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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Migrating warblers passing through Ijams

Blackburnian warbler (Dendroica fusca) in summer plumage
named in honor of English naturalist Anna Blackburne

Migration is slowly but surely starting at Ijams. This morning we set out early hoping to come across some flocks of early migrants but started feeling like we may be out of luck when we only found goldfinches, chickadees and titmice. 

After some searching, we found a mixed flock of migrants including a Cape May warbler, Blackburnian warblers (at least one still in summer plumage), chestnut-sided warbler, magnolia warblers and American redstarts. 

This is a nice assortment of warblers, but it shows that migration has not fully started here yet. Next week with the cooling temperatures migration will surely pick up, and we’ll see a higher diversity of species. 

As for now, it is fun to see a few passing warblers here and there. 

- Story by Emily Boves

Saturday, August 27, 2011

With cicadas, it's all in the tymbals

Swamp cicada (Tibicen chloromera) 

The hills (of Ijams) are alive with the sound of music.

At this time of the year, the singing is done mostly by insects, during the day, mainly cicadas. But it's not a vocalization, they use another part of their bodies.

Male cicadas have loud noisemakers called "tymbals" on the sides of the abdomens. Contracting the internal tymbal muscles produces a clicking sound as the tymbals buckle inwards. As these muscles relax, the tymbals return to their original position producing another click.

Roughly click, click, click. Very quickly. Each species produces a different clicking pattern.

Listen for them anywhere at Ijams.

- Story and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Leafcups are dominant along Ijams' trails

Small-flowered leafcup (Polymnia canadensis) 

Two of the dominant wildflowers in bloom at this time of the year are the leafcups.

small-flowered leafcup, a.k.a. whiteflower leafcup (
Polymnia canadensis) and large-flowered leafcup a.k.a. bear's foot leafcup (Polymnia uvedalia) are found in limestone woodlands, an excellent way to describe Ijams since karst topography—complete with caves, fissures, underground streams and sinkholes—is the bedrock just below the surface throughout the park.

Both leafcups bloom late in the season, growing tall (
P. uvedalia can reach heights of ten feet) and profusely, so much so that they can block trails. Robust members of the sunflower family, you can distinguish the two by the size and colors of the flowers. Both also have rather large leaves.

As legend has it, the Native Americans used the large leafs to fashion impromptu drinking utensils, hence the name: leafcup.

Look for them along many of the Ijams woodland trails.

Large-flowered leafcup (Polymnia uvedalia)

- Story and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Late-season caterpillars munching away at park

Milkweed tussock moth (Euchaetes egle)

Pity the poor milkweed leaf in August. The caterpillars of the milkweed tussock moth (a.k.a. milkweed tiger moth) are ravenous. They're a common mid- to late-summer feeder on both milkweed and dogbane.

As Wiki reports, “Early instars appear slightly 'hairy' and gray. They skeletonize whole leaves gregariously, leaving a lacy remnant. They are gregarious until the third instar. Later instars sport tufts of black, white and orange (sometimes yellow) setae. The head capsule is black. The later instars wander much more, and may appear alone or in small clusters.”

I cringe anytime I hear the word “skeletonize.” Remember the basement acid scene in Vincent Price’s “House on Haunted Hill”? Reduced to a skeleton in a blink of an eye; not a pleasant way to go. 

Look for these fuzzy munchers in the plaza in front of the Visitor Center.

- Story and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ijams' nesting is over for the year! Well, not quite.

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Just when we thought all nesting was over at the nature center, we're reminded that no one has told the mourning doves: the most family oriented species I can think of.

Mourning doves can have up to five broods a year; but oddly, a clutch size of two is the norm. Nesting can start as early as February if the weather allows it and the busy pair may continue to produce until November.

With this degree of fecundity, you'd expect there to be a lot of doves in the fall, as there is. Perhaps this is why there is still a limited dove hunting season in Tennessee.

You have to wonder: why not just raise one clutch of ten offspring per year and then fly to Aruba for a break. Nature works in mysterious ways.

The Ijams' nesting doves have found a safe and well-sheltered location behind the Visitor Center.

- Story and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Monday, August 15, 2011

You can find Joe Pye at the Homesite

Joe Pye weed

Who was Joe Pye? And why does he have a weed named in his honor?

This one has a bit of debate swirling around it, but according to one account, the plant is named for Joe Pye, a Native American medicine man who treated typhus (typhoid fever) with extracts made from this weed somewhere in the New England region, perhaps around the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1700s. Sadly, there is no one still alive from that era to verify the story.

Joe Pye weed is a monster perennial that can grow to be eight feet tall, year after year. This is no pansy. The mauve colored flower heads can become as large as a basketball, so big and heavy that the plant bends over under their weight.

Look for Joe Pye along the greenway to the Homesite. 

- Story and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Late-season fledglings follow parents, begging all the way

A caption for this photo almost writes itself.

"Feed me momma!"

Two weeks ago we blogged about a late-season nest of Carolina wrens that had appeared outside the office window of Jennifer Roder here at the Visitor Center.

After nestlings fledge, they are not independent; they follow their parents learning the finer points of being a wren. AND they continue to beg for food. The parents generally comply at least for awhile, that's what parents do. Just because the young ones have left the home, doesn't mean they are able to survive on their own. In the case of humans, several recent studies revealed that many parents are still supplying some financial aid for their adult children well past the age of 25 years old.

With wrens, this period of dependency is generally significantly less. 

- Story by Stephen Lyn Bales. Photo be Jennifer Roder.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Watch for 'blue tails' sunning themselves at Ijams

Eastern five-lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus)

The eastern five-lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus) is one of the most common lizards in the eastern U.S. 

Often called blue-tailed skinks, however only the juveniles have such a marking. After a few years, when they become sexually mature, they no longer have blue cabooses but do have five prominent lines that run the length of their bodies. Hence the name. The males have rosy red throats. 

As a group, skinks are only second to genkos in number of overall lizard species worldwide: roughly 1200 known species.

Skinks can be distinguished from other "true" lizards by their relatively short legs and lack of neck. (I know a few football players that fit that description.) 

Skinks can often be found around the foundation of homes; a good thing because they primarily eat ants.

At Ijams, look for skinks near the Visitor Center outside on walls and fences and the large stones near the Plaza Pond. 

- Story and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales.  

Friday, August 5, 2011

Whitetail dragonflies 'common' throughout the park

 Male common whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia)

I'm always somewhat embarrassed by any plant or animal that has been labeled "common." It's such a degrading moniker: common yellowthroat, common grackle, common sandpiper, common dandelion, common bladderwort, etc. Where's the respect? It suggests some sort of banality that simply doesn't exist.

But needless to say, the dragonfly known as common whitetail is widespread and ubiquitous. The females have brown abdomens with white spots down the flanks, while the males have solid white bodies, chalky like powered donuts. Both genders have dark bands on their otherwise transparent wings.

Once known as simply as mosquito hawks, dragonflies are environmentally beneficial because the eat lots of small flying insects, especially mosquitoes.

Their scientific name: Plathemis lydia does pique my curiosity. I wonder who was Lydia?

At Ijams, look for them throughout the park, especially near any of the ponds.

- Story and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sumac in bloom on Universal Trail

Winged sumac, a.k.a. shining sumac (Rhus copallina)

Landscaping with native plants tip:

Towards mid-summer, you begin to look for winged sumac (also known as shining sumac) in bloom, a native flowering shrub in the Cashew family.

It makes an excellent native ornamental that spreads by runners creating protective cover for birds. (A five year old sapling can reach a height of about eight feet, so it's fairly quick growing.)

Plus, in the fall, its scarlet foliage and clusters of hairy, red berries make it an eye-catching addition to your yard. It grows well in full sun or partial, and is relatively drought tolerant. 

Birds also eat the fruits from late fall into winter, so think of it as a living birdfeeder.

At Ijams, look for winged sumac growing along the Universal Trail.

- Story and photo by Stephen Lyn Bales. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Thanks to Crossville's Art Circle Library

Ijams summer out-reach at Art Circle Library
Ijams out-reach:

Special thanks to Susie, James, Patty and the rest of the staff of the Art Circle Library for arraigning last week's nature programs for local kids.

Located in downtown Crossville, the new—opened in 2010—Art Circle Library is a thriving center of the community where you can check out a book, read a current periodical, cruise the Internet, attend an educational program or buy a sandwich at the "Food for Thought Cafe." One of the great libraries in our state, it's bustling with activity most hours of the day.

My two talks were about different kinds of animals: birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, etc. and what distinguishes each group.

The highlight of the two programs? I'm sure most of the kids, especially the ones on the front row, would agree it was when the box turtle wizzed on me. But nature is not static, it's a dynamic process, ever-changing; it flows. And sometimes it flows all over your hands.

- Stephen Lyn Bales