out natcornThe annual Balsam Christmas Bird Count (CBC) took place Saturday, Jan. 4. In the weeks prior to the count many regular Balsam CBC participants, like me, had been crying in our eggnog. Bob Olthoff, long-time compiler for the count, was calling Lake Junaluska a “liquid desert” due to the lack of waterfowl.

out naturalistThis appears especially true in the Old Home State where the (first in over 100 years) Republican triad used the 2013 session of the General Assembly to lay waste to decades of progressive environmental policy and programs that produced a state that was a leader in outdoor tourism, retirement destination, second-homes, environmental policy and protection, quality of life and — prior to 2013 — ranked number 4 on CNBC’s “America’s Top States for Business.” North Carolina has since been relegated to number 12 on CNBC’s list because of its declining “Quality of Life.”

A white Christmas

out natcornWe touched on this winter’s irruption of snowy owls a couple of weeks ago, but these birds continue to pop up, not only in the Carolinas but across the South and into the mid-section of the country. I recently heard of one sighting in northeastern Oklahoma and one in Arkansas, near Little Rock. The count in North Carolina is around 15. The latest I have heard of was seen in Washington, N.C.

Slow day at Lake J

out natcornI believe Lake Junaluska has spoiled local birders like me. I spent about an hour and a half poking around the lake and nearby areas last Sunday morning. I ran into a few other birders and we were all of the same opinion — the lake was dead, not much going on. But then I got home and looked at my list. Twenty-seven species for an hour and a half of birding in mid-December is not a terrible showing.

Record snowfall

out natcornThis snowfall is measured in feathers or bodies, not inches. This year is turning out to be a major irruption year for snowy owls in the eastern U.S. and at least four have been reported from the Carolinas. Snowys, Nyctea (or Bubo) scandiaca, nest in northernmost Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia.

Hunting season

out natcornOrion the Hunter has taken to the late autumn skies. One of the loveliest and most easily recognized constellations will be stalking the heavens until he slides into the daytime sky early next spring. Astronomers believe the Hunter, in his present form, is more than a million years old and think he will continue to stalk the heavens for another couple million years.

out natcornI believe it was in 2010 when the Town of Waynesville signed off on a plan to thin the stands of white pine in the Waynesville Watershed. Today (11/25), Cecil Brooks began doing just that. Brooks said that, weather permitting, he would probably be hauling the first load out tomorrow. The problem has been that there was no viable market for white pine.

out natcornIt will likely take awhile for the smoke to clear after the Table Rock Fire near Linville Gorge in the Grandfather District of the Pisgah National Forest either burns out or is suppressed. The fire was first spotted Tuesday, Nov. 12 — the very same day that prescribed burns were scheduled in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Those burns had been cancelled previous to the discovery of the wildfire due to high winds.

Hermit in the house

out natcornI can be standing five feet from my girls and say something simple like, “wash your hands,” “brush your teeth” or “clean your room,” and not even an eyebrow will twitch in acknowledgement. But put those same girls down in the basement with TV or ipad/pod blaring at decibels that would make NASCAR jealous and the tiniest thump at a window anywhere in the house will bring them flying upstairs clamoring, “Dad, did you hear that? Sounded like a bird hit the window.”

out natcornTraveling from east to west, the Mississippi River Bridge is a time portal for me. 

I drive for hours squarely focused on the here and now, then I reach the bridge and in a breath I’m suspended above the Big Muddy, the river stretches for as far as I can see to my right and my left. When I slide off the span onto terra firma I’m in ‘Loosiana,’ a strange world of memories, nostalgia and anticipation.

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