Thursday, February 27, 2020

Lynne McCoy: deservingly honored

This is long overdue. 

Wildlife rehabilitator Lynne McCoy was recently honored by the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce as their "Volunteer of the Year." Truth is, she should be East Tennessee's Volunteer of the Year. 


Since 1973, Lynne has given of herself, her time and her money to care for thousands of injured and orphan animals. Yes. Thousands. Last year alone, 1,718 passed through her home and most matured or were healed from their wounds to be returned to the wild. 

Of that over seventeen hundred in 2019, there were 484 opossums, 373 rabbits, 190 gray squirrels, 12 flying squirrels, 19 screech owls, 4 black vultures, 79 Carolina wrens, 61 robins, 2 great blue herons, 5 hummingbirds, 3 black rat snakes...and the list goes on and on. And because Lynne is state-permitted, a sheet of paper has to be filled out for each animal so that it can be documented. 

Lynne is a friend of mine and there are few people on this planet I admire more than her.

How can you help? Donate money for her to buy food. She receives no state or federal funding. 

Occasionally, I am called by the University of Tennessee Veterinary Hospital to transport animals to Lynne to care for and I have had all matter of patients in my car. 

Often, I take a few photos after I arrive.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

eagles in the Jayhawk State

It is still February and today it is snowing in the Tennessee Valley. This once again makes me think of bald eagles. February is the month the females lay their eggs. It does not matter if it is snowing or not. Bring it on!

I recently received an email from our friend and bird chaser Betty Thompson in Kansas. And what else? She sent eagle photos taken in the snow at Lake Afton due west from Wichita.  

Historically, bald eagles nested in Tennessee but stopped between 1961 and 1983 because of the pesticide DDT. When that was banned and had time to flush itself out of our environment, eagle nests reappeared in the Volunteer State. And they quickly dispersed to find new lakeside habitat even going into historically new territory to the west, the Jayhawker State.

The first bald eagle nest ever reported in Kansas was not until 1989. 

And they are still there, doing fine.

The photo at the bottom is of a younger eagle. The National Symbol does not start to molt into its adult/sexually active plumage until they are 4- to 5-years old.

(It is believed that the term "jayhawk" came into usage in the 1800s and is a combination of a loud blue jay and a screaming kestrel.)  

Thanks, Betty!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Valentine eagles

This is a feel-good story just in time for Valentine's Day. In fact, it's more than feel-good; it's uplifting and simply could not have been told 30 years ago.

Nesting bald eagles completely disappeared from Tennessee in the 1960s and 70s. There were no known successful eagle nests in the state between 1961 and 1983, a span of 22 years. Zero. With the banning of DDT in 1972 and protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act in 1978, bald eagles began to return to our skies but they needed help.

So what's new? Due to the efforts of TWRA, TVA, and the American Eagle Foundation, bald eagles have made a robust comeback since their low ebb in Tennessee in the 1960s.

After an absence of over two decades, TWRA reports that the first successful bald eagle nest in our state was discovered near Dover in the spring of 1983. Since that initial lone nest, there are now over 200 nests statewide. So many in fact, they have become rather difficult to tally.

Bald eagles form long-term pair-bonds that perhaps last for life. They are site loyal and will generally return to the same nesting locations year after year. But like other birds of prey, the mated pair go their separate ways after their parental duties are finished and can roam vast areas searching for food.

The mated pair return to their chosen breeding territory in late fall...

For the rest of my Valentine story, look for the January/February issue of The Tennessee Conservationist.

Top photo by David Magers.

Thank you, Louise. 


Sunday, February 9, 2020

Doc kestrel visits Wild Birds

Special thanks to Liz and Tony Cutrone for inviting Doc to stop by and visit Wild Birds Unlimited yesterday. 

As you can see by the above photo, Doc has become quite accustomed to representing kestrels as a wildlife ambassador for the State of Tennessee. So much so that I can nap while he answers questions. 

The American kestrel is the smallest falcon native to the Americas. Weighing only four ounces, they are also the smallest raptor in our part of the world. They are generally found watching over meadows and other grasslands where they eat a wide range of prey animals including grasshoppers. 

Next Question?
Doc is a non-flighted male that was brought into the University of Tennessee Veterinary Hospital mid-January, 2019. He had a badly broken and infected right wing and sadly, will never fly again. He was treated by Dr. Cheryl Greenacre and it was her good care that brought him to me after he spent time on antibiotics with Lynne McCoy local wildlife rehabilitator. 

Doc has been a wildlife ambassador for the state and under my care and education permit for almost a year. He makes public appearances to raise awareness of kestrels and their current status in the wild. By some accounts, the kestrel subspecies (Falco sparverius paulus) found in the southeast has suffered a population decline of 83 percent since 1940 and no one is completely sure why.

In Delaware it is on their state's Endangered Species list. In Tennessee, its population decline is of concern. 

Does Doc feel the pressure of representing kestrels everywhere? So far, he hasn't shown it.  

Wild Birds Unlimited is located at 7240 Kingston Pike.

Tony Cutrone at Wild Birds Unlimited

Thursday, January 30, 2020

a Smoky Mountain Winter Experience

A special thank you to the City of Pigeon Forge and their Office of Special Events' Butch Helton and Brandon Barnes and the rest of the staff, for their Smoky Mountain Winter Experience

The event was held over the past three days at The Ramsey Hotel and Convention Center and was very similar to the original January based Wilderness Wildlife Week. It was a gathering of nature and outdoor enthusiasts, plus artists, storytellers, natural historians and musicians like Ruth Barber and Keith Watson of Boogertown Gap Old-Time String Band (click: Boogertown) and hammer dulcimer artist Tim Simek (click: Simek).

I was there selling books and artwork beside my cousin local artist Louise Bales, part owner of the Cliff Dwellers (click Cliff) on Glades Road in Gatlinburg.

And a special thank you to those who attended one of my four talks about birds. 

It was especially good to revisit the topic of John James Audubon and his publishing tour de force: The Birds of America that included portraits of the 435 known species at the time including the now extinct Carolina parakeet (to the left). 

It was a masterwork of achievement!

Lynne McCoy
Tim Simek
Bee house maker Stephen 

Landscape by artist (and cousin) Louise Bales

Boogertown Gap

Woodcarver Don Taylor

Stephen Lyn with stoic partner: gray phase

Thursday, January 23, 2020


Brown-marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys)

Stink bugs invade once again.

“The brown-marmorated stink bug is a native of Asia and was first collected in the United States in 1998 in Pennsylvania, according to Penn State University. It has caused severe damage to fruit crops like apples and peaches,” reported Rebecca Williams on knoxNews in 2010.

“But now the bugs are hitting hard in the suburbs of Knoxville," added Neal Denton at the same time. "They have reproduced vigorously during the warm summer and are now looking for warm places to stay as the weather cools, including homes, garages and campers.”

Well they're back.

Now that the weather has turned colder again, I’ve had a few marmorated (it means having a marbled or streaked appearance) stink bugs loitering about my kitchen and bathroom sink this week. Their cherub little faces watch me brush my teeth, dry my hair, trim my graying beard. Like the movie Being There's Chance the gardener, "They like to watch." One is a rather nonthreatening voyeur, that seems inordinately interested in me. Are they all government spies, should I be paranoid? Although honestly, it's kind of nice having something that actually wants to share my morning curry.

I wonder if they will be with me the rest of the winter.

I'll miss them when their gone. 

Monday, January 20, 2020

hometown eagle plus one

Photo by Shelley Conklin. January 20, 2020. TODAY!

If you are a devotee of the bird world, this is big environmental news. And certainly it is a source of joy for me because Gatlinburg is my hometown.

Shelley Conklin has been keeping watch for a lone bald eagle that seems to have adopted the river near the entrance of the mountain resort. We first reported it here on November 20, 2018. (Click: hometown eagle

Why is this big news? Nesting bald eagles had completely disappeared from Tennessee in the 1960s and 70s. There were no known successful eagle nests in the state between 1961 and 1983, a span of 22 years. Zero. With the banning of DDT in 1972 and protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act in 1978, bald eagles began to return to our skies but they needed help.

So what's new? Due to the efforts of TWRA, TVA and the American Eagle Foundation located in Pigeon Forge, bald eagles have made a robust comeback since their low ebb in Tennessee in the 1960s.

After an absence of over two decades, TWRA reports that the first successful bald eagle nest in our state was discovered near Dover in the spring of 1983. Since that initial lone nest, there are now over 200 nests statewide. So many in fact, they have become rather difficult to tally. 

This is January. The time for bald eagles to renew their pair bonds or form new ones. So is that what Shelley's two eagles are doing? Shelley took the above photo just today! 

Friday, January 17, 2020

thank you, North Hills

A special thank you to the North Hills Garden Club and to Roy Wilcox, the program chair, for inviting me to speak about monarch butterflies and in particular their metamorphosis which can be only described as a miracle.

And thank you to Elayne Pope for hosting the meeting in her eclectically decorated home. As you can see from the above photo, we had a houseful.

It takes roughly one month from egg to the final emergence of the adult butterfly from its chrysalis. A miracle of nature in just four weeks. 

And as Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. I would be the latter. 

I write about the short-lived miracles in my third UT Press book, Ephemeral by Nature. 

By the end of the talk, I was pronounced eclectic enough to be an official North Hills-ian and they were going to look for a house for me to buy. But I have never lived on that side of the river and would miss driving across the Alcoa Highway Bridge. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

life bird but with a concern

"This picture is very poor," emailed Betty Thompson. "Yesterday, as I was driving home after a fantastic day of birding/photographing, I noticed Mr. Owl on top of a cedar tree. This is a Lifer for me, and my heart skipped a beat. Safety was my biggest concern. It was almost dark and I was on a four lane road, and had no place to pull over." 

"But first, I made myself look at him, our eyes met, my heart was pumping, I was love struck to say the least. I had to take the moment in before raising my lens. I quickly took a couple of pics, drove away and turned around again, and he was still there, and I still took poor photos. BUT look at his eye. It was like this in every photo, even the second round after I drove up the road and turned around"

"What is wrong with its eye?"

There is nothing like finding a Life Bird on your own. You seem to always remember the moment.

Great horned owls are three pounds of intense predator. Strong and powerful raptors known as flying tigers. But aside from their reputation, they are fragile like all birds. I really do not know what is wrong with its eye but I suspect an injury that we hope heals on its own.

Owls are notoriously farsighted, blessed with tremendous binocular vision that sees sharply at great distances in low light. But up close, they really need reading glasses as do I. We can suspect that many launch themselves in the dark towards moving prey 100 feet away and brush into a close branch or twig without noticing it beforehand.  

At the nature center, the birds I helped care for over the years generally had either wing or eye injuries that prevented them from ever being on their own again.

Congratulations, Betty on your life bird. And by now, let's hope the swelling in that eye has gone away. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Forestry Club visit

A special thank you to Nick Stahlman for inviting me to speak about some of my favorite trees I have written about over the past two decades. And, of course, Doc, the state-permitted, non-flighted American kestrel under my care went along. 

And what is UT's Forestry Club?

Nick writes, "The 'Forestry Club' is actually the Society of American Foresters Student Chapter of UTK. We are one of two student chapters in Tennessee, the other is at Sewanee. 

"The SAF was created by Gifford Pinchot, the father of American Forestry, and seven other foresters. They met on November, 30 1900 and then decided to form the society. The heart of the SAF and its student chapters is to bring forestry and other natural resource professionals together to make sure they are constantly informed of relevant news. The beginnings of the the UTK chapter started in 1967 with the founding of a Forestry Club through the Association of Southern Forestry Clubs. The department itself started in 1964, so this club is almost as old as the UT Ag school. The club became an official SAF student chapter in 1971."

Thanks, Nick!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

A rare sight

And now we have some catching up to do.

And a post that originates with Betty Thompson, our eye to the sky in Kansas, albeit this came from their trip through Missouri. It's about a rare sight, unless you are at where they are at.

"As we were driving thru the north St. Louis area I noticed a sign for Columbia Bottoms, a conservation area," emailed Betty. "I took full advantage of Tim sleeping and took the exit. It sits on the banks of the Mississippi River. The volunteer at the Nature Center was very helpful and pointed out a very special bird, the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Although not rare their range is very limited, which I find very interesting.  According to the volunteer their range is N.E. Missouri, and I read from other sources parts of Illinois southeastern Iowa. But why not most of the Midwest?  The weather and food sources are similar. Anyway they are very cute and I wish I had some in my backyard, along with a few trees and bushes!

Generally, a species that is thriving yet in a very limited range is not very good at competing with the more aggressive birds that surround it.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Eurasian Tree Sparrows were brought to St. Louis, Missouri, in the 19th century as part of a shipment of European songbirds imported from Germany. The birds were destined for release as part of a project to enhance the native North American avifauna. Around two dozen Eurasian Tree Sparrows were released in late April 1870, they bred successfully and gradually established a presence in the Midwestern United States. Typically a commensal of humans, it has, in part, been displaced from urban centers by another introduced species, the larger, more pugnacious House Sparrow (Passer domesticus). Today, the Eurasian Tree Sparrow is most frequently associated with wooded urban parkland, farms and rural woodlots.”

Thank you Betty! And as always, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.