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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Waterthrush serenades from Homesite stream

The arrival of spring is often announced by an increased cacophony of bird songs outside your window. Songbirds generally start practicing their songs on the wintering grounds and continue to practice as they migrate back to their breeding grounds. This means it all reaches a crescendo during April and May when the breeders are beginning to arrive, the migrants are passing through and the wintering birds are getting ready to leave.

Two days ago, fellow naturalist Jennifer Roder alerted me that she heard a new song behind the Visitor Center. As soon as I stepped out the door, I heard the loud song of a Louisiana waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla). They are one of the first migrants to arrive back in Tennessee.

I quickly grabbed my binoculars and ran down the trail. I knew exactly where to find him. Waterthrushes forage, sing and build their nests along streams in forested areas. True to form, this beautiful bird was singing right off of the Discovery Trail by the stream. We got several great looks at him as he held his bill to the sky and belted out his song as loud as he could.

Waterthrushes aren’t actually thrushes. They are warblers, but they look more like small thrushes or sparrows. Their distinct song and tendency to bob their tails as they walk along the edges of streams make them easy to recognize.

When H.P. Ijams lived here, during the 1930s and ‘40s he observed Louisiana waterthrushes nesting alongside the very stream where this guy was singing. We haven’t documented any nesting here recently, but we will continue to keep our eyes and ears open for this exciting bird.

- By Emily Boves

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring comes early for one lone lethargic toad

A few weeks ago, I was digging through a pile of soil filling up pots for plants with a volunteer and another Ijams’ employee. All of a sudden the volunteer yelled, “Oh no! A dead frog!”

I picked up the frog and quickly realized that it was a dormant American toad (Bufo americanus).

Amphibians have to hibernate in order to survive the winter. They are ectotherms meaning that they get their heat from their surroundings.

I had already heard several American toads calling that week, but this toad was clearly not ready to come out yet. So, I took the toad and shallowly buried him near a pond on the Homesite knowing that he would soon be ready to come out to find a mate. This week, to my great surprise, I saw an American toad singing his heart out at that very pond!

Toads spend the majority of their lives on land and only go to water to mate and lay eggs. The males sing a long musical trill that can last several seconds. I watched my toad for over a half hour, and he sang almost the entire time. He will continue to sing until he attracts a mate. The female will then lay a long string of eggs in the water. As of now, I haven’t seen any toad eggs, but I will continue to monitor the pond to see if any appear.

- Text and photo by Emily Boves

Monday, March 28, 2011

First seeds: And it all happens so fast

Seed time?

Wasn’t it just last week that we were looking for the first signs of spring?

Red maples (Acer rubrum) are one of the first plants to produce flowers every year at Ijams Nature Center, even before the first day of spring.

And now, their blooms have faded and the common trees are beginning to produce their seeds in pairs borne in fruits called samaras, tiny little helicopters that twirl to the ground. A single red maple tree—with a diameter of between 2 and 8 inches—can produce between 12 ,000 and 90,000 seeds.

Red maples are widespread. Look for them anywhere in the nature center's 275 acres. But if you want to see the samaras, you better hurry, it all happens so fast.

- Text by Stephen Lyn Bales

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bluebells blooming in the sodden wet places

Virginia bluebells is the more commonly used folk name for Mertensia virginica the pale blue flower now in bloom at the nature center.

That’s fortunate because this lovely thing is also known as Virginia cowslip, a reference to the wet and muddy places that cows like to slop around in near water; literally cow+slip or cow+slop, i.e. cow dung.

Water plus mud plus dung would create a rich place for a plant to grow but I could hardly think of a more unfortunate name to go by.

“Hello. I’m Virginia cowslop. How are you?”

Nevertheless, this delightful blue wildflower is often found in wet, damp lowlands near water. Look for it near the Visitor Center and downstream from the Ijams Family pond along the Discovery Trail.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Warm, sunny day brings out early bullfrogs

Warm day.

Almost even hot.

Bullfrogs, those beefy-boys of summer concerts, are starting to appear in the Plaza Pond in front of the Visitor Center.

Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana: named in honor of famed naturalist Mark Catesby) are the largest frogs in our region; as big as a whoppers without pickles. It's still too early for their "jug-o-rum, jug-o-rummmmm, jug-o-rummmmmm" solos, but it's certainly warm enough for them to sun themselves.

It must feel good after a long winter spent in the leaves and muck at the bottom of the pond to feel the sunshine again.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring explodes with color at the nature center

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is now in bloom at the nature center. Considered either a tall shrub or a short tree—you can decide that one—the light to dark magenta flowers appear before the heart-shaped leaves.

Found throughout the Southeast, with Tennessee being at the center of its range, redbud is the first blast of intense color to explode in Appalachia. Found naturally in the understory of mixed forests and along hedgerows of farmland, redbud makes an excellent native landscape ornamental, a far better and more colorful choice than the non-native Bradford pear (imported originally from China and Korea).

At Ijams, look for redbud anywhere inside the park. And if you are truly lucky, you might even find a barred owl sitting in one.

Spring is most certainly found at Ijams.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spring is leafing out! But is it a good thing?

Study this photo.

What's wrong with it?

It appears to show the arrival of spring to the forest understory. And it does. But why is it not a good thing?

In this case the understory shrub that's leafing out is bush honeysuckle, a.k.a. Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), and it's not native to the Tennessee Valley or Ijams. The flowering shrub was introduced as a backyard ornamental but it escaped to become naturalized throughout the American southeast.

Think of it as tall kudzu.

Bush honeysuckle is native to China (the Amur River Valley, hence the name), Mongolia, Korea and Japan. In fact, in the latter, it's listed as an endangered species. But not here where it's become highly invasive.

Bush honeysuckle leafs out early. Other plants do not have a chance. And like kudzu, once bush honeysuckle becomes established it creates a monoculture and no other native wildflower or shrub can compete against it.

At the nature center, Ed Yost, Ben Nanny and hundreds of volunteers have worked to eradicate it from large sections of the park. But still it exists in places. The fight continues. The good news: once you remove it, the native wildflowers return.

If you have this shrub growing near you or in your backyard, attack it with a sickle, pruner or even a butcher knife if need be. Work out your pent up hostility. Because if you do not, it'll take over.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Friday, March 18, 2011

Harbinger of spring

On a lovely walk along Discovery Trail yesterday afternoon, naturalist Emily Boves and I discovered a delicate little butterfly, flitting amongst spring wildflowers. The butterfly is a Falcate Orangetip (Anthocharis midea).

The Falcate Orangetip is one of the true harbingers of spring, flying through vernal woodlands only a few feet above the ground. This particular butterfly allowed us to get within a few feet of it, which gave us the opportunity to study its beautiful markings.

The top of the wings are white, with black spots near the front edge of the forewings, which have a very characteristic hooked tip. Only the males (shown in the photo) have bright yellow-orange coloration at the tip. On the underside of the wing both sexes have heavily marbled markings, usually of gray-green or yellow.

Be sure to stop by the trail surrounding the Ijams Homesite for a true taste of the color and sounds that represent spring in East Tennessee!

- Text by Jennifer Roder, photo by Emily Boves.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bloodroot blooming at Visitor Center and beyond

It’s somehow surprising that one of the first spring ephemerals to plus through the surface has such a startling name.


Its name comes from the color of sap stored in its root or rhizome. As time passes, the rhizome grows just under the surface and creates a colony of the remarkable wildflower. Native Americans used this blood red sap as a dye and body paint and called the plant "puccoon."

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is in bloom in front of the Visitor Center, alog Nort Cove Trail and at the Homesite.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Monday, March 14, 2011

Raucous peepers peeping from every damp location

The spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer)
have been calling for several days, but late this afternoon with all the rain, they seemed to be peeping from every damp location at Ijams.

The Plaza Pond was filled with the raucous voices of the ardent male calling to attract a mate.

The question is: How can such a little thing—roughly one inch long—make so much noise?

- Stephen Lyn Bales

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Annual Woodcock Walk finds energetic timberdoodle

Call it a rite of spring, or, in this case, a rite of late winter.

Last night my fellow bog-sloggers and I experienced a purely perfect natural moment. An
American woodcock (Scolopax minor) a.k.a. timberdoodle performed his courtship display, his ardent "peenting" song, right on schedule at Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area.

Our annual Ijams "Woodcock Walk" has been a popular event for over 15 years. This year, Jenifer Roder and Emily Boves helped me host the somewhat muddy activity.

At the appropriate hour—twilight, just after sunset—our group was hidden in the cedars surrounding the traditional singing ground to watch it all happen. He seemed oblivious of his voyeurs. He was crooning for a female, a momentary partner to share his lust for life. If he knew we were there, he simply did not care. For he was living in the moment as were we all.

It was a good time.

- Stephen Lyn Bales

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chorus frogs croon, spring on the way




Spring is on the way. How do I know? The
Western Chorus frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) herald its arrival! And with this tiny species of tree frog, the more the merrier.

Many of the ponds at the nature center, including the small ones at the Homesite are filled with their froggy choruses. The small gray males collect in great numbers to crooooooon, hoping to attract mates. And, as we all know, hope springs eternal, even in the tiniest of hearts.

- Stephen Lyn Bales