Don Hendershot

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Correction: Last week’s story regarding the Balsam CBC stated that dinner after the count would be at the Sagebrush. Wrong! The fine people at Bocelli’s will graciously be putting up with a bunch of tired, noisy birders.

This year is winding up just like last year began — cold and snowy. An early Naturalist’s Corner from last January was “Birrrrrding the big chill.”

“The annual Balsam Christmas Bird Count was scheduled for last Saturday (Jan. 2). However, scary weather conditions — snow, high winds and temperatures in the low teens — especially in the northern count area, caused the count to be canceled.”

The weather for this year’s count on Jan. 1 looks to be much better — chance of rain but temps in the 50s.

Snow continued to be a theme through last winter with one of my favorite columns — learning about diamond dust — “A snowflake by any other name.” And February’s “Snow Day.”

March noted a mature bald eagle that spent a month or so hanging around Lake Junaluska plus a head’s up regarding White Nose Syndrome (a fungus that is decimating bat populations) inching closer to the state.

April’s Earth Day Naturalist’s Corner highlighted an article written by Waynesville half-timer Chuck Dayton. “It is a great read by one who was inspired by Earth Day and dedicated his career to the environment.”

The column is still online at

May found, “Murky waters — Louisiana in limbo.” “The giant oil slick (reported to be the size of Puerto Rico) sliding around in the Gulf of Mexico like bacon grease on a George Foreman grill tied to the back of an alligator is once again sliming its way toward a Louisiana landfall.”

June provided a great trip with my then 4-year-old daughter Maddie. We discovered “A kaleidoscope adventure” at Harmon’s Den. We found at least seven species of butterflies (in good numbers) all puddling together.

During our annual July Fourth trip to Rock Hill to visit my sister, my family and I stumbled onto Glencairn Gardens and prompted this column “Green spaces — good places.”

“When we entered Glencairn, we walked into a space that was clearly 6 to 8 degrees cooler than the heat that was building along the asphalt and concrete of downtown. The air was fresher — green plants are amazing air purifiers and there was even a calming noise reduction from the nearby thoroughfares. Some environmental benefits of urban green spaces include enhanced public health, wildlife sanctuary, pollution mitigation, storm runoff reduction, environmental education and community building.”

September brought mixed emotions with “North Carolina’s loss — Louisiana’s gain” as Chris Canfield, executive director of Audubon North Carolina stepped down to become Vice President, Gulf of Mexico Conservation and Restoration to help with the work of restoring and protecting Gulf of Mexico habitat and wildlife in the wake of BP’s massive oil spill.

November brought news of the impending protection of 8,000 acres in Transylvania County as the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and partners worked to broker a deal with former congressman Charles Taylor to purchase the East Fork Headwaters tract.

A December e-mail from Ida Phillips of Audubon North Carolina noted that a generous donation from Fred and Alice Stanback had made possible the protection of Lea Island, one of North Carolina’s barrier islands. That news prompted “a heartfelt thanks to the Stanbacks.”

“Fred and Alice Stanback have been instrumental in preserving tracts like Needmore, Mount Lyn Lowry, Lands Creek Watershed, Chimney Rock, Jocassee Gorges, the East Fork Headwaters tract and so many more. They have donated to organizations like Friends of The Smokies, the American Chestnut Foundation and National Parks and Conservation Association just to name a few.”

Now, let me close that window — the snow is blowing in again and who knows what will blow through in 2011?

Happy New Year!

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


The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) recently protected Blackrock Ridge in northern Jackson County, a striking and important component of the Plott Balsam Mountains. The Plott Balsams, which reach 6,000 feet in elevation, tower above Waynesville, Sylva and Cherokee. Blackrock Ridge is a 60-acre parcel just a little south and west of Waterrock Knob, which is located at milepost 451.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Blackrock Ridge lies within the Yellow Face/Blackrock Mountain State Natural Heritage Area and Audubon North Carolina’s Plott Balsams Important Bird Area. The tract ascends Blackrock Mountain where it adjoins The Nature Conservancy’s 1,595-acre Plott Balsam Preserve.

According to Jay Leutze, SAHC trustee, the organization had been negotiating with the landowner when it learned the property was going to be auctioned.

“We had five days to raise donor funds,” Leutze said. “We’re fortunate — we don’t have a lot of bureaucracy — and we can be pretty nimble,” he said. SAHC was nimble enough to be high bidder and purchased the tract for around $110,000.

The tract is located near the newly created Pinnacle Park (Sylva’s old watershed), and trails maintained by natural resources students from Western Carolina University link the Blackrock Tract and Pinnacle Park.

Leutze said SAHC was extremely happy to be able to preserve the Blackrock tract. “It’s in a larger assemblage of private tracts and would have surely been developed,” he said.



The proximity to thousands of acres of already protected wilderness makes the tract important as a wildlife corridor. Blackrock Ridge attains an elevation of 5,600 feet, making it an ideal habitat for high-elevation species like the endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel. According to Leutze, Carolina northern flying squirrels have been documented on The Nature Conservancy’s Plott Balsam Preserve and the protection of this tract will add further protection and preserve more suitable habitat for the endangered flying squirrel.

Protection of the tract also helps preserve the cultural heritage of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who have strong ties to the craggy peaks of the Plott Balsams.


A nice fit

Leutze said that SAHC breaks the regional landscape up into “focus areas.”

“This allows us to focus on who would be likely partners and where to find likely donors for particular projects,” he said Blackrock Ridge falls within SAHC’s “Smoky Mountains Focus Area.”

“The Smoky Mountains Focus Area, of course, includes efforts to try and help buffer the Park [Great Smoky Mountains National Park] but it also provides the opportunity to try and protect outstanding high-elevation sites like this one that don’t have a lot of protection,” he said.

And parcels that help protect the integrity of the Blue Ridge Parkway viewshed help protect the goose that lays the golden egg.

“A 2007-2008 study noted that 90 percent of the visitors that come to the Blue Ridge Parkway come for the view,” said Carolyn Ward, the new head of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation (BRPF).

That translates into about $2.3 billion for communities adjacent to the Parkway.

“Those of us who live in the area know the value of protecting our natural resources and anytime we can add land, whether by purchase or by an easement, it helps protect that resource,” said Ward.

Ward said that the one of the BRPF’s projects for 2011 would be to help design guidelines for protecting viewsheds along the scenic byway that celebrated its 75th birthday in 2010.

Ward said the foundation would not only focus on the technical aspects and/or options for protecting tracts of land that would be useful to landowners and organizations and agencies but also work on outreach and education for residents to help them see the incredible value of the resource.

“Protecting our viewsheds is critical,” she said.



About SAHC

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy — headquartered in Asheville — is one of the oldest land trusts in the country.

SAHC was founded in 1974 and works to conserve the unique plant and animal habitat, clean water, local farmland and scenic beauty of the mountains of North Carolina and east Tennessee for the benefit of present and future generations. SAHC achieves this by forging and maintaining conservation relationships with landowners and public agencies, owning and managing land, and working with communities to accomplish their conservation objectives.

SAHC’s flagship project is protecting the Highlands of Roan in Mitchell and Avery counties North Carolina and in Carter County in Tennessee. But its focus areas include the Smoky Mountains, Newfound and Walnut Mountains, Pisgah Ridge and Balsam Mountains, Black Mountains and the Mountains of East Tennessee.

To learn more about the SAHC visit


Don’t worry, PUFIs won’t harm you. They won’t even take you up to the mothership to probe and prod you and send you home with nothing but a vague recollection of bluish lights and otherworldly mutterings. PUFI is simply bird-nerd speak for purple finch.

This “sparrow dipped in raspberry juice,” as described by Roger Tory Peterson, nests primarily in coniferous and mixed woodlands across Canada from British Columbia to Newfoundland and down both coasts to California in the west and New England to Minnesota and West Virginia in the east.

The purple finch is an erratic short-distance migrant, generally following the availability of cone crops. Conventional thinking is that the finches that breed farther south like New England and California, etc. remain in the same region year round, while the more northerly nesters are the ones likely to show up at our feeders and feeders across the South to the Mexican border in the winter.

The PUFI is sparrow-sized (5 to 6 inches) and weighs about 1 to 1.5 ounces. The male is the raspberry dipped one. It has a reddish (raspberry) head and breast with red mixed with brown on the back. It also shows red along the sides of the breast with a whitish belly. The male shows a dark ear patch under the red and also a dark malar (throat) streak. Females are brown and white with dark coarse streaking on breast and flanks. They show a whitish eye stripe, dark ear patch and dark malar. Both sexes have deeply notched tails.

There are two subspecies of purple finches — eastern, Carpodacus purpureus and western, Carpodacus p. californicus. The primary measurable difference between the two is that the western PUFI has a longer tail and shorter wings. In the field, the eastern PUFI male is brighter (rosier) and the eastern female is crisply brown and white with distinct dark streaking on the breast while the western female has a greenish-yellow tinge and more faded-looking breast streaks. There are also slight differences in the vocalizations.

The bird in this area most likely to be confused with the purple finch is the house finch. The house finch, which was originally a western species, was introduced to the east in the 1940s when a few captive birds were released on Long Island. They are now quite common from Canada to Louisiana. And if you see a reddish finch at your feeders in the summer it almost certainly is a house finch, as they nest in the area.

The red of the male house finch ranges from orange to reddish-orange — it’s not the rosy (raspberry) of the purple finch. The red of the house finch is not as extensive on the back of the head as it is on the purple finch, plus the house finch lacks the dark face pattern of the purple finch and it has heavily streaked flanks not present on the male purple finch.

The female house finch has a plain brown or grayish-brown head, lacking the bold face pattern of the female purple finch. And it has blurry streaks on a dingy breast unlike the contrast of the dark streaks on the white breast of the purple finch.

House finches appear to supplant purple finches where the two species are found together. Purple finch populations don’t appear to be in peril but their numbers do appear to be dropping in the East as house finch numbers increase.

There are “murders” of crows and “gaggles” of geese and a group of finches is known as a “charm,” “company” or “trembling.” My charm of around 20 PUFIs really set my feeders trembling with all their company.

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


Tis the season to be counting.

The National Audubon Society’s century-old citizen-science prototype — the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) — began Dec. 14 and will run through Jan. 5, 2011. Area birders will join forces with counters across the state and nation and around the world gathering data that allows scientists to study long-term population trends of bird species.


Balsam CBC

The local Balsam CBC, which includes Waynesville and its surroundings, will be held New Year’s Day. According to count originator and compiler, Bob Olthoff, the Balsam CBC originated in 2003. Last year’s count had to be cancelled because of nasty weather, so this will be the eighth Balsam CBC.

All CBCs are set up the same way. A count circle 15 miles in diameter is established and birders attempt to identify and count every species of bird encountered on count day. Once a circle is established, the idea is to maintain (for scientific data consistency) that particular circle as long as possible.

The Los Angeles CBC, established in the 1930s, claims to be the longest running CBC in the country. Some birders are up in the pre-dawn blackness or count into the night to try and locate owls and other nocturnal species.

The center of the Balsam CBC circle is near Barber’s Orchard. It extends eastward to just across the Old Asheville Highway and the Mountain Research Station (Test Farm.) It extends westward to Balsam Mountain Preserve in Jackson County. And it runs from Cataloochee Ranch and Soco Gap in the north to Lake Logan in the south.

The Balsam circle — like most count circles — is further subdivided into sections, and different groups of birders are responsible for the different sections. The two most productive sections in the Balsam circle, according to Olthoff, are the Lake Logan section — which includes the Mountain Research Station — and the Lake Junaluska section.


Hits and misses

Birders are always looking for that rare find. While CBCs are confined to one winter’s day with common winter residents making up the bulk of species, rarities are often discovered.

“A yellow-headed blackbird has got to be the best bird we’ve had so far,” Olthoff said.

The yellow-headed blackbird was discovered during the 2006 count at the Mountain Research Station in a mixed flock of blackbirds, cowbirds and starlings. Thanks to a digital camera carried by Wayne Forsythe, the bird was photographed so there could be no question about the ID.

The yellow-headed blackbird generally nests from western and central Canada, east to the Great Lakes and south to northern Baja, Calif., and Arizona. It is a neotropical migrant and winters from the southwestern U.S. to Costa Rica. The bird is a bit of a wanderer and is found as a rare spring and fall migrant throughout the eastern U.S.

According to Olthoff, the last seven counts have produced five species of warblers. Yellow-rumped warblers overwinter in the area and have been on every count but the other four species are rare finds in the mountains in the winter. They include common yellowthroat, orange-crowned, pine and palm warblers.

But misses can sometimes be as intriguing as rarities. “In ’07, we didn’t have a single robin or cedar waxwing,” Olthoff said. He said that other counts in the area had similar results that year, “they either missed completely or had substantially reduced numbers.”

Olthoff said the average number of species recorded on the Balsam CBC is 73. “We’ve had 77 on two different counts and 63 on our first count, was the fewest,” he said.


Other mountain counts

Olthoff — who has participated in at least 100 CBCs, most in his native New Jersey — noted that 73 species was a good total for mountain CBCs in North Carolina. He attributed the number to diverse habitat. He said that having Lake Junaluska, Lake Logan and the Waynesville reservoir in the mix added waterfowl species that other mountain counts might not have. It’s not uncommon for the Balsam count to produce 10-12 species of waterfowl. A mixture of farmland, urban and suburban landscape and forests ensure that the count is representative of the types of habitat found in the area.

Other mountain CBCs aren’t as fortunate to have as many diverse habitats. Species’ numbers may decline from year to year, but the commitment and enthusiasm of the counters don’t. The Highlands Plateau Audubon Chapter had its CBC on Dec. 17. The Highlands count was also cancelled last year due to weather, and compiler Brock Hutchins said that while this year’s conditions were less than optimal, four brave souls bucked the elements to carry on the CBC tradition. Hutchins said that Cynthia Strain, Avery Doubleday, Mike Kaiser and he spent the morning surveying as much of the circle as they could.

“The back roads were still covered with ice and slush,” Hutchins said, but the group managed to record 37 species and 522 total birds.

Strain said that some of the roads in her section were “solid ice,” but said they were happy to record belted kingfisher, winter wren and brown thrasher.

Curtis Smalling is Audubon North Carolina’s Important Bird Area Coordinator and compiler for the Grandfather Mountain CBC.  

“This is one of the highest average elevation count circles in the mountains, and we often see frozen ponds and lakes, as well as snow and wind,” he said.  “Because of the high elevations and extreme weather we usually only average about 45 species, which is often the lowest species total in the state. But we take pride in the fact that we still get out there and see what is around.”


Why count birdies when it’s cold outside?

Olthoff said that the citizen-science aspect resonates with him.

“It’s important,” he said. “By keeping consistent data year after year it’s possible to get an idea about overall population trends.”

He believes that CBC data has helped document increases in eastern populations of hooded mergansers while noting decreases in American kestrels.

Olthoff also believes that because CBCs are so open and encourage everyone to participate that they are great ways to get people involved in the natural environment.

“The Balsam CBC is a great way to greet the New Year,” he said.

Olthoff believes the CBC offers a great way for people to become educated about and become involved in protecting the local environment.

Strain agreed and said that newcomers shouldn’t be intimidated.

“There’s always something you can do,” she said, “you can drive, you can record species, you can count – and the whole time you’re learning.”

Plus it’s a good time.

“The camaraderie and support are great,” Olthoff said.

The Balsam count ends with dinner at Bocelli's in Waynesville where counters tally their checklists and swap lies about the day’s events.

It may not be the best science, but it’s the best aspect of science where citizens get to participate in a meaningful way. Anyone who would like to participate in this year’s Balsam CBC can call Bob Olthoff at 828.506.9308 or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


I received an email last week from Ida Phillips, communications director for Audubon North Carolina, announcing that Lea Island, a barrier island in Pender County was close to being permanently protected:

“One of the last undeveloped barrier islands in North Carolina is one step closer to permanent protection. Thanks to a generous donation from Fred and Alice Stanback, Audubon North Carolina has purchased a 35.7-acre tract on Lea Island, an undisturbed barrier island in Pender County.

The nonprofit organization purchased the property in a bargain sale from James Johnson of Coastland Corporation. The island is one of the most important havens for shorebirds and waterbirds in North Carolina, as well as an important nesting site for federally threatened loggerhead sea turtles. Audubon North Carolina will manage the tract as part of its coastal sanctuary system, which comprises 19 other island and inlet bird habitats along the coast.”

This is certainly wonderful news. Wonderful news for shorebirds and all the other marine and estuarine plants and animals that depend on barrier islands like Lea Island for their very existence. And it’s wonderful news for all outdoors men and women (and hopefully children) who yearn for and need unfettered open spaces with nature at their fingertips to be whole. And it’s wonderful news for all the people at Audubon North Carolina and other organizations around the world that have turned their avocation for clean air and water and wild places into the vocation of protecting and/or enhancing such places and attributes for all of us.

A few words from Ida’s announcement jumped right out at me – “Thanks to a generous donation from Fred and Alice Stanback …”

I can’t begin to count the number of times since I began writing about the environment that I have seen, heard, read or even written that same or a very similar statement.

There is no way for me to list here all the purchases, easements, initiatives, programs and/or organizations that have benefited from the Stanback’s unsurpassed generosity and unflinching commitment to the health and well being of the Old North State’s people and places. The Stanback’s son Brad and his wife Shelli are also well-known philanthropists working to protect North Carolina’s environment.

Just take a quick look around Western North Carolina and you can see some prime examples of the Stanback’s generosity. Fred and Alice Stanback have been instrumental in preserving tracts like Needmore, Mount Lyn Lowry, Lands Creek Watershed, Chimney Rock, Jocassee Gorges, the East Fork Headwaters tract and so many more. They have donated to organizations like Friends of The Smokies, the American Chestnut Foundation and National Parks and Conservation Association just to name a few.

Brad and Shelli Stanback were instrumental in preserving Canton’s Rough Creek Watershed and Little Sandy Mush Bald and they continue working with area environmental organizations.

If North Carolina ever snaps back from the headaches of urbanization, commercialization, industrialization, corporatization, etc. it will be due, in a large part, to the vision, commitment and dedication of the Stanbacks.

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


A recent program brought together business owners and outdoor enthusiasts who shared a common desire — to promote birding while also taking advantage of its potential economic impact

Rob Hawk, the new Jackson and Swain County extension director for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, presented a program on birder friendly businesses and communities at the Balsam Mountain Inn last Thursday, Dec. 9. Participants included interested citizens, community organizers and businessmen and women.

“It was a good program. I think it was a good way to get resources moving in the right direction,” said Andy Zivinsky and Diane Cutler, owners of Bryson City Bicycles.

Zivinsky said that most of the clientele at Bryson City Bicycles were outdoor enthusiasts and that he believes many would enjoy learning about birding opportunities in the area.

“We’re both birders and we’re outdoors a lot, and I feel like we could point interested bikers in the right direction.”

He said they had even considered outfitting bikes with birding gear or a place to carry birding gear. Zivinsky said that there were great Forest Service roads out there for birding and that biking would be a great way to cover them.

“It’s a lot easier than walking,” he said.


The program

The Birder Friendly Business & Birder Friendly Community programs were created and designed to work in tandem with the North Carolina Birding Trail. Work on the NCBT began in 2003. The trail is presented in a series of three trail guides — the Coastal Guide, The Piedmont Guide and the Mountain Guide.

These guides are great ways for local birders and tourists to find great birding opportunities across the state, from the Outer Banks to the mountaintops of Western North Carolina. The guides provide maps, site descriptions, species list and nearby accommodations and attractions.

Part of the mission of the NCBT is, “To conserve and enhance North Carolina’s bird habitat by promoting sustainable bird-watching activities, economic opportunities and conservation education.” The Birder Friendly programs were designed to help fulfill that mission.

Lena Gallitano, who is retired from N.C. State University, and Dr. Stacy Tomas of N.C. State developed the program and taught training seminars across the state until their funding ran out in 2008. Hawk co-facilitated some of the programs in the western part of the state with Gallitano.

Gallitano said she was happy that Hawk had decided to continue to work to expand the birder friendly concept in the mountains. She said she felt like the mountain region had embraced the concept better than other areas of the state.

Hawk said that while he was introduced to the birder friendly concept in his old role as community resource development agent, he thought it was a perfect fit for his new position as Extension Director in Jackson and Swain counties. He said that he hopes the program allows people to look at the landscape in a different way and learn to appreciate and understand the resources that are already here.

Gallitano and Hawk both noted that while the program was geared to mesh with the birding trail the overarching theme of the program is nature tourism in general and birding in particular. Gallitano said that the NCBT guide series is probably the most extensive list of public and private sites across the state for wildlife watching.

And Hawk said that his role as Extension Director was to encourage the wise use and the appreciation of all the natural resources across the region.


Putting the theory into practice

David Stubbs, the owner of The Waynesville Inn, was also present at last Thursday’s meeting. Stubbs said he was interested in attending the program to help the Inn focus its marketing strategy.

“We are trying to cater to people who are already interested in the natural beauty of the area and want to sustain that, and birding fits nicely into that concept,” said Stubbs.

He said Hawk’s program helped him learn about who birders are and what their needs and wants are and how to meet them. He said the Inn was currently working on it’s marketing and packages for next season and that the birding community was already a part of that dialogue.

He said that planning was in its “infancy stage,” but that guests might see some sort of birder packages and programs.



Why entice birders?

• A 2007 National Survey on Recreation and the Environment noted that 81.1 million Americans participate in some form of birding activity.

• A 2006 U.S. Fish & Wildlife study reported that Americans spent nearly $45 billion in 2006 on bird-related activities.

• A 2006 U.S. Census Bureau survey noted that 71 million people spent more than $44 billion across the country in activities related to feeding and/or watching birds and other wildlife.

• North Carolina reported that 2.6 million wildlife watchers in the state spent $916 million.

• According to a North Dakota Division of Tourism report more than 22 million Americans travel each year to observe, photograph and/or study birds. More than $38 billion are spent each year in these endeavors. The report notes that bird-based tourism in Texas and Florida generates approximately $540 million and $943 million, respectively, each year.

• A study done on the economic impact of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail in 1999 noted that birders spent an average of $78.50 per person per day while on the trail.


A spin around Lake Junaluska the other day (12/2) turned up another unusual winter visitor plus highlighted the foibles and frustrations sometimes associated with birding.

I had finished a quick check of the new wetlands and was headed back to my truck when I noticed a stranger among the resident gaggle of domestic greylag geese. The stranger was white with black wingtips, so snow goose immediately came to mind. The size difference between the visitor and greylags was pronounced — making me think this visitor was a very small goose — therefore a Ross’s.

The Ross’s, Chen rossii, is a small (23 inches) goose that looks for the most part like a miniature version of the snow goose. It comes in two color phases, like the snow goose — one, white with black wingtips and the other, a dark or “blue” phase. The main difference between the two species other than size is head and bill shape and/or features.

The Ross’s has a rounded head and short bill. The base of the bill — where it meets the bird’s face — is straight. And the Ross’s has little or no “grin patch.” The grin patch is the black serrated edge of the bill, prominent in snow geese that make the bird look like it’s grinning. This grin patch or serrated edge is highly developed in snow geese and enables them to saw off tough marsh grasses and sedges.

The snow goose (both subspecies lesser, Anser caerulescens caerulescens and greater, Anser caerulescens atlantica), besides having a prominent grin patch, has a longer bill with a more wedge-shaped head. And the area where the beak meets the face is curved outward, away from the eye. It’s not a straight edge like in the Ross’s.


Birding foibles 101

I looked no further than the obvious white-morph snow goose form and size discrepancy between the visitor and its greylag hosts. Not wanting to spook the bird, I returned to my truck and called a friend to say I had just found a Ross’s goose at the lake. My friend was running errands and we made a date to meet back at the lake.

When I got to the lake, my friend was there with his scope watching the goose and concurred that it was a Ross’s. The gaggle had taken to the water and once again it was easy to see the major size discrepancy. We chatted about what else was around the lake and watched as the birds swam a little closer. When I looked through my binoculars at the little fella, I noticed a grin patch. I mentioned it, but didn’t think much about it and I hit the road.

But that grin patch kept bugging me. I came home, looked online at some photos and looked on page 79 of my copy of The Sibley Guide to Birds, where he illustrates the head pattern of a Ross’s, a Ross’s X lesser snow, a lesser snow and a greater snow. I realized I had shot from the hip and needed to get a better look at that bird.

Friday morning I headed for the lake. I called my friend to say I had questions. Turned out, I wasn’t the only one.

A couple of other experienced birders had a similar experience; one, immediately identifying the visitor as a Ross’s because of the comparative size difference; then, with longer looks, especially focusing on the head, questioning that ID.

So Friday morning, the four of us with binoculars a field guide and photos were standing there within 100 feet of the bird. The one consensus was that the head was definitely snow goose. I and one other birder (I think) are mostly convinced that the bird is a lesser snow. One, I believe, was as of Friday, leaning towards greater snow and the other was still having trouble committing.

What threw us all initially was the size discrepancy. But what we failed to take into account is the fact that greylags are giants of the goose world and those domestics are probably large greylags.

As large as greylags are, I don’t think they would dwarf a greater snow goose (listed at 31 inches in my Sibley guide) the way they dwarf this bird. But I would think a Ross’s X lesser snow’s head would have intermediate characteristics like Sibley depicts — this goose’s head looked all snow to me — so I’m left with a small (probably female) lesser snow goose.

Now birders of varying skill levels can get a seconds-long glimpse of a black and white bird in a swamp and never see it again and be 100 percent sure they’ve seen an ivory-billed woodpecker. While four “fairly” experienced birders with a cooperative subject and time to study are still left with “in my opinion.”

Ain’t birding a hoot?

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


The Cataloochee Ski Patrol began in 1961 as a group of friends who enjoyed skiing at the new Cataloochee Ski Hill, the first ski area to open south of Pennsylvania. As Cataloochee Ski Area grew and became more popular, it’s Ski Patrol grew and became more professional.

Today’s Cataloochee Ski Patrol is still a group of friends who love skiing on the local mountain, but their numbers have grown to more than 100 counting paid staffers and volunteers. And they are all highly trained professionals with a minimum of 80 hours of Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) training.

According to Wayne Morgan, director of Cataloochee’s Ski Patrol for the past seven years, OEC is a worldwide standard established and regulated by the National Ski Patrol. The National Ski Patrol system is composed of more than 625 patrols with more than 26,000 members across the U.S., Asia and Europe.

“That standard is the same across the board,” Morgan said.

Dan Greene, the representative for Cataloochee Ski Patrol volunteers, said the OEC program is designed “to prepare individuals from all walks of life and all backgrounds from the high school graduate to the PhD to work side by side providing the same level of care.”

ALSO READ: Cataloochee’s 50th season off to a great white start


Slope safety

“The focus of Ski Patrol is safety on the slope,” Morgan said. And that begins with the slope itself.

“We survey the slope for any kind of hazards that might be a danger to skiers,” he said. That could be anything from holes to ridges that develop that could bump skiers into a different flow of traffic to snowmaking equipment.

“North Carolina law mandates that all snowmaking equipment be marked, so we flag all the equipment plus any other hazards we see,” Morgan said.

“We are most visible in that we provide rescue and first aid,” said Greene. “That’s what Ski Patrol is known for. But the overarching principle is safety on the course, whether it’s the slope itself or skiers on the slope.”

“We don’t like being policemen, but it’s part of the job,” Morgan said. “We try to be proactive, rather than reactive,” he said, but still it’s a tough job.

“Face it,” Greene said, “we’re dealing with a public that doesn’t necessarily show a lot of common sense all the time.”

Morgan said that how Ski Patrol is perceived on the slope usually has to do with the attitude of the skier. “If we see people doing unsafe things and have to intervene, they may not be happy to see us.

“I’ve been on the slope slowing people down, and I’ll have some people cussing me and some will stop and pat me on the back and say thanks — good job — we’re glad you’re out here,” Morgan said.


The job

The basic training to become a patroller begins with OEC training.

“That course is usually between 80 and 110 hours and begins in the summer,” Morgan said. “OEC test are given the first or second week in November.”

Morgan said that one of obstacles the National Ski Patrol’s Southern Division has is finding competent skiers. The Southern Division runs from West Virginia to Alabama and includes Cataloochee, Beech Mountain, Ober Gatlinburg, Wolf Ridge, Wintergreen, Massanutten, Appalachian, Sugar Mountain and other southern ski areas.

“Here in the Southern Division we have smaller mountains and we don’t have that real skier mentality. Great skiers don’t flock here, like they do at Vail or Whistler to join the Ski Patrol. So we’ve created a ski school in our division and each slope has at least one PSIA [Professional Ski Instructors of America] certified instructor. We’re really fortunate here at Cataloochee. Our guys are really enthused and we have about 10 PSIA instructors on our patrol.”

After a Ski Patrol candidate has successfully completed OEC training, they must pass a basic ski and toboggan course (S&T) to become a basic patroller.

“The toboggan is basically a stretcher or litter on a sled, designed to transport an injured person off the hill,” said Greene. “There are very specific skills required to handle them.”

Morgan said Cataloochee has about a dozen toboggans that ski patrol stashes at strategic points along the slopes so that they will be accessible in an emergency.

“To become a basic patroller, a candidate must pass an S&T test on the hardest slope at his area,” said Morgan. “To progress to a senior patroller, the basic patroller must pass an S&T test on the toughest slope in their region. Our senior patrollers have to pass their test on Mogul Ridge at Ober Gatlinburg.”

And the rigors only get tougher to become certified in S&T. According to Morgan, of the more than 26,000 members of the National Ski Patrol there are only about 7,000 who are certified in S&T.

But that doesn’t mean your care is compromised. The ski patrol candidate has the same OEC skills as the certified patroller.

“As your level increases from candidate, to basic, to senior patroller you acquire more and better management skills regarding multiple traumas and managing an accident scene but OEC is OEC,” Morgan said.

“We’re somewhere between a wilderness responder and a paramedic. We have victims in a hostile environment and we have to stabilize them and get them out of that environment, then assess the injury and decide the proper course of action.”

And every patroller is trained to do that whether he is a candidate or certified said Morgan.

All National Ski Patrol members have to renew their certification every three years. Their continuing education is done once a year and the course topics and structure is mandated by the National Ski Patrol so that any patroller could walk into a course anywhere and get the credit needed for that year.

Morgan said that during the week he generally had five or six patrollers on the slope. On the weekends ski patrol duties generally fall to Greene’s volunteers and because of the extended hours they run two shifts and generally have between eight and 10 patrollers on the slope.


The volunteers

This is Dan Greene’s first year as patrol representative, but he has more than 20 years experience as a patroller. Volunteers have to pass the same tests and meet the same requirements as paid patrollers, they are just rewarded in a different way — free skiing. According to Greene all volunteers have a set rotation that they are required to fill, but other than that they ski at any time.

“They can also patrol at any time and there are added benefits to putting in more hours. The management here is very generous and we get rewarded with complimentary tickets,” Greene said.

For Greene, who lives in Atlanta, it’s the love of the sport.

“I do a lot of volunteering in other areas as well, but I love to ski. I love the sport. It’s something my family and I have enjoyed for years, and I see this as a way of giving back to the sport. And, selfishly, it gives me a reason to come up here and play in the snow.”


Got what it takes?

If you are interested in becoming a ski patroller you can visit Cataloochee’s website at or contact Wayne Morgan by phone at 828.926.0285, ext. 316 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Morgan notes that there are other benefits to becoming OEC certified.

“I was able to use my OEC certification to work the Olympics in Atlanta,” he said. He also noted that many rafting companies were adopting OEC as their standard of care and venues like Asheville’s mountain sports festival and area mountain bike races welcomed volunteers with OEC certification.


I mean, where would you hang a tire swing if there were no trees? How could you lay back and watch the sky rock back and forth filling the jigsaw spaces between the leaves with ever-changing bits of sky and cloud? Or, how could you reach that cool deep hole in the middle of the bayou without a rope tied to a friendly, strong furrowed arm reaching out over the water?

Sure, trees provide an array of environmental benefits. They help provide clean air and water plus they provide food and shelter for a host of different species of wildlife. But trees are more than that — trees have soul.

Huge water oaks, Quercus nigra, were dominant across the landscape of Mer Rouge, the tiny farming community in northeastern Louisiana, where I grew up. So notable they were that they inspired Mer Rouge High’s alma mater — “Through the stately oaks we glimpse …”

In the yard of the ramshackle shotgun house that was home, there were three of these behemoths. They were home to fox squirrels, raucous red-headed woodpeckers and barred owls. Colorful Baltimore orioles would weave their intricate basket-nests near the tips of the high branches in summer. And on those hot July and August afternoons they would plop huge cool shadows down to play catch in.

And trees can be so enduring. Methuselah is a 4,841-year-old bristlecone pine living in the White Mountains of California. Methuselah’s location is kept secret so it doesn’t suffer the same fate as an even older cousin, Prometheus, who was cut down in 1964.

These elders live all around the world. Sarv-e Abarqu, a 4,000-year-old cypress tree in Iran is thought to be the oldest living organism in Asia. A 4,000-year-old yew graces the churchyard of St. Dygain’s

Church in Wales and in Florida there is a 3,500-year-old bald cypress, The Senator, thought to be the oldest of its species.

And these are living organisms produced from a single seed, or in tree language — non-clonal. Clonal trees are those species that sprout stems or trunks from a common rootstock like willows, aspens and others. The rootstock from some clonal tree species is believed to be hundreds of thousands of years old. One colony of Aspens, named Pando, from the Fishlake National Forest in Utah is listed as anywhere from 80,000 to 800,000 years old.

And because trees move us so:


“Why are there trees I never walk under but large and

melodious thoughts descend upon me?”

— Walt Whitman


It is often sad to think about the shortsighted way our ancestors fell upon the forests of this continent with axe and saw obliterating thousands of years of history in a few hours.

But because trees move us so:


Lovely, glistening, green, swaying back and forth.

Flowers blossoming in the spring.

Horses nibbling on the bark.

Bugs feasting on the leaves.

Leaves whispering to the wind,

dancing in the sun.

Reaching to the sky.

My favorite tree.

— Melissa, age 10


There’s promise that with foresight, children will sit beneath trees a thousand years old that Melissa wrote about as a child.


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


Putting all of Ed Kelley’s interests in separate, tidy little boxes just doesn’t work.

There’s no way to separate Ed from Ed’s photography; or Ed’s photography from nature; or nature from Ed’s philosophy. There is also Ed Kelley the artist, the musician, the businessman, the husband, the father and the hiker.

When you approach one you get them all – not wrapped into a neat, tidy package but more like a large balloon half-filled with water, and as soon as you feel like you have your hands around the “real” Ed, the water shifts and Ed flows effortlessly, knowledgably and comfortably into another aspect of the balloon.

According to Kelley, he was a teenager before he began to discover the natural world that surrounded him in Haywood County and across Western North Carolina.

“I was 15 or 16 when I hiked to the top of Mt. Pisgah with a friend who was in the Boy Scouts. I was blown away by the view. All the years I had lived here and I had never seen this,” said Kelley, who owns Ridge Runner Naturals Gallery/Studio on Main Street in downtown Waynesville with his wife, Jo, a painter. The studio/gallery is adorned with Jo’s and Ed’s original artwork, including many examples of Ed’s nature photography.

Kelley said not long after that experience he got his drivers license and more and more trailheads in the area became accessible. But, he said a major shift occurred when he was a music major at Mars Hill College.

“They had what were called ‘mini-mesters’,” Kelley said. According to Kelley, a mini-mester was about a month-long class between the traditional fall and spring semesters.

“They had a backpacking class, and I signed up,” he said. “It was the first time I had ever been in Shining Rock Wilderness. We had to bushwhack from (U.S.) 276 up to Shining Rock. Then we hiked over to Sam’s Knob and back. We were out there for a couple of nights and it was awesome.”

Not long after that trip, Kelley nixed the music program at Mars Hill and enrolled in Forestry at Haywood Community College. That just served to cement his connection to the out-of-doors.

“We were in the field all the time,” Kelley said. “We had class in the woods; we would cruise timber or learn tree identification and there, I met a good friend who had the same kind of drive for the outdoors that I did.

“We both wanted to learn and see more and more. We went on lots of bushwhacking trips together. We would just get the maps out and say – look we can go from here to here – and we would set out.”

Kelley said there is a good reason his business was named the “Ridge Runner.”

“When we would get the maps out we would look at the ridges. The ridges are the connectors. We didn’t know if there would be trails or not but we knew we could follow the ridges.”


Second nature

Kelley said his attraction to photography predated his hiking addiction.

“I remember being in Washington, D.C., when I was in the seventh grade. I had this little box camera and I went all over town taking pictures,” he said.

“Not long after that I bought an old Canon FX from a photographer friend of the family. It was completely manual. I had a 50mm, a 125mm and a 28mm wide-angle lens and I took that camera with me everywhere. If I was hiking it was in my backpack,” Kelley said.

Looking back, Kelley said he is glad that he learned about photography from his old manual Cannon.

“I learned about light and aperture and shutter speed because all of that had to be done manually. It’s ingrained in me now, and when I go out I can concentrate on the composition of the photograph,” he said.

“Sometimes, now, I will hike to a specific spot at a specific time just to get one certain photograph. I’ve been there before and I’ve seen the scene and I know what time to be there for the best light,” Kelley said.

“Of course there are other times when I just grab my camera and head out to see what I might find.”

Asked to rank light, equipment, subject matter and composition or eye in some sort of photography hierarchy, Kelley said he felt the number one consideration was lighting.

“Everything else being equal, lighting will make or break a photograph,” Kelley said. “The best subject in poor lighting will result in a poor photograph, where a somewhat mundane subject in perfect lighting can produce an exceptional photo.”

Kelley ranked composition — being able to see in your mind’s eye what the finished photo will be, second. He ranked subject third and equipment fourth.

“There is so much decent photographic equipment out there today, that if you learn about light and shutter speed and aperture, and composition you’ll be able to get good photos.”

His favorite times of day to shoot are dawn and dusk.

“The light is just so much warmer then – it kind of embraces the subject instead of just lighting it.”

His favorite season is winter. ‘Because of the lower angle of the sun, you get that warm light for a longer period of time.”


A perfect storm

Kelley thinks the woods and mountains and balds are great. And he believes people can’t help but benefit spiritually and physically by spending time out doors. And for him, adding photography to his walks in the woods just increases his enjoyment. It nurtures his artistic spirit as well as his physical and mental wellbeing.

“I need that balance in my life,” Kelley said.

To see what that balance looks like go to


The U.S. Forest Service spent the first two weeks of November felling approximately 150 dead and/or dying eastern hemlocks in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest adjacent to the Joyce Kilmer National Recreation Trail.

The hemlocks, many of them centuries old, had been ravaged by the hemlock woolly adelgid and were considered public safety hazards.

The hemlock woolly adelgid is an invasive exotic aphid-like insect that kills hemlocks by feeding on the sap at the base of the tree’s needles causing the needles to turn brown and fall off. With no needles (leaves) to provide nutrients, the tree ultimately starves to death. The hemlock woolly adelgid has nearly extirpated the eastern hemlock from the forested landscape of the Southern Appalachians.


The conundrum

The dead and dying hemlocks adjacent to the trail at Joyce Kilmer presented a danger to public safety and needed to be removed. However, Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is within the congressionally designated Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness area, where mechanical equipment like chainsaws is prohibited.

But, according to Cheoah District Ranger Steve Lohr, there were other considerations as well.

“One option would have been to close the area for three to five years and let nature take its course,” Lohr said. “But due to the popularity of the area, and its positive economic impact for Graham County, that wasn’t a practical solution.”

Approximately 35,000 people visit the area annually. Lohr said the dilemma was to come up with a plan that would ensure public safety while preserving the wilderness aspect of Joyce Kilmer.


The solution

The Forest Service came up with a novel (at least for eastern forests) solution. They decided to use dynamite to blast the dead hemlocks. Forest Service certified blasters attached explosives to trunks of the hemlock and then detonated them from a safe distance. Certified blaster Jon Hakala from Minnesota was the lead blaster.

Lohr said the trees could be felled with an amazing degree of accuracy and pointed to one stump where a dead hemlock had been taken out within feet of a living tree. The amount of explosive varied according to the size of the tree. Lohr said the hemlocks that were taken out at Joyce Kilmer took from 28 to 35 pounds of explosives. The largest hemlock felled had a diameter of 47 inches.

Aesthetics also played a big part in the decision to use dynamite. “Since this is a wilderness area, we wanted it to look as natural as possible,” Lohr said. “Smooth, sawn stumps just wouldn’t look right.” The dynamite blasts, however, leave a jagged, splintered stump that mimics natural windthrow.

Deputy District Ranger, Lauren Stull said that charges were set at different heights on the trunks to make it look like a wind or ice event had taken the trees out. On a tour of the site, Stull pointed to two nearly identical stumps about 10 feet apart. “The one on the left fell during a wind event on Oct. 25,” she said, “and the one on the right was blasted.”

Many of the felled hemlocks fell across the trail. Forest Service employees with crosscut saws (a primitive tool) cut the massive timbers out of the trail.



The plan to take the hemlocks out had been in the works for a year or so. The Forest Service had to go through the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process. Lohr said the service worked with local organizations like Partners of Joyce Kilmer and the Graham Revitalization Economic Action Team as well as national groups like the Wilderness Society. Stull said that the organizations supported the plan, realizing it was necessary for public safety.

The timing put off some bear hunters, but Stull said the service worked as quickly as possible to minimize the time the area was closed and that Forest Service staff were always on hand to ensure that no hunting dogs were in the vicinity during blasting.

Lohr said that because the area was used by the federally endangered Indiana bat, NEPA regulations prohibited blasting from April 1 through Oct. 15.


What the future holds

The stumps, logs and all the debris will be left as long as it’s not in the trail. Once again, the idea is to mimic natural gap creation in an old-growth forest. Lohr said he expected rhododendron, birch and poplar would begin to regenerate in the gaps but noted that there could be a lot of herbaceous understory prevalent in the immediate future. Stull also pointed out that small hemlocks were already present in the understory.

Candace Wyman, public affairs staff officer for the Forest Service was also present on the tour. She noted that the area with its “new” gap dynamics presents an ideal situation for area colleges and/or universities to conduct long term studies.

Stull noted that the service was in contact with Graham County schools about doing some hands-on learning for the local schools. Both Stull and Lohr said that the service was interested in monitoring the area but that no formal studies had been proposed or discussed at this point.

The Forest Service is extremely challenged in these times of rampant development and widespread invasive exotics to fulfill its mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of America’s national forests.


The answer is, in the case of the federally endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel, a resounding yes. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission with the aid of North Carolina Department of Transportation, Duke Energy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service has extended a helping hand, uh, pole — make that poles.

NCWRC and partners have erected three flying squirrel crossings along the Cherohala Skyway that runs from Robbinsville to Tellico Plains, Tenn. The crossings consist of tall utility poles erected on either side of the Skyway. The poles serve as launching and/or landing pads for this small arboreal rodent whose preferred method of locomotion is gliding through the forest from tree to tree.

The two subspecies of flying squirrels found in the Southern Appalachians — Carolina northern flying squirrel and Virginia northern flying squirrel — are both endangered. Biologists believe these two subspecies are relic populations of northern flying squirrels that were stranded in the fir and spruce forests of the high peaks of the Appalachians when the last ice age receded.

The tawny red Carolina northern flying squirrel is about a foot long and weighs less than a pound. It is slightly larger than its ubiquitous gray cousin, the southern flying squirrel that is found primarily below 4,000 feet. The Carolina northern flying squirrel is found at high elevations (generally above 4,500 feet) in Western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia. It is known from nine locations in the state.

The completion of the Cherohala Skyway in the mid-1990s essentially divided the Carolina northern flying squirrels of the Unicoi Mountains into two populations, one on either side of the Skyway. The northern flying squirrel can glide about 160 feet. The roadbed, right-of-way and shoulder maintenance along the Skyway created too wide of a canopy gap and telemetry studies showed that the squirrels were not crossing the road.

Segmenting and/or restricting the movements of even healthy populations of wildlife are never good things. They reduce the gene pool and limit foraging, breeding and denning habitat. In the case of small, imperiled populations like the Carolina northern flying squirrel, such effects can be devastating.

The flying squirrel crossings erected in 2008 are having a positive effect. “Carolina Northern flying squirrels have been documented using and exploring all six poles in three corridors along the Skyway. Spring and summer seem to be the peak time for dispersal, though we also have documented flying squirrels crossing in fall and winter, even during a snowstorm,” said NCWRC biologist Chris Kelly.

Cherohala Skyway managers have implemented a “do not mow” policy at these squirrel-crossing sites. They hope to encourage native tree growth at these corridors so the poles can eventually be removed.

These crossing poles are clearly having a positive impact but Carolina northern flying squirrels are seeing their share of negative impacts. These little critters depend on conifers. The conifers are not only used for food and denning but the conifer oil that is ingested when the squirrel feeds on conifer cones and fungi that grows on conifer roots seems to deter a debilitating intestinal parasite, strongyloides robustus, that can make the squirrel unable to reproduce.

And conifers have been under attack for decades in the Southern Appalachians. First the balsam woolly adelgid decimated the fraser firs. Now the hemlock woolly adelgid is doing the same to the eastern hemlock. The loss of high-elevation hemlocks in the Unicoi Mountains is especially troubling. Carolina northern flying squirrels have been able to rely on red spruces in much of their former spruce-fir habitat. But the Unicois lost their spruce-fir component four to five thousand years ago due to a slight temperature rise. The eastern hemlock is the only high-elevation conifer left in the Unicois and its future looks bleak.

You can help NCWRC in its mission to protect the Carolina northern flying squirrel and other non-game species through the Tax Check-off for Nongame and Endangered Wildlife on your state income tax form. Checking line No. 27 lets taxpayers designate part or all of their state tax refunds to this fund.

To learn more about the “squirrel crossings” and to see a couple of cool videos visit

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


One thing became clear during my little bird feeding experiment. If you’re looking for one birdseed that will attract just about any bird, black oil sunflower seed is the bomb.

Remember a few weeks back when, disillusioned about the high price of birdseed, I decided to experiment with more frugal scenarios? I have a few thoughts on the subject but first I want to thank a couple of readers for responding to my plea for help.

Cindy Ramsey from Acworth, Ga., emailed to commiserate with me.

Cindy said she found a little relief through her local Wildbirds Unlimited franchise’s “Daily Saving Club.” I don’t know if all Wildbirds Unlimiteds offer such a plan but it sure wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Charles Hand of Canton gets special recognition for actually taking the time to pen a note and drop it in the mail. Mr. Hand adds microwaveable popcorn and crumpled unsalted crackers to stretch his bird rations. He didn’t mention if the popcorn was popped or unpopped. Hopefully the popcorn is also unsalted and if unpopped, it can be parboiled to soften the kernels some.

My first experiment was a rather dismal failure. I cut the black oil sunflower with cracked corn. Almost every species picked the sunflower seeds out completely before settling on any corn. Even the mourning doves preferred the sunflower. The best part of the corn experiment is that I now have a stash of corn for when the girl and I go to Lake Junaluska to feed the ducks.

Mixing black oil sunflower with generic “mixed” birdseed could help stretch your birdfood-dollar but once again the sunflower seed will be picked out and once it’s gone feeder visitation drops dramatically.

Nyjer thistle is the black oil of the finch world. Put nyjer seed in one feeder and small “finch food” in another and you will have to wait till the thistle is basically gone before there will be any takers at the finch food buffet. Put just the finch food out and you get the occasional interested siskin and/or goldfinch but they quickly migrate over to the sunflower seed.

Here’s the plan I’ve come up with for my feeders. I will purchase black oil sunflower, nyjer and the commercial “mixed” birdseed. But I will decide when and how much the little buggers eat. Just because there are feeders out there doesn’t mean they have to be topped off every time they get a little low.

As I’ve mentioned before, even birds that frequent your feeders get nearly 80 percent of their nutrition from the wild. Your feeders are just a part of their foraging. Most of us feed for our own enjoyment so put food out when you’re gonna be around to enjoy the birds. Morning and evening work best for me, so a little food out for the early bird and then a little dinner. And those feeders don’t have to be full — a couple of cups of sunflower seed, a little mixed seed and a little nyjer will attract a variety of birds. You can add peanut butter and/or suet too. When it’s gone the birds will forage on but if they know there’s gonna be dinner you will get some takers then, too.

And if you’re a late riser and like to putter around between 10 and two, fill your feeders then and it’s my guess that once the birds get accustomed to your buffet hours they will show up for vittles.

And on the “good news” front – I found black oil sunflower seed for $9 for a 25-pound bag at Pioneer Feed and Seed at the Hazelwood exit in Waynesville.


The results are in and the fourth annual Hendershot Birdapalooza at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe, Louisiana was the most successful to date. We ended the day (6.5 hrs.) with 66 species.

The success was due, in no small part, to the fact that we had help from two experienced local birders. If you are traveling somewhere to bird there is no substitute for local knowledge. And birders are generally quite accommodating and willing to help out of town birders.

As is my habit, I began perusing the Louisiana birding listserv a couple of weeks prior to departing for Black Bayou. I noticed one birder, Steve Pagans, was doing a lot of surveys in the Monroe and Bastrop areas. When I saw that he had found federally endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers near Bastrop, where my brother and I would be staying, I contacted him and asked for directions, which he provided.

In the “it’s a small birder-world” department, my brother also contacted Pagans. To their surprise they found that they had met before at Red Slough Wildlife Management Area in southeastern Oklahoma, where my brother, Ford, sometimes assists with birding and/or natural history programs.

Steve and birding partner, Joan Brown, who had also been to Red Slough, took time from their busy birding schedule — they are compiling winter quad reports for Louisiana State University — to meet us around 7:30 a.m. Saturday at the visitor’s center at Black Bayou.

They spent the better part of the morning birding with us, which was beneficial on two levels. First, the more eyes and ears the better when you’re conducting a whirlwind tour like we were at Black Bayou. And secondly, with their knowledge of Black Bayou they could direct us to the birdier spots.

We want to express our gratitude to Steve and Joan for taking the time from their quad surveys to join us at Black Bayou. Especially, thank you for calling us with the loggerhead shrike you saw as you were exiting the refuge — it was the only one for the day.

There were misses as there always are on these one-day affairs. I believe this was the first year that we failed to see a hairy woodpecker. But the first-time species more than made up for the misses. Our firsts for the fourth annual Birdapalooza included Eurasian collared-dove, great-horned owl, purple martin, palm warbler (25) and anhinga.

The Birdapalooza is always a fun trip. The opportunity to visit friends and family is always worth it, even if birding conditions are lousy as they have sometimes been. But this trip, the weather was great — a little cool and windy at the start but clear skies and mild temps. Plus we got to make two new birding friends. Thanks again to Steve and Joan.

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


The mountain section of the North Carolina Birding Trail (NCBT) is complete and the Mountain Region Trail Guide, describing, with directions, the 105 sites along the trail should be available by early summer 2009.

Many of those sites are in Haywood and surrounding counties. They include Lake Junaluska, Max Patch and the southern Great Balsam Mountains adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Haywood County. Other area sites include the Little Tennessee River Greenway, Tessentee Farm and the Highlands Biological Station in Macon County, plus Kituwah (formerly Ferguson Fields) in Swain County and Stecoah Gap and the Cherohala Skyway from Graham County. The Mountain Region Trail Guide will join the already completed Coastal Guide and Piedmont Guide in linking outstanding birding sites across the Old Home State. North Carolina’s myriad and diverse habitats from coastal barrier islands to 6,000-foot mountaintops provide nesting sites and stopover sites for more than 450 species of resident and/or migratory birds.

It has been the mission of the NCBT, since its creation in 2003, “To conserve and enhance North Carolina’s bird habitat by promoting sustainable bird-watching activities, economic opportunities and conservation education.”

Part of NCBT’s vision statement includes, “Our unique geographic setting along the Atlantic coast flyway provides both breeding and wintering grounds for many birds, making North Carolina a premiere bird-watching destination. Yet this rich natural heritage is largely untapped as an economic resource for promoting nature-based tourism. The North Carolina Birding Trail (NCBT) will provide a common thread to tie together bird-watching, nature-based tourism and our great natural and cultural resources for the economic benefit of our citizens.”

Part of that common thread is NCBT’s “Birder Friendly Business & Birder Friendly Community” training. The program provides tools and training for businesses and communities along the trail, which will allow them to anticipate birders’ needs and wants and devise appropriate marketing plans.

A 2007 National Survey on Recreation and the Environment noted that 81.1 million Americans participate in some form of birding activity. And a 2006 US Fish & Wildlife study reported that Americans spent nearly $45 billion in 2006 on bird-related activities. North Carolina reported that 2.6 million wildlife watchers in the state spent $916 million.

According to Dr. Stacy Tomas, North Carolina State University assistant professor of parks, recreation and tourism management the birding trail will give communities a chance to utilize the natural resources in their area as an economic tool.

“We are the third fastest urbanizing state in the country, so the birding trail gives us a way to keep our open spaces open and develop our economy,” Tomas said.

If you are a business owner, community leader or simply curious you can find out more about NCBT’s birder friendly business and/or community programs by attending a March 19 workshop at the Haywood County Extension Center in Waynesville. To register contact Robert Hawk at 828.456.3575 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

To date, Haywood and Jackson counties are lagging behind neighboring counties when it comes to birder/community friendly certified businesses. The Haywood County Cooperative Extension in Waynesville is the only county entity listed at NCBT’s Web site and the only one for Jackson County is the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. That compares to Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center in Robbinsville, Fontana Village, God’s Garden, Taylor’s Greenhouse, Appalachian Inn Bed & Breakfast and Nantahala National Forest all in Robbinsville for Graham County. And Land Trust for the Little Tennessee in Franklin, 4 1/2 Street Inn, Highlands Hiker, Highlands Area Chamber of Commerce, Highlands Plateau Audubon Society, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, Jackson-Macon Conservation alliance, Morningside Bed and Breakfast, The Bird Barn, The Chandler Inn and Whiteside Cove Cottage all of Highlands, in Macon County.

Remember when it comes to birders’ bucks — the early bird gets the worm.

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


Last week I wrote about the spiraling cost of birdseed and about experimenting with different seed and protocol for those bird-feeding aficionados who, like me, are on a budget. The idea was to try and find a way to still enjoy birds and not wreck your budget. However, last night I heard a short blurb on WLOS’s 11 p.m. news that reminded me there is a time to stop feeding the birds.

The message was just a couple of sentences stating that dead birds were being reported at feeders across Western North Carolina. If there were details regarding numbers of birds and/or how widespread the phenomenon was, I didn’t catch them. The anchor did note that most of the birds were pine siskins. Pine siskins are small (goldfinch-sized) brown-streaked finches with patches of yellow in the wings. This has been a banner winter for siskins across the Carolinas and much of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast U.S. When they come, they usually come in hordes. I have heard of people with a hundred or more clamoring for spots at the feeder this year.

Anytime you find dead birds at your feeder the prudent thing to do is discard all seed in the feeders — put it in the trash, don’t just toss it on the ground, the birds will still find it — and then thoroughly clean and disinfect your feeders. A solution of nine parts water and one part bleach is generally recommended. Use a brush and scrub the feeders well. If you are cleaning tube feeders you may want to fill a sink and submerse the feeder. A couple of capfuls of bleach to each gallon of water should suffice. If you are washing wooden feeders and you like the finish you should use a disinfectant other than bleach. You can generally find different brands of disinfectant at specialty stores that cater to birders and/or bird feeders. Or you can use a 5 percent white vinegar to water solution or tea tree oil, about a capful in a gallon of warm soapy water. And if you simply can’t wait to get your feeders back up, use a hair dryer or heat gun to dry them.

Check your birdseed before refilling your feeders. If you see mold or mildew or even if the seed feels damp and/or is clumpy, dispose of it and get fresh seed.

If you’ve done all this and still find dead birds, take your feeders down for a week or so. There may be some type of communicable avian pathogen present and even though your feeders and food are clean and disinfected, simply attracting large numbers of birds to a small area can help spread diseases. This is especially true of gregarious birds like pine siskins. So taking your feeders down and letting the birds disperse will help lessen the impact of any kind of avian sickness.

And as we discussed last week — we feed birds primarily for our benefit. They are perfectly capable of fending for themselves in the wild.

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


By Izzy Hendershot (age 7) • Notes in italics by Dad

We hopped in the car and started off. The first stop (two hours later, in Blowing Rock) was the hotel. We unpacked and then we got back in the car and went to Grandfather Mountain. We walked across the “Mile High Bridge.” It was a little scary. From the bridge we saw lots more mountains. I got to climb some boulders. I touched the “No visitors beyond this point” sign.

Grandfather Mountain is estimated to be 730 million years old. The rock beneath, the Wilson Gneiss Formation, is 1.2 billion years old. Grandfather was formed by the collision of the North American and African continents. Millions upon millions of years of weathering created a “geologic window” where younger, harder rock is left exposed above the older rock.

After that we hopped back in the car to see the animal habitat and nature museum. There were rocks, water and bears. The black bears were just waking up from their winter hibernation.

Next we got to see cougars. They were running and chasing each other. One of the cougars pooped in a hole, just like a cat at a litter box. We also saw a bald eagle that had been hurt by a gun.

Then we went into the museum and we got to take a look around. We got to see some cool crystals and rocks. We saw the biggest amethyst on the North American continent. It weighed 162 pounds!

This crystal was discovered in 1972 by Lester Sigmon in the Reel Mine at Iron Station, N.C. The crystal, 2 feet by 2 feet by 1 foot high, is thought to be the finest amethyst cluster ever discovered in North America.

We also saw a model of a salamander that was four times its actual size. Then we got to see some other things and the gift store, which had lots of stuffed animals.

We made it back to the entrance of Grandfather Mountain and waited for our friend Carol who was visiting from China. Cars passed by and none of them were Carol’s. Finally we saw her. When she arrived Grandfather Mountain had closed. Next, everybody, daddy, Carol, mommy and Carol’s sister, Nic, talked for a while.

They decided we would go to a restaurant together. I got to ride in Carol’s car to the restaurant. Nic reminded me of a student teacher at school, Ms. Hoyle.

We went to restaurant in Banner Elk called Sorrento’s Bistro. The waitress brought Maddy, my sister, and me a ball of dough to play with. Then we got to eat yummy pizza.

After we were done eating, my family went back to the hotel. Our hotel room number was 115. We went for a swim, then to bed.

The next morning, after breakfast, we went back into the pool. After that we packed up to get ready to go home. We got to have lunch with Carol, in Boone. That’s where App State is.

Then we started for home. On the way home we saw two deer run right in front of a car and almost get hit.

We started down the mountain and we saw some trees getting their new leaves. We stayed on the four-lane for a long time. When we got home my dog, Sophie, was glad to see us.

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


The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a citizen-science venture conducted under the auspices of Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon. It is conducted each February. It began as a kind of “feeder watch” or backyard project with volunteers counting the birds around their homes. A few years back the GBBC expanded its scope to include almost any setting participants decided to bird, including but not limited to public lands like parks and wildlife refuges.

In retrospect, I can see that my first GBBC was a harbinger of things to come. That year, early 2000s, was one like this one with large numbers of pine siskins. My feeders and the trees in my back yard were constantly full of the little buggers. On count day I counted 43 siskins at my feeders and could see at least that many more in the treetops. I recorded a conservative estimate of 75. The red flags flew!

I was contacted by a reviewer who informed me that I must have been mistaken – 75 pine siskins was an unheard of number. I responded that I did indeed have 75 siskins, probably more, but to no avail. The record was stricken.

Well, I decided that GBBC reviewers were probably prone to err on the side of caution and that 75 siskins was a high number so I just dropped the discourse. But my ego was bruised so I didn’t participate in the next couple of GBBCs.

Then February 2005 my brother Ford and I found ourselves in Louisiana at a gathering of the clans. It was the weekend of the GBBC and we decided to do an impromptu count at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge. While that year’s weather was bitter and the count was low, we enjoyed ourselves.

We decided to make the GBBC at Black Bayou an annual event. Surely as much a social event as scientific but an accurate count nonetheless.

Fast-forward to February 2009 — our fourth annual Black Bayou GBBC. This February we were a bit surprised and delighted to encounter palm warblers. I knew that palm warblers over wintered in Louisiana and didn’t anticipate the need for documentation even though my camera was in the truck.

It must have been the numbers thing again because the day after I submitted my count report I received, what to me, was a very patronizing email from a reviewer announcing that I had obviously made a typo in my report and meant two not 20 palm warblers.

I replied in a similar tone informing the reviewer that I, indeed, knew the difference between two and 20 and that 20 was, in fact, a conservative estimate.

After getting no response I checked the GBBC database and found that my record of palm warblers at Black Bayou was removed. I emailed the reviewer, asking if that was the end of the story. And received another patronizing email, which included a note that I should remember that the reviewer had no way of knowing my birding experience.

The devil made me do it. In my response I mentioned that, in fact, I did not know the reviewer’s birding experience either. Finally after about the third email exchange, in which I was admonished for being terribly rude and even accused of flaming in all CAPS, which I never did, I received a records form to fill out.

I dutifully filled out the form and returned it but you guessed it — still no palm warblers on the Black Bayou count. From perusing the GBBC blog, I discovered other contributors had experienced the same “numbers” problem. One solution I saw was simply, don’t report numbers greater than one or two and there’s generally no problem.

But what about the “science” part of citizen-science, doesn’t science require that we be as accurate as possible?

And I can’t help but mention the 2,000-pound ivory-billed woodpecker in the room. Perhaps if I had been able to convene a press conference at the White House to announce the 20 palm warblers with the same fanfare Cornell used to announce the “rediscovery” of the never-again-seen ivory-billed woodpecker in 2005 my sighting would have validity.

It’s not what ya’ know — it’s who ya’ know.


A mysterious malady is decimating bat populations across the Northeast and spreading south. The malady, called white-nose syndrome (WNS) because of a white fungus that appears around the muzzle of infected animals, was first documented from Schoharie Cavern, near Albany, N.Y., in 2007. Once word of WNS began to spread, photos from February 2006 showed bats with WNS from Howe Cave, also in New York. By early 2008, WNS had been documented from hibernacula across the Northeast including New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Signs of WNS include a white fungus that grows around the muzzle, ears and wing membranes, depleted winter-fat reserves, a lack of immune response during hibernation, scarred wing membranes, difficulty arousing from deep torpor and being active during daylight hours in mid-winter.

To date, species affected by WNS include little brown bat, big brown bat, northern long-eared bat, small-footed bat, eastern pipistrelle and the endangered Indiana bat. Mortality rates in some hibernacula have been greater than 90 percent.

To date, biologists and scientists remain unsure of the causal agent regarding WNS. They cannot be sure whether the fungus causing the white muzzles is the pathogen causing the deaths or whether it is simply a manifest symptom of some other causal agent.

The fungus has been isolated. It is a never-before described psychrophilic fungus closely related to the genus Geomyces. It thrives in cold damp habitats — just the kind you would find in a hibernaculum. It has, in fact, been collected from bats across a widely dispersed range of hibernacula in the Northeast.

While scientists and biologists grapple with the causative agent, WNS appears to be spreading southward. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and West Virginia can now be added to the list of states where WNS has been documented.

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.

Bat Conservation International is one of the organizations at the forefront of the WNS battle. To learn the latest regarding WNS visit their Web site at Besides documentation of the work they are doing, they also have links to other Web sites regarding WNS.


Peregrine pads protected

Rock climbing trails across the Carolina mountains near known peregrine falcon nest sites have once again been closed to climbers. The closures run from Jan. 15 to Aug. 15.

While the peregrine falcon was removed from the federal endangered species list in 1999, it remains on North Carolina’s endangered species list. This iconic swift ruler of the skies appears to be gaining a talon-hold along the steep granite cliffs of Western North Carolina. Thirteen nest sites or eyries were monitored across the region last year. The 13 sites produced 15 fledglings.

Peregrines nest in crooks, crevices, crannies and cracks in sheer granite walls and/or bare rock outcroppings — the kinds of places only peregrines or adrenaline-laced climbers could love. The nest are usually, shallow depressions or scrapes scratched out by the bird’s talons on bare rocks. Sometimes peregrines will usurp the nest of a raven, as the pair at Devil’s Courthouse did back in 1999.

Perhaps there is some kind of kindred spirit between the climbers that ascend those slick grey walls and the birds that live there because climbers and climbing organizations have been among the birds’ biggest supporters.

In a recent press release, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s mountain wildlife diversity biologist Chris Kelly acknowledged the role climbers have played. “The peregrine falcon is an endangered species success story. Key to the success has been the willingness of rock climbers to make concessions for the birds and we hope area rock climbers will continue to be a part of the success,” Kelly said.

Biologists are concerned that adult birds may abandon nest sites if they are disturbed. Also, fledglings could bolt from their precipice before they are ready to fly if startled by climbers.

Seven of the known 13 eyries are on U.S. Forest Service land. These include Whitesides Mountain in the Highlands Ranger District, NC Wall, Shortoff Mountain, and Big Lost Cove Cliffs in the Grandfather District, Looking Glass Rock in the Pisgah District and Whiterock and Eagle Cliffs in the Appalachian District.

I don’t know the status of all the six other sites but Devil’s Courthouse along the Blue Ridge Parkway is also off limits to climbers.

If eyries are found in other locations there could be other trail closures and if falcons either are not present or finish nesting before August 15, current closures could be rescinded.

If you have any questions or peregrine sightings to report you can contact Chris Kelly, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, 828/230-1320, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Sandy Burnet, USDA Forest Service, 828.652.2144, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Robert Currie, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 828/258-3939, ext. 224, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


A beautiful morning and Lake Junaluska was calling again. I approached the lake along Golf Course Road on the side that borders U.S. 19. A thick white mist was rising from the warm water into the crisp morning air and the coots were disappearing from the surface and popping back up like giant black corks bobbing in the water. There is definitely no shortage of coots at the lake this fall.

My first stop was at the pull off just before North Lakeshore, across from the wetlands. Across the lake was a group of around a dozen redheads. These handsome diving ducks regularly grace the lake from time to time now through spring. This particular group has been around since the last cold snap. Near the redheads was a pair of gadwalls. Gadwalls are mallard-sized puddle ducks. The male is gray with black tail coverts. The hen gadwall can look a lot like a mallard hen but the mallard hen usually shows a blue speculum (wing patch) when resting and/or swimming while the hen gadwall generally shows a small white patch (from the inner secondaries) near the rump.

A raft of ruddy ducks was napping out from the large parking area near the chapel. Ruddy ducks have been regular winter visitors over the past few years and their population seems to be growing, there were at least 40 present last Saturday.

I was surprised to find an immature pine warbler foraging in one of the spruces near the cross. We occasionally get pine warblers passing through in the spring and fall but November 13 seems a little late.

A stop across from the lake at the Waynesville Greenway parking area on Richland Creek produced white-throated sparrows and a pair of hairy woodpeckers.

Another pleasant surprise was three or four rusty blackbirds gorging themselves on dogwood berries at the lake. The rusty blackbird is named for its gorgeous rust-tinged winter plumage. Rusty blackbird numbers have dropped precipitously since the 1960s and biologists are trying to discover the causes. Smithsonian and partners have created the International Rusty Blackbird Technical Working Group to try and discover the causes of the decline and work to help re-establish the population. You can google “rusty blackbird working group” to learn about these efforts.

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


It’s only a matter of time before the fungal infection white nose syndrome (WNS) appears in North Carolina, say wildlife experts.

White nose syndrome is decimating bat populations across the country. It was first reported in the winter of 2006-2007 from a cave near Albany, N.Y. The disease, named for the white fungus that often appears on infected bats’ noses, muzzles and wings, is responsible for the deaths of millions of bats across a variety of species and is spreading rapidly.

WNS has now been detected from Ontario and Quebec, Canada down the eastern seaboard from Vermont to Virginia and Tennessee and just recently westward to Missouri and Oklahoma. Oklahoma presents pause for added concern because WNS was detected in a new species — cave myotis — that ranges across the Southwest to southern California and south to Mexico and Central America. At least 14 states have documented the disease.


See also: Bat fatalities at wind energy turbines offer new insight into bat migration

Coming soon to N.C.

WNS has not, at this date, been detected in North Carolina. It has been documented in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee. And North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission biologist Gabrielle Graeter has reported finding bats in Swain County with damage to their wings that is consistent with WNS. But, according to Graeter, biologist won’t be able to determine if the fungus is present until the bats are in hibernation this winter.

One of the sites in Tennessee, the White Oak Blowhole cave in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, raises special concern because it is the largest-known hibernacula in the state for the federally endangered Indiana bat, and might serve as the overwintering site for nearly nine percent of the entire Indiana bat population.

Bill Stiver, biologist for the park, said that it would probably be next spring before biologists would have any idea about mortality rates in the park.

“We are monitoring bats this winter, but primarily at the entrance to the caves. We don’t want to exacerbate the situation by disturbing hibernating bats,” he said. “We probably won’t go into the caves until late February.”

Stiver said that because of cave closures across the park and questions from the public the park is focusing on educational materials. “We’re working on new exhibits for the visitor’s centers and a new podcast regarding white nose syndrome.”


Impacts from WNS

Endangered species like the Indiana bat and gray bat are clearly in danger, but even more disconcerting are reports that common bats like the little brown bat (the most common bat in the east) could also be in danger of extinction. Researchers from Boston University and the University of California Santa Cruz ran computer models suggesting that little brown bats could be extirpated from the Northeast in as few as 25 years.

WNS has proven to be incredibly lethal across the Northeast with mortality rates in many hibernacula approaching 90 percent. According to reports from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, one of the worst hit caves in the Adirondacks was Graphite Mine. The report noted that the population of little brown bats in that cave dropped from 185,000 before 2006 to approximately 2,000 now.

The environmental impact of the loss of bats across the landscape is a giant question mark. Bats are, without a doubt, the most prolific and successful organic bug zappers around. Studies done at Boston University point out that the million or more of bats that have died from WNS over the past four years would have consumed more than 694 tons of insects each year.

Bill Stiver, biologist with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said that most of the research done to date has been with bat populations in the Northeast and that researchers here are holding their breath.

“We’re hoping that since it’s a cold-loving fungus, our bats across the Southeast will not see such adverse impacts,” he said. “But we honestly don’t know at this point. The next couple of years will tell us how our bats will be impacted.”


Seeking comment

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on its national plan for managing white nose syndrome in bats through Dec. 26. Interested parties can find out more about the plan by contacting Jeremy Coleman, national white-nose syndrome coordinator by phone at 607.753.8356 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by contacting Ann Froschauer, national white-nose syndrome communications leader at 413.253.8356 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. or by visiting the WNS website at www.fws.go/whitenosesyndrome/.


Hats off to Avram and the activist spirit

Avram Friedman, executive director of the Canary Coalition, is not afraid to put his money (whatever fine he may have to pay for trespassing) and time (eight hours in Mecklenburg County jail) where his mouth is. According to Associated Press accounts, Avram was the first person arrested at an April 20 Charlotte protest at Duke Energy headquarters.

Protesters were there in opposition to Cliffside, Duke’s newest and grandest monument dedicated to King Coal, proposed (actually 30 percent completed) in Rutherford County.

Forty-three other brave souls joined Avram in this much-needed exhibition of civil disobedience. From AP reports, it looks like Avram’s relatively young legs – he’s 59 – allowed him to nose out 86-year-old Betty Robinson (you go granny!) at the arrest-me line.

Regular readers of this column may know that Avram and I have, at this point in time, differing opinions about the efficacy and environmental tradeoffs associated with large-scale wind farms on the ridges of Southern Appalachia. But I have never, and will never, question Avram’s integrity and motivation as he fights for clean air. I consider Avram a friend and colleague in the struggle for a cleaner environment.

Avram and I are contemporaries and were “coming of age” in the 60s when the power of public opinion and civil disobedience was showing its muscle. The hero of the day was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The hero of the past was Mahatma Gandhi. And the counter-culture hero was Abbie Hoffman. There were some fringe groups, but the mainstream movement was huge and it was civil. What is needed today is a real public wake up call. The public — loud and large and civil — is the only “body politic” with the power and moral authority to change the status quo, to implement a paradigm that says public health and well being and the fate of the planet are more important than the bottom line.

Sure, Duke and other corporate polluters — and there are many across the country, Duke is just the big dog on our home court — will try to play the “jobs” card. They will shout that the mean “environmental whackos” want to take away the “average man’s” paycheck. Well, I am the average man and I work shoulder to shoulder for 12 hours a night with other average men and women, and if you asked any one of them what’s more important — this job or the health and well being of your children — you will find out fast where you can put “this job.”

As long as the powers that be at Duke and its corporate brethren think they can paint a line on the ground and sit in their corporate towers and be shielded from taking the responsibility of explaining to you and me how emitting six million tons of carbon dioxide into the environment every year for the next 50 years is in the best interest of my daughters and your sons, well, they’ve got a lot to learn about the average man.

I want to thank Avram and his 43 courageous, convicted compatriots for reminding us that spray paint on the ground is simply spray paint on the ground, and if anyone should be in control of the best interest of our children it is their parents.

Maybe next protest there will be 444 arrests and 4,444 after that ....

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


A picture is worth a thousand words

When the 1968 Apollo astronauts rounded the moon for the first time the deepest impression was not the view of that barren, never-before-seen lunar landscape, but the sight of a dazzling, beautiful blue and white gem floating in the black vastness of space. The astronauts sent images home, and for the first time in the history of the world humans all around the world got a glimpse of their one celestial home.

Poet Archibald MacLeish described it in Time magazine, “to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold — brothers who know now that they are truly brothers.”

These shots seen round the world helped coalesce, especially in the U.S., a burgeoning environmental awareness. The 60s and early 70s were heady times in this country for social activism, civil disobedience and grassroots organization. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (published in 1962) decrying the widespread indiscriminate use of pesticides was a New York Times best seller. Filled with passages like, “There is still very limited awareness of the nature of the threat. This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits. It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged. When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half-truth. We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts. It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts. In the words of Jean Rostand, “The obligation to endure gives us the right to know,” Silent Spring created a sense of urgency that lent itself to the passions of the times.

Some may argue that the city of San Francisco’s Earth Day celebration on March 21, (spring equinox) 1970, created by activist John McConnell was the first and/or original Earth Day. And while many consider McConnell the “father” of Earth Day, it was the massive (estimated 20 million participants) countrywide events that occurred on April 22, 1970, spearheaded by Sen. Gaylord Nelson D. Wisconsin that landed Earth Day and the environmental movement squarely in the center of the political socio-economic spotlight.

This early, fervent and widespread public support created the political capital that allowed for groundbreaking legislation like the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. And while that early passionate blaze has led to important political and industrial gains in the form of stricter environmental laws and policies, it is easy to see from here, in this land of nonpareil beauty and biodiversity, which is being choked under a heavy brown blanket of pollution, there is much still to be done.

The fact that our county and many of its neighbors, plus the “pristine” Great Smoky Mountains National Park, don’t even meet EPA standards for clean air 39 years after the first Earth Day means we’ve dropped the ball.

We need to fan those Earth Day embers back into a maelstrom of public outcry demanding that we and our children and their children deserve and shall have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.

Happy Earth Day!

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


Canaries in the coalmine

As I passed the kitchen windows last Friday (4/10), a brilliant red streak caught my eye. I followed the streak to a branch in one of the large poplars at the corner of the deck. There in all his freshly plumaged glory sat a scarlet tanager. The scarlet so bright and vivid it was screaming next to the jet-black wings.

Now don’t tell anyone associated with Cornell’s Back Yard Bird Count or I’ll have to recant because it’s entirely too early for a scarlet tanager in the mountains of Western North Carolina. It would have to be an aberrant cardinal or a cardinal in poor light.

One of my many shortcomings as a birder is the fact that I don’t take notes or record observations. But I have friends that do. So I called a birder friend that does (Bob Olthoff) and asked how last Friday compared to his earliest scarlet tanager record. Bob said the bird in my yard was a good 10 days earlier than his earliest record.

This spring also happens to be my earliest arrival date for blue-headed vireo. I had one singing in my yard on March 23 this year. I don’t know how early that was but it was early. I didn’t think much of it because blue-headed vireos are early migrants. But add the tanager and it makes you go hmmmm.

I have casually perused some of the information regarding global warming and migration over the last few years. The early appearance of the scarlet tanager caused me to turn to some of that data again.

The appearance of one or two early migrants means little, in itself. But, thankfully, many birders are better at keeping records than I and studies are beginning to show bird-population trends consistent with warming trends. Models predicted that birds would shift their home range northward and/or toward higher elevations as temperatures rise.

Research of data collected for the past 24 years shows that warblers like prothonotary, blue-winged, golden-winged, Cape May and others have expanded their range northward by an average of 65 miles during this timeframe. And one study of 20 species of migratory birds showed early spring arrival dates in 1994 to be 21 days earlier than in 1965.

The implications regarding effects of global warming on bird population distributions and behavior are myriad and complex. A quick primer can be found at, at the American Bird Conservancy’s website. Or for my unplugged friends who find the listing of URLs a bit biased, you can call Darin Schroeder at American Bird Conservancy, 202.234.7181.

The canary in the coalmine comparison is troubling. The only way the miners knew they must leave and remedy the conditions in the mine was if the canary was dead. If we wait for mass extinction of our multi-colored, nightingale-voiced canaries before we begin to address the issues of climate change we will indeed wake up to Rachel Carson’s silent spring.

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


Watershed dreaming

Last Saturday (April 4) was another sojourn into the town of Waynesville’s 8,500-acre plus watershed. The town initiated these watershed hikes back in 2007 to introduce town residents and other interested parties to this amazing resource that has been set aside in a conservation easement to insure the town has an ample supply of high-quality potable water.

This spring’s hike included a combination of first-time and repeat hikers. We carpooled up to the beginning of the hike. At that point we separated into two groups — those that came to stretch their legs surrounded by this beautiful setting and those who were content to amble along seeking early spring blooms and listening for returning neotropical migrants.

I suffer from chronic naturalist’s-amble. If I want aerobic exercise I put on my running shoes and hit the road or track. In the woods I cannot go far or fast without seeing something that requires closer scrutiny. Sometimes it is something interesting or unique like the broomrape we found last spring or the wood frog hiding beneath the leaf-litter of a vernal pool that we discovered last fall. Often it is something common in unusual circumstances, like the bloodroot we found this year in seemingly dire circumstances — the stem colorless and the leaf still curled tightly — that catches the eye.

This spring about a half dozen participants joined my daughter, Izzy, and me for our amble. I have to admit, Izzy ambles differently than I. She’s 100 miles per hour up the trail, then 100 miles per hour back to see what we’ve stopped for. But even at that speed her youthful eyes are quick to focus on interesting objects and she waits patiently (?) to show us the newest bloom or animal track she has discovered.

It was a crisp morning (mid-30s) when we embarked. And being early April, not a whole lot was blooming. We found bloodroot, golden ragwort, meadow parsnip, cut-leaved toothwort and a couple of species of violets in bloom. The only neotropical migrants we heard were blue-headed vireo and black-throated-green warbler.

As we climbed, so did the temperature. Around 10:30 a.m. we began to shed jackets. And as we stopped occasionally to look down on the reservoir sparkling in the sunlight, we also drank in the warm spring sun like the fecund leaf-littered earth. These settings nurture more than wildflowers.

After a while hiking we found a comfortable spot to stop and cast off our backpacks and drink in the warm spring sun.

“So, who are those people?” asked one of the hikers.

“Oh,” I said, “that’s a group of teachers and educators participating in a Project Wild workshop. They are learning how to incorporate hands-on environmental education in their curriculum.”

“Does a lot of that go on in the watershed?” asked another participant.

“Oh, sure,” I replied. “There are Project Wild programs for educators and for kids in K through 12 grades. Haywood Waterways Association’s Kids in the Creek program uses the watershed to help educate eighth-graders in the county about the benefits of good water quality.

“Community colleges and universities from the region and around the country come here to monitor and learn about best management practices and the forest management tools used to restore the watershed to a more natural, pristine state.

“We can stop at the visitors center on the way out and you can learn about all the recreational and educational opportunities—

“Daddy! Daddy! Wake up! You’re dreaming that watershed dream again.”

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


Caving moratorium sought

Three weeks ago (Naturalist’s Corner 3/11) I wrote about a mysterious malady dubbed White Nose Syndrome (WNS) that has been decimating bat populations at various hibernacula across the Northeast and spreading south. Last week (3/26) the U.S, Fish & Wildlife Service called for a voluntary moratorium on caving in states with documented incidents of WNS and in adjacent states.

The fact that WNS has been reported from sites considerable distances from known WNS-hibernacula has U.S. Fish & Wildlife concerned that humans may be aiding the spread of the disease. “We suspect that white-nose syndrome may be transmitted by humans inadvertently carrying WNS from cave to cave where bats hibernate,” said Fish & Wildlife northeast regional director, Marvin Moriarty.

Fish & Wildlife is asking spelunkers to suspend all caving activities in WNS-affected states and adjacent states. The Service also asks that cavers not use clothing and/or gear that have been used in WNS-affected states in any caves even if the equipment and clothing have been disinfected using Fish & Wildlife’s protocols. The advisory states, “Although we have confidence in the current protocols for decontamination, there is no way to guarantee efficacy for all equipment in all circumstances, and they may not adequately address needs for technical or vertical gear.”

Fish & Wildlife and other agencies will also re-evaluate all scientific activities taking place in hibernacula to try and insure they are not possibly aiding the spread of WNS.

The nine states where WNS has been documented to date are New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia. At least 60 hibernacula are known to be infected and the service estimates that more than 400,000 bats, including 25,000 endangered Indiana bats have succumbed to WNS. Some hibernacula have experienced mortality rates as high as 97 percent.

The Service has closed four caves at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, near Decatur Ala. And may close more on Service property in accordance with advisory guidelines. Fish & Wildlife only has authority to close caves on property it owns but noted in its advisory, “We expect other government agencies, organizations or private landowners will close caves to help prevent or slow down the spread of WNS.”

Northeast Fish & Wildlife director, Moriarty noted, “We understand that following these recommendations will inconvenience recreational cavers, but we believe this is the most responsible course of action as we face this unknown threat to bats, which play an important role in our world.”

Fish & Wildlife is hoping for the same kind of cooperation and understanding from cavers that rock climbers have shown regarding Peregrine Falcon closures.

The four recommendations the Service has issued are:

1. A voluntary moratorium on caving in states with confirmed WNS and all adjoining states;

2. Nationally, in states not WNS-affected or adjoining states, use clothing and gear that has never been in caves in WNS-affected or adjoining states;

3. State and federal conservation agencies should evaluate scientific activities for their potential to spread WNS; and

4. Nationally, researchers should use clothing and gear that has never been in caves in a WNS-affected or adjoining state.

We intend to review the cave advisory frequently – at least quarterly.

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


East Fork Headwaters

Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy is still hoping for a Christmas present from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Most folk who follow conservation issues across the region are probably aware that CMLC and its partner, The Conservation Fund, have a contract with former congressman and Brevard cattle and timber farmer Charles Taylor and his family for the fee-simple acquisition of 8,000 acres of outstanding wilderness in southern Transylvania County known as the East Fork Headwaters.

The Conservation Fund is sitting on a $3 million down payment, and the Taylor family has agreed to finance the rest of the $33 million price tag. It was widely publicized last week, prior to a Wildlife Resources Commission meeting, that TCF was not prepared to pay the $3 million unless NCWRC would commit to managing the tract, assisting CMLC and TCF in seeking funding and eventually take title of the tract.

Wildlife Resources released a statement after the Nov. 4 meeting titled, “Wildlife Commission Pledges Support for East Fork Headwaters.”

“This land is highly desirable for protection and public use, and is truly multipurpose. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission supports The Conservation Fund’s effort to effectuate long-term conservation of this valuable resource,” said Gordon Myers, executive director of NCWRC, in a press release.

Many who read the press release and/or the official resolution passed by NCWRC probably breathed a sigh of relief and felt that the preservation of this large, ecologically sensitive tract was guaranteed.

Alas, CMLC is not quite so confident. I received an email from Kieran Roe, executive director of CLMC, that stated: “While WRC has made a partial commitment that the conservation groups have been seeking — they have clearly stated their willingness to serve as long-term land managers, and also to assist with seeking federal conservation funds, they have still not fully committed to partner in seeking state funds for which they are uniquely eligible — specifically the North Carolina Natural Heritage Trust Fund.

CMLC goes into more detail at their Save the East Fork Headwaters web page ( They still insist that TCF needs a commitment from NCWRC that it will also assist in seeking state funding before they will proceed with the down payment. According to the website CMLC is still confident a deal will be reached: “WRC Executive Director Gordon Myers has made it clear that he wants to continue to collaborate on a solution that will give the Conservation Fund board sufficient confidence to pay the first installment of $3 million to the landowner. Payment of this installment will result in transfer of title, albeit with a hefty mortgage. Mr. Myers has proposed to set up the East Fork Headwaters Team that will include himself, agency personnel, the State Property Office, the Conservation Fund, and Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. The stated purpose of the team is to “figure out how to get the deal done.” We appreciate Mr. Myer’s ‘can-do’ attitude a lot.”

No one but the players know for sure what kind of sticking points are out there in the land of “budget shortfalls.” CMLC believes that public comment in support of the deal has been and will continue to be important. Their website has addresses and suggestions for people who want their voices heard in support of the purchase of this impressive, biologically rich and diverse landscape.

I, for one, wish them success.

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


Southwestern Community College has started a new degree program whose graduates will likely become the leaders in the growing field of wilderness therapy.

The course work was designed in collaboration with area wilderness therapy providers such as Woodson Wilderness Challenge, Second Nature Blue Ridge, Phoenix Outdoors and others.

“We have a lot of interns in the field working with different organizations through our Outdoor Leadership program,” said Paul Wolf, the director of SCC’s Outdoor Leadership program. “And the message we kept hearing from these groups was that their biggest challenge was to get qualified staff and be able to keep them.”

Wolf is excited and enthused about the program, which began this fall semester and requires 18 semester-hour credits.

It’s been a two-year journey from brainstorming sessions to opening the doors to Wilderness Therapy students this fall. The journey began with meetings with Deb Klavohn, dean of health sciences at SCC. Then SCC had to get permission from the North Carolina Board of Community Colleges.

“We were granted permission last summer,” Wolf said.


A shift in direction

Wolf said wilderness therapy has had a major shift in direction since its early boot camp mindset.

Tragedies such as the ones at the Challenger Foundation in 1990 — where two teenagers died during separate wilderness survival trips — and the death of Aaron Bacon in 1994 while enrolled in a North Star Expeditions program made the industry slow down and take a second look. While “natural consequences” — i.e. if you don’t make a dry shelter and it rains, you get wet — are still a primary tenant of wilderness therapy, the industry has moved to an “empowerment model” rather than a punishment model.

He said that most of today’s wilderness therapy programs employ professional therapists or psychologists with graduate degrees. However, these therapists don’t march every step with participants, so the need for highly skilled field instructors is paramount to the success of the program and the safety of the participants.


SCC’s Wilderness Therapy program

A wilderness therapy field instructor wears many hats. That person is the trail boss to get from point A to point B. The field instructor has to have primitive living skills to ensure the group is prepared for whatever type of trail or weather conditions it encounters. Excellent orienteering and map-reading skills are mandatory. Plus, the field instructor is the first responder in any medical emergency and, for the majority of the trip, camp counselor.

Wolf has designed a diverse yet focused program to guarantee that SCC Wilderness Therapy graduates have what it takes to be competent field instructors and valued wilderness therapy employees. Courses in the program include Intro to Wilderness Therapy, Wilderness Therapeutic Models, Methods of Experiential Education, Primitive Living Skills as well as Land-Based and Water-Based Activities. The two courses offered this fall are Intro to Wilderness Therapy and Primitive Living Skills. Wolf said there were nine students in each class.

Wolf, who teaches most of the classes, has a bachelor’s degree with a double major in psychology and environmental studies from Mankato State University in Minnesota and a master’s in educational administration from Western Carolina University. He has years of experience in outdoor leadership and education including seven years with the Voyager Outward Bound School in the Boundary Waters wilderness in northern Minnesota. He was also coordinator of the Action Learning Programs at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Wolf also uses adjunct professors such as Jonathan Bryant, director of NOC’s wilderness medicine department, and Stephan Hart, who is a NOC instructor specializing in wild foods and medicinal plants.


A good fit

Wolf said the Wilderness Therapy program was a great fit and addition to SCC’s Outdoor learning Program.

“I would recommend an Outdoor Leadership degree for someone just out of high school,” Wolf said. “But the Wilderness Therapy certificate is a great add-on for someone who already has a degree or experience in outdoor learning.”

And it’s a great fit in the overall mission of community colleges. “This is something that is career-ready and specific. It was designed to meet industry needs and there are employers out there waiting,” Wolf said.



What is wilderness therapy?

Wilderness therapy — sometimes referred to as outdoor education or adventure-based therapy — are outdoor programs intended to be therapeutic in nature. They may simply self-identify as therapeutic or may offer more traditional psychotherapy in a wilderness environment.


Crepuscular by nature

The sun knows the secret.

Beginning and end

Are the beautiful times.

The soft warm

And sensual times.

Dawning and setting

The magic times

Of life

Of love

Of every day.


The sky began to brighten. Clouds and dark green mountains played mirror games with the placid lake and wispy fog. The contrast of smoky white and wet gray clouds draping the mountains, all reflected in the still opal waters struck a nostalgic chord.

Every dawn is different in a thousand ways. Sometimes the sun leaps up, hot and yellow into a clear cloudless sky. Sometimes it casts orange rays over the horizon, web-like, to hoist itself skyward. And sometimes, like last Saturday, it’s simply there to backlight the clouds and shadows as night gives way to gray day.

Yet every dawn is the same. It’s the beginning of a new day. The Earth is awakening and all of Mother Nature’s daily rituals begin anew. In spring and early summer once the Neotropical migrants have arrived to set up housekeeping the cacophony of early morning birdsong can be deafening. We anthropomorphize and talk about happy choristers greeting the day. But these songs, while beautiful, are not accolades to ol’ Sol. They are dire warnings to any interloper that would dare trespass on established nesting territory. The gray squirrel crawls from its den and stretches on the big oak limb before beginning to forage for today’s sustenance. It tests the air with its nose and warily searches the treetops for any hawks also on the prowl for breakfast.

This is a spectacle I never tire of. I was hooked at a very early age. As a little boy, sleeping in a room with my two brothers, all my Dad had to do was open the door and call my name and I was up and out in a flash, getting dressed in the pre-dawn darkness with the light of a dim, naked light bulb, to the smell of bacon and strong coffee. Then there was the clandestine drive through the morning blackness to either woods or water where I learned to be still and quite and watchful, as the curtain would rise on a new day.

Now, as I steal out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to strike out for my bird point surveys for the Forest Service, I wonder if Izzy or Maddy will be bitten by the dawn bug. I certainly hope so.

Watching the world wake up connects you in a visceral way. You will understand how the natural world deals with the continuum of time and see that clocks and hours and minutes are arbitrary human inventions that have little to do with real time. The day starts with the rising of the sun and ends when the last orange glow of evening sunlight is swallowed by night.

I am sure my ancestors — and yours — were crepuscular creatures that started their day with the rising of the sun and prepared for night and rest as the sun waned every evening.


What’s that buzzin?

“Daddy, daddy, there’s a yellowjacket in the bedroom!” cried Izzy.

And somehow, the dusty old synapses fired and I replied, “It’s not a yellow jacket, it’s a fly.”

Now, I guess I could have been premature — it wouldn’t have been impossible for it to be a yellowjacket — but the odds were against it. In early May there are few yellowjackets around. All but fertilized queens die in late fall and early winter. These fertilized queens generally overwinter under bark, in stumps and logs and under leaf litter. Some occasionally find refuge in man-made structures, usually barns or other out buildings.

When they do emerge, and it can be as early as early May, these queens immediately get busy building nests and laying eggs that will eventually become those huge picnic spoiling colonies of late fall.

However, now that spring has arrived the odds of a fly slipping in one of the seemingly always-opened front or back doors that serve, like Alice’s rabbit hole, as portals to wonderland for my two little girls, are much greater. But a fly that looks like a yellowjacket? Yep, enter the yellowjacket hover fly.

Hover flies or flower flies are true flies in the family Syrphidae. These flies are noted Batesian mimics. Named from British naturalist, Henry Walter Bates, these mimics, usually insects, closely resemble unpalatable or harmful species and are therefore avoided by predators, 7-year-old little girls and probably a majority of humanoids who, upon hearing a buzz and seeing a bright yellow and black “bee” quickly begin swatting and retreating.

The retreating is not so bad. The hover fly is unscathed and the humanoid gets to breathlessly recount being “that close to being stung by a yellowjacket.” The swatting, spraying, mashing, bludgeoning or other dispatching of the offending “bee” is, however, a sadder affair.

Flower or hover flies are actually quite beneficial insects. Flower flies are major pollinators. In agri-ecosystems like orchards, flower flies out-perform all other native pollinators. The only more productive pollinator would be the honeybee. But honeybees only pollinate. Flower flies are also beneficial as predators. The larvae wreak havoc on aphids, caterpillars, thrips and other harmful insects.

If you can still yourself till the “fight or flight” response passes, it’s fairly easy to distinguish between the yellowjacket hover fly and the yellowjacket. The fly has only two wings. The yellowjacket (and all wasps and bees) has four. Yellowjackets have long antennae. The hover fly’s antennae are shorter than its head. Hover flies actually hover, yellowjackets don’t.

The hover fly’s mimicry doesn’t stop with appearance. Once your logic has overcome your flight or fight response and you have captured the hover fly in your hands, it will press its abdomen to your palm and don’t be surprised if you react by waving your hand and dancing a jig while squealing like a 13-year-old girl at a Jonas Brothers concert. That flight or fight response is not called “hard-wired” for nothing.

After two or three captures you will regain your swagger and be one of the first to say, “here, let me take care of that for you.” But as you reach for the culprit you will be going through a mental checklist: two wings, long antennae, it was hovering, right?

This little buzzer is also known as a “buzz bee.” It has the habit of getting in your face and buzzing loudly. In parts of Appalachia it is known as the “good news” bee. The folklore goes: if one buzzes in your ear you will soon experience good news.


A decade of Birding for the Arts

This past Saturday morning (May 2) more than 20 arts patrons and bird fanciers gathered at 8 a.m. under ominous skies at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre for the 10th annual (time sure passes when you’re having fun) Birding for the Arts fundraiser.

We began, as usual, at the theatre and were rewarded immediately with all three of the area’s mimics — gray catbird, mockingbird and brown thrasher.

Many other common birds, residents like blue jay, common grackle, European starling, northern cardinal, American goldfinch and American robin along with migrants such as northern rough-wing swallow, barn swallow and chimney swift were also noted at the theatre.

Those aforementioned skies began to leak a little as we spied on the green heron rookery at Lake Junaluska. The lake is always a great place to compare and contrast our common swifts and swallows. We saw purple martin, tree swallow, northern rough-wing swallow, barn swallow and chimney swift all side by side. Wetland specialties at the lake included double-crested cormorant, pied-billed grebe and spotted sandpiper. It was a little slower than usual at Junaluska for migrant passerines, but we did manage to find a Cape May warbler and a yellow-rumped warbler.

The next stop was the Waynesville Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is always a productive stop for the Birding for the Arts tour. The dwarf larkspur and other wildflowers here always compete with the birds for our attention. But we came for birds and we weren’t disappointed. Warblers seen and/or heard at the overlook included black-throated blue, black-throated green, American redstart, ovenbird, black-and-white warbler, blackburnian, worm-eating warbler and chestnut-sided. Other Neotropical migrants included indigo bunting, rose-breasted grosbeak, scarlet tanager, veery, blue-headed vireo and red-eyed vireo.

There were numerous grosbeaks at the overlook, all vying like American Idol contestants to be chosen virtuoso. As we were watching one contestant strut his stuff from the top of a not-yet leafed out tree, a different species began to clamor for stage time.

“Fire, fire! Where, where? Here, here, quick put it out!” called an indigo bunting. We located the bunting and a large number of the group was focused on it when we had one of those “birding moments.” A male scarlet tanager suddenly flew into the field of view and perched, it’s scarlet body and jet-black wings contrasting with the bright indigo of the bunting.

Rain began to fall as we left the Waynesville Overlook, headed for Licklog. When we arrived at Licklog Overlook, we were socked in and the rain was steady. Our gracious hosts Sen. Joe Sam and Dr. Kate Queen offered their porch in Waynesville for a dry lunch catered by the Patio.

After the delicious lunch, checklists were passed out and we tallied the morning’s species. Most of the group was surprised to find out, that even through the rain and fog we had recorded 61 species — a reminder of the amazing biological diversity here in our mountains.

The rain and gray had set in for the day. Those of the group with good sense finally dry and with bellies full called it a wonderful trip and packed it in.

That left only the bird-brained — the senator, Kate and myself — to head back into the gray. We got to bird only in snippets in the fog between raindrops but we added a dozen species to the list. Our best stop, species wise, may have been the last one at Polls Gap on Heintooga Road. We probably couldn’t see more than 300 feet but managed to add golden-crowned kinglet, red-breasted nuthatch and yellow-bellied sapsucker to the list.

Because of the limitation on number of participants (due to logistics, birding groups need to be compact), Birding for the Arts is probably not one of the Arts Council’s major fundraisers. But it certainly is one of the most enjoyable. Plan to join us next spring!

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


WNS impacts western Carolina caving

The USDA Forest Service issued an order on May 21 closing all caves and abandoned mines on FS property — unless specifically posted as open — in its Southeastern Region 8. The states affected include Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.

The closures are an effort to combat the spread of white-nose syndrome (WNS.) WNS appears to be caused by a newly described fungus, Geomyces destructans. The fungus grows around the muzzle, ears and wing membranes of infected bats.

WNS was first reported from New York State during the winter of 2006-2007. WNS is highly contagious and has spread to at least eight other states, moving as far south as Virginia.

WNS is incredibly lethal with some hibernacula revealing mortality rates above 90 percent. It is estimated to date that somewhere between one-half million and one million bats have succumbed to WNS including 25,000 endangered Indiana bats.

To date, six species of bats — Indiana bat, little brown bat, big brown bat, northern long-eared bat, small-footed bat and eastern pipistrelle — are known to be susceptible to WNS. WNS is clearly highly contagious among bats but the rapid spread of the disease (more than 450 miles last year) leads scientists to question whether or not the disease can be spread by cavers visiting different sites across the country.

This question of human vectors is what has led agencies like the Forest Service and Fish & Wildlife and organizations like The Nature Conservancy and Southeastern Cave Conservancy across the country, to close access to caves in states where WNS has been detected plus adjoining states.

The Nature Conservancy in North Carolina has closed Bat Cave and Rumbling Bald Cave in Rutherford County as a precaution against the spread of WNS. Of course the Forest Service announcement covers all caves in the Nantahala and/or Pisgah National Forests. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has also ordered closure of all its caves.

In an effort to educate the public about WNS, The Nature Conservancy will lead guided hikes at its Bat Cave Preserve on Wednesdays and Saturdays through Aug. 12. Hikers will not be allowed inside the cave but will be able to see the entrance from the trail. For information regarding these hikes you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or cal 828.350.1431 option 4.

One can find a little carping regarding cave closures across various caving/spelunking forums but the local, regional and national caving/spelunking organizations and the overwhelming majority of their members are supportive of whatever measures are needed to halt this terrible disease. After all there is a kindred spirit between these furry cave dwellers and the light-dependant bipeds that are drawn to their subterranean haunts.

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


Birds of a feather

Yep, they’ll be flocking June 25 at 10 a.m. at the North Carolina Arboretum, 100 Frederick Law Olmstead Way in Asheville. The event will commemorate the publication of North Carolina Birding Trail’s Mountain Trail Guide. The mountains section is the third and final component to NCBT’s outstanding collaborative effort to, in its own words, “... conserve and enhance North Carolina’s bird habitat by promoting sustainable bird-watching activities, economic opportunities and conservation education.”

The 105 sites in the Mountain Trail Guide join 102 Coastal Plain Trail Guide sites and 103 sites from the Piedmont Trail Guide. So when you hit U.S. 64 in Murphy and see the sign that says Manteo, Nc. 563 miles don’t think of it as a looonnnnngggg drive but rather an opportunity to visit as many of the 310 outstanding birding sites across the state as time will allow.

According to the guides’ publisher UNC Press, “...the Mountain Trail Guide presents 105 premier birding destinations in the North Carolina mountains, from the Tennessee border in the west to Interstate 77 in the east. The spiral-bound volume features maps, detailed site descriptions, and color photographs throughout. Each site description includes directions as well as information on access, focal species and habitats, and on-site visitor amenities. Special “while you’re in the area” listings accompany each of eighteen site groupings, so visitors can travel to a cluster of birding destinations and enjoy other local highlights and attractions along the way.”

A number of those mountain sites like Lake Junaluska, Max Patch, Heintooga Spur Road and the southern Great Balsam Mountains adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway are here in Haywood County.

Representatives from the six agencies - NC Wildlife Resources Commission, NC State Parks, Audubon NC, US Fish & Wildlife Service, NC Sea Grant, and NC Cooperative Extension – that partnered to create the NCBT will be at the Arboretum to talk a little about the project and the results.

Field trips to some of the sites will be offered in the afternoon. And if you don’t want to get in your car – the Arboretum is one of the mountain sites. The Arboretum boasts a species list of more than 100 birds.

The Arboretum is the perfect place to highlight NCBT’s efforts to link birders with communities and cultural and environmental attractions as participants will have an opportunity to take in Birds: The Science of Illustration a new exhibit at The Baker Exhibit Center featuring the art and work of H. Douglass Pratt, ornithologist, artist and research curator of birds at the NC State Museum of Natural Sciences and local artist and field guide illustrator John C. Sill of Franklin.

Regrettably I cannot personally attest to Pratt’s work, though I’m sure it is of the utmost quality or it wouldn’t be on exhibit. I can tell you from personal experience that John’s bird art is not only strikingly beautiful but that the attention to detail is impeccable.

Additional exhibit features include: A bird nest collection, containing nests and egg replicas of local songbirds; An interactive bird song display to test and instruct visitors on recognizing songbirds by vocalizations; A habitat match-up interactive mural designed to teach concepts of animal needs and the distinct habitats of local birds in habitats that occur in WNC; An illustration table with sketch paper, pencils, erasers and colored pencils; and Discovery Packs containing binoculars for children to check out birds in the gardens are also available for families to enhance their exploration.


Goodbye to a native son

A light has dimmed in the universe. It was a light that shone with gracious comforting warmth yet it was sparked by a lucidity so radiant, so white hot, that it cut laser-like through the intellectual and pseudo-intellectual babblings of science and religion straight to the heart of the universe like a hot knife through butter.

Thomas Berry, born William Nathan Berry in Greensboro on Nov. 9, 1914 left this corporeal universe on June 1. One of 13 siblings, he was surrounded by family, in Greensboro at the time of his death.

Berry took the name Thomas, after Thomas Aquinas, when he entered the Passionist Order of the Catholic Church at the age of 20. Though ordained a priest, Berry chose the life of scholar, teacher, learner, and sharer.

Some books by Berry include The Great Work, The Universe Story, Dream of the Earth and Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community. Two new titles, The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the 21st Century and Christian Future and the Fate of Earth will be released this year.

A glimpse at the light that spilled forth from the mind and soul of Thomas Berry:

From a 2002 interview with Caroline Webb:

“We can’t survive without using what’s around us but we have to do it in such a way that we recognize this mystique of the community of the Earth. It is time to step back and find the human place in the natural world and not think that we can make the human world primary and the natural world secondary. We have got to say to ourselves, ‘Let’s begin to try to understand the natural world and find a way of prospering the natural world first.’ Then find our survival within that context. Because if we think we can put ourselves first and then fit the natural world into our program, it’s not going to work. We have got to fit the human project into the Earth project. That is what I am suggesting with Law. You have got to fit human law into the structure and functioning of planet Earth.”

[And that mystique makes] “All the difference in the world. In other words it’s the mystique of the mountains and the birds, the sea — it’s what makes us sing. It’s what makes our literature. Even though we have worked out a mechanics that is fairly helpful, it doesn’t give us an interior world. The natural world gives us an interior world. It gives us a healing presence, a fulfilling presence. By the term `presence’ I mean that indwelling quality that manifests itself throughout the natural world. We find this awesome presence in the sun and moon and stars in the heavens, in the mountains and seas of Earth, in the dawn and sunset, in the forests and meadows and wildlife. We are immersed in an ever-renewing wonder-world that evokes our music and dance, our poetry and literature as well as our philosophical reflection and our scientific inquiry. None of our industrial productions brings such inspiration as we obtain from these sources.

“So, even if we use solar energy, without some mystique of the Sun and the Earth, it won’t work. We should do away with the light pollution in cities so that children and all of us can see the stars. Our children don’t have the experience of seeing the stars, and they are crippled, emotionally and in other ways. And that’s the danger of putting children into this context of computers and machines, because what we make, makes us. Children don’t have contact with anything natural, they don’t wander through the meadows and see butterflies, fireflies, lizards and frogs and so they do not have contact with reality — they are living in an artificial world. The greater difficulty is not the physical damage to our lungs from industrial pollution; it is what is happening to our souls, our minds and our emotions.”

“Indigenous people still live in a universe, but we don’t; we live in an economic system. We’ve got all kinds of scientists but we don’t have a universe. There is an Earth out there, but for us it’s just a collection of resources to be exploited. It’s got no dignity. But really it is a communication of wonder.

“Let me recite a poem I wrote about children. It expresses what I mean about ‘cosmology’:

The child awakens to the universe

The mind of the child to a world of wonder

Imagination to a world of beauty

Emotions to a world of intimacy

It takes a universe to make a child

Both in outer form and inner spirit

It takes a universe to educate a child

It takes a universe to fulfill a child

And the first obligation of any generation to its children

Is to bring these two together

So that the child is fulfilled in the universe

And the universe is fulfilled in the child

While the stars ring out in the Heavens

The light Berry shined is not unique. We all have that light. What is unique is that Berry could see that light and understand that it is just a small part of the light of the universe.


Stop and smell the flowers

Sure, we all hear it and we all think, “I’m gonna do just that as soon as I catch up.” And then next year we hear it again.

Well thanks to a wonderful offer from Chuck Dayton and Sara Evans from St. Paul, Minn. and Waynesville, I had the opportunity to ditch my rapid, rabid point to point birding survey for the Forest Service and stop and smell the flowers on Saturday, May 23.

Chuck and Sara were entertaining a group of friends from Minnesota and asked if I would lead a birding/wildflower trip. I had met Chuck and Sara on this spring’s Waynesville Watershed hike and knew they were knowledgeable about and had a keen interest in the natural environment.

Chuck is a retired environmental lawyer whose many accolades include being dubbed Minnesota Sierra Club’s Environmentalist of the Decade for his work in the 1970s to increase and expand wilderness protection in the Boundary Waters. Sara’s love for the outdoors may be in her DNA. Her Mom, Maxilla Evans helped establish and design the Cornelia Bryan Native Garden at Lake Junaluska and in 2006, Maxilla was awarded the 20th annual Tom Dodd Jr. Award of Excellence which is presented each year at the Cullowhee Conference on Native Plants in the Landscape.

There were no hard-core birders in the group so we had a rather leisurely start from Chuck and Sara’s around 9 a.m. Saturday. I believe there were 13 guests from Minnesota plus Chuck, Sara, Kate Queen and myself.

While it was a large group, it was the kind of group hike leaders dream of. The group was interested and attentive and it was easy to see they were enamored by our beautiful old mountains.

We ended up with a decent bird list (58 species) for birding primarily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in late May. And while birds — many likely incubating — were hard to coax from the woods and/or tangles we did get some really good views of Canada warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, black-throated blue warbler, northern parula, wild turkey(s) with polts and sadly, ruffed grouse fledglings on the side of Heintooga Spur Road, where their mom and one brood mate lay mashed by some inattentive driver.

Our birding time was also compromised — in a great way — by all the wildflowers in bloom. I was surprised to find serviceberry and silverbell still blooming at higher elevations along with large-flowered trillium. Other trilliums included wake robin and painted trillium. Canada mayflower was beginning to bloom along Heintooga Road and we found some large stands of umbrella leaf.

Two of my favorite wildflowers were duly noted. Pinkshell azalea, Rhododendron vaseyi, is blooming profusely around the wet, ragged rock outcroppings just before and just beyond Waterrock Knob.

The pinkshell was discovered in 1878 by George Vasey and is known from only four counties in Western North Carolina. The majority of pinkshells are, indeed, pink. But blossoms can range from almost pure white to deep purplish-pink. Grandfather Mountain is home to an extensive population of pinkshell.

Another of my favorite wildflowers, Indian paintbrush is in bloom along the shoulder of Heintooga Road. You can’t miss the scarlet head of Indian paintbrush glowing from the green roadside. But the color is not from the flower. The flowers are actually yellowish-green and the scarlet bracts surround them.

Pinkshell azalea and Indian paintbrush are both ranked S3 in North Carolina meaning they are at moderate risk of extinction due to restricted range and relatively few populations. But both of these species, as well as countless others, are in full bloom now so there’s no excuse not to stop and smell the flowers.


Regular readers of this column probably already know that I’ve run afoul of many regional environmental groups by questioning the environmental and ecological cost-benefits of placing industrial-scale wind farms on top of the mountain ridges across the Appalachians.

In a response to my July 22 Naturalist’s Corner “Up in the air” regarding the rumblings in Raleigh over senate bill 1068 which would, if passed, essentially pave the way for industrial wind farms in certain areas across Western North Carolina, my friend Avram Friedman, executive director of the Canary Coalition, states, “I’m glad he’s started the conversation again.”

Well that’s one of the problems — there’s been very little conversation. Sure, environmental and conservation organizations have come together and there have been some pro-wind seminars at Appalachian State University and there have been some public hearings in certain counties that have endeavored to enact wind-power ordinances, but there has been very little large scale public vetting about an industry that all of us will be subsidizing and that will impact the natural resources across the region.

I tried to initiate a dialogue via Smoky Mountain News — both print and online — back last spring, but it fell on deaf ears. But perhaps now, with the General Assembly embroiled, enough interest will be piqued that newspapers and organizations across the state will investigate more fully and generate more public involvement. And I certainly join with Avram in encouraging that conversation — the kind of conversation that would help those as “wind-challenged” as I to get a clearer picture of the benefits of industrial wind production.

Avram states in his response, “... But, by combining measures designed to reduce energy consumption with an aggressive program to develop wind in the west (which is the least expensive option of producing energy), we can avoid completing Cliffside and even begin phasing out some of the other old coal plants in North Carolina.”

Now I’m no advocate of Cliffside or any other coal plant in North Carolina. But if I read Western North Carolina Renewable Energy Initiative’s “NC Wind Power Facts” correctly, the areas of Western North Carolina identified by Senate bill 1068 as suitable for wind production after all exclusions, setbacks, etc., could produce 768 megawatts (MW) of electricity annually — about 2 percent of the state’s current output. I don’t know how long it would take to develop those suitable sites, but I’m sure build out would take longer than a year or two and according to the North Carolina Utilities Commission, electricity consumption will grow by 2 percent or so each year for the next five years. The math just doesn’t add up.

And you could replace every tree in Western North Carolina with a wind turbine, but unless you point them all westward and turn ‘em on so that they blow back all the ozone produced from western coal-fired plants they will have very little impact on the haze and ozone we experience here, in the mountains.

Avram also states that developing the wind resources of Western North Carolina would create, “... thousands of green jobs ...” Yet, NC Wind Power Facts says that 350 new long-term jobs would be created.

Let’s have those conversations. Let’s air it all out so everyone understands. When Avram speaks of 1,000 megawatts of readily available power and/or Wind Power Facts talks about 768 Mws, are they talking about “rated capacity” or “capacity factor?” There’s quite a difference.

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


Up in the air

Western North Carolina senators Joe Sam Queen, Martin Nesbitt and John Snow might be wishing they had a wind turbine to cool down some of the heat they’ve been taking for throwing a kink into plans that would pave the way for utility-scale wind farms along the ridge tops of Western North Carolina. By the time you read this, western senators will have received another barrage of point and click emails from groups like AIRE (Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy) as there was a caucus on the issue yesterday, July 21.

AIRE’s Web site has the message:

“I support a wind permitting process for the mountains of North Carolina and therefore ask you NOT TO BAN wind energy development in Western North Carolina. Please help our state move forward with green energy and jobs.

I respectfully ask the following:

(1) restore the mountain permitting language in the original Senate Bill 1068

(2) keep the addition in the PCS version directing the permitting agency to render a determination on a permit application with in 150 days of the receipt of a completed application.”

After you add your name and address all you do is click “Send My Message!” and the Website promises to, “We will add your signature from the information you provide.”

So when you see the newspaper accounts of the thousands of emails senators received regarding Senate bill s-1068 you will have an idea of where and how they originated.

I find one aspect of this a little bit troubling. Now I know with AIRE’s close relationship to Appalachian State University they have access to legal acumen much greater than mine. But if they are a 501(c) 3 (SOSID 1100892), doesn’t the IRS prohibit any, “... attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities ...?”

There are a couple of other aspects of Senate Bill 1068 that are also a bit unsettling to me. Remember when then Vice President Dick Cheney created his Energy Task Force? Environmental organizations across the country were up in arms because the people he had chosen to create the administration’s energy policies were — gasp — “Big Energy” players.

Was that the pot calling the kettle black? According to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the language for Senate Bill 1068 was written by the Wind Energy Technical Advisory Group.

And what about the corporate camel’s nose in the tent? Surely no one has entertained the idea that if they get the OK to build on this minuscule 5 percent of good wind sites it might pave the way for expansion in the future.

I remember when I heard about Thomas Berry’s death I looked over some of my favorite quotes of his, and these developments bring this to mind. Berry was talking about the “green” movement, I substituted wind for solar: “... We can’t survive without using what’s around us but we have to do it in such a way that we recognize this mystique of the community of the Earth ... So, even if we use wind energy, without some mystique of the Sun and the Earth, it won’t work.”

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


Last year around this time we talked about York University Professor Bridget Stutchbury’s groundbreaking research with migrating purple martins and wood thrushes (see

Stutchbury, her students and now other researchers — with the aid of some nano-technology — are opening new windows on the world of bird migration. The new technology is in the form of geolocators. These tiny “backpacks” designed by the British Antarctic Survey can weigh as little as 1.1 gram, making them small enough to place on songbirds such as thrushes and martins. The geolocators are held in place at the base of the bird’s spine by small straps around the bird’s legs. The geolocators detect light and allow researchers to estimate a bird’s latitude and longitude by recording sunrise and sunset times.

The accuracy of the geolocators is within 180 miles.

At first glance, plus or minus 180 miles might not seem like pinpoint accuracy, but when you figure you’re tracking a mobile eight-inch object over a linear distance of 4,000 miles and you can not only estimate its location but determine the direction of its movement, it’s pretty amazing.

Results from Stutchbury’s research are already turning the ornithological world on its ear. Stutchbury told Science Watch in a September 2010 interview featuring innovations in research, “Data from the geolocators indicated that songbirds can fly in excess of 500 km (311 miles) per day whereas previous studies using other methods estimated their flight performance at roughly 150 km (93 miles) per day.”

Her research also showed marked differences between fall and spring migration: “We found that songbirds’ overall migration rate was two to six times more rapid in spring than in fall. For example, one purple martin took 43 days to reach Brazil during fall migration, but in spring returned to its breeding colony in only 13 days.”

Stutchbury has expanded her collaboration with the Purple Martin Conservation Association and other researchers to include martins in British Columbia, Texas and Virginia. She hopes to discover, “… how breeding populations map onto wintering sites in South America and how migration distance and breeding location affects migration routes and timing.”

Stutchbury told Science Watch that being able to track migrants to and from their wintering and breeding grounds is paramount to bird conservation:

“Many migratory songbirds are undergoing long-term population declines, in large part due to winter habitat and stopover site loss. Identifying the stopover and wintering sites of specific breeding populations is critical for understanding how breeding versus over-wintering events contribute to population declines.

“Knowing where breeding populations spend the winter, and vice versa, is critical for focusing conservation efforts in regions where they are needed most, and for establishing new and more effective international partnerships in migratory songbird conservation.”

Geolocators are also being used to study migration patterns of threatened and/or endangered birds like the red knot, roseate tern and piping plover.

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


The Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy has partnered with The Conservation Fund to purchase 8,000 acres in southern Transylvania County from former congressman Charles Taylor and family.

Keiran Roe, executive director of the CMLC, described the tract as the largest privately owned piece of wilderness in Western North Carolina, and said he hoped for a closing before the end of 2010.

The Conservation Fund will initially hold the title on the property and will remain the owner until the property is paid off. However, according to CMLC’s website, The Conservation Trust cannot make the down payment unless the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission commits to managing the tract and eventually taking title.

Roe said the $33 million asking price was a real deal.

See also: Headwaters tract deal hinges on Wildlife Commission

UPDATE: Wildlife Commission Pledges Support for East Fork Headwaters

“We’ve had two appraisals in the past year and one came in at $55 million and one was $66 million, he said. Mr. Taylor has been extremely cooperative and has worked with us to make this deal happen.” The conservation groups have raised $3 million as a down payment, according to Roe, and Taylor has agreed to finance the rest and has given the groups five years to pay off the remaining $30 million.

Roe said Wildlife Commission was the most logical choice to manage the tract because of its history of multiple use.

“It’s our hope to see the land remain open to the public,” said Roe.


Taylor’s perspective

It’s no secret that during his 16 years in Congress, Taylor often found himself at odds with national and local environmental groups. He made the League of Conservation Voters’ infamous “Dirty Dozen” list while recording a lifetime score of 5 percent from the group. But Taylor maintained during his long political career and now that he has always been a conservationist.

“There’s been no change in my philosophy,” Taylor said. The cattle farmer and timber manager said he has always been an advocate of multiple use and sound scientific silviculture. He said that most environmental groups were political in nature and that he fought against the idea of taking personal property rights for what he called environmental worship.

Roe said the fact that the Headwaters tract has the state’s highest water quality rating – Outstanding Resource Waters – points to good stewardship.

“It is rare for a privately owned parcel to have such outstanding water quality. It’s truly a tribute to the management of this tract,” Roe said.

Taylor said the water made the Headwaters tract unique. The East Fork flows into the French Broad River, which serves as a back-up drinking water source for the Asheville Regional Water Authority. The importance of the French Broad as a potable water source will only increase as the population of the region grows.

Taylor also noted the impending reinstatement of the estate tax as pause for concern.

“It can be a real dilemma for people who own large amounts of property,” he said. The former congressman said his three sons — Owen, Bryan and Charles Robert — grew up fishing, hiking and roaming the tract. They, ultimately, had the most to say regarding the sale, according to Taylor.

“We grew up hiking to these magnificent waterfalls and fishing in these beautiful trout streams,” Owen Taylor told the Transylvania Times. “By working with the conservation groups, we hope that our children and future generations will continue to have access to the land while opening it up to wider public enjoyment and protecting its water supplies for long-term community benefit.”

According to Roe, there are other tax incentives that landowners such as Taylor are eligible for when they sell their property to a conservancy. There are conservation tax credits, and often the difference between the sale price ($33 million in this case) and the appraised value is seen as a charitable donation.


The property

The southern boundary of the property abuts tens of thousands of acres of publicly owned lands in South Carolin, including an eight-mile common boundary with the Greenville, S.C., watershed. On the North Carolina side, the parcel fits like a jigsaw puzzle between DuPont State Forest and Gorges State Park, creating much needed wildlife corridors.

There are more than 25 waterfalls on the property and more than 50 miles of high quality trout streams that provide habitat for endangered and/or threatened species such as the Appalachian brook trout, green salamander and hellbender (a large aquatic salamander). The tract is also home to the federally endangered rock gnome lichen.

This volume of high quality water is seen as a significant resource for Buncombe and Henderson counties as the Regional Water Authority of Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson counties have built a water intake and treatment facility at the confluence of the Mills and French Broad Rivers.

The tract also contains nine miles of the Foothills Trail, a 107-mile trail network primarily in South Carolina that connects Caesar’s Head State Park in South Carolina with the Gorges State Park in North Carolina. The trail is maintained by the Foothills Trail Conference on a year-to-year lease. Public ownership of the Headwaters tract would guarantee that the trail system would remain intact. Public ownership would also guarantee that Sassafras Mountain, the highest peak in South Carolina, would remain intact.

Opening the tract to the public could also provide significant economic benefits to the region. The Wildlife Commission estimates that hatchery supported waters such as those in the East Fork tract contribute as much as $72.7 million annually to the state’s economy. A 2008 Wildlife Commission study estimated that fish and wildlife-related recreation generated $4.3 billion in state income in 2006.

And there may be more treasures to find. The Blue Ridge escarpment is noted for its biodiversity. This transition stage between the piedmont and mountains contains a myriad of microhabitats including spray cliffs and Southern Appalachian bogs.


The clear night skies last week provided the perfect backdrop for this year’s Hunter’s Moon. The Hunter’s Moon is the first full moon after the Harvest Moon, which is the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox. This year’s harvest moon fell in September just six hours after that equinox.

The Hunter’s Moon usually appears in October, but remember the lunar cycle is not constrained by our calendar and sometimes the Hunter’s Moon does not appear until November. This moon helps mark the northern hemisphere’s tumble from the sun as the Earth spins into its dark phase of short days and long nights.

According to EarthSky (, the moon normally rises about 50 minutes later each successive day. However, that time is shortened during the Hunter’s Moon and it grows shorter the farther north one goes. Here and in other mid-latitude (between 30 and 60 degrees) areas like Washington, D.C., and Boston that time diminishes to about 30 minutes daily. By the time you make it to Fairbanks, Alaska, the Hunter’s Moon will rise at approximately the same time for several days in a row.

This makes evenings under the Hunter’s Moon a really special time as there is no real period of darkness between the setting sun and the rising moon. The Earth slides uninterrupted from the sun’s golden yellow to the moon’s liquid amber.

As the hunter, Orion, takes prominence in the northern hemisphere sky, one would think he would take great pride in the full Hunter’s Moon, after all it was his ego that got him there. However, there might be a little conflict of interest as this year’s Hunter’s Moon completely whitewashed the Orionid meteor shower. The peak for the Orionids this year was between 1 a.m. and dawn last Thursday (Oct. 21), but only the most devoted falling star catchers would have bothered to stare into the face of the glowing Hunter’s Moon.

The Hunter’s Moon is also obscuring Comet Hartley 2. Named after astronomer Malcolm Hartley who discovered the comet in 1986, Hartley 2 passes through about every 6.5 years. The comet was closer to Earth (11.2 million miles) on Oct. 20 than it has ever been since its discovery. But the bright moon and the small size of the comet made it difficult to see. Hartley 2 is about .8 miles in diameter. If it were the size of Halley’s Comet (5 miles in diameter) it would have been like having two full moons.

However, if you’re late to bed or early to rise there should be decent views of Hartley 2 at the end of October and beginning of November. The comet will be near the constellation Gemini, on the eastern horizon in the pre-dawn darkness. On Oct. 28 the comet and the moon will be very close as the moon passes through Gemini.

If you don’t get a good in-person view of Hartley 2, NASA’s got you covered. After being slingshot around Earth’s orbit in June to gain momentum, NASA’s Deep Impact/EPOXI is set to rendezvous with Hartley 2 on Nov. 4. The close encounter of satellite-kind should provide some outstanding imagery.

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


A 4,000-square-foot, $800,000 expansion that includes a major renovation at the Franklin Health and Fitness Center will be finished in about eight weeks.

“We’re wrapping it up,” said Rodney Morris, the facility’s general manager.

Additions include a new aerobics room, a cardio room with updated equipment, a new women’s locker room, a remodeled and expanded men’s locker room, an enhanced spinning room, an expanded KidsZone, a redesigned service desk and a new entrance with handicap access. There will also be new paint and flooring throughout the center.

Franklin Health and Fitness Center opened at its current location on East Main Street in 1988. Rodney’s father, Dr. Ed Morris, was an original founder and is now sole owner of the center. This is the second — and by far the largest — expansion at the facility.


To build or not to build

Morris appeared before Macon County commissioners back in September 2007 at a public hearing on a countywide recreational bond referendum that, if passed, would have built a county recreation center.

Morris told commissioners then that his facility operated on a small profit margin and that any loss of members could result in Franklin Health and Fitness having to close its doors. That bond referendum ultimately failed.

Rodney Morris said that, at this time, he didn’t see a great need for another recreational center in the county and that the majority of voters must have felt the same way.

“If there wasn’t a facility already here, they [commissioners] could have made a better case,” Morris said.


Members first

Sean Callahan, owner of Wind River Construction of Franklin — the company doing the expansion — said he got an unusual request from Morris.

“They asked us to slow down a little,” he said. Callahan said the construction was done in phases to ensure members always had access to the facility.

Rodney Morris said that member access and convenience was paramount during construction. “We’re open from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” Morris said. “Sean and his crew went above and beyond to help us accommodate our members.”

Callahan said that meant working lots of nights. “All the tile had to be laid at night,” he said. And it meant adding stages to the plan so they could come in after hours when members wouldn’t be there.

Jerry Wright has been a member for the 22 years Franklin Health and Fitness has been in business.

“I helped cut the ribbon,” Wright said.

Wright called the expansion “first class,” and said that members were inconvenienced as little a possible.

“At one time they were thinking they may have to close some to accommodate the construction, but they worked around that. I am very pleased that they didn’t have to shut down,” said Wright.

Wright said he remembers 22 years ago when he heard of plans for a new fitness center in Franklin. “I’m a racquetball player,” Wright said, “and when I heard they were gonna have racquetball courts I went down to sign up. At that time Western Carolina was the closest place to play.”

Wright said he and his family enjoy many of the amenities at Franklin Health and Fitness Center.

“My son takes karate twice a week and the pool is really a fun place for the family,” he said.

Wright said there’s nothing better on a cold winter’s Sunday afternoon than loading the family and heading to the fitness center’s 25-yard heated saltwater pool.


Building plans

Bernlohr Architects of Annapolis, Md., designed the expansion and remodeling.

“We interviewed several architects but when we talked with Jim [Bernlohr], we knew he was the best fit for us,” said Rodney Morris.

The firm had worked on more than 150 fitness centers across the country

Callahan said the plans were straightforward and the design was good.

“The architects have never had to make a site visit, everything has gone according to plan, “ Callahan said.

And those plans include a passive electric-solar design along with a natural gas backup that’s used to heat the pools and showers. The roofing, which uses light colored, reflective shingles, is LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and hot water is provided by energy-star certified tank-less hot water heaters.

Morris said the architect, the builder and the sub-contractors were all knowledgeable and comfortable using the latest technology to help create an environmentally friendly environment. Morris said the green building design not only makes sense from an environmental standpoint but that it is also money-saving in the long run.


Meeting needs

Rodney Morris said the driving force behind the expansion was meeting needs.

“Our membership is growing, the town of Franklin is growing and people are more health-conscious,” he said.

There are approximately 1,800 current members at Franklin Health and Fitness Center. Morris said the facility employs about 50 people, with seven full-time staff members. The expansion will likely create a few more employment opportunities.

Morris said the center is diligent in finding the best possible employees and instructors.

“We always conduct a series of interviews,” he said “and all of our instructors must present a class for co-workers before they work with members.”

“We look for instructors with experience. And many of our instructors have four-year degrees in their fields,” Morris said.

“All of our instructors must either be certified or obtain certification as a requirement for employment,” he added.

Morris said the new additions and enhancements should nearly double membership capacity at the facility. However, he said there is still room for growth.

“We own three-and-a-half acres here,” Morris said “and we are prepared to meet the needs of our members.”


Blue, white, lavender and purple corymbs, racemes and panicles will glow from shadowy woods and blaze from sunny meadows from now until the first hard, killing frost. Asters comprise a large beautiful complex and challenging group of wildflowers to pin down. More than 20 species of the genus aster have been recorded from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Because of considerable variation within species and the tendency of species to hybridize, even competent botanists are sometimes left to a “judgment” call when trying to identify certain individuals.

As a not-so-competent botanist, if I’m without a guide once I get past the half dozen or so I can recognize they are simply, “one of the asters.” That doesn’t diminish their beauty or my delight in seeing them, though.

If you’re a botanist or botany student with a good grasp of botanical terms there is probably no better guide for asters in the region than the most current Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. But one must be really familiar with botanical terms to navigate quickly and correctly through the large dichotomous keys in the guide. And probably not many of us weekend warriors want to carry the five-pound tome along in our backpacks.

A couple of more accessible and easier to hike with guides I always recommend are Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and Wildflowers of the Southern Mountains. Both of these guides have a type of key that aids you in identifying the plant. The Newcomb’s key is a bit more involved — more detailed. Newcomb’s also relies on line drawings for descriptions and has only a few color plates. I actually like the line drawings, particularly when dealing with very similar characteristics that might be overlooked in a photograph.

The Wildflowers of the Southern Mountains uses a general key to group similar plants within a family or genus together and then relies on detailed descriptions to pin down the species. Wildflowers of the Southern Mountains uses photographs to help with ID. And while they are great photos and there are 600 of them it’s easy to see that in the plant world, you are going to be left with a lot of stand-alone descriptions. I believe the guide lists 29 species of asters and has 12 plates.

There is no silver-bullet, especially in field guide form, when it comes to identifying asters. Both of the last two field guides are good guides. I know some people who use the two in tandem and increase their odds of ID-ing local asters.

And while most of us will never know most of the asters of Western North Carolina at first glimpse that, as I said before, does not diminish their beauty. And they will hold forth till the killing frost. Learn the ones you can, get a key or keys you’re comfortable with and try to learn more — but most importantly get out there and see them — even if they remain always, “one of the asters.”

Scott’s Creek Overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway is usually a great place for asters. I have recorded Aster divaricatus, white wood aster, A. novae-angliae, New England aster, A. infirmus, cornel-leaved aster and A. acuninatus, whorled wood aster from this overlook.

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


PETA - Cherokee bears part deaux

I have been watching the story in Smoky Mountain News regarding PETA and the caged bears in Cherokee with some interest and have a couple of observations.

First, reporter Julia Merchant states in her piece “PETA targets bear zoos in national campaign” (SMN 7/1/09) that PETA, “... only recently got wind of the practice ...” and noted that, “... the exhibition of bears as a way to lure tourists is hardly new to Cherokee. In fact, it was once much more common.”

The practice of exploiting bears was, indeed, once more common. Bears chained in even worse (than current) conditions along roadsides and Tuffy Truesdale’s Victor — the wrestling bear — were prominent attractions. This treatment, however, did not escape the attention of PETA (People for the ethical treatment of animals) nor, for that matter, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

There is no reason Merchant should know this bit of history because it happened long before she came to the region and before Smoky Mountain News came into being. From the mid to late 1980s and perhaps into the early 1990s, area animal activists spearheaded an effort to end the practice of roadside bears. PETA and HSUS offered support and provided national exposure. In fact, PETA helped organize a demonstration advocating an end to this practice. The demonstration drew a large crowd of supporters. I would estimate more than 100 of us gathered on Great Smoky Mountains National Park property just outside Cherokee’s northern boundary — we couldn’t get a permit for tribal property.

The demonstration was a culmination of months of activism — gathering names on petitions and speaking with tribal leaders. I was part of a small contingent that met with then Principal Chief Jonathan Taylor. Taylor welcomed us graciously, listened attentively, asked pertinent questions regarding animal regulations and, I believe took our message to heart. But we weren’t the only voices heard.

One of the few records I could find regarding the issue — a few paragraphs in the Sept. 17, 1989, Wilmington Morning Star reported that Taylor noted the tribe was receiving, “... about 2,500 letters a year protesting the plight of the caged bears.”

I also recall that the bears had much support from tribal members. Tribal members made up a large percentage of the demonstrators advocating on behalf of the bears. They were also speaking up in tribal council meetings and within their communities.

Cherokee myth exalts the bear with a myriad of fables and for many enrolled members the bear holds a place of respect and admiration. PETA and/or Bob Barker may spark interest in the plight of Cherokee’s bears, but tribal council listens to enrolled members. Yonas’ plight rests, ultimately, in the hands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. I am sure Principal Chief Michell Hicks and today’s tribal council are every bit as receptive as Chief Taylor and his government were. I am also sure the spirit of Yonas is as revered today as it was in the 1980s and that the Cherokee people will do the right thing by their bears.


A note of interest

The US Fish & Wildlife Service has extended the public comment period on its John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System Digital Mapping Pilot Project through Aug. 5, 2009, and has included opportunities for public participation through virtual town meetings on July 14 and 15.

The Coastal Barriers Resources Act (CBRA) was enacted by Congress in 1982 with the intent of protecting coastal barriers by denying federal incentives like federal flood insurance and most federal infrastructure expenditures that promote development. To date the Coastal Barrier Resources System applies to approximately 3 million acres of coastal barriers along the Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes and Atlantic coast. It includes 2,500 miles of shoreline and 585 CBRA units plus 271 OPAs.

An OPA is an Otherwise Protected Area, which CBRA defines as, “... an undeveloped coastal barrier within the boundaries of an area established under Federal, State, or local law, or held by a qualified organization, primarily for wildlife refuge, sanctuary, recreational, or natural resource conservation purposes.” The only federal funding prohibited in an OPA is flood insurance.

CBRA was renewed in 2000 and at that time the US Fish & Wildlife Service was assigned the task of establishing a procedure and determining the costs for updating maps from outdated hard copies to state of the art digital ones.

The 2005 CBRA renewal called for called for the mapping pilot project and public review. Fish & Wildlife mapped approximately 10 percent (70 units) of the Coastal Barriers Resources System with new digital technology. The report recommends remapping the entire CBRS using the new digital technology because the existing maps are outdated and inaccurate. The estimated cost to complete the re-mapping is $17 million.

Ten areas in the Carolinas were digitally re-mapped. They are Pine Island, Roosevelt Natural Area, Hammocks Beach in Onslow County, Hammocks Beach in Carteret County, Onslow Beach Complex, Topsail, Lea Island Complex, Wrightsville Beach and Masonboro Island in North Carolina and Litchfield Beach and Pawleys Inlet in South Carolina.

The Gulf Coast and the Outer Banks may be out of sight but for most of us they are never out of mind. The more than 180 million Americans who visit coastal states like North Carolina every year generate more than $560 billion in tourism revenue.

These barrier resources like tidal channels, marshes and shallow lakes are invaluable marine nurseries helping support the $116 billion per year sport and commercial fishing industries. Plus they are home to rare and endangered species like piping plover, sea turtles and manatees.

The marshes of coastal barriers also act as sponges, soaking up storm surges from hurricanes and other coastal storms. According to scientists every 2.7 miles of barrier wetlands can absorb one foot of storm surge. A 1970s-era Louisiana coastline could have absorbed as much as seven feet of Katrina’s (2005) 20-foot storm surge, perhaps saving New Orleans from flooding.

Information and maps for downloading are available at

The closest place I found to get your hands on hard copies is US Fish & Wildlife offices at 1875 Century Boulevard, Suite 400, Atlanta, Ga. The phone number in Atlanta is 404.679.4000.

Other inquiries can be made to Katie Niemi, Coastal Barrier Coordinator at 703.358.2161.

You may comment by mail to Coastal Barriers Coordinator, Division of Habitat and Resource Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Room 860A, Arlington, VA 22203 or electronically to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

You must register by July 10 to participate in the virtual public meetings. The meeting for the Carolinas is scheduled for July 14 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. eastern time. Register at


New neighbors

I have always had a good number of neotropical migrants nest every season in the woods around my home. The mornings and evenings are filled with the flute-like melodies of wood thrushes, various selections from the wide-ranging repertoire of the hooded warbler, the constant back and forth chatter of red-eyed vireos, the buzzy robin-like song and rolling “chick-buurrr” of the scarlet tanager and the more musical robin-like renditions of the rose-breasted grosbeak.

New songsters have joined the chorus this year. The dapper black-throated blue warbler with its blue-gray back, black face and flanks, clear white underside and white kerchief on the wings is one of the new choristers. I have, occasionally, heard black-throated blues from rather deep in the woods in the past. But this year the noisy crooner is right in front of the house. His buzzy “I’m so lazyeeee” plus longer and shorter derivatives are loud and conspicuous.

The northern parula — another wood warbler of the family Parulidae — is also a new nester at my home this year. The male northern parula is quite a colorful little bird. The parula is grayish above and if you’re fortunate enough to catch one foraging low enough you can see a greenish-orange iridescent patch on its back. He has whitish spectacles and two white wing bars. The throat is yellow and the yellow extends to the chest. It is broken by a dark bar across the throat that has an orange wash (similar to the color on its back) below it.

The northern parula’s standard song is a buzzy, ascending trill that breaks off abruptly at the end. Alternate songs include short buzzy notes, generally with a trill at the end. Some of the parula’s and black-throated blue’s alternate songs can resemble one another.

The ovenbird is another warbler that I usually hear (it has a very loud song) from the woods that has moved in next door this year. In fact, I have often seen the ground-dwelling ovenbird just outside the window from my computer desk. The rusty-backed ovenbird with its darkly streaked breast is suggestive of a thrush but it is sparrow-sized and it has an orange crown.

Many field guides describe the ovenbird’s song as a loud, emphatic “teacher, teacher, teacher.” But in this region the song is monosyllabic, “teach, teach, teach.”

My other new neighbor this year is not a warbler but a flycatcher. The Acadian flycatcher is one of a group of five small flycatchers of the genus Empidonax. All of these dusky little (five inches or so) flycatchers have wing bars and eye-rings and are best identified in the field by voice. The Acadian is the delivery boy of the group, its enthusiastic shout of “pizza” ringing out from the woods.

I don’t know what, if anything, this year’s new suite of nesters says about the environment around my home. Is the maturing forest more attractive to these species? Are these species becoming more numerous and/or expanding their ranges or is it simply the luck of the draw?

Whatever the reason, I’m happy to have these new neighbors and hope that next year will be a replay.


According to a recent report from Chris Kelley, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Mountain Wildlife Diversity Biologist, seven of 12 nesting pairs of peregrine falcons across the mountains of North Carolina successfully fledged chicks. Last year only three of 12 nesting pairs were successful.

NCWRC annually monitors 13 known peregrine territories and searches for falcons in other suitable habitat. This year, according to Kelly, 10 of the 13 known territories were occupied, plus eyries were discovered at Pickens Nose, in Macon County, and Victory Wall, in Haywood County.

These two new nesting sites do have some peregrine history. Victory Wall, here in Haywood County, had nesting peregrines in the 1990s but the birds shifted to Devils Courthouse. Pickens Nose was a NCWRC hack site during the peregrine falcon reintroduction program.

Hacking is the process of taking chicks that were born in captivity to good nesting sites when they’re about a month old. They are kept in a protective enclosure and food is provided. There is minimal human interaction, so the chicks don’t imprint on people. When the chicks can fly, the enclosure is opened. Food is provided until the chicks begin to hunt for themselves.

One male hacked at Pickens Nose nested successfully at Devils Courthouse a few years later. According to Kelly, peregrines were seen at Pickens Nose last year but nesting was not documented. This year two fledglings were documented.

Whiteside Mountain in Jackson County between Cashiers and Highlands is the most successful nesting site in the state. Forty-five chicks have fledged at Whiteside since 1984. Two fledglings were recorded this year. Last year was the first nesting failure at Whiteside in 11 years. There is no way to document, for certain, the cause of the failure but officials know that the closure was violated last year.

When falcons are known to be at a site, authorities close the area to rock climbing and other invasive activities for the duration of the nesting season. Peregrines are very sensitive to disturbance. Adults may leave the eyrie unattended if they are disturbed and frightened chicks have been known to tumble to their death.

Another long-time nesting site was also successful this year. A pair at Looking Glass in Transylvania County successfully fledged three chicks. Looking Glass was home, in 1957, to the last wild pair of peregrines before they disappeared from the state. Thirty-one chicks have fledged from Looking Glass since reintroduction began.

Second-year females were found at three sites this year — Big Lost Cove and Grandfather Mountain in Avery County and North Carolina Wall in Burke County. Nesting attempts at Big Lost Cove and North Carolina Wall were unsuccessful (not uncommon for sub-adult birds.) Kelly reported the results at Grandfather as “unknown.” She stated that a pair was observed at the “usual nest ledge” but it wasn’t clear if they nested. Grandfather boasts lots of remote rock faces that can make it hard for observers to locate birds. Nine documented chicks have fledged at Grandfather.

Grandfather also offered another surprise this year. The second-year female was banded but, according to Kelly, her state of origin could not be determined.

This year’s success is welcomed news. It’s heartening to see these kings and queens of the sky reclaiming their Carolina blue.

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


Waynesville town leaders are weighing whether to conduct selective logging of an old white pine plantation in the Waynesville watershed, a protected 8,000 acre tract whose creeks feed Waynesville’s drinking water reservoir.

While the town permanently protected the watershed from development and large-scale logging several years ago, it left the door open for limited forest management as the need arose. Despite public outcry, the town board maintained that limited timber harvests would be used sparingly and wisely — if at all — and only when the overall health of the forest stood to benefit.

Logging would not be pursued for purely a profit motive, they claimed at the time, nor would it jeopardize water quality of the headwaters that supply Waynesville’s drinking water.

Indeed, the logging being recommended today is being billed as environmentally beneficial.

Foresters, along with the town’s watershed advisory board, have recommended thinning out an old white pine plantation to make way for hardwood trees, which have more ecological benefits.

The harvest plan calls for cutting most of the white pine trees from a 10-acre area. The white pines are widely spaced, and hardwoods have already started growing up in the understory. Removing most of the white pines will allow the hardwoods to mature.

The timber harvest plan calls for selective cutting on another 40 acres, where the white pines are much denser and about 30 years old.

“The idea is to thin this stand,” said Rob Lamb, executive director of Forest Stewards, which has spent several years studying and assessing the watershed’s ecology to develop a long-range forest management plan.

Thinning will increase the vigor of the remaining white pine, plus let some light in to the forest floor to accelerate the re-establishment of native hardwoods.

The far more healthy and valuable stand of white pines left standing could be harvested 20 years from now while allowing for the re-establishment of natural forest at the same time.

Lamb believes it is a win-win-win scenario. He said the watershed will benefit ecologically by phasing out an old white pine plantation in favor of hardwoods, while the town will likely see some profits from the harvest. The logging company that gets the winning bidder would also make money.

Charles Miller, a Waynesville native who lives near the watershed, doesn’t like the idea, however. He was an outspoken critic of timber harvesting in any form or fashion during the debate over the issue five years ago and instead advocates a hands-off management approach.

Miller said the white pine stand is dying off anyway, and hardwoods will take over in their own time.

“The pines are dying. It would be better to have that dead wood on the ground and regenerate the soil than to go in there and destroy that,” Miller said.

Miller said logging will tear up the ground and trample the small hardwoods that have already taken root.

Miller said it is likely a done deal though, citing the outcry that ensued five years ago, to no avail.

“We turned in a petition with 600 names on it and they ignored it,” Miller said.

Town leaders voted 3 - 2 to reserve the right to conduct limited timber harvests in the watershed if deemed ecologically sound. While the watershed emerged as an election issue, those who favored forest management provisions kept their seats.

Peter Bates, natural resources professor at Western Carolina University and president of Forest Stewards board of directors said the harvest plan doesn’t jeopardize the town’s primary goals of conservation and water quality protection.

Town manager Lee Galloway said he feels the Town is ready to “take action” on the white pine harvest plan.

The recommendation comes from the Waynesville Watershed Advisory Board, which Galloway says is comprised of people knowledgeable of forestry practices as well as ordinary citizens. It is also based on a comprehensive management plan for the watershed created by Lamb and Bates,

After the comment period the town board will ultimately decide whether or not to go ahead with the white pine harvest.

“If they decide to go ahead and we advertise the timber sale it could be several months before the bid is completed,” Bates said.

Lamb said he is confident, “… we will get some good bidders.”


Want to weigh in?

Public input on whether to selectively log an old white pine plantation in the Waynesville watershed will be accepted through Nov. 12. The proposed harvest plan is available on the town’s website or hard copies may be picked up at Town Hall.
Submit comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or in person at the Oct. 26 and Nov. 9 town board meetings.


Foggy fall morning at Lake Junaluska

I decided to get out and get a breath of autumn air this morning (Saturday, Oct. 2) by taking a quick tour around Lake Junaluska. It was pretty fresh and there was a little white sheen to some of the rooftops along U.S. 23/74.

By the time I reached the Junaluska golf course I was socked in. I decided to stop at the little parking area at Richland Creek on the Waynesville Greenway. The fog was thick and close.

There were a few chirps emanating from the fog; the occasional roar of traffic along the four-lane; the tink of golf balls being launched by metal woods from the fog-obscured fairway across the creek and then, the unmistakable twittering of hummingbirds. A pair of lingering female ruby-throated hummingbirds were chasing each other around a batch of Japanese honeysuckle that had been coaxed into blooming by the spring-like vernal period.

A mewing gray catbird soon appeared from the middle of the honeysuckle tangle. A Tennessee warbler passed by hawking insects in the brush along the far side of the creek, and a pair of gray squirrels were busy plucking the few remaining walnuts from a nearby black walnut tree. There were a few song sparrows, a couple of cardinals, some crows and blue jays, an eastern phoebe and a female belted kingfisher was stationed on a dead branch just above the creek.

I left the greenway and headed for the fog-shrouded lake. The silhouette of a double-crested cormorant was barely visible. When I stopped to get a better look I could also pick out a few pied-billed grebes through my binoculars. Continuing around the lake, it became apparent that the pied-billed migration was in high gear. I didn’t count individuals but I must have seen at least 15. The winter population of coots is also growing by leaps and bounds.

I took a quick side trip to the Corneille Bryan Native Garden. Pink and white turtleheads, deep blue gentian and white and blue asters joined the blazing red euonymus berries like colored candles in the fog. The liquid “whoit!” of Swainson’s thrushes mingled with the gurgling brook and the fog dripping from leaves. There must have been a half-dozen Swainson’s foraging in the garden.

I decided to make one more stop at the small wetlands behind the dining hall at the lake. It was nice to see the new NC Birding Trail sign dedicated by the Great Smoky Mountains Audubon chapter. Lake Junaluska is site number 37 in the mountain guide to the NC Birding Trail.

Lake Junaluska has a way of always surprising you, and this trip was no different. I spied a couple of warblers flying into a large black cherry adjacent the wetlands. Binoculars revealed a couple of bay-breasted warblers. As I approached to get a better look, I noticed movement in the tag alders along both sides of the small ditch at the wetlands. There was a mixed flock of migrating warblers chasing insects. Bay-breasteds made up the bulk of the flock, but I also saw one Cape May, one black-throated green, one blackpoll and a couple of chestnut-sided warblers. And to top it off, at the end of the wetlands was a pair of wood ducks.

When I threw in the starlings, mockingbirds, a couple of woodpeckers and the other usual suspects, I wound up with 39 species. Not bad for a quick, foggy trip around the lake.


More in the wind than megawatts

The chorus of katydids clamoring in the night air announces the impending fall. And with the arrival of fall comes the departure of millions of Neotropical migrants. Clearly 90 percent of the birds that nested in North America this past summer are either enroute or preparing for that annual trek back south. Several spots across the region provide great opportunities to witness this spectacle.

Raptor migration holds great fascination for many birders. Likely because it occurs during daylight hours and often involves thousands of birds. While there is no place in the region that compares to the 452,000 raptors counted at Corpus Christi, Texas, or even the 25,000 recorded at Cape May, N.J., Caesar’s Head State Park on the Blue Ridge Escarpment in South Carolina compares favorably with better known watches like Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania. Over 14,000 raptors were counted at Caesar’s Head last year, with 12,044 being broad-winged hawks. While the birds are there year after year it requires either perseverance or plain ole luck or both to see great numbers.

Probably 90 percent of the broad-winged hawks are going to pass over Caesar’s Head from mid-September through early October. But 5,000 of them might sail through on one day leaving slim pickings for the other 20 days or so. For instance, last year 9,943 of the 12,044 broad-wings were recorded on two days; 3,683 on the 20th and 6,260 on the 21st.

Passerines migrate under the cover of darkness because it is safer. As day approaches, these songbirds “fall out” and seek rest and fuel for the next leg of their journey. These fallouts might occur almost anywhere depending on wind direction and weather conditions. But some areas are reliable year after year for viewing these passersby.

One that always sticks out in my mind is Ridge Junction Overlook at mile marker 355 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, next to the entrance of Mt. Mitchell State Park. What’s unique about this spot is that birders can sit and watch as waves of migrants come through the pass.

The trails around Jackson Park in Hendersonville are also quite productive during fall migration. Rarities like Connecticut and mourning warblers are often found during migration at Jackson Park along with bay-breasted warblers, Wilson’s warblers, Philadelphia vireos, and Swainson’s and gray-cheeked thrushes.

Even shorebirds can be found in the region. Super Sod a, sod farm along Hooper Lane in Henderson County, can produce some shorebird fallouts in the autumn with the right combination of wind and rain. Property owners at Super Sod have been very accepting of birders as long as you stick to the roadsides and do not walk or drive in the fields.

A not so weather dependent spot for shorebirds is just up I-40 in Cocke County Tennessee. Rankin Bottoms Wildlife Management Area can be accessed from U.S. 25 just north of Newport, Tenn. When TVA starts lowering the water level on Douglas Lake, it leaves large mudflats along the confluence of the Nolichucky and French Broad Rivers at Rankin Bottoms. This area has become a notable stop over for fall shorebirds including many species of sandpipers as well as greater and lesser yellowlegs, dowitchers, ruddy turnstones and others.


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