Tuesday, June 30, 2015

sad vlad

Goosebumps with Sad Vlad

 Sad Vlad, so sad. A vegetarian vampire for 400 years, so boring. A life of pale skin darkness, so pallid.  And because Vlad is a vegetarian, he doesn't consume human blood but rather the blood of trees, the sap that flows through the phloem and xylem of woody vascular plants. Yes, trees. He's a sapsucker, so anemic.

With candles aglow, the camp kids of Monster! Monster! Day Camp went to visit him in his crypt (Ijams basement) laid out on his cold slab (storage shelf) and took him a present, a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's, the champagne of artificial tree blood, which he promptly slurped, so so sweet. 

Vlad asked the camp kids to learn how to identify his four favorite sappy trees: sweetgum, sassafras, tuliptree and, of course, sugar maple. Yum! And yes, Sad Vlad does enjoy a good stack of pancakes, even Eggos. He's not a vegan.

Not everything in nature that seems like a monster, be it spider, snake, wolf, bat, hawk, crawdad, vulture or creepy, crawly millipede, is a monster.
Some things just live quietly in the dark and sip sap, so like a cicada.

Photos by Jill Sublett and Sammi Stoklosa. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

welcome outdoor writers

Early bird writers in front of a giant Rubik's Cube, one of the few remaining symbols of the 1982 Knoxville World's Fair.

The early bird gets the worm, i.e. a fresh start to the new day.

A warm welcome to the Outdoor Writers Association of America attending a conference in Knoxville this weekend.

I met a group of early birds for a guided 7 a.m. nature walk from the Holiday Inn at World's Fair Park to Second Creek just before it flows into the Tennessee River at the University of Tennessee, or from a well-manicured cityscape to a more natural lush riparian habitat.

The early bird writers were from a mix of states. 

Thanks goes to member and past president Rich Patterson for arranging the walkabout, and to the weatherman who arranged a cooler, damper morning.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Osprey brunch

Oh, did I mention how much I love osprey?

The second annual Ijams Osprey Brunch was held a week ago and the osprey did not disappoint. There was a lot of activity at the nest and around the area. 

The brunch is timed for late in the nesting when the nestlings are almost grown but yet to fledge. This year's clutch of three are almost as big as their parents. 

Historically, this fish-eating bird of prey only had a limited presence in the Tennessee Valley and the widespread usage of DDT curtailed even that. Today, with the banning of the pesticide in 1973, the species is making a robust comeback and expansion of their range. In modern times, osprey have only been in East Tennessee since the early 1980s. Now there are multiple nests up and down the chain of TVA lakes.  

Thanks to all who joined me. And thanks to Kodie for the brunch and Jim McCormick for the osprey photos!

Click the below links for a look back at other 
Birding & Brunch outings

Monday, June 22, 2015

Martian seeks audience with Earth elders

Rumor has it that Lord Roch Vole-Téck, supreme ruler of Mars, visited Ijams' summer Monster! Monster! Nature Day Camp earlier this month. He wanted to speak to the Earth Elders, the really old, old ancient ones.

And just who are these elders? 

They are the unassuming, slow-moving millipedes who have roamed this planet for over 420 million years.  These "thousand legged" creatures (none actually have 1,000 legs, but they do have hundreds) are lowly detritivores. They consume detritius, the organic material — dead leaves and plants — that fall to the forest floor, helping to convert it into soil. 

The campers learned the difference between millipedes, harmless vegetarians, and centipedes, carnivores that can sting, sworn enemy of all millipedes.
FYI: The scientific study of millipedes is known as diplopodology, and a scientist who studies them is called a diplopodologist. Just so you know.

The future diplopodologists — that would be the camp kids — were able to find several handsome Tootsie Roll-sized millipedes, docile creatures to converse with and study. 

And the Earth was saved once again for the thousand-legged meek to inherit.

Not everything in nature that seems like a monster, be it spider, snake, wolf, bat, hawk, crawdad, vulture or creepy, crawly millipede, is a monster. Monster! Monster! Nature Day Camp is designed to separate the fact from the fiction.

Vole-Téck's young apprentice holds tub full of millipedes.

Future supreme rulers of Mars

Monday, June 15, 2015

don't let me be misunderstood

Dr. Frankenstein and his monster were created by young Mary Shelley on a dark and stormy night in 1816. (She was still a teenager.) 

Born in lightning, the creature was switched together from various stolen body parts. An inanimate body brought to life. A good example of science overextending its reach.

But as we know from the story, the cobbled together creature was no monster. He became an outcast, the village pariah. Too ugly, too much a freak to be around polite society. 

Ijams' very own Frankenstein stopped by Monster! Monster! Nature Day Camp last week. And as it turned out, was only looking for a friend and, of course, acceptance of who he was, the big green-faced lug, fully formed yet new to all around him.

"The world to me was a secret, which I desired to discover," wrote Mary Shelley.

The day-campers decided to befriend him and gave the poor thing a more user-friendly sobriquet than "Frankenstein's monster." They called him "Bob," and promptly took him exploring on a nature walk, showing him some of the things they had learned about...dragonflies, milkweed, metamorphosis.

Bob was pleased.

Not everything in nature that seems like a monster, be it spider, snake, wolf, bat, hawk, crawdad, vulture or creepy, crawly millipede, is a monster.


FYI: The original movie Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff was the number one box office hit of 1931.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The wolf in us all

Unmasking the truth about nature's monsters.
Possible wolfman sighting by Jill Sublett

Time for some summer fun. 

Ijams summer camps began last week, and wouldn't you know, it was on a full moon. This brought out Max, the Southside Where-Wolf, who made a guest, albeit in chains, appearance at the Monster! Nature Day Camp.

The second, third and fourth graders, got to interview a werewolf, an unfortunate monster. For 28 days, Max is a normal man, a mechanic who specializes in vintage MG repair. Then on the night of the 29th day — every full moon — he becomes a werewolf and pitches a super bad temper tantrum. He goes berserk!

This time, after his hissy fit, the wolfman broke from his chains and raced into the forest, but the camp kids were able to track him. They found Max waking from his delirium in the woods by the river, somewhat embarrassed by his lycanthropic conniption.

Max warned all the campers that learning to control their tempers was hard but they could do it, because you often hurt someone you love with your beastly outbursts. 

Not everything in nature that seems like a monster, be it spider, snake, wolf, bat, hawk, crawdad, vulture or creepy, crawly millipede, is a monster. But these animals are not pernicious, they have their role in the natural world. Monster! Nature Day Camp is designed to separate the fact from the fiction and to have a little fun doing it.

- Photos by Augusta. Monster wranglers, Chloe and Fireball.

Monday, June 1, 2015

On top of Old Smoky

Did someone say "Nevermore"?

While I pondered weak and weary...

Join me for another Birding & Brunch @ Ijams this Saturday, June 6, at 10 in the a.m.

Our topic? On Top of Old Smoky: The Birds of the Higher Elevations, above 4,000 feet. It's heating up in the valley but on top of the mountains it's cooler and pleasant, a most comfortable place to look for interesting birds. We're talking peregrine falcons, saw-whet owls, red-breasted nuthatches, red crossbills (good luck on that), black-capped chickadees, blackburnian warblers and those throaty, Poe-inspiring Corvids, the ravens. Nevermore.

Fee: Ijams members $5, non-members $8 with Ijams providing the brunch. Call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register. Seating is limited.

Now, back to Poe...While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping. As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

Is that someone at my door? Surely it's UPS, and nothing more.