Friday, November 30, 2012

Duck. Duck. Goose!


Ring-necked duck (Aythya collaris)

Winter is a great time to look for feathered friends floating on local fluids. OK, maybe we carried that alliteration a bit too far, but we're taking, duck, duck, goose. Tomorrow at 2 p.m., join me at Ijams Nature Center for a look at some of the ducks and other waterfowl that can be found in winter on our local waterways. Short program inside, followed by a long walk outside. We'll visit a pond, creek, river and lake; maybe we'll get lucky. This program is free for Ijams members and $5 for non-members. Recommended for ages 12 and up. Please call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register.
Tip: The ring-necked duck above gets its common name and Latin name, "collaris," from the ring or collar (often called a "spur") between its neck and breast but this field marking is really only discernible in good light. Instead look for the white ring around the bill.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

thanks, Panther Nation!

One of my annual traditions is a visit with the AP Environmental Science class taught by Coach Will Roberts at Powell High School, a.k.a. Panther Nation.

The students were asked to read various parts of either of my two books: Natural Histories and Ghost Birds and be prepared to ask me questions about nature, the out-of-doors and/or conservation issues. If our environmental woes are to be fixed it'll be the bright young minds this generation has produced since the bright young minds my generation produced mucked things up even more.

For me, the visit is always a fun experience. For them? Well, it's required reading not quite as hefty as Silas Mariner.

One question broached by a student was a query about the sound of a male American toad crooning for a mate which I wrote about in my first book. Here's a link: Toad

Here's what a brown creeper looks like: creeper

And the sound of periodical cicadas singing: 17-year cicadas

Click these links for a look back: 

Plus, we talked about bats, in particular red bats that hang upside-down and sleep out in the open which makes them look like furry cocoons dangling from trees. (They actual hibernate under the leaves on the forest floor. Now how cool is that?) Here's a photo I took at Ijams last year.

Eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis)

Thanks Coach Will and all! Go Panthers!!

Monday, November 26, 2012

climate change?

900 mile wide Hurricane Sandy as it passed by Florida

Four weeks ago tonight Superstorm Sandy came ashore along the coasts of New Jersey and New York and finally, finally, finally, finally to the square root of 24, the media and political leaders on both sides of the aisle are discussing climate change as though perhaps maybe it's real. (Heck, 30 percent of the population think that scientists are boogie men—and women—and that the Earth is only 6,000 years old when Jeez Louise, I have tennis shoes in the back of my closet older than that. Why, the shirt I wore to Thanksgiving is at least Ordovician in origin but the crinoids alive at the time could not be reached for comment. They're stonewalling it. Besides, doesn't it all end on December 21 because the Mayan calendar said it would? So why the rush to complete your holiday shopping? For me, Black Friday was a soak in a hot tub in the dark.)

Back on topic: Climate change. Former Vice President and fellow Tennessean Al Gore must be thinking, "Where have you guys been? I've been talking about this for 30 years."

But is it all too late? As writer James Atlas says, "Contemplating our ephemerality can be a profound experience."  

Here is his complete op/ed piece from the New York Times: Is this the end?  

It's best to hum the Doors "The End" while you are reading it.Here's a refresher: The End

Thursday, November 22, 2012


I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

As did I. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving trifecta

Brown creeper super-sized

Watching a brown creeper work its way up the trunk of an oak is always a treat for me; the bark huggers search every little crease and crevice for a crunchy insect or spider crudité. Creepers are only in my woods in the winter, choosing to raise their families elsewhere. 

They love the biggest trees they can find and don't waste much time on the spindly ones.

The other day, while I was sitting on my front porch, I spotted two creepers and a yellow-bellied sapsucker on the same oak.
My very own November trifecta, although I never would have bet on it.
Here's a "cool fact" from the Cornell Lab website: "Brown Creepers burn an estimated 4–10 calories (technically, kilocalories) per day, a tiny fraction of a human’s daily intake of about 2,000 kilocalories. By eating a single spider, a creeper gains enough energy to climb nearly 200 feet vertically."
Happy Thanksgiving! And we all have a lot to be thankful for and often it's the little things.

For more about creeperdom, click: Creeper.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

sweet gum weaponry

With sweet gums, "the distinctive compound fruit is hard, dry and
globose, 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter, composed of numerous (40-60) capsules. Each capsule, containing one to two small seeds, has a pair of terminal spikes (for a total of 80-120 spikes). When the fruit opens and the seeds are released, each capsule is associated with a small hole (40-60 of these) in the compound fruit. Fallen, opened fruits are often abundant beneath the trees; these have been popularly nicknamed "burr balls."

OK. That's the technical definition from wiki. To me, they have always looked like spiked maces or morning stars, the flails used by knights back when hand-to-hand combat was up-close and highly brutal. But why?

I have to assume that the spikes are to protect the tree's precious seeds from birds like the seed-eating finches that have never heard of middle-age weaponry or be intimidated by such. Over the millennia, these birds have evolved their own methods of dealing with the formidable defenses; they're well equipped with pointed bills and the necessary dexterity to remove seeds from difficult places.

Friday, November 16, 2012

postal thrush

"In the swamp,
in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary, the thrush,
the hermit, withdrawn to himself, 

avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song."

- With a nod to the new Steven Spielberg movie 
about the sixteenth president, a line or two from 
When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d
an elegy written by Walt Whitman
shortly after the assassination of Lincoln in 1865.

A sure sign of the approaching winter in the south. 
Yesterday, when I returned home from work, 
a hermit thrush was waiting for me on my mailbox 
as though it had just arrived by postal carrier. 
He warbled no song and quickly flew away to the yard
beckoning me onward to my own secluded recess,
shy and hidden.

Seeing the dear migrant warmed my heart.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

natural play

Imaginative young children enjoy natural play at Ijams. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

hawk talk Saturday

The hawk is the one on the right. 

Join me tomorrow at Ijams: Saturday, November 10, 10 a.m.

For close encounters of the feathered kind. Feathers and talons and beaks, oh my! Birds-of-prey are some of nature’s most fascinating and powerful predators. Come explore the adaptations that make them such efficient hunters. Eagles. Hawks. Owls. Vultures. Falcons. Join me and learn the tricks to identifying them quickly in the field. 

Free for Ijams members and $5 for non-members. Please call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

found woodcock released

This is a first: A rehabilitated American woodcock (Scolopax minor) was released at Ijams Nature Center.

Click here for more details: Woodcock