserve?

Yeager: We have the three darters.  The vermilion darter is only found in Turkey Creek and no where else in the world.  The watercress darter which is found in springs in Birmingham as well as springs in Turkey Creek and the rush darter, which is found in tributaries here in Turkey creek.  There are two protective bats that call Turkey Creek home. The northern long-eared bat and the grey bat.  Then, the flattened musk turtle and eared cone flower.

Birmingham Alabama
Flattened Musk Turtle – photo via Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
Birmingham Alabama
Northern long eared bat – via Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
Birmingham Alabama
Rush Darter – photo via Turkey Creek Nature Preserve

 

Bham Now: There was recently a bat bioblitz between Ruffner and Turkey Creek.  Tell us how the two areas are connected?

Yeager: Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came out here to do some bat surveys here at Turkey Creek and they found a lot of grey bats were using Turkey Creek, but they didn’t know where they were coming from because grey bats need to live in a cave – they are cave dwellers that need a dome ceiling and a certain temperature.  We didn’t know where that cave was at, but we knew it was nearby.  So we tracked those bats back to their maternity roost, so we could protect it.

Birmingham Alabama
Grey Bat – photo via Turkey Creek Nature Preserve

So we put radio trackers on them and tracked these bats all throughout Birmingham. We discovered they were actually coming from the Roebuck area (near Ruffner).  So these mama bats are leaving their young, are jumping over Five Mile Creek, jumping over Village Creek and heading straight to Turkey Creek, and that’s because we have the critters here that they need, because we have the clean water that supports those critters for foraging.  We (Turkey Creek) are critical foraging habitat for these grey bats that are flying all the way from Roebuck who are making this round trip each to get back to their young as quickly as possible because of the clean water we have here at Turkey Creek.

Bham Now: Turkey Creek has some of the cleanest water in the state, tell us about it.

Yeager: We have some of the cleanest water in the state here in Turkey Creek and its because of its groundwater. Most of the water that flows through Turkey Creek is crystal clear and that’s because its coming out of these springs.

Birmingham Alabama
Turkey Creek – photo by Pat Byington, Bham Now

And that clean water provides the last little refuge for those fish, and turtles (flatten musk turtle).  It provides the habitats for the insects for the bats.  That water is critical because so many streams and creeks in this area has been so heavily polluted or damaged that they can’t support that life anymore.  This is the last place they can survive.

Bham Now: Can you tell us about the “undescribed” snail at Turkey Creek?

Yeager: A couple of years ago Scot Duncan (a professor at Birmingham Southern) was looking at the  all this “gravel” material being washed down the creek, looking how this stuff was being transported. While he was doing that, he was looking at snails, and how snails use that material, because snails are so critical to keeping the water clean.  They clean up all the rocks for us and other stuff.

Birmingham Alabama
Undescribed snail – photo via Turkey Creek Nature Preserve

He found that there are 3 snails here.  Two of them are pretty easy to identify.  But the third one was a question mark, so he sent it of to Paul Johnson, he is one of the foremost snail scientist in the state.  They did some DNA work on that snail and discovered it was a whole new species of snail, an undescribed species, and snail that has no name. And its probably the most abundant snail found in Turkey Creek, but it might not be found anywhere else.

Bham Now: Some final words about Turkey Creek?

Yeager: This is an incredible place to visit. Our priority is to maintain this very critical habitat, very sensitive habitat.  We love to provide this place for people to come visit.  It’s really important that people who come out to visit Turkey Creek are also out here to protect it as well either by giving back or by volunteering.

Turkey Creek’s Float Your Boat

Want to give back?  Turkey Creek will be holding their annual Float Your Boat on July 15th.  A can’t miss event for an Alabama natural treasure.

 

 

  • Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.