By John Deitsch, MCNC Volunteer
I first encountered Mill Creek Nature Center over six years ago on April 2, 2011. That visit was so engaging and captivating that I have since returned over two hundred times. Every visit is unique in some way. I enjoy volunteering at the nature center, and in addition, there is nowhere I would rather spend a few hours watching and photographing birds and insects.
The progress made at Mill Creek Nature Center during the six years I have been visiting and volunteering is astounding. Boardwalks, benches, and signs have been added to improve visitor experience. But for me, as a nature enthusiast, the most exciting progress has been that which has improved the habitat for wildlife. The extensive removal of the invasive Chinese privet has enabled the crippled native river cane to rebound. River cane is the only hostplant for several species of butterflies, such as the Creole Pearlyeye and the Lace-winged Roadside Skipper. When I first began visiting Mill Creek Nature Center, these two species were very rarely seen, but with the recovery of the population of their host plant, I have witnessed a dramatic increase in their abundance. Native plant species are planted every year, increasing wildlife habitat. For example, we have planted milkweed, which is the hostplant for the imperiled Monarch butterfly.
One of the highlights of volunteering at Mill Creek Nature Center is the yearly cleaning and monitoring of the eight Wood Duck boxes on the property. The wetlands and creeks are home to a healthy population of these beautiful birds. The breeding Wood Duck population is one of the largest in Gwinnett County. Every year, over 30 ducklings are hatched in the boxes. Even though cleaning the boxes may be tiresome (and smelly) work, the reward of seeing the ducklings in the spring is well worth the effort. The Hooded Merganser also benefits from these duck boxes and have nested there three out of the past four years. Mill Creek Nature Center is one of the few known places in Georgia where this species nests regularly.
Another highlight of my volunteer work at Mill Creek Nature Center is maintaining the official bird, dragonfly, and butterfly checklists. (These checklists can be found at www.GWF.org.) I have personally observed over 130 species of birds at the Center, and the total list of birds observed is over 150. The totals for butterflies and dragonflies are 49 and 61 respectively. These are impressive numbers for an area sandwiched between two interstates and a super-regional mall.
But for me, the true treasures of Mill Creek Nature Center are not only my recorded lists of birds and insects but also the beauty and peace which abound within its 88 acres. With its lush green wetlands, gently flowing sandy creeks, and beautiful, tall mature trees, Mill Creek Nature Center provides a respite where visitors can relax and enjoy the beauty of the natural world. In our busy world of honking cars and flashing lights, everyone needs a space to unwind and relax. Mill Creek Nature Center is that place for me — and over the past six years, it has become my second home.