Wednesday, August 15, 2018

crawdad fetch & catch

Last week's Great Crawdad Fetch & Catch at the nature center was major league edu-tainment. The goal of my Family Adventure Sunday series is to get young families outside having fun together exploring nature.

In all, the families caught 16 to 20 crayfish in Ijams' Toll Creek, perhaps even more because some may have gotten away, they had prior commitments.

We also caught water striders, cranefly larvae, dragonfly larvae, snails, black-nosed dace, larval salamanders and aquatic fishing spiders. And we encountered a brown water snake just hanging out on a tree branch. No big deal, snakes just like to hang out. It's their thing.

Did we turn some young kids into future aquatic biologists? Maybe. But at least they got a better idea of what lives in our waters.

Through activities like this, children learn that the natural world is explorable and knowable and full of wonder. The next Family Adventure Sunday is August 26.

Thank you, Mac and Jeff for helping. 

And yes, all animals were returned to the creek with a story to tell.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Phoenix rising: Anakeesta

Boyhood home before & after.

And now a personal note, although all writers from Melville to Dickens to Matthiessen write from a deeply personal mindset. You live it, feel it, bleed it, write it. 

Almost two years ago my hometown of Gatlinburg was ravaged by a fast moving wildfire. Most of what I knew and loved—childhood home, neighboring houses, pretty much everything along my natal waters of Baskins Creek and the mountainsides up to the ridges above this watershed were destroyed in a matter of minutes. I have only been back one time to walk the road I traveled so often. It's much too unbelievable. Surreal. Tears form as I write these words. 

But that was the past, my past and now my hometown is recovering. As a nature writer, I full well know that change and regrowth is the driving force in all the natural world. And the same ridge I climbed so often has been reborn, the burned sections cut away, a Phoenix has risen. 

I am so pleased by the work of my friends, Karen, Bob, Bryce Bentz and Michele Canney, and proud of the long hours it has taken to create Anakeesta, a Cherokee word that means "place of the balsams" or a place of high ground. 

Please visit them soon and rejoice in the rebirth. 

And when you do, stop by Pearl's Pie in the Sky for some ice cream. The eatery honors my grandmother Pearl Bales, one of the very first truly independent mountain women to own her own businesses (yes, two) in Gatlinburg. She was born roughly two miles upstream on that same Baskins Creek. Her maiden name was Ogle. Inside of Pearl's place you will find a photo of Pearl and her grumpy grandson (that would be me) in bib overalls. Grumpy, if I recall, because I did not have a pencil to "mark with." 

For more news about happenings at Anakeesta click: Cliff Top.  

Bless you all.


Monday, August 6, 2018

a season for owls

Father owl. Rex McDaniel. June 23, 1018

It has been a story that has fascinated us at Ijams for weeks. A pair of barred owls raised a family of three high in the trees above the historic Homesite pond built by H.P. Ijams in 1924. H.P. wanted a safe place for his four daughters to swim. He also created a barred owl magnet since their preferred habitat is woods near water.

This isn't the first year that barred owls have nested there but it is the first year the process has been so well documented.

Our 2018 mother owl probably laid her clutch in mid-March. Incubation takes about 4 weeks and they tend to leave the nest in another 4 or 5 weeks. On May 10, our own owl whisperer Rex McDaniel was the first to spot one of the owlets out of the nest cavity perched on a branch. At this point, before they actually can fly, they are called "branchies." Since then, we have posted several photos by Rex and TN Naturalist student Evan Kidd.

 Now, the clutch of three seems to have dispersed. Occasionally, throughout most of July, one was seen here or there even near the Visitor Center, Universal Trail and up at the garden site.

BUT, Rex met Jay Simoneaux down by the pond a few weeks ago who had managed to take a photo of all three juveniles together on one branch, even grooming each other. Taken on Friday, June 29, this was probably one of the last times all there siblings were together. Although we know that Hannah Bingman reports that they saw the trio together plus a parent at the pond on July 2.

Thanks for sharing your photos, Rex, Evan and Jay.

Rex McDaniel. May 10, 1018
Rex McDaniel. May 12, 1018

Evan Kidd. May 19, 1018
Evan Kidd. May 19, 1018
Rex McDaniel. May 23, 1018
Evan Kidd. June 1, 1018
Rex McDaniel. July 2, 1018
Rex McDaniel. July 2, 1018
Jay Simoneaux. June 29, 1018

Friday, August 3, 2018

Messalina's progeny

For those of you sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for the news, I can happily report that the egg sac of Ijams' on-exhibit black widow spider, Messalina, has hatched.

See: awaiting Messalina's progeny.

I removed the egg sac from "Mom" on Wednesday, July 4 and took it home to observe. It has been in a jar with a tight-fitting lid on my front porch since. I open the jar to air it out daily, misting it as the need arises. Then last Friday, after only 23 days, the spiderlings began to emerge. So far it appears to be roughly 150.

The spiderlings were a big hit last Saturday for Show & Tell at the front desk of the nature center. And now, one week after they emerged from their egg sac, the young ones are doing well. Although there's an eerie silence inside the jar.

Mother and youngsters in separate containers

Monday, July 30, 2018

being good shepherds

Ijams Outreach recently visited the VBS at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Fountain City with a menagerie of animals both real and pretend. (The live millipedes and rat snake were a big hit and the snail puppet is adorable.)

It must have been my many years of study under the esteemed grandfatherly educator Captain Kangaroo. He taught me how to relate to children through the use of animals and puppets.

Our topic at Good Shepherd was recycling. All life on Earth is carbon-based and carbon is cycled around over and over from plant to animal and back to plant. We exhale carbon and trees inhale it.

Millipedes and snails eat dead leaves freeing the stored carbon and turning it into the dark organic humus that young growing plants need.

The VBS kids also learned about everyday items like soft drink cans, plastic bottles and even paper that can be recycled over and over and reused ad infinitum.

Thank you, Mary and Ruth Anne for inviting us.