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

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Yes. You too can walk five dogs at the same time

Special thanks to all who attended our first Ijams WalkAbout workshop: Dog-walking 101.

Ijams member and dog-whisperer in training Janet McKnight led the workshop at Victor Ashe Park in north Knoxville. True to her pledge, Janet proved that it is indeed possible to walk five dogs at the same time. That is, if you know how. 

Janet actually has ten dogs, and she picked five of varying sizes and temperaments that had actually never been walked in tandem. 

Janet provided us with tips on how to handle dogs that want to stray, sniff, mark and pee-pee-pee-pee-diddle all the way home. (Tip: Remember you are in charge, not your canine companion.)

And also remember that a responsible dog-walker picks up after their pooch. 

Watch the Ijams website for future WalkAbouts especially designed for walkers and their four-legged partners.

- Text and photos by Stephen Lyn Bales

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Just for kids: Jo's Grove, nature playscape opens Saturday

It's time to come out and play!

Join us Saturday, May 28 (10 a.m. to 1 p.m.) for the grand opening of Jo's Grove, the new nature playscape at Ijams. The name honors Josephine Ijams, daughter of H.P. and Alice. 

This area was specifically designed to support our First Child in the Woods program, which emphasizes the spontaneous learning that occurs when children play outdoors. It's a place that will spark creativity and surprise the senses. 

As part of this grand opening event, we will be hosting the first-ever Fairy House and Gnome Home Competition, where participants can create their very own magical structure for their woodland friends. 

This event will conclude with a fairy tea party, complete with whimsical refreshments. 

Children are even invited to come dressed as fairies, gnomes, elves, goblins or any other magical woodland creature! 

Prizes will be given for best costumes and for construction of the best fairy house and/or gnome home. 

This event is free to the public; there is a small fee to build a fairy house or gnome home.

- Text by Jennifer Moore. Photos by Stephen Lyn Bales. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The king: second graders find one last surprise

Second graders are fun. They're also impressionable.

Yesterday, we were on the way back from a long walk on the trails at Ijams. We were looking for "connections in nature" and examples of herbivores, carnivores and omnivores. 

We had already found frogs, birds, tadpoles, salamander eggs, spiders in webs and even insects that hide inside spit. We were tired and a bit hunger, with only a short distance to go on the North Cove Trail when what should appear? 

A substantially long eastern kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula) moving slowly across the trail in front of us. Our jaws dropped. We watched in silence.  

"What do you think the king eats?" I quietly asked. 

Perplexed, they shrugged. 

"They eat other snakes!"

WOW! That's impressive and it makes them impressive carnivores.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sweetbay was a first for the Magnolia family

Just outside my office window at the nature center, there’s a sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana). It's now in bloom—wonderful perfect blooms—yet another reason I should take the time to look out of the window more often.

The sweetbay was the first magnolia scientifically described. (Not the tree outside my window, but another one much older.)

It was the first species assigned to the genus Magnolia named in honor of French botanist Pierre Magnol. That first sweetbay was found by missionaries sent to North America in the 1680s, of course, the Native Americans knew of the trees long before that, they just did not see the need to shackle the poor thing with such a cumbersome moniker.

It’s also a tree with a bit of an identity crisis, is it deciduous or evergreen? Actually, it’s both depending on where it grows. It’s evergreen in areas with mild winters in the south, and it's semi-evergreen or deciduous further north.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Resonant resident Rana croons from Plaza Pond

The warm temperatures of the past week also brought out the resonant resident bullfrogs in the Plaza Pond. Their deep voiced—"jug-o-rum," "jug-o-rum"—could be heard every afternoon.

Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) are the largest of the 14 species of frogs and toads found in the Tennessee Valley. The biological family Ranidae is the so called "true frogs." They are usually largish species characterized by slim waists and wrinkled skin; many have thin ridges running along their backs but generally lack bumps and "warts" like typical toads.

Bullfrogs can reach a body length of six inches with a whooping eight inches being the record length. The gender can be determined by the size of the eardrum (the round membrane behind the eye). Females have an eardrum (tympanum) the same size as their eye; a male's eardrum is larger than his eye.

At Ijams, look for bullfrogs in the Plaza Pond in front of the Visitor Center.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Monday, May 16, 2011

Plaza milkweed attracts monarch mothers

Common milkweed produces a sticky, milky white sap. The plant's latex contains large quantities of glycosides, which renders the leaves and seed pods toxic.

Sheep and other large mammals cannot eat it, but there are several insects that have developed immunity to the "milk" of milkweed. The most famous of which is the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). The females lay their eggs on young milkweed plants and when they hatch, the caterpillars have something to munch. Like most caterpillars, they are little eating machines. They are incessant.

Some caterpillars eat as much as 27,000 times their body weight to support their lives as flying insects. I was a seven pound baby. That would be like me eating 94.5 tons of food my first few weeks of life, which I do not think I did. But I'd better ask my mother.

Look for milkweed and monarch caterpillars in the plaza in front of the Visitor Center.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Warm weather brings out the park's reptiles

The warm weather—temperatures in the mid-80s— of the past few days have brought out some of the reptiles that live in our wildlife sanctuary.

Sometimes finding wildlife is just knowing where to look.

This week educator/naturalist Emily Boves discovered two small brown water snakes (Nerodia taxispilota) at the Ijams family Lotus Pond in an area I call the snake-spa. (It's an unofficial designation, don't look for a sign.) They can often be found sunning themselves on a log there.

Brown water snakes were once called "false moccasins" because people killed them thinking they were killing venomous water moccasins, but that species is not found in the Tennessee Valley.

Brown water snakes are harmless. Completely and assuredly harmless.

- Text by Stephen Lyn Bales. Photo by Emily Boves.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Curious muskrat inspects our paddling Sarah

Ijams educator and local artist Sarah Brobst was kayaking upstream on the inner river channel near Otter Island and the Ijams Homesite when she noticed a curious young muskrat swimming.

Curious is an accurate descriptor.

As Sarah sat motionless tucked in beside a half-submerged log, the young wet mammal came along side her red kayak for a closer look and sniff. Perhaps realizing it wasn't edible or a threat, it turned and slowly dived under the water to swim away.

Muskats (Ondatra zibethicus) are medium-sized semi-aquatic rodents native to North America. They are the largest species in the subfamily Arvicolinae, which includes 142 other species of rodents, mostly voles and lemmings.

Although muskrats are referred to as "rats" in a general sense because they are medium-sized rodents with an adaptable lifestyle, that eat a wide range of foods—an excellent survival strategy—they are not, however, so-called "true rats," that is, members of the genus Rattus.

- Text by Stephen Lyn Bales. Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A sad 'who-cooks-for-you' follow up report

Last week we reported on an injured barred owl that was rescued at Ijams along the Universal Trail.

(The photo to the left was taken last year near the same location.)

Once captured, our veterinarian Dr. Louise Conrad took the owl to UT vet hospital to be examined.

One week later, Louise and Pam Petko-Seus, our wildlife biologist, report that, "The barred owl had a severe fracture of both the radius and ulna of the wing. Had it been one or the other bone, they would have attempted to save the bird. With both bones broken, there is nothing to hold the wing steady. The amount of 'repair' the bones were exhibiting leads us to be pretty sure the timing was right for a storm injury. The bird would have continued to starve to death had we not found it."

The injured owl had to be euthanized at the vet school.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Monday, May 9, 2011

WaterFest 2011 a fun, free-flowing success

Water, water, everywhere and every drop is precious. In many parts of the world, it’s almost worth its weight in gold. Yet, sometimes we take it all for granted.

That’s why WaterFest was created.

For the past ten years, the Water Quality Forum and Ijams, have hosted WaterFest at the nature center. This year over 800 students, 150 teachers and chaperones and roughly 100 volunteers and vendors took part in the daylong educational field day.

All of the activities and booths were built around raising water quality awareness, the importance of healthy watersheds, the creatures that live in wetlands and the importance of recycling and keeping trash out of our creeks and rivers. The learning sessions are designed to be both fun and educational.

Hats off to the Water Quality Forum, Water Resources Research Center, CAC AmeriCorps and the Ijams education staff: Peg, Kara, Sarah, Jennifer, Emily and Sabrina for a job well done. i.e. it came off smooth and without a hitch, as free-fowing as a mountain stream

Photos, starting from the top:

1) Ijams educator Kara Remington with WaterFest poetry contest winners, 2) Kara with WaterFest art contest winners, 3) Proving that you do not have to spend $300 on a Xbox 360, students playing with giant ball made entirely of recycled plastic, 4) Ijams educator Sabrina DeVault and students look at small aquatic animals

- Text and photos by Stephen Lyn Bales

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Redstart heard and seen passing through nature center

So why the name?

Why is a redstart called a redstart?

Actually, the word start is an Old World word for "tail" and there are several species of unrelated European redstarts. Our redstart is a warbler and its tail is reddish, although I think it's really more orange than rouge. But it varies.

Studies have shown that the intensity of the color on the male's train plays a role in his success in holding territory. The more intense the orange-red the better.

Ijams educator Emily Boves heard and saw an
American redstart, Setophaga ruticilla, on the River Trail west of the boardwalk at Ijams on Wednesday.

Redstarts are only passing through the nature center on their way to their nesting grounds much farther north. They winter in the tropics where they are known as the "Christmas bird" because they usually appear around the holidays.

- Text by Stephen Lyn Bales, photo by Dan Pancamo

Friday, May 6, 2011

A rare view of a blooming State Tree

The hailstorm and near tornado that passed through last week broke off the top of a tuliptree at Ijams. It's now lying horizontal instead of its traditional stately vertical. (Note: Don't say horizontal to a tree. It makes them nervous.)

Surprisingly, seven days after the storm, the tuliptree crown is still vibrant, giving everyone a rare crow's eye view of the flowers. Spectacular!

In 1947, the Tennessee General Assembly voted to name the tulip poplar (a.k.a. yellow poplar) the official State Tree. It was chosen because it grew from one end of the state to the other. They also had historical, homey significance: the majestic trees were widely used by the pioneers to build their log cabins.

But, I would be remiss and even disappoint the late Dr. Aaron Sharp—one of my botany professors at the University of Tennessee—if I did not mention one thing. The wonderful trees are not poplars; they’re magnolias:
Liriodendron tulipifera (means "lily tree, tulip-like").

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Warblers migrating through Ijams to nesting grounds

Northern parula (Parula americana) and hooded warbler (Wilsonia citrina) were two of the New World warbler species educator Emily Boves heard along the trails at Ijams yesterday. She was leading a group of excited students on a look and learn field trip.

Both warbler species were just passing through, migrating to their respective nesting grounds.

The hooded warbler can be found nesting in the shrubby understory of the Smokies. Listen for them in rhododendron thickets.

The Northern parula has two distinct breeding populations. The southern population nests primarily in hanging Spanish moss in the deep South, while the northern population uses the similar-looking old man's beard, or Usnea, lichen that hangs from trees in long strands. Parulas can also be found nesting in the Smokies.

- Text by Stephen Lyn Bales, photo by Dan Pancamo

Prothonotaries return to local river shorelines

If the wood warblers are the crown jewels of the bird world, then the prothonotary warbler may be the lost Florentine Diamond. A golden-yellow like none other.

Walking the trails last Thursday, photographing the storm damage, I heard my first prothonotary of the season on the west end of the River Boardwalk.

Then on Monday and again early Tuesday morning, Emily and Than Boves heard and saw one just off the River Trail along the inner channel near Otter Island downstream from my encounter.

The prothonotary (Protonotaria citrea) is the only warbler to nest in the county, preferring hollow tree cavities over the water but they will also use a nestbox.

Emily has placed two in hospitabile locations at Ijams: one on the river, the other at the Ijams family Lotus Pond. It's viewable from the pond boardwalk. If either are used, we'll post it here.

Look and listen for prothonotary warblers along the River Trail, generally downstream from the boardwalk.

- By Stephen Lyn Bales

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Injured Ijams barred owl rescued by staff

Ijams is noted for at least two wild barred owls (Strix varia), so accustomed to seeing people that they tend to be found perched low to the ground often near the Visitor Center.

This makes them very photogenic. Even a photographer with a short lens can usually get a good shot.

Yesterday, an injured barred owl was found on a branch near the Universal Trail. Its wing hung useless at its side. Was it injured in last week's hailstorm? Possibly.

Hoping to encourage it to move to the ground, Ijams staffers Paul Forsyth and Jennifer Roder nudged it with a downed branch Paul found on the ground. Instead the owl, perhaps weak from hunger, stepped up on the makeshift fishing pole, which allowed Paul and Jen to slowly lower it to our vet, Dr. Louise Conrad, who waited below.

Louise took the owl to UT's Veterinarian Teaching Hospital for treatment. No word yet on its condition.

Was it the same barred owl I photographed near the plaza four weeks ago? Perhaps. But let's hope not because that one is so laid-back it doesn't mind paparazzi.

- Text and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales