Wednesday, July 18, 2018

awaiting Messalina's progeny

Messalina, the black widow spider (Latrodectus mactans) Ijams has in their Exhibit Hall, created a rather large egg sac two weeks ago. She is on display at the nature center so that visitors can see what a black widow actually looks like.

The egg sac we do not need or want. But as to the number of spiderlings that will ultimately hatch, we were unsure.

Chris, who welcomes visitors at the front desk on Saturdays, looked it up online. Get this: from 200 to 900 baby spiders. Amazed, our senior naturalist, who is a gray-haired 10-year-old, took it home to attempt a census. I am currently waiting for the blessed event that may come in two more weeks.

Should you read in the Knoxville News-Sentinel or see on WBIR 10 that I died suddenly of mysterious causes...perhaps they were not so mysterious after all.

(Post script: Messalina was the third wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius. She was a powerful and influential woman with a reputation for promiscuity and treachery, she allegedly conspired against her husband and was executed on the discovery of the plot.)

Photo by Chris Forsythe.

Monday, July 16, 2018

waxy wings

Cedar waxwings are one of the last species to nest in the calendar year. Why? They are frugivores...they primarily eat fruit. And fruits begin to appear in early summer. They will also eat some seeds and insects because they do need protein.

Cedar waxwing nesting begins in late May and runs into August. And as the name suggests, they eat berries from eastern red cedar trees which are actually small blue cones.

And the wax wings? Adults develop waxy red secretions at the tips of their secondary feathers. For lack of a better term, I call them "dollops." The older the bird, the bigger the red dollops and females tend to choose a mate with dollops the same size as her own, so size matters. She's not a cougar, she wants a partner as mature as she is. Perhaps they have similar life experiences.

Although you primarily see waxwings in flocks, during nesting season individual mated pairs claim and defend small territories.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

First Saturday Hikers

And a super thank you to the Ijams First Saturday Hikers who went with us on the July hike. Our goal is to hike all 50 miles (plus or minus) of the Knoxville Urban Wilderness: South Loop in a calendar year. 

The July hike was our seventh of 2018.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Songbirds and Sangria

Wiki Media

Join Ijams education director Jen Roder and me for tonight's 

Taste of Nature: Songbirds and Sangria.

Each month Taste of Nature makes bold pairings of cocktails and natural history! For July the focus is on Songbirds and Sangria. We will be exploring what makes songbirds sing so beautifully and many of the different songbirds that call East Tennessee home. By the end, even those of us with tin ears will be able to enjoy our songbirds’ symphony on a walk around the Universal Trail. Refreshments and libations will be served indoors. 

The fee for this program is $20 per person. Everyone must have a ticket. Must be over 21 years old!

To register go online to: Songbirds and Sangria

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

20 years ago today

And now an anniversary to acknowledge.  

July 4, 1998 was the first day I took one of the adopted because of injury birds outside for a walk at the nature center. On that day it was a red-phase screech-owl.

That's 20 years ago.

And it changed my life forever. My heartfelt thanks to Ijams for allowing me the opportunity to do it, as I did last Sunday with Tiger, our injured red-tailed hawk. And thank you wildlife biologist Pam Petko-Seus for training me and having the faith that I could handle large birds-of-prey and Dr. Louise Conrad for following in her footsteps.

We'll pass on the cliché, "my how time goes by" but my how time goes by. 

Photo by Ray Cannon, the father of the little girl and her brother so engrossed with Tiger, Sunday, July 1, 2018. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

the verge of first flight

Parent osprey with three nestlings watching it fly away

A big thank you goes out to TV's Fox43 Knoxville Weekend and its host Jac B Knox (Is that her real name?). Knoxville Weekend inviting us on this morning to talk about upcoming programs at Ijams including Slammin' Under the Stars.

In honor of today's International Mud Day, tomorrow we'll be hosting one of our Ijams Down and Dirty programs for kids where they actually get to play in mud and get dirty, plus an upcoming Sunset Stroll for people with mobility issues: strollers, wheelchairs, walkers are all welcome. Our Slammin' Under the Stars is Knoxville's first OUTDOOR poetry slam next weekend and my expectant event is an Osprey Watch early in the morning. We will be watching a nest with a mated pair of osprey and three nestlings on the verge of fledging (first flight). See above photo.

Let's hope they are still on the nest one more day because when they are gone...they're gone. Their entire lives ahead of them.

For more information about upcoming Ijams programs click EVENTS

News anchor Heather Waliga and Jac B Knox

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

family owl search

On last Saturday morning's Family Raptor Hunt, we found a solo barred owl in the woods by the historic Ijams Family pond but we did not find the red-shouldered hawk family as expected. They perhaps have left the wetland.

Ijams owl-whisperer and flâneur Rex McDaniel scouted the area before our group arrived on the scene. He had located and was keeping an eye on an owl as we made it down Discovery Trail. Because of its size, Rex thought it was the male or father owl. Mom and the three juveniles could not be found.

We all watched the male owl look for prey--mouse or mole--and flew to the ground to catch it, not once but twice. Shortly after each strike, he quaffed it down. The thing about owls is that they sit still, so kids can see them better through a spotting scope.

It is always gratifying for me to share purely natural moments with young children. Finding a wild owl hunting for food in the woods was special.

Owl photos by Rex McDaniel.

Rex McDaniel

Monday, June 18, 2018

great snakes!

Growing up in Gatlinburg with a national park at my backdoor, I learned at an early age the wonder of nature and the importance of protecting it. Today, sharing that sensation with essentially urban kids is a huge part of my life. 

And yesterday, it was "For Goodness Snakes!" At yesterday's Family Adventure Sunday at Ijams we learned the truth about some of the snakes that live in East Tennessee, had some garter snake ice cream, met three snakes eye-to-eye and then went on a snake-quest.

Snakes are beautifully simple creatures that never have to go to a podiatrist. They are not here to hurt us but to control the mouse population. Nature has a lovely balance. Well, some snakes actually eat other snakes, so we guess there is a trade off there.

On our quest, one of the fathers found something under a bridge. Was it a troll? Or maybe three Billie Goats Gruff? Nope. It was a Northern water snake.

Thank you, volunteer Janet for helping.

Wiki media

Friday, June 15, 2018

For Goodness Snakes!

The young girl in black at WBIR with absolutely no fear of snakes 
wanted her photo taken with our cornsnake, so we obliged.

Join me at Ijams Nature Center on Father's Day at 2 p.m. for another Family Adventure Sunday and learn the truth about the roughly 15 species of snake that live in East Tennessee. There's really nothing to be afraid of unless you are a mouse or mole.

We have no water moccasins in our waters. None. None. None. It's a myth. But we do have a brown water snake that eats small fish and tadpoles and both a kingsnake (eats other snakes) and a queensnake (eats aquatic life).

Snakes are all a part of nature's balance. They are benevolent creatures that simple want to be left alone to do their job. 

On Sunday, we'll meet a few of the snakes that the education department care for and go on a nature walk to the Homesite and along the river to look for any signs of the snakes that live in our 317-acre nature center.

For more information on For Goodness Snakes or to register click...

Sunday, June 10, 2018

a pond evacuation adventure

The evacuation: the beginning of the pond restoration.

As sad as it is for Ijams to admit or accept, but our beautiful Plaza Pond in front of the Visitor Center has developed a leak or leaks and is not holding water. It has to be dredged down to its 8-inch-thick, circa 1998, concrete liner and repaired. 

We have no idea how long it will take until we locate the problem.

We began the process yesterday when a group of courageous volunteers—the A Team of critter catchers—joined me to rescue and evacuate all the aquatic life we could catch and move them to a second pond. It was hot mucky work. 

Our team also conducted a biological inventory of all we found: hundreds of tadpoles, plus frogs, newts, turtles and numerous aquatic invertebrates including two leeches and two hellgrammites! But oddly, no snakes.

A huge thank you goes out to Annabel, Oliver, Abby, Jacob, Linda, Tess, Bruce, Gloria and Evelyn.

Supplied photos by Linda Knott, Clare Datillo and Jack Gress. 

Don't try this at home. Snapping turtles will bite and won't let go. 

The A Team of muckrakers, plus Tess and Bruce.