Thursday, April 28, 2016

exploring the Urban Wilderness

Kids are happier if they grow up outside, where their minds have plenty of space to roam.

Last Saturday was a perfect day for the Ijams Hiking Club to meet and explore all things great and small.

For more photos, click: Urban Wilderness.

The inventor of the mobile home.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Sharp's Ridge 3

Palm warbler. Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson: Wiki media.

Bette Davis-eyed Ellie
Our third trip to Sharp's Ridge Memorial Park yesterday morning before I went to work at the nature center proved to be a little more migrantful. (Made up word. Don't look it up.)

Rachael Eliot and/or I saw/heard broadwing hawk, scarlet tanager, blue-headed vireo, and several warblers: pine, yellow-rumped, black-and-white, blue wing and palm (a lifer for Ellie). Despite its tropical name, the palm warbler breeds far to the north "in bogs, open boreal coniferous forest, and partly open situations with scattered trees and heavy undergrowth, usually near water." *

We encountered Shane Williams again who was a huge help to our spotting. He has an excellent ear for birds. In addition to our list, he also tallied a hard to find cerulean warbler and a yellow-throated vireo.

Thanks, Shane! Thanks, Robin!

* Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Ellie at the J.B. Owen Overlook

Friday, April 22, 2016

Wildflower Pilgrimage

Ovenbird. A warbler that nests on the ground. Wiki photo by Dick Daniels.

Thank you to the organizers of Gatlinburg's Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage for inviting me to speak yesterday on one of my favorite topics: Migratory Birds 

This is the 66th year of the festival that runs April 19-23, so there is still plenty of time to enjoy one of the 143 planned activities. 

It is always an honor for me to return to my hometown, the place I fell in love with nature and, in particular, birds. 

Thank you Judy Collins for inviting me.

P.S. As I write this from my second floor deck, I'm listening to a singing wood thrush. Can life be any sweeter?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Edward R. Murrow Awards

WBIR's Jim Matheny

Congratulations to our friends at WBIR and television journalist Jim Matheny for winning several 2016 Edward R. Murrow Awards for writing, videography and overall excellence.

Matheny's work included a story on freshwater jellyfish reported last August.

Here's a look back, click: Jellyfish 

And Matheny's creative use of video, click: Jellyfish

Pat yourselves on the back!

The Matheny Rig: GoPro camera rigged to float underwater and follow the canoe.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

things have changed

Wiki photo by Snowmanradio

"People are crazy and times are strange. I'm locked in tight, 
I'm out of range. I used to care, 
but things have changed," to quote Dylan.

But there is a natural order, so pop the champagne!

Things HAVE changed. Last night I heard a whip-poor-will in the woods behind the house. He is just passing through. This morning there's a wood thrush singing on the back of beyond, he may stay to claim territory.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sharp's Ridge 2

Huh? What? Shouldn't it be?

Where are they?

Again, Ellie and I went to Sharp's Ridge Memorial Park this morning before her first class at UT. And it's the week of finals, so she didn't have much time, and again: Where are the migrants?

Are they stuck at a Stuckey's in Georgia on Route 23? (Parenthetical information: Actually, pecan-based Stuckey's began in the 1930s on Route 23 in Eastman, Georgia.)

Shouldn't the neotropicals be here by now? Well, I would think so, but not yet, apparently. We found/heard the same birds as last week but fewer winters. Ellie located another yellow-rump in breeding plumage, and surprisingly we met yet another man who had had his car attacked by a hormonal pine warbler.

But, we did not find the big kahunas of spring migrants: no Blackburnians, no redstarts, no veerys, passing through the valley.


Friday, April 15, 2016

nature club

Hey. What ya looking at? Oh, yeah! Our new Family Nature Club made yesterday's Knoxville News-Sentinel

Here is the online version, click: Into the woods

We meet again in May.

Thank you, Susan Alexander and Ali James with the News-Sentinel.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sharp's Ridge 1

Sharp's Ridge
Rachael Eliot and I swung by Sharp's Ridge Memorial Park this morning before her first class at UT.

Rachael Eliot
We were checking for migrants: warblers, tanagers, vireos, but all was relatively quiet. Historically, the city park in the middle of urban Knoxville is the best place to find the passing migratory birds in late April. After flying all night, the birds get a much needed respite on the ridge before another nocturnal journey. But, the nighttime winds have been wrong the past few days. Plus, the winter species are still hanging around. Ellie found a ruby-crowned kinglet, white-throated sparrow, pine warbler and with the help of a visiting birder named Paul from Colorado we found a yellow-rumped warbler in breeding plumage.

We also met a local birder named Shane Williams who had just had an odd encounter with a hormonal pine warbler that was being territorial, attacking his Jeep, or rather attracting his own reflection in the windshield and side mirror of his Jeep. (See series of photos below.)

Oh, the signs of spring. Male birds throwing themselves against their own reflections.

Thanks, Shane. 

Aggressive pine warbler. Photos by Shane Williams.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Family Nature Club

Thanks to all who attended yesterday's first meeting of the Family Nature Club @ Ijams. Our topic of the day was birds.

And thanks to the junior naturalists (B.K.U.) the Best Kids in the Universe, for making the day so memorable.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

migratory birds

Thank you to all who attended my class on migratory birds this morning at Ijams. We looked at several species that pass through Knox County on their way to breeding grounds farther north or in the Smoky and Cumberland Mountains. 

We also welcomed the return of a pair of blue-gray gnatcatchers, a species that typically nest in the Shumardii oaks outside my office window. The gnatcatchers spent their winters along the Gulf Coast and south into Mexico and central America, where, we assume, there's plenty of wintertime gnats. 

Notice those petite gnatcatcher bills. I wonder how many gnats you'd have to eat to get a good meal. 

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

Thursday, April 7, 2016

it's migration time

Blackburnian Warbler. Named in honor of English botanist Anna Blackburne.  
Can there be a more beautiful songbird?

After spending their winters in Central and South America, thousands of colorful avian visitors will be passing through our valley during the next few weeks. They fly thousands and thousands of miles, all in a mad rush on their way north to raise a family. Join me and hear more about it.

 Saturday, April 9, 9 a.m. 
Birding & Brunch at Ijams 

(All Ages) Join me for this fun and light-hearted look into the world of migratory birds: warblers, tanagers, vireos, thrushes. We’ll discuss some of the more common spring visitors to look for in the trees and woods around your home and how they survive their travels. 

Live@5@4 co-host Beth Haynes
We’ll also enjoy a light brunch to fuel our own short migration around the park in search of birds. The fee for this program is $5 for Ijams members and $8 for non-
Please call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register.

Today, I spoke briefly with WBIR's Beth Haynes. For that chat click: Live@5@4.

American redstart

Monday, April 4, 2016

thanks for volunteering!

Thanks to all who stopped by my site at Marine Park on Alcoa Highway to volunteer for this year's River Rescue

My site was just one of over 30 that was cleaned up on Saturday, all part of the 27th annual local river and creek shoreline cleanup. River Rescue is one of the oldest such volunteer-driven cleanups in the country! Pat yourself on the back. As of yet, I haven't heard of the total number of volunteers and tons of trash removed from locations from Ijams downstream to Ft. Loudoun Dam. 

Knoxville News Sentinel photographer Adam Lau and reporter John Shearer covered River Rescue. Lau visited my site. To see their report, click: Knoxville News Sentinel

Monday, March 28, 2016

10th trip to Panther Nation

Last Monday, I paid a visit to Will Roberts' AP Environmental Science class at Powell High School, a.k.a. Panther Nation. It has become a biannual tradition.

This is Roberts biggest class ever: 31 students! We talked about conservation, urban wildlife, book writing and my job at Ijams Nature Center. Each student had been assigned to read a portion of one of my two books: Natural Histories or Ghost Birds and ask questions about what they had read.

Topics we visited included nature journaling, bald eagles, opossums, wild turkeys, red pandas, the importance of journalism, my favorite places in the Great Smokies and my favorite topic in my first book: periodical cicadas, including the time we ate deep-fried cicadas on live TV. But that's show business.

Best of luck to all of you! Thanks, Will.

The beautiful blue bodied periodical cicada with golden wings and red eyes. Delicious when deep-fried. Photo by David M. Stone.
For more about the periodical cicada, 

Click these links for a look back at past visits:

Fall 2015

Spring 2015

Fall 2014

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Today at Ijams

Happy Easter!

The weather is going to be prefect for a visit to Ijams.

Stop by the Visitor Center or take a walk in the woods. We have a Free Animal Program and Chat every hour: Noon, 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m. 

Snake, kestrel, owl, spider, turtle, hawk, you never know what I'll have with me. Heck, I might even wake up the opossum.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

27th River Rescue

Join us for the 27th Annual River Rescue and help us clean up the local river and creek shorelines on

Saturday, April 2, 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

For more information, click the Ijams facebook page

or go to the Ijams website: River Rescue

Volunteer and the above dragonfly t-shirt can be yours!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

a fast 16 years

WBIR's Beth Haynes on the set of Live@5@4
Ijams' organized cleanup of local waterways, River Rescue, is scheduled for Saturday, April 2, 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

In March 2000, I first appeared on WBIR's Live@5. That time it was to talk about the 11th Annual River Rescue. Yesterday, I was on Live@5@4 to talk about the 27th Annual River Rescue. For those good at math, that's a fast 16 years.


But, the good news: There is less trash/litter than there once was along area waterways. 

For more information about the volunteer-driven cleanup of local river and creek shorelines, click: River Rescue or call Lauren: 577-4717, ext. 135.

For today's interview with Host Beth Haynes, click: Live@5@4!

Volunteer for 2013 River Rescue

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Froggy-ology 101

Thank you to all who attended today's Froggy-ology 101 class at Ijams.

It was cool today so the frogs were not calling. But we found frog eggs, tadpoles and more newts than you could shake a dip net at. Plus, one single American toad, away from the water, doing what toads do in March, just trundling along.

Great fun!

Frog eggs

American toad

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thank you Norris

Today I visited the Norris Women's Club to talk about the Migratory Birds that will soon be winging their way through the Tennessee Valley on their way to their breeding grounds. We're talking vireos, thrushes and wood warblers among others.

This was my fifth visit in five years. Call it a tradition. Thank you for your gracious hospitality. Thank you, Loretta, for working out the details. See you in 2017.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

Watch for one of my favorites,
American yellow warblers (Setophaga petechia)

Monday, March 14, 2016

tender voices

"Sing on there in the swamp,
O singer bashful and tender, I hear your notes, I hear your call,
I hear, I come presently, I understand you"*

Although Whitman was thinking about his beloved hermit thrush, I think the lines fit just as well with the chorus frogs that have been calling from the local wetlands the past few weeks.

Creeeeeeeeak! Creeeeeeeak! Creeeeeeeak!

These tiny, tiny frogs do exemplify Whitman's all out lust—to the point of being erotic—for nature and all of its yearnings. Its seasonal rhythms. Its cries and whispers.

There are several chorus frogs in the above photo. Do you see them? Perhaps not. They're much too bashful and tender to see. But you sure can hear them.

"Sing on dearest brother, warble your reedy song,
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.
O liquid and free and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul -- O wondrous singer!"*

* Lines from "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" by Walt Whitman

Friday, March 11, 2016

scribes all

Let us sit in the warm sun and read our five senses poems. All part of the Girl Scout Scribe badge workshop last Sunday at Ijams. (We also wrote a news story, a restaurant review [now I know were not to eat] and mini-biographies.)

These young scribes were such fun to work with. All of them wrote, but the true writers wrote and wrote and wrote, almost setting their pencils on fire. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The hummers are coming

Thank you ladies of the Farragut Garden Club. This morning I visited them to talk about getting ready for the hummingbirds that will soon return to our backyards.

To track the progress north of ruby-throated hummingbirds, click: Journey North.

Thank you, Sandra and Sandra.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Wild Birds indeed

Thanks to my friends at Wild Birds Unlimited7240 Kingston Park—for inviting me to speak about my favorite topic: owls

Last Saturday, we discussed the six species of owl that can be found in East Tennessee. Plus, one of the Ijams adopted injured screech-owls made an appearance, much to the oohs and ahhs of the audience.

Thanks, Liz, Tiffiny and Warren.

Below photos by Warren Hamlin.  

With Liz Cutrone
Thanks, Tiffiny

Friday, March 4, 2016

welcomed guests

Drs. Greenacre, Hooimeijer and Pepperberg

Ijams welcomed Dr. Irene Pepperberg DVM and Dr. Jan Hooimeijer DVM, guests of UT's Dr. Cheryl Greenacre DVM. 

Pepperberg and Hooimeijer were in town to take part in an Avian Behavior Workshop particularly for people who own parrots. Both are noted for their work with the birds in captivity.

Dr. Pepperberg, associate research professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and teacher of animal cognition at Harvard, is also respected for her highly acclaimed book "Alex & Me,"  about her experience with her own pet African grey parrot.

Dr. Hooimeijer is something of a "parrot whisperer." He is the owner of an avian clinic in Meppel, Netherlands and the founder and president of the Society of Parrot. He is also the founder of the Dutch Parrot Walks, the inspiration for the Foundation's Parrot Promenade, stressing the importance of the development of a strong social relationship between parrots and people.

After the Friday and Saturday workshops, I gave them a tour of the nature center including a walk along the River Trail on a chilly Sunday. 

Thank you, Dr. Greenacre, who oversees the health and well-being of the captive animals at the nature center. 


Monday, February 29, 2016

thanks, smart kids

Thanks to all the smart kids and their smart parents who stayed after the Woody-ology 101 class yesterday to go on a nature walk. We didn't find any woodpeckers (how odd) but we found frog eggs and hugging newts, a fortuitous preview of our Froggy-ology 101 class next month.

Thank you also to Jennifer (log cake) and volunteers Laura, Chelsea and to the families that brought woodpecker-themed food: log cake, tree cookies, chocolate bark, baby suet cakes, Rice Krispies treats bird nests and ants on a log. Yum!

Making suet covered pine cones
And a suet log by drilling holes just like a woodpecker, well...except we used a power drill.