Don Hendershot

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Citizens of Washington County, hundreds of thousands of migrating waterfowl and Navy pilots who would have been put in harm’s way received a Congressional Christmas gift when the fiscal year 2008 National Defense Authorization Bill de-authorized construction of an Outlying Landing Field in Washington County next to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina.


The Carolina Field Birders (CFB) conducted their sixth annual Christmas Bird Count this past Saturday (12/29.) The annual CBC count is sponsored by the National Audubon Society and is the longest running ornithological database in the world. Initiated 108 years ago, the CBC is now international in scope with more than 1,800 official 15-mile diameter circles and more than 50,000 participants worldwide.


Norm Christensen told the Waynesville Watershed Advisory Board (WAB), representatives from the town and a few interested onlookers that despite heavy logging in the past the forest ecosystems in Waynesville’s 8,600-acre watershed were, “remarkably healthy” and “remarkably intact.” Christensen, founding dean of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and currently professor of ecology at Duke, spoke to the WAB at its regular meeting Jan. 10.


It’s nine o’clock and my 6-year-old is snug in her bed and sound asleep even though she’s been told it will likely snow this evening. I, on the other hand, am pacing back and forth in front of the large windows in the living area with an outside light on — waiting for the first flake to show.


There she was when I got up around 6:30 this morning, the buttons from her blue jeans shining radiantly just above the southern horizon, Venus was dazzling. Below and to the left of Venus like a poodle on a leash was Jupiter.


Winter birding is often slow going. There is no chorus of rowdy and randy males singing lustily, and weather conditions can often be harsh. However, winter birding has its on set of rewards.


And I’m Loosiana bound — you do know it was named after Louis, not Louise?


My brother and I conducted our annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe, La., last Friday, Feb. 15. While we didn’t set any records, we had a good count. We bested last year’s total of 57 species by three and because of mechanical problems — a dead battery — we didn’t make it to the piney woods.


For the past four years — five years total, if you count the magical, muddy, mystery tour in Louisiana back in 2002 — the devout, the convinced, the skeptical and the curious have slogged and paddled across the swamps of the Southeast in search of “Elvis.” That’s the code name given the ivory-billed woodpecker by searchers in Arkansas in 2004. Feeling constrained by the foot-sucking muck and the capricious currents of bayous, sloughs and slow southern rivers, searchers decided to take the high road during this year’s quixotic quest for the elusive Elvis.


There are almost as many reasons for watching birds as there are birders. Whether you are a backyard birder content to fill the feeders and occasionally glance out the window to see who’s flitting about or a hardcore lister, traveling the globe to tick off as many lifers as possible, there’s no denying the attraction of these amazing creatures.


out natcornAfter Jersey and the Big Apple (see last week’s Naturalist’s Corner —, it was time for a leisurely trip home. We headed south to Cape May and took the Cape May-Lewes Ferry across the Delaware Bay to Lewes, Del. The trip across takes about an hour-and-a-half. It provides a view of three lighthouses, Cape May Light, Harbor of Refuge Light and Delaware Breakwater East End Light. The ferry is also linked to another feature on our southward trek home — the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel. Service at Cape May-Lewes began in 1964 with a fleet of four ferries purchased after the completion of the CBB&T ended their route across the bay from Cape Charles.


out natcornNew York City is big, bustling and in July – hot, but there are always entertaining and even educational ways to escape the heat. The planets aligned just right giving both Denise and me the entire July Fourth week off.

We donned our tourist attitudes and headed north for a visit with Denise’s sister in Eastampton, New Jersey and a short train ride and a day in the Big Apple with Izzy (10) and Maddie (6).


out naturalistNews outlets began reporting Sunday night (July 1) that North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed Senate Bill 820, which would have allowed energy companies to use a process known as hydraulic fracturing, a.k.a. fracking, to drill for natural gas in the state. Fracking is the technique of injecting drilling fluids composed of water, sand and toxic chemicals under intense pressure into shale or other rock formations, fracturing them and allowing the trapped natural gas to escape into the drilling casing.



out naturalistGov. Perdue has to be weary. This weariness was apparent months ago when she declared she would not seek re-election. Her vetoes are little more than symbolic with the current make up of the General Assembly and here she is with another bombshell on her desk — fracking in North Carolina.

Here’s the simple fracking definition according to the oil and gas industry: hydraulic fracturing is the benign process of injecting fluids that are primarily composed of water and sand and maybe a couple of chemicals, at high pressure, into shale or other rock formations to create cracks that then allow the natural gas to escape and be captured.


Mountain bogs are some of the rarest and most imperiled natural habitat in the country. They are generally small and scattered across the landscape often isolated from other wetlands. This isolation can create unique habitats, which in turn create unique flora and fauna. Bogs are home to several federally endangered and/or threatened species including bog turtles, mountain sweet pitcher plant, bunched arrowhead, swamp pink and others.


As one whom is often standing on the shoulder of the road peering through binoculars, I’m accustomed to people slowing down and asking, “What are you looking at?”

Well last Saturday I got to turn the tables. I was zooming down River Road along the French Broad River in Hot Springs marking points for my point-surveying accomplice, Bob Olthoff, when I realized I had just missed my turn, which was the last Forest Service road in North Carolina before hitting the Tennessee line. I decided to continue to the state line, just to be certain and that’s where I saw a small group of people standing below a rock outcropping with binoculars and cameras pointed towards the precipice. I passed and turned around and on the way back couldn’t resist. I stopped and asked, “What did you guys find?”

I’m glad I did. They explained they were looking at some American Indian petroglyphs. I could see the reddish-orange designs on a section of rock about 50 feet up. They explained that the Paint Clan of the Cherokee Indians had created the petroglyphs.

I think I have lamented in this column before that while doing bird points for the Forest Service from Hiwassee Dam to Grandfather Mountain and from Roan Mountain to Mt. Mitchell to Brevard, I often encounter a lot of cool stuff. But alas, the “job” part of this endeavor – having to survey all the points within a six-week time frame – often means there is not much time for following those enticing side trails.

I have traveled River Road at least once a year since 2007. And where you turn onto River Road from N.C. 209 there is an historical marker that states, “Pictographs on cliff face were created by Indians ca. 2500 B.C. & long have been landmark for travelers. 5 1/2 mi. N.W.”  But I have almost always turned right on FS Road 468 to get to my points, went in, surveyed and beat it back out to 209 and on to other points, never taking the time to try and track down the pictographs or petroglyphs. But today, someone had found them for me.

I did a little internet research when I got home to learn more about the site. It seems botanist Andre Michaux had made notes about a “red-painted rock” during his travels back in 1796. And as early as 1799, a Tennessee border survey noted that campfire soot was obscuring some of the petroglyphs. Advertising for a stagecoach line in 1859 stated that the line crossed the mountains in full view of the Painted Rocks.

The 1799 comments were from surveyor John Strother, who kept a diary while surveying the North Carolina-Tennessee border. Strother wrote, “Friday 28th. Set out very early and proceeded on the line about 4 m to the Painted rock on F. B. (French Broad) River, about 5 m below the Warm Springs [Warm Springs was the original name for Hot Springs]; measured the height of the rock and found it to be 107 feet 3 inches high from the top to the base; it rather projects over. The face of the rock bears but few traces of its having formerly been painted — owing to its being smoked by pine knots and other wood from a place at its base where Travellers have frequently camped — in the year 1790 it was not much smoked; the Pictures of some human’s — wild beasts fish & fowls were to be seen plainly made with red paint, some of them 20 & 30 feet from its base.”

A study in 2006 revealed the petroglyphs were around 5,000 years old. The pigments used were said to be of superior quality and complex design. All of the ingredients were determined to be local.

The Paint Clan were noted as healers and sorcerers. They were the keepers of ritual and ceremony and the only ones allowed to make a special red paint used for ceremonial purposes.

One explanation for Paint Rock is that it was a stopping point for the Cherokee on their way to the healing hot springs. It was a place for prayer and contemplation – the perfect setting for the Paint Clan’s powerful red dye.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


I was in the Grandfather District of the Pisgah National Forest the other morning preparing to go to one of my Forest Service bird points when I noticed two tall white flowers at the edge of the woods. My first thought was fly poison, Amianthium muscaetoxicum, but then I thought it’s a little early for fly poison; I ventured over for a closer look. I found two, nearly 3-feet tall, stalks with terminal racemes of white flowers about 5 inches in length. So at a distance, there is a resemblance to fly poison, but upon closer inspection there were obvious differences.

The lily I had stumbled upon the other morning is known as turkeybeard or eastern turkeybeard, Xerophyllum asphodeloides. It gets its common name from the wiry grass-looking clump of basal leaves that, with a little imagination, could resemble the “beard” that protrudes from the breast of Tom Turkey. The basal leaves of fly poison are a little more lily-like – flat and up to 3/4 of an inch wide. Turkeybeard also has long (4-5 inch) needle like cauline (stem) leaves that are smaller near the top of the plant. The cauline leaves of fly poison are only about an inch long.

The genus Xerophyllum has two North American species, X. asphodeloides (turkeybeard) in the east and X. tenax or beargrass in the Northwest. Turkeybeard is found in two disjunct and, at first glance, totally different habitats. It is found in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey and in xeric (dry) oak and pine communities at mid to high elevations along the Southern Appalachians from Virginia and West Virginia through the Carolinas to Georgia. There are historic records from Delaware and Kentucky.

While these two habitats appear to be opposite ends of the spectrum, they actually have a lot in common. They are both composed of dry, acidic, sandy or rocky soils and share other same or similar plant species like blackjack oak, pitch pine and blueberries.

Turkeybeard is recorded from 41 counties across its range. It is endangered in parts of its range and has been included in the U.S. Center for Plant Conservation’s National endangered Plant Collection.

Turkeybeard is well suited for its dry environment. The genus name, Xerophyllum, means “dry-leaved” and the thin coarse leaves conserve water by minimizing evaporation. In the Southern Appalachians, Turkeybeard is most often found on west or northwest-facing slopes and its primary source of water is from rain and/or fog.

Recent studies by Norman A. Bourg and others at the University of Maryland have shown that turkeybeard seems to benefit from fire and suggests that it could be fire-dependent. The plant’s large rhizome could allow it to store water and become dormant underground where it could survive a fire. Seeds collected in 1988 by the New England Wildflower Society were still viable in 1995, suggesting that turkeybeard is capable of seed-banking, so there would be seed available after a fire or other disturbance.

The fire scenario fits well with the turkeybeard I discovered in Grandfather the other day. I’ve been doing that point since 2007 and I enter the woods at the same point every year and within a week or 10 days of the same date and this is the first year I’ve seen the flowers. I could have walked by the basal leaves without noticing them but there’s no way to miss the flowers. And there was a fire a couple of years ago. I don’t know if it was a wildfire or a controlled burn but there were no flowers in the years before the fire but lily is definitely present now.


Up at 4 a.m. to try and catch up on a little correspondence before I hit the road for the Nantahala Ranger District to search for cerulean warblers, I’m on the road by 5.

I’ve found a neat short cut to get over to the national forest just above Nantahala School. I take U.S. 441 south towards Franklin, then head west on Sanderstown Road, a quick jog at the Little Tennessee and out towards the Macon County airport. Then I pick up Burningtown Road to Tellico Road and once the pavement ends the drive gets really interesting.

I’ve dubbed last Saturday (May 19) “Deer Day.” Just as the pavement ended on Tellico Road, five nervous whitetails came from, seemingly, behind someone’s house, crossed the road in front of me, jumped the fence and headed for the woods across a small pasture.

Next, after a winding, narrow, dirt road climb, crossing the Appalachian Trail near Wesser Bald, I fell out, once more, on pavement near Otter Creek School where I was greeted by two more whitetails on the roadside. After a short drive I turned right onto State Road 1412 and caught the “white flag” of one more whitetail scrambling up the mountain. I don’t think I’ve ever seen eight deer in one morning, in Western North Carolina – thus “Deer Day.”

I found no ceruleans Saturday, but that’s not to say there were no avian surprises. I rounded a curve on a grassy Forest Service road as the morning light was filtering through the canopy and there, a couple of hundred feet in front of me, was a turkey, sprawled in the middle of the road, wings akimbo. I slowed and stopped, trying to figure what this strange behavior was about, when she jumped up and a swarm of baby turkeys, fluttering and chirping, began dashing this way and that. I sat in the truck for a few minutes to let things calm down, and then slowly approached the spot where mom had covered her babies.

Most newborn wildlife have two major defense strategies – run or freeze. When I neared the spot I could see one baby chick frozen in an open area. As I knelt to entice the baby to join its siblings I almost stepped on another baby settled in a clump of grass. I encouraged the two to join their clan and searched the area before driving on.

I finished my survey and headed back to Waynesville, arriving home around 12:30 p.m. The girls had company and they had already been busy that morning – greeting me with what they called a “big boy” of a garter snake. It was a couple of feet long.

As I was retrieving gear from my truck something caught my eye. About 10 to 12 feet up in a dead hemlock right in front of the house were a pair of black rat snakes. And these were indeed a big boy and a big girl – between 5-6 feet long, doing their evolutionary duty and procreating.

It was a gorgeous day and by 3 p.m. after another phone call to another friend, Mom, kids and I decided it was a great day for a hike. We headed up to Flat Creek Trail on the Heintooga Spur Road.

Flat Creek did not disappoint. Kids found salamanders, deer tracks, pig tracks and bear poop. Mom and I enjoyed a healthy colony of yellow-bead lily as we kept listening for a waterfall.

Finally we reached a sign saying we had traversed 1.9 miles and that Heintooga Road was .7 miles ahead. Well there was no waterfall and it was a little after 5 p.m. I sent Mom and the gang ahead towards Heintooga Road and I beat it back to the picnic area and the car. It was pretty good timing. They had had an adventurous creek crossing and came out on the road about five minutes before I got there.

We loaded up hungry hikers, hit Soco Gap and headed to Maggie Valley for pizza and spaghetti. And that’s just a day in the life when you live in Western North Carolina.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Experiments conducted by a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the U.S., Canada and Germany strongly suggest that the fungus, Geomyces destructans, which causes White Nose Syndrome in bats, is a recent invasive from Europe. WNS was first discovered in the U.S. in 2006 near Albany, N.Y. Since then it has spread to 19 states (as far south as Alabama and as far west as Missouri) and four Canadian provinces. It has killed an estimated 5.7 million bats.

WNS was named because of a white fungus grows around the muzzle, ears and wing membranes. The fungus causes bats to wake up more often during hibernation, which in turn depletes their fat reserves and leads to starvation and death.

Researchers from the University of Winnipeg and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) reported their findings on April 9 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists were puzzled because bats from Europe had been discovered with WNS but it wasn’t lethal. To try and learn what was going on, disease-free bats were collected from caves across Manitoba and brought to WCVM for study. A third of the bats were inoculated with Geomyces destructans (Gd) from Europe; a third was inoculated with the fungus from North America and a control group was kept fungus-free.

Both inoculated groups of bats soon began showing the same telltale signs of WNS. The bats with WNS were emaciated and near death weeks before the 120-day experiment was scheduled to end and were euthanized. The control group was all healthy after the 120 days.

The research led scientists to believe that the European bats had evolved along with the Gd and developed some kind of immunity, while bats in North America had never been in contact with the fungus until that outbreak in 2006.

Researchers say the study provides a small glimmer of hope. If enough North American bats survive WNS, they will, hopefully, develop some immunity like their European cousins. But it appears to be a race against time as this deadly disease races across North America.

More studies are planned to try and discover how European bats combat the fungus, in hopes of finding a way to slow the spread of WNS in the U.S. and Canada. Some people think of bats as scary things. But a world without bats could, actually, be much scarier. One little brown bat weighing around one ounce can eat up to 1,200 insects per hour. And the little brown is but one of 45 species of bats found in the U.S. In one study, 150 big brown bats surveyed throughout one summer were reported to have eaten enough adult cucumber beetles to prevent the hatching of more than 30 million cucumber beetle larvae. Researchers in the U.S. have estimated that the current die-off of bats in North America will cost the agricultural industry $3.7 billion dollars annually.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Last night (May 5) was the unveiling of this year’s supermoon. Astronomer Richard Nolle coined the term supermoon in 1979 and basically it is that time each year when a full moon or new moon (dark moon) is closest to Earth. Of course if it were a dark moon we wouldn’t see it, but last night’s supermoon slipped in and out of the clouds all night. I was working at the computer when I noticed the glow through the window. I went upstairs where Mom was reading to the girls and told them the supermoon was up. We wrapped babes in blankets and got outside just in time to see the big ole moon slide behind a cloud, ringing the edges of it in yellow light.

That’s the last I saw of the supermoon in the p.m., but I had to get up in the predawn and head to the Nantahala Ranger District to search for cerulean warblers. When I hit the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway (U.S. 23/74) there, in front of me, was supermoon glowing in the clear sky. I would zig and supermoon would zag behind the Plott Balsams. Then I turned south on U.S. 23/441 and supermoon darted behind the Cowee Mountains.

When I crested Cowee, supermoon was showing off, dancing over the Little Tennessee River Valley. I’m sure it was guiding migrants to their nesting grounds, showing redhorse in the river the best shallows for spawning and pointing out the juiciest Euonymus to the whitetails as they browsed.

As I approached Franklin, I thought supermoon was playing with sparklers but remembered that this weekend was also the peak of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. I saw three sizzling shooting stars in the span of about 10 minutes. Sure, there would have been more without supermoon, but to see them together just made it better.

I headed out of Franklin on U.S. 64 and supermoon was once again, unabashed and in full glory. But to get to the plots I was surveying I had to duck off 64 onto Wayah Road and into the forest. Peek-a-boo started again with forests and ridgetops between supermoon and me. There were a couple of places at the beginning of Wayah Road where supermoon danced, once again over farm field and meadow — but it quickly became a game of “I spy,” with supermoon ducking behind ridges or winking between trees, only to disappear; to suddenly reappear in the middle of the road – you could almost see the grin on her face.

As dawn approached and the Earth somersaulted backwards, towards the east, I saw Sol’s orange glow in the rearview mirror. I knew this tryst was coming to an end but hoped for one more glance across Nantahala Lake. Alas, when I could see westward across the lake, the clouds and fog had settled in the valley and supermoon was on her way to dance in the Rockies before kissing the Pacific goodbye.

I’m sure it was a supermoon that inspired Hondo Crouch, Lukenbach Texas’ “grand imagineer” to write in his poem “Lukenbach Moon:”


“…On moon brite nites like this,

Big eyed deer tip-toe into larger openings and dance better

‘Cause they can see where the rocks are at’

And their prancin’ gets fancier and freer

‘Cause they know man’s not there to dampen the dance.

This kind of moonshine makes you crazy, they say,

If you sleep in it.

But I think you’re crazy not to try it.”

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


I had to take my shoes off to get there, but I believe last Saturday (April 28) was the 13th annual Birding for the Arts. BFA is part of the Haywood County Arts Council’s “Fund Party Series” – entertaining, fun events that help fund the Arts Council and all the wonderful things they provide for our community. You can learn more about the Arts Council and their Fund Party Series plus much more at

Gracious and enthusiastic hosts for this annual event are Joe Sam and/or Kate Queen. We meet at 8 a.m. at the Performing Arts Center to get a quick overview of the day and begin our birding. This is where we pad our list. If you’re looking for numbers on a daily bird trip, you have to include the common “yard birds” like European starling, mockingbird, robin, house sparrow, etc.

After the Performing Arts Center we set out for Lake Junaluska, then to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where we dine at the Waynesville Overlook before heading on up and then descending down either N.C. highway 215 or U.S. 276, through the forests to the farmlands of Bethel and back to the Performing Arts Center.

Guests are free, of course, to bird for as long or little as they wish. The whole day generally lasts till around 5 or 5:30 p.m., and we wind up with around 80 species. We keep an “official” tally and, of course, not everyone sees and or hears every bird recorded but we do our best to get visuals where we can and point out songs and or calls. We had 13 participants meet at the Performing Arts Center this spring and six plus Kate and I stuck it out for the whole day, recording 83 species.

The thing about birding one day during spring migration is there are always hits and misses. Last Friday, there were Cape May and palm warblers at Lake Junaluska but neither was present on Saturday. However, great looks at a black-crowned night heron at the new wetlands and a common loon in full breeding plumage fishing just 50 feet or so from the shore provided a couple of good hits to make up for those misses. We also got outstanding looks at an osprey perched near Highway 19.

The Parkway started out a little slow but the Waynesville Overlook was productive as usual. We lunched with rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, blue-headed and red-eyed vireos, chestnut-sided warblers and blackburnian warblers.

We didn’t see any peregrines at Devil’s Courthouse, but we did get up close and personal looks at a pair of Canada warblers. We were also able to list golden-crowned kinglets from there, as we heard them but couldn’t get any looks.

We were kinda stuck in the high 70s species wise, but our last stop at a wet area near Bethel gave us the boost we needed by adding yellow warbler, blue-gray gnatcatcher, great blue heron, blue-winged teal, wood duck and belted kingfisher.

Birding for the Arts is a great low-key yet high quality birding experience for novice and experienced birders. And if you can’t spend an entire day – the morning, through lunch at the Waynesville Overlook, is well worth the ticket price. I believe we tallied 61 species by the time lunch was over last Saturday.

And there are more birding opportunities available in Haywood County. If you’re interested in linking up with birders in the area try the Carolina Field Birders at or contact Connie Wulkowicz at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. There is also a new Audubon Chapter in the area, Great Smoky Mountains Audubon at

And please support your local arts council and join us for another fund day, next year at the 14th annual Birding for the Arts.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Threatening weather forecasts likely kept many who registered for last Saturday’s (April 21) 5th Annual Spring Hike in Waynesville’s Watershed at home. But we caught a break — cloudy and overcast but the rain held off till around 11:30 a.m. or so and then it wasn’t heavy.

I had a small group for my amble (I don’t hike — too much to see to walk that fast), which is really great for those who like to bird and investigate along the way. We had perhaps the best day birding we’ve had since the hikes began. I’m sure we had 30 or so total species seen and/or heard — beginning with northern rough-wing swallows, barn swallows and chimney swifts at the dam and including voices from the woods like pileated woodpeckers and wood thrushes.

But what made the day great were the great looks we got at some beautiful birds. We had a scarlet tanager and blackburnian warbler in the same field of view for a brief moment. And we got great looks at each of them. Black-throated blue warblers were everywhere and we got good looks at them in several spots. It took us about three hooded warblers before we found a cooperative one — but it was worth the hunt to get great looks. A northern parula provided good looks and for those who were fast enough we had blue-headed and red-eyed vireos together. We also heard one drumming session from a ruffed grouse. I’m not sure everyone in the group was tuned in — but a few got the full effect.

Birds weren’t the only focus. Because of the April date, wildflowers are often hit or miss during our spring hike. But with this year’s early spring there were lots of plants in flower. We saw three species of trillium: Trillium erectum, commonly called wake-robin (we saw the white and red variety of this); Trillium undulatum, painted trillium; and Trillium vaseyi, Vasey’s trillium.

Wild geranium and foamflower were in bloom everywhere along the road shoulder. We saw several nice stands of small-flowered bellwort or wild oats. Not quite popping yet but poised were Solomon’s seal and Clinton’s lily. Some other wildflowers we found in bloom included showy orchis, lousewort or wood betony, star or great chickweed, Carolina vetch, May apple, Indian cucumber root, mandarin, one-flowered broomrape (the name of which I could not dredge up in the field), sweet shrub, star grass and more. We found a beautiful blue violet with streaked white and violet petals that I believe was Viola palmata forma striata.

There were lots of toads out last Saturday, and we were able to compare American toad and Fowler’s toad. American toads have really pronounced cranial crests right behind the eye that separate the eye from the parotid glands. On Fowler’s the crests are less pronounced. Fowler’s also have three or more small warts in the large dark spots on its back — American toads usually have one or two warts per spot. I have to admit I had never seen a toad the color of the Fowler’s we found last Saturday – it had a greenish-olive cast to it. But upon researching it, I found this description at – “Highly variable in color and pattern, the Fowler’s toad may be brown, tan, gray, olive, greenish or reddish. Often boldly spotted, it is more likely to have a greenish tint than any of our other toads.”

That’s the thing about getting outside — the more time you spend the more you learn. Thanks to Alison Melnikova, assistant town manager, again, for her hard work, and to Pete Bates from Western Carolina University and Blair Ogburn of Balsam Mountain Trust for making this another great walk in the watershed.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


The 62nd Annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be April 25 – 28. I was curious if this unseasonably warm, early spring was going to have any impact on the pilgrimage so I talked with an old friend about it. Patricia Cox is a botanical specialist with the Tennessee Valley Authority. She was a botany professor at the University of Tennessee, and she is one of the organizers of the Wildflower Pilgrimage. Cox has led hikes at the pilgrimage since 1992.

Cox said that some of the regular pilgrimage crowd pleasers might be gone or nearly gone this year. She said that fringed phacelia was already in bloom in the park in late March and that “…more than likely those large displays around the Chimney’s picnic area will be gone.” But there could be a new pilgrimage poster child crowned.

“I’ve seen lots of photos of Lady’s slippers this week on Facebook, so they will be out for sure next week,” she said. “We haven’t seen yellow Lady’s slippers in flower for the past several years because we were too early. So, while we may not see some of the usual things, I’m excited about seeing the unusual.”

In keeping with tradition, this year’s pilgrimage offers numerous new programs. They include “Traditional Cherokee Plants” with wildcrafter Ila Hatter. Learn how the forests of the Smokies provided for the Cherokee. There will be a reception for Cindy Carlson, “Featured Wildflower Artist.” And if you want to find out what’s going on in the Smokies, Bob Miller, the park’s public affairs officer, will present the “State of the Park” report on Thursday night. You can also learn about “Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains” with botanist and author Tim Spira.

And of course, the pilgrimage is all about getting outside and there will be new hikes also. Check out the “Birds and Blooms on Alum Cave Trail” with park forestry technician Troy Evans or join the Queen of Ferns, herself as Cox leads an all-day fern hike along Deep Creek Trail – expect to see more than 20 species of ferns.

There are more than 130 programs scheduled for this year’s pilgrimage, many directed towards children. The variety, as usual, is endless – bats, bugs, bears and bugs; ferns, forests, fungi and photography; ecology, elk and environmental education – there is surely something for everyone.

And, as always the main feature – wildflowers. There are more than 1,600 flowering plants in the park. So while some of the old pilgrimage blooms may be MIA, there will be no shortage of colorful wildflowers, and this year’s kick start to the bloom schedule will likely mean new and/or different species will be in flower.

Cox is not worried, she said, “As long as Mother Nature doesn’t hit us with tornados, hail or heavy rain, we’ll be good. There’s always something in flower in the Smokies. It will be a remarkable week, as usual.”

To learn more about this year’s pilgrimage visit their website at or you can call the W.L. Mills Conference Center at 800.568.4748.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


At Wild South’s recent “Green Tie Gala,” friend, writer, poet and publisher Thomas Rain Crowe, with a knowing wink, slipped a slim beautifully bound chapbook into my hands. I cracked it open immediately upon arriving home and read the first poem “Antidote to Narcissus:”


I’ve heard the great blue heron

Cannot see its own reflection

Cast from the water’s surface —

a gift that it may never lose a fish

in the image of a perfect eye

or fail to see a frog amid

such slate feathers shed

from a rookery on high.

If only we could fade that way

Into the mist of rivers,

Into rhododendron shade;

If only we could be so beautiful

And not know a thing about it.


I perused some of the 14 other titles — “Parable of the Flycatcher,” “The Nuthatch,” “Hawks: A Homily,” “Parable of the Wren,” — then closed the book and left it on the kitchen counter near the coffee pot to wait for dawn.

Next morning with coffee and book in hand, I sat out on the deck where towhees were conferring with chickadees and cardinals conversed with wrens to read the rest of A Conference of Birds. The book is Christopher Martin’s first book of poetry. Martin lives in the Georgia piedmont near Kennesaw Mountain with his wife and two children and is pursuing a Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Kennesaw State University. He is the editor of the online literary magazine “Flycatcher: A Journal of Native Imagination” and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in “Shambhala Sun,” “Loose Change Magazine,” “New Southerner,” “Buddhist Poetry Review,” and others. Martin is working on “Native Moments: An Ecology of Fatherhood,” a collection of essays and has contributed to the “Elevate/Art Above Underground” project in Atlanta.

Nature has called to poets ever since there have been poets. It spurred ancient Greek poet Theocritus to pen his idylls and has been muse for every epoch of literary history. And poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Burns and Blake penned lines in the voice of their time and passed the baton on to Emerson, Thoreau, and others then followed by Frost, who knew how to turn a common phrase, and today in voices of their own poets like Oliver, and, closer to home, Ray and Crowe and others with open eyes, open ears and open hearts speak to us in clear voices. The speak not only about the world around us but how the world around us and the world within us is only one world.

Martin has a strong, clear and compelling voice to add — from “Hawks: A Homily” “… But I wonder how one can speak/of angels, whose wings we have not seen,/when red-tail hawks still fly over interstates/on black-dappled, rust, red, white-brushed,/creation-colored wings,/and nest on rooftops/angels never would.”

And he understands how those worlds are intertwined, “… My child cannot see that far,/I’m sure, cannot see the falling,/dancing flares of dark purple,/the swallows that follow dragonflies./Before my son, I’m not sure/I would have seen them, either,/not sure I would have opened my eyes.” From “Watching Purple Martins.”

I found Martin’s poetry tight and timely; what poetry is about — in the now, while brushing eternity. I know you can purchase A Conference of Birds here - Or for more information contact New Native Press at

(Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Rachel Reid of Andon-Reid Bed and Breakfast asking if I was up to leading a birding trip on March 31. Now, I’m quite pleased to mention that Andon-Reid has a birding package for their guests that includes my services as a guide – please see, but I was a bit concerned as March 31 is a bit early for migration in Western North Carolina. However, Rachel said her guests were insistent about a half-day birding package.

I was still a little bit skeptical when I arrived at the B&B around 8:30 a.m. last Saturday; concerned that the guests didn’t understand that our species pool would be limited to winter residents, plus perhaps a few waterfowl at Lake Junaluska and at best one or two early migrants. But when I sat down to have a cup of coffee with Dr. Ashwini Anand, his wife Prabhune and son Pavan, my fears were quickly dispelled.

The good doctor explained that he and his family loved to travel and that they were amateur photographers. He said that on a recent trip to Belize they had encountered a group on a birding tour and this group’s focus and excitement on observing birds was infectious. He said that he and his family were casual observers of feeders on their property in London, Ky., but after encountering the group in Belize they had become quite interested in learning more and more about birding. Their enthusiasm was contagious. It pricked at a kind of common bond I think most birders share at some level and recognize in others; they had been bitten by the bug.

Well we started out at Lake Junaluska in hopes that Friday’s storms had knocked some migrant waterfowl from the sky to go with the migrant swallows I knew had returned. We weren’t disappointed. We found northern shovelers, blue-winged teal, ruddy ducks, a lone female ring-necked duck, a couple of female buffleheads, double-crested cormorants, pied-billed grebes and a nicely colored common loon. And the birding gods were kind to us as near the new wetlands we found a mature bald eagle perched in a tree at the lake’s edge.

We got great looks at tree swallows, northern rough-winged swallows and purple martins at the lake but no barn swallows. That was quickly remedied when we made a short stop at Richland Creek just across the highway from the lake. Barn swallows were cruising the golf course. And as we were watching the barn swallows, Pavan noticed some movement in the brush at the edge of the creek. We watched as a song sparrow chased a Louisiana waterthrush out of the brambles and sent it farther down the creek.

As I mentioned, the Anands were avid photographers and long clear looks at the bird Thoreau said, “… carries the sky on his back” – eastern bluebird — plus cooperative American goldfinches and a red-winged blackbird showing off its epaulets led to a cacophony of shutter clicks that would make the paparazzi swoon.

With time running out we headed up the Blue Ridge Parkway to try for some high-elevation specialties. We were able to call up one small group of cooperative black-capped chickadees near Waterrock Knob before we had to head back to Andon-Reid. Back at the B&B we tallied our species list, I believe we wound up with 44 species. I think the Anands were pleased, I know I was. It is always a pleasure to be reconnected to that instinctive inspirational spark; that pure and simple joy that nature brings to the human psyche.  

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Last year around this time I wrote about the honor of being nominated for Wild South’s Roosevelt-Ashe Society’s “Outstanding Journalist in Conservation” for 2010. I did not win but I did not expect to. I remember thinking and writing upon seeing my fellow nominees, “these are the people I write about.” And just being there and being part of that company was award enough.

This year I was even more surprised to be nominated once again. But this year I knew the ropes. I had been to the “Green Tie Gala” last year and I knew to expect a wonderful time with people from all walks of life — volunteers, philanthropists, environmentalists, agency personnel, conservationists, journalists, etc – with one thing in common, and that’s a passion for the outdoors.

Then something surreal happened. When they announced the winner for the 2011 Outstanding Journalist in Conservation – I heard my name. That was it; the jig was up; I was being convicted by a jury of my peers.

Hi my name is Don and I’m an addict. I’m addicted to wild places; clean air; pure water; granite mountains; bough and trunk. I’m addicted to the sound of the wind in the leaves; bubbles of brooks; riffle of rapids; breakers on beaches; howls of wolves and hoots of owls. I’m addicted to meadow and prairie; desert and forest; birds and birdsong; wildflowers and ferns. I’m addicted to nature wherever I find her; in my backyard; in a city park or on a greenway; at the nearest lake; the middle of the ocean; the heart of the deepest wilderness. I’m just addicted to outside.

I came by my addiction innocently enough. There was a special wild place in my childhood and adolescence. It was a shack on Horseshoe Lake just outside of Mer Rouge, Louisiana. It was a shotgun sharecropper shanty with, eventually, some rudimentary add-ons. Initially there was no electricity. There was never running water, though a well was drilled at some point and a pump installed. I have no idea how old I was when I was first introduced to the camp but my the time I was 8 I was perched on the front end of a 12-foot johnboat sculling along the shoreline fishing for bass and/or bream.

Behind the camp was the immensity of Beouf River Swamp, tens of square miles of hardwood forest, where we squirrel hunted and deer hunted by day and followed the baying of coonhounds at night. Beouf River Swamp was a wilderness to young eyes, but in reality it was an even-age second growth forest, having fallen under the saw at the turn of the 20th century. And by the time I graduated high school it was gone again — this time for good — and converted to farmland except for the occasional 640-acre “school board” parcel. By that time Horseshoe Lake had become a suburb ringed by “camps” side by side with piers protruding into the lake making it impossible to scull along the shoreline. I didn’t think too much of it at the time. I was, personally saddened by the loss of “my” wild stomping grounds — but there was no hue and cry, it’s just the way things were back in the late 1960s.

But this addiction led me to pursue a degree in wildlife conservation.

Now, it was the 1970s and much of the “science” of the day centered on how to grow more straight trees and how to produce more game animals. But there were ornithology classes and herpetology classes and plant taxonomy and systematics and then — ecology. And ecology was both the thread that connected everything and the glue that held landscapes together. This was the revelation! White-tailed deer, eastern cottontails, bobwhites, hooded warblers, spotted salamanders, loblolly pine, white oak, sumac; these were not autonomous organisms but all integral parts of a larger, holistic landscape. And the words of John Muir, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world,” were no longer just lines in a textbook.

Then by a circuitous route, tinged with wanderlust and the longing for wild places, I wound up in Western North Carolina, where through some serendipitous chain of events I began, around 1994, writing a column called “The Naturalist’s Corner.” The column first appeared in The Enterprise Mountaineer and when Scott McLeod, the editor that hired me, left the Mountaineer and started The Smoky Mountain News, “The Naturalist Corner” and I moved also. “The Naturalist’s Corner” has been the therapy for my addiction.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Scott McLeod and the Smoky Mountain News for having the confidence to basically turn “The Naturalist’s Corner” over to me, giving me free reins to write about wherever my addiction might be taking me at the moment. And the realization, through this award, that the message from “The Naturalist’s Corner” sometimes resonates with readers across Western North Carolina and beyond is truly humbling.

Okay, Wild South/Roosevelt-Ashe, you got me. I’m guilty – I’m an addict. Oh, and thanks for recognizing my addiction!

(Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


I was encouraged by a recent press release from the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. The release stated, “In a show of force and unity, over 100 North Carolina sporting groups are calling on the General Assembly to restore critical funding for conservation. The groups, ranging from venerable statewide wildlife, turkey, waterfowl, deer, bear hunting organizations to trout, bass and local rod and gun clubs, are seeking investments in land, water and wildlife infrastructure in what amounts to less than 0.5 % of the entire budget.”

These groups representing Trout Unlimited Chapters, Wild Turkey Federation Chapters, Quality Deer Management Associations, NC Ducks Unlimited plus scores of other sportsman/sportswoman organizations across the state are all signers on a recent letter to North Carolina’s General Assembly. Here are some excerpts from that letter:

“We are hundreds of thousands of dedicated sportsmen and women from North Carolina. We span political parties and ideologies. We are bird hunters and waterfowlers, trout and bass anglers, hunters and trappers. What we share is a deep-rooted passion and concern for conservation and our sporting heritage.”

“The country’s original conservationists, hunters and anglers, are still on the forefront of conservation. Our dollars spent on licenses, gear, and associated expenditures such as travel, bait and tackle, meals, and lodging has a tremendous impact on the state’s economy.  According to the most recent survey of the USFWS about the economic value of fish and wildlife based recreational activities, we contributed $4.3 billion to the state’s economy while supporting over 46,000 jobs.

“For years, the General Assembly has recognized sportsmen’s economic input and commitment to fish and wildlife resources by fully funding the state’s four conservation trust funds. Now conservation funding has been cut by a disproportionate 90 percent. Fiscal responsibility is important, but it doesn’t mean abandoning successful programs that have protected tens of thousands of acres of game lands, wetlands, fishing habitat and farmland across the state.

“In order to effectively safeguard key components of our economy, the sports and traditions that North Carolinians enjoy, and the health and integrity of some of our most important natural resources, it is essential that you restore a portion of these critical funds for the wild places that sustain our sporting heritage and economic impact.

“This request comes to less than a half percent of the state budget, but the payoff is enormous. For every dollar invested the state receives at least $4 of natural goods and services such as drinking water protection, flood control and cleaner air.  When you add in the associated benefits for our $22 billion a year travel and tourism and $32 billion agricultural industries, it is clear that conservation is crucial to our economy. Please support this major economic driver by:

• Restoring funding for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) to $40 million, still well below historic levels.

• Removing the general prohibition on the use of CWMTF funds for land acquisition.

• Maintaining the dedicated revenue source for the Natural Heritage Trust Fund and Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and oppose any diversion of those funds.

• Funding the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund at $2 million.”

When traditional environmental groups like Audubon NC, Southern Environmental Law Center, Western North Carolina Alliance, NC Sierra Club and others decried the Republican assault on the environment in North Carolina’s General Assembly and penned a letter to Gov. Bev Perdue thanking her for vetoing S781 and S709 (both of which, I believe, have been overturned), it was easy for Republican lawmakers to rant about “tree huggers” and “environmental whackos.”

But when members of the General Assembly look at this wide ranging and broad base of support, marshaled by the NC Wildlife Federation (who, by the way, was also a co-signer on the letter to Perdue) that crosses all party lines and ideologies, perhaps they will see that all North Carolinians treasure North Carolina’s wild places.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


In 1987 the U.S. Forest Service issued a "final" forest management plan — a plan so vague and so lacking in ecosystem and environmental protections that conservationists and environmental organizations across the country denounced it. The Wilderness Society (TWS), to point out many of the shortcomings of the proposed rule, especially as it pertained to the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, published North Carolina's Mountain Treasures in 1992. According to the North Carolina's Mountain Treasures website at, "Its purpose was very specific: to arm citizens with accurate, detailed, current information they could bring to bear to help protect deserving wildlands and other ecologically significant areas on these forests."

Here we are a decade later and finally, after two or three more failed efforts at crafting a forest management rule, it looks like the Forest Service has a working rule in place to replace the 1982 rule. The management rule is a template that sets the parameters for creating actual national forest management plans specifically for each national forest. And with the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests awaiting new management plans, TWS has prepared an updated North Carolina's Mountain Treasures: It's purpose is "... to give the public sufficient information about the forests' special places to speak effectively on their behalf."

Although there is a rule in place, plans for Pisgah/Nantahala may be 12 to 18 months down the road. According to Brent Martin, Southern Appalachian director with TWS, the delay is because the Forest Service is searching for a replacement for Marisue Hilliard, who retired as supervisor of the Pisgah/Nantahala National forests in January. Martin said that while TWS was disappointed in the delay, it, "... will allow us to garner more support for protection of Mountain Treasures, which we can always use more of."

TWS and its partners believe that many ecologically diverse and important wildlands throughout the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests lack adequate protection and these areas are the focus of the new edition of North Carolina's Mountain Treasures. This edition of "Treasures" focuses on seven landscape conservation areas that TWS and its partners feel are in urgent need of protection. Those areas are: Unicoi Mountains Conservation Area, Nantahala Mountains Conservation Area, Highlands Conservation Area, Balsam Mountains Conservation Area, Black Mountains Conservation Area, Linville/Grandfather Mountain Conservation Area and Unaka Mountains Conservation Area.

According to Martin it was a long (four years) arduous process to come up with the latest edition of N.C. Mountain Treasures. It included meetings with about 40 partners plus public comment and collaboration. Clearly, some wonderful and special places across the Nantahala and Pisgah forests are not included but TWS and its partners hoped to highlight areas that lack any kind of long-term protection and are at risk.

North Carolina's Mountain Treasures points out the need for protecting wildlands across the region and illustrates many of the threats — climate change, invasives, fragmentation and poor recreational management — facing these areas. Interested parties can find North Carolina's Mountain Treasures on line at or visit North Carolina's Mountain Treasures Facebook page, which is in the process of being updated to be even more inclusive.

Hard copies are currently available in some area libraries (check yours) and will soon be available in most, if not all public libraries across Western North Carolina.

According to Martin, "Mountain Treasures represents over 300,000 acres of core conservation areas on public lands in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest. That's out of 1.1 million acres of public land, of which currently only about 65,000 is designated Wilderness. We feel that all of these lands deserve some high level of protection in the upcoming forest plan revision. For example, they could be recommended as Wilderness, Scenic, Old Growth, or Watershed Restoration areas. I'd like to think that public support for these areas will lead to the eventual passage of North Carolina's first wilderness legislation in more than 25 years."


Due to a lack of foresight and copious amounts of poor planning, I found myself last Sunday evening (Feb. 26) on the side of U.S. 19 across the highway from Kituwah with not one but two flat tires (yeah, the spare was flat). With logistics that would rival a Marx Brothers movie, we finally had mom and girls plus their friend Adam Wampler on their way home and Steve Wampler was there helping me get one tire back in good enough condition to limp on back home.

After one failed effort and one successful effort to get a tire plug kit, plug a tire, take it in to Bryson City, air it up and get back to Kituwah, I was putting said tire back on my vehicle when Steve exclaimed, “Man, what a gorgeous night. Just look at all the stars.”

Well, I did glimpse up briefly — but only briefly. I was on a tire mission. It was a dark night, only a sliver of a moon and clear skies and Kituwah is somewhat removed from light pollution. Yeah, I thought, it probably is a pretty night but I’ve got lug nuts to tighten and things to do back home.

Finally with four inflated tires under me, I was headed back home. I took one more look around and it was, indeed, a lovely night. Looking at the stars I was thinking, with only a crescent moon – the next week or so would be good for sky watching. So when I got home I did a quick Internet search to see what kind of heavenly bodies might be out there. No, I wasn’t watching J-Lo and Cameron Diaz on the Oscars — well OK, only for a second.

But if these clouds get out of the way there is some pretty cool stargazing to look forward to. One opportunity is a phenomenon known as “zodiacal light.” Zodiacal light is caused by the sun’s rays reflecting off cosmic dust particles located along the ecliptic — the path the sun follows across the cosmos (the zodiac). Zodiacal light is best viewed when the ecliptic is at a steep angle (almost vertical) to the horizon. This is most prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere near the spring and/or autumnal equinox. Zodiacal lights occur in spring in the first hour or so after sunset and in the autumn an hour or so before sunrise. Zodiacal lights in autumn are also known as the “false dawn.”

Zodiacal light resembles an inverted cone — widest at the horizon and tapering as it follows the ecliptic skyward. It is best viewed right after sunset on nights with little or no moon. An unobstructed view of the western horizon offers the greatest chances of getting a good look at this heavenly glow. The zodiacal viewing window only lasts for a couple of hours.

Late February and early March also offer some good planet watching. Venus and Jupiter are both blazing brightly in the late winter night sky. These two glowing celestial orbs are on track for a spectacular fly-by on March 13. Venus is climbing in the west-southwest every evening as Jupiter descends from the south-southwest. They will be in conjunction, separated by only about three degrees on March 13. And if your neck gets stiff from all that westerly viewing, turn to the east where you can watch Mars begin its ascent into the spring heavens.

As always, the farther you can get away from urban light pollution the better viewing you will have. But, before you decide to head to the boonies for some night-sky watching — check your spare!

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


This year was the 15th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen-science project created by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. The count took place between Feb. 17 and Feb. 20. For the past seven or eight years I have used the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) as an excuse to visit my old stomping grounds in Northeast Louisiana. I would go over, spend the weekend visiting friends and take one day to count birds at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe. This year I couldn’t make the trip over due to a change in work schedule and a few too many logistical speed bumps. I could, however, squeeze a few hours of birding in this past Saturday afternoon so I slipped away to Kituwah for a little avian accounting.

Kituwah is about 300 acres along the Tuckasegee River in Swain County. It was purchased by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in 1996 and is the historic site of the Band’s revered mother town. Tribal members farm small plots on the site and it is open to the public from sunup to sundown.

I was walking along the railroad tracks at Kituwah, moments after arriving, when a dry raspy “kehesch!” made me think I had stepped through a portal to my Louisiana home. I turned in time to see the robin-sized, brown and white projectile catapult straight up above the winter-brown grasses, poop and zigzag outta there like a NASCAR driver after a tire change. Another step, another kehesch! and then another till five Wilson’s snipe had popped up and taken off like a band of drunken banshees trying to decide which way to go. The erratic zigzag flight probably evolved as a way to deter aerial predators but it has been a boon to Winchester and other ammunition makers as rattled hunters, with shotguns wagging this way and that blast away into empty space.

Used to be a snipe was a snipe was a snipe, and all were considered subspecies of the common snipe, Gallinago gallinago, the European and Asian version. But recently the Wilson’s snipe, Gallinago delicata, of the America’s was split and elevated to species status.

Now you don’t have to go south to find Wilson’s snipe in the winter. A few overwinter in the northern tier of states and there is a resident West Coast population that reaches into Canada. However, they are more common in the South in the winter and some migrate all the way to South America. They are common winter residents in the marshes, farmlands and rice fields of Louisiana.

I encountered two other species that could have easily been recorded at Black Bayou. In one wet thicket near the main canal that traverses Kituwah I flushed an American woodcock. This whirling dervish popped up like it was ready for blast off – then just as abruptly changed its mind and floated back down to earth on the other side of the thicket. I hope I get a chance to take the girls over one evening soon and catch this species’ amazing aerial courtship display.

The third marshy species I found at Kituwah was a northern harrier – the “marsh hawk” of my Louisiana youth. This buoyant flier glides effortlessly a few feet above ground over marsh and/or farmland to suddenly pounce or fall from the sky, on unsuspecting prey like small rodents or birds.

The northern harrier has a more rounded or disc-shaped face than most hawks that is owl-like in form and function. The feathers around its face help direct sound to its ears allowing the harrier to hear its prey much like owls do.

Females and immatures are brown with a large white rump patch. The male is an exquisite slate-gray leading to its colorful colloquial moniker – the gray ghost.

All in all it was a wonderful and relaxing GBBC. Not high numbers – 37 species – but not bad for a few winter hours. Sparrows ruled the day as far as species, they included song, swamp, chipping, field, fox, white-crowned, white-throated and savannah.


The Naturalist’s Corner dispatched its chief investigative reporter, Kuteeng Satire, to the land of Dudley Doright to bring you the truth regarding Canada’s plan to shoot, shoot from airplanes, poison, trap and otherwise kill thousands of wolves because the stupid animals are eating caribou displaced by the decimation of their habitat by Canada’s grand gesture of saving the United States from its foreign oil dependency by selling it more expensive foreign oil from Canada. The fact that Canada is in the process of destroying 10.6 million acres of boreal forest, decimating wildlife populations and destroying indigenous peoples’ way of life in a quest to sell the world’s dirtiest oil to their southern neighbors just shows that their wallet, uh, heart is in the right place.

In order for the world and the U.S. in particular to understand Canada’s heartfelt generosity, The Naturalist’s Corner’s Kuteeng Satire interviewed Ima Dunce from Canada’s Minister of Environment, Peter Kent’s office.

Satire: Mr. Kent was quoted as saying; “Culling is an accepted if regrettable scientific practice and means of controlling populations and attempting to balance what civilization has developed. I’ve got to admit, it troubles me that that’s what is necessary to protect this species.” Why is the killing of thousands of wolves necessary?

Dunce: Because there are too many wolves and they are killing the poor caribou.

Satire: So caribou are worth saving but wolves are not?

Dunce: But of course! Caribou are sweet creatures. They geeve us food and fur and they only eat grass and lichens. They are gentle creatures. Not like zee wolves. Zee wolves are mean and with their beeg teeths they eat the caribou. They eat mama caribous and baby caribous and all caribous — all the time they are just killing and eating and eating and killing.

Satire: So wolves are evil?

Dunce: Certainly! You deed not learn anything from Leetle Rouge Riding Hood?

Satire: Red Riding Hood?

Dunce: Whatever.

Satire: How do you plan to kill the wolves?

Dunce: We will shoot them. We will shoot them on the ground. We will shoot them from the sky. And when we can’t find anymore to shoot we will poison them with strychnine.

Satire: But wouldn’t it make more sense to protect and restore caribou habitat, rather than simply kill wolves.

Dunce: Whoever says that — they are not from Canada. They don’t understand. Who would say such a thing?

Satire: Lu Carbyn, emeritus research scientist with the Canadian Wildlife Service would say such a thing.

Dunce: Troublemaker!

Satire: Is it true that if you mine all of the tar sands area you will have to destroy an area of boreal forest the size of Florida?

Dunce: Exactly!

Satire: What?

Dunce: There must be, what, 40 or 50 states? Eef you lose Florida, no beeg deal, right?

Satire: Will poisoning wolves harm other wildlife?

Dunce: What other wildlife?

Satire: Like wolverines, cougars and other predators?

Dunce: All bad, bad, bad animals.

Satire: What about raptors?

Dunce: Oh no, you are meestaken. Baskeetball players are wild but they would not eat dead animals!

Satire: Not the Toronto Raptors. You know, birds of prey.

Dunce: That eat other animals?

Satire: Right.

Dunce: They are bad!

Satire: Are the people supportive of the tar sands mining?

Dunce: Oh wee-wee! Fox and the Hare News deed a poll and 67 percent of voters supported the tar sands and the Keystone pipeline.

Satire: Uh, that was a, uh, fair and balanced American poll from Fox and the Hare News that misled respondents by stating the pipeline would lower gas prices. What about Canadian polls, say in Alberta near the tar sands?

Dunce: What about them?

Satire: Seventy-one percent of Albertans support a moratorium on any new tar sands projects.

Dunce: Oh, that was all a beeg misunderstanding. The people could not understand zee poll.

Satire: Why?

Dunce: It was een French!

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


I think the shrewd rodent hedges his bet a bit. I mean if you think about it, the difference between Feb. 2 and March 20, first day of spring, is about six weeks. So to say there will be six more weeks of winter is a pretty safe bet. But what will those six weeks entail?

To say we’ve had a mild winter in Western North Carolina is a bit of an understatement. And it seems most of the Southeast is in the same boat this year. I recently saw a photo on my Louisiana friend Burg Ransom’s Facebook page of a big ole gator cruising Black Bayou National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe, La.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about northern pintails after seeing one at Lake Junaluska. The week after I saw the one there were five on the lake. Pintails are early migrants and early nesters, reaching nesting grounds in Arizona in late March and early April and in Alaska by early May. But north-bound at the end of January seems a tad early.

Another Facebook friend, Waynesville’s own photographer/artist/musician extraordinaire, Ed Kelley, posted a photo on Feb. 2 of one of Punxsutawney Phil’s southern cousins up a tree. Seems Ed’s dog encouraged Waynesville Willie to seek higher ground, but most groundhogs — at least the ones that aren’t celebrities — are still snoozing in early February. And I saw another sleepy-time rodent last Sunday. I was driving to the mudflats that used to be Lake Junaluska when a chipmunk, tail at attention, scurried across the road in front of me.  

And early northern pintails aren’t the only avian anomaly. Wayne Forsythe of Hendersonville recently posted on the Carolina Birds listserv that he and fellow birder Ron Selvey recorded two palm warblers in Henderson County on Feb. 3. That is the earliest record I’ve ever heard of for Western North Carolina.

There are a few forsythia blooms here and there and I, like everyone else, have jonquil/daffodil leaves between ankle and knee high already. I’m sure orchard owners are beginning to get a little nervous. Buds are pretty cold-hardy, but if these balmy temps keep up and coax those blossoms to open early — then we get one of those hard spring frosts — it could be bad news.

Now, I like winter. Having lived only in Louisiana and on Hilton Head Island before I got to Highlands in 1986, I never experienced what could actually be termed winter — some cold snaps now and again but no winter season. But after moving to Western North Carolina, I have learned to revel in the progression of seasons and winter is the perfect end to the cycle.

With that said, it being so near spring now and heating oil still between $3 and $4 a gallon, I could pass on this winter. But don’t try and tell the folks from Clayton Lake, Maine, where it was –24 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday, or those out in Denver and Nebraska where white-out blizzard conditions dumped feet of snow and shutdown interstates and airports last week that we’re having a mild winter.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Dateline 1999: David Kullivan a forestry/wildlife student at Louisiana State University, tells faculty that while turkey hunting in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area, a pair of ivory-billed woodpeckers foraged in trees as close as 10 yards from him. Soon after, an expert-avian search team fielded in part by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and funded largely by Zeiss Optics hit the woods to track down this fabled icon of southern bottomland hardwood forests. After weeks of searching, the search team was left scratching their heads as the ethereal Lord God Bird once again vanished into the impenetrable swamp.

Dateline 2000-2004: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz … For most, thoughts of ivorybills had faded back into the foggy swamps.

Dateline April 28, 2005: Announcement of the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker made by John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, at the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. Those present included Gale Norton (then Secretary of the Interior), Michael Johanns (then Secretary of Agriculture) and the Congressional delegation from Arkansas where the bird had been “rediscovered” on Bayou de View. And there were no cautions or qualifications as Fitzpatrick announced: “For a bird guy, I can’t begin to tell you how thrilling it is — it’s thrilling beyond words to stand here with two cabinet members at my side … After 60 years of fading hopes that we would ever see this spectacular bird again, the ivory-billed woodpecker has been rediscovered.”

Now we have to backtrack just a bit because Cornell was actually doubling-down on “evidence” they acquired in spring 2004, but they were buying time to, according to the Cornell University News Service, “… allow the search team to gather convincing evidence of the bird’s existence.”

May 2005: Not to be outdone, Auburn ornithologist Geoff Hill and students “find” ivory-billed woodpeckers on the Choctawhatchee River in the Florida Panhandle. In fact, Hill estimated that there were likely at least nine pairs of ivorybills in the Choctawhatchee.

And about that evidence:

Cornell’s 2006 search results: The single best piece of evidence obtained was the four-second video footage taken by David Luneau on 25 April 2004. In total, the Cornell search team spent 35,440 hours engaged in various forms of search activity including man-hours plus automatic cameras and automatic sound-recording devices.

Cornell went on to expand their search (increasing man and remote sensing hours), sending teams to Florida and Louisiana through 2009.

So where does that bring us to today? Private, individual searchers continue to find ivory-billed woodpeckers. Some have even produced their own blurry videos. Yet none have produced any kind of clear images and none have been able to take researchers back and document sightings.

When this saga began a lot was made about not being able to prove a negative – in other words there is no way to prove that ivorybills are extinct, I mean we can’t have someone under every tree at the same time, right? But it looks like the scientific community has decided to take on the challenge.

July 2011: Dr. Nicholas J. Gotelli, University of Vermont, et al, publishes “Specimen-based modeling, Stopping Rules, and the Extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.” Gotelli put the odds at finding a live ivory-billed at less than 1 in 15,625.

October 2011: Andrew Solow of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, et al, publishes “Uncertain Sightings and the Extinction of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker,” which concludes there is, “…substantial support for extinction.”

I hear the ringing call of another iconic woodpecker in my ears – ha-ha-ha-HA-ha! ha-ha-ha-HA-ha! ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and a naturalist. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


No, I’m not talking about those of us who stay in the warm confines at Cataloochee, nursing Ninja porters, while the kids hit the slopes. These cold-weather wimps are ruby-throated hummingbirds. As most of you hummer-watchers know, our ruby-throats, basically the only nesting hummers in the eastern U.S., have generally all departed for warmer climes by the end of October. But are the times and maybe the climes changing?

My recent (Jan. 8-16) weekly installment of “This Week at Hilton Pond” titled “Winter Hummingbirds in the U.S. (Ruby-Throats & Global Warming)” raised some really interesting questions. This Week at Hilton Pond is a weekly e-newsletter produced by Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History’s executive director Bill Hilton Jr.

Hilton is no stranger to winter hummers. He has banded more than 80 winter hummers since 1991. I met Hilton back in 2002 when he came to the residence of Ted and Ann Kirby in Waynesville and banded a rufous hummingbird that had taken up residence — see 11_02/11_27_02/out_lola.html.

Hilton noted in the newsletter that despite all the vagrant hummers he had banded he had never banded a ruby-throated after Oct. 18 or before March 27. But according to Hilton’s account all of that changed this past December when he got a call from a friend from Buxton. This friend, who lives between the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound, reported that she had at least a half-dozen ruby-throated hummingbirds coming to feeders in her yard.

Hilton said they arrived in Buxton around 1:30 p.m. and that by 2 p.m. they had their first ruby-throat (a female) in the trap. In two days at Buxton, Hilton banded nine winter ruby-throats, seven (five females and two immature males) in his friend’s yard and two other females at an alternate site. Hilton noted that all the hummers were healthy and one was even going through its annual mid-winter molt.

Hilton, like any good scientist, is never more than a reflective moment away from “why” and/or “how.” And like any good scientist he would never posit one event as proof of anything, but keen anecdotal observations are the precursor of any hypothesis worth more study.

Hilton reflects that the warm Gulf Stream is only about 10 miles offshore of the Outer Banks and that it helps to moderate winter temps. But, “… even though the Gulf Stream has been this close for millennia there were NO reports of winter ruby-throats in North Carolina before about 1995 or so,” writes Hilton. He believes that ruby-throats on the Outer Banks may be benefiting from ever-so-slight increases in annual winter temperatures – gasp! “Climate change.”

Hilton writes, “… Mountaintop glaciers melting … polar ice fields shrinking … droughts worsening … severe storms increasing … ocean levels rising (and even affecting dunes and beaches at Cape Hatteras National Seashore) … and now “cold weather wimp” ruby-throated hummingbirds wintering where they never have before …” and wonders out loud, “… if – because of their recently acquired ability to survive WITHOUT migrating to the neotropics – ruby-throated hummingbirds are THE species that finally drives home the point that global warming is for real?”

To read Hilton’s entertaining narrative regarding the winter ruby-throats (along with his usual outstanding photography) and/or to learn more about Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History visit

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Thanks to a head’s up from Tim Carstens last Sunday morning (1/15), I saw a drake northern pintail, Anas acuta, at Lake Junaluska. This “nomad of the sky” is cosmopolitan in distribution, breeding in northern Europe, Asia and North America. Its range has been estimated at more than 11 million square miles and it is known to overwinter as far south as Panama, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Some even make it to Hawaii and other Pacific Islands for their winter break. Not even oceans can deter this sleek strong flyer. One pintail tagged in Labrador, Canada, was found nine days later in England and several pintails tagged in Japan have been recovered from the U.S., as far east as Mississippi.

In North America, the northern pintail breeds from the prairie pothole region of the Upper Midwest across Canada and Alaska. Nearly half of this population migrates through California. Many overwinter in California’s Central Valley but others continue south to the west coast of Mexico. Northern pintails in the Central Flyway overwinter from the Texas Panhandle down to the Gulf coast of Texas and Louisiana, most of those in the Mississippi Flyway spend their winter in Louisiana with smaller numbers spread throughout Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. The primary wintering range for northern pintails in the Atlantic Flyway is along the Atlantic coast of New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. North Carolina generally accounts for 50 percent or more of this population.

The drake northern pintail is one handsome dude. The head is chocolate brown with a clean white stripe that snakes up from the white breast and neck. The back and sides are slate-gray with black highlights and it has a bright white rump patch. The “pin” tail is long. It can account for a quarter of the total length of an adult mail in breeding plumage. The middle two tail feathers are black and the outside ones are gray with white margins. An iridescent green speculum is displayed in flight and the bill is blue with a black stripe in the center and black margins.

The female is more muted with a tawny head and a mottled brown and white body. Her bill is dark blue-gray, usually with darker blotches. The female has a rather long pointed tail as duck tails go, but nothing comparable to the male’s pin.

The drake’s tail accounts for most of the colloquial names — like spiketail, sprigtail, sprig, etc. but I knew them in Louisiana as snakeheads. I’m not sure of the origin of this name, but I’ve heard two accounts. One is the white stripe that “snakes” up the drake’s head and the other is in reference to the bird’s habits. Pintails are a skittish lot and when they’re on the water and they become alarmed they raise their heads up on their long snake-like necks to get a better look around.

Because of the pintail’s immense range and global population it is listed as a species of least concern. However, the northern pintail’s North American population has been in a tailspin since the late 1950s. Numbers have dropped from an estimated 10 million in 1957 to around 3 million today. Disease has played a part in the loss of North American pintails, both in the past and more recently. Two outbreaks of avian botulism in Canada and Utah in 1997 claimed close to a million pintails. But loss of habitat and changes in agriculture appear to be the most serious threats to North American pintails.

Numbers from the Atlantic Flyway mirror this dramatic decline. The Atlantic Flyway Midwinter Survey recorded an average of about 250,000 birds in the late 1950s. Today’s survey records about 50,000 pintails.

North Carolina joined South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Florida in 2004 to create a multiagency project committed to finding ways to reverse this population decline.

(Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Cranes are cool. These big beautiful graceful birds jolt the souls of non-birders and birders alike. At five feet tall, the snow-white adult whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America. The whooper has a red patch on its face and the top of its head. The wingtips are black.

The whooper has been teetering on the brink of extinction for years. Fossilized evidence of whooping cranes dates back to the Pleistocene, when whoopers ranged from Canada to Mexico and from Utah to the Atlantic seaboard. Biologists believe whooping cranes numbered in the tens of thousands when European settlers arrived in North and Central America. Early explorers documented whooping cranes from 35 states in the U. S., six Canadian provinces and four Mexican states. But these big, impressive birds were big targets and over-hunting and loss of habitat quickly decimated the population. By 1941 there were only 16 of these majestic birds left in the world.

Today, the population of whooping cranes hovers at around 525 individuals. About 300 of those belong to the only native migratory flock of whoopers in the world that nest in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and overwinter at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf coast. There are two non-migratory reintroduced flocks of about 50 birds each in Florida and Louisiana, and the last 100 or so are part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership’s (WCEP) efforts to re-establish an eastern migratory flock. The WCEP flock nests in Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin and overwinters in Florida.

North Carolina birders got a thrill this year when a pair of WCEP whoopers took up residence in December in Clay County. As word of the presence of these visitors spread the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued a press release asking birders and other onlookers to respect the birds’ privacy so they can go about their daily routine without being disturbed. The agency asks that onlookers not approach closer than 600 feet by foot and/or 300 feet by vehicle and if possible to remain in your vehicle when viewing the birds.

I am sure they don’t want a replay of 2004 when a group of whoopers migrating back to Necedah made a stopover in Macon County and curiosity seekers got too close, flushing the birds and causing one to fly into a power line. The bird apparently wasn’t injured and was able to continue its flight, but it was a close call that could have been easily avoided.

Continue farther west and the 2011 crane jazz gets even jazzier. Hiwassee Refuge near Birchwood in southeastern Tennessee is a well-known winter haven for thousands of sandhill cranes and since the WCEP started its eastern project whoopers have regularly stopped over at Hiwassee. Then, this December about the same time whoopers were spotted in Clay County, N.C. an even rarer sight appeared at Hiwassee — a Hooded Crane. The hooded crane is an Asian species, that nests in northern China and southeastern Russia. Most hooded cranes winter in southern Japan, a few winter in China and Korea.

Any way you map it, a wild hooded crane showing up in the States under its own power is one, really stray bird. Some private collectors in the States have hoodeds, as do some zoos and it will be left to rare bird committees and the American Birding Association to decide if this hooded crane will be classified as a wild — therefore “countable” bird for all the listers out there who have traveled from more than a dozen states to get a glimpse.

But even if it’s not countable — as the whoopers aren’t because they are from a captive population — there is nowhere else in the world where you can go to see a hooded crane, whooping cranes and sandhill cranes standing wingtip to wingtip in the wild.

And it came at a great time for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Hiwassee Refuge and its supporters as they prepare for their annual free Sandhill Crane Festival on Jan. 14-15.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


This year’s ninth annual Balsam Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was held Friday Dec. 30. As I was driving home from work at 7 a.m. that Friday morning things were looking good. By the time I got a nap and met Paul Super, who had graciously agreed to help out, and his friend Patrick Flaherty beating the bushes around Autumn Care, it was about 12:30 p.m. and the wind was bllloooooowwwwiiinnggg!

Now wind is a terrible obstacle for birders. Birds are prone to sit tight rather than be buffeted around and you can’t here a chip note or song unless you’re within 50 feet or so of the source. But after last year’s 10 hours in the pouring rain, wind wasn’t so bad.

Paul and Patrick had already done the yeoman’s work, recording more than 30 species.

We left Autumn Care and went down to the vicinity of Barber’s Orchard to an area that had historically been very good for sparrows. Much of the landscape was altered due to the EPA cleanup or arsenic from the old orchard. While we were lamenting the lack of sparrows we looked up to see a gorgeous adult bald eagle, right overhead, flying low across the open spaces. That made us feel a little better about the lack of sparrows.

We kicked around a little more and flushed a pretty rufous-looking sparrow-sized bird from the brambles. We were all on the same page, thinking fox sparrow. But try as we might we could never coax the bird up again and, of course, no one got a fox sparrow for the count.

In fact the count total, 65 species, tied the record low for species. It was the same number we recorded last year and I, for one, would much rather be dry and wind-blown with 65 species than soaked to the bone with 65 species.

And while we tied our low record for bird species, we may have set a record for participation. I think Bob Olthoff, count compiler, said we had nearly 30 participants for this year’s count. It was a great mixture of tried and true troopers plus a good dose of new blood.

Paul, Patrick and I left the orchard and made a couple of short stops before making it to the Waynesville watershed. The reservoir was vacant of waterfowl for the second year in a row.

We did get to add golden-crowned kinglet, brown creeper, ruffed grouse and common raven to our list at the watershed. We still dipped on what one would think would be an easy find in the watershed — pileated woodpecker. We also didn’t have a regular winter resident in the area — hermit thrush. We decided to leave the watershed and head back to an area near the Waynesville Rec Center where we frequently find hermit thrushes in the winter. We dipped again.

By this time it was getting late and Patrick needed to go. I dropped Paul and Patrick and made one more mad dash to the watershed hoping to call up an owl at dusk. Once again — the best laid plans of mice and birders — not an owl around. But the bird gods smile and as I was dashing around the watershed, I spooked a hermit thrush that flushed and flew across the road right in front of me. It was the only one recorded on the count.

The lies, I mean stories, warm, tasty food and cool libations at Bocelli’s were as enjoyable and congenial as ever. And when we counted down the list we had two brand new species for the count despite the overall low total. Our group and one other nearby had seen the adult bald eagle and the Lake Junaluska group had an immature so we recorded two bald eagles (new species), and the Lake Junaluska group also recorded a greater scaup which was new for the circle.

As usual the Balsam CBC wishes to thank the staff and management at Bocelli’s for putting up with a bunch of noisy birders and to also thank the Town of Waynesville for access to the watershed and Waynesville residents Jim Francis and Glen Tolar for access to their private property.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


The 22nd Annual Wilderness Wildlife Week is scheduled for Jan. 7-14 in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. This year’s Wildlife Week boasts 288 programs and activities. Likely due to the time of year (winter in the Smokies), the bulk of Wildlife Week’s program (240) are indoors. But these programs run the gamut from educational – Learn to use Map and Compass; Rock Formations of the Smokies; Geological Past of Smoky Mountains; Civil War in the Mountains; You & Me: Coexisting with Bears; Predator Paradox: Conflict & Conflict Resolution in Modern America; Saving the Endangered Whooping Crane: The Tennessee Connection and Current Status; to cultural - CADES COVE HERITAGE! Cades Cove Teachers! War within the Family: Civil War Gregorys; Marking Time: A Guide to the Historical Markers in East Tennessee; HERITAGE! Basket Making; Echoes of the Smokies: Epic of Elkmont; to entertaining - Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: A Hysterical History of Words; A Tennessee Music Sampler: Stories & Songs: Hills-N-Hollows; Old Time Music Concert: Boogertown Gap; Ballads of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Vicinity: Boogertown Gap; APPALACHIAFEST!

A Free Musical Celebration of Our Heritage.

But not to worry, 48 expert-led hikes provide ample opportunity to go walking in a winter wonderland. Some of the hikes scheduled include Metcalf Bottoms, Albright Grove, Old Sugarlands Trail, Ramsey Cascade, Owl Prowl, Elkmont Historic District, Llama Trek - Big Creek and birding Cades Cove.

This year’s event touts 120 new programs plus 20 programs aimed at kids. Some of the “Kids’ Track” programs include, “Whoo Did This?” (all about owls), “The Smoky Mountain Adventures of Bubba Jones” (hiking and camping for kids and adults), “Batteries NOT Included” (Appalachian toys and games) and “Photography for Kids and Parents.” “Kids’ Tracks” programs are available throughout the week, with multiple programs scheduled for Thursday Jan. 12 and Saturday Jan. 14.

Nature photography is also highlighted in this year’s Wildlife Week. The annual Wilderness Wildlife Week Photography Contest has been expanded this year to include seven divisions; amateur, professional, wildlife, landscapes/seascapes, youth & young adult (17 and under), Great Smoky Mountain Landmarks and Nature’s Wonders in Black & White.

Peggy Callahan, founder and executive director of the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minnesota will be this year’s keynote speaker. Callahan began her biology career in Forest Lake in 1985 working with the (then) “Wolf Project.” Federal funding for the “Wolf Project” dried up and the program ended but Callahan’s passion and work didn’t as she created the non-profit Wildlife Science Center at the same site and went to work providing wildlife education and research, with an emphasis on wolves. Besides greeting more than 25,000 visitors annually, the center also trains wildlife biologists from around the world. Their trainees included the Yellowstone Wolf Recovery Team prior to the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park.

Callahan will present two programs, along with her keynote address. The first will be “Update on Ecology and Politics in the Upper Midwest” at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 7, in the Dobro/Harp Rooms and the second will be “Conflict & Conflict Resolution in Modern America at 6:45 p.m. Jan. 8 in the same venue.

Wilderness Wildlife Week is a free event. All workshops, programs and lectures are held at Music Road Hotel & Convention Center, 303 Henderson Chapel Road Pigeon Forge, Tenn. All hike and field trip sign-ups will be at the Holiday Inn Express right across the street from the convention center.

For information regarding Wilderness Wildlife Week visit or call 1.800.251.9100.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), Wild South, the Western North Carolina Alliance (WNCA) and the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition (SAFC) announced last week that they had reached an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to protect nearly 50 acres of old growth forest that had been included in a timber sale known as the Haystack project, in the Nantahala National Forest, near Franklin.

The Nantahala Ranger District has agreed to abandon two sections of the sale that included trees 100 to 200 years old. Parts of the Haystack project are near some of the same area that old growth researcher Rob Messick had delineated as the Topton Cluster back in 2000, while working with WNCA. According to Messick, old growth forest types in the Topton Cluster include dry oak, submesic oak, rich cove (mixed mesophytic), acidic cove, high elevation northern red oak, northern hardwood, and dry oak-pine.

Only about 7.5 percent of the million or so acres of forest in the Nantahala and Pisgah National forests are old growth. These old growth forests (from 100 foot-plus lush canopies, to the one to three acre forest gaps created when one of these behemoth falls, to standing dead snags and to the rich organic topsoil and woody debris created by hundreds of years of decomposition) create a unique and diverse ecosystem that can never be mimicked by younger forests.

Bob Gale, ecologist with the Western North Carolina Alliance noted, “We are really pleased that the Forest Service is continuing to recognize old growth forests in the Nantahala National Forest as important ecosystems in need of protection. The remnant primary forest stands left virtually untouched for centuries and the recovering areas that are in a mature — to — old growth condition make up a tiny percentage of public lands and merit such protection. We praise the Nantahala District for this agreement.”

According to the press release, the Forest Service also scaled back the length of one of the planned logging roads due to concerns about road building on steep terrain. Amelia Burnette, staff attorney for SELC said, “Old-growth forests in the mountains of North Carolina provide important habitat for a variety of wildlife and plant life, but they are rare. We commend the Forest Service for working with us to protect this significant resource.”

For those who follow the Naturalist’s Corner you know that I have been extolling the Forest Service for its move toward stewardship contracting, but have also warned that stewardship contracts must still be scrutinized. The best I can tell from Forest Service websites is that the Haystack project is a stewardship contract, although I haven’t been able to determine who the partners are. And at a glance of the project there appears to be a lot of good restoration work planned for the project.

Thanks to Wild South, SELC, WNCA and SAFC for not allowing the baby to get lost in the bath water. I don’t think any amount of restoration could ameliorate the wanton destruction of old growth forest. I concur wholeheartedly with Wild South’s associate executive director Ben Prater, “Our commitment to protect our last remaining old-growth forests is unwavering, and while we applaud this agreement, Wild South believes all old-growth should remain wild and never be threatened by logging.”

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


A North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) press release from Dec. 9 announced that work was underway, “… to restore habitat by promoting new forest growth for wildlife,” on the Catpen project. The Catpen area is on the south side of Bluff Mountain in the Appalachian Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest near the Tennessee-North Carolina border, just north of Max Patch in Madison County.

The Catpen project is unique. It’s the first project to be implemented via the master stewardship agreement between the USDA Forest Service and the NCWRC, which is the first master stewardship agreement in the country between the USDA Forest Service and a state agency.

Smoky Mountain News (SMN) first reported on these innovative stewardship contracts in the Jan. 19 edition in the article “Logging for cash versus long-range forest health.” That article can be seen online at

Some of the differences between conventional timber bids and stewardship contracting pointed out in that article include:

“The new approach means the forest service can award bids based on the ‘best contract’ rather than the most money, Remington [Dale Remington, sales forester for the National Forests in North Carolina] said. The contract could go to a timber company, but could likewise be awarded to an environmental group or hunting club.

“Under stewardship contracts, the Forest Service could lay out the goals and objectives and let the contractor tell them how they planned to achieve those goals, he said. And unlike the traditional timber sale, those goals could even include wildlife diversity and protecting old growth stands.

“Stewardship contracts can also be spread over a larger area than conventional timber sales. Most conventional timber sales are confined to only the specific area the logging will be done. Most of them impact around 150 to 250 acres. Under stewardship contracts, the Forest Service designates the stewardship area and it can range from a simple stream corridor to an entire basin encompassing 2,000 or more acres.”

Another difference between conventional timber sales and stewardship contracting was pointed out in SMN’s Feb. 16 Naturalist’s Corner, “Time to shift gears” - ; “… most of the money stays in the region rather than going to the U.S. Treasury and can be used for other restoration projects across the forest.”

The first phase of the Catpen project affects about 15 acres and according to NCWRC’s Gordon Warburton, will “…benefit deer, turkey, grouse, bears, neotropical songbirds and other species.” The second phase of the project is designed to enhance Max Patch Pond.

I commend NCWRC for capitalizing on this new tool for forest management. I spoke with Dale Remington back in February when I did the Naturalist’s Corner column and he assured me then that he and the Forest Service were open to stewardship contracts with organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Wild South and others and that the focus of such contracts was the overall health of the forests of North Carolina and beyond.

I hope to have the opportunity to write about such a project soon.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


As too often happens, in this whirlwind life, I lost my roundtoit. I received an email from the Western North Carolina Alliance at the end of November announcing public information meetings that would be held across the region regarding the settlement between the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the state of North Carolina over air pollution from TVA’s coal-fired power plants in neighboring states. These meetings were scheduled for this week. The closest one was last evening (Dec. 6) at Haywood Community College. There will also be one this evening at 5:00 p.m. in the Broyhill Conference Center at Appalachian State University in Boone. There was one Monday (Dec. 5) in Murphy, and while I regret not getting this information out in advance of these meetings, I still think this settlement is (in today’s political climate) important to note.

The settlement announced earlier this year was finalized in late June when U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Varlan of the Eastern District of Tennessee signed a consent decree. The decree ends a round robin of lawsuits initiated by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper in 2006 claiming that pollution from TVA’s coal-fired plants in neighboring states created a public nuisance because of their detrimental impacts on the health of North Carolina citizens, its natural environment and the state’s $12 billion tourism industry.

In 2009, Federal Judge Lacy Thornburg ruled that the TVA should clean up four of its coal-fired plants situated closest to North Carolina’s border. Thornburg found there was insufficient evidence to prove seven other TVA plants located farther from the state were a nuisance.

However, TVA appealed and in 2010 the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Thornburg’s ruling. Cooper was petitioning the Supreme Court to hear the case when TVA agreed to the settlement. The settlement is actually more comprehensive than Judge Thornburg’s initial ruling, impacting 11 TVA plants in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. The settlement calls for TVA to invest between $3 billion and $5 billion in new pollution controls plus invest $350 million in clean energy and efficiency projects.

The impetus for the original lawsuit was North Carolina’s Clean Smokestacks Act, which was signed into law in 2001. This act required utilities operating in the state of North Carolina to reduce emissions. The problem, especially for Western North Carolina (WNC) was that the largest polluters were not in state but rather those coal-fired plants just to our west. Prevailing winds and weather patterns made WNC a toxic dumping ground for these plants, whose emission standards did not come close to those required by N.C.’s Clean Smokestacks Act.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes this settlement could prevent as many 3,000 premature deaths, 2,000 heart attacks and more than 20,000 asthma cases annually. The total savings in annual health costs would be more than $25 billion.

The impact on tourism dollars is hard to quantify, but imagine the Smokies where you could see peaks from horizon to horizon rather than silhouettes shrouded in brown haze, and when you decided to hit the Mt. LeConte trail in July there wouldn’t be “ozone alerts” posted at the trailhead.

I believe it’s important to note this settlement in this political climate when national, state and local leaders cite onerous environmental regulations and call for the dissolution of the EPA and exalt free market capitalism as the solution for any/all environmental, economical and socio-political dilemmas. The truth is that free market capitalism doesn’t care one whit about your health, about your children’s health, about your grandchildren’s health, or about the environmental health of the planet. Free market capitalism cares about the bottom line. And as it is practiced today, capitalism cares only about today’s bottom line, not the bottom line 100 years from now.

So I salute the North Carolina General Assembly that passed the Clean Smokestacks Act and N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper for fighting the good fight, and I hope that my little girls feel the magic of these mountains in their bones the way I do. And that when their children hit the trail to Mt. LeConte, they can breathe in draughts of clean mountain air as they climb.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


That’s bird-Friday of course. And bird-Friday got off to a pretty chilly start.

It was 26 degrees Fahrenheit when I got to Lake Junaluska at around 8:45 a.m. Not much has changed species-wise at the lake for the past couple of weeks or so except the red-heads were gone. At least I didn’t see any Friday. There still were plenty of ring-necked ducks, ruddy ducks, pied-billed grebes and coots. There were a couple of lesser scaup and I also saw one bufflehead, four hooded mergansers, one great blue heron, three horned grebes and one double-crested cormorant. I also found a Cooper’s hawk keeping a close watch on the coots in the little channel between the wetlands and the narrow island. Counting a few passerines, I wound up with 27 species for the hour I spent around Lake J.

Next I headed for Kituwah to get my sparrow fix and see what else I might find. I got to Kituwah around 11 a.m. and it was still cool, mid-30s, but warming nicely. I was greeted at the entrance to Kituwah by an immature red-tailed hawk perched in a small tree. I recorded three red-tails for the morning but suspect there were five. It’s hard to tell after an hour or so if you’re seeing a different hawk or the same one. But I know I saw two adults and at least one immature. I also had one immature red-shouldered hawk near the wetlands.

The railroad track at the entrance also provided one of my target sparrow species as I found three adult white-crowned sparrows. Next, I was treated to a splash of late autumn color when I found four brightly plumaged eastern meadowlarks – their lemon-yellow breasts shining in the morning sun against the short green grass they were foraging in.

Song sparrows were everywhere and field sparrows were fairly common but after nearly an hour I still hadn’t found any white-throated sparrows. When I finally found some white-throateds, I found two groups in proximity that probably had at least 50 birds between them. I didn’t investigate too long because a flash of rufous leaving the cornfields for a nearby woody tangle alerted me to the possibility of another target sparrow. Sure enough, I approached the tangle and pished and up popped three dapper fox sparrows. These large handsome sparrows are one of my favorite winter birds and Kituwah almost always provides a few. There was one other sparrow that I expected to find at Kituwah so I headed to the wetlands and slogged around, much to the chagrin of a great blue heron looking for a meal, in search of swamp sparrows. It was there I stumbled upon the rarest bird of the day. I saw a lot of sparrow activity in a brushy clump at the edge of the soggy area. As I approached to investigate I heard the distinctive, dry double chit or chat call of a sedge wren. I circled the clump about three times from as close as 10 feet, flushing at least a half-dozen song sparrows but never getting a look at the chatterer. I left it chattering and slogged on around the wetlands finally flushing three swamp sparrows.

I wound up with six species of sparrows – song, field, white-throated, white-crowned, fox and swamp and good looks at another one of my favorite winter birds the hermit thrush. The total count for a couple of hours at Kituwah was 36 species. Not a bad B-Friday and I didn’t have to stand in a single line.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Friends of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge just finished waving goodbye to the Navy, its fighters and their outlying landing field only to turn around and see seeds planted that would sprout 500-foot tall wind turbines, each with a blade sweep of about one acre, in almost the same location as the proposed landing field.

The Friends of Pocosin was created in 2008 from the outpouring of grassroots support garnered by North Carolinians Opposing the Outlying Landing Field. One would think it would be simple to rekindle the passions of those myriad and diverse supporters that included individuals, elected officials, town and county governments, hunt clubs, businesses, civic organizations and environmental organizations that faced down the Navy. But there are some wild cards to consider.

One is timing. This industrial wind project dubbed the Pantego Wind Facility is apparently on the fast track. If things click the way corporate interests would like, 49 acres of cuisinart blades could be churning in the skies next to Pocosin Lakes when hundreds of thousands of waterfowl, including about 60 percent of the entire population of tundra swans, return to the area in 2012.

Another factor is marketing. The NAVY is the NAVY, and the Navy is an integral part of the nefarious government and there’s little difficulty in stirring up opposition to almost anything government-related. However, for many in rural eastern North Carolina, Pantego has a nice ring to it. After all Pantego is a small, rural community in Beaufort County with a population of around 170, according to the 2000 census. But what is Pantego Wind Energy LLC? It is a subsidiary of Invenergy, a Chicago-based energy corporation that is one of the five largest (and the No. 1 one independent) owners of wind generation plants in the U.S. This corporation with more than $130 million in assets wants you (and me) to subsidize their Pantego Wind Facility. This might be a good time to interject that there are at least 14,000 abandoned wind projects across the U.S. It seems that after subsidies were exhausted and profits didn’t materialize, these farms were simply abandoned.

So in these money-strapped times Invenergy (AKA Pantego Wind Energy LLC) is intimating that Beaufort County government could see $1 million annually in tax revenue. Plus there would be lease agreements with a few local farmers and after 100 jobs during construction, Invenergy is promising a whopping 5 full-time jobs to tend the turbines. But money is money and according to local news reports Tom Thompson of the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission is already endorsing the plan and Invenergy reports already having signed at least 20 leases with area farmers.

And about all that energy, it’s a drum I intend to keep beating until wind developers and their supporters decide to come clean and be honest with the public. The Pantego projects calls for 49 1.6 MW (megawatts) turbines to be built. They are touting 80 MW of electricity — enough, they say to power 15,000 homes. The fact is, the actual generating capacity will be much closer to 26 MW and perhaps the ability to power 5,000 homes.

Some that helped de-wing the Navy are still on alert. Derb Carter of the North Carolina Office of the Southern Environmental Law Center and Robert Scull of the Cypress Group of the North Carolina Sierra Club spoke out against the proposal at a Nov. 17 meeting of the Utilities Commission in Washington, D.C.

From my point of view, however, we are missing one of the strongest players that took the lead in aborting the Navy’s plans to infringe upon what many biologists and environmentalists call North Carolina’s Serengeti — that part of eastern North Carolina that rivals the majestic migrations of Africa’s Serengeti. Audubon North Carolina (ANC) was at the forefront in protecting Pocosin Lakes and its environs. To date, I have found one mention of ANC’s stance regarding the Pantego facility. It was a very thoughtful and clear pronouncement from ANC’s, Curtis Smalling, Important Bird Areas (IBA) Coordinator (39 of the 49 planned turbines are sited on ANC IBAs). in a brochure from Friends of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The brochure can be seen at

In a kind of summation, Smalling writes: “Area is highly sensitive and if permitting moves forward, the bar must be very high on showing that impacts are minimal, mitigated, and that adaptive management is in place to correct any problems that arise (if the facility makes it to construction).” Searches of ANC’s website and blog site, however, (as of early Nov. 21) made no mention of the Pantego Wind facility.

National Audubon appears to be quite fervent in their support of wind power. But the caveat has been responsible siting. Pocosin Lakes is the perfect place for Audubon to step forward and show unequivocally that their support of wind power does not supersede their support of wildlife, wildlife habitat and wild places.

To find out how you can make your voice heard regarding the Pantego wind project contact Larry Hodges at 252.944.6389 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


I don’t remember exactly what I was doing when he came into the room. It was cool, so I had the small electric heater on and I had some coffee and a snack. I was doing some Internet research, so I had a few web pages open on my browser and I was trying to concentrate, but this thing was big. Big, dirty, smelly and obviously hungry as it lumbered over, slurped my coffee and gulped down three-fourths of my snack. Next, it turned the heater to where I was barely getting any heat at all and somehow plugged into my computer slowing everything down to a crawl.

“Okay, that’s it!” I shouted. “Who are you and what are you doing?”

It turned its big vacant eyes on me and half sneered, half grinned through crooked yellowing teeth and stated matter-of-factly, “I’m POPULATION GROWTH – get used to it.”

A big shout out to Wild South for recently posting this New York Times story (“Breaking a Long Silence on Population Control” by Mireya Navarro) on their website and Facebook page. The article appeared on Oct. 31, a day before baby number 7 billion was predicted to grace the planet.

The article highlights efforts by Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity to try and raise awareness regarding the connections between an increasing world population and an increase in carbon emissions and other environmental degradations such as extinction and loss of habitat. It’s a connection easy enough to see on nearly any level – more human beings on a planet with finite resources equals more resources consumed at a faster rate, which can lead to any number of outcomes like more competition; more conflict; a smaller share of the pie for everyone; less biological diversity; greater disparity between the haves and have-nots; more widespread hunger and/or famine or a combination of any/all of the above. But it’s a connection that requires strong will to broach.

Navarro states, “Major American environmental groups have dodged the subject of population control for decades, wary of getting caught up in the bruising politics of reproductive health.” I would amend that slightly to say the bruising politics and economics of reproductive health, because, face it, what most environmental organizations fear about broaching the over-population issue is losing supporters and donations. While even dyed-in-the-wool conservatives may be enticed to open their checkbook, with pictures of baby seals being clubbed; pictures like the one of author, Monica Drake passing out condoms at a Center for Biological Diversity rally that accompanied Navarro’s New York Times piece would slam those checkbooks shut faster than fruit fly cell division.

Navarro pointed out in her article how difficult it is to get mainstream environmental organizations to talk about population growth. She stated, “Groups contacted for this article generally declined to discuss the issue or did not return calls.” Navarro noted that the president of National Audubon “… declined an interview without explanation.” Other groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Green Group and more either danced around the issue or didn’t reply at all.

It’s an interesting article and can be found in its entirety at There is also a related link – “Room For Debate: Can the Planet Support 10 Billion People?” where you can read some different perspectives regarding population growth from noted researchers – all are informative. You can access that link independently at 05/04/can-the-planet-support-10-billion-people/how-10-billion-can-survive.

I applaud the Center for Biological Diversity for having the political will to address the 500-pound gorilla.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Last Saturday afternoon was a gorgeous autumn afternoon across Western North Carolina. Last Saturday morning, however, when Bob Olthoff and I had a play date to do some birding at Tessentee Bottomland Preserve, it was socked in, cold and damp. Birds were hunkered down and quiet, except for the crows. We still managed a respectable 32 species for the two-and-a-half to three hours we spent there, including great close-up views of an American woodcock and a red-shouldered hawk.

The Tessentee Bottomland Preserve, in southern Macon County along the confluence of Tessentee Creek and the Little Tennessee River is owned and managed by The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee. A recent purchase has expanded Tessentee to 70 acres. Tessentee offers a mixture of habitat including canebrake, wetlands, red cedar savannah, mixed oak/pine forest, brambles, a small area of old oaks and an old homestead. The Preserve is site number 53 in the North Carolina Birding Trail’s Mountain Guide. It offers excellent birding, especially during spring and fall migration and is a great place to go sparrowing in the winter.

We stumbled upon a partially leucistic dark-eyed junco in the woods along the entrance road, just before the old homestead. The plumage was standard junco – gray back and tail with white outer tail coverts – except for the head, which was mostly white with a dark crown and dark smudges on the sides. Dark-eyed juncos are known to hybridize with sparrows like song sparrows and white-throated sparrows and the fact that this bird was alone except for some nearby sparrow companions definitely piques the curiosity. But the fact the rest of the plumage, except for the head, was so typically junco points to leucism. At any rate, the bird didn’t hang around for lengthy observation and from what I saw I’m ticking it off as a leucistic junco.

As we approached the old homestead, some raptor-like movement caught my eye. After scanning the woods near the old home we finally found an immature red-shouldered hawk perched a few feet from the ground, focused intently on a small brush pile. We didn’t want to disturb the bird’s breakfast so we headed down a different trail towards the river.

As I noted earlier, birds were hunkered down and quiet, but if you found a little activity you could generally find and/or entice a mixed flock. After we left the red-shouldered we first heard a towhee, then heard and saw a few Carolina chickadees foraging. We soon realized there were kinglets mixed in – a little pishing and voila, the brambles erupted with white-crowned and song sparrows. A couple of hermit thrushes were also discovered.

And that’s the way the morning went. We would walk along in the fog till a chip note or some movement would alert us and then some investigation and pishing would usually result in flushing a group of birds. At one point on the trail alongside the river we were investigating some movement in a woodpile when a woodcock flushed from next to the trail. It hovered over the trail less than 20 feet from us, giving great views.

We got all the usual sparrows – song, white-throated, white-crowned, junco, field and swamp – except for fox sparrow. I feel sure they were there, they generally are we just didn’t bump into the right group of birds.

By the time we had to leave, almost noon, the sun began to burn away the fog and blue skies began to shine through. At the car we had flyovers by killdeer and common grackles, trying to entice us to stay but commitments beckoned. We will be back, however, and if you’re looking for some good winter birding you should put Tessentee on your list.

To get to Tessentee Bottomland Preserve take Riverside Road off US 23/441, 5.2 miles south of Franklin. Follow Riverside for 0.5 miles to its end. Turn right on Hickory Knoll Road and follow it for 1.8 miles. Turn right at 2249 Hickory Knoll Road. There is a sign on Hickory Knoll Road indicating Tessentee Bottomland Preserve on your right; the red farm gate to the left, as you enter, is the entrance to the property.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


The annual fall hike in the Town of Waynesville’s 9,000-acre watershed took place on Saturday Oct. 29. Around 25 stalwart hikers showed up despite the cold, wet and windy Friday overnight and socked-in, iffy-looking conditions Saturday morning, to see and learn a little about this marvelous resource that the town has preserved through conservation easements.

Dr. Peter Bates, natural resources professor from Western Carolina University, and I led the hike. Bates has been involved with the watershed easements from the beginning and has helped lead a team of biologists and scientists in creating the town’s watershed management plan. I highly recommend that anyone interested in learning about the past and present condition of the watershed landscape and/or the philosophy and science regarding the town’s management plan join one of Bates’ hikes.

For my part, I’m there to try and help people see and appreciate the native flora and fauna of the watershed. My trips are “ambles,” not hikes. We may stop to track down a warbler that sang from the treetops or to examine a wildflower or turn a stone alongside a stream bank to see what we can see.

My group, last Saturday, was shuttled in to where Allen’s Creek empties into the reservoir and hiked back out to the treatment plant. It was a relatively easy, mostly flat (for the mountains) hike of between two to three miles. We were greeted by a few snowflakes at the beginning of the hike, but it was short-lived and the clouds gave way to sunshine. The wind, however, buffeted us most of the day, filling the air with colored leaves. There were a few places during the hike, where we could see the mountaintops, covered in hoar frost and gleaming in the sunlight.

We saw some outstanding fall color up close and were able to gain a little appreciation for the subtle differences that can create dramatic red on one maple and golden yellow on another almost side by side. Most wildflowers were spent but it was easy to identify goldenrod, ladies’ tresses and others by the spent flowers and remaining stems. A few asters were still blooming. We saw heart-leaved aster, white wood aster and one large purple (lavender) aster that I immediately thought was New England aster because of its size but in retrospect could have easily been late purple aster, Aster patens. We also found one lingering gentian.

While there were no binocular-toting birders on the trip, aside from yours truly, there was a general interest. I was surprised at some of the lingering migrants we encountered, including Swainson’s thrush, pine warbler and palm warbler. There was also a group of about a dozen blue-winged teal on the reservoir and the juncos and golden-crowned kinglets had already found their way down to the lower elevations.

Despite the cool temperatures, a little stone turning near one of the creeks in the watershed turned up a two-lined salamander. It’s one that I call Eurycea wilderae, the Blue Ridge two-lined salamander, although, I think the whole group (northern two-lined, southern two-lined and blue ridge two-lined) is still in flux as to what may be species, sub-species, races etc. Another amphibian we encountered was a small (this year’s) American toad.

These watershed hikes are always a wonderful way to get outside. And getting outside in these mountains is always an enjoyable experience. If you are a Waynesville resident, these hikes allow you an up close look at this outstanding resource the town (you) owns. The town is charged with protecting its outstanding water quality and that will always be its focus. The town is also cautiously and carefully exploring the future of this watershed and as an informed and engaged resident of the town of Waynesville you owe it to yourself and future generations to learn about the watershed and be a part of shaping its future.

Now to start rumors, I understand that next spring’s hike may offer a brand new option, but the cat’s still in the bag for now.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Ten years later and one hurdle leapt — there will be more. Last week the 10th U.S. Circuit court of Appeals upheld the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule after the state of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association brought suit claiming the rule was in violation of the law.

The Roadless Rule, which imposed restrictions on logging, mining and road building in roadless areas within our national forests was one of the last hurrahs of the Clinton administration — published in the Federal Register on Jan. 12, 2001. However, soon after George W. Bush was sworn into office Jan. 20, 2001, new White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card issued a memo instructing all cabinet secretaries to delay all last-minute rules and regulations put into place by the Clinton administration.

On May 10, 2001, Federal Judge Edward Lodge issued a preliminary injunction barring the rule from taking affect. Then in a strange turn of events, the Bush administration actually defended the Roadless Rule in August 2002, and in December 2002 a federal appeals court reinstated the rule.

But the ping-pong ball didn’t stop there. In 2004 the Bush administration proposed a new rule to replace the old Roadless Rule, offering governors a petitioning process allowing them to manage roadless areas within their state. Since that time the ping-pong game has raged with various, seemingly conflicting federal court rulings, at times upholding and at times overturning the new Roadless Rule.

In August 2009, the Obama administration, in support of the national roadless rule, appealed a Wyoming Federal District Court ruling. That appeal went to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver and on Oct. 21, the 10th Circuit Court reversed the Wyoming decision.

This decision is certainly great news for wildlands, wild ecosystems, wildlife and the people who support and revere all of the above. And while it is surely a decision to celebrate, it is not the be all, end all. Both the governor of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association are mumbling about an appeal.

There are two things certain. The original Roadless Rule of 2001 was one of the most publicly vetted policy initiatives of all time. There were over 600 public meetings and 1.6 million comments received by the forest service. The next greatest number of public comments for any type of policy initiative was 275,000 in 1998 regarding organic food standards. And of the 1.6 million comments, more than 90 percent favored the rule. So there is little doubt about how the public feels regarding the protection of our wildlands.

The second thing that’s sure is there are plenty of deep pockets that see those wildlands as profit-producing commodities, and deep pockets always seem to have a prominent place at the table when it comes to public policy.

This one is going to the Supreme Court.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


“Mariah blows the stars around

And sends the clouds a’flyin’

Mariah makes the mountains sound

Like folks were up there dying”


We recently spent a weekend on Isle of Palms. When we hit the bridge over Cooper River on the Isle of Palms connector, the wind hit us in the face and it blew every second of every day we were there. And it blew hard and steady, probably 15 to 20 mph on the marsh side of the island and 20 mph plus on the beach. The sand on the beach peppered you like a sand blaster; even kids gave up after 45 minutes or so.

On the marsh side, where we were staying, things weren’t so bad. We didn’t turn the air-conditioning on the whole time we were there — a couple of open windows and/or sliding doors and it was quite comfortable and the sound was soothing. The tall marsh grass waved and bowed before the determined zephyr and birds either spirited past riding the aiding tailwind or rowed vigorously into the crushing headwind.

We went out on the long dock to let the girls do some crabbing — a kind of blue crab catch and release program. At first the blustery embrace was refreshing and welcoming — the warm air pressing against your skin.

But it just never stopped, and it made anything you were doing just a bit more difficult. You couldn’t simply lay the bag of crab bait on the dock — you had to be sure it was anchored down. Almost anything and everything had to be secured if you weren’t holding on to it. One bag got away, but luckily it stuck in the marsh grass not too far out. We sent Izzy out in the kayak to retrieve it. The ebbing tide and constant wind gave her a bit of a workout.

It’s easy to see why humans are so intent on finding effective efficient ways to harness the power of the wind. It is, indeed, a force to be reckoned with.

When I worked offshore it wasn’t uncommon, especially in winter, to see lines of tugs with empty barges lashed together and tied to moorings in the Intracoastal Waterway. They were “wind bound” — meaning the wind made it too difficult for the tugs to maneuver the empty barges. I saw something quite similar on a trip to California in the early 90s — the gale force Santa Annas had miles of 18-wheelers parked (wind bound) along the interstate.

In the simplest sense, wind is air moving from high pressure to lower pressure. In the case of small, strong short-lived systems like thunderstorms the flow of air can be direct from high to low pressure. However, for most large-scale weather patterns the flow is not direct. The rotation of the earth deflects the flow of air to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere, so the wind gets caught up in a circular motion, rotating around the high and/or low pressure areas. The closer the high and low-pressure systems are to each other the stronger the wind.

Like so much in nature, a little bit is a good thing, a light breeze to cool a sweltering summer afternoon or the rustle in the trees outside the bedroom window, but too much of a good thing — like tornadic winds, hurricanes, etc. — can be devastating. And like most impressive aspects of nature, wind can be inspiring:

“Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;

Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!”

—Percy Bysshe Shelley – “Ode to the West Wind”

But the constant wind-blown second by wind-blown second from the other weekend left me thinking more along the lines of Catherine the Great: “A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.”

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturaist. He can be reached This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


How did it get to be October already? Oh well, it’s here and the deep red sourwoods shinning from the road shoulder as we climbed up the Saluda grade on I-26 from one last weekend to the beach, plus pockets of color on distant mountain peaks, said it all – “it’s leaf season.” So, here is a little leaf-season primer.

Where does all that color come from? Well the yellows, orange and golds are produced by carotene (carotin) and xanthophylls. These pigments are present in the leaves already but are masked by the green chlorophyll produced during the growing season.

The red colors are produced a bit differently. The red comes from anthocyanin pigments. Anthocyanins are not present in the leaf during the growing season but are produced at the end of summer in the sap cells present in the leaf. The amount of anthocyanin (red) produced can depend on a lot of different things. One is the species of tree — sourwood, red maple, sugar maple and black gum are some of the trees noted for their red color. But even the genetics of a particular tree can play a large part. It’s not uncommon to see two red maples side by side — one brilliant red and one with splashes of red but lots of yellow. The red one is genetically predisposed to produce more anthocyanin.

And then there’s the weather. The perfect red scenario is bright sunny days — the sunshine aids the production of the sugars in the leaves that produce the anthocyanins — then cold autumn nights, below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, that inhibit the trees from translocating the sugars to the roots, trunk, etc essentially trapping them in the leaves.

While red and sugar maples often produce red fall foliage, striped or mountain maple generally produces golden-yellow. Other trees in the yellow group include birch, tulip poplar, the deciduous magnolias, beech and hickories.

Other factors that play a part in color production include the health and vigor of the particular tree and even the soil type. It’s easy to see how, with all these mitigating factors, each fall is a crapshoot when it comes to color. But weighing heavily in our favor here in Western North Carolina is the diversity, breath and scope of our Southern Appalachian forests. There are more tree species in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park alone than in the whole northern half of the European continent. The diversity of species, the myriad of habitats and the variation in local, microclimates, guarantees that there will be outstanding fall color somewhere, every fall. Of course, under optimal conditions it will be more widespread but as I have said in this column before, “… this October is going to be the best leaf season we’re going to have this year. And don’t be afraid to get out on those drizzly, overcast days.

While we all revel in those bluebird autumn days when we can see multi-colored ridge after multi-colored ridge stretching to the horizon like a rumpled patchwork quilt, clouds and fog can produce their own striking effects.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Acclaimed storyteller and actor Lee Stetson will bring his one-man show on John Muir to Western North Carolina in October. Stetson who was the “voice of John Muir” in Ken Burns’ recent PBS special “The National Parks-America’s Best Idea” has toured throughout the country since the early 1980s bringing Muir and his passion for wilderness to life for a myriad of audiences.

Muir was co-founder of the Sierra Club and an eloquent and persistent voice for the creation of our National Parks System. People often think of the dichotomy of today’s conservation movement between those who see forests as reservoirs of natural resources to be managed for long-term sustainable commercial use and those who see forests in a more holistic ecological sense as living ecosystems with their own inherent value as a “modern” dilemma. But the fact is these two divergent views have existed since the beginning of the conservation movement in the late 1800s. And they were physically embodied in two charismatic and influential individuals of the era — Gifford Pinchot, who became the first head of the U.S. Forest Service, and John Muir, known as the father of our national parks.

Pinchot was a champion of more sustainable, science-based silviculture, but in the end still held the view that “forestry is tree farming.” Muir on the other hand saw forests as “places for rest, inspiration, and prayers.” He had a more personal and spiritual connection with wilderness and wild places and his enthusiasm never waned.

While Muir is primarily known for his work in the Sierra Nevada Range and Yosemite Valley he did travel through other wilderness, including Western North Carolina. Muir walked from Indiana to the Gulf Coast of Florida and wrote about his adventure in book titled A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. In the book, Muir writes, “I have found a multitude of falls and rapids where the wilderness finds a voice. Such a river is the Hiawassee, with its surface broken to a thousand sparkling gems, and its forest walls vine-draped and flowery as Eden. And how fine the songs it sings!”

Stetson regales his audiences with tales about Muir’s boyhood remembrances of flocks of millions of passenger pigeons filling the sky for days and how in his old age he is made aware of Martha, the very last passenger pigeon, held captive at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Stetson, as Muir, will tell the story of getting lost in a snowstorm on an Alaska glacier with his canine companion, Stickeen.

Stetson will be bringing Muir to life Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Asheville Community Theatre, sponsored by the Western North Carolina Alliance. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door, $20 for WNCA members and $12 for attendees under 18. For more info see

The next evening, Oct. 15, Friends of the Smokies will present Stetson at Haywood Community College’s Beall Auditorium at 7 p.m. Tickets for the event are: advance $23, door $27, Friends of the Smokies members $20, and students $15. Tickets may be purchased at Blue Ridge Books, 152 S Main St, Waynesville; by calling 828.452.0720; or online at

Proceeds from the Haywood show will benefit Trails Forever and other Great Smoky Mountains National Park projects.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


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At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.