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out natcornIt may not have shaken the Richter scale like the stampede of Republican lawmakers and their realtor and developer lobbyists in Raleigh back in 2011, clamoring to cut funding for the state’s Landslide Hazard Mapping program, but there were more than 50 landslides across Western North Carolina and East Tennessee after the recent heavy rains (official are still trying to get an official count). Thankfully, to my knowledge, there was no loss of life associated with these slides.

Up in flames?

out natcornI sit this morning being bathed in luxurious rain. The kind of life-affirming, life-giving rain the Smokies are noted for. A quick run to town watching the rain cascading down the asphalt, clear here and muddy red there, being sucked in circles down storm gutters or overrunning clogged ones — and a couple of thoughts came to mind.

A closer look

out natcornOnly you can apply the brakes to slow down the Courthouse Timber Sale and get everyone to take a closer look. This sale – scheduled for nearly 500 acres in the Pisgah National Forest near the foot of Devils Courthouse – has been through the various assessment channels including NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) and is now open to public comment.

Friday, Dec. 28, was the date of the eleventh annual Balsam Christmas Bird Count (CBC) — 11 dates but 10 actual counts as the 2009 CBC was cancelled due to inclement weather. This year’s weather was much better for the Balsam count — cloudy to overcast, breezy and cool but not too bad.

out natcornI wrote about wood storks, Mycteria americana, back in August of this year after a trip to Isle of Palms in South Carolina ( It was really cool to see these large prehistoric-looking birds cruising over the marsh in undulating lines. And it seems that more stork lines must be undulating over more marsh and/or wetlands across the Southeast because the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service just announced that they planned to upgrade the wood stork’s status from endangered to threatened.

out natcornThe Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great wilderness of about a half-million square acres. It has been the mission of the Park to preserve the thousands of species of plants and animals that live there and, where and when possible, reintroduce species that used to occur there but are now gone.

out natcornLadies and gentlemen, return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts. Spaceship Earth will be screeching to a stop at 6:12 a.m. EST, Dec. 21. After we’re stopped, feel free to unclick; go to the restroom; get up and stretch your legs; we will be stopped for awhile to gather supplies, refuel and prepare to blast off for our southward journey.

out natcornFirst Mate McConnell: “Cap’n the ship is headed straight for that iceberg and there’s no way we kin stop her in time!”

Captain Boehner: “Don’t worry mate. I have a plan.”

FM McConnell: “What kin we do?”

Don’t know why, but the last two birding trips to Tessentee Bottomland Preserve in Macon County — one last Sunday and one in November a year ago — have been rushed affairs, allowing about two-and-a-half hours of birding from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Now, of course, two-and-a-half hours of birding at Tessentee is much better than no birding at Tessentee, but I would love to have more time to chase more LBJs (little brown jobs) from thicket to thicket and more time to hit more of the trails.

out natcornBack in spring of 2011 I wrote about a wetlands restoration project at Lake Junaluska - www.smokymountain Candace Stimson, in order to fulfill her Low Impact Development degree at Haywood Community College, unearthed Suzy’s Branch behind Jones Cafeteria and created about 100 feet of free-flowing stream and wetlands.

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