Wednesday, June 29, 2016

granite pillar

We would be remiss not to note the unimaginable passing yesterday of Coach Pat Summitt, the granite pillar of Rocky Top. She was head coach for 38 years, winning 8 National Championships. I may be a naturalist but I grew up in a sports family, and there was no sport bigger than Lady Vols Basketball. This would have broken my late father Russell's heart.

Photo taken an hour ago at Pat's statue on campus. For you Dad.  

Saturday, June 25, 2016

katy did it

Mark it on your calendar. Summer has now officially arrived, forget that solstice whatchamacallit; that crazy tilt of the planet thingamabob.

The first bush katydids of the season just started singing their rackety song in the night.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Turtle-ology 101 is Sunday

Join me for this fun and lighthearted look at some of the common turtles that live in East Tennessee. We're talking cooters, sliders and stinkpots!

Sunday, June 26, 2 p.m.
Turtle-ology 101 at Ijams

Our -ology programs are great for families and the young-at-heart. We will even get to meet a few of the shelled-reptile residents of Ijams. If you’ve been to our -ology programs before, you know there will be some fun and turtle-themed food. Feel free to bring something to share, or just come partake in our scaly snacks! The fee for this program is $5 for Ijams members and $8 for non-members. (Children under 3 are free). 

Space is limited; to register call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110.

For WBIR's report, click: Live@5@4.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

ready for a fight



Photo by Rachael Eliot
OK, finally, celebrating the first full day of summer. The six-legged joy of the season is here, e.g. big insects are starting to turn up on my backporch. Just leave the lights on and see what comes to the party. 

This fierce looking giant stag beetle (Lucanus elaphus) was first identified and named in 1775 by the Danish zoologist Johan Christian Fabricius who specialized in "Insecta," which at that time included all arthropods: insects, arachnids, crustaceans and their ilk.

Worldwide there are about 1200 species of stag beetle. Only the males have the impressive Road Warrior armament that they use to feign and posture, even fight each other if they have to, over territory, typically a log, and the females which lack the bluster. This one seems ready for a fight, but despite their intense demeanor, they are actually vegetarians that eat tree sap or other sweet things.

The one on my finger has a fondness for purple plum pulp.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ephemeral jellies

If they appear at all, look for freshwater jellyfish during the hottest part of late summer in local stillwater quarries and lakes.

In the Tennessee Valley there’s a small gelatinous creature that is virtually transparent with only a slight hint of white or maybe green to give it any sort of hue. Its body is 99 percent water and has no skeleton or head or brain or organs for respiration or excretion. The creature does have a mouth, long tubular stomach and reproductive organs, but little else. So it can eat and make babies, or clones of itself. You might think that such a small biological oddity would live their life unnoticed. Most of the time they do. Yet one week last summer they garnered serious media attention.

What can be so newsworthy?

Freshwater jellyfish are indeed odd, ethereal aquatic animals that live a double life. For most of their existence, they’re underwater polyps, so small and well camouflaged they are virtually invisible. Studying them, or even finding them is a difficult undertaking. At times however, on hot summer days, these polyps go through a transformation. They produce umbrella-shaped adults called medusae that look like the beached jellyfish that most of us know from trips to the seashore; except the medusae of freshwater jellyfish remain small, coin sized. These milky-clear jellies swim towards the overhead sunlight and drift back down into the depths hunting for food, creating a shimmering effect just below the surface. Often the medusae are seen floating or swimming in clusters of dozens, hundreds or even thousands. These clusters are called “blooms.” It’s during these medusa outbursts that they become see-able, but predicting when and where they’ll appear borders on the impossible...

For the rest of the story, read my article in the May/June 2016 issue of The Tennessee Conservationist.

And for more about freshwater jellyfish in Tennessee watch for my next book, Ephemeral by Nature, to be published in 2017. 


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Hawk at 3 o'clock

Photo by Chuck Cooper

Today at 3 o'clock at Ijams, meet and greet the Ijams' adopted red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) named Tiger. She has an injured wing (her left, but to your right), so she is only partial flighted. 

Redtails are the largest species of hawk found in the Tennessee Valley. They hunt over open grassland, meadows and, oddly, along the medians of interstates. Known incorrectly as "chicken hawks," they rarely go after such prey since redtails only weight three pounds. They much prefer a three or four ounce mouse.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

FNC aquatic workshop

2016 edition of the Ijams Family Nature Club

I grew up in Gatlinburg on Baskins Creek. Every summer the neighborhood kids would explore the cold water that drains off Mt. LeConte looking for crawdads, caddisfly larva and other creepy crawly creatures. 

Who would have guessed that all these years later, I'd be passing along that "old school" tradition to the Family Nature Club kids with their parents and/or grandparents at Ijams.

For the complete story, click: Aquatics Workshop

Tool Creek. Photo by Rex McDaniel


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Wild Birds June visit

Where's Mom and Dad?
Thank you to all who came out on such a hot day in June to learn all about the feathered Black & Decker drilling machines we call woodpeckers. We also saluted male woodpeckers for being excellent fathers in accord with upcoming Father's Day.

Along with their mated partners, they knock out a nesthole or roost hole in a dead tree in a few days. You might say they each have a real deal drill bill for home-building. They peck, they chisel, they drill, master excavators each one.  

Also thanks to my friends— Liz, Tony, Tiffiny and Warrenat Wild Birds Unlimited, (7240 Kingston Pike #164) for inviting me to speak.

Wild birds is also where you can buy all kinds of bird related items to attract more to your yard including Jim's Birdacious Bark Butter, a food that's irresistible to woodpeckers and other insect-eating birds.

Here's a look back at my Owl-ology visit in March, click: Wild Birds Unlimited.

Photo by Warren Hamlin
Photo by Warren Hamlin

Thursday, June 9, 2016

woodpeckers make great fathers

Saturday, June 11, 1 p.m.
Woodpeckers Make Great Fathers

Just in time for Father's Day, let's salute some good fathers in our local bird world. Along with their mated partners, you might say they have a real schnoz for home-building. Join me at Wild Birds Unlimited, 7240 Kingston Pike #164 for Woody-ology 101, a program about local woodpeckers and their commitment to fatherhood. 

Call (865) 337-5990 for information.

Here's a look back at my last visit, click: Wild Birds Unlimited.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

13th visit to Tellico

The Ijams red-phase Eastern screech-owl (Megascops asio) was the special guest at the Tellico Village Garden Club luncheon on Thursday. 

I went along as Miss Screech's chauffeur, personal assistant and spokesperson. We presented a concise talk: Owl-ology 101 to the good garden clubbers about screech-owls in general and the other owl species found in East Tennessee. 

Screech-owls are native to most wooded environs in the United States east of the Rockies, more so than any other owl. As a group they have adapted well to man-made development, wooded neighborhoods and parks, although they frequently avoid detection due to their petite size and nocturnal work habits. Where humans go, mice follow. Screeches eat the small rodents, and in the summer, large arboreal insects like cicadas.

Their vocal call is a mournful descending whinny, that is frankly a bit spooky and, oddly, they come in two colors, or morphologies. Like being blonde or brunette, it has nothing to do with gender, but they can be either a rusty red or a gray. 

The screech-owl seemed to enjoy her visit, sleeping in the car on the drive to Loudon County and back. Her supper, a mouse, was waiting for her upon return to the nature center.

Thank you, Tim Pyles and the rest of the villagers for inviting us. I made my first presentation to the Tellico Village Garden Club on Thursday, January 8, 2004 and have visited the hospitable group for a chat every year since.

Afterwards, Tim wrote, "Another winner at Tellico Village. Your presentation in familiarizing us with the Owls in our neighborhoods was  excellent. Your constant humor and little quips add some much to your presentation. You are quite knowledgeable with nature and our feathered friends and you do a excellent job of sharing and educating your audience. 
We will look forward to another visit from you next year."

Tellico Village Garden Club luncheon
Saturday, June 11, 1 PM, I'll be at Wild Birds Unlimited, 7240 Kingston Pike #164, Knoxville, (phone 337-5990) for Woody-ology 101, a concise talk about the local species of woodpeckers and what you can do to help them. It's great fun. Please join us.

Here's a look back at my last visit, click: Wild Birds Unlimited.