Strawberry Plains Audubon Center Trail Ride

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Oak Grove Hunt Club members had a rare opportunity to ride the trails at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center (SPAC), near Holly Springs, Miss., on February 4, 2017. The riders first had a picnic lunch at the center, and then headed out on the trails after lunch. It was a clear crisp day, perfect for a trail ride. This is one of the first times that the old plantation, now nature preserve, has been available for horseback riding. None of the riders had ridden the trails before, but Mike Muraco, Director of Strawberry Plains, had provided well marked, aerial photo maps of the trails. Included in the maps were points of interest for the riders, such as particular trees and other native plants , vernal pools, and several old sharecropper’s homes. Most of the trails are wide enough for a truck to navigate, so taking them on horseback was easy.

From a rider’s perspective, horseback seems to be about the best way to see Strawberry Plains. Sitting in a truck on the trails would isolate you from the nature. ATVs are loud and smelly, and the trails are a long way to hike on foot. The other advantage of riding the place is that on horseback, humans, the ultimate predator, smell like a horse, not a human to wildlife. It is much easier to get close without causing the wildlife to flee.

Strawberry Plains has not become one of the Audubon Society’s top centers by accident. It is through hard work by Mike Muraco, his staff and a host of volunteers. One of the main objectives has been to rid the place of non-native plant species and develop a welcoming habitat for birds, both resident and migratory birds who winter in Mississippi. Native North American birds do not eat invasive species of plants that have been imported by humans from Asia, Africa, or Europe. These plants, such as Chinese Privet, Kudzu and some species of honeysuckle, choke out the native plants that the birds feed on. There is also an effort to limit the amount of forest at Strawberry Plains so that ground nesting birds have a place to eat and raise a family. This is done by mowing and controlled burning. Horseback riders benefit from these management practices as well. The trails are in open spaces as well as in the woods. As these management practices also create a high insect population to feed the birds, mid-winter with no insects is an ideal time for a trail ride at Strawberry Plains. 

In September every year Strawberry Plains hosts its Hummingbird Festival. These tiny humming birds migrate through Mississippi from as far away as Canada, and are on their way to Central America for the winter. This festival has displays and informative talks by experts on the flora and fauna of Mississippi; there are interactive games for children; and the opportunity to watch banding hummingbirds and, perhaps, hold one in the hand for release. For the history buff, there are talks about the rich history of the Mississippi hill country, a restored plantation office, and the Davis House, an antebellum mansion circa 1851.

Strawberry Plains stays busy all year, with lots of activities to learn about wildlife and history. On February 4, the center held a winter sparrow and grassland birding workshop, partnering with Delta Wind Birds.

Every First Tuesday, starting February, 7th at 6 p.m. in the historic Davis House at SPAC, the Mississippi Hill Country Book Club (MHCBC) meets. The MHCBC is a partnership facilitated by Strawberry Plains Audubon Center and the University of Mississippi Office of Sustainability to engage citizens in awareness of local conservation efforts through readings and monthly discussions of books covering topics such as sustainability, bio-diversity, conservation history in the U.S., and a myriad of naturalist interests. At the February and March meetings, the book club discusses The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell.

On February 11, folks could learn about Woodcocks at SPAC at their Woodcocks & Wine gathering. The mysterious American Woodcock belongs genetically to the group of birds labeled “shorebirds,” but it lives its life in woodlands and fields. Many Woodcocks spend much of the winter in Mississippi before returning north to breed, though they often perform their dazzling courtship displays during late winter while still in Mississippi.

On Saturday March 4, learn Winter Tree Identification. Follow up with Art In Nature in the afternoon, as JoyceAnn Gardner teaches how to draw and paint with bark.

Learn about Salamanders on March 11. In the dead of night, during late-winter rainstorms, an ancient breeding ritual takes place at the vernal pools among the hidden salamanders in the forests. This morning will be dedicated to learning about the amazing amphibians that dwell in our forests, streams and wetlands.

On March 18, learn about some of Mississippi's essential ecosystem engineers, crayfish (crawdads)!  There are over 60 crayfish (crawdad) species in Mississippi that live in numerous habitats and are important to ecosystems. The presenter is Zanethia Barnett, Natural Resource Specialist with the USDA Forest Service and PhD Candidate at the University of Mississippi (Biology Department).

The Audubon Naturalist Program happens every Friday, starting March 10 – May 19th. From watershed ecology to climate, habitat succession to geology, the Naturalist Program teaches the processes that create and affect our landscape and its inhabitants. Classes are instructed by professional and university biologists, geologists, ecologists, and local experts.

Find out how to participate in these and more programs. Contact Mitch at or call (662) 252-1155. Visit SPAC on line at: and on facebook at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center.

If you missed this opportunity to ride the trails at Strawberry Plains, there’s another coming up. Oak Grove Hunt Club will have its annual hunter pace/timed trial ride on March 25, 2017 at SPAC. Find out more information about this ride from Tom Brannon at (901) 573-9074;

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