Saturday, January 31, 2015

magnificent finch




Good birding at Ijams. And you really do not have to walk that far. In addition to the juvenile red-headed woodpecker that's been hanging around the parking lot, this morning in front of the Visitor Center we had a purple finch and a pine siskin. (There's got to be more. They never travel alone.)

Photographer Chuck Cooper got the magnificent finch listed as an irregular winter visitor throughout the east but their population numbers have been dropping for years.

As the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website states, "Purple Finches seem to be losing numbers in eastern North America as House Finches have moved in after being brought to New York City in the 1950s. One study of finch behavior found that Purple Finches lost out to House Finches more than 95 percent of the times the two birds encountered each other."

The lookalike house finches are in our area year round but the declining purple finches—really more raspberry colored than purple—are much harder to locate. But doing so is a memorable moment. 

Thank you, Chuck! For sharing your find. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

wilderness








“I wished to acquire the simplicity, native feelings, and virtues of savage life; to divest myself of the factitious habits, prejudices and imperfections of civilization; to become a citizen of the world; and to find, amidst the solitude and grandeur of the western wilds, more correct views of human nature and of the true interests of man.”

– Estwick Evans (1787-1866) An attorney who walked, in the dead of an extreme winter, from his home in New Hampshire to Detroit dressed in buffalo skins. He wanted to experience the wilderness first hand.



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

visiting redhead



Notice the white secondary feathers 
beginning to come in
to form the triangle on the back.





The juvenile red-headed woodpecker first reported by John O'Barr, Jay Sturner and Jimmy Tucker in the parking lot at the Ijams Visitor Center is still hanging around. The initial report was posted on the Ijams blog: redheaded.

It's been seen everyday since.

The species is common on the Cumberland Plateau, but only rarely seen in the valley

John managed to get a photo. "Not a great pic, the lighting was terrible, and he didn't show himself too well before he flew away," he emailed. 

But, any photo that documents this species at the nature center is a memorable.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

the wanderers



Photos by Jason Dykes.


peregrine [per-i-grin] adj. wandering, traveling, or migrating.

And at speeds of well over 200 MPH, they are the fastest animal on Earth. 

Peregrine falcons are wanderers. Ode to be so. As the map shows, they can be found virtually all over the globe except the polar regions, yet the map is somewhat dated. The dark blue indicates winter resident, the dark green means breeding resident and that range is expanding as the species slowly recovers from the affects of DDT. Historically, peregrines were once in the Great Smokies, then they were all gone. In the late 1980s, the fierce falcons were reintroduced into the national park, and they're back. The most reliable place I know to find them is Alum Cave Bluff on the trail to Mt. LeConte, April into June where they nest once again. 

Or, if you cannot wait, go to downtown Maryville now. One has been hanging out in the foothills city the past several days where it's probably eating pigeons, its plat préféré. Jason Dykes found it and sent me these photos.

Magnificent creature. Such a gift to see.

Thanks, Jason.



 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

sunset today


Sunset over downtown Knoxville today

“There's a sunrise and a sunset every single day, 
and they're absolutely free. Don't miss so many of them.” 

- Jo Walton, Welsh-Canadian fantasy and science fiction writer and poet.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

survival



"It became clearer to me, as life progressed, that finding natural places within the city was not just a matter of recreation but of emotional and spiritual survival. In the woods, finding nature meant stepping out of my door. But in the city, I needed to seek out these places and the wildlife that lived there."

-From Sacred Paths and Muddy Places, By Stephen Altschuler

Saturday, January 17, 2015

craning for cranes


Sandhill cranes. Photo by Bob Davis.

"During migration and winter, non-related sandhill cranes come together to form 'survival groups' which forage and roost together. Such groups often congregate at migration and winter sites, sometimes in the thousands," notes Wiki.

Bob Davis took the above photo this week of sandhills flying just east of Washington Ferry bridge on TN Hwy 30.

We'll be making our annual Ijams Birding & Breakfast Club trip to Hiwassee to see the sandhills on Saturday, February 14.

Thanks, Bob.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

just visiting Pellissippi


Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) with Canada goose (Branta canadensis). Photo by Jason Dykes

Pellissippi State Community College has had its share of attention the past two months. Last week it was President Obama and Vice President Biden and his education-minded wife Jill. That's a big deal for the Hardin Valley campus.

In December, the visitors were avian. Two geese, or two northerners, spent some time at the campus pond and local environs. First, there appeared a lone snow goose that spent a short amount of time hanging out with the resident gaggle of Canada geese. The snowy white birds nest so far north they probably know where Santa's workshop is located. They do make forays into the US in the winter but not that often to Tennessee.

After that it was a lone greater white-fronted goose hanging out with the Canadas. They are somewhat rare here as well being that they breed in the tundra from Nunavut to Siberia, across Russia, and in Greenland and spend their winters primarily in Central America and along the west coast.  

I went twice, but saw neither. I didn't get to see the president or vice president or Jill Biden either, so I can't check that off my life list. Bummer. I did see President Nixon once but that was a long time ago, pre-Watergate and pre-life list and pre-notion-of-such.  

So is it geese or gooses? According to my online dictionary: goose, noun, plural geese for 1, 2, 4, 8; or gooses for 5—7. So six geese are called gooses? Isn't that the oddest thing? Is it real? Or is some bored Internet lexicographer messing with us?
 
Jason Dykes saw both special geese and sent me photos to document it. The top photo of the snow goose has two total geese, the top one below has three total geese. So they are not gooses. But collectively they show five geese, so then they are gooses? Go figure.


For fans of binomials, the bird family Anatidae contains the tribe Anserini. There are three genera in that tribe: Anser, Branta and Chen. All three are represented in these photos.  

Thanks, Jason! 




Greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons) in foreground with Canada geese. Photo by Jason Dykes.

Friday, January 9, 2015

2015 then some




Being that it's nine days into the New Year, it was time I hung a new wall calendar in my office. 

This year it's The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offering with a cover photo by Linda Petersen. And look at that blithe thing, could it be that yellow? Oh yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia), you're like a winged sunbeam with a song so sweet (mnemonic: sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet.) Could there be anything more perfect on this sub-freezing day?

All the yellow warblers on the planet are not freezing their little saffron cheeks off. They're wintering in the Yucatán Peninsula south through Central America to Columbia and Venezuela. Oh, to be so blithe; flash such élan on a distant wooded mountain. But in three months they'll pass through our valley, most on their way to breeding grounds farther north.

Sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

5 is not enough degrees




5 is not a respectable degree. It's the number of cold fingers I had on my right hand as I started the car this morning and later the same 5 fingers picked up a can of frozen, bruised Pepsi I found in the bank parking lot.

5? 

The thermometer read 5. 
 

5 is the number of easy pieces Jack Nicholson played,
 

5 is the number Joe DiMaggio wore when he hit safely in 56 straight ball games,

5 is the number of the slaughterhouse, Schlachthof-fünf, in the Vonnegut novel,
 

5 is the number of Beach Boys or Fleetwood Macs,
 

5 is the number of cards in a poker hand,

5 the number of heads Borglum wanted on Rushmore 
   but he ran out of room, 

5 is the number of limbs on a starfish,

5 is half of a ten dollar bill, 

5 is the dimension Serling called the Twilight Zone,

5 is the number of letters in the word Pepsi that was frozen,

5 is the number of Supreme Court Justices if four phone in sick,

5 is the number of sides on the Pentagon,

5 is the number of rings in the Olympic symbol,

5 is the number of toes on Lincoln's left foot,
 

but, 5 is not a respectable number of degrees, 
although it makes a fairly respectable left foot.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

great owl interview




Yesterday, the Ijams great horned owl granted its first TV interview of the New Year to WBIR Channel 10's Live@5@4 effervescent reporter Emily Stroud.

The two talked about upcoming birding programs at the nature center. The first is a Birding & Breakfast Club chat about "IDing Winter Birds" this Saturday morning at 9 a.m. (Luckily, the breakfast will be prepared by Peg, not me.)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: the proudest moment







2014: The Best & Worst This is the time of the year when writers coast. They dream up their totally subjective best and worse lists for the year that's rapidly coming to a close. Why? So they can focus on the important things...the holidays. So with that in mind:

To close out the old year, my proudest moment. It's you Ellie, a.k.a. Rachael Eliot. Knew you were quirky smart, bird nerdy, Star Trekkie with a nod towards Mr. Data, voracious tome reader, cook extraordinaire. So proud of your first semester at UT, you're 4.0 perfect, honors calculus, autodidactic mathematician—who says the girl's got no math—plus highest class average in accelerated chemistry. Yes, I believed the quirky smarts would come into focus some day, but research computational chemist? So, who knew? A wunderkind.

Proud of your work ethic, your grit and determination, your focus, your long hours and the fire that burns within. Also proud of the part I played helping you find you.

But your Mom is your real hero. 

Your second semester awaits. Eyes on the prize, full speed ahead. “Courage is a kind of salvation. Courage is knowing what not to fear.” - Plato  

Proud. Proud. Proud. Or as Danny Thomas said, “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.”

Happy New Year. Bring on 2015. 














 



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014: favorite moment inside a cave





2014: The Best & Worst This is the time of the year when writers coast. They dream up their totally subjective best and worse lists for the year that's rapidly coming to a close. Why? So they can focus on the important things...the holidays. So with that in mind:


Being that I have the best job in Knoxville, in part because I get to spend a lot of time with kids. And there's no better kids than Ijams Summer Day Camp kids and there's no better time than venturing into a dark old spooky cave. Just ask Tom Sawyer.

In July, we had a most excellent caving adventure with Barcus, international treasure hunter and dealer of antiquities. 

It was certainly my best moment of the entire year inside a cave in the company of second, third and fourth graders. Right kids!

For more about the adventure click: In search of lost time.

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014: favorite book





2014: The Best & Worst This is the time of the year when writers coast. They dream up their totally subjective best and worse lists for the year that's rapidly coming to a close. Why? So they can focus on the important things...the holidays. So with that in mind:


OK. It's an odd choice with an odd title, Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms published in 2012. It probably never appeared on the New Your Times Bestseller List.

Yet my favorite book of the year comes with an enticing subtitle, "The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind." That's what lured me in, that and that most excellent cover design. Tenacious lifeforms, millions of years and still going strong, what a perfectly interesting read, and it also proved to be in the hands of a skilled writer.

It's part natural history and part global travelogue as author Richard Fortey takes us in search of very old, old life on Earth just abiding their time. Not only to the Delaware Bay as horseshoe crabs come ashore to lay eggs, but Fortey takes us to ginkos tucked away in a remote valley in China and velvet worms inside a log in New Zealand and lungfish muddling ashore in Australia. Not fossils, but living fossils, quietly living their unheralded lives, year after year after year. Steadfast.  

"I like to think of the double helix of the DNA that proves the shared ancestry of the simplest of prokaryotic organisms with the bison and her baby as a kind of plaited twine weaving through the tree of life," writes Fortey. "But bound together by the twine of descent as they are, every one of these living beings still has its own biology, and every biography could be as interesting as that of any organism I have selected for this book. No ant is too small to fail to deserve our attention, no microbe too hard to understand, no fungus too obscure, nor any flower too evanescent." 

"The richness of the biological world is the most wonderful feature of the biosphere, and every story is worth the telling no matter how humble, or indeed insular, is the organism concerned," adds Fortey.

Indeed, all life is insular, including the one typing on this keyboard, but yet no man is an island and all life is unequivocally connected through that shared ancestry.

After reading this book, my family tree got immensely bigger.

Thank you. 

•  

 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014: best ocean in a box




2014: The Best & Worst This is the time of the year when writers coast. They dream up their totally subjective best and worse lists for the year that's rapidly coming to a close. Why? So they can focus on the important things...the holidays. So with that in mind:


Mai iloko mai.

Everyone should get a Christmas present they didn't want, don't think they need or would ever use but then fall in love with. It's humbling. E hana me ka ha`aha`a. It teaches you that you don't know you as well as you think you do. (Wow! Broke all kinds of rules. Used "you" in a sentence five time.)

This year for me, that gift was an ASTI Adaptive Sound Sleep Therapy System, or, as I call it, nature in a box. Moi inoino. Now every night I can drift off to sleep listening to rain, a babbling brook, a waterfall, a nighttime meadow or ocean surf, plus there's settings for train, city and fireplace sounds (a little unnerving), all at the turn of a dial.

Tonight, I think I'll dial Maui and fall asleep listening to the Pacific. I hear humpback whales are passing to the north of Kahului. Aloha ahiahi ia oukou. 

E pili mau na pomaika`i ia `oe.

Mahalo nui loa, Suzy.

• 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014: best bird outing(s)



Look Rock in the Smokies. Photo by Jimmy Tucker

2014: The Best & Worst This is the time of the year when writers coast. They dream up their totally subjective best and worse lists for the year that's rapidly coming to a close. Why? So they can focus on the important things...the holidays. So with that in mind:

We had several enduring bird outings this past year at Ijams, at Forks-of-the-River, at Seven Islands, at Hiwassee, at Fort Loudoun and a very, very cold one at Cove Lake. But the Ijams' Birding & Breakfast Club Hawk Watch Brunch in September at Look Rock and Osprey Nest Watch Brunch in June at Sequoyah Hills were especially memorable. The birding and breakfast brunches tend to be leisurely affairs with generous helpings of food and bird chat.

Thanks to all. 

And there's more to come in 2015, almost always on the second Saturday of the month, the first is Saturday, January 10, an indoor chat about "Winter Birds" with breakfast by Peg at Ijams. And then on February 14: a roadshow brunch to Hiwassee to look for cranes and eagles.


Osprey on nest in June. Photo by Vickie Henderson
Osprey Nest Watch. Photo by Cindy Moffett

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014: favorite retro moment



2014: The Best & Worst This is the time of the year when writers coast. They dream up their totally subjective best and worse lists for the year that's rapidly coming to a close. Why? So they can focus on the important things...the holidays. So with that in mind:


Maybe...we need a little Disco.

Bad news. Bad news. Bad news. Cuban missile crisis. The JFK assassination. Vietnam War. Protests in the streets. RFK assassination. MLK assassination. More protests in the streets. Watergate. President forced to resign. Disco came at the end of years of bad, troubling news. The nation simply wanted to party and forget it all. Pretty much as soon as President Nixon resigned and waved goodbye from the White House lawn, the disco ball began to sparkle.

Late last summer, after months of bad news—I won't do a laundry list, you know it as well as I—it was time to escape for awhile. The answer was two or three nights of Jive Talkin, Boogie Nights, Boogie Oogie Oogie, Disco Inferno and the most wonderful Donna Summer.

Did you know that the original LP version of "Love to Love You Baby" is over 16 minutes long?

Best tonic. Best mindless escape. Best retro moment of the year.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

2014: most thankful moment(s)






2014: The Best & Worst This is the time of the year when writers coast. They dream up their totally subjective best and worse lists for the year that's rapidly coming to a close. Why? So they can focus on the important things...the holidays. So with that in mind:


And on a personal note of glad tidings: Thank goodness it's Christmas because the summer/fall proved to be uncommonly difficult: three trips to the emergency room, one three-night stay in the hospital, one seven-night stay in the hospital and finally a 10-week stay in a nursing home for my Mom. Four hard months.

Thank you my friends Laura Twilley and Cindy Moffett (pictured above) for helping me maintain twice weekly 24 hummingbird feeders at the nature center during the summer heat. That's hundreds of cleanings and gallons of sugar water. Sticky fingers nous tous. The two dozen feeders were scattered around weeks ahead of time for the Hummingbird Festival in late August. Not enough hours in the day for me.

And thank you Island Home Health and Rehab for nursing Mom back to health and getting her feet under her again after a couple bouts of pneumonia. 

Doctors, nurses, CNAs, therapists, rest of staff, you all are selfless angels for the things you do each and every day for all the seniors under your care. Angels. Angels. Angels.

Merry Christmas, Laura, Cindy, health care givers, angels all. 






Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014: best of seasoned greetings


Startled, they looked towards the flock of crows to the west
completely ignoring the man 

with the camera hidden in the bushes behind them.


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Spend time with someone you love, 
and/or go outside. 
And if you are very lucky, you might encounter 
a trio of well seasoned, Yule log-deers.



Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014: favorite moment in a creek



 

2014: The Best & Worst This is the time of the year when writers coast. They dream up their totally subjective best and worse lists for the year that's rapidly coming to a close. Why? So they can focus on the important things...the holidays. So with that in mind:


We're lucky at the nature center. We have several ponds, a lake, a creek and we border the Tennessee River, perfect for the TN Naturalist @ Ijams class called Tennessee Waters: Aquatic Systems.

My favorite moment in a creek came on a hot Saturday at the end of summer. We waded down Toll Creek searching for whatever aquatic life we could find. And had a good time splashing around in the water like the overgrown kids most naturalists are.

For more photos, click: Aquatic Systems. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

2014: favorite magazine article







2014: The Best & Worst This is the time of the year when writers coast. They dream up their totally subjective best and worse lists for the year that's rapidly coming to a close. Why? So they can focus on the important things...the holidays. So with that in mind:


My favorite magazine article of the year came in November. The cover story in National Geographic was the creepiest, oddest, weirdest, strangest, most macabre, yet most fascinating—and you can arrange those descriptors in any order you like—I have ever read. It's a "Tales from the Crypt" kind of thing; and I have been reading the yellow-bordered Nat Geo for decades.
 
Real Zombies: The Strange Science of the Living Dead by Carl Zimmer is bizarre with a capital B.

For more details, click: zombie bugs.

• 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014: best snapshot moment



Woe is me.

2014: The Best & Worst This is the time of the year when writers coast. They dream up their totally subjective best and worse lists for the year that's rapidly coming to a close. Why? So they can focus on the important things...the holidays. So with that in mind:


Snapshots happen in an instant. This one came in September.

The little eastern screech-owl at the nature center had been sickly, poor baby. Using a syringe, we had to give her liquid oral antibiotics twice a day for several weeks. It wasn't easy. She was stubbornly tight-lipped about the subject.

She had also just stepped out of her shower (we call it rain) when it was time for yet more medicine. Woe is me. Looking at her on my outstretched hand, I saw this precious moment and quickly reached for my cell phone. Look at those stolid eyes.

The greatness of photography is that it does capture a single moment in time holding it ad infinitum.

And now, four months later, she's recovered and doing just fine. I fed her only a few hours ago. (One mouse, shaken not stirred.)

For the original posting, click:  bath time.