Thursday, February 14, 2019

valentines with feathers

It is that time of the year!

If you think that your backyard birds only come and go from your feeders we need to look at that. There's a lot going on out back that doesn't include suet. 

To celebrate Valentine's Day, join me in one week at the University of Tennessee Arboretum—901 S. Illinois Ave, Oak Ridge—and we'll talk about 

bird courtship, mate selection and pair-bonding. 

Hint: It's always nice if he brings her something to eat.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

History Project goes public

Knoxville's history has gone public, very public.

The Knoxville History Project was founded by longtime Knoxville historian, newspaper columnist and author Jack Neely with Development Director and author Paul James. They are keeping our history alive with public exhibits.

The Knoxville History Project’s Downtown Art Wraps keep on getting better. This is the fifteenth in the series that takes ordinary gray traffic boxes and turns them into outdoor history lessons. Added in early February, this exhibit honors a local naturalist! The original painting of an arresting Red-tailed Hawk was by artist Earl Henry, a dentist whose office was located adjacent to this spot at Main Street and Locust in the Medical Arts Building in the 1930s.

It is best to see the wrap in person, but if you cannot here is the history lesson. 

Earl O’Dell Henry (1911-1945)

Immature Red-tailed Hawk, 1944
Original: Tempera on Board, 13 5/8 x 16 inches

Earl Henry, a local naturalist and self-taught artist, is often better known as the Knoxville dental officer who perished on the ill-fated USS Indianapolis at the end of World War II.

After his boyhood discovery of vividly illustrated wildlife cards found inside Arm & Hammer Baking Soda boxes, Earl began drawing birds. His wooden bird carvings drew acclaim while studying at Knoxville High School. He developed the art of taxidermy while a junior member of the East Tennessee Ornithological Society and that expertise informed his painting of birds.

After studying dentistry in Memphis, Henry returned to Knoxville and set up practice across the street from here in the Medical Arts Building. In 1942, he joined the U.S. Navy, serving on active duty initially at the Naval Hospital at Parris Island in South Carolina. There, he honed his artistic ability using tempera paints on boards, and later incorporating detailed background landscapes, reminiscent of the style of John James Audubon, providing richer and more sophisticated natural settings. 

Cmdr. Henry lost his life at sea at age 33. He died on July 30, 1945 aboard the USS Indianapolis shortly after the vessel delivered uranium for the first atomic bomb used in World War II. The ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sunk within 12 minutes. Henry was not among the survivors. He was one of two Knoxvillians on the ship – the other being Knoxville Journal photographer Kasey Moore. Two of Henry’s final works, “Kentucky Cardinal” and “American Eagle in the Pacific” were painted aboard ship in 1944 and his artistic legacy remains part of the ongoing story of the USS Indianapolis.

Examples of Earl Henry’s artwork and mounted birds are on display locally at Ijams Nature Center. Read more about Earl Henry and other Knoxville naturalists from the past at: Naturalists.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

cup o' suet at West View

Fellow birder and school teacher Tim McGrath hosts an after-hours Environmental Club at West View Elementary School in Knoxville.

Recently, he inviting me over to lead the students in a suet-making workshop. All we needed were old shoelaces, sticks, donated coffee cups and some yummy ingredients to make enough bird feeders for each student to take one home. 

It was great fun. Thanks, Tim.

And thank you Wild Birds Unlimited, 7240 Kingston Pike, for donating 
activity books for each of the kids. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Mallinger's Coop

Photo by Wayne Mallinger

My friend Wayne Mallinger sent me this great photo of a juvenile Cooper's Hawk this week. You can tell it's a first year bird because it still has a brown back. When it matures these feathers will molt gray. The two Accipiters in our area can be hard to tell apart. Is it a Cooper's hawk or a sharp-shinned hawk

Cooper's hawks are roughly crow-sized and sharp-shinned hawks are blue-jay size but size is hard to judge in a photo or in the field unless you have something to compare it to.

So what field marking do you look for?

My friend Dr. Cheryl Greenacre at the UT Veterinary Teaching Hospital sees a lot of injured birds up close. She looks in the mouth. Inside a Cooper's is black, a sharp-shinned is pink. But we never see one that closely or that disabled.

Both the Accipiters have extra long tails. The clue for us is the very end of the tail. Cooper's have a rounded tail that ends in a noticeable band of white. Sharpies have a blunt or squared-off tail with so little white it is hard to see. 

I have a program scheduled on Identifying Local Birds of Prey at Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge on Wednesday, May 8.

Thanks, Wayne.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

heated bath?

Heated bath, aaaaahhh, sounds so good right now.

You have several feeders out and are attracting lots of birds. Good thing. They need the help in winter. Short days. Long cold nights.  

But don't forget, it is perhaps even harder for your backyard birds to find water on cold days. Then a heated bird bath from Wild Birds Unlimited located at 7240 Kingston Pike is the answer. You'll be surprised at the different species that fly in for a drink and splash. 


Monday, January 28, 2019

Available online from Target

Well. You have that holiday gift card you have not used yet.

"Bales, a naturalist and author, provides 12 essays about nature in East Tennessee, describing fleeting, short-lived, or transient flora and fauna: the short-eared owl; the jack-in-the-pulpit; the cerulean warbler; the ghost plant, which grows in areas without sunlight; the Appalachian panda, an ancestor of the red panda; the ruby-throated hummingbird; the freshwater jellyfish; the monarch butterfly; the seldom-seen lake sturgeon and its reintroduction into the waters of the Tennessee Valley; the whooping crane; the southern pine beetle; and the coyote-wolf-dog hybrids and their emergence in the eastern states." 

Annotation ©2017 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR

To order from Target Click: TARGET

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Baskins revisit

My friend Tamera Partin saw my post dated January 1 (Click: Ancestral Headwaters) and emailed me a couple more photographs.

The one above is the misty scene of burnt trees on Piney Ridge east of Cherokee Orchard, she recently hiked the same trail I did on my way into Baskins the last day of 2018. But Tamera went farther and moved on into the Roaring Fork watershed. She took the eerie photo below of the Bales Cemetery where many of my pre-park ancestors where buried. 

Thank you, Tamera!

Monday, January 21, 2019

howlin' wolf moon eclipse?

Being that it was being billed as a rare partial lunar eclipse during a Wolf Moon and I didn’t even have to leave my driveway to see it, well, I stayed put, sitting very close to where I watched the Queen of the Night bloom last October and the monarch butterflies begin their long journey to Mexico the same month. And who could forget the poor dazed and confused wood thrush in 2017? 

There's a lot that goes on outside if you are just mindful enough to pay attention. 

The first full moon after the New Year is called a “Wolf Moon” after the howling wolves, but since we killed all the wolves and now they have been replaced by yipping coyotes, we should really call it the “Coyote Moon.”

After 9 p.m. clouds started to move in and it became a peek-a-boo partial eclipse Coyote Moon and did I mention it was very cold?

Giving up after 10:30, I went in to soak in a hot tub. Did I mention it was 16 degrees outside?

But luckily I checked one last time before bed and the clouds were gone, so I hung with it until after midnight. Really quite wonderful. The Druids who live in the woods behind me with the coyotes were overcome with ecstasy as was I. 

Not a great photo. Best I could do with cell phone and cold hands.

Friday, January 18, 2019

eagle spotting

Keep in mind that this is bald eagle courtship season. The peak of egg-laying is in mid-February so January is when established mated pairs reconnect or new pair bonds are formed.

It is astonishing that I am even able to write this. Thirty years ago there were no bald eagles in our part of the world. But due to the efforts of TWRA, TVA and the American Eagle Foundation located in Pigeon Forge, today there is a healthy growing population. Our hats are tipped to the late Bob Hatcher of TWRA who oversaw the eagle introduction into the Tennessee River Valley.  

Naturalist Shelley Conklin took the above photo a few days ago near my hometown. It's the second time she has spotted the eagle there. Is it establishing a territory? Will it attract a mate? Time will tell. 

For the complete story of bald eagles in Tennessee check my first UT Press book: Natural Histories. Available online or stop me in the Kroger parking lot and I'll sell you one out of the trunk of my car.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

clean-up crew

There they were on duty at their recyclers perch on Old Maryville Pike, keeping watch over the highway for roadkill. When they pronounce a thing dead, it's dead.  

"Ni su'cuyi, gar kyr'adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum," in the Mandalorian tongue of "Star Wars" speak, roughly, "I am still alive but you are dead."

Ever vigilant, they're drawn to death; have an eye for it. Yes, that's a black vulture. When a death occurs, they move in like a group of staid morticians, clothed in ebony. Solemn. Nodding their heads in agreement. It's time to do their job. Begin decomposition. Nature's clean up crew, patrolling the highways, removing roadkill. 

Some studies estimate up to one million animals are struck and killed every 24 hours in this country. Dogs. Cats. Raccoons. Opossums. Deers. Squirrels. Groundhogs. All are fair game, so to speak, if they inadvertently venture out onto the asphalt.

Thank goodness we have vultures, or it would get messy out there. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Ephemeral by Nature honored

The University of Tennessee Press received "word right before Christmas break that two of our titles had been selected as a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title for 2018. 

Ephemeral by Nature was one of those! This year’s list included only 455 books of the over 4,800 titles they reviewed.

“These outstanding works have been selected for their excellence in scholarship and presentation, the significance of their contribution to the field, and their value as an important-often the first-treatment of their subject... Outstanding Academic Titles are truly the ‘best of the best.'"

The CHOICE Awards are chosen by the American Library Association. For more about being an Outstanding Academic Title, click: CHOICE

Linsey Sims Perry
Marketing Assistant
The University of Tennessee Press

To buy the book from UT Press go to:

Sunday, January 6, 2019

2018 Christmas Bird Count

The Knoxville Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was held yesterday. The count itself runs midnight to midnight, but we began at sunrise and at least part of us were still active at sunset. For the past 15 years I have overseen the bird tally of Area 12 North: Lakemoor Hills north to Cherokee Farm and kind of know what to expect.

The first CBC was held in 1900 and ever since has been held annually during the holiday season all across the country. One of the reasons is to not only count the number of species in a given area but to perhaps get a sense of shifts in the bird population and ranges.

And I have observed a few changes in recent years. Although, we didn't find a bald eagle this year, we have in several recent years. The presence of eagles is new. While this year Vickie Henderson saw and heard five fish crows which seem to now have a regular presence in this general section of town, most notably near Third Creek as observed by Sayge Smith and Nick Stahlman.

Rachael Barker was the first to find a red-headed woodpecker, a life-bird for her and a newbie to the county. Their numbers seem to be growing here. Dr. Cheryl Greenacre and Dr. Abby Duvall found and photographed a barred owl. It's always fun finding one of these during the day.

This year we tallied 50 species, 973 total birds. Perhaps the biggest surprise to me is that we were not able find any winter wrens, golden-crowned kinglets or brown creepers. Species that are here only in winter and usually findable.

A hugh thank you to all who helped search with me: Dr. Cheryl Greenacre, Dr. Abby Duvall, Nick Stahlman, Sayge Smith, Rachael Barker and Vickie Henderson. 

Friday, January 4, 2019

life finds a way

“It’s not possible. That is the one thing that the history of evolution has taught us, that life will not be contained, it breaks free, it expands into new territories, it crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but...Well, there it is...Life, uh....finds a way, “ said Professor Ian Malcolm in the 1993 movie Jurassic Park.

Nature indeed finds a way. A way to recover, to move on, even after a wildfire that wipes everything out as we saw three days ago on sandy, shaley Piney Ridge in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. 

But, how? Table Mountain pines have serotinous pine cones. They are time capsules waiting for their time, whenever it comes. 

se·rot·i·nous [si-ROT-n-uh-s]

“Serotiny is an ecological adaptation exhibited by some seed plants, in which seed release occurs in response to an environmental trigger, rather than spontaneously at seed maturation.”

In the case of these pines, the trigger is fire. It takes high heat to melt the resin that holds the seeds in place and even if that fire only comes along once in the lifespan of a human, say, my lifespan. Nature finds a way to move on and generate new life. No matter what bad things we do to the will indeed find a way. Even if it has to leave us behind. 


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Ancestral Headwaters

The quandary? What was the best way to end the old year and welcome in the new? What was the best leaf—or in this case—pine needle to turn over and move forward?

I ended up making an emotional leap of faith and hiking into my ancestral headwaters: Baskins Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains NP, having avoided this area since the Firestorm of November 2016. It was just too difficult to think about. But time heals all wounds or that is the conventional wisdom. 

Parking at Cherokee Orchard, I hiked around the edge of Piney Ridge where the wildfire damage is still very obvious and down along Falls Branch to Baskins Creek and the tiered waterfall where Grandma Pearl Bales once took her daily shower. It is only two miles downstream from this location to where I grew up.  

As expected: Nature is reclaiming the ridge. Time does heal, although some wounds more slowly than others. Young table mountain pines grow as thick as grass at the base of their charred parent trees. The new growth was just beautiful. There is a metaphor there somewhere and it's not that difficult to find.

Happy 2019! Let's move forward.  

Thursday, December 6, 2018

rarely seen tiger

Tiger salamander. Photo by Susie Kapler

Here's a first. I do not typically write about or even think about salamanders in December.

That is until yesterday when I received an email with photos attached from my friend Susie Kapler. And what a salamander!

It was in her dog run on Monday, December 3 at 7:30 a.m. She knew it was a salamander but what kind? Susie called her friend Tristan Clark, a salamander expert, who identified the rather large amphibian as a tiger salamander AND the first one ever documented in Grainger County

Tigers are one of the largest salamanders in North America. This one is 8 inches long but they can grow to 14. They are mole salamanders that usually live up to two feet underground. Susie was lucky. They are rarely seen out in the open, as indeed, I have never seen one. 

Thank you, Susie!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Lunch with the League

A warm thank you to Mary Ann Reeves with the League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge for inviting me to speak at their monthly "Lunch with the League" yesterday.

Our topic? Ephemerality in Nature with examples from all three of my UT Press books: from freshwater jellyfish to 17-year cicadas to endangered/extinct species. 

"What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes away," James 4.14. 

Be mindful. Every day is precious, enjoy each ephemeral moment!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

I the thrush

It's a seasonal thing.

Sitting on the end of my front porch yesterday, a hermit thrush sauntered up to greet me. It was in no real hurry, trotting along to give me a good look. Bobbing its tail. I was no threat and it knew that. 

"Solitary the thrush, The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements, Sings by himself a song," wrote Whitman. Yes, I the thrush. 

It brought to mind a day in September 2017 along the same driveway that another thrush centered story unfolded. One that could have had a tragic ending, yet it did not. 

Click: aid and comfort. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

year of irruption

Red-breasted nuthatch. Wiki media.

If you have been paying any attention to your backyard bird-feeders, you already know that for whatever reason, this has been a good year for irruptive migrants.

As I first reported back in late October, Tiffiny & Warren Hamlin had red-breasted nuthatches and purple finches over a month ago. In time, they had pine siskins

I have had the first two, but not the third that I have noticed. To attract the irruptives, put out several feeders clustered together with different foods. Wild Birds Unlimited located at 7240 Kingston Pike can advise you on what works best. Several feeders will attract a host of birds and that camaraderie will garner the attention of the shy birds watching from nearby.

An irruptive migrant is a species that does not fly this far south every winter. A snowy owl is an irruptive migrant but do not get your hopes up. Irruptive migration is commonly caused by a lack of food in their normal wintering grounds. Also species that depend on certain tree seeds may venture south because these trees have produced poor crops farther to the north. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

hometown eagle

This could be historic.

Yesterday morning I received an email from fellow naturalist Shelley Conklin with a photo attached of an adult bald eagle. It was jaw-dropping. But it is the location that grabbed my attention...the once endangered species was iGatlinburg, my hometown. It COULD be the first documentation of a bald eagle in that mountainous location. Bald eagles are found near still-water lakes and coastlines. The Little Pigeon River that flows through the resort town is not exactly still water. 

Shelley was surprised too. She emailed, it was "right passed the bypass to the park along the river. I was shocked to see it. I was able to pull into the picnic area and get pictures."

I know this location. Know it well as do most long time Gatlinburgians, it was close to where Tinkers Body Shop once stood.

Forty years ago, there were no bald eagles in this part of the state. None. They were in West Tennessee but historically, the mountains were golden eagle country. And
 because of the use of the pesticide DDT, there were no successful bald eagles hatched in West Tennessee during the late 1970s. 

Here I will paraphrase from my first UT Press book: Natural Histories.

 "An active eagle reintroduction program began in Tennessee in 1980 with TWRA, TVA and the Tennessee Conservation League working together on the project. The following year, young eagles were released at Land Between the Lakes (LBL) in West Tennessee’s Stewart County and at Reelfoot Lake.  

"In 1983, a mated pair of unknown origin successfully nested and raised one eaglet at Cross Creek National Wildlife Refuge near Dover also in Stewart County, and an eagle hacked [released] at LBL successfully nested at a second location at Cross Creek the following year. Bald eagles were returning to Tennessee.

“Tennessee wasn’t the first to release young bald eagles,” related the late Bob Hatcher, “but it’s now reintroduced more than any other state.” Until he retired, Hatcher was a man who had dedicated a large portion of his career to the eagles’ recovery, he spoke with great pride about their successful return.

"Between 1980 and 2004, 294 eaglets have been hacked at seven locations in Tennessee. Three of these, Chickamauga, South Holston and Douglas Lakes, are in East Tennessee. Douglas Lake, south of Dandridge has led the way. American Eagle Foundation released 69 bald eagles at the TVA reservoir between 1992 and 2003. [And the AEF program continues today, 15 years later.] In 1994, bald eagles were down listed in Tennessee, moving from the endangered list to the threatened."

So I am pleased to know that at least one eagle has found my hometown!!

Photos by Shelley Conklin.

Thank you, Shelley. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

mindfulness moment 1

Just a reminder to always stop once a day to be mindful of the moment. There is beauty all around us. So pause, take a deep breath, feel at peace and be mindful. 

This moment presented itself to me at 3:01 this afternoon. The Japanese red maple in my neighbor's yard lit by the sun in the west as clouds were rolling in. The rains forecast for tonight may bring most of those scarlet leaves tumbling, tumbling down.

Ephemeral all. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

first wintering hummer of season

Female rufous hummingbird banded by Mark Armstrong 
yesterday in Crossville

Right on schedule, the season for wintering hummingbirds has begun.

Licensed bander Mark Armstrong forwarded this photo of a female rufous hummingbird he banded yesterday at a home in Crossville.

The current recommended protocol is to keep at least one feeder out until Christmas just in case. Remember sugar water freezes at 27 degrees, so you have to make allowances for sudden drops in temperature. Positioning you feeder near a floodlight may be all it takes.

As of December 2017, a total of 238 wintering hummingbirds have been banded in Tennessee; six different western species: rufous, calliope, black-chinned, Anna’s, Allen’s and broad-tailed, plus our own ruby-throats that are caught after November 15. But by far, most of the wintering hummers have been rufouses.

For the complete history of wintering hummingbirds in our state look for my article in the current issue of The Tennessee Conservationist.

ALSO, be on the lookout for a buff-bellied hummingbird. They have been banded in the states around Tennessee, but never here.

If you have any hummingbird at your feeder, even a late-season rubythroat, please let me know through the comment section below and I will bounce your information on to Mark.

Be on the lookout for a buff-bellied hummingbird