- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Stephen Lyn Bales, editor

Friday, December 23, 2011

Last scheduled program of 2011: Happy Holidays!

It was cold, two days before Christmas with just enough time to squeeze in one final WalkAbout before the holiday break.

Special thanks to all who came out for the bird walk along Will Skelton Greenway to the west.

Looking forward to other adventures in 2011!

- Happy Holidays: Stephen Lyn Bales

Thursday, December 15, 2011

28th Annual Holiday Craft Party is Saturday

Logdeer welcome visitors to the nature center

Once upon a time—and indeed, many of us still remember it—most holiday decorations were made by the family.

Kids would sit around the kitchen table with mom crafting ornaments, wreaths and cards, family keepsakes that would last for years. It was also an excellent way to keep little hands busy (and little minds occupied) waiting for the day when the Big Guy "tarnished with ashes and soot" would somehow make his way down the chimney with a bound. How did he do that?

Unwrapping those heirlooms every December brought back a flood of memories of holidays past, that is if the mice hadn't eaten the strings of popcorn and cranberries.

Those days are alive and well at Ijams.

This Saturday, December 17, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. is our 28th Annual Holiday Craft Party.

Celebrate the holiday season with this recycled craft open house. Learn how to reuse common household items to make fun and festive gifts and decorations like candles, cards and ornaments. Creative keepsakes that will become family heirlooms. Cost: $2 for Ijams members, $5 for non-members. Please call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register.

- Text and photos by Stephen Lyn Bales

The garland at the entrance to the Visitor Center is mostly boxwood from the original shrubs
planted by Alice Ijams over 60 years ago.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Surprisingly hard-to-find, logdeer seen at nature center

Ever-alert and hard-to-find woodland logdeers

Ijams does not often have deer. Although they are routinely seen at Forks of the River WMA due east of the nature center, the fleet and nimble hoofed-ones are rarely here, that is until this week when three woodland logdeer were spotted outside the Visitor Center. 

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Winter Bird WalkAbouters brave the cold day

Sometimes, the thrill IS in the hunt. You may not find a lot but it's the camaraderie of the group that saves the day.

So it was for our Saturday Winter Bird WalkAbout. Our goal was to find birds that only spend their winters in the Tennessee Valley; their summers are spent elsewhere.

It was chilly, almost cold. On a walk east of the Visitor Center on the Will Skelton Greenway the only winter bird we managed to find was a single yellow-rumped warbler.

But even so, it was a good day.

The next Winter Bird WalkAbout will be Friday, December 23 at 2 PM. To sign up call 577-4717, ext. 110. 

Yellow-rumped warbler winter plumage

- Text by Stephen Lyn Bales. Warbler photo by Alan D. Wilson.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pair of ivory-bills find 'forever home' at Ijams

"Two stuffed and mounted ivory-billed woodpeckers (one a male and one a female) finally found a forever home as a part of Ijams Nature Center's lost species exhibit.

The amazing story of how they came to be donated involves a beautiful old picture frame, a lifelong friendship between two men who grew up together in Worcester County, Mass., two friends in a Knoxville book club, and a letter written by Ijams Director Paul James."

For the rest of the story, go the Birdlife column by Marcia Davis at ivory-bills' journey.

- Photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Birthday parties are fun, especially if you are a butterfly

Flutter by. Flutter by. Even in early December you can find butterflies at Ijams. Especially if you plan a butterfly-themed Birthday Party with Kara.

This afternoon butterflies of all colors (and one yellow-and-black bumble bee boy) were seen flitting about all over the Visitor Center and Plaza. It was a delight to all who happened to be anywhere nearby. Summer is eternal in the hearts of the young.

Happy Birthday, Gryphon!

For more information about having your child's birthday at Ijams contact Kara Remington. 

- Text and photos by Stephen Lyn Bales

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Winter Birds WalkAbout creeps into creeper

Surprisingly, the Ten Mile Creek Greenway through the heart of west Knoxville can be a good place to find birds. 

The Winter Birds WalkAbout today found several of interest including a sharp-shinned and red-shouldered hawk plus a few species only here in the winter: yellow-rumped warblers, dark-eyed juncos, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, white-throated sparrows and a lone brown creeper. But, creepers tend to always be alone at this time of the year. Creeping along, blending in, minding their own business.

Ijams WalkAbouts are scheduled on most Saturdays at parks and greenways around the county. For the next one, visit the Ijams online events calendar.

- Story by Stephen Lyn Bales

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Welcome Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Technology Academy

Thanks to a generous grant from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, schools in Knox County can now participate in Ijams Nature Center field trips free of charge! 

This grant opens up outdoor learning to a wider audience of schools by providing scholarships and bus transportation to qualifying groups. Participating classes receive customized outreach programs in their classrooms prior to their visit, and then complete a curriculum-based set of activities at the nature center. Topics include Plants, Animal Adaptations, and Geology. 

A special thanks goes out to Green Mountain Coffee Roasters for helping us to continue our legacy of quality outdoor learning opportunities for East Tennessee students.

- Story by Jennifer Roder

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ijams owl prowlers flush great horned

AS the sun slipped below the horizon to the west and cold air moved in from the river to the north, the Ijams owl prowlers set out to find those feathered, nocturnal wonders: hoot owls.

You can find five species of owl—Eastern screech, barred, great horned, barn and even migrating saw-whet—at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge in east Knox County, although the Northern saw-whet only passes through. (Locally, it nests in the higher elevations of the Smokies.) 

Our group heard two or three screech-owls along the road, but the real treat was flushing a great horned owl.  

Initially, it seemed to respond with a loud squawk from a distance when we played a tape of an eerie barn owl (If I were a vole, the mere scream of a barn owl would cause me to drop dead in my tracks!) but a recording of a great horned owl itself brought it closer to investigate our group huddled in the cold near a wooded ridge. But it continued to squawk not hoot at us. 

Eventually, the largest owl in our valley flew over us for a eyeball-to-eyeball look-see and perhaps noting we were no real threat, just a bunch of shivering, bundled humans with dreams of warm cocoa, it disappeared into the darkness never to be heard again. 

Great Horned Owl photo by Brendan Lally
Later I learned that young great horned owls do a lot of squawking and very little hooting.

Thanks to AmeriCorps members Katie and Zack for helping and to Nora, Justine and their Seven Islands friends for joining us.

- Story and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales.

Friday, November 11, 2011

WalkAbouters find winged buckeyes at Seven Islands

WalkAbouter Ruth holding a buckeye butterfly

You never know what you might find on a WalkAbout.

Last Saturday, we were looking for insects and spiders at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge in east Knox County. And even though it was November, it was sunny and warm, so we were lucky.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was how many buckeye butterflies that were out and about. 

The common buckeye (How could anything as beautiful as a buckeye be labeled common?) feeds on nectar but also takes fluids from mud and damp sand. Males perch on bare ground or low plants, occasionally patrolling in search of females, but they are not territorial. Buckeyes have bold patterns of eyespots and white bars on their upper wing surface. Such a special thing! The populations of late fall, overwinter as adults, waiting until next spring to reproduce. 

Ijams thanks Rikki Hall for leading the WalkAbout.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)
And Happy Birthday Ruthie! Nine-years-old is a very good thing to be. 

- Story and text by Stephen Lyn Bales

Monday, November 7, 2011

The nature center goes to the dogs, but in a good way

A warm and fuzzy, wet-nosed thank you goes to all who attended our first Dog Days Event last Saturday. The turnout was great and the friendly, tail-wagging dogs managed their human companions within park guidelines. 

Ijams is really excited about our new partnership with PooPrints, a green initiative helping improve local air and water quality to create a cleaner and greener community.

Watch for other Dog Days events in the future, and ask us about a special Ijams membership for your canine partner. 

- Story and photos by Stephen Lyn Bales

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ijams welcomes new snake to our education staff

Ijams has a new program animal: a young captive-bred corn snake.

We've had it about two months and because of the hands-on care of our vet, Dr. Louise Conrad, it has about tripled in length.  It's a healthy eater.

Once known as red rat snakes, the name "corn snake" is a holdover from Southern farmers who often found the colorful snakes in their corn cribs, eating the mice that ate the corn. A good thing. The farmers would rather have the snakes than the mice. 

The new snake has already been used in a couple of outreach programs.

Welcome to the staff.

- Story and text by Stephen Lyn Bales.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Jack-O'-Lantern appears in time for all hallows' eve

Jack O'Lantern mushroom 

Just in time for the spooky holiday, educator Sabrina DeVault discovered a Jack O'Lantern mushroom (Omphalotus olearius by some, Omphalotus illudens by others) growing at the Homesite.

As the name suggests, this jack-o'-lantern is an orange- to yellow-gill mushroom that to an untrained eye appears similar to some chanterelles, and is most notable for its bioluminescent properties, perhaps a by-product of its metabolism. A fresh cut specimen is said to glow eerily in a dark room. Something I've yet to test. However, unlike the chanterelle, the Jack o'Lantern mushroom is indeed poisonous.

So witchy-poos and goblins and headless horsemen alike, you better watch out.

Boo! Trick or treat.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ijams Quarry canoe trip: it's like déjà vu all over again

Canoeists on Ijams Quarry Lake

Anyone for jelly babies? Well, actually they are not babies but full-grown adults.

I expected we'd see herons and turtles on our canoe trip on Ijams Quarry Lake this morning, but I didn't believe we'd find the rare freshwater jellyfish that appear occasionally. Afterall, we found them on last month's canoe trip and even that seemed late in the season to me. The medusas' appearances called "blooms" are sporadic and unpredictable from year to year. It usually happens during the hot weather of the late summer months, or a least that's what I believed.

Yet, even on a cool morning in mid-October we found them. 

Freshwater jellyfish (Craspedacusta sowerbyi) are not native to North America. They first appeared in the lake at Ijams in 1997.  Since then, I've always thought they were rare, yet on two canoe trips in a row, we have found them.

The small bell-shaped jellies—about the diameter of a U.S. penny in their hydromedusa stage—are virtually transparent and as wispy as the Smoky Mountains' smoke. 

They look like bubbles, bobbing up and down, undulating underwater; one of the most ephemeral lifeforms I've ever seen or written about. Here one minute and gone the next, and surprise, surprise, they were here again this morning. 

What did Yogi say, "It's like déjà vu all over again."

The next guided canoe trip of the quarry lake is scheduled for Saturday, November 12 at 10:30 a.m. To register for it call 577-4717, ext. 119. 

- Story and text by Stephen Lyn Bales.

Canoe Trip Group

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thanks to the Mind's Eye group for bell-witching our party

Mind's Eye Society Knoxville Chapter
Left to right Raven Darqhart, Mars Schultz, David Hargis, Louise Conrad and Chris Thorton

Special thanks to the Mind's Eye Society Knoxville Chapter for participating in our Haunted Lantern Tour of the Ijams Quarries: Mead's and Ross Marble two weeks ago.

The local group told the story of the Bell Witch—Tennessee's most famous haunting—at the Keyhole at Ross Marble just after darkness flowed into the abandoned quarry pit. (Not the best place to be after the sun sets.) I've been told if you mention the witch in an appropriate place, she will appear.

Did she?

I can't say for fear that mentioning her name again will make her manifest herself in my office.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blackhaw viburnum, a mockingbird's dream buffet

Blackhaw viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium

The blackhaw viburnum growing at the west end of the Visitor Center is loaded with small fruits—called drupes—at this time of the year, which is why you often find mockingbirds nearby. They love their fruit. 

The deciduous shrub native to the Southeast can reach heights of 18 to 20 feet. Planted in a row, you'll have a natural wall in only a few years to hide your air conditioning unit or, in our case, compost bins.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

'The Amphibians of Tennessee' signing and reception at Ijams

Thursday, October 13

Ijams Nature Center and the University of Tennessee Press will host a book signing to celebrate the release of The Amphibians of Tennessee ($39.95, University of Tennessee Press) . 

The book was written by University of Tennessee doctoral graduates Matthew Niemiller and R. Graham Reynolds.

The book signing and reception begins at 4 pm in the Ijams Visitor Center. For more information about the book go to: www.utpress.org.

Or check out the book website at http://www.amphibiansoftn.com.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Watch out for saddled caterpillars with bristles

Saddleback caterpillar, Sibine stimulea

Ijams educator Sabrina DeVault found this one on a Alexandria laurel just before Sunday's plant sale.

The saddleback caterpillar is the larva of a species of slug moth native to the east. The adult moth is rather brown and nondescript.

The caterpillars are primarily chartreuse with cocoa brown at both ends and a prominent, white-ringed brown dot in the center that resembles a saddle, hence the name, although they are also known as "packsaddles" for the same reason.

The caterpillars have a pair of fleshy, bristly "horns" at either end, and these, like much of the body are covered with urticating hairs that secrete an irritating venom. Stings can be very painful, so beware. 

Ouch! Nature can have a bite. But it's an excellent survival strategy. 

When I was kid, I was once stung. I still remember it and developed a fear of anything green with a saddle, including chartreuse horses.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Hummers passing through Ijams and local environs

This has been a good year for migrating hummingbirds. I've recieved several phone calls about large groups (called charms) spending time in backyards, around the feeders and late-blooming nectar flowers, especially jewelweed.

Tiffiny Hamlin and her husband Warren attended one of my winter bird classes. Afterwards, we found a hermit thrush for them to photograph.

This week Tiffiny sent these two hummingbird photos. Both young male ruby-throats just beginning to grow in their dark neck feathers.

- Photos by Tiffiny Hamlin. Text by Stephen Lyn Bales

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fall Plant Sale, ghostly lecture this Sunday, October 2

Sunday, October 2, 9 AM to 3 PM

This year our 27th annual Fall Plant Sale will feature over 10 local nurseries specializing in herbs, native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees, plus vendors selling garden related items, herbal soaps, artwork and food including, the ever-popular Butch's BBQ. Children's activities will be held in Jo's Grove: nature playscape and music will by provided by Chris Durman & Friends. Members receive 10% discount.

Special Sunday Lecture

The morning of the Plant Sale there will be a lecture at 11 a.m. and book signing by Pat Fitzhugh, author of  Ghostly Cries from Dixie,  a chilling discussion about Tennessee's Bell Witch legend with Q & A and Book Signing afterwards
Registration required: call 577-4717, ext. 110.

Plant Sale sponsors: The Knoxville News Sentinel, Prideland Landscaping, Butch's BBQ and WDVX 102.9 FM.

- Sabrina DeVault, Educator. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fall bird count at Ijams held last Sunday

Swainson's thrush (Catharus ustulatus)

Sunday was the Knox County Fall Bird Count. Emily and Than Boves, plus Steven Brinkley and Katie Percy counted at Ijams for 4.5 hours.

Although it was a good day, Emily felt a lot of the warblers she saw on Friday had moved on. The migratory species with the highest total was the magnolia warbler, the second highest was Swainson's Thrush. 

Here is their complete list:

> Canada Goose 5
> Wood Duck 1
> Pied-billed Grebe 1
> Great Blue Heron 1
> Green Heron 1
> Mourning Dove 8
> Yellow-billed Cuckoo 1
> Chimney Swift 18
> Ruby-throated Hummingbird 3
> Belted Kingfisher 1
> Red-bellied Woodpecker 9
> Downy Woodpecker 9
> Northern Flicker 1
> Pileated Woodpecker 3
> Eastern Wood-Pewee 8
> Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1
> Eastern Phoebe 2
> Yellow-throated Vireo 1
> Red-eyed Vireo 3
> Blue Jay 45
> American Crow 9
> Carolina Chickadee 48
> Tufted Titmouse 22
> White-breasted Nuthatch 12
> Carolina Wren 37
> Eastern Bluebird 4
> Gray-cheeked Thrush 2
> Swainson's Thrush 21
> American Robin 5
> Gray Catbird 2
> Northern Mockingbird 5
> Brown Thrasher 6
> Black-and-white Warbler 3
> Tennessee Warbler 17
> Hooded Warbler 1
> American Redstart 6
> Cape May Warbler 1
> Northern Parula 3
> Magnolia Warbler 36
> Bay-breasted Warbler 1
> Blackburnian Warbler 2
> Chestnut-sided Warbler 8
> Palm Warbler 5
> Eastern Towhee 1
> Field Sparrow 1
> Song Sparrow 1
> Scarlet Tanager 8
> Northern Cardinal 19
> Rose-breasted Grosbeak 2
> Indigo Bunting 6
> Eastern Meadowlark 1
> American Goldfinch 27

Friday, September 23, 2011

Results of first Ijams' BioBlitzes presented

Coyote caught on camera at Ross Marble

On Tuesday, September 13, Ijams was pleased to welcome back former AmeriCorps team member, Laura Marsh. During her tenure at Ijams last year, Laura conducted two BioBlitzes on our newest property, the Ross Marble Natural Area. 

A BioBlitz is a is a special type of field study, where a group of scientists and volunteers conduct a 24-hour biological inventory, attempting to identify and record the species in a given area. 

In May and June, Laura worked round the clock with a fantastic team of local experts and volunteers to survey a wide variety of species from insects and plants to mammals and birds. Over 260 species were documented over the two 24-hour surveys. Some of the highlights included a camera survey and nocturrnal mist net demontration. The cameras captured photographic documentation of two coyotes, a red fox and a gray fox—a species that had not been documented at Ijams prior to the BioBlitz. 

Mist nets were used by TVA biologists Charles Hofer and Holly LeGrand. Three individual bats were captured, measured and released. We hope to use the data gained from the surveys to enhance our eduational programs and materials. 

A heart-felt “thank you” goes out to all the volunteers and biologists who generously donated so much time to make the BioBlitz efforts such a success!

- Jennifer Roder, Education Director.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Migratory bird walk planned for this Saturday

Female chestnut-sided warbler in summer plumage

Join Emily and Than Boves this Saturday, September 24 for a fall migratory bird walk at Ijams!

It is peak migration right now, so they will look for mixed flocks of birds including multiple warbler species like the chestnut-sided warbler Emily saw this morning in the trees by the parking lot.

We will meet at 7:30 a.m. at the front desk of the Visitor Center. Bring binoculars. Please call 577-4717 ext. 110 to register.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ijams canoeists find ephemeral treasures

Ijams September canoe group

The first Ijams guided canoe trip open to the public on Ijams Quarry Lake turned up an oddity, ghostly aquatic apparitions.

I expected we'd see herons and turtles, which we did, but I didn't believe we'd find the rare freshwater jellyfish that pop up occasionally. The medusa's appearance is sporadic and unpredictable from year to year.

Freshwater jellyfish (Craspedacusta sowerbyi) are not native to North America. They first appeared in a greenhouse aquarium in Washington D.C. in 1907. Since then, they've slowly spread across the country and are usually found in calm, freshwater reservoirs, impoundments, gravel pits and old quarries. Ninety years after they were collected in the nation's capital, the jellies first appeared—or were first documented—in Mead's Quarry Lake in 1997. (Retired TVA biologist Bob Terry, husband of Ijams educator Jean Terry, identified them from collected samples.)

Generally, the small jellies appear in their medusa stage during the heat of summer. This is why I didn't expect we'd find them in mid-September on a cool morning. Lynn Keffer, a canoeist in our group, was the first to see one undulating just below the water's surface, virtually transparent and as wispy as morning fog. About the size of a penny, the jellies are clear to slightly milky white. Walter Cromer, another paddler in our group, quickly became attuned at spotting them swimming around our canoes.

They look like water bubbles, bobbing up and down underwater; one of the most ephemeral lifeforms I've ever written about.

Jelly watchers

C. sowberbyi

The next guided canoe trip I'll be leading is scheduled for Saturday, October 15 at 10:30 a.m. To sign up call me at 577-4717, ext. 119.

- Story by Stephen Lyn Bales