Thursday, March 30, 2017

new year for naturalists

The 2017 edition of TN Naturalists@Ijams held their introductory meeting last Saturday. This is the fifth year the statewide program has been taught at Ijams and the fifth year for me to be apart of it as well. 

In all, it's 12 classes held once or twice a month until November. The natural science topics cover such subjects as geology, reptiles, amphibians, birds, trees, fungi, mammals and ferns.

After students finish the 40 hours of classes and the required 40 hours of volunteer work, they become certified Tennessee Naturalists.

My book Natural Histories: Stories of Nature from the Tennessee Valley published by the University of Tennessee Press is one of the outside-of-class readings recommended by some of the other state chapters, although I, blush blush, can't bring myself to do that. Would Aldo Leopold recommend A Sand County Almanac to a class he was teaching? .

Last Saturday, this class discovered that Virginia bluebells, bloodroot and trout lily were blooming and all the ponds were newt friendly, or filled with newts being friendly. We also found chorus frog eggs and learned that both redbud and red buckeye were beginning to bloom. The latter is an indication that hummingbirds are almost back into the valley.

Welcome new naturalists! If you make nature a lifelong passion, you'll never be bored.

April's class will be on Ferns & Flowers.

- Supplied photos by naturalist student and commercial photographer Kristy Keel-Blackmon.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

talkin' owls

with great horned owl

Special thanks to the Norris Woman's Club for inviting me to talk about one of my favorite topics in our universe, and maybe any other universe. But like my hero Carl Sagan, this is the only one I know.

with barred owl
I love owls! We have four species that live in my portion of the Pale Blue Dot, the Tennessee Valley: screech, barred, great horned, barn; and one that nests on the top of Old Smoky: northern saw-whet; plus two species that sometimes visit us during the winter: short-eared and long-eared. Once you know these, their preferred habitats (the short-eared is a grassland hunter, the barred likes woods near water) and their unique hooting calls you know your local owls.

with eastern screech-owl, gray phase
With proper habitat around your home, you can maybe attract two of the species—screech or barred—by simply putting up an appropriate size nest box in the woods behind your house. And, if you live in a more bucolic area and have a barn, good for you! Look for barn owls in the rafters.

My new book Ephemeral by Nature: Exploring the Exceptional with a Tennessee Naturalist, due to be published this summer by the University of Tennessee Press, begins with a chapter that might as well be titled "My life with owls." 

I have been working with the injured non-releasable nocturnal hunters at Ijams Nature Center for 19 years. And somewhere over the past two decades, I became a gray-phase human.

- Owl photos by Chuck Cooper, Shelley Conklin and Pam Petko-Seus

- Thank you Loretta for arranging the details of my visit to Norris

Norris Woman's Club (and a few guys) 

Thursday, March 16, 2017


My "ology" classes at Ijams are for kids, young families and the young-at-heart. Last Sunday it was Cloud-ology 101. We learned ten different cloud types and how they got their names, created a cloudy rainstorm in a jar and on a perfectly cloudless day assumed the guise of a cloud and went outside to fly balsa airplanes.

Old School fun? You bet, and we have been doing it since the 1920s. At Ijams kids get to unplug and be kids. We even give adults license to be 8-year-olds again.

We specialize in empowering young girls (and boys), encouraging their science-loving minds. H.P. and Alice Ijams raised four daughters on the site in the 1920s - '40s long before we were a nature center. And they taught Elizabeth, Jo, Mary and Martha to love nature.

My next ology is Froggy-ology 101 on Sunday, April 9 at 2 o'clock. And our ponds should be full of frogs, tadpoles and newts. To register call 577-4717, ext. 110.

Cumulus cloud roots on her old-school airplane
Did funnel cloud's plane do a loop-the-loop?
It's beginning to rain in my jar

Sunday, March 12, 2017

kestrel visits WBU

Spitfire, the Ijams adopted American kestrel with the very injured left wing, made a special guest appearance yesterday afternoon at Wild Birds Unlimited

She was accompanied by the nature center's senior naturalist she kept tethered to her leg so that he would behave. The smallest bird of prey found in the Tennessee Valley was part of a program about secondary cavity nesters, or birds that will use a nest box.

Only weighing roughly four ounces, kestrels are petite falcons that prey on mice in the winter and large meadow insects like grasshoppers in the summer.

Ijams has been doing outreach programs about nature and the environment since at least the 1970s. The senior naturalist has been with Ijams for 17 years, the longest period of time that he has been able to hold a job.

Wild Birds Unlimited, located in the Gallery Shopping Center at 7240 Kingston Pike, is the primary sponsor of the nature center's Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival.

Thank you to Liz, Tony, Tiffiny and Warren of Wild Birds. 

Supplied photos by Warren Hamlin.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Thank you ZooKnoxville

Thank you to John Buchanan, coordinator and host of the Animal Talk series of lectures at ZooKnoxville for inviting me to speak tonight. The talks are held monthly for the zoo's volunteers. 

My topic was UT's own Dr. James T. Tanner (Jim) and his research into the then vanishing ivory-billed woodpecker in the late 1930s.

With the funding and support of the National Audubon Society and Arthur Allen's Cornell Lab of Ornithology, doctoral candidate Jim Tanner spent six years tracking down the Ghost Bird of the South. Jim's adventures were the topic of my second published book for the University of Tennessee Press: Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, 1935-1941. 

The book is available at Ijams Nature Center, from UT Press, Amazon or from the author: c'est moi.   

- And thank you John Mayer for suggesting me.