Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: most dang coolest nature story of the year (and it actually made it to TV)


Hardly bigger than the tips of my fingers, the jelly swims in a cup of water.


2015: 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:


For me, the coolest, most fascinating nature story of 2015 came in late August. 

It began when I received a phone call from WBIR-Channel 10 TV journalist Jim Matheny. He had questions about a bloom of freshwater jellyfish (Craspedacusta sowerbii) he had discovered in Mead's Quarry Lake @ Ijams the day before.

Yes, jellyfish that actually live in freshwater. But they have a two year life cycle and only appear as transparent medusas near the surface briefly in the heat of late summer.

That led us on a most excellent adventure in search the tiny jellies with Matheny's video camera in tow...at times quite literally in tow. AND, the appearance of the ephemeral jellies even made the local news.

For the complete story, click: Jim Matheny. 

And for the jellyfish goodbye party we had Labor Day weekend, click: adieu!

So long, 2015. Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: rarest bird encounter



Lynne McCoy and Sugar
In October, wildlife rehabilitator Lynne McCoy and her snow white, albino barred owl named Sugar came to my Owlology 101 class at Ijams.

Unable to fly, Sugar had been rescued from a murder of crows that was harassing it with, dare I say, murderous intent.

Animals with albinism—"Congenital absence of any pigmentation or coloration in a person, animal or plant," states Wiki—rarely survive in the wild because they lack any natural camouflage and tend to have weak immune systems. Without the goodness of Lynne, Sugar would have never survived.   

In addition to Sugar, Owlologists-to-be also met a screech owl, shared chocolate owl cupcakes (click: Favorite Surprise Food) provided by volunteer naturalist Laura Twilley and then went into the woods to search for an owl with Ijams’ own owl-whisperer Rex McDaniel.

It was all great fun!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015: most perfect holiday breakfast




2015: 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:

Best or Worst, you be the judge. The year can slowly slip away now. I have found my most perfect holiday breakfast. 

Limited Edition, Gluten Free, pumpkin flavored Puffins Cereal, made from "real pumpkin" (Cucurbita pepo) but, let us hope, not real puffins (Fratercula arctica). It's vegan, so there can truly be no puffin haunches. It's also Non-GMO. But, candidly, it's a cereal made from corn/rice/oats named after an aquatic seabird that tastes like pumpkin. Sounds something like a train wreak at a genetics lab.

And lucky me, I got my box in the manager's discount bin for only $1.29. Plus there's a coupon on the back to save $1 on my next box, so that one will only cost 29¢.

Win. Win. Win. 


  

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015: favorite dream-come-true moment




2015: 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 dream-come-true moment came during Tall Tale Week @ Ijams in late June. When Tennessee Jones (the older brother of Indiana Jones) and his sassy girlfriend Marion visited the summer camp kids at the nature center.

Unlike Indy, who searches for lost "human-made" antiquities, Tennessee's raison d'être is dino fossils, the truly old old old stuff. Everything in your house will some day be an antiquity, if it's not already. So what's the big deal?

What did the kids unearth?? To find out, click: Tennessee Jones



Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015: best addition to Life List



Scissor-tailed flycatcher. Photo by Jason Dykes

Birders keep a Life List made up of when and where they see each new species. After awhile, you get to a point where you have to venture away from your home area to find new ones.

The best addition to my Life List came in July. Rachael Eliot and I had to travel to Pikeville in the Sequatchie Valley and turn right. It was a two and a half hour drive. My Ijams' friend Jason Dykes had given us good directions, he and his Mom had seen it there a full two weeks earlier, yet in the end the bird was sitting on a powerline exactly as predicted.

My first scissor-tailed flycather! And the first for Ellie.

For more details, click: scissor-tailed.

Thanks, Jason!

Having just seen a scissor-tailed, Rachael Eliot smiles.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

2015: favorite moment as village outcast





 2015: 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:

"The world to me was a secret, which I desired to discover," wrote Mary Shelley in her classic 1816 novel Frankenstein. She was voicing the thoughts of her cobbled together protagonist.

Ijams' very own Frankenstein stopped by Monster! Monster! Nature Day Camp in June. And as it turned out, he was only looking for a friend and, of course, acceptance of who he was—a big green-faced lug, fully formed yet new to all around him.  After all, we all just want to be accepted for who we are. Don't we?

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.

For more info, click: Village pariah 





Friday, December 25, 2015

2015: favorite unexpected Christmas gift



2015: 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 unexpected Christmas present came from my Ijams friends Lynne and Bob Davis.  

Latin for Bird Lovers by Roger Lederer & Carol Burr has over 3,000 scientific bird names explained. (And it has a fair amount of Greek ones in it as well.) Every bird has a common name and a scientific two-part name or its binomial nomenclature (binomial for short) which denotes its genus and species. 

We do too. We are Homo sapiens, or wise humans. And let us hope we live up to that appellation.

Back to the gift: In addition to having the meaning behind the obscure scientific names explained, it's also a very beautiful book. 

The beauty you have to take my word on. But here are a few examples of the former.

Sometimes the scientific name is quite literal, as in American crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos (COR-vus bra-kee-RAM-os), which translates in Latin to "crow with a short bill." Or, Wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo (mel-ee-AH-gris gal-lo-PA-vo), which translates to "guinea fowl peacock like."

The common song sparrow, Melospiza melodia (mel-o-SPY-za mel-O-dee-a), simply means "song finch melodious."

Sometimes the binomial denotes a bird's behavior. The now extinct passenger pigeon, noted for always "passing" through an area, is remembered as Ectopistes migratorius (ek-toe-PIS-teez my-gra-TOR-ee-us) or "wanderer moving." While the American robin is Turdus migratorius (TURD-us my-gra-TOR-ee-us). The generic name gets plenty of snickers. Get past that. It's Latin for thrush, which a robin truly is one. While the complete name translates roughly "thrush on the move." And to somewhat confuse things the angelic voiced wood thrush is not a Turdus, but rather Hylocichla mustelina (hy-lo-SICK-la mus-tel-EE-a), meaning "woods thrush weasel-like in color," which they are but the songster deserves a better descriptor.

If you are determined to snicker there's Falco longipennis (FAL-ko lon-ji-PEN-nis) which basically means "curved blade long feather," a reference to their long wings since penna means feather. It's the binomial for the Australian hobby, a small falcon. The inside joke is that the vast majority of male birds do not even have one, either long or short.  

Like New York, New York, some birds are so nice, they name them twice, like Cardinalis cardinalis (kar-di-NAL-is kar-di-NAL-is) or Northern cardinal. It means "principal principal." And then there's  Tyrannus tyrannus, (ti-RAN-nus ti-RAN-nus), "Tyrant tyrant" or the Eastern kingbird. 

And, sometimes the scientific name honors a person, often more obscure than the name itself, as in Zenaida macroura (zen-EH-da mak-ROO-ra), or mourning dove. The generic name honors Princess Zenaide Bonaparte, the wife of French ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte. Macroura is Greek for long tail, so I guess this name means long-tailed princess?

Go figure.

Many thanks, Lynne and Bob. The book is great fun.

Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 24, 2015

2015: favorite Christmas carol anniversity



Hark! The Herald Angels Sing as sung by the Peanuts kids, celebrated its 50th rendition in December (1965-2015). Wow! That's close to half a century. Tempus fugit. 

Merry Christmas.



Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015: favorite group birding trip



Ijams staff members Dr. Louise Conrad and Rex McDaniel


2015: 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 group birding trip came in May. We ventured at Sunset to Chota, the site of the legendary Cherokee town of peace. We had a picnic in the grass and listened for Chuck-will's-widows (Antrostomus carolinensis) and whip-poor-wills (Antrostomus vociferus).

We heard Chuck's at twilight, but no whips.

Click here for more details: Chota. 
 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2015: proudest moment



Leighanna Brett flanked by brothers Michael and Logan
With Mom and Dad: Darlene and David

2015: 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 friend Marielle says that if you actually think about how fast your children grow up, it'll break your heart. She now has two grown daughters and one grandson.

Wasn't it only yesterday when my niece Leighanna was flying around her neighborhood in her bright red firetruck?

No. 

It was over twenty years ago. 

Whish. That's the sound of time passing. 

My proudest moment of 2015 came on December 12 in Greeneville when our little fireman Leighanna Bales Brett graduated from Tusculum College with a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies: Elementary K-6.

She hopes to be a second or third grade teacher, so she has figured it out. If every year she is mentoring a new group of 8- and 9-year-olds, her young charges never grow up. A new group replaces the old. So there's none of that inevitable heartache.

Proud of you Leighanna! Hug you. 



Monday, December 21, 2015

2015: favorite new stuff


 2015: 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:

You reach a point in your life when you just have too much stuff. All of your rooms and closets are simply stuffed with stuff.

George Carlin had an entire routine on stuff, click: stuff.

I'm in the process of de-stuffing—I refuse to rent a storage unit to hold my excess stuff—yet in September a new wonderful item came into my life that I had to find a place for. 

My friend and coworker Dr. Louise Conrad brought me back a signed photograph from Dragon Con in Atlanta. It had been autographed by both Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea from the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey by director Stanley Kubrick.

Lunar Crater Tycho with site of monolith in the center
It's a movie you either love or hate. Having a scientific bent, I was in the camp of the former. 2001 is/was mind- blowing. It changed my life and I stopped everything I was doing to book future passage to the moon on PanAm. 

I wanted to see the Tycho Magnetic Anomaly #2, i.e. tall black monolith—stuff stored off-site on our Moon by super supreme beings (SSBs). The good folks on the other end of the wormhole had stashed their stuff millions of years ago, 40-feet deep in the lunar crater Tycho. 

SPOILER: The SSBs did the same thing to our early bipedal hominid ancestors at Olduvai Gorge. It caused a panic and the proto-humans picked up bones and started beating each other to death, each blaming the other for the monolithic litter.

Unfortunately for me, in 1991 PanAm folded, so I had to switch to plan B, i.e. start a blog. But since that hadn't been invented yet, (first online diary, or blog came in 1994), I had time to kill, so I acquired stuff to fill my life.

Since the autographed photo arrived, we've watched the 1968 film twice on the big screen as it was meant to be, and it's still quite wonderful/hallucinogenic. Although, we are now a full 14 years past the events predicted in the movie.

"Open the pod bay doors, please Hal!" 

I need a place for my oh-so-cool new stuff. 

Thank you, Louise!  

Sunday, December 20, 2015

2015: favorite trip to my ancestral Smokies



Ephraim Bales Cabin. Photo by Tom Simmons

2015: 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 trip to my ancestral homeland in the Smokies came in September. 

Judy Collins of the Great Smoky Mountain Association asked me to lead a heritage tour of the Cherokee Orchard/Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. And all I had to do was channel my late Grandfather Homer Daniel Bales who was born in the cabin above on 5 January 1899. 

He taught me what to say over 40 years ago. 

For more details, click: Heritage Tour


Karen Sue


Saturday, December 19, 2015

2015: favorite group




2015: 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 group of 2015 was this year's TN Naturalists @ Ijams, after all, we spent so much time together, 12 classes totaling 40 hours. 

This is the third year Jen, Peg, Dr. Louise and I have taught the complete curriculum at Ijams.

For a look back at this past year, click: TN Naturalist @ Ijams.  


Friday, December 18, 2015

2015: favorite surprise food




2015: 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, here's my annual look back:

My favorite surprise food of 2015 appeared in October at my Owl-ology 101 class at Ijams. Drumrooooollll: Chocolate owl cupcakes made by my friend, NPR supporter and Ijams volunteer naturalist Dr. Laura Twilley, Cc.M.

Spectacled owl
Dr. Laura modeled her wide-eyed treats after the mythical dark-faced owl of the Caribbean, her field of study in the 1990s. She spent two years—mensonge énorme, as it were—in the remote jungles of the island nations of Trinidad and Tobago funded, and possibly fueled, by Bacardi 151 searching for the reclusive miniature owl. It is believed the dark-faced, known by locals (descendants of the Caribs, Arawaks and Ewoks) as coco-latte, is a subspecies or merely a lost race of the spectacled owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata) of Central America. The reported diminutive Pulsatrix is believed to be an insectivore or perhaps a levolor.

To date, six subspecies are currently recognized, although one (Pulsatrix perspicillata trinitatis) may already be extinct. See: Spectacled.  Dr. Laura's would have been lucky number seven.

Since owls are active at night, owlologist Laura spent many long days, again mensonge énorme, in the lush forests of El Cerro del Aripo, Trinidad's highest mountain. Her free time was whiled listening to Parang, the popular folk music of the islands and reading voraciously. "So many books it took an extra mule to carry them," she has often joked. In the English-based Trinidadian creole language, she was known as "Booka, Booka, Booka." See: How to speak Trinidadian. 

In honor of her fieldwork, we designated her owl cupcakes as Pulsatrix perspicillata twilleii. 

Thank you, Dr. L for your kind contribution to my owl class.  





Thursday, December 17, 2015

2015: most frivolous purchase





2015: 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:

Male northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) attract their mates with their bright color and loud whistling song. 

Unmated female cardinals tend to choose the brightest male available. But what if between two males they are equally colorful? 

It would then come down to the one with the most bountiful defended territory and most superb song quality.

The best most frivolous purchase I made in the past year came in late November. Two male cardinals singing a competitive duet of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

Which one did the better job? That will be up to the unmated female cardinal to decide. Paula Abdul, which one has American Idol potential?  

video


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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2015: favorite newly discovered old CD




2015: 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, here's my annual look back:

In the spring, Karen Sue first played "Life is Beautiful" for me from Suitcase. Knowing my musical tastes, she thought I'd like it as indeed, I did.

Music finds me slowly in the hills of East Tennessee. Suitcase by Keb' Mo' (a.k.a. Kevin Moore) was released in 2006, so I'm only nine years from being current with this one. Odd, since Delta Bluesman Keb' Mo' lives in Nashville only two hours away. As the crow flies, I should have heard this one sooner.

The multi-talented Keb' has appeared on other recordings going back to the early 1970s. He's a singer, songwriter and musicianon Suitcase he plays: 

        • electric guitar
        National steel guitar 
        Pogreba resonator guitar
        • rhythm guitar
        • steel dobro
        • acoustic guitar 
        • banjo

which makes you wonder when he found the time to sing. 

Keb' is also a three-time Grammy Award winner. Suitcase, his ninth solo studio recording, was nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

Here's a sample:

 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

2015: most precious moment



2015: 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, here's my annual look back:

Most precious moment of 2015? This one is easy. It was last night when I attended the ballet recital of 3-year-old Sarah Cate, daughter of my friends Jennifer and Wayne.

Sarah Cate danced, pranced, spun, hopped (she's an especially robust hopper), pointed and toe stepped. She performed at the barre. Her petit allegro is progressing, her pirouette à la seconde is just beginning to blossom but, hey, she's only been in the class for two months. We can only imagine her future arabesque.

Did I mention she is only three? I couldn't walk a straight line at three. And it was her first dance with a real audience. Her constant smile and showmanship were très bien. She blew kisses to her parents.

The grand finale, her interpretation of "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas," had us begging for more. We laughed. We cried. It became a part of us. Look out Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, we're on our way.




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