The Grand Bay/Banks Lake wetlands complex consists of 18,000 loosely contiguous acres, including state and federal refuges, Moody Air Force Base, and some private lands. At least three very large Carolina bays conver this area, including Grand Bay (on the western edge), Oldfield Bay (northern edge), and Moody Bay (central); in addition, Banks Lake is a large (1100 acres), open-water cypress pond on the eastern edge of the complex. At nearly 6,000 acres, it is thought that Oldfield Bay is one of the largest, if not the largest, Carolina bays in existence. Most of Grand Bay, proper (850 out of 1,350 acres), and an additional contiguous 1,400 acres of upland habitats interspersed with small bayheads, is owned as one unit by the state of Georgia as Grand Bay WMA. Additionally, GA-DNR manages 590 acres of Moody AFB property as part of this WMA. The USFWS currently manages Banks Lake as a NWR but it is aniticipated that this land (and probably their entire 4,000 acres within the complex, including Banks Lake and about half of Oldfield Bay) will someday be transferred to the state. These varoius wetlands throughouth the complex intersperse some diverse upland habitats, including longleaf pine and pond pine stands, which support gopher tortoise and Bachman's Sparrow; isolated bayheads where Swainson's Warbler nests; and bottomland riparian forest important to a variety of nesting species. In addition, Dudley's Hammock, on the Moody AFB property is thought to be the only inland hardwood hammock in Georgia remaining in a natural state, supporting green-fly orchid and needle palm and serving as an important nesting area for such passerines as the Wood Thrush.

Ornithological Summary

The Grand Bay/Banks Lake wetlands complex hosts Georgia's largest wintering population of Sandhill Cranes, totaling 2,000 birds. The state-owned property including Grand Bay, proper, is the focal point for this wintering population, and a 5-year old boardwalk extending 1/2 mile into the bay and culminating in a 60-foot observation tower has become a popular local site for observing not only the spectacle of the cranes, here from mid-November to mid-January or so, but also impressive nocturnal winter roosts of 2,000 White Ibis and 500 vultures of both species. In spring and summer, thousands of anhingas, egrets, herons, and ibis nest in a dense rookery at the center of the bay, also easily visible from the observation tower.

In addition, hundreds of Wood Duck boxes host a population of at least 700 nesting pairs of these important game birds and have occasionally fledged Hooded Merganser broods. Least Bittern and Purple Gallinule have been documented as nesting on the state-owned portion of Grand Bay and Bald Eagles have reared young on the federal property at Banks Lake. Grand Bay and adjoining marshes are important wintering habitat for American Bitterns and post-breeding staging habitat for Wood Storks.

Sometimes large flocks of Rusty and Brewer's Blackbirds, both rare to uncommon in Georgia, frequent the swamps and adjoining fields in winter. It is one of the best known places in Georgia to study both of these species. In both the swamp and riparian zones. Prothonotary Warblers are abundant nesters in the area, as are many other cavity nesters. King Rails nest and American Woodcock winter on Moody AFB property adjacent to Grand Bay. Bachman's Sparrow and Swainson's Warbler nest on upland habitat on the management area. So far, this has been mostly on Moody property, but given DNR's committment to management of pinelands with prescribed burning, we anticipate that habitat conditions for both of these fire-dependent songbirds on state land will improve in the future.

Sighting Source Key: 1=published reports,; 2=surveys (CBC; BBS; etc.); 3=personal observations; 4=other sources (specify)

Conservation Issues

Fortunately, there is now an oversight board that is concerned with the overall management of this ecosystem; coordinated by The Nature Conservancy of Georgia and involving all of the state and federal agencies and private landowners within the boundaries. The Grand Bay/Banks Lake Ecosystem Council meets regularly to draft long-term management plans and address resource conservation issues. GA DNR has had a lengthy presence as a land manager on much of the area and has a history of good cooperation with the Air Force, USFWS, and private landowners in the watershed. They are constantly making improvements in water-control infrastructure and are vigilant for funding and opportunity to purchase additional lands as buffers around these potentially fragile wetlands. Encroachment of suburbandevelopment or incompatible agricultural uses in proximity to Grand Bay is a potential threat to water quality that can be thwarted only by strict adherence to land-use plans in place in Lowndes Co. (something beyond DNR's control or even that of the Air Force) or, better yet, by additional land acquisition. IBA designation could well be a boost to efforts to acquire funding or additional land acquisition and conservation infrastructure. DNR has comsiderable experience with prescribed burning on this WMA, which is a necessary ongoing committment to preserving and enhancing bird habitats in both the wetlands and upland forests of Grand Bay/Banks Lake.

Ownership

Land Owner/Manager Contact:
DNR Wildlife Resources
c/o Tip Hon
Mr. Greg Lee
Engineering, Moody AFB
Fitzgerald, GA
912-426-5267
912-257-5881
gregory.lee@moody.af.mil

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