The Naturalist's Corner: Testing the early spring winds

I had the great pleasure of leading an early spring birding trip for Alarka Expeditions this past weekend, April 21-22. Alarka Expeditions is a brand new eco tour/environmental education enterprise based in Cowee in Macon County adjacent to the Nantahala National Forest and the Cowee National Historic District. 

Sage advice from a clutter of books

Spring cleaning.

When we hear those words, we think of washing windows and dusting neglected baseboards, de-cluttering closets, going through those boxes in the attic, deep cleaning the kitchen, tidying the basement, and polishing up furniture in the living room and study. 

Birch stills were once plentiful in the mountains

Throughout spring the pendent catkins of sweet birch (Betula lenta) will be dangling gracefully in the wind in rich woodland settings below 4000 feet.

Catkins are the male pollen-carrying portion of the sweet birch (Betula lenta), also known as black, cherry, or mahogany birch.

The Naturalist's Corner: Spring has sprung

It doesn’t take a calendar to know spring is here. Spring is surely in the air but it’s also in the trees; it’s clawing through the dirt; it’s singing from vernal pools, streams and lakes; it’s even in the heavens.

Orion is chasing Taurus out of sight as we turn away from the bright stars of the winter nights. Ursa Major (big dipper) and Ursa Minor (little dipper) will become prominent features and can serve as pointers for finding the North Star, Polaris, plus a number of summer constellations.

The Naturalist's Corner: It really is spring

I was reconnoitering the Buck Creek Serpentine Barrens on Monday March 27, with Brent Martin, Southern Appalachian regional director at The Wilderness Society, for an upcoming field trip with the Franklin Bird club on April 24. The Serpentine Barrens is located along Buck Creek in Clay County, off U.S. 64 about 17 miles west of Franklin. The barrens is a botanically distinct area created by the dominant serpentinized rock types — dunite and olivine. The area is home to many rare and/or endemic plants because of the rare soils created by the serpentinized rock and two decades of prescribed burning by the Forest Service.

Comprehending climate: Smokies seeks to understand impacts of shifts in seasonal patterns

According to the National Phenology Network, Punxsutawny Phil had it all wrong when he emerged from his hole this month to declare six more weeks of winter — across the Southeastern U.S, the NPN’s data shows, spring 2017 is arriving three weeks earlier than the 1981-2010 average. 

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is looking for volunteers to help gather the data that will bring such generalizations down to a more local level. Phenology — the ways that plants and animals respond to seasonal changes — has been the subject of increasing interest as discussions about climate change have heated up, and the park is now four years into a volunteer program to collect data for the larger NPN project.

The Naturalist's Corner: Is spring springing earlier?

Back in January I surveyed the Tellico Fire with MountainTrue biologist Josh Kelly. We were there to check out the intensity and severity of the fire. The date was January 19 and we found a few Hepatica acutiloba (sharp-lobed hepatica) in flower. Kelly said that was the earliest he had ever seen it in flower.

Opening Day brings renewed sense of hope

op coxI have turned off the talk shows, put down the newspapers, avoided barbershops and changed the subject at family gatherings. I know that eventually, this being an election year with the future of the republic at stake, I will have to put on my waders and trudge back into the primordial muck of politics. But not now. Not today. Because it is spring, and the world is, as the poet E.E. Cummings said, “mud luscious and puddle wonderful,” a long drink of elixir to rouse us from our long winter’s naps. Because every tree, every bush, every dandelion, every blade of grass is alive, alive, alive, as I am alive on my deck with a good book and a glass of red wine filled nearly to the brim, as the children are alive on their bikes and their skateboards and their own sweet adrenaline.

Love was in the air

out natcornLove may be a little anthropogenic for toads, but the eons old “urge to merge” was quite prevalent last Sunday (4/7) when we were at Oconee State Park. Oconee State Park in Mountain Rest, S.C., is along U.S. Hwy 11 around 14 miles south of Cashiers and about an hour and a half drive from Waynesville.

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