Thursday, September 30, 2010

little beggars

Once again I’ve heard from orchid chaser Bob Davis, but this time it’s not an orchid that has piqued his curiosity. Bob and his wife Lynne like to find and identify odd flowers that might go overlooked. In this case, it’s Bidens comosa, or swamp tickseed.

Bob writes, “The Peterson Field Guide Series for Wildflowers of Northeastern and North Central North America on page 168 with an uncolored sketch on page 169. At first I missed the fact that the bracts around the flower were green bracts and not yellow petals.

“ I discovered that not only is one plant in the lily pond but there are dozens in the pond on the same side as the two imported cypress trees.”

Tickseed and beggar’s lice produce seeds that stick to pants, socks, fur, Grandma's quilt (but don't tell Grandma that you have it outside). In essence, the seeds beg a ride on who or whatever happens to pass.

The Latin genus name “Bidens” means two-toothed and refers to the two projections usually found at the top of the seed. The word “comosa” means bearing tufts of leaves.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I heard once again from Wayne Mallinger:

"I found this farm on Hwy 321 and Friendsville Rd. in Loudon. Photo was taken on September 8. Sunflowers as far as the eye can see."

Thanks, Wayne.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

these waters, rolling

FIVE years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur. -- Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

- From “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey
on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour, 13 July 1798”
by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

- Photo of LeConte Creek, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Thanks, Karen Sue

Monday, September 27, 2010

ghost birds: woodpeckerness

"Tanner immediately began a palmetto blind near the tree and settled in to watch the activity, making careful notes of all he saw. Throughout the day, the male and female returned to the tree with food for the young bird. From time to time Jim noted seeing the nestling stick its head out to look around; at times
it would exercise its “woodpeckerness,” using its bill to chip away at the lower edge of the hole, creating a noticeable notch."

Excerpt from Ghost Birds published by UT Press. For more information go to:

Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, 1935-1941

Cover illustration by the author. Book available in the gift shop at Ijams Nature Center.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

polyphemus lives on

Recently I received this story from friend and co-staff member Mary Thom Adams.

“On a hot day I found a moth laying up-side-down on a sidewalk. I would have stepped on her if I hadn’t glanced down to be sure of my own steps. Carefully, I slipped paper under her and turned it over on my hand. Her wings filled my hand. The brown that dominated the moth’s wings was the color of coffee with cream [no sugar]. Pink and black formed edges that gave the wings definition and each wing section had a silver circle etched in black. It was incredible. There was no way for me to tell if the moth was dead or alive. It didn’t move on the trip back to Ijams. For a while, I left it in a secluded place in the bushes. If I returned and it was gone, I would be glad it was back in a green place. If it were still there, I would bring it in for the naturalists.

“This story has a happy ending the moth was an Antheraea polyphemus. These moths produce two or more generations per year in the South, living first as caterpillars and then as adult winged moths for about five days.

"Our moth was thought to be dead for most of the afternoon. Then it began to move its legs. Not only did it move, but also it began to lay eggs. Our amazing naturalists carefully moved the moth and the eggs to a terrarium filled with leaves. Once done laying eggs the determined mother died, she was placed in a specimen case and will be at Ijams for years. Her eggs were carefully misted each day. They soon hatched and were fed the proper leaf diet. The polyphemus moth offspring continue to eat, grow and thrive."

She lives on.

-Thanks, Mary Thom

-Photos of the dying, tattered winged female moth and one of her robust offspring supplied by this guy with the camera.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

natural histories: snail darter

"On the surface of it, Sunday, August 12, 1973, was a day like any other dogday summer variety--hot, humid, hazy. It was a lazy, gone fishin’ kind of day. The forecast for the Tennessee Valley called for temperatures in the mid-80s with a slight chance of an afternoon thunderstorm; some locations would see a bit of rain but most would not. That, at least, was the surface of it; but that was just the thing; Dr. David Etnier wasn’t on the surface; he was below it, snorkeling in the cooling depths of the Little Tennessee River at Coytee Springs. It was one of those mornings that was destined to change a person’s life. Dr. Etnier happened upon a small two-inch fish that he was able to cup in his hand, and since he was an aquatic biologist and a professor of zoology at the University of Tennessee, he knew he had found something special; something he had never seen before. Dr. Bob Stiles from Samford University, who was with him that day, had not ever seen anything quite like it either. That is what separated their morning from the rest of the mornings being enjoyed up and down the river. "

Snail darter discoverd excerpt from Natural Histories published by the University of Tennessee Press

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Just when I thought sunflower season was over, I found the mother-of-all-sunflowers growing in a neighbors yard near my home. Wow!

Sunflowers are native to North America but there are at least 67 species and several subspecies, all in the genus Helianthus. This one I'll simply call Helianthus gigantious—my own name for it, not a real one—it dwarfed the smaller variety growing nearby.

Vincent van Gogh would have loved to paint this one, but he would have needed a big canvas.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

horned devil adieu

I first posted a photo of this odd thing a few weeks ago. This then is its last official portrait before it goes underground to complete its transformation.
Isn't it adorable!

After a week in captivity being talked to and pampered and fed bowl after bowl of sumac leaves, we bid a fond adieu to a hickory horned devil, America's largest caterpillar, certainly the largest to ever be in my living room.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

ghost birds: four dollar boat

In Georgia on the Altamaha River:

"After buying a boat from another local woodsman, Jim made his first solo excursion into a southern swamp. His four-dollar purchase was flat-bottomed, narrow, and about fifteen feet long. For the next five days, he floated down the river, searching the section J. J. Brown had described. Using a paddle carved from a board, Tanner worked to stay in the middle of the river."

Excerpt from Ghost Birds. For more information go to:

Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, 1935-1941

Cover illustration by the author.

Friday, September 17, 2010

old man turtle

“The turtle—silent in the autumn-morning mist. Gold lion paws are printed on his shell. On his head. His eyes are red. But gold is what you see. Gold leaf prints, lion’s paws. His ancient snaky head is wet. His shell is wet. He’s beautiful and big. He’s old and bright and washed by rain. His saurian feet are spotted gold, and scratch the cool and mossy stones. Old man, I love you in this autumn mist! I stand there staring at that shell as though I’d found a mound of gold. It’s that remarkable.

"He draws his head inside. He’s had enough.”

Old man is correct. Box turtles can live 140 years, probably even longer.

-Quote from “The Inland Island” by Josephine Johnson

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

doing it: part 2

"Birds do it, bees do it..." Again, we'll take our lead from Cole Porter.

With snails, the textbook description of reproduction goes something like,

“Some snails are hermaphrodites, producing both spermatozoa and ova. Others, such as apple snails, are either male or female. Prolific breeders, snails in pairs inseminate each other to internally fertilize their ova.

A garden snail, Helix aspersa, is a hermaphrodite, producing both male and female gametes. Reproduction is usually sexual, although self-fertilization can occur. During a mating session of several hours (Yes, hours. So, the next time you hear the phrase "slow as snail," you should smile knowingly.) During this tantric encounter the two snails exchange sperm. (So both become gravid, i.e. pregnant.) The garden snail uses love darts during mating.

Quoting from Indiana Media's “Moment of Science” by Don Glass, “Since only a small part of a snail’s body extends outside its shell, it carries both sets of genitals–male and female–up front near the head.

Now here’s the strange part. About once a week, as garden snails share caresses, pressure builds up in the area surrounding a sac near the genital region housing a calcium dart. Just before the moment of sexual penetration, the impregnating snail stabs its partner near the genitals with what scientists have dubbed the snail love dart.

But what might sound like a nasty sadomasochistic ritual does have a practical purpose. According to one study, the darts are tipped with a chemical preventing the snail on the receiving end from digesting most of its mate’s sperm. As in many species, the garden snail’s female reproductive tract is hostile to sperm, allowing only the toughest and most resilient to fertilize the egg. To increase its chances of passing on its genes, the impregnating snail fires a dart to give its sperm a fighting chance.

Although snails can and do successfully mate without stabbing each other, studies have shown that darted snails store one-hundred-sixteen percent more sperm than undarted snails.”

"After about two weeks approximately 80 spherical pearly-white eggs are laid into crevices in the topsoil, while the weather is warm and damp. After two to four weeks of favorable weather, these eggs hatch and the young emerge. Up to six batches of 80 eggs can be laid in a year.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

doing it

"Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it."

“Doing it.” Okay, that's a bit too crass, even lowbrow tawdry. Cole Porter can get away with it but, perhaps, not me.

But the millions of species found in nature use a dizzying array of reproduction techniques. Obviously the male and female have to get close to one another, at least for a moment in time.

With grasshoppers, the textbook description reads:

“The orthopteran courtship and mating behaviors are among some of the 'most complex and fascinating spectacles in the insect world, 'involving sound production and visual, tactile and olfactory signals" (The couple in the photo are in the intimate tactile stage.)

"During reproduction, the male grasshopper (in this case, the smaller blue tinted one) introduces sperm into the vagina through its aedeagus and inserts its spermatophore, a package containing the sperm, into the female's (the larger gold tinted one) ovipositor. The spermatophore, or sperm sack, can also include a large packet of nutritious proteins known as a spermatophylax. The sperm enters the eggs through fine canals called micropyles.

The female then lays the fertilized egg pod, using her ovipositor and abdomen to insert the eggs about one to two inches underground, although they can also be laid in plant roots or even manure. The egg pod contains several dozens of tightly packed eggs that look like thin rice grains. The eggs stay there through the winter, and hatch when the weather has warmed sufficiently.”

i.e. doing it.

- Photo by Wayne Mallinger

Monday, September 13, 2010

cardinal RED

Native cardinal flower has been growing along streams and ponds throughout the south since the last ice age ended—some 13,000 years ago, but its name is much newer, although its provenance isn't native, or even American.

In 1620, the water-loving perennial was transported to Europe where it was cherished. Sometime around 1629, the hot red flower received its descriptive moniker, probably because of the similarity in color to the hats worn by Roman Catholic Cardinals.

Hummingbirds love it too.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

September hummers


Sunday with Karen Sue: Yesterday’s photo by Wayne Mallinger has us thinking about the ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting our feeders. September is a big month for hummers, thousands are migrating through the Tennessee Valley.

Here are some basics:

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I just love getting e-mails from Wayne Mallinger from Madisonville because there's usually a wonderful photo attached.

This one is a hummmmmmmmm-dinger. It's a young male ruby-throated hummingbird (You can tell it's a young male because the dark gorget throat feathers are just starting to come in. A female's throat is white.)

Hummingbirds are migrating through the Tennessee Valley. Like a Cracker Barrel along the interstate, there has been a constant waiting line at my feeders.

Here's Wayne's notation:

"Spent an hour watching the hummingbirds near Tellico Plains yesterday. Could have watched all day. This one particular little'un would just hover and try to keep the others away from food. He was kind enough to strike a pose for me though. Still quite a few in area."

- Photo by Wayne Mallinger

Friday, September 10, 2010

Battle of Franklin

"The almost forgotten Battle of Franklin was a death knell. “This is where the Old South died,” says activist Robert Hicks, “and we were reborn as a nation.” Leaving Lewisburg Pike, I walked along the rain soaked streets and soon found the two aged osage orange trees still growing in the vicinity of the railroad line. Historian Cartwright had told me about the old trees just an hour before. Both were perhaps descendants of the hedgerow that stopped Loring and, as such, were living monuments. It was a circuitous chain of events that moved osage orange from its native Red River home to this historic point of all out chaos; turn back the clock and replay the era, day by day, and it would not have unfolded in exactly the same way. I paused just long enough to admire the towering presence of the elderly trees; and as the rain began to fall heavy once again, I zipped up my coat, turned and walked away."

Excerpt from Natural Histories published by the University of Tennessee Press.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sonny Boy

On March 6, 1938, Jim Tanner banded and took the only photographs ever taken of a young ivory-billed woodpecker. Until recently, only six of these black and white images had ever been published. Last summer, Nancy Tanner, Jim's widow, and I discovered more photos of the bird later named Sonny Boy. Our discovery led to an article in this month's Smithsonian magazine. Join Nancy and me as we relive those moments in time (both ours in 2009 and Jim's and his guide J.J. Kuhn in 1938). We'll show all the photos taken by Jim on that fateful day.

Program is at Ijams Nature Center, Friday September 10, at 7 p.m.

Free to Ijams members, $5 for non-members. Sheila will have copies of the Smithsonian article for sale in the Gift Shop. To register call Sheila at 577-4717, ext. 10.

- Photo by Jim Tanner taken in 1938, shows young ivory-bill perched on guide J.J. Kuhn.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

dove feet

Dove hunting season in Tennessee began a few days ago. I'll avoid Forks of the River, at least until the early zeal settles down and the shooting stops or all the doves move down to Ijams, a wildlife sanctuary.

The two mourning doves in the photo seemed quite content to be there.

I have nothing against hunters, my father was one, but I'm not sure how you could kill something with such pretty feet. What color is that? The field guides say they have reddish-pink feet but as an artist I wasn't quite satisfied with that descriptor. If I were to paint a mourning dove, what color would I choose?

I went on-line and did some research. I think the shade of red that is the closest match is alizarin crimson. What do you think?

The ancient Egyptians once fabricated the color by crushing the root of a rose madder plant. They used the resulting powder in paints and textiles dyes. If the pyramid-builders revered the color, I can only assume they would have liked mourning doves as well, or at least, their pretty feet.

Alizarin crimson

Monday, September 6, 2010

ghost birds: kints

"The swamp played tricks on them, ringing with echoes. Tanner heard the “hooting,” as Sutton beckoned him in his direction. Kuhn had heard a “kint” south of their location, toward Sharkey Road. Both pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers were calling, keeping the searchers on their toes, nerves on edge. J.J. suggested they walk slower, so as to hear any unfamiliar sound."

Excerpt from Ghost Birds. For more information go to:

Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, 1935-1941 

Cover illustration by the author, that would be me. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

redden up boys

Sunday with Karen: in house finches it's the reddest males that garner the most attention from the females. Oddly, the same is true in humans.

For other knoogling nature nuggets visit naturelovers.

Friday, September 3, 2010

fork ridge

If your longings flow towards lush, green forests far from the madding crowd then wrap your thoughts around this posting and put your yearning to bed. A bed of ferns that is.

Recently, Rachael went with Karen Sue and I on a hike down Fork Ridge Trail on the Smokies crest. It's a sodden, verdent trail that descends downslope into North Carolina from Clingman's Dome Road. Here is some of what we saw.