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

Friday, April 29, 2011

Cardinal nest survived hail and heavy rain

A female Northern Cardinal has laid two speckled eggs, and found a sneaky place to nest in a hemlock tree at Ijams.

Hemlocks are usually pretty open conifers, but she snuck a nest in a spot overlaid by drooping branches, which is very well-hidden. She will incubate her eggs for 11-13 days before they hatch.

Editor's note: The cardinal chose her location wisely. Despite the intense hailstorm that hit Wednesday night, shredding about a bazillion leaves, the hemlock proved to be a safe haven. Her nest survived. To protect her privacy, the location will not be posted.

- Text and photo by Laura Marsh

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ijams is bruised by storms but not broken

Oh, what a night!

April 27, 2011 will be remembered for its savagery. It seems nature also has a serious side. Thunder, lightning, high winds, tornadoes and hail the size of jawbreakers. (You know: not as big as a ping-pong ball but bigger than an RC Cola bottle cap.)

Ijams suffered damage to all the skylights in the Visitor Center, the solar panels and windows on both of the Prius hybrids. BONK! BAM! BONK! SHATTERED!

Several major trees are down and a few trails will be closed for a brief time until cleared of debris. (Question: If a tree falls in the woods and there's no one to hear it does it still make a sound? Probably in this case it does.) Regardless, our spirits are high—dinged and dampened—we're open and the plant sale is still scheduled for Saturday.

Ijams is a non-profit. Donations to help with our out-of-pocket expenses for the storm damage clean up will be greatly appreciated.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lenten roses available at Spring Plant Sale this Saturday

At the nature center, there’s a hillside on the original Ijams’ homesite property that is covered with an escapee. It’s an early-blooming perennial with long-lasting burgundy, pink or yellow flowers.

Probably planted originally by Alice Ijams, who lived at the location from 1910 to 1964, the plant is known as
Lenten rose because it blooms in winter between Christmas and Lent. On a gray winter’s day, it would have been a cheery sight to Alice.

And it still is today.

Not native to North America, the shade-loving perennial with deeply lobed leaves is an invited guest from the Old Country. Although the flower resembles a wild rose, it’s actually a hellebore. The genus in the buttercup family is native to much of Europe from western Great Britain east into Romania and Ukraine.

From the mountains of the Ukraine to the mountains of East Tennessee, that's a long way to travel for something that doesn't have any legs or feet. Perhaps it had help.

There will be lenten roses—offspring of Alice's original plantings—available for sale at the Spring Plant Sale on Saturday, April 30: 8:30 AM to 1:30 PM.

- Text and photo Stephen Lyn Bales

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vireo heightens outdoor yoga experience

At the end of a long day, yoga is a very satisfying and relaxing activity. Once a week, several Ijams staff members gather for an after-hours yoga class.

Last week we met at the Homesite Pavilion. The great thing about an outdoor yoga class is all the natural sounds that accompany Teacher Leslie's voice. It creates an ambiance not available when we meet indoors. It enhances the experience; wraps it in a warm auditory blanket. At the pavilion, we often hear chorus frogs and spring peepers, barred owls and Carolina wrens, and, now with the new season, the returning birds of summer are just making their presence known.

We were somewhere in an upper-body stretch, with the spirits of H.P. and Alice all around us, when we heard the unmistakable phrase:



Jen Roder and I slipped from our yoga-trance, looked at each other and whispered, "white-eyed vireo" and then fell back adrift in our own little Zen worlds.

Ahhhhhh spring!

- By Stephen Lyn Bales

Monday, April 25, 2011

Native rose available at Spring Plant Sale

Carolina rose, a.k.a. pasture rose (Rosa carolina) is now in bloom along the fence in front of the Raptor Enclosure near the parking lot at Ijams.

A true native rose, it grows in almost all the states and Canadian provinces east of the Great Plains. And can be found in a wide variety of open habitats, from thickets and open woods to roadsides and along railroads.

There will be Carolina roses available at the Spring Plant Sale, saturday, April 30.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Second hummingbird favorite in bloom at Ijams

Now that red buckeye’s flowering season is beginning to fade, another hummingbird favorite is starting to appear: crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), a native semi-evergreen, woody vine. It’s a climber generally found growing up a supportive tree.

Like most plants that use hummingbirds as pollinators, crossvine has tubular flowers that range from red to orange to tangerine in color. Also known as quartervine, the plant gets its name from its cross-shaped pith. If you cut a stem, you’ll discover it has four chambers that form an “x” pattern.

Crossvine flowers are also noted for their curious fragrance, most often described as “mocha-like" which I imagine might serve to attract cappuccino-loving insects with extra long tongues. (Hummingbirds are lured by color not scent.)

Look for crossvine growing high in the trees or there is a low-growing vine on the east entrance to the Universal Trail near the Visitor Center.

Make sure you take a sniff.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tree swallows have taken up residence at Ijams

Jennifer and Emily report that Tree swallows, (Tachycineta bicolor), are nesting in the artificial gourds near the TVA-KUB solar panels on the Universal Trail.

Tree swallows are migratory, spending their winters in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, but historically they nested in the western part of this country. Tree swallow nesting in the Tennessee Valley, and even our state, is a fairly recent occurrence.

According to Chuck Nicholson, author of the Atlas of Breeding Bird of Tennessee, published by UT Press, the first recorded tree swallow nest in Tennessee was discovered in 1918 at Reelfoot Lake. It wasn’t until 1968 that other nests were documented, this time in Anderson and Maury Counties. After that, nests have been reported every year and since the late 1980s, the nesting population has increased dramatically. Today, they’re fairly common throughout the state.

Tree swallows nest in empty cavities, hollow trees, bluebird boxes or even empty round gourds. Unlike their cousins, the colony-loving purple martins, the dark metallic blue backed tree swallows prefer to build their nests isolated from other swallows.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Roosting red bat found by Ijams visitor

Recently Sue Wagoner from Illinois visited Ijams hoping to find a barred owl to photograph. She did but Sue also found something else of interest napping in the trees.

Something much smaller.

Sue emails, "Here is the Eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis) we saw on the trail at eye level. I saw the reddish fluff sticking out of the leaves and wondered if it was some artifact caught on the tree, or a weird gall or a fuzzy seed pod or something, so imagine my surprise when I lifted the leaf and saw movement, a face and some toes (or fingers). What a cutie...he looks like a little imp."

Eastern red bats roost individually, often hanging upside down in trees.

- By Stephen Lyn Bales. Photo by Sue Wagoner

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fothergilla in bloom near the Visitor Center

Fothergillas are shrubs native to the American Southeast that are grown as ornamental plants for their puffy-white flowers in spring and bright color of their fall foliage. There are several in bloom near the Visitor Center at Ijams.

John Fothergill (1712-1780) was an English physician, plant collector and philanthropist.

As a physician in London, Fothergill had an extensive practice noted for successfully treating patients during the epidemics of influenza in 1775 and 1776. His hobby was botany. At Upton near Stratford, Dr. Fothergill had an extensive botanical garden (today known as West Ham Park) with many rare plants collected from various parts of the world. He also helped finance the travels of American naturalist William Bartram, who collected plants from the Southeast to be shipped back to England.

Fothergillas, the shrubs collected in America, were named for the English physician. We all should be so honored.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Eagle threesome spotted over river boardwalk

We seem to be having birds of prey appear in multiples this week. One day it's ospreys; the next it's eagles.

Kathleen Gibi, Public Affairs Specialist with the City of Knoxville Parks & Rec, and I were walking the River Trail at Ijams yesterday afternoon scouting for wildflowers for the city's Tour de Fleur walk on Saturday when our attention moved from terra firma to terra abova.

And what did we see?

Three bald eagles—two adult and one juvenile—"playing" over the boardwalk near Maude Moore's Cave that opens onto the Tennessee River. What were they doing? I speculate that the two adults were late-season courting, perhaps forming a pair bond for next season. (Local established pairs are much too busy raising nestlings to have time to play.) The unrelated juvenile just joined in on the fun. But, that is pure speculation on my part.

Luckily, Kathleen had brought along her Blackberry and could take their photo.

- Photo by Kathleen Gibi, text by Stephen Lyn Bales

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kindergarten group watches osprey pair overhead

Walking along North Cove Trail you never know what you are going to hear or see, and yesterday was no exception.

As I led a small group of kindergarten kids, I heard the high-pitched call of an osprey (Pandion haliaetus). We were treated to two ospreys calling incessantly as they displayed directly over our heads. This lasted for several minutes, and we were all frozen on the trail staring straight up in the sky.

This is nesting season for ospreys, and I have already seen a pair sitting on eggs.

Ospreys build their nests near water on platforms put up by people, in the tops of trees or on any high flat surface. I’m not sure where this pair is nesting, but there is a platform on the end of the Dickinson Island where the Knoxville Downtown Island Airport is located across the channel from Ijams.

A convenient nest to see is on the railroad bridge next to the now closed for repair Henley Street Bridge. It is easily seen from Neyland Drive and the female is incubating now.

Because Ijams is so close to the river, you may hear and see ospreys on any of our trails. We consistently see them even flying over the Visitor Center.

- By Emily Boves

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Old trillium found growing along roadside

Perhaps one of the largest yellow trillium (Trillium luteum) I've ever found at the nature center.

As a general rule, all trillium are very slow growing perennial wildflowers, only producing one leaf—and not the characteristic three leaves—until roughly six years old.

In time, a single plant may produce two flowers, years later three, years later four, etc. This one has twelve which should mean that the parent plant is decades old.

As are most woodland wildflowers, trillium are fragile. Do not attempt to transplant. It's a death sentence for the delicate thing. Death. Death. Death.

They are also one of several plants that rely on ants to spread their seeds once they ripen in the fall. So if you want one in your yard, invite an ant to do the planting.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Is duckweed an indicator plant for water quality?

Our congratulations go to Anna Ward, a fifth grade student at St. John Neumann Catholic School, for winning the Ijams Prize at this year's regional science fair.

Ward's experiment was titled "What are Fronds "Frond" of?

Dr. Louise Conrad, judge for the award, says that Anna wanted to determine if duckweed—a small floating aquatic plant and the smallest flowering plant—was an indicator of water quality. She floated 100 plants in each of several different containers. One container held fresh water, the others had water from the same source but that had been fouled by a variety of different pollutants: detergent, motor oil, fertilizer, etc.

After a week, Ward counted the number of plants that remained in each container.

A simple experiment that yielded a very observable answer and that is the way science works.

Congratulations, Anna.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales. Thanks, Louise!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

State Birds nest in familiar plaza tree

Mockingbirds are once again nesting near the Plaza Pond in the same tree as last year.

As I write this in my office, I can see them come and go, bringing nesting material.

Is it the same pair as last year? That's hard to say. But it is the same cedar tree. The Tennessee State Bird, the Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), is very territorial. This male has claimed the row of shrubs along the Universal Trail but his strongest defense will be saved for the actual nest tree.

Northern mockingbirds traditionally produce two broods of three to five eggs a year, but here in the warmer climes of the South they can occasionally have three or four broods.

That's a lot of new State Birds.

- Stephen Lyn Bales

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

An odd sort of flower that can make you sneeze

Ahh spring!

We all marvel at the native trees in bloom—redbud, dogwood, serviceberry—that produce showy flowers. They're spectacular and their displays are designed to attract insects, their pollinators.

But what about the trees that aren't so flashy? These generally have less noticeable flowers that produce lots and lots of tiny pollen grains. They are pollinated by the wind.

Nature is full of understated wonders. With this in mind: Have you ever noticed the flowers produced by American sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua). The male parts are greenish with rufous fuzzy hair found in ball-like clusters on the end of the branches; the female flowers are drooping ball-like blooms that dangle below the branches. And when the wind blows, the pollen goes all over the place. Some of it may actually find the receptive female flowers. The rest can make you sneeze.

For a closer look, the sweetgums are in bloom at the nature center.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Local rivers rescued for 22nd time

Yesterday was the 22nd Annual River Rescue, a volunteer driven clean-up of local shorelines: from Ijams downstream along the Tennessee River to Fort. Loudoun Dam and the Clinch River at Melton Hill Dam plus assorted urban creeks.

As in years past, Ijams Nature Center—principally staffers Peg Beute and Sarah Brobst—organized this year's event. (with commemorative t-shirt design by Jennifer Roder.)

Special thanks goes to the sponsors for this year's rescue: Green Mountain Coffee, Mast General Store, Chaco, First Tennessee, Water Quality Forum, Kimberly Clark, CAC AmeriCorps, Erie Insurance, TVA Employees Credit Union, Information International Associates.

All the actual numbers have not been tabulated but traditionally over 800 volunteers "spring clean" public shorelines, boat ramps and neighborhood streams.

As in previous years, I was zone captain at Marine Park off Alcoa Highway and without a doubt my most enthusiastic volunteers were the Fab Four: Addison, Emily, Savannah and Keira, shepherded by Emily's mom Leanne.

It's hard to say if they were more cute than eager, or more eager than cute. With an undeniable ardor that really bordered on unbridled zeal, I think the pendulum swings toward the latter. They were environmental dynamos.

"We want to pick up trash. Clean the environment and save the EARTH," was their collective refrain.

You go girls!

- Text and photos by Stephen Lyn Bales

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Spring's return stirs wintering mourning cloaks

One of the first butterflies to be seen fluttering about in late winter or early spring is the mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa).

The reason? They get a head start being one of the few species that overwinters, i.e. hibernates as adults.Mourning cloaks are widespread: tundra south to central Mexico and in Eurasia, primarily Scandinavia. In Sweden they are known as sorgmantel literally "mourning cloak" presumably a name that comes from their cloak of dark purple-brown color.

Host plants for the caterpillars: Female mourning cloaks lay their eggs on willows, aspens, elms, cottonwoods and paper birches, but seem to prefer assorted willows.

On Tuesday, March 29, I saw a mourning cloak flutter trough the plaza in front of the Visitor Center for the first time this season.

- By Stephen Lyn Bales