Thursday, March 31, 2011

goods and joys

"WE of the highly educated classes (so called) have most of us got far, far away from Nature. We are trained to seek the choice, the rare, the exquisite exclusively, and to overlook the common. We are stuffed with abstract conceptions, and glib with verbalities and verbosities [speaking of being glib with verbosities]; and in the culture of these higher functions the peculiar sources of joy connected with our simpler functions often dry up, and we grow stone-blind and insensible to life's more elementary and general goods and joys."

- William James (1842-1910) pioneering American psychologist and philosopher

This time of the year, simple field mustard (Brassica rapa) can turn a vacant lot into something not quite so vacant.

- Photo taken in South Knoxville in often over-looked Vestal.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

seed time?




Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time.

In short, to paraphrase Shakespeare's Macbeth, time passes.

Without delay, Red maples are one of the very first plants to bloom every year in the South, even before the first day of spring.

And now, red maples are already producing fruit. Yes, callow fruit: long double samara with lovely chartreuse and pink wings that will, in a brief time, twirl to the ground like tiny organic helicopters.

And we'll be raking up the fall leaves before you can say "Out, out brief candle. Life's but a walking shadow."

And it all happens so fast.

Monday, March 28, 2011

mockingbird who?

OK. This is obviously not a mockingbird. Even if you don't know diddley about birds you know this is an owl, and a rather placid one at that.

What you really cannot see is the Northern mockingbird in the tree to the right. It was pitching a hissy fit at the barred owl, who was ignoring both it and the photographer standing below them both.

I—being that photographer—turned to take the mockingbird's photo but it wouldn't hold still. It was just too damn mad to deal with the paparazzi. In your face camera man!

Barred owls (Strix varia) have become more common over the past few decades expanding their range to the west, even displacing the endangered Northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) from their traditional range. This one at Ijams Nature Center perhaps demonstrates why: even if harassed they keep their characteristic air of nonchalance.

Who me? They seem to ask.

I mean: look at that face. They just don't get upset.

Friday, March 25, 2011

cats kill birds

If you are a cardinal, wren or ground-loving sparrow, this could be the last face you ever see. Scary.

I have bonded with several cats over the years, but this is perhaps not going to sit well with my cat-loving friends but the simple fact is that outdoor cats kill many birds. Lots of them! Millions!

The American Bird Conservancy estimates that outdoor cats kill roughly 500,000,000 birds (that's half a billion) in this country every year. Half are killed by pet tabbies allowed to patrol outside and half by feral cats roaming wild. Species that are most often killed are obviously the small ones that are close to the ground.

Solution: do not feed feral cats; you are helping to sustain an ever-growing population of wild cats. And keep your own pet felines inside.

House cats kept indoors live longer. Outdoor cats can get hit by cars, attacked by dogs, other cats, coyotes or raccoons. They can also contract fatal diseases, such as rabies, feline distemper or feline immunodeficiency virus; or get lost, stolen or poisoned. They also suffer during severe weather conditions.

Postscript: As Rikki pointed out in the comments, Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks, lice, parasites and other natural causes kill their share of birds, millions as well no doubt.

And although 500 million dead birds is a lot, cats are not the number one human-related killer of birds in North America. Human-caused habitat loss is the top of birds. And after that, it's windows. It's estimated that between 97 and 976 million birds die annually after they fly into windows. Here's a complete list: Bird mortality.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

sweet homage

"Spring has returned and has begun to unfold her beautiful array, to throw herself on wild-flower couches, to walk around on the hills and summon her songsters to do her sweet homage."

- From the journal of Ralph Waldo Emerson

- Trout lilies blooming along creekside in South Knoxville.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Walk•About: House Mountain

This week’s Ijams Walk•About will be at House Mountain. And this one will be for singles only.

The Walk•About is scheduled for Saturday, March 26 at 9 a.m.

Join Ijams naturalist/educator Sabrina DeVault for a hike up House Mountain, Knox County's highest point. Its a good climb with a great view at the top. Dress in appropriate hiking attire, bring water and your favorite snacks. Insect repellent, sunscreen and hiking stick are optional. Hike is free for Ijams members, $5 for non-members. To register call 577-4717, ext. 10.

Last Saturday's Walk•About:

Special thanks to all that attended last Saturday's Walk•About: Birds of Prey Walk and Talk at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge.

Birds of Prey spotted by the group include bald eagle, turkey and black vultures, American kestrel, red-tailed hawk and Northern harrier. After the group left, Wayne Schacher reports they saw a passing broad-winged hawk.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


"To live within limits. To want one thing. Or a few things very much and love them dearly. Cling to them, survey them from every angle. Become one with them — that is what makes the poet, the artist, the human being."

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, simply known as Goethe, German writer, poet, polymath, died on this date: March 22, 1832.

Monday, March 21, 2011


With each passing day, the red buckeyes get closer to blooming. And with that, the arrival of the hummingbirds, back from their winter migration.

In fact, if you go to hummingbird migration map for 2011, you'll see that at least one has already been spotted in my region.

Happy Birthday Mom!

Sunday, March 20, 2011


The first day of spring!

The vernal equinox. Young, youthful, fresh. New leaves beginning to unfurl. Bursting with life and lust and hope eternal. Every bird a song in its heart.

The name "equinox" is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because the night and day are approximately the same length.

Balanced. Poised between the long cold nights of winter and the languid, sultry days of summer.

I'm not sure if nature manifests itself in the mind, or the other way around. Perhaps, it's a balance, because when the two connect there's equilibrium. Some might call it peace.

Ahhh. Spring!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

natural histories: amphibian decline

The spring peepers have been peeping their little hearts out at the nature center the past few evenings.

Although the frog populations at Ijams seem healthy, worldwide that is not the case. Here's an excerpt from my book Natural Histories.

"Biologists that study amphibians and reptiles are called herpetologists. Like the scientists that study birds, herpetologists have been keeping records of amphibian populations for years. In the late 1980s some of these specialists realized they weren’t seeing or hearing the numbers of amphibia they once had. These declines were believed to be localized because no one had ever attempted a global survey. That’s when a group including Jeff Houlahan with the Ottawa-Carleton Institute of Biology in Ontario, Canada began to pull together data from reports and published accounts from all over the globe. In time the study accumulated information on 936 amphibian populations from 200 researchers located in 37 countries in eight regions of the planet. What they discovered affirmed their worst fears: the declines weren’t just local, but global.

Amphibian populations—frogs and toads, salamanders and newts—have been decreasing since 1960: overall a steep drop from 1960 to 1966 followed by a smaller but steady slide between 1966 and 1997. The initial sharp downswing in the early 1960s was approximately 15 percent a year. It was followed by a slow fall of 2 percent a year from 1966 to the late 1990s.

The global declines weren’t exactly the same in all locations. Both North American and Western Europe showed population loss for the six years after 1960, but only in North America did the slow decline continue after 1966. The initial decline in the early 1960s was more dramatic in Western Europe than North America but the continued slump had lasted longer in the latter until by 1997 both continents had lost about the same in overall numbers.

If you do the math, using the annual 15 percent loss for the years 1960 to 66, followed by the 2 percent annual loss from 1966 to 97 the total decline is over 80 percent in just over 40 years. Of the 936 amphibian populations in the study, 61 had disappeared altogether.

That’s startling, but do we know the cause?"

- Natural Histories published by UT Press.

Friday, March 18, 2011


In honor of our successful woodcock walk two weeks ago,
perhaps it's time to unveil my newest pen and ink.

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor)

Prints and notecards are available in the Ijams Gift Shop.

Peent. Peent. Peent.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

reds nesting

Yet, another sign of spring. There's nesting going on. Great horned owls are the first, soon followed by other birds of prey.

Tommy Greene sent me photos of a red-shouldered hawk nesting near his home in Fountain City not very far from the nature center on the north side of town.

And if you notice, there's green in the nest. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

bonfires green

"This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green"

- Opening line from poem "The Enkindled Spring" by D.H. Lawrence.

Indeed, the enkindled bonfires green,
eye-popping scintillating green,
because they have been too long gone green,
greener-than-any-other-green green
flaring from the damp earth.

Bonfires around the nature center, green.

Eyes too weary of winter's gray drink
deep the bonfires green
until their retinas scream with delight.
Yes, that green.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Walk•About: Seven Islands

This week’s Ijams Walk•About will be at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge. The topic is birds of prey.

The Walk•About is scheduled for Saturday, March 19 at 3 p.m. I will be the group leader.

Seven Islands is on the eastern edge of Knox County. Every bird of prey found locally—including bald eagle, Northern saw-whet owl and barn owl—can be found there, albeit at different times of the year and different times of the day. (Finding a saw-whet owl at 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon in March would be close to impossible; at 2 a.m. in November, well your chances would go way up.)

The program is free for Ijams members, $5 for non-members. Call 577-4717 ext. 10 to register.

- Photograph of red-tailed hawk being mobbed by crows by Wayne Mallinger.

- Special thanks to all who attended last Saturday's Walk•About along Ten Mile Creek Greenway led by guest naturalist Rikki Hall.

Monday, March 14, 2011

watch your back

"Don't let yourself get distracted from matters at hand, as soon as you let your guard down to smile or mug for the camera, someone else might want your position. Watch your back!"

Writes my friend Wayne Mallinger. And his recent photo illustrates the point.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

saving time?

Daylight Savings Time.

What are we saving it for?

And truthfully, didn't we lose an hour today? So shouldn't it be Daylight Losing Time. That makes today only 23 hours long. I know we get it back in November when standard time reappears, but where is the return on the investment? It just makes it darker and colder earlier in the day. And doesn't Standard Time now only last four months? So why does that make it standard? It seems more part time.

You know long before there was a Daylight Savings Time and Standard Time and even time zones, there were just local times. Every city set their clocks by the sun; when it was directly overhead it was high noon. All clocks in the city were set to match. So noon in New York City arrived roughly 40 minutes before noon in Knoxville, where I live. But why should I care when it's noon in the Big Apple? I'm not there, I'm here.

Call me a Luddite, but why do we even need clocks? High noon is high noon, all you have to do is look to the sky to determine it. Even the pre-Luddite Maya knew that. In fact, it's easy to tell dawn, sunrise, mid-morning, high noon, afternoon, sunset, dusk just by looking out the window. You sleep when it's dark, and get up with the sun. Nights are longer in the winter, so you get to sleep more. But it's often too cold to do anything else.

Didn't that system work for millennia?

As Uncle Buck used to say, "If it's not broke, don't fix it."

-Resource: for more time talk, look for the wonderful book, "Turn and Jump: How Time and Place Fell Apart" by Howard Mansfield.

Friday, March 11, 2011

booming ben

The last known heath hen (Tympanuchus cupido cupido), a subspecies of the greater praire chicken, was last seen on this date on March 11, 1932.

Known as "Booming Ben," he was spotted on Martha's Vineyard, a small island off the coast of Cape Cod. Ben was on his traditional lekking ground between West Tisbury and what is today the airport.

After that date, Ben boomed no more. But he had been alone, the last of his kind, for several years.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

brain overload


Don't read this!




It could be the one piece of information that overloads your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and compromises your brain's ability to make good decisions today. You may end up ordering a double dusted cinnamon mocha latte and you really don't like double dusted cinnamon mocha lattes. All you really want is a cup of coffee with cream.

Henry David, the master of Walden, says to keep it simple.

Actually our brains have changed very little since our innovative ancestors the Cro-Magnon people began to paint aurochs on the cave walls at Lascaux in France. And that was some 32,000 years ago. Why did they do it? They were passing on information, stories. "Big beasts! Big horns! Bad!"

Flash forward: In our twitter, google, facebook, web-surfing, blogosphere world, the Information Age is inundating our paleolithic brains with too much information. In an article appearing in Newsweek (March 7 issue) titled, "Brain Freeze: How the deluge of information paralyzes our ability to make good decisions" writer Sharon Begley reports that recent studies conducted in various venues all seem to prove that too much information is just that...too much. The end result: we make poorer and poorer decisions. Our brains freeze at critical moments.

Is there a brand new 2011 lemon yellow SUV parked in your driveway? What were you thinking?

Perhaps you should turn off your computer and go outside and sit under a tree. Or better still, maybe go creatively express yourself by painting a prehistoric cow on the side of your house.

Your over-taxed brain will thank me.

Monday, March 7, 2011

walkabout: Walker Springs

This week’s Ijams Walk•About will be led by roving guest naturalist and local nature blogger Rikki Hall.

The Walk•About is scheduled for Saturday, March 12 at 3 p.m.

Rikki will focus on “Unexpected Nature” or the nature that can be found even in the heart of the city and development along the Ten Mile Creek Greenway. The program is free for Ijams members, $5 for non-members. Call 577-4717 ext. 10 to register.

- Water cress growing in Ten Mile Creek near Walker Springs.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

in the boggy moment

If you follow the philosophy espoused by Ralph Waldo Emerson, you know to live in the moment. The past is past, forget it; it's unfixable. The future is unknowable, you can loosely plan for it but it's a crapshoot, so don't fret it. The here and now, this very moment, this instant, this nanosecond, is all that truly matters. It is what's real, vibrant, alive, fresh, green, happening, etc. etc. You get the idea.

True joy can only be found in the "moment."

Last night my fellow bog-sloggers and I experienced a purely perfect natural moment. An American woodcock performed his courtship display, his ardent "peenting" song, right on schedule, right on the same out-of-the-way, in-the-middle-of-nowhere (forgive my own ardent use of hyphens) sodden piece of terra firma as last year, his singing ground. Again the dude abides.

And our group was hidden in the cedars surrounding him to watch it all happen. He seemed oblivious of his voyeurs. He was crooning for a female, a momentary partner to share his lust for life. If he knew we were there, he simply did not care. For he was living in the moment as were we all.

It was a good time. In the moment.

Special thanks to Ijamsians Jen and Wayne Roder, Emily and Than Boves for sharing the moment with me. (They are that smiling foursome on the right.)

- Pictured above: the hardy bog-slogging, Ijams' woodcock walkers of 2011.

Friday, March 4, 2011

woodcock display

Last evening, while scouting out for woodcocks in preparation for tonight's annual Ijams' Woodcock Walk to Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area, I almost stepped on one. Not a good thing if you are the one on the receiving end of the stepping. It was the closest I've been able to position myself to date.

I'm always pleasantly surprised that the nondescript damp location that Peg Beute and I discovered many years ago by complete happenstance, is still such a favored display ground for the chunky ground birds. I was so close, I could almost smell the earthworms on the timberdoodle's breath.

If you'd like to see if we can do it again, then join Emily and Than Boves and myself for tonight's foray into the muddy wetland. To sign up, call Sheila at 577-4717, ext. 10.

If you sign up, make sure you dress for muddy conditions. Muddy!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

the dude abides

OK. It's March. Finally the third month as Whitman might scribe. Awake my calloused heart, my passion. Time to start looking for early signs of spring: the reawakening, the rebirth, the reverberation.

Go ahead. It's out there. Venture forth.

I have two red buckeye trees planted in my yard. I put them there; they're invited guests. I've lived in this house for over twenty years and kept waiting for one to arrive on its own accord, or camary, but it never did. So they came in a 19-year-old saturn. (The real, ringed one is much older.)

Why did I want red buckeyes? Because they bloom early and attract ruby-throated hummingbirds. In fact, studies have shown that as the native buckeyes with the dangling red flowers bloom each spring, farther and farther north with each passing day, the spirited hummers follow.

This past weekend I discovered that my buckeyes are starting to put out their tender new leaves, poking their toes into the lake to test the proverbial waters, so to speak. If they find it to their liking, their flowers will not be far behind.

Yes, it's that time. The dude abides.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

this chopping sea

"In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify."

- From "Walden, or Life in the Woods" by Henry David Thoreau

First published in 1854 and considered the progenitor of all "nature" books in this country, Walden sold poorly at first. (An author's nightmare.) It wasn't until after Thoreau's death in 1862, that the world discovered its wisdom. Needless to say, today 157 years later, it's still in print. (An author's dream.)