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

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