Don Hendershot

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They’re back

Actually they’ve been back for a while and now their bags are packed and they’re ready to go. But first, it’s time to eat.

In early summer, every year, there is a buzz on most birding listservs regarding the dearth of hummingbirds. Usually by mid July or so there is a collective sigh of relief as hummingbirds mysteriously show up at feeders once again.

Each spring hummingbirds generally arrive in Western North Carolina around early to mid April. Mine have a habit of showing up on tax day (April 15.) When hummers first arrive people notice a lot of activity. What they are seeing is a lot of tired and hungry migrants jockeying for a sip of nectar. Many of these migrants will move on northward but a pair or so will likely stay in the neighborhood and set up housekeeping.

At first these residents will be quite noticeable around the feeder. They will be nectaring regularly plus there will be courtship displays and if there are birds competing for territory, there will be territorial displays and disputes.

Once the birds have paired and nesting season begins in earnest they will be less visible around the feeder. They will spend their time building a nest, laying eggs and then incubating those eggs. This is also the time when native wildflowers start to bloom so other food sources are also available. During this time I still get an occasional glimpse of my hummers — usually early in the morning and/or late in the evening as they sip in for a quick bite and leave. It’s not uncommon to have to empty old, unused food, from the feeder during the hummer doldrums.

Then around mid to late July the feeding station experiences a reawakening amid a cacophony of squeaks, twitters and the whirring of wings. Every time you turn around the feeder is empty, as adults and fledglings appear to partake of the buffet.

And your feeders are likely to stay busy from now through the end of September as ruby-throated hummingbirds begin their long trek back to Mexico and Central America. September is probably the peak migration month for ruby-throated humming birds in this region. I recently read that for every hummingbird you see at your feeder during peak migration, there are 10 you don’t see. So if you see five hummers at your feeder during the course of one day, as many as 50 may have passed through your yard.

One way to tell if you’re getting migrants through your yard is to watch for new males. Male ruby-throateds migrate first. If you notice nothing but females for a day or two and then a male shows up, it’s most likely a male from farther north. By the end of migration, however, usually all that’s left are females and/or juvenile males.

You can learn more about hummingbirds by attending a “Hummingbird Workshop” on Saturday, September 5, at Wild Birds Unlimited in Asheville. Simon Thompson owner of Venture Birding Tours and a partner at Wild Birds Unlimited will lead the workshop. For details and directions call 828.687.9433. Cost is $10 per person.


Bats make good just in time to salvage outing

“Oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

That refrain from the old Animals song runs through my head every time I think about bats. Or I see images of women, running, screaming with arms flailing all around their heads to keep the bats out of their hair. Or perhaps Bela Lugosi standing with a cape drawn across his mouth to hide his fangs, mumbling something like, “I vant to bite your neck.”

But the other evening, the only thought that kept going through my mind was, “Where are the bats?” My 7-year-old’s lips were trembling and tears were welling up in her eyes.

“Daddy you promised we would see bats,” she said, sniffling.

“No, baby,” I said, “somebody told me this was a good place to see bats, and I said we would go look for bats.”

We had watched the sun fall into the Little Tennessee River. Cave swallows had returned to their round jug-like nests under the bridge to roost (another new site for this species in the mountains). The sky was growing darker and darker but still no bats. We reluctantly climbed back into the car to leave, but I didn’t have the keys. I opened the door and got out to retrieve the keys from under the seat.

Hmmm, what was that? “I thought I saw a high-flying bat along that ridgeline over there,” I said. “Look there’s another one way up there.”

“Daddy! One just flew over the car!” Izzy shouted.

Everyone scrambled back out of the car. The bats were there! There weren’t a million, living under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas. But there were dozens flying around. My wife involuntarily flinched when a big brown glided out of the darkness and swooshed past.

We had taken a small bag of feed corn with us to lure the bats closer. No, bats don’t eat corn. But you toss it up in the air and the bats hone in on it with their echolocation and come in for a closer look. You can also use gravel or small rocks. However, the swarms of insects along the road shoulder kept the bats fluttering by nearly at arm’s length.

Insectivorous bats’ echolocation is so sophisticated that they can tell the size of the insect and what direction it is moving. And different species of bats have evolved to hunt in different niches. The bats that were down at the roadside with us were most likely little browns and big browns, you could discern a little size difference. Little browns have an average wingspan of around 10 inches and big browns’ wingspan is about 13 inches.

Like the accipiters of the bird world, little brown, big brown and other bats that hunt insects low, in the canopy and around bushes, have short, broad wings that provide more lift and maneuverability. Bats like the hoary bat that cruises above the canopy have longer narrower wings (like the falcons of the bird world) and are swifter, stronger flyers. A hoary may cover nearly 25 miles in an evening as it searches for food. These high, fast flying bats also echolocate on a lower frequency. Lower frequencies carry farther, and it allows these fast flyers to detect prey at greater distances.

Bats may be observed at dusk almost anyplace there is an open area. We always have a few cruising our yard in the evening. If you add water — a lake or river — it increases the likelihood of viewing bats.


You say to-mah-to, I say to-ma-to

At least Avram and I are talking. Want to join us? If we could generate enough kilowhats, whys, hows and wherefores maybe we could get a “wind forum” section going in Smoky Mountain News.

Avram stated in his latest op-ed, “The most relevant part of Don Hendershot’s last column was his repetition of utility industry projections of a 2 percent annual growth rate in energy consumption for the next five years and beyond. If you are willing to accept the inevitability of uninterrupted growth in energy consumption in the model of utility industry projections, there is no reason to build a single windmill. Don is right. Leave the mountains alone to fade with the rest of life on earth as we gradually and graciously succumb to the pending climate turmoil and an increasingly poisoned nest.”

First, I would like to thank Avram for deciding for everyone what’s most relevant. But I’m sure if something else in the column struck you, personally, he would understand.

Second I didn’t intimate, anywhere in the column, nor do I advocate that we, “...graciously succumb to pending climate turmoil and an increasingly poisoned nest.” But I don’t believe the only two options are build wind farms on the ridge tops of Western North Carolina or “succumb.”

Noting that sales of electricity across the southeast were down between April 2008 and April 2009, Avram states, “In other words, utility industry projections have proven to be flat-out wrong.”

Of course that never happens with wind power projections. Oops, wait a minute – TVA initially projected 6 million kilowatt hours per year for their Buffalo Mountain site in east Tennessee. However their actual production form February 2003 through February 2004 was 3.96 million kilowatt hours.

The other “2 percent ” Avram discusses is, “The current estimates of wind production potential in the mountains range from 2 percent (Don’s estimate) to 11 percent (the Wind Working Group’s estimate) of the state’s electrical needs.“

Again, I would like to thank Avram – this time for crediting me as the originator of that 2 percent estimate. Of course, if you read the column you know that, that estimate came from Western North Carolina Renewable Energy Initiative’s “NC Wind Power Facts” - There are a number of estimates on that page but I chose this one: “ASU [Appalachian State University] Energy center identified 768 MW in western NC after applying all exclusion zones; 50 acre minimum and within 5 miles to transmission.” because I thought this was the one that followed the guidelines of SB 1068.

I didn’t see an 11 percent total but ASU had one for 8 percent . Now the 2 percent (of NC’s electricity) total would call for somewhere around 400-450 turbines. The 8 percent total would call for, according to ASU, 2,100 turbines. So at 11 percent , you must be looking at 2,500 or more turbines.

I wonder how much area, including ingress, egress and connection to power grid, that would require.

I heartily endorse Avram’s call to dramatically reduce our energy consumption and/or the way we obtain said energy. And changing the paradigm about what energy is, what energy does and how we acquire and use energy in harmony with our surroundings is not banning the future. It’s insuring there will be a future.


Dancin' on the dunes

“Look at the butterflies!” I said.

“I know, I’ve been counting them – 27, 28, 29, 30, 32,” said my wife Denise.

“They’re still coming, “ I said.

“41, 43, 44,” she said.

I could see orange butterflies bouncing in the wind. “They must be migrating monarchs,” I said and went off for my binoculars.

I returned and glassed the aerial acrobats. “They’re not monarchs, they’re gulf fritillaries,” I said.

“63, 64, 65,” she said.

We were at Litchfield Inn on Litchfield Beach, S.C. celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary sans the kids and all I could think was, “I wish Izzy was here to see this.”

I went out on the boardwalk that crosses the dunes, from the Inn to the beach. There, quartering on the prevailing Atlantic wind as adept as any sailor, was a seemingly endless progression of gulf fritillaries.

Gulf fritillaries are striking butterflies. It has a wingspan of nearly four inches. The upper sides are bright golden-orange with black markings. When it folds its wings, it shows a brownish under wing with large, elongated, iridescent silver spots.

The gulf fritillary ranges from South America northward through Central America, the West Indies, Mexico and into the southern U.S. as a permanent resident. I spoke with Chris Marsh, executive director of Spring Island Trust at Spring Island, S.C. and he said, “The cut off line for gulf fritillaries as permanent residents on the east coast appears to be around Charleston [S.C.]” And Carlos Chacon, manager of natural history at the Coastal Discovery Museum on Hilton Head Island, S.C. said, “I have gulf fritillaries in every stage from eggs to adult butterflies right now.”

In spring and summer, the gulf fritillary follows its host plant, passionflower, northward. It has been recorded as far north as Manitoba along the east coast and as far north as San Francisco on the west coast. But as summer wanes, these bugs mass and begin to travel southward. However, unlike their famous migrating cousins the monarch butterfly, the physiology and life cycle of the gulf fritillary doesn’t change. While the monarch that hatches in September or October and begins the thousand(s) mile journey back to Mexico doesn’t sexually mature till the next spring, the gulf fritillary’s life cycle remains basically constant and in warmer climes it will reproduce year round.

The dune dance seems to progress down the coast. We observed the parade at Litchfield Beach on September 19; a web page (Sea Pines blog) from Hilton Head noted that October was a great month for, “...a seemingly endless procession of migrating Gulf Fritillaries...”

And if you get out this fall to look for migrating monarchs keep an eye out for gulf fritillaries. I have often seen them associated with monarchs in the fall.

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


Act swiftly

No, I don’t mean fly around in a circle above a chimney or smokestack before disappearing into it. I mean clear your calendar and grab the kids and head to Asheville’s Grove Arcade this Friday (Sept. 25 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.) for their annual “Swift Night Out” and watch as chimney swifts swarm the skies above the arcade before disappearing into the chimneys to roost.

Renowned ornithologist and field guide author Roger Tory Peterson described the chimney swift as “a cigar with wings.” It’s an apt description for this long-winged, five-inch, dark grayish-brown flying machine. If not nesting, the chimney swift spends its entire day on the wing. It chases down aerial insects, laps water, bathes and even gathers nesting materials on the wing.

The chimney swift’s short legs and tiny feet with strong hooked claws are no good for perching or standing but added to its short, stiff tail, they are perfect for clinging to vertical surfaces. Before Europeans made landfall on eastern North America those vertical surfaces included hollow trees and caves.

But with our ancestor’s penchant for clearing and building, homes, factories and businesses with chimneys and smokestacks galore began to dot the landscape and the swifts quickly began to utilize them. The chimney swift’s population and distribution mirrored the urbanization of the eastern United States. They now nest from Florida to Canada and as far west as the foothills of the Rockies.


Man giveth and man taketh away

In recent years the chimney swift population across the eastern U.S. has been in decline. Scientists are not certain of the reason or reasons for this decline but many attribute it to the loss of appropriate roosting sites. The continued clearing of forests takes away hollow trees. Today’s homes with central air and heat either have no chimneys or those chimneys are covered to keep the “pests” out. And, be it good or bad, those industrial smokestacks and chimneys are also disappearing. Since chimney swifts are solitary nesters, the loss of roosts means the loss of nests. For more information regarding the plight of chimney swifts today check out

While chimney swifts are not communal nesters, nesting pairs will tolerate non-breeding swifts in the same roost. And as fall approaches these roosts grow and grow as swifts mass for their annual trek to their wintering grounds in South America.

Swifts are diurnal migrants and large flocks wing their way south every autumn with an eye out for good roosting sites. The Grove Arcade has traditionally attracted thousands of these weary travelers on their way to Peru.

Asheville’s “A Swift Night Out” is sponsored by Asheville PARC (People Advocating Real Conservancy) and the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society. For more information contact Jennifer Saylor at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 828.231.7205.


Surprises under fog

I decided to take advantage of a few free hours last Friday morning to get a firsthand look at fall migration. My strategy was to drive up to Soco Gap and then follow the Blue Ridge Parkway back to the Waynesville exit and home. It was a little overcast at my home when I left. When I got to Soco Gap at the Parkway it was socked in — visibility a couple of hundred feet at best.

I decided to press on because you never know when you might round a bend on the Parkway to see blue skies, plus I happen to be one of those weirdoes that like fog. My first stop was Thunder Struck Ridge Overlook.

It was damp and gray and quiet — not a chirp to be heard. The goldenrod and asters were ringed with faint foggy halos and the bright red-orange mandarin berries glowed like candles from the edge of the woods.

It was hard to break the spell of that all-consuming quiet. But I summoned all my will power and phished out loud. An immature male rose-breasted grosbeak and a gray catbird immediately popped up to the top of the brushy cleared overlook about 30 feet apart. Movement and chirping to my right announced that I had also stirred a couple of dark-eyed juncos. I also caught a fleeting glimpse of one warbler. I’m not 100 percent certain but the habitat, habits and brief look all said immature chestnut-sided to me.

I got back in the truck and pushed onward in the fog. I stopped again at Cranberry Ridge Overlook. Again, all was quiet. I phished. A pair of scolding red-breasted nuthatches appeared at the tips of a Fraser Fir. I watched the nuthatches for a while as I listened to the slow deliberate chick–a-dee-dee-dee of black-capped chickadees. Movement at the top of a Fraser Fir caught my eye and my binoculars revealed a Cape May warbler.

The fog was so thick I decided to drive a bit to see if I could shake it. I crossed U.S. 74, headed towards Asheville on the Parkway. I don’t know if it was geography or time, but the fog now would come and go. I decided to head for Licklog Gap Overlook. Licklog is a good fall migrant flyway but often the birds don’t stop and you’re left trying to glass the feathery phantoms as they fly by.

Friday was one of those days. Birds were passing through but it was hard to get any kind of definitive ID, except for the hummers. In the 25 to 30 minutes I spent at Licklog I saw at least a dozen hummingbirds buzz through. I saw 20 or so passerines fly overhead. I feel pretty sure that two were Baltimore orioles, because of the bright yellow-orange color.

But the best find of the day wasn’t in the skies. I heard the loud raspy chip notes of common yellowthroats and went to investigate. I phished and a yellowthroat popped up. There was another bird close-by in the tangle. When I first glassed the bird, I thought orange-crowned warbler because of the drab olive back, but it was too yellow below. I finally got good looks, and it turned out to be an immature mourning warbler — a rare spring and fall migrant in Western North Carolina.

Even in the fog, we sometimes see the unexpected.


Taking a swim through the air

On long narrow graceful wings, the common nighthawk seems lighter than air as it dips, glides, banks and dives to scoop flying insects out of the sky. As common as dusk itself, this aerobatic ballet was performed all summer long across the ball fields, hay fields, cotton fields, marshes and farm ponds of my youth.

Etched as it is in my psyche, this vision is largely a memory. But for the next couple of weeks I will spend the occasionally evening out and about scouring the horizon for an encore performance.

Autumn migration is the most reliable time to see common nighthawks across Western North Carolina and recent posts on the Carolina Bird Club’s listserv from Galax, Va., through Raleigh to Long Shoals Road south of Asheville attest to the fact that migration is upon us.

With a wingspan of two feet, these crepuscular fliers look to be all wings and head as the slim nine-inch body tapers away to air. Common nighthawks belong to the family Caprimulgidae, which loosely translated from the Greek means “goat-sucker.” Fable has it that shepherds and farmers from the days of Aristotle feared these large-mouthed birds often found in the fields at dawn were suckling from the goats and sheep at night. The family is also known collectively as “nightjars” because of the loud nighttime and predawn calls of some species like the European nightjar, whip-poor-will and Chuck-will’s-widow. Where I grew up they were known as bullbats, probably because of their bat-like insect-chasing aerobatics and the loud booming noise the male makes with its wings during courtship displays.

Because of the widespread distribution of this species — it nests across North America including some areas of Mexico and winters from Central to South America — and the fact that it is abundant in some areas, it is listed as a species of “least concern” by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature.)

But by the time I left Louisiana in the mid-1980s the numbers of common nighthawk appeared to be dwindling, especially in northeast Louisiana. And it seems the same is true across its range.

There have been efforts to get citizens involved in surveying, a la “hawk watches,” as common nighthawks do migrate in loose flocks and can often be seen at twilight. I have run across some local watches like Haverford College in Pennsylvania and one in Charlottesville, Va., sponsored by the Monticello Bird Club, but I know of none in the region.

But official or not, getting out on these autumn evenings at dusk, especially in open, rural areas is a treat in itself. So if you need an excuse — go on a nighthawk watch. Just don’t be surprised, should you encounter some, to find yourself back again next autumn to watch this life-affirming ballet and marvel at how our North Carolina mosquitoes help fuel that Canadian-breeding air-dancer to its winter home in Brazil.


North Carolina’s loss – Louisiana’s gain

Chris Canfield has stepped down as executive director of Audubon North Carolina to assume the position of vice president for Gulf of Mexico Conservation and Restoration. Canfield took the helm at Audubon North Carolina in 2000 and during his 10-year tenure the organization has grown in scope and stature to become one of the premier conservation/environmental organizations in the state – its influence reaching from the mountains to the sea.

Canfield was awarded National Audubon’s Charles H. Callison Award in 2009 for his outstanding leadership and service. John Flicker, then National Audubon president, noted, “He [Canfield] has made Audubon North Carolina a model for Audubon’s state programs nationwide.”

Some of Audubon North Carolina’s accomplishments under Canfield’s watch include spearheading a grassroots coalition to stop the U.S. Navy from building an airfield adjacent to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge; working to improve natural resource management at Cape Hatteras National Seashore; implementing a statewide Important Bird Area program that includes four million acres at 96 sites across the state and helping, with partners, to establish North Carolina’s Birding Trail that stretches from the Outer Banks, across the Piedmont to the peaks of Western North Carolina.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done in North Carolina,” Canfield said. He noted that it was especially rewarding to work with local Audubon chapters, individuals, groups and agencies across the state. Canfield saw North Carolina’s IBA program as a way to assimilate, enhance, expand and incorporate different natural resource goals and land ethics into an overarching conservation initiative that could simultaneously meet a myriad of ecological and environmental needs. “And I believe it’s as good a model as any out there,” he said.

Canfield’s new position was not on any Audubon job board and Canfield did not apply for it. “At the (Audubon NC) annual meeting in Highlands, I spoke from my heart about the oil spill and the environmental impacts along the Gulf Coast,” Canfield said. “Next thing I know, I got a call from Audubon headquarters in New York saying we want you to coordinate the work going on in the Gulf.

“It threw me, at first. I thought, uh-oh, the universe is calling my bluff. But,” he said, “I have Tabasco in my soul,” referring to the fact that he was born in Baton Rouge and spent the first 20 years of his life in Louisiana and south Alabama.

Canfield toured the area with National Audubon president David Yarnold and said, “I am humbled by the work going on in the Gulf and what I’ve been asked to oversee.”

The position is a work in progress. “There’s a lot, yet, to be figured out,” Canfield said. “There’s a lot of great work going on along the Gulf from Texas to Florida, and it’ll be my job to codify and coordinate all these parts to create an in-depth program to benefit the entire region.

“We know how to deal with oil on a beach. But we don’t know what the long-term impacts could be.”

Canfield said that BP should step up and do more to assist in restoration in the Gulf. He said it would be part of his job to figure out how to work with the myriad oil and energy companies that are as much a part of the gumbo of Gulf coastal life as the marshes and estuaries they drill in. “We know we can do it better,” he said.

My North Carolina mountain heart will miss Chris, but the Tabasco in my Louisiana soul welcomes him home.


The rush to be green is making me blue

Let’s see, automakers can get CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) credits for making gas guzzlers like Chevy’s suburban that can run on ethanol. That way they can rate one of those gas-guzzlers that gets 13 mpg at 23 mpg.

Oh, and say goodbye to roasting ears. If we’re gonna get the congressionally mandated amount of ethanol (36 billion gallons) by 2022, it will take all the corn grown in the U.S. today. And not to be outdone, Indonesia and Central and South American countries are losing around a football field a minute of rainforest to biofuel production.

Here in Western North Carolina, wind energy proponents want you to believe they can create 1,000 MW (megawatts) of electricity by scratching out, in an environmentally sensitive way, of course, an acre here and an acre there along our ridgetops to place giant, 20-story high wind turbines. They know the fallacy of that scenario because they understand the jargon. The 1,000 MWs is wind-speak for “rated capacity.” The actual electricity produced (capacity factor) from 1,000 MW of wind-speak is around 300 MW. So if you wanted to produce 1,000 MW of real, usable electricity you would have to scratch out three times as much ridgetop.

The newest green rush is blue light. LED (light emitting diode) lighting is widely touted as the newest greenest energy saver when it comes to all your lighting needs. The problem, according to the International Dark-Sky Association, is that LEDs are blue. In a recent press release, IDA pointed out some of the drawbacks of using LEDs for outdoor lighting.

“The rapidly expanding use of bluish-white outdoor lighting threatens visibility at night and jeopardizes the nocturnal environment worldwide. This surge is fueled by the promise of energy savings and reduced lighting maintenance ... Unfortunately, bluish light produces high levels of light pollution with significant environmental impact. These lights are known to increase glare and compromise human vision, especially in the aging eye. Short wavelength light also increases sky glow disproportionately. In addition, blue light has a greater tendency to affect living organisms through disruption of their biological processes that rely upon natural cycles of daylight and darkness, such as the circadian rhythm. For only a modest improvement in outdoor lighting efficiency, these new sources dramatically escalate the environmental damage caused by artificial lighting.”

I can see it all now. My daughter Izzy’s daughter is getting ready for a family outing to the great outdoors. She loads everyone up in the nice roomy ethanol burning SUV. It’s twilight and the LEDs are just beginning to produce a beautiful blue glow across the horizon. They trek out through the vast cornfields till they come to a wide paved road that seems to follow roadside transmission lines up to a nice cleared ridgetop. There they sit and watch the bluish light reflect off the bright white blades of the magnificent wind turbine and revel in the seemingly inexhaustible beauty of the natural world.

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


Slogging through the watershed

It was dark, 39 degrees and a steady light drizzle when I walked from the house to my truck last Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m. By the time I got to town, the rain had stopped, and when I arrived at the treatment plant at Waynesville’s watershed, there were five brave souls huddled in the dark under the eave of the building waiting for me.

The last email I had received from assistant town manager Alison Melnikova said that 14 people had signed up for the short birding excursion before the annual fall watershed hike. I was surprised to see that nearly half had showed up under conditions that would have had many seasoned birders turning off their alarms and rolling back under the covers.

As we were trying to figure out logistics, Alison showed up in a town 15-passenger van. We all piled in the van and drove a mile or so into the watershed. The wind was steady and the rain was intermittent. We decided to keep Alison and the van nearby in case the rain became steady.

As one might expect on a cold, windy, rainy mid-October morning, it was pretty quiet up in the watershed. We had Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice around us at just about every stop we made on our way back down to the dam. We also heard a tom turkey gobble and we saw crows, an unidentified accipiter — either a sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk, a yellow-bellied sapsucker and heard blue jays.

At the dam around 8:30 a.m. we found a small flock of palm warblers and some ruby-crowned kinglets. We walked out on the dam. All the reservoir yielded — other than beautiful views of the mountains through wispy tatters of fog — was a pied-billed grebe and a belted kingfisher.

The 9 o’clock hikers were arriving down at the treatment plant and since some of the birders had signed up for both hikes, we decided to walk down and join them. But when we got to the intersection of the main road down to the plant and the spur road across the dam, we ran into a flurry of activity. We found a scattered, jumbled up mixed flock of migrants. There were rose-breasted grosbeaks, Swainson’s thrush, wood thrush, blue-headed vireo, gray catbird, Tennessee warbler, palm warbler, eastern phoebe and more. Before we could sort through everything, the 9 o’clock hikers were headed up the road into the watershed.

We walked down to the plant. I thought we had a respectable morning considering conditions and time birded. We finished the morning with just over 20 species. A couple of the birders peeled off, headed for hot coffee and drier climes. The rest jumped in my truck and we headed back to join the other hikers.

While conditions were damp, hikers’ spirits weren’t dampened and most reveled in the snow we encountered at around 4,000 feet. I didn’t do a head count but estimated that there must have been around 30 hikers, a really good number considering the conditions.

Remember to keep an eye on Waynesville’s Web site for information regarding next spring’s hike.

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


The leaves, they are a’ changing

It seems like colors popped on the mountains almost overnight last Thursday or Friday. It went from a spot of color here and there to a mix of yellows, reds and oranges splashing down the mountainsides. I think those few nights with temperatures in the low 40s helped. Cold temperatures help trap anthocyanin — the pigment responsible for the red in much of our fall foliage — in the leaves.

And now, just as the color parade is getting underway, comes two of leaf season’s biggest enemies — rain and wind. But, as I have preached in this column before, this October is going to be the best leaf season we’re going to have this year. And don’t be afraid to get out on those drizzly, overcast days.

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

If you’re a shutterbug hoping to capture some of autumn’s rich color for posterity, you are probably already a fan of cloud cover. Those bluebird days are great for looking at but often they don’t translate well in photos. Bright sunlight tends to wash out highlights created by subtle shifts in hues and/or tones. Plus shadows are hard to escape.

Overcast skies produce a more diffuse, balanced light. They eliminate shadows and reflections and let the true colors speak for themselves. And if you have the talent (I wish I did) and fog is swirling, then you can get really creative.

But you can’t see and/or photograph anything if you don’t get out and look. Here are one of my favorite autumn drives:

Take U.S. 276 from Waynesville, to Bethel and pick up N.C. 215. Drive N.C. 215 through Shining Rock Wilderness and across the Blue Ridge Parkway. After the Parkway, N.C. 215 is a windy, high-elevation drive until it starts to fall down toward Rosman and U.S. 64. From N.C. 215, you get a good view of Roy Taylor Forest to the southwest.

At Rosman, take U.S. 64 West through Sapphire Valley to Cashiers and on to Highlands. You will be immersed in color. Continue on U.S. 64 West from Highlands through the Cullasaja Gorge to Franklin. The gorge provides spectacular scenery.

In Franklin, pickup U.S. 441 North to Dillsboro. The drive out of Franklin may start out a little boring, but the Cowee Mountains are sure to spice it up.

At Dillsboro, you will pickup U.S. 23/74 East back to Waynesville. If you drive this road often you may not pay a lot of attention. But coming from Sylva, the Balsam Mountains provide outstanding vistas during peak color.

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


Just leisure time in good company

So much of our time in this soured economy is spent paying homage to the almighty dollar that leisure time – real leisure time, not ferrying the kids to soccer or mowing the yard – is a nostalgic memory. Well, last Sunday I laced my boots, gathered my field guides and binoculars and met my friend Bob Olthoff at 7:30 a.m. for a morning afield. A pass by the Quick Stop for a hot cup ‘o Joe and we were headed for the Parkway.

We had decided we would drive the Parkway from Waynesville to Cherokee and then scoot over to Kituwah in search of fall migrants. The first couple of stops on the Parkway were slow. Juncos were chipping and trilling and blue-headed vireos were around but not much more. We figured it was probably the chill and brisk southwest winds keeping things so subdued.

An hour later it was still fresh up there; the wind had a bit of a bite. We had seen one small, busy flock of migrants that Bob called “express” birds. We know there were Tennessee warblers and blue-headed vireos in the group, but those were the only species we were able to identify.

But that’s the beauty of the Parkway and leisure time. We weren’t seeing many migrants. Heck, we weren’t seeing many birds at all. But we were seeing mountains for 50 miles on one of those rare, clear mornings. And we saw clouds sleeping in the valleys, with dark peaks poking through. And we saw mountain ashes bent over under the burden of pounds of shiny, candy-apple red berries. Oh, and we saw ladies’ tresses — lots and lots of ladies’ tresses. This delicate, slender white orchid was blooming profusely along the shoulder of the Parkway.

There are at least four species of ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes) in the region. The one we found showing off last Sunday was Spiranthes cernua, nodding ladies’ tresses. The flowering stalk of nodding ladies’ tresses, which rises from a rosette of narrow basal leaves, may reach about a foot in height. Numerous small white flowers spiral around the stalk. The moniker, ladies’ tresses, came from the idea that the flowers spiraling around the stalk resembled hair braids. This characteristic may be more pronounced in Spiranthes lacera, slender ladies’ tresses. Nodding ladies’ tresses blooms from August till frost.

Stiff gentian, Gentianella quinquefolia, was also prominent along the roadsides of the Parkway and the entrance to Waterrock Knob was radiant with goldenrod. I’m pretty sure it is mountain goldenrod, Solidago roanensis.

Now we didn’t give up on birds. We moved on down to Kituwah. The prevailing southwesterly winds had begun to push clouds in and the skies were beginning to get a little overcast. Kituwah was almost as quiet as the Parkway except for numerous eastern phoebes and a flock of palm warblers.

We didn’t tick off a hundred species. We didn’t find anything rare or unusual. But we had hot coffee, good conversation and a leisurely morning in a beautiful setting. How cool is that?

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


The hunter is back

Orion the hunter, one of the most noted and most recognizable constellations in the heavens is once again gaining prominence in the Northern Hemisphere. The hunter begins stalking the eastern skies around 8:30 p.m. and will be with us, though rising later and later, till he slips into the morning sky next April.

Astronomers believe Orion, as we know him, is more than one million years old and will be with us for one to two million years more. Orion’s sword gleams with another one of the night’s treasures.

This bluish dazzle, observable with the naked eye is the Orion nebulae, an interstellar cloud of cosmic gas and dust. A good pair of 10X binoculars and a dark night can provide a pretty impressive look at the Orion nebulae. Jupiter also dances brightly in the November sky. It is the brightest point of light in the southern sky. With binoculars, you will likely be able to pick out one or more of this giant planet’s larger moons.

Binoculars can also help you get a good view of the Seven Sisters. The Seven Sisters or Pleiades is a small dipper-shaped star cluster that will be with us all winter. If you draw an imaginary line through Orion’s belt from the southeast to the northwest it will point to a bright star – Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the bull. Just beyond Aldebaran are the Pleiades; they mark the bull’s shoulder. The Pleiades, like Orion, will be with us till April, but they are especially prominent in November when they glow from dusk till dawn.

While this cluster is known as the Seven Sisters, most people will only make out six stars in the dipper, with the unaided eye. Many more stars will come into focus through binoculars. There are more than 100 stars in this cluster. Astronomers believe all the stars in the Pleiades cluster originated from the same cloud of dust and gas more than 100 million years ago.

The Pleiades are out there. The gravitational-bound cluster is more than 430 light-years from Earth. They blaze through the firmament at 25 miles per second.

Another open cluster of stars prominent in the November sky is the Hyades Star Cluster. If you find Aldebaran, you’ve found the Hyades, even though Aldebaran is actually not part of the cluster. It is actually in front of, or nearer to the Earth, than the Hyades. There are about 200 stars in the Hyades cluster. About a dozen are visible to the naked eye, and they mark the head of Taurus.

If you’re reading this on Wednesday, Nov. 25, grab your binoculars and get outside before the waxing moon becomes full on December 1 and puts a golden damper on searching for night objects.


I wanna go home with the armadillo

When you’re stuck in one place for 12 hours at a time, a lot of weird stuff goes through your head. The other night at work, the refrain, “I wanna go home with the armadillo,” from Texas troubadour Gary P. Nunn’s classic “London Homesick Blues” crept in and would not dislodge.

Twelve hours of “armadillo” brought back lots of Louisiana memories. The little roly-poly, weird looking, armor-plated nine-banded armadillo, Dasypus novemcinctus, was a ubiquitous feature of the landscape of northeast Louisiana where I grew up. It was found from forest to farm and from bayou bank to backyard, much like Western North Carolina’s whistle pig.

At the little tarpaper camp on Horseshoe Lake where much of my misspent youth was spent, armadillos were a regular spring feature. Each spring, right after mamma skunk and all her little stinkers vacated, the armadillo would move in and raise her family.

Besides being cute, baby nine-banded armadillos are unique in the world of mammals. They are the only mammals that give birth to genetically identical quadruplets each and every litter.

Unfortunately for the armadillo, this is one feature that paints a big red bull’s eye on its shell for collectors for animal labs. Genetically identical specimens are ideal for tests that require consistent genetic makeup. Another trait that makes armadillos favored lab specimens is the fact that they are one of the few known, non-human, species that can contract leprosy systemically.

But as a 9- to 12-year-old kid, my attraction to armadillos was less intellectual and much more visceral — they were just loads of fun. Armadillos have rather poor senses of smell and vision and are generally quite distracted when they are busy snuffling and shuffling around for food. This is even more apparent with youngsters, making them relatively easy to sneak up on.

Once you sneak up on them — then the fun starts. Armadillos have a habit of launching themselves vertically, about two-three feet off the ground when startled. This is a definite no-no where autos are concerned and probably the reason that road-kill is most people’s initial contact with armadillos. Where other animals like chipmunks, possums, etc., have a tendency to hunker down when suddenly surprised by a half ton of plastic and metal hurtling along at 70 m.p.h., armadillos pop right up. But in the woods, they just grunt, bounce up, hit the ground, run a couple of yards and start foraging again. What better way for a bored 10-year-old to amuse himself than by following a troupe of armadillos around in the woods, goosing them?

I remember the first time I learned, incredulously, that armadillos are adept swimmers. A friend and I were cruising the back roads of Morehouse Parish one day and encountered an armadillo on a bridge crossing Bayou Bonne Idee. I stopped and let my friend out on one end of the bridge, drove to the other end and got out. We had the critter cornered. But as we approached, the armadillo stood up on its hind legs, sniffed and launched itself into the Bonne Idée below, where it splashed down, bobbed up and paddled ashore.

The nine-banded armadillo is found from Central America into the southeastern United States and is increasing its range northward.

While I found no records from North Carolina, the armadillo has made it to The Land Between the Lakes in Tennessee-Kentucky and can be found in Georgia and South Carolina. It is probably only a matter of time before it makes its way to coastal and/or Piedmont North Carolina.


No, not the Fab Four — more like the Fab Gazillion. Swarms of thousands to perhaps hundreds of thousands of Asian lady beetles, Harmonia axyridis, (those cute little ladybugs) are coming, not to a location near you, but to your location.

This tiny bug has a penchant for swarming in the fall looking for good overwintering sites. Across Asia from Siberia to Japan, those sites are mostly mountainsides, cliffs and rock outcroppings. Here in the good ole’ U.S. of A., those sites are too often homes, businesses and/or other man-made structures.

We will probably never learn our lesson bout messin’ with Mother Nature. Asian lady beetles were brought to this country in the late 1800s to early 1900s as biological control agents targeting pests like aphids and others. It seems it took the Asian beetle a little while to get established. The first established population was recorded in Louisiana in 1988. Since then they have spread across the U.S. reaching Canada in 1994.

When I first researched these little buggers back in 2001, I spoke with Jim Costa, professor and entomologist (we can now add author and director of Highlands Biological Station to his titles) at Western Carolina University. Costa noted that these ladybugs emit an aggregating pheromone in the fall. This pheromone is not especially intense but its effectiveness is multiplied by numbers. The bigger the swarm, the smellier the brew.

Homeowners are likely to first notice ladybugs on the outside of their home, flitting around windows or doorways or crawling on outside walls. But unless your home is airtight it is only a matter of time before you notice that spot on the wall above the kitchen window is moving.

What to do? If you consider exterior pesticide application by a professional pest control company, here are some things to think about. If you spray too early, the insecticide is not effective when the beetles arrive. If you wait until they arrive, many will make it into interior spaces and the spray will be ineffective. And, of course, you are increasing the toxin level around your home.

Interior application is even trickier. These little bugs are hard-nosed and hard shelled. They must be sprayed directly or crawl across treated surfaces for the insecticide to be successful. Once again, this increases toxin levels, and now, it’s inside your home.

One way to deal with ladybugs inside your home is to vacuum them. For those with a soft spot for these cute beneficial creatures, a handkerchief can be placed between the vacuum hose and the dust collection bag or area and the ladybugs can be trapped and relocated.

Whatever you do, you don’t want to agitate or squash these critters. This triggers a defensive reaction known as reflex bleeding. The ladybug emits a foul smelling, foul tasting (if you’re a predator) fluid that can stain walls and/or fabrics.


Panther Top fire tower

My family spent a wonderful sunny Sunday afternoon this week in the Tusquitee Ranger District of the Nantahala National Forest just west of Murphy.

Our first stop was the Panther Top Lookout tower on Forest Service Road 85. The 30-foot high former live-in tower was constructed in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Panther Top is the western-most fire tower in the state.

Its 2,293 feet elevation will fool you. In fact when we arrived at the summit, Denise remarked, “It’s like we’re at the top of the world.” The illusion is created because you are overlooking low-lying valleys all around with mountains in the distant background.

I’ve been doing spring bird-point counts for the Forest Service in the Tusquitee District for four years now and almost every fall I get back for an afternoon to look for migrating raptors simply because there are a couple of places where you can see lots of sky.

In the past I have focused my attention on the north end of the Beech Creek Seed Orchard. And each trip has resulted in a few migrants. I believe the biggest day was between 30 and 40 broad-winged hawks and three bald eagles.

This trip I decided to scope out the fire tower. After about 20 minutes I caught a bald eagle that was already south of the tower and watched as it continued to track to the south-southwest. It was probably another half-hour of scanning the skies, watching little girls gambol on the grassy knob and tracking butterflies that danced over the bald (a couple of monarchs, some sulphurs and great-spangled fritillaries and two black swallowtails) before I found two more black specks through the binoculars. These were so far in the distance that I couldn’t find them without the bins.

But as I watched them circle and glide they came nearer and nearer till we could make them out with the naked eye and soon there were five broad-wings that lazily circled and then streamed off to the southwest.

Soon after the hawks another mature bald eagle appeared, and as it circled the sun sparkled brilliant-white from its head and tail. I lost this bird and don’t know if it was migrating or checking out the draw-down Hiwassee Reservoir for a meal.

We left the fire tower and went to a spot where there is a colony of redheaded woodpeckers. We played a tape and soon three redheaded woodpeckers were over the truck checking us out.

It was getting late for migrants, around 5 p.m., when we left the woodpeckers and made one last stop in the seed orchard. We didn’t add any raptors to our list but did see one more migrant monarch and one bright, fresh Gulf fritillary.

All in all a wonderful Sunday afternoon.


The Good, The Bad and The Deadly is one of five classes that will be offered by the Asheville Mushroom Club (AMC) during its annual FungiFest, which will be held Sept. 18 at the North Carolina Arboretum.

The day-long event will include displays, classes and workshops. At 10:15 a.m. there will be a large display of a variety of regional mushrooms all identified. A mycologist will also be on hand to answer questions. The display is free and open to the public. Classes and workshops will be available for a fee. The classes are:

Meet Your Mushrooms: The Good, The Bad and The Deadly — an introduction to fungi, 9:15 a.m.-10:15 a.m. Cost: $15 for the public, $11 AMC members.

Recycling & Composting with Mushrooms: Learn how to grow mushrooms using ordinary household materials, 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Cost: $17 for the public, $13 AMC members.

Cooking with Mushrooms: Enjoy a cooking demonstration and tasting featuring recipes from the cookbook “Cooking with the Asheville Mushroom Club,” 11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m. Cost: $19 for the public, $15 AMC members.

Medicinal Mushrooms for Immunity and Well-Being: Discover the health benefits and medicinal uses of mushrooms, 1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Cost: $15 for the public, $11 AMC members.

Growing Your Own Shiitake Mushrooms: Master the basics of drilling, inoculating, stacking and caring for shiitake logs, 2:45 p.m.-4:00 p.m. Cost: $15 for the public, $11 AMC members.

The AMC was founded in 1983. The club motto is “fun, fungi, friendship, forays, freedom and spaghetti.” By the end of 1983 membership had grown to 11. But those 11 kept foraying and having fun — not to mention learning a lot about mushrooms — and today there are probably more than 100 dues-paying members.

The Western North Carolina Nature Center at 75 Gashes Creek Road in east Asheville has been home to the AMC since its inception. Monthly meetings are still held there from March through October at 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month. Meetings are free and open to the public. Forays, on the other hand, require membership. To learn more about the AMC drop in on one of their meetings, check out their website at or visit the FungiFest at the Arboretum for a little fun, fungi and friendship.

Class space at the FungiFest will be limited. To register call 828.665.2492, Ext. 314 or go to

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


It’s 11 p.m. – do you know where your wood thrush is?

“Hello, Ms. Stutchbury, this is OnStar. Your wood thrush that is supposed to be on its way to Mexico is actually in New Orleans.”

It’s really not as simple as that, but technology is beginning to fill in more blanks regarding avian migration. York University professor Bridget Stutchbury and her researchers are outfitting wood thrushes and purple martins with tiny (1.5 gram) geolocator backpacks in order to track their entire migration cycle from Pennsylvania to South America and back.

These dime-sized backpacks are held in place at the base of the bird’s spine by thin straps looped around its legs. According to Stutchbury, the backpacks do not interfere with flight nor the bird’s regular routine and/or habits. The geolocators record light levels. Researchers can analyze the light data and estimate the bird’s latitude and longitude to within 180 miles at any given time.

At first glance, plus or minus 180 miles may 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.

Plus I can assure you that, as we speak, techno-geeks somewhere are sipping lattes and devising ways to enhance the accuracy of these devices. It’s what they do.

Stutchbury and her researchers outfitted 14 wood thrushes and 20 purple martins with backpacks on their nesting grounds in Pennsylvania in 2007. In the summer of 2008, they recovered backpacks from five wood thrushes and two purple martins.

As is so often the case in the natural world, documentable facts prove that animals are even more extraordinary than we assumed.

Earlier migration studies estimated flight performance of migrants at around 95 miles per day. Stutchbury’s birds blew that assumption out of the water by winging more than 300 miles in a single day.

The study, funded in part by the National Geographic Society, indicates that fall migration is a more leisurely event than spring migration. According to researchers four wood thrushes spent from one to two weeks in the southeastern U.S. before crossing the Gulf of Mexico. A group of purple martins took around a month’s respite on the Yucatan Peninsula before heading on to Brazil.

Perhaps it’s that eons old biological urge to merge, but whatever the reason, spring migration back to breeding grounds is much more rapid and direct. One purple martin that sauntered down to Brazil in 43 days returned to its breeding colony in Pennsylvania in a blistering 13 days, averaging more than 300 miles per day.

This groundbreaking research has a myriad of applications. Songbird populations have been declining for decades, according to Stutchbury in a recent Science Daily article, “Tracking birds to their wintering areas is also essential for predicting the impact of tropical habitat loss and climate change. Until now, our hands have been tied in many ways, because we didn’t know where the birds were going. They would just disappear and then come back in the spring. It’s wonderful to now have a window into their journey.”

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


2010-to be continued

Will 150-foot long fiberglass wands magically spin electricity from mountaintop zephyrs across Western North Carolina in the near future? The issue of industrial-sized wind turbines along the ridgetops of Western North Carolina is sure to blow up again when the General Assembly reconvenes in May.

District 57 Rep. Pricey Harrison has vowed to reintroduce legislation promoting the pursuit of large-scale wind power production along the ridgetops of WNC after Senate Bill 1068, amended to discourage such production, passed the Senate and House last August. Sen. Joe Sam Queen, newly elected President Pro Tem Martin Nesbitt, and other mountain senators appear committed to the bill in its new form and dedicated to preserving what they feel is the intent and language of North Carolina’s Mountain Ridge Protection Act.

Opponents of industrial-sized wind farms across the mountains of Southern Appalachia may have a new bat in their arsenal. On Dec. 9, 2009, U.S. District Judge Roger Titus granted an injunction stopping construction of a wind farm in West Virginia, noting that the developer, Beech Ridge Energy LLC, should have sought an Incidental Take Permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because their project was likely to kill federally endangered Indiana bats.


And speaking of bats, biologists and scientists across the Smokies fear the winter of 2009-2010 will be the winter white-nose syndrome shows up in the Smokies. White-nose syndrome, named for the white fungus that appears around the muzzle of infected animals, was first documented from Schoharie Cavern, near Albany, N.Y., in 2007. The disease has spread rapidly and is moving south. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Virginia have been added to the list of states reporting white-nose syndrome bringing the total to nine states. More than a million bats, including 25,000 endangered Indiana bats have succumbed to white-nose syndrome and biologists believe the jump from Virginia to Tennessee and/or North Carolina is inevitable.


It’s been a long and winding road from “nowhere” to a cash settlement. But does a paltry $12.8 million settle anything. The money, buried deep in this year’s omnibus spending bill was secured by former Swain County resident Congressman Heath Shuler. Swain County residents seeking a cash settlement had arrived at a more substantial $52 million settlement figure. Shuler calls the $12.8 million a “down payment” and promises to keep working for a more equitable settlement. In a county basically bereft of property tax revenue (over 85 percent of the land in the county is federally owned), it seems only fair the Feds should pony up a little more. I hope Shuler shows the same kind of conviction and courage he did standing behind Mike Ditka’s porous offensive line for the New Orleans Saints.

Everything old is new again – happy (old) new year!


One less whooper

Cayuga, Ind. – Wildlife Officials announce arrest.

Enforcement agents for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources have announced the arrest of a suspect in the recent shooting of a federally endangered whooping crane.

USF&W agent D. Doright told reporters, “This big hairy dufous just walked into our command center and said, ‘I want my bird back.’”

Wildlife and Fisheries along with Indiana DNR had set up a command center in rural Indiana, near Cayuga (pronounced REDDDNECKKK) after the discovery, Dec. 1, of the body of crane #217. One of only 500 whoopers left in the world.

The alleged perpetrator, Sas Quatch, a large, hairy, humanoid, said by locals to live in, “a large, manmade burrow” near the Chew Lake Dam turned himself in to authorities Wednesday, Dec. 16.

“I don’t know what the big deal is,” Quatch said. “There’re at least 500 of those big squawkers out there, which is amazing considering the way you bare-ones have mucked the place up. That’s more than double the number of all of my tribe.”

When officer Doright asked Quatch why he left the scene of the crime, Quatch replied, “ Duuhhh! The squawker had a transmitter on ‘im. That means one of you tweebs ain’t far behind.”

“Did you know it was a, uh, squawker, when you shot it?” Doright asked.

“Jeezz man! Look at it! It’s a friggin five-foot tall white bird. Whadddaa you think it is?” replied Quatch.

“Why did you shoot it?” asked Doright.

“Ta eat, ya hillbilly,” Quatch said.

“Why did you want to eat a whoo – I mean, squawker?”

“Well, I got an email from a cousin out in Texas. He said he understood a flock of squawkers had been established out here and that I had to try one. He said they tasted like ivory-bills and as big as they were, you’d have leftovers for a week.”

“You eat ivory-bills?!!”

“Man, I’m not talking to you anymore. My lawyer is on the way. What are you looking at? Oh, sure, cavemen can do commercials but I can’t have a lawyer?”

Quatch refused further comment but Scuzz Howe of the law firm Dewey, Stickum and Howe read a short statement.

“Our client, Mr. S. Quatch was clearly within his rights as an aboriginal hunter to take this animal for sustenance. Sadly, at this point in time, in our society, it’s not like Mr. Quatch could walk into a supermarket and buy a turkey.”

“If the stomach growls, you gotta prowl,” Howe said.


Tessentee birds

Bob Olthoff and I took advantage of last Sunday’s (Nov. 29) Indian Summer weather for a couple of hours of birding at the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee’s Tessentee Bottomland Preserve (formerly Tessentee Farm). Not only was the weather cooperative, the birds were, too. We spent about two hours on the trails that ramble through the different habitats (pine/oak forest, canebrakes, wetlands and red cedar savannah) of the Preserve and recorded 36 species.

The 36 species were all birds that one would expect to find overwintering at Tessentee; however, high numbers of two particular species seems to suggest that the balmy November weather has been conducive to lingering migrants. We were pleasantly surprised at the number of fox sparrows. After encountering seven or eight, we quit counting individuals, but they were seen and/or heard throughout the wetlands, canebrakes and forest edges. A conservative estimate would be high teens. The loud, smacking chip note seemed to emanate from almost every tangle we investigated, and we even heard them occasionally breaking out into song across the Preserve. The eastern, or red fox sparrow is a large handsome sparrow with a gray crown and nape, rufous cheek patch, rufous rump and tail, and large rufous spots on its breast and flanks.

We also encountered at least seven or eight hermit thrushes. Most views were glimpses of a spotted breast and a rufous tail twitching through the leaves and brambles but we did, finally, have one pop up and give good looks.

As I mentioned before, these are both species I would expect to find overwintering at Tessentee. But even on a good day, it’s unusual to find more than one or two of each. It was cool to see them in such numbers — and lagniappe to hear them singing.

Tessentee Bottomland Preserve is site number 53 in the North Carolina Birding Trail’s Mountain Guide. I believe the checklist for the Preserve is presently at 116 species. To get to Tessentee Bottomland Preserve take Riverside Road off US 23/441, 5.2 miles south of Franklin. Follow Riverside for 0.5 miles to its end. Turn right on Hickory Knoll Road and follow it for 1.8 miles. Turn right at 2249 Hickory Knoll Road. There is a sign on Hickory Knoll Road indicating Tessentee Bottomland Preserve; the red farm gate to the left is the entrance to the property. If you’re a birder and would like to spend more time recording species at Tessentee and/or other Land Trust for the Little Tennessee properties and/or the Franklin Greenway, contact Dennis Desmond, land stewardship director for LTLT at 828.524.2711, ext. 205 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Also, if you would like to help enlarge, enhance and protect the integrity of Tessentee Bottomland Preserve, LTLT is looking for tax-deductible donations to help purchase 5.5 acres adjacent to the Preserve, along Tessentee Creek. Please contact Kate Parkerson at 828.524.2711, ext. 203 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


The omnibus stops here

Reliable, undisclosed anonymous sources tell this reporter that the Fiscal year 2010 Omnibus Bill expected to be signed in a couple of weeks will seal the deal on the North Shore Road to Nowhere. The bill will allegedly include a cash settlement for Swain County.

The deal was first thought to be sealed in 1943 when the Bryson City Times reported, “The National Park Service says that as soon as money is made available after the war it will build a modern highway along the shores of Fontana Lake connecting Bryson City with the TVA access highway at Fontana Dam, making it a through highway to Deal’s Gap 50 miles west of here. Anyone with the smallest amount of imagination can visualize what a road of this kind will mean to Bryson City ... When this highway is built by the Park Service, the developments inaugurated, and we feel confidently they will be soon after the war, then there is nothing that can keep Bryson City from becoming the tourist center of Eastern America ....”

However, imagination and visualization weren’t enough to loosen federal purse strings and the weeds grew through the streets of Proctor, Pilkey, Judson and other North Shore communities.

As the ire grew in Swain County, there were fits and starts of construction. In 1959, the state of North Carolina fulfilled its road-building obligation by constructing 2.67 miles of highway from Bryson city to the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and there the road ended.

Now this would have been a good time for some high-powered marketing spin and Swain County could have had a Road to the Park. Instead, the road languished again, until the Park Service picked up its picks and shovels and from 1963 to 1971, constructed six more miles of road before running into the infamous anakeesta rock and declaring: that’s it, this road ain’t going nowhere, leaving us with the time-honored Road to Nowhere moniker. Not to mention a really cool tunnel.

After more fits, there was another start at construction back in 2000 when then Rep. Charles Taylor and then Sen. Jesse Helms appropriated $16 million for construction of the North Shore Road. Even though the $16 million was about $550 million short of the estimated cost of such a road, the appropriation spurred some Swain County residents to action.

The Citizens for the Economic Future of Swain County was created in 2001. Although totally lacking in acronym-imagination, the CEFSC did strike a chord with many Swain County residents and environmental groups with its proposal for a cash settlement in lieu of the improbable North Shore Road. Through some mathematical calisthenics the group came up with a settlement figure of $52 million.

When asked if the omnibus figure contained any fives or twos the reliable, anonymous source only smiled and said s/he was confident that settlement advocates would be “pleased” with the figure.

Stay tuned for a flurry of press releases.


And the dam - came tumblin’ tumblin’

The Dillsboro Dam story is as twisted and convoluted as the Tuck itself. You had Jackson County commissioners who made property rights one of the underpinnings of their election campaigns voting in favor of eminent domain to wrest the dam out of Duke’s hands. You had one recently elected commissioner trying to get the county to drop its lawsuit, who, while a member of another county board, said Duke wasn’t doing nearly enough and that if they didn’t do more, lawsuits would be filed.

Current Jackson County Chairman Brian McMahan called the Tuckasegee River Cooperative Stakeholder process flawed and commissioner Joe Cowan called it a farce. Both are right and wrong to some extent. The process was flawed to the exact extent that stakeholders did not come informed and prepared to play hardball with Duke.

The process was never a farce. Duke was using all angles and all available resources to get the best relicensing agreement it could get. Agencies like U.S. Fish and Wildlife, North Carolina Division of Water Quality, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and other agencies that have actual relicensing authority were there to let Duke know they had concerns. In a traditional relicensing process, these entities and Duke would have been locked behind closed door until time for public comment.

Cowan was also quoted in the Sylva Herald as saying, “... I know they’re [Duke] in cahoots with the whitewater people ...” I imagine this is reference to some of the concessions garnered by American Whitewater through the stakeholders’ process.

American Whitewater was the one stakeholder group, with no licensing authority, who had done their homework and had a game plan and was dedicated to it. And they received concessions from Duke. Sadly the county and other participants were not so well prepared.

And remember, any and all stakeholders could have and should have come armed to the teeth. The worst that could have happened would have been for them to be asked to leave the stakeholder meetings. In which case they would’ve had the avenue to become interveners, as Jackson County and others did as the FERC process moved forward. But all that is water over the dam, so to speak.

The dam is coming down, so what does that mean for the river? According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, there are 11 species of fish found in the nearly mile-long impounded reservoir behind the dam. The stretch of river immediately below the dam has 38 species of fish. The river above the impounded reservoir has 24 species of fish.

The federally endangered elktoe mussel is found below the impoundment and above it. Removal of the dam will help reconnect these populations and expand the overall range of this endangered animal. The imperiled sicklefin redhorse is also found below the dam and removal of the dam will allow the sicklefin to extend its range upriver. A U.S. Fish & Wildlife report states, “Restoring the reservoir to a free-flowing river will make this portion of the river usable to a suite of native fish and other aquatic animals,” and that’s good news.

The Sylva Herald report noted a “conciliatory” tone among commissioners with reference to Duke and the dam. It’s worth a try. With adequate funding, the land alongside the river in Dillsboro could make a beautiful riverside park. And maybe they could talk Duke into dropping a couple of giant boulders in the river there so T.J. Walker’s Dillsboro Inn could enjoy the nice rippling sound of the river without having to view the debris atop the dam.

And let me say that I totally concur with Cowan and other Duke dissers that say Duke is not doing all it could or should. But sadly it’s a sign of the times. Cowan mentioned that Duke was not being a “good corporate neighbor.” I submit that, in these socio-economic times, good corporate neighbor is an oxymoron.

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


And then there were none

Atlee Yoder’s purple martin houses are in storage, out of the raw Ohio weather, awaiting spring and the first scout of the new season. But herein lies the rub — Yoder’s houses did not come down until last week.

Yoder, an Amish farmer from Apple Creek in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country is, like many of his Amish neighbors who eschew most of our modern contrivances and conveniences, quite partial to these organic bug zappers.

Last August just as Yoder’s breeding colony was departing for the balmy climes of South America, a female martin with a late fledgling showed up at his houses. Being neighborly, Yoder left his houses up and the birds stayed — and stayed. September passed, then October and finally in November the fledgling disappeared. But the adult female lingered.

According to posts from the Purple Martin Conservation Association’s Web site forum and their Facebook site and from Ohio birds listserv, the female martin stayed until Jan. 10, 2010. Reports say that Yoder fed the bird on Jan. 10 by tossing mealworms into the air for her to catch as he had been doing for the last month or so. According to those reports the bird appeared healthy at that time, but failed to reappear the next day, or the next and thus appeared to have flown the coop.

And now for the official disclaimer — a purple martin overwintering anywhere in the U.S. should be big news for birders in general and the ornithological community in particular, yet documentation of this bird is sparse and sometimes contradictory. I have no reason to doubt Su Snyder’s (a member of the Greater Mohican Audubon Society) photo, which she so graciously provided for this story but other pieces of the story are puzzling.

According to the Ohio listserv the bird was supposedly reported on the Wilmot, Ohio, Christmas Bird Count. But when I go to Audubon’s Web site and pull up that particular CBC there is no mention of a purple martin. But then the bird is mentioned in a Dec. 22, 2009, Ohio statewide “rare bird alert.”

I have emailed a member of the Ohio Birds Record Committee, the Ohio Ornithological Society and the compiler of the Wilmot CBC but to date have received no replies. I imagine these people are being cautious and working to cross all “t”s and dot all “i”s before commenting in public. There might be questions of the birds’ origin i.e. were they captive reared?

Hopefully, this will be sorted out and I will be able to update you on this seemingly “first ever U.S. overwintering purple martin.” In the meantime if you’re interested in purple martins check out the Purple Martin Conservation Association’s website at or their Facebook site.

At least it’s not an ivory-billed woodpecker, right?

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


It was one of those rare winter mornings when Haywood County Schools were on a two-hour delay. Izzy, my second-grader, and I dropped her sister, Maddy, at First Methodist’s outstanding daycare center, blasted by Smoky Mountain Coffee Roasters, grabbed a cuppa joe for me and a cuppa jack (hot chocolate) for her and struck out for Walker in the Hills and the nether reaches of Old Fiddle Road to feed Thomas the cat.

It was mostly clear and sunny, a few high clouds here and there and cold, around 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Looking up from The Great Smoky Mountains Expressway, the trees on the mountaintops looked like they had been flocked. They were just gleaming white. I thought it was rime.

But as we ascended Old Fiddle Road we began to notice little twinkling in the air like fairy dust in a Disney movie. By the time we reached the end of state maintenance on Old Fiddle, the twinkling had turned to sparkling flakes, slowly falling through the air, reflecting the sunlight like tiny mirrors.

I hesitated to call the flakes snow because they were clear (at least translucent). But they were large and definitely crystalline. The ones touching down on the windshield when we stopped at Thomas’ house were one-fourth to one-half inch in diameter. These crystals were flocking the trees and the mountaintops.

I don’t know who exclaimed, “Wow! Cool!” first, Izzy or me. But Izzy had the best description. She said it was like we were trapped in a snow globe and someone was shaking it.

The flakes bugged me because all the snow I had ever seen was white. So I did an Internet search and found “diamond dust.”

The best description I found – though a little technical and some European spelling was from “The Weather Doctor” at

Here are some excerpts:

“... At very cold temperatures, 40 degrees below zero (C or F) and colder, snow can actually fall out of the cleanest, clearest blue sky without intervening clouds. Temperatures need not be so cold if there is dust, or other minute particles, in the air on which the water vapour may deposit. When condensation nuclei are present, diamond dust may form at temperatures just below minus 20 degrees C (0 degrees Fahrenheit). At such temperatures, the water vapour in the air spontaneously forms ice crystals which slowly settle earthward. When these falling crystals are caught in the light, they sparkle like gemstones, a weather condition known appropriately enough as diamond dust.

“... At such low temperature, ice crystals form as irregular hexagonal plates, or as unbranched ice needles or ice columns directly from water vapour in the air. The formation of hexagonal-plate crystals is favoured at air temperatures from minus 10 degrees C to minus 20 degrees C (14 degrees F to minus 4 degrees F). Ice plates resemble dinner plates with a hexagonal pattern in their long dimension and are thin relative to their width. Ice columns, on the other hand, look like minute stubby pencils. Columns typically form in temperatures below minus 25 degrees C (minus 13 degrees F). They are long in comparison to their hexagonal cross-section. Larger column crystals fall with their long axis paralleling the ground, but at times, the falling columns may rotate like slow, miniature helicopter blades.”

It was definitely the hexagonal-plate crystal that Izzy and I observed at Thomas’ house the other morning.

Another great Web site for looking at snow crystals is Mark Cassino’s Snowflake gallery at

Happy winter-weather watching!

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


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.

My birding partner, Bobby Wood, had already made the trip over from Stecoah and I had been up for a couple of hours trying to rouse some owls before we received the news. The truck was loaded and we were in birding mode so we decided to enjoy Mother Nature’s cool offering and kick around the count circle for a while on our own.

We decided to start our morning at Lake Junaluska. The closer we got to the lake, the harder the snow was falling. The roads had a light dusting that rose and swirled at the beckoning of the north wind.

We glassed the back of the lake from the pull-off along U.S. 19. A few coots were present along with some Lake J mallards, a couple of ruddy ducks, some of the feral Canada geese and some hooded mergansers. We flushed a great blue heron from the tall grasses along the wetlands, at our second stop. We watched through our binoculars as the big blue-gray bird launched with deliberate wing beats and cut a swath through the falling snow as it lumbered across the lake.

The lake was productive, as usual, providing 14 species of gulls and waterfowl. The best finds were a lone canvasback that’s been hanging out at the lake for a while, a horned grebe and a pair of lesser scaup. Of course the colorful hooded mergansers and dapper buffleheads are always a treat to see. Plus it seemed uniquely apropos to watch ducks bobbing in the snow on a Christmas count.

We left Lake Junaluska for the Waynesville watershed. The windswept reservoir was the antithesis of Lake J, not a bird to be seen. We cruised the roads around the watershed where we found hermit thrush, white-crowned sparrow, golden-crowned kinglet, hairy woodpecker and red-breasted nuthatch among others. The winter wonderland mystique was reinforced in the watershed as we stood in a small clearing, drenched in sunlight, looking past the occasional snowflake at the dazzling white peaks above us.

We made a few other stops before wrapping up between 1:30 and 2 p.m. We wound up with a respectable winter’s morn birding total of 44 species.

While the official count was canceled this year, I want to thank the town of Waynesville and local farmer Jim Francis for once again supporting the Christmas Bird Count by allowing access to their properties. We’ll see you guys again next year.

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


Bird’s the word

North Carolina’s state parks and Audubon North Carolina have joined together to celebrate the “Year of the Birds” in 2010.

Birds grab our attention. Just ask my wife, who discovered, unexpectedly, the other afternoon that the Carolina wren that nests in her clothespin basket every spring also roosts there in cold weather. I’m sure if someone took the time to translate her hastily shouted expletive it would be, “My goodness, you surprised me! I didn’t expect to find such a beautiful fluttery creature in my basket this time of year.” And nothing says spring quite like the first shiny black, white and crimson rose-breasted grosbeak that shows up at our feeder on that sunny April morning.

In fact, a 2009 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service report estimated one of every five Americans is a “bird-watcher,” defined as someone who took a trip of at least one mile for the primary purpose of observing birds, or someone who closely observed and tried to identify birds around their home. These enthusiasts contributed $36 billion to the national economy in 2006, according to the report.

But for many around the world, across the country and here in the Old North State whose avocation is protecting and preserving our natural environment, this palpable connection between man and bird means much more than a business opportunity.

Chris Canfield, executive director of Audubon North Carolina, talked about the creation of “Year of the Birds.”

“Our partnership with N.C. State Parks began when I was asked to speak to a gathering of superintendents. I asked staff here to analyze what parklands overlapped with our Important Bird Areas program. As it turned out, about 100,000 acres of the parks, more than half of the park holdings at the time were in IBAs or potential IBAs. Lew Ledford [Lewis Ledford, director North Carolina state parks] and I put our heads together and realized we had so many common goals — expanding parks, heightening environmental awareness among the public, documenting the value of parklands for birds and other wildlife. So we committed to working together. The NC Birding Trail was one excellent outcome that grew, in part, out of that commitment. The Year of the Birds is the latest public expression of the power of both parks and birds to connect people to nature. For me, and I know for many others, noticing the birds inhabiting an area is central to my understanding of that place. Our state parks hold some of the most cherished landscapes in North Carolina, and they provide wonderful venues for the public to explore nature, including looking for the birds emblematic of each location.”

For more information regarding the Year of the Birds go to

To find out about Year of the Birds programs in your area contact Curtis Smalling, important bird areas coordinator and mountain program manager at Audubon North Carolina, by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 828.265.0198.

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


Snow Day!

Enough already with the “Enough already!” I know it’s snowing again. Yep school is closed again. I’ve got an idea — call in well.

To paraphrase Blowing Rock’s mountaintop yogi, Tom Robbins, from Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, it would go like this.

“Hi, I haven’t missed a day in three years. It’s a terrible malaise. I’ve come to think that work is all there is. But it’s snowing and there’s no school and my kids are well and I am well and I won’t be in today.”

Now prepare some hot oatmeal. Don’t scrimp on the brown sugar, butter or cinnamon, and if you’re adventurous drizzle a little honey over it. Let the kids pick out their favorite movie and cozy them up in front of the TV.

Now you’ve got 45 minutes or so to get busy. Make a plan. Go ahead and start the hot chocolate. You’ll want it after you come in from your romp in the snow.

If you’ve got a mudroom, great, if not designate an area near one of your doors. We have a great quilt rack that we drag out of our bedroom and put near the kitchen door. It’s great for hanging wet snow clothes on. Oh, and you’ll need extra mats (bathmats) or doormats for the boots.

If you’ve got a fireplace that’s cool, get the troops to help you start a roaring fire. With someone to wad up newspaper and someone to pass kindling and help drag the logs over, a five-minute chore can easily turn into a rousing half-hour “perfect-fire” building seminar.

And you know, while you’ve got em there hypnotized by the flames it’s a great time to whip out Dr. Seuss, or Junie B. Jones or even Tuck Everlasting, get some comfy pillows and read a bit.

Lunch can be leftovers, lunch can be soup, lunch can be PB&J or apples and peanut butter or carrots and dip — something quick and informal. Remember it’s a snow day, we’re flexible today, we’re improvising today and we’re watching through our children’s eyes.

You’ll get outside. It doesn’t matter if it’s before lunch or after lunch. Now you’re outside. This is a critical time. This could be the biggest challenge of your day. You have one charge now and it is diametrically opposed to every parental fiber in your body. What you do now is LISTEN.

“So you don’t want to sled on your $200 Eurosled snowblazer? You want to sit in the snow and throw fistfuls up in the air, OK.

“How about now? Oh, you just want to chase the dog around the yard ...”

Go with it. It’s a snow day and you’re well, remember. And don’t be surprised, if you let em go full tilt for 45 minutes or so then remind them that the hot chocolate is already waiting, it could be time to go inside while there is still some feeling in your toes.

And, with a tummy full of warm hot chocolate, some graham crackers and peanut butter and another “most favorite movie in the whole wide world” cued up, they may not even notice when you slink away and crawl stealthily under the covers.

Which takes us, once again to Yogi Tom, “There are only two mantras, yum and yuck, mine is yum.” – Tom Robbins.

Snow day! Yum!

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


Fall migration is heating up

It looks like last week’s long-billed curlew was a harbinger of things to come. A quick perusal of the Carolinas Birding List at showed fall migrants popping up all across the Carolinas.

I guess as far as real rarities go the Say’s phoebe at Bald Head Island in Brunswick County just south of Wilmington tops the list. But nearby fall migrant hotspots are producing good birds. Some good finds for Ernie Hollingsworth of Hendersonville at Jackson Park last Sunday included, among others, yellow-bellied flycatcher, blue-winged warbler, Cape May warbler and Wilson’s warbler. Ron Clark of Kings Mountain was also at Jackson Park last Sunday and his sightings included blue-gray gnatcatcher, Swainson’s thrush, magnolia warbler, Cape May and two Baltimore orioles. Simon Thompson of Asheville also reported Cape Mays from his yard.

The mass exodus has begun and within the next month somewhere between 9,000 and 12,000 broad-winged hawks will soar over Caesars Head State Park in South Carolina. Wing Nuts, a self-named group of volunteers who count migrating raptors at Caesars Head each year are already there getting cricks in their necks and are always happy to share with visiting birders and/or interested sightseers.

Caesar’s Head State Park is located on U.S. 276 in South Carolina just below the North Carolina border. To contact Caesar’s Head to see what’s flying call 864.836.6115.

A great place to get a look at migrating passerines (songbirds) is Ridge Junction Overlook near the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park at milepost 385 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ridge Junction is unique because, much like a hawk watch, you can bring a chair and get comfy at the overlook and wait for migrants to come through the pass up and over the parkway.

To get to Jackson Park from Waynesville take Exit 49 B off of I-26 East. Continue on U.S. 64 West towards downtown Hendersonville, go through the traffic light at end of exit ramp onto Four Seasons Boulevard (U.S. 64) for 1.6 miles (passing four more traffic lights). After a wetland area on the left, turn left at the fifth traffic light (Harris Street). Go 0.2 mile to stop sign at end of street. Turn left onto E. 4th Avenue, enter park and follow road to administration building (red-brick house on left) and parking.

And don’t forget that migrant waterfowl will begin gracing Lake Junaluska any day now. It’ll be mid-October before large numbers begin passing through but wandering herons and/or egrets, terns and gulls could appear now as well as a teal or two.

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


The good; the bad and the ugly

The good

Ben Morrison, compiler of the Wilmot, Ohio, Christmas Bird Count, contacted the Ohio Birds Records Committee and provided documentation for the purple martin I wrote about in the Jan. 20 Naturalist’s Corner. According to Gabe Leidy, compiler of the Ohio rare bird reports, the record is sure to be accepted.

A single purple martin lounging in Ohio in the winter surely has little species-wide implications from an ornithological perspective but these little tidbits offer a glimpse into “the secret lives” of birds. We tend to lump all other creatures into groups like cows, bears, dogs, deer, chickens, hawks, etc. We forget that all species, like homo sapiens, are composed of individuals with individual stories.

No one knows why that particular female martin missed her flight to South America. She showed up in Apple Creek in August with a late fledgling. Perhaps her mothering instinct was stronger than her migrating instinct. Or perhaps she was simply old and weary and not up to another long rigorous migration. We will never know why. But because of conscientious birders and dedicated compilers we do know that from August 2009 to Jan. 10, 2010, one female martin stayed in Apple Creek, Ohio aided and abetted by one Atlee Yoder who tossed meal worms into the air to nourish her.

Yoder wasn’t responding to the needs of purple martins as a species. His individual story was touched by the individual story of this one little bird, and that’s a good thing.

The bad

Another avian vagabond showed up this winter in Georgia — an ivory gull, the first ever recorded for Georgia, appeared in late January at West Point Dam. While this snow-white Arctic denizen thrilled birders and provided many photo ops, it unfortunately met an agonizing end. It died from what was reported as an “apparent” predator attack.

But there were reports on the Georgia listserv of would be photographers talking of throwing rocks at the reluctant bird in order to get shots of it in flight. It leaves one to wonder if an errant rock could have caused the “apparent” predator injuries.

Other bad bird news is emanating from south Louisiana where (as of Feb. 3) more than 100 snow geese have been found dead in grain fields. The geese are thought to have died from aflatoxicosis contracting from ingesting contaminated grain.

Louisiana Wildlife official and biologists are closely monitoring the situation hoping to avoid a repeat of 1999 when more than 10,000 snow geese perished due to aflatoxicosis.

The ugly

Just when you thought the ivory-billed woodpecker would be left to slide back into the mossy hearts and hopes of dyed-in-the-wool believers, reports of photos have surfaced once again.

This whole dubious, sordid and convoluted tale has been and is still playing out over the Internet. One good place to catch up on it is at

Suffice it to say — still no definitive evidence.

And now a brief senior moment report. Thanks to DeLene Beeland at for pointing out that in last week’s column regarding the red wolf talk at the Folk Art Center, I referred to the red wolf as Canis lupus (grey wolf) rather than C. rufus.

This also gives me a chance to mention that last Saturday’s program was cancelled due to the weather, and rescheduled for Sunday, Feb. 21, at 2 p.m. For info, call 828.298.5600, ext. 308, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


On the road to recovery

Friends of the Western North Carolina Nature Center unveils its New Winter Speaker Series on native animals at the Folk Art Center at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 6. Asheville native Warren Parker, retired chief Endangered Species Biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Service’s first national director of the Red Wolf Species Survival program, will talk about the nuts and bolts of this reintroductory program.

The program, “The Red Wolf Survives” is free to members of Friends of the WNC Nature Center. A $5 contribution to Friends is suggested at the door for non-members. The Folk Art Center is located at mile marker 382 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in east Asheville. Please RSVP to Friends executive director Sarah Oram by February 5 at 828.298.5600 ext. 308 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your name and the number in your party.

If there ever was a “friend in need,” Canis lupus, was (is) one. Before widespread settlement, this iconic top-of-the-food-chain predator was abundant in southern bottomland hardwood forests from the Atlantic Seaboard to central Texas and Oklahoma, northward to the Ohio River Valley. By the 1970s, because of human encroachment and persecution, the red wolf had been extirpated from all of its former range, save the bayous, cheniers and marshes of southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana.

The passage of the Endangered Species Act in December of 1973 gave the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service the leverage and clout to act. Parker, as chief endangered species biologist, helped orchestrate an audacious and ambitious recovery plan that called for trapping wild red wolves for a captive breeding program.

North Carolina has figured prominently in this program. A reintroductory program at Alligator River National wildlife Refuge was begun in 1987. This successful program has spilled over to other refuges and public lands in northeastern North Carolina and today between 100 and 120 red wolves — the only population of wild red wolves in the world — call North Carolina home.

The WNC Nature Center is one of only 40 captive red wolf breeding sites in the country. On Cinco de Mayo (May 5, 2009,) a red wolf pup, appropriately named Mayo, was born to Rufus and Angel, two Louisiana red wolves on loan to WNC Nature Center from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Mayo will remain at the nature center and continue to be a part of the captive breeding pool of red wolves.

This is sure to be a fascinating program about a fascinating animal by one who helped formulate and implement this groundbreaking protocol.


Pug catcher

Early last week, we were inundated with small gray moths. You couldn’t open a door without two or three coming inside. Moths inside are cool for Izzy, Maddy and the cat — all like to play with them.

One evening, at dusk, Maddy took her bug cage and went out on the deck. In about 10 minutes she was back with a cage full of moths. My curiosity piqued, I went downstairs to Google “little gray moth” to see if I could put a name with the fuzzy little face.

Next I heard a grownup “Wow” coming from upstairs. My wife appeared at the bottom of the stairs. “I just saw a little gray bird fly or jump from the dogwood tree to one of the big trees and back,” she said.

I went upstairs to look and there, perched on the dogwood, was an eastern screech owl. Sitting on a bare dogwood limb framed by the dim twilight, the owl looked elfin. It soon launched itself to the side of a large locust, then back to the dogwood; then to a grapevine and back to the dogwood. After a couple more of these sorties, I realized the owl was feeding on the moths.

We called the kids in and for 15 or 20 minutes Izzy, Maddy, Mom and I watched as the little owl tracked moths, then launched itself to tree, or branch, or grapevine in pursuit of the tiny morsel and then returned fly-catcher-like to its perch on the dogwood. While the owl appeared gray in the dusk, a look through binoculars revealed that it was a red-phase bird.

Now there were two mysteries. What was this little moth engulfing our home and enticing screech owls and how common was this fly-catching behavior? I quickly realized I was in over my antennae trying to Google this moth. Do you have any idea how many different little gray moths there are in the world? So I decided to rely on the “old-fashioned” way of seeking information — I asked someone smarter than me.

Paul Super, science coordinator at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Appalachian Highlands Learning Center at Purchase Knob, identified the moth as Eupithecia sp. — common name pug. He noted that it is very difficult to separate the different species of pugs. Super said there were at least a dozen species of pugs in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the most prevalent by far was the common pug, E. miserulata.

This tiny gray moth has a wingspan of less than an inch. The grayish wings have small disc-like black dots. The common pug ranges from Florida to Nova Scotia and west to Texas. There is also a western population in California and Washington. It overwinters as a pupa, probably accounting for its early spring flight.

As for screech owls catching bugs, it seems insects are a large part of this little character’s diet. During a 1927 study in Nebraska, eight screech owls were dissected. Those stomachs contained 210 locusts, 2,757 other insects, 2 mice and 1 bird.

Renowned ornithologist George M. Sutton wrote about his encounter with a fly-catching screech owl. “At first we were somewhat mystified by her actions. Soon we made out, however, that she was capturing insects, which were flying about the peripheral twigs of the tree. Some of these she evidently snatched from the twigs or leaves with her feet; others she caught in mid-air, with her beak. Since I had never known Screech Owls to capture prey thus I changed my position so as to be able to see the bird more clearly. From my new station under the elm tree I saw the bird catch thus, Flycatcher-wise, at least twenty insects, most, if not all of them, the large beetles locally called June bugs or May beetles.”

All anyone has to do to learn something new in nature is pay attention.



Paige Barlow is a University of Georgia PhD candidate working out of the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in Otto, outside of Franklin. Barlow is researching the effects of land use on different species of birds in Macon County.

It’s no secret that birds and bird populations around the world are facing serious challenges. A recent article by Cagan H. Sekercioglu of the Stanford Center for Conservation biology published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that up to 14 percent of all bird species may be extinct or facing extinction by 2100. And even birds not in imminent threat of extinction are experiencing serious population declines. According to Sekercioglu and his co-authors, total bird populations are estimated to have fallen by nearly 25 percent since 1500. Habitat loss along with climate change and the spread of invasive species are perceived to be major contributors to these avian woes.

Birds are colorful, fascinating, accessible creatures. These attributes have combined to make birding or birdwatching one of the most popular recreational pursuits and/or hobbies in the world. Whether you’re a “lister,” globetrotting to get to 601 species, or a weekend warrior, spending your leisure time in pursuit of fleeting glances and mellifluous warbles, or a backyard feeder enjoying the antics of chickadees, titmice and hummingbirds through your kitchen window, our feathered friends are sure to please.

Biologists, ornithologists and researchers have taken advantage of the public’s interest in our avian neighbors to create numerous ‘citizen-science” projects like the Christmas Bird Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count, International Migration Day, Project Feeder Watch and many more. These events are widely publicized and hugely popular.

While Barlow will be the primary researcher in the field and at the computer — where she hopes to construct mathematical models from her data — she is seeking public input. Barlow noted that while she would be researching the effects of land use on bird species she also wanted to “... direct my research so that it is interesting and helpful for the residents of Macon County.” To that effect, she has created a survey that lists bird species by habitat and migration behavior. She encourages interested parties to go to and fill out the survey.

Barlow said there are about 100 species listed on the survey but that would be whittled down to a subset of 20 to 30 species. According to Barlow some of the birds generating a lot of interest to date include Swainson’s warbler, cerulean warbler, golden-winged warbler, winter wren, Bewick’s wren and eastern meadowlark.

The project will likely span at least three seasons, according to Barlow. The first season will focus on Macon County but will expand after that. Barlow hopes to develop occupancy models based on environmental factors that will be useful across the Southern Appalachians. She encourages everyone who is interested to visit the survey Web site. If you have questions or would like more information you can contact Barlow at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 832.457.4423.

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


Invited for tea

I opened the door around 7 a.m. last Saturday and spring hit me square in the face. Actually a cold misty breeze hit me square in the face but I got an earful of spring. “Drink your tea – ea-ea-ea-ea!” wailed an eastern towhee from the brambles at the edge of my yard.

Now chickadees have been singing and so have Carolina wrens and cardinals and some song sparrows’ teakettles have started to boil. But these troubadours are likely to loosen up their vocal chords anytime during the winter if we get a couple of warm sunshiny days. And while you may hear an emphatic and prolonged “drrriinnkk” or “driinnkk teaaa” or “tea-ea-ea” from a wintertime towhee, the bawdy, lascivious, full-throated “Drink your tea-ea-ea-ea-ea!” is generally reserved for karaoke night at the local singles bar after a long cold winter.

Towhees in the yard aren’t the only signs of spring.

A walk around Lake Junaluska last Thursday produced 20-plus tree swallows. An unidentified shorebird was also observed at the lake. I didn’t have binoculars and the distance was too great and the lighting too bad to make out more than a silhouette working the edge of the small channel that’s left in the middle of the lake. The bird was foraging like a sandpiper and from its size and posture, I would guess pectoral.

Pectorals are early migrants and commonly seen around the lake in migration when it’s drawn down. Wayne Forsythe reported pectorals along with American golden plovers, killdeers, horned larks and American pipits along Hooper Lane in Henderson County last Sunday.

Birds aren’t the only winged harbingers of spring. Butterflies are being reported across the region. Question marks and mourning cloaks have been reported from Kingsport, Tenn. And mourning cloaks have also been reported from Catawba County. Of course one look up at the red maple buds should clue you in that the brown leaf litter will soon be parting as the green shoots of trout lily, bloodroot, toothwort, trailing arbutus and other spring ephemerals claw their way to sunshine.

This is not to say that Ma Nature won’t dust us with another snow or two. I remember back in April 2005 when I was surveying for migrants at Balsam Mountain Preserve. It was 30 degrees, snowing, and some places had half an inch of the white stuff on the ground. But when I could find sheltered places out of the wind, early migrants like northern parula warblers, blackburnian warblers, black-and-white warblers, blue-headed vireos and rose-breasted grosbeaks were singing in the snow. So go ahead and fire up your teapot because before you know it, it will be time to sit on your deck and “Drink your tea-ea-ea-ea-ea!”

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


White Nose Syndrome just miles from WNC

The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) announced in mid-February that two bats from Worley’s cave had tested positive for White Nose Syndrome (WNS).

The cave, officially designated Morrell Cave by the U.S. Board on Geographical Names in 1980 but more commonly known as Worley’s or Morril’s cave, is located just southeast of Bluff City, Tenn., only about an hour and a half from Asheville.

Two tri-colored bats (formerly eastern pipistrelle) tested positive for the fungus (Geomyces destructans). While scientists are still not one hundred percent sure that the fungus is the sole causative agent, bat-to-bat-transmission of the fungus has been observed.

Whatever the cause, the malaise is clearly catastrophic. Mortality in some affected hibernacula has exceeded 90 percent. It is estimated that somewhere between one-half million and one million bats have succumbed to WNS, including at least 25,000 endangered Indiana bats.

Six species of bats — Indiana bat, little brown bat, big brown bat, northern long-eared bat, small-footed bat and tri-colored bat (formerly eastern pipistrelle) — are known to be susceptible to WNS.

Tennessee joins New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, West Virginia and Virginia to become the tenth state to document WNS. Worley’s cave is the most southern and most western site, to date, where WNS has been recorded. The cave is only about 65 miles from known infected sites in Virginia.

But the prospect of further western and/or southern spread is a scary prospect for biologists and bat fanciers. Tennessee may have more caves than any state in the nation and a single cave in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a hibernaculum for nearly nine percent of the total estimated population of endangered Indiana bats.


And now for things that make you go hmmmmm....

You and I and all the taxpayers across this great land have paid about $14 million for ivory-billed woodpecker conservation since 2005. Never mind the fact that not one ivory-billed woodpecker has been conclusively documented since the late 1930s early 1940s.

Bat researchers are overjoyed that the Obama administration has secured $1.9 million in funding for the study of WNS. Maybe if we glued feathers to their wings and took fuzzy videos, we could get some dollars to study this devastating disease.

Wait a minute! That would be forethought — what am I thinking?

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


ake J eagle

Not a winter has passed in the last four years or so that a bald eagle — mature, immature or both — has not been sighted at Lake Junaluska. Usually they’re here today and gone tomorrow, but this winter a visitor has lingered.

A mature bald eagle has been hanging around Lake Junaluska for about a month. Last I heard — last week — it was still there. I believe the drawdown of the lake probably accounts for this bird’s decision to linger.

Eagles around the world are divided into four general groups — fish eagles, harpy or buteonine eagles, true eagles or booted eagles (the golden eagle is in this group) and snake or serpent eagles. The bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, is a fish eagle.

A large portion of the bald eagle’s diet, as the name implies, is fish. Another bald eagle staple, especially here in the south in the winter where they tend to congregate in large numbers, is the coot — you know, that gangly dark bird that looks (acts) like a cross between a chicken and a duck, found around the lake in the winter. I believe the drawdown concentrated both of those food sources in small areas making a meal a little easier to come by.

There are two recognized subspecies of bald eagles — northern, Haliaeetus leucocephalus alascanus, and southern, Haliaeetus leucocephalus leucocephalus. The southern bald eagle is a smaller bird and I believe the bird at Lake Junaluska is a southern. Now, bald eagles like most raptors exhibit a “reversed” sexual dimorphism, meaning the female is larger than the male. In some cases, the size difference between a female southern bald eagle and a male northern bald eagle can be minimal, and since southern bald eagles have been found in Canada and northern bald eagles have been found in Mexico, the “southern” moniker is just a guess.

Redefining success

Protection of the bald eagle actually precedes the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The Bald Eagle Protection Act was passed in 1940 and the bald eagle was officially listed as endangered in 1967 under the Endangered Species Act of 1967, the predecessor of the current Endangered Species Act.

There was much fanfare in 2007 when the bald eagle was officially removed from the ESA. The big whoop-de-do at the Jefferson Memorial noted the 40-year, 25-fold increase in nesting pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 states to an astounding 10,000 pairs. Today it is estimated that there are between 70,000 and 80,000 bald eagles in North America.

Before our forefathers arrived here and cleaned up the desolate old growth forests with their clean air and pristine water to create the urban utopia we know today, more than half a million bald eagles lived in North America.

To restore that population to roughly 15 percent of its former status is a rousing success?

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


A little spring cleaning

It was a busy weekend and there’s a busy weekend coming up, so I’m going to use this week’s column to clear my desk:

Watershed hike
Saturday, April 24, was our annual spring pilgrimage into the town of Waynesville’s 8,000-plus acre watershed. Following protocol initiated for last year’s fall hike, the town offered two hikes this spring — an early (7 to 9 a.m.) birdwalk followed by the regular hike at 9 a.m.

The birdwalk was successful and problematic. We were greeted by a chorus of newly arrived migrants, alas, most were binocular-shy and good looks were hard to come by despite the fact that one black-and-white warbler nearly took my hat off as he buzzed the group to get a better look. I think we may add a little more time to the birdwalks in the future, and, hopefully that will let us get some better looks.

Some of the warblers we saw and/or heard included black-and-white, black-throated blue, black-throated green, northern parula, ovenbird, Louisiana waterthrush and hooded. Other migrants included blue-headed vireo, red-eyed vireo, wood thrush and scarlet tanager.

When we got back to the treatment plant at 9 a.m. to meet with the rest of the hikers, rain was looking imminent. But the mayor showed up and the skies parted, and we hiked off into a wonderful spring morning. Both hikes were once again at or near capacity, attesting to the keen public interest in the watershed.

This year’s hike pointed out a fact that many of who live and hike in these beautiful mountains sometimes take for granted. One doesn’t hike very far or very long in these mountains without going uphill. Most of the watershed hikes are out – uphill on moderate grades on old logging roads – and back downhill. One of this year’s participants with a mild heart condition found the uphill a bit too strenuous for his comfort.

On the town’s website where you sign up for the hike it states, “Each hike is moderately strenuous and will be up to 5 miles in length and 5 hours in duration.” Please be sure you’re accustomed to a 5-mile stroll in the mountains before signing up for the hike.

Bear time
With the greening of the mountains every spring comes the waking and stirring of sleepy hungry bears.

Last Friday I was in the Harmon Den area of the French Broad District of the Pisgah National Forest locating bird survey points. I was deep in the forest on a Forest Service road paying more attention to my GPS unit than my surroundings when some movement in the forest caught my eye. About a hundred yards to my left, mamma bear was herding her two cubs out of harm’s way.

The bears had nothing to fear from me, but, of course, mamma didn’t know that. The point is that hungry bears foraging are sometimes not as alert as usual and the chances of you getting a little too close for comfort are increased. So if you’re out there remember to keep your head up and if you need a little bear etiquette reminder check out

Birding for the Arts
Ah, the roar of the grease paint and the smell of the crowd! Toss those scripts and we’ll ad lib our way across the mountains seeking out returning neotropical migrants and year-round mountain birds from Canada warblers to Carolina chickadees. This annual Haywood County Arts Council benefit is great fun and fills up fast. Tomorrow is the last day for registration. For more information visit the

Haywood County Arts Council office, 86 N. Main St., call 828.452.0593 or visit


Earth Day: hope vs. optimism

Lordy, lordy look who’s 40 — Earth Day and the EPA. Officially created and established in 1970, Earth Day was the spirit and philosophy that was going to take us to Nirvana; was going to create that idyllic symbiotic lifestyle of social and environmental justice where humans cared for the planet and a clean, healthy beautiful planet nurtured and nourished us. The EPA was the vehicle that was going to take us there.

Forty years later, species are disappearing at an alarming rate; war and genocide, as well as famine and pestilence, are the norm across much of the planet, clean, pure water is vanishing, and a dark cloud of pollution and acid rain envelop the Earth.

Chuck Dayton, who splits his time between St. Paul, Minn. and Waynesville, penned a personal, poignant, retrospective piece regarding Earth Day for Conservation Minnesota Magazine. You can find the article at

It is a great read by one who was inspired by Earth Day and dedicated his career to the environment.

Dayton recalls that first Earth Day: “The first Earth Day was a dramatic expression of a growing awareness that corporations had been using our air and water as a free dump, and something needed to be done. It occurred at a time of anti-war protests and anti-establishment rhetoric: a time when change seemed not only possible but also inevitable.”

And juxtaposes it with the present: “Today, Earth Day 40, while still an important affirmation of the need to care for the planet, seems to me less optimistic than in 1970. I no longer think that the big environmental problems will be solved in my lifetime. At nearly 71, I know that we are surely passing on huge burdens to our descendants, including those that may become impossible to solve, if climate feedbacks are allowed take over ...”

Retired after decades on the environmental frontline, Dayton still expends a large amount of time and energy working on environmental issues. Where does he find his resolve?

“Hope is important, even if we’re not able to be optimistic ...” he writes. And he quotes civil rights advocate, peace champion and former Yale Chaplin, William Sloane Coffin: “Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your heart’s full of hope, you can be persistent when you can’t be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I’m not optimistic, I’m always very hopeful ...”

I believe another quote from Coffin is also appropriate: “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”

Perhaps with hopeful hearts steeled by truth and buoyed by love we can effect a change in paradigm that will lead to Earth Day every day.

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


Spring in the watershed

The Town of Waynesville’s annual spring pilgrimage to the Waynesville Watershed will be Saturday, April 24. This one will be set up similar to last fall’s event with an early morning birding option. Those who want to look for early Neotropical migrants and lingering winter visitors should meet at the treatment plant at 7 a.m. For directions and details regarding the trip, please go to

Spring migrants are arriving across Western North Carolina. Blue-headed vireos have been in my yard for a couple of weeks now. On a quick trip up around Harmon’s Den last week, Bob Olthoff and I heard black-throated green warbler and Louisiana waterthrush, as well as blue-headed vireo. Brown creepers have also been singing in my yard. I hope we at least get to hear a couple on the 24th – it’s a really cool, musical little ditty.

Other reports from across the mountains of Western North Carolina include northern parulas, black-and-white-warblers, black-throated blue warblers and returning broad-winged hawks. By the 24th of April, we should be able to add scarlet tanager and rose-breasted grosbeak to the list. And one never knows what the reservoir itself might produce. While it’s nowhere near as productive as Lake Junaluska with regards to migrants, waterfowl do find it occasionally and there is generally a belted kingfisher present. We were treated one spring to a brief flyover by an immature bald eagle.

By 9 a.m. birders will be back at the treatment plant and have the option of joining in the day hike or heading for coffee and beignets (I guess that would be doughnuts in this part of the world, what a shame.) Day hikers will split into two groups. I will lead the ambling, looking, listening and sniffing group. We will keep our eyes and ears open for birds, wildlife and spring ephemerals.

The wildflowers should be poppin.’ I have bloodroot, toothwort, trout lily and various violets blooming in the woods around my house now. Other spring wildflowers we could encounter include trailing arbutus, Dutchman’s breeches, squirrel corn, trillium, bellwort, anemone and showy orchis.

Dr. Pete Bates of Western North Carolina University, who has headed a team of scientists and natural resource managers to create a management plan for the Waynesville watershed, will lead the robo-walkers. Pete, who is much more learned and accomplished than I, actually has the ability to walk and talk at the same time. This is a great hike for those who want to stretch their legs as well as their understanding of the ecology of the watershed.

The worst thing that could happen is that you get the opportunity to enjoy a spring morning outdoors, in the middle of this outstanding natural resource that Waynesville town fathers had the foresight to preserve, protect and enhance in perpetuity.

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


Spring’s a buzzin’

Mom was a little concerned the other day as she helped Izzy find a butterfly net to catch white-headed “bumblebees.” Izzy was back in a couple of minutes with a roaring buzz emanating from her closed, cupped hands. She deposited her captured quarry into her butterfly cage and there, for all practical purposes, was a large white-headed bumblebee buzzing loudly and bouncing off the netted walls of the cage.

Actually it wasn’t a bumblebee Izzy had caught but an eastern carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica. I was to blame for the misnomer. A few springs ago I had impressed my then 4-year-old daughter with my daring by snatching a “bumblebee” from a flower with my bare hands. Then I told her how, when I was a little boy growing up in Mer Rouge, La., we used to wander the lawns around town catching “white-headed bumblebees” and tying sewing thread around their middle to create bumblebee kites. None of us knew what a carpenter bee was, but we all knew that the bumblebees with the white to yellowish-white square patch on the head could not sting and were fair game.

Humans seem to learn early, perhaps by osmosis in the womb, that if something buzzes and it’s black and yellow — it’s a bumblebee and it will sting you. The white patch on the head or face of the male eastern carpenter bee is a quick give away. It’s prominent and easy to see, and even 8-year-olds can remember that if it has a white head, it doesn’t sting.

The female eastern carpenter bee does not have a white head, and while it is not as aggressive as a bumblebee it can sting. Carpenter bees (even the females) and bumblebees can easily be distinguished by coloration in the field once we get past that “black and yellow sting” thing. The abdomen (remember insects have a head, thorax and abdomen) of the carpenter bee is bare and black. The abdomen of a bumblebee is hairy and yellow.

Carpenter bees are not social nesters like bumblebees and honeybees. The female carpenter bee makes its nest by tunneling into wood. Before the urbanization of America, this meant dry standing wood. Conifers seemed to be preferred. Today carpenter bees are sometimes thought of as pests because they will bore into homes and other structures. The damage is usually confined to a small area, as carpenter bees prefer to lay their eggs in the same hole or tunnel they were born in.

Carpenter bees, especially the females are useful pollinators and gardeners, and orchard keepers sometimes provide softy dry wood for nesting. The male is not as useful as a pollinator because it will sometimes “rob” flowers by chewing through the corolla rather than crawling in, thus bypassing the gathering and dispersing of pollen.

Males are content to spend most of their time hovering around and guarding their territory. While they can’t sting they are quite curious and will quickly come to investigate any intruder, including the two-legged kind.

Little do they know that this plays right into Izzy’s hands, or net.

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


Why we do it

“You’re getting up when?”

“You’re going out in this weather?”

People who have a passion for the outdoors and revel in the beauty and the subtle and not-so-subtle intricacies of nature are accustomed to these questions and their accompanying incredulous stares. The questions give me pause to wonder if the questioner has ever watched the sun, dripping red, crawl out of the blue ocean at dawn or ever seen the dappled light of the morning sun, like spotlights on the forest floor or ever sat with back against a solid oak and watched the last milky wisps of fog ascend from the mountain side after a sudden summer shower.

There are certainly grand and exotic places, beautiful and intriguing creatures and vistas to die for around the globe. But so often that “ah-ha” moment in nature comes simply, suddenly and without fanfare.

We were on the Blue Ridge Parkway last Saturday (May 1) for the Haywood County Arts Council’s annual “Birding for the Arts.” We had ambled away from our cars, peering into the gray but greening windy woods trying to put some corporeal shapes to the invisible warbles emanating from the forest. We turned to walk back to our cars and Joe Sam Queen called out, “I’ve got a scarlet tanager!”

We followed Joe Sam’s finger to a large maple at the edge of a clearing. At the end of a branch, surrounded by burgeoning maple leaves and waning flowers, framed by the overcast sky, was a most exquisite orange-variant scarlet tanager. Now scarlet tanagers are beautiful birds in their standard dress — deep scarlet front and back with jet-black wings and tail. But on this bird the scarlet was replaced with a soft, lush pumpkin-orange. And the soft light from the overcast sky let you drink in all the subtle shades and tones and admire its intricate hues.

The next day, Sunday, May 2, I was again on the Parkway in search of neotropical migrants. I was with Chuck Dayton, Sara Evans and some friends of theirs from Minnesota and Asheville. The blustery wind was making it difficult to get good looks at birds when and if we could find them. We were hearing chestnut-sided warblers regularly but having no luck at coaxing them up for a gander. Then at one overlook, a fresh male suddenly popped up from the underbrush and flew into a small, mostly bare tree, not 20 feet from the edge of the overlook.

He seemed oblivious to the nine pairs of binoculars focused on him as he serenaded. He turned, first right profile and then left profile – showing us the rich chestnut sides he is named for as well as a bold black eye stripe and black chin streak. His yellow pincushion cap gleamed in the sunlight. He faced us, threw back his head and sang with gusto — “pleased, pleased, pleased to meetcha!” Next he turned his back to us and threw up his head. From his nape, down the middle of his back, he fairly glistened a yellowish green, interspersed with deep black lines.

And that, my friends, is why we do it.

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


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. Latest predictions from the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) call for oil pushed by southeasterly winds to reach the marshes and barrier islands of Atchafalaya Bay by today (May 12.)

Media pundits from National Public Radio to Fox News that I listened to Saturday (5/9) seemed punch-drunk and dazed, their main concern appeared to be trying to determine if the word or words catastrophe and/or catastrophic applied to this unprecedented environmental disaster. The marshes, bays and coastal waters of Louisiana account for nearly 30 percent of all the country’s seafood harvest. Fishing, shrimping, oystering and crabbing from the Mississippi River to the Florida Panhandle have already been shut down and now those closures are moving west. Oil in some form has washed ashore from west of the Mississippi to Dauphin Island in Alabama.

Louisiana’s 8-million acre coastline composes 40 percent of all the nation’s coastal wetlands, creating estuaries and nurseries and rookeries for thousands of species of commercial and sports fishes, marine mammals, birds, turtles and shellfish. More than 170 species of marine animals have been documented at a single oyster reef in the Gulf. When BP’s (British Petroleum) “black gold” seeps into these soggy shelters it becomes “black death” and the question becomes not is this a catastrophe but what is the scope of this catastrophe and how long will the deleterious effects linger?

Twenty-one years after Exxon’s “black death” from the Valdez oozed ashore in Prince William Sound. It’s estimated that more than 20,000 gallons of the crude remain on some of the beaches. And while industry, corporate and political spokespersons are quick to try and gauge human catastrophe by dollar signs a study from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council noted that alcoholism, suicide and domestic violence rates all rose in hard-hit communities following the Valdez spill. And even though the oil is just now skimming the Gulf coastal marshes, beaches and barrier islands, NOAA has already closed 10,807 square miles of Gulf to shrimpers and fishermen. Try telling one of them that losing their livelihood is not catastrophic.

And the breadth of human greed and complacency responsible for this catastrophe is tragic, in itself. As we watch BP floundering around in the Gulf unable to contain the flow of oil it is apparent they are clutching at straws while waiting for a relief well (the only tried and true technology to corral the blow out) that will take months to drill. Despite statements in its 2009 exploration plan that the type of catastrophe presently occurring in the Gulf was virtually impossible and that they were totally confident in their ability to handle any emergency, it is clear that BP was and is unprepared to respond to this type of event.

And while it would be easy to make BP the whipping boy — their drilling technology and protocol certainly meet U. S. industry standards across the board. And that’s the scary part.

Hopefully the chorus of “Drill baby, drill” will be replaced by “Stop, in the name of love.” Because, face it, until the energy picture changes significantly, domestic oil is going to continue to play a major part and as rigs steam into deeper and deeper waters chances of a repeat will only grow greater unless stricter safety regulations are put into place and enforced.


Perks of Adult ADD

The other morning I was in the wilds of the Cheoah Ranger District below the Cherohala Skyway sawing and dragging trees out of Forest Service roads so I could get to my bird points for this year’s survey. Rather than paying attention to where my digits and/or limbs were as I was sawing and where the “pressure” points were and how to saw so that I wouldn’t bind my blade, my ADD kicked in. I remembered the last Waynesville Watershed hike and Dr. Pete Bates, professor of natural resources at Western Carolina University and lead researcher of Waynesville’s Watershed Management plan, talking about the watershed’s restoration plan. Bates noted that the management plan’s focus was on restoration of a healthy, diverse forest and the best way to achieve that was to mimic (as closely as possible) nature. One of the silviculture tools he talked of was creating gaps.

There is a lot of talk today about “edge species.” These are species like white-tailed deer in the mammal world and golden-winged warblers in the bird world — species that thrive in new, often, brushy growth. If you listened to some people, you would be led to believe that the survival of edge species depends on more and more frequent clearcuts.

Truth is white-tailed deer, golden-winged warbler and other ‘edge” species thrived in the “New World” long before timbering and/or forestry was ever introduced. How did they do it?

The answer is gaps. In mature or old growth forests, trees often tumble to the ground. There are a myriad of reasons. It could be old age — after 500 or 600 years, some trees just die. It could be hard winters or windstorms or any combination. It could occasionally be fire.

What is lost in most of today’s forests is scope and perspective. A 400-year-old red oak crashing to a primeval forest floor, taking collateral damage with it as it falls, could easily create a two- to three-acre clearing. This clearing — or “gap” — is home to edge species.

Forest gaps are where and how edge species survived, thrived and/or ebb and flowed as time marched relentlessly onward. The need to have burgeoning populations of white-tailed deer or other gap species as targets for hunters in hopes of keeping wildlife agency coffers full has little “natural” appeal for me.

The idea of managing properties and/or forests in a holistic way that mimics (to the best of our ability) natural processes is an idea our grandchildren and the wildlife that makes their lives complete can live with.

Damn! How did that chain get stuck!

OFFICIAL DISCLAIMER: The Forest Service with all its budget shortfalls and incredible workload does an amazing job with maintenance upkeep. Many of the roads I traverse to get to my bird points are “fire” roads and they are cleared regularly — thank you, thank you. Some of the backcountry roads are not fire roads and they get cleared as time and resources allow. If you’re a FS employee with a chainsaw in the back of your truck and happen to bump into a tree blocking one of these roads during your travels, instead of selecting an alternate route how about cutting that tree out of the road and I will gladly compensate you with the beverage of your choice!

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


Bird Lag

Last weekend (5/21-5/23) was a blur of birds, bears and blooms — a combination of work, friends, fellowship and family that left me beat and begging for more.

I started out in the thick damp predawn hours Friday morning. I headed to Harmons Den where I have bird points to survey for the U.S. Forest Service. Morning came grey and muggy from the heavy, black night. The clouds were close, and rain was imminent.

My first stop was at the edge of a wildlife opening. I was there at 6:10 a.m., and before the truck came to a stop, I was greeted by the enthusiastic and energetic call of the whip-poor-will — clearly jarring the last vestiges of night. This is the second whip-poor-will I have encountered this spring. The first was at Tsali where I also arrived in the wee hours to survey bird points.

I finished one more point Friday morning before the overcast turned into a steady light rain. Protocol doesn’t allow surveying in the rain, but my GPS was still locked in so I decided to locate and flag more points. Following the GPS, I wiggled around the backcountry of the French Broad Ranger District, over Max Patch then detouring up to Del Rio, Tenn., to connect to U.S. 25/70 and back down to Hot Springs.

I followed the French Broad north out of Hot Springs to a couple more points. Winding around the edge of an old clearcut, I flushed a yearling black bear that galloped away up the hill. A couple of turns later, two yearling white-tailed deer took the opposite tack, abandoning the clearcut for the dark recesses of the forest. As I was flagging these points, pine warblers and great-crested flycatchers sang out to remind me that I would have to bring my low-elevation ears when I came back to survey.

Saturday I slid out of the house again before dawn, this time headed up to Highlands where the Highlands Plateau Chapter of the Audubon Society was hosting Audubon North Carolina’s annual meeting. I led a field trip off of Flat Mountain Road around the old Highlands Ranger District Headquarters and down to Cliffside Lake Recreation Area and back up.

Saturday morning started out kind of wet and muggy too, and the birds were reticent to strut their stuff. Well, not all the birds. Chestnut-sided warblers were singing, chipping, buzzing and twittering from almost every brushy nook and cranny. A black-and-white warbler sang loudly and incessantly, allowing everyone to get good looks.

Birds that we heard but did not get good looks at included ovenbird, Canada warbler, blackburnian warbler and worm-eating warbler. However, a scarlet tanager and a couple of indigo buntings posed long enough for views through the spotting scope.

And while the early morning dampness may have quieted the birds, it encouraged glowing orange red efts to venture out on top of the leaf litter. We saw three or four red efts along the trail to Cliffside. We also found Catesby’s trillium in bloom alongside the trail.

The huffing and puffing and good-natured grousing of flatlanders elicited by the “Bataan” march back up the trail so as not to miss lunch at the Mountain Retreat and Learning Center, where the Highlands Chapter hosted NC Audubon’s annual meeting, quickly abated when the group was welcomed at the trailhead by a yellow-breasted chat noisily practicing his chops from the adjacent clearcut. Not a bad bird at 4,000 feet elevation.

Leading field trips is always fun. But being out with groups with a love for, knowledge of and an interest in the outdoors is especially rewarding.

Sunday morning and the alarm is buzzing again at 4 a.m. Though tired, I’m a bit excited because I have a special companion this morning – my 8-year-old daughter. I go into Izzy’s room to wake her and before I even touch her, she says, “Is it time?” And she is up and dressed and we’re on the road by 5 a.m.

Our first stop is Big Butt Trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mt. Mitchell. I have two points to survey here. We stop at the first point, and it’s apparent that Izzy is too excited or simply too “8-year-old” to stand still and quiet for 10 minutes. So we strike an intuited agreement, and Izzy creeps away to a place in the woods where she can play quietly while Daddy listens for birds.

As is the norm in birding, blackburnian warblers that we couldn’t see yesterday were all over me today. Along with them were high-elevation specialties like golden-crowned kinglets, red-breasted nuthatches and Izzy’s favorite — the winter wren with its long bubbly song.

Due to technical difficulties — GPS failure — we were out for a long time Sunday, more than 12 hours. Izzy was a trooper through it all, and I can’t wait for the days when she will be a regular companion on these predawn sorties into nature.

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


Birders are a restless, impatient lot. From the end of June till the end of August they walk around in a kind of stupor. You will see them occasionally stop shuffling, cock their head with hand cupped behind their ear, mutter “wren” and shuffle on, or suddenly, reflexively jerk their head upwards as the shadow of a pipevine swallowtail dances on the path beneath their feet.

Then, late August comes and imperceptibly, at first, the afternoon and evening light begins to shift hues as we wobble out of the sun’s direct glare. The wind has a different feel and a different smell; birders’ gaits quicken and lighten and binoculars are dusted off and stashed in the car or left out on the kitchen table. Migration is coming!

Some of the earliest migrants are shorebirds. I think it was Peter Matthiessen who coined the term “wind birds” in reference to shorebirds in his 1967 book The Wind Birds.

“The restlessness of shorebirds, their kinship with the distance and swift seasons, the wistful signal of their voices down the long coastlines of the world make them, for me, the most affecting of wild creatures. I think of them as birds of wind, “as wind birds.”

And wind birds can cover great distances in a short time and sometimes wind up in odd places.

And what better to stir the blood of WNC birders and jolt them from their summer doldrums than to have one appear magically on the green turf of Hooper Lane’s Super Sod farm, as if conjured from the wind itself – a long-billed curlew.

The long-billed curlew is a large (raven-sized) shorebird with a long (up to eight inches in adults, shorter in juveniles) decurved bill. The long-billed curlew is cinnamon to tawny-brown above and buff-colored below. It nests on high plains from southwest Canada to the northwestern U.S., across the plains states, down to the Texas panhandle. Most of the population winters from the southwestern U.S. to Central America. A few make it to the East Coast each fall and winter.

But according to Harry LeGrand, chair of the North Carolina Bird Records Committee, the Hooper Lane bird would be the first-ever documented record of an inland long-billed curlew in the state. And according to Catawba park ranger Dwayne Martin of Hickory, who couldn’t resist temptation, the curlew was still present at Hooper Lane as of Monday, Aug. 30, at 6:30 p.m.

To get to Hooper Lane, take the Asheville Airport exit (exit 40) off of I-26. Go west on N.C. 280 approximately 4 miles to a traffic light at the intersection of N.C. 191. Turn left, travel approximately 1/2 mile, turn left onto Jefferies Road. Continue about 2 miles and Hooper Lane is on the right. The bird was last reported from the field near the intersection of Hooper and Jefferies.

If you go, please remember to stay on the gravel road or on the edge of the field. Super Sod has been quite birder-friendly over the years, all they ask is that you do not walk or drive on the sod fields, do not block gates and park only along Hooper or Jefferies, not on any of their turn-rows!

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


A sure bet

I’m sure that if you belong to any environmental/conservation organization or if you have donated to causes in the past or perhaps simply visited a website recently, you have received pleas for donations and/or instructions detailing ways you can assist the Gulf Coast in dealing with the impacts of the massive oil spill created and still being fueled by the blowout of British Petroleum’s (BP) Deepwater Horizon drill ship on April 20.

I have received solicitations and/or announcements through different venues, from The Nature Conservancy, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and N.C. Audubon. I have also seen dozens of other groups with online campaigns geared towards raising money for the Gulf Coast.

I know and you know groups like The Nature Conservancy, Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology do a lot of good work. Their resources afford them a place at the table when dealing with government bureaucracies and large corporations. But I often think of these and other large environmental groups as being a bit top heavy and wonder how much of the small donation I am able to give is eaten up in administrative, business-as-usual costs and how much gets to the heart of the problem.

With this thought in mind, I e-mailed the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Robert Barham. It just so happens that the secretary and I grew up about 12 miles apart in the farmlands of Northeast Louisiana – he in Oak Ridge and I in Mer Rouge. Barham’s reply was immediate, “We have a Foundation that assits our Department, and 100 percent of the money will be spent in Louisiana to help the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries recover from this event.”

That Foundation is the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation (LWFF). LWFF is a “friends” organization like Friends of the Smokies that operates here in Waynesville. According to executive director Kell Mc Innis, LWFF was created in 1995, and “every dollar donated to LWFF is spent in Louisiana to assist the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in their mission to protect Louisiana’s wildlife and fisheries resources.” Mc Innis also noted that you can earmark your donation specifically for oil spill mitigation. To do that at this time, you need to download a donation form from LWFF’s Website at and check the box “in support of” and list oil spill. Mc Innis said that LWFF was working to update its online donation process to also allow this option.

Today the LDWF is working with state and federal agencies to assess habitat at risk from the oil spill, mobilize resources to try and protect habitat not already impacted, and join in coordinated efforts to rescue wildlife and rehabilitate animals that can be saved. According to e-mails LDWF also, “... continues to work with BP officials to ensure the safety of Louisiana’s seafood.”

But today’s efforts may be only the tip of the iceberg. The e-mail states, “Louisiana has faced many natural disaster storm events/hurricanes and the wildlife and fisheries resources have recovered in relatively short time spans. This man-made event and the scope of the impacts it presents are a challenge beyond anything the state has seen from an environmental, economic and/or life changing perspective — especially for those in the fishing community.”

Mc Innis said that the long-term far-reaching effects of the oil spill make LWFF an especially good choice for your charitable donations because the foundation was created to assist Louisiana’s wildlife and fisheries, and that is their singular mission.

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


Still soaring after all these years

Eagle Lady Doris Mager enjoyed a “rock star” reception last Friday (6/18) at the Waynesville public library. But instead of overage adolescents flicking bics and shouting “Freebird,” Mager and her friend E.T. (Extra Terrific), a 27-year-old great-horned owl, were welcomed by enthusiastic toddler-screams of “owwwlll! owwwlll!”

Fifty or more people — the majority under 10 years of age — filled the library’s meeting room to see and learn about her feathered friends. And while the room was filled with the kind of energy and excitement that only toddlers can bring to a confined space, once Mager and her birds took center stage I have to say, I’ve never seen that many young minds that focused for that long.

Of course, Mager is a pro. She has been an avid avian advocate for more than four decades. It began in Maitland, Fla., where Mager worked for the Florida Audubon Society. Her efforts, including spending six nights and seven days in an abandoned bald eagle nest, helped raise money for an aviary to care for injured raptors. That aviary underwent a $2 million facelift and reopened in 2001 as the Audubon National Center for Birds of Prey. The facility has treated 10,000 or so injured birds of prey since its inception in 1979.

Mager left the Florida Audubon Society in 1983 to create the non-profit SOAR (Save Our American Raptors.) With her focus on children, Mager with her birds in her van crossed and crisscrossed the country from Cape Cod to Savannah, across Texas and New Mexico and the Carolinas presenting more than 200 programs a year at schools, libraries and other venues. For a short synopsis of Mager’s “bird life” go to to see an article I did in June 2001.

Mager was 74 when I interviewed her for that piece in 2001. She said then that she intended to “go till God gives me the sign.” It looks like “go” is the only sign she’s seen. And it was apparent last Friday that when it comes to raptors, Mager’s enthusiasm has not waned — even the toddlers were in awe. And, more importantly, they were listening.

A youngster asked Mager what someone his age could do to help birds. She responded, unhesitatingly, “leave them alone.” She explained that wild things are meant to be wild and unless an animal is sick or injured the very best thing one can do is to simply leave them alone.

Friday night at the dinner table my wife asked Maddy (our 4-year-old) what she learned at the library. With no coaching from dad, she responded, “Leave wild things alone.” Which is a great lesson for my girls right now, with a Carolina wren feeding fledglings in a hanging basket at our back door.

And while Friday’s program was geared to kids, it was quite informative and the facts were accurate. I noticed lots of adults paying attention and Mager does do programs for more sophisticated bird lovers. But if you have a budding birder or someone you want to introduce to the wonders of nature be sure to catch Mager and her friends at the Fines Creek library on Monday June, 28 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. She and E.T., Cara, a 34-year-old crested cara cara, plus a screech owl and an American kestrel, are sure to please.

Much of Mager’s tenure as “eagle lady” is recorded in the book RJ: Tribute to a Golden Eagle published in 1997 by Aquilla Press in Clyde.

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


uddling – a kaleidoscope adventure

Maddy (my 4-year-old) and I had been in the woods at Harmons Den checking on some bird points. We came out of the woods at the Harmons Den Horse Camp. At the intersection of Cold Springs Road (FS Rd. 148) and the entrance to the horse camp (FS Rd. 3526), there is an open area with picnic tables and a small gravel parking area. The horse camp road and the parking area were literally covered with butterflies. There were dozens of groups of butterflies of 10 or more on the ground and scores of more butterflies wafting, hovering and fluttering around.

This was the weekend after Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day weekend had been quite busy at Harmons Den with riders and their equine friends enjoying the many trails. The musky aroma of horse — sweat, urine and manure — still lingered and the butterflies were loving it.

Now some women hold in contempt what many males of the species consider if not epicurean delights at least tasty staples — things like cold pizza and warm beer, or orange juice out of the carton.

Well, male butterflies take these gourmand tendencies to a completely different level. Horse sweat appetizer followed by sun-baked manure accompanied by chateau equine urine, 2010 is a menu that male butterflies would (and may) die for.

And you know what, ladies? We do it all for you. In the case of the human species, it’s more an act of consideration — like cleaning out the fridge, getting rid of leftover beer or not dirtying the dishes. But in the case of the butterfly, it’s all about survival of the species.

While nectar provides nourishment and sugar, it is sorely lacking in the kind of nutrients needed for reproduction. Male butterflies — being male, after all, — take it upon themselves to gather these salts and minerals. These salts and minerals may be obtained in small quantities from sources like rotting fruit, tree sap, wet soil and dead plants. But none of these sources come close to the motherload of minerals offered by urine, feces and/or carrion.

The male ingests these nutrients then transfers them to the female in the form of spermataphores during copulation. These spermataphores enhance the viability of the female’s eggs helping to insure the survival of the species.

This act of congregating at one spot, whether it is a puddle, a moist area, a pile of dung or some carrion is known as puddling. Puddling is a male trait and while it is serious business for the species, the butterflies appear to shun the gravity of the situation and seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves — like when your boyfriend or husband is on the couch eating cold pizza and drinking warm beer and watching the Lakers and Celtics in the NBA Championship.

One name for a group of butterflies is a kaleidoscope. Kaleidoscope seems quite appropriate for the colorful congregation of butterflies Maddy and I encountered, which included eastern tiger swallowtails, red-spotted purples, eastern commas, question marks, summer (I think) azures and red admirals.

Because of the open areas, nearby woods and availability of horse-nutrients, the area around the Harmons Den Horse Camp is Lepidoptera heaven. To get there, take I-40 west to the Harmons Den exit (exit 7). Turn right onto Cold Springs Road. It’s about 3.7 miles to the entrance (FS road 3526) to the horse camp. The open area and parking lot are on your left at the intersection.

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


I was heartened recently by two op-eds I read in area newspapers regarding industrial-sized wind turbines in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The reasoned commentaries were written by individuals with firsthand knowledge of science, the scientific method, Appalachian history, energy emissions and the environment.

The first commentary I saw, in the May 19 Asheville Citizen-Times, was written by John Droz Jr. of Morehead City and Greig, N.Y., and a frequent visitor to Asheville and WNC. He is a physicist and environmental activist. Droz believes critical thinking and common sense have been eschewed with regards to wind power for the sake of being green. He writes:

“As a physicist and long-time environmental advocate, I believe we need aggressive and meaningful changes in our state and federal energy policies. This urgency, though, shouldn’t mean we abandon critical thinking — in fact, it says the opposite. Citizens should be adamantly opposed to the ‘let’s do anything, just for the sake of doing something’ mentality. We simply can’t afford to be wasting time, money and effort on illusionary solutions — like some of the energy alternatives being promoted by lobbyists and others with self-serving agendas.

“In graduate school I learned the scientific method. This says that when a new idea is proposed as a potential solution to a problem, the proponents must prove its efficacy before it is accepted as legitimate. Here we have businessmen, profiteers, politicians, academia and well-intentioned environmentalists proposing wind power as a partial solution to global warming — so they must provide independent, objective, comprehensive proof that wind power is a viable solution. This has not happened.”

The other commentary was from Dave Erb, engineering professor at UNCA and executive committee chair of WENOCA (the local affiliate of the NC Chapter of the Sierra Club.) This op-ed originally appeared in the May 26 Mountain Express. Erb writes:

“At a November forum on wind power at UNCA, a young staffer from a regional activist group puffed that he had dedicated his life to fighting mountaintop-removal coal mining, blustering that he wasn’t about to let ‘these NIMBYs’ who oppose industrializing Western North Carolina’s ridge tops stand in his way. As a child of coal country, I share his anger over mountaintop-removal mining. But as a renewable-energy advocate with significant wind experience, I find his passion for utility-scale wind power in WNC sorely misplaced — and painfully ironic.”

I especially liked Erb’s response to the term NIMBY:

“Let’s be clear about the term NIMBY (‘not in my backyard’): It denotes someone trying to stop moneyed interests from imposing public ‘collateral damage’ while pursuing private profits. Silk-suited spin doctors use it to imply that tough, brave heroes like mountaintop-removal foe Judy Bonds are really just spoiled, selfish airheads. It’s a badge of honor, not a slur.”

I remember when NIMBYs like the ones who spoke out against Three-Mile Island were environmental heroes — after all, isn’t the environmental mantra, “Think globally, act locally?” What could be more local than the mountaintops in our backyard?

I understand that Erb’s commentary was his personal opinion and does not reflect the position of WENOCA. But I am happy to see people with documented, demonstrable pro-environment bias willing to say, “Wait a minute — what are we proposing here?”

As environmentalists, we should not simply be seeking alternatives – we should be seeking “better” alternatives.

The easiest way to see Droz’s commentary (as you have to search the archives at the Asheville Citizen-Times) is to Google John Droz wind power citizen-times. To see Erb’s piece go to 052610wind_power_or_hot_air/.


On Aug. 17, federal judge Royce C. Lambeth ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of critical habitat for the federally threatened piping plover in areas of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore were in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. The ruling was in response to a suit filed by the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance. Defendant-intervenors in the lawsuit were Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center. The habitat will cover a little more than 2,000 acres in Dare and Hyde counties including areas on Cape Hatteras, Hatteras Inlet, Oregon Inlet and Ocrakoke Island.

Critical habitat for the imperiled piping plover has been a contentious issue along the Outer Banks for years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first proposed critical habitat for the plover in 2001. CHAPA challenged the designation in federal court and prevailed. The court said that Fish and Wildlife had not justified the designation and in 2004 remanded the action back to the agency to correct errors and for clarification. In 2008, Fish and Wildlife published its revisions and CHAPA sued again. This time, Judge Lambeth ruled that Fish and Wildlife had met all of its requirements under the Endangered Species Act.

The piping plover is a small (bluebird-sized) shorebird. It is gray to grayish-brown above and white below. Males and females are similar in appearance. During breeding season they show a dark (black or brown) neck band (sometimes incomplete, especially in females), a small black bar across the forehead and a black tip on the tail. The black bands fade in the winter.

The piping plover breeds on the Great Plains from Alberta, Canada to Oklahoma and along the northern Great Lakes and down the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to the Outer Banks. Coastal piping plovers like the ones on the Outer Banks nest above the high tide line at the end of sandspits, on gently sloping foredunes, on sparsely vegetated dunes and in protected areas behind primary dunes.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, major contributors to the decline of the Atlantic Coast piping plover include loss and degradation of habitat due to development and shoreline stabilization. The Service also states that disturbance by humans and pets reduces the functional suitability of nesting habitat and can cause direct and indirect mortality of chicks and eggs.

When the Atlantic Coast piping plover, Charadrius melodus, was listed as threatened in 1986, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimated there were only about 800 pairs left. Today, thanks to an intensive protection effort there are around 1,500 pairs of Atlantic Coast piping plover.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Atlantic Coast Piping Plover Revised Recovery Plan the objective is to remove the plover from the Threatened list by increasing the numbers and productivity of breeding pairs and providing long-term protection of breeding and wintering habitat. The goal is to have at least 2,000 breeding pairs along the coast and maintain that population for five years.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore can figure prominently in that recovery plan because it is one of the few places along the Atlantic coast that harbors piping plover year-round, through spring and fall migration and during nesting season and as a wintering ground.


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