You say to-mah-to, I say to-ma-to
At least Avram and I are talking. Want to join us? If we could generate enough kilowhats, whys, hows and wherefores maybe we could get a “wind forum” section going in Smoky Mountain News.
Avram stated in his latest op-ed, “The most relevant part of Don Hendershot’s last column was his repetition of utility industry projections of a 2 percent annual growth rate in energy consumption for the next five years and beyond. If you are willing to accept the inevitability of uninterrupted growth in energy consumption in the model of utility industry projections, there is no reason to build a single windmill. Don is right. Leave the mountains alone to fade with the rest of life on earth as we gradually and graciously succumb to the pending climate turmoil and an increasingly poisoned nest.”
First, I would like to thank Avram for deciding for everyone what’s most relevant. But I’m sure if something else in the column struck you, personally, he would understand.
Second I didn’t intimate, anywhere in the column, nor do I advocate that we, “...graciously succumb to pending climate turmoil and an increasingly poisoned nest.” But I don’t believe the only two options are build wind farms on the ridge tops of Western North Carolina or “succumb.”
Noting that sales of electricity across the southeast were down between April 2008 and April 2009, Avram states, “In other words, utility industry projections have proven to be flat-out wrong.”
Of course that never happens with wind power projections. Oops, wait a minute – TVA initially projected 6 million kilowatt hours per year for their Buffalo Mountain site in east Tennessee. However their actual production form February 2003 through February 2004 was 3.96 million kilowatt hours.
The other “2 percent ” Avram discusses is, “The current estimates of wind production potential in the mountains range from 2 percent (Don’s estimate) to 11 percent (the Wind Working Group’s estimate) of the state’s electrical needs.“
Again, I would like to thank Avram – this time for crediting me as the originator of that 2 percent estimate. Of course, if you read the column you know that, that estimate came from Western North Carolina Renewable Energy Initiative’s “NC Wind Power Facts” - http://aire-nc.org/docs/Western_NC_Wind_Facts.pdf. There are a number of estimates on that page but I chose this one: “ASU [Appalachian State University] Energy center identified 768 MW in western NC after applying all exclusion zones; 50 acre minimum and within 5 miles to transmission.” because I thought this was the one that followed the guidelines of SB 1068.
I didn’t see an 11 percent total but ASU had one for 8 percent . Now the 2 percent (of NC’s electricity) total would call for somewhere around 400-450 turbines. The 8 percent total would call for, according to ASU, 2,100 turbines. So at 11 percent , you must be looking at 2,500 or more turbines.
I wonder how much area, including ingress, egress and connection to power grid, that would require.
I heartily endorse Avram’s call to dramatically reduce our energy consumption and/or the way we obtain said energy. And changing the paradigm about what energy is, what energy does and how we acquire and use energy in harmony with our surroundings is not banning the future. It’s insuring there will be a future.
Regular readers of this column probably already know that I’ve run afoul of many regional environmental groups by questioning the environmental and ecological cost-benefits of placing industrial-scale wind farms on top of the mountain ridges across the Appalachians.
In a response to my July 22 Naturalist’s Corner “Up in the air” regarding the rumblings in Raleigh over senate bill 1068 which would, if passed, essentially pave the way for industrial wind farms in certain areas across Western North Carolina, my friend Avram Friedman, executive director of the Canary Coalition, states, “I’m glad he’s started the conversation again.”
Well that’s one of the problems — there’s been very little conversation. Sure, environmental and conservation organizations have come together and there have been some pro-wind seminars at Appalachian State University and there have been some public hearings in certain counties that have endeavored to enact wind-power ordinances, but there has been very little large scale public vetting about an industry that all of us will be subsidizing and that will impact the natural resources across the region.
I tried to initiate a dialogue via Smoky Mountain News — both print and online — back last spring, but it fell on deaf ears. But perhaps now, with the General Assembly embroiled, enough interest will be piqued that newspapers and organizations across the state will investigate more fully and generate more public involvement. And I certainly join with Avram in encouraging that conversation — the kind of conversation that would help those as “wind-challenged” as I to get a clearer picture of the benefits of industrial wind production.
Avram states in his response, “... But, by combining measures designed to reduce energy consumption with an aggressive program to develop wind in the west (which is the least expensive option of producing energy), we can avoid completing Cliffside and even begin phasing out some of the other old coal plants in North Carolina.”
Now I’m no advocate of Cliffside or any other coal plant in North Carolina. But if I read Western North Carolina Renewable Energy Initiative’s “NC Wind Power Facts” correctly, the areas of Western North Carolina identified by Senate bill 1068 as suitable for wind production after all exclusions, setbacks, etc., could produce 768 megawatts (MW) of electricity annually — about 2 percent of the state’s current output. I don’t know how long it would take to develop those suitable sites, but I’m sure build out would take longer than a year or two and according to the North Carolina Utilities Commission, electricity consumption will grow by 2 percent or so each year for the next five years. The math just doesn’t add up.
And you could replace every tree in Western North Carolina with a wind turbine, but unless you point them all westward and turn ‘em on so that they blow back all the ozone produced from western coal-fired plants they will have very little impact on the haze and ozone we experience here, in the mountains.
Avram also states that developing the wind resources of Western North Carolina would create, “... thousands of green jobs ...” Yet, NC Wind Power Facts says that 350 new long-term jobs would be created.
Let’s have those conversations. Let’s air it all out so everyone understands. When Avram speaks of 1,000 megawatts of readily available power and/or Wind Power Facts talks about 768 Mws, are they talking about “rated capacity” or “capacity factor?” There’s quite a difference.
Up in the air
Western North Carolina senators Joe Sam Queen, Martin Nesbitt and John Snow might be wishing they had a wind turbine to cool down some of the heat they’ve been taking for throwing a kink into plans that would pave the way for utility-scale wind farms along the ridge tops of Western North Carolina. By the time you read this, western senators will have received another barrage of point and click emails from groups like AIRE (Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy) as there was a caucus on the issue yesterday, July 21.
AIRE’s Web site has the message:
“I support a wind permitting process for the mountains of North Carolina and therefore ask you NOT TO BAN wind energy development in Western North Carolina. Please help our state move forward with green energy and jobs.
I respectfully ask the following:
(1) restore the mountain permitting language in the original Senate Bill 1068
(2) keep the addition in the PCS version directing the permitting agency to render a determination on a permit application with in 150 days of the receipt of a completed application.”
After you add your name and address all you do is click “Send My Message!” and the Website promises to, “We will add your signature from the information you provide.”
So when you see the newspaper accounts of the thousands of emails senators received regarding Senate bill s-1068 you will have an idea of where and how they originated.
I find one aspect of this a little bit troubling. Now I know with AIRE’s close relationship to Appalachian State University they have access to legal acumen much greater than mine. But if they are a 501(c) 3 (SOSID 1100892), doesn’t the IRS prohibit any, “... attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities ...?”
There are a couple of other aspects of Senate Bill 1068 that are also a bit unsettling to me. Remember when then Vice President Dick Cheney created his Energy Task Force? Environmental organizations across the country were up in arms because the people he had chosen to create the administration’s energy policies were — gasp — “Big Energy” players.
Was that the pot calling the kettle black? According to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the language for Senate Bill 1068 was written by the Wind Energy Technical Advisory Group.
And what about the corporate camel’s nose in the tent? Surely no one has entertained the idea that if they get the OK to build on this minuscule 5 percent of good wind sites it might pave the way for expansion in the future.
I remember when I heard about Thomas Berry’s death I looked over some of my favorite quotes of his, and these developments bring this to mind. Berry was talking about the “green” movement, I substituted wind for solar: “... We can’t survive without using what’s around us but we have to do it in such a way that we recognize this mystique of the community of the Earth ... So, even if we use wind energy, without some mystique of the Sun and the Earth, it won’t work.”
PETA - Cherokee bears part deaux
I have been watching the story in Smoky Mountain News regarding PETA and the caged bears in Cherokee with some interest and have a couple of observations.
First, reporter Julia Merchant states in her piece “PETA targets bear zoos in national campaign” (SMN 7/1/09) that PETA, “... only recently got wind of the practice ...” and noted that, “... the exhibition of bears as a way to lure tourists is hardly new to Cherokee. In fact, it was once much more common.”
The practice of exploiting bears was, indeed, once more common. Bears chained in even worse (than current) conditions along roadsides and Tuffy Truesdale’s Victor — the wrestling bear — were prominent attractions. This treatment, however, did not escape the attention of PETA (People for the ethical treatment of animals) nor, for that matter, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
There is no reason Merchant should know this bit of history because it happened long before she came to the region and before Smoky Mountain News came into being. From the mid to late 1980s and perhaps into the early 1990s, area animal activists spearheaded an effort to end the practice of roadside bears. PETA and HSUS offered support and provided national exposure. In fact, PETA helped organize a demonstration advocating an end to this practice. The demonstration drew a large crowd of supporters. I would estimate more than 100 of us gathered on Great Smoky Mountains National Park property just outside Cherokee’s northern boundary — we couldn’t get a permit for tribal property.
The demonstration was a culmination of months of activism — gathering names on petitions and speaking with tribal leaders. I was part of a small contingent that met with then Principal Chief Jonathan Taylor. Taylor welcomed us graciously, listened attentively, asked pertinent questions regarding animal regulations and, I believe took our message to heart. But we weren’t the only voices heard.
One of the few records I could find regarding the issue — a few paragraphs in the Sept. 17, 1989, Wilmington Morning Star reported that Taylor noted the tribe was receiving, “... about 2,500 letters a year protesting the plight of the caged bears.”
I also recall that the bears had much support from tribal members. Tribal members made up a large percentage of the demonstrators advocating on behalf of the bears. They were also speaking up in tribal council meetings and within their communities.
Cherokee myth exalts the bear with a myriad of fables and for many enrolled members the bear holds a place of respect and admiration. PETA and/or Bob Barker may spark interest in the plight of Cherokee’s bears, but tribal council listens to enrolled members. Yonas’ plight rests, ultimately, in the hands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. I am sure Principal Chief Michell Hicks and today’s tribal council are every bit as receptive as Chief Taylor and his government were. I am also sure the spirit of Yonas is as revered today as it was in the 1980s and that the Cherokee people will do the right thing by their bears.
A note of interest
The US Fish & Wildlife Service has extended the public comment period on its John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System Digital Mapping Pilot Project through Aug. 5, 2009, and has included opportunities for public participation through virtual town meetings on July 14 and 15.
The Coastal Barriers Resources Act (CBRA) was enacted by Congress in 1982 with the intent of protecting coastal barriers by denying federal incentives like federal flood insurance and most federal infrastructure expenditures that promote development. To date the Coastal Barrier Resources System applies to approximately 3 million acres of coastal barriers along the Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes and Atlantic coast. It includes 2,500 miles of shoreline and 585 CBRA units plus 271 OPAs.
An OPA is an Otherwise Protected Area, which CBRA defines as, “... an undeveloped coastal barrier within the boundaries of an area established under Federal, State, or local law, or held by a qualified organization, primarily for wildlife refuge, sanctuary, recreational, or natural resource conservation purposes.” The only federal funding prohibited in an OPA is flood insurance.
CBRA was renewed in 2000 and at that time the US Fish & Wildlife Service was assigned the task of establishing a procedure and determining the costs for updating maps from outdated hard copies to state of the art digital ones.
The 2005 CBRA renewal called for called for the mapping pilot project and public review. Fish & Wildlife mapped approximately 10 percent (70 units) of the Coastal Barriers Resources System with new digital technology. The report recommends remapping the entire CBRS using the new digital technology because the existing maps are outdated and inaccurate. The estimated cost to complete the re-mapping is $17 million.
Ten areas in the Carolinas were digitally re-mapped. They are Pine Island, Roosevelt Natural Area, Hammocks Beach in Onslow County, Hammocks Beach in Carteret County, Onslow Beach Complex, Topsail, Lea Island Complex, Wrightsville Beach and Masonboro Island in North Carolina and Litchfield Beach and Pawleys Inlet in South Carolina.
The Gulf Coast and the Outer Banks may be out of sight but for most of us they are never out of mind. The more than 180 million Americans who visit coastal states like North Carolina every year generate more than $560 billion in tourism revenue.
These barrier resources like tidal channels, marshes and shallow lakes are invaluable marine nurseries helping support the $116 billion per year sport and commercial fishing industries. Plus they are home to rare and endangered species like piping plover, sea turtles and manatees.
The marshes of coastal barriers also act as sponges, soaking up storm surges from hurricanes and other coastal storms. According to scientists every 2.7 miles of barrier wetlands can absorb one foot of storm surge. A 1970s-era Louisiana coastline could have absorbed as much as seven feet of Katrina’s (2005) 20-foot storm surge, perhaps saving New Orleans from flooding.
Information and maps for downloading are available at www.fws.gov/habitatconservation/coastal_barrier.html.
The closest place I found to get your hands on hard copies is US Fish & Wildlife offices at 1875 Century Boulevard, Suite 400, Atlanta, Ga. The phone number in Atlanta is 404.679.4000.
Other inquiries can be made to Katie Niemi, Coastal Barrier Coordinator at 703.358.2161.
You must register by July 10 to participate in the virtual public meetings. The meeting for the Carolinas is scheduled for July 14 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. eastern time. Register at www.fws.gov/habitatconservation/coastal_barrier.html.
I have always had a good number of neotropical migrants nest every season in the woods around my home. The mornings and evenings are filled with the flute-like melodies of wood thrushes, various selections from the wide-ranging repertoire of the hooded warbler, the constant back and forth chatter of red-eyed vireos, the buzzy robin-like song and rolling “chick-buurrr” of the scarlet tanager and the more musical robin-like renditions of the rose-breasted grosbeak.
New songsters have joined the chorus this year. The dapper black-throated blue warbler with its blue-gray back, black face and flanks, clear white underside and white kerchief on the wings is one of the new choristers. I have, occasionally, heard black-throated blues from rather deep in the woods in the past. But this year the noisy crooner is right in front of the house. His buzzy “I’m so lazyeeee” plus longer and shorter derivatives are loud and conspicuous.
The northern parula — another wood warbler of the family Parulidae — is also a new nester at my home this year. The male northern parula is quite a colorful little bird. The parula is grayish above and if you’re fortunate enough to catch one foraging low enough you can see a greenish-orange iridescent patch on its back. He has whitish spectacles and two white wing bars. The throat is yellow and the yellow extends to the chest. It is broken by a dark bar across the throat that has an orange wash (similar to the color on its back) below it.
The northern parula’s standard song is a buzzy, ascending trill that breaks off abruptly at the end. Alternate songs include short buzzy notes, generally with a trill at the end. Some of the parula’s and black-throated blue’s alternate songs can resemble one another.
The ovenbird is another warbler that I usually hear (it has a very loud song) from the woods that has moved in next door this year. In fact, I have often seen the ground-dwelling ovenbird just outside the window from my computer desk. The rusty-backed ovenbird with its darkly streaked breast is suggestive of a thrush but it is sparrow-sized and it has an orange crown.
Many field guides describe the ovenbird’s song as a loud, emphatic “teacher, teacher, teacher.” But in this region the song is monosyllabic, “teach, teach, teach.”
My other new neighbor this year is not a warbler but a flycatcher. The Acadian flycatcher is one of a group of five small flycatchers of the genus Empidonax. All of these dusky little (five inches or so) flycatchers have wing bars and eye-rings and are best identified in the field by voice. The Acadian is the delivery boy of the group, its enthusiastic shout of “pizza” ringing out from the woods.
I don’t know what, if anything, this year’s new suite of nesters says about the environment around my home. Is the maturing forest more attractive to these species? Are these species becoming more numerous and/or expanding their ranges or is it simply the luck of the draw?
Whatever the reason, I’m happy to have these new neighbors and hope that next year will be a replay.
WNS impacts western Carolina caving
The USDA Forest Service issued an order on May 21 closing all caves and abandoned mines on FS property — unless specifically posted as open — in its Southeastern Region 8. The states affected include Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.
The closures are an effort to combat the spread of white-nose syndrome (WNS.) WNS appears to be caused by a newly described fungus, Geomyces destructans. The fungus grows around the muzzle, ears and wing membranes of infected bats.
WNS was first reported from New York State during the winter of 2006-2007. WNS is highly contagious and has spread to at least eight other states, moving as far south as Virginia.
WNS is incredibly lethal with some hibernacula revealing mortality rates above 90 percent. It is estimated to date that somewhere between one-half million and one million bats have succumbed to WNS including 25,000 endangered Indiana bats.
To date, six species of bats — Indiana bat, little brown bat, big brown bat, northern long-eared bat, small-footed bat and eastern pipistrelle — are known to be susceptible to WNS. WNS is clearly highly contagious among bats but the rapid spread of the disease (more than 450 miles last year) leads scientists to question whether or not the disease can be spread by cavers visiting different sites across the country.
This question of human vectors is what has led agencies like the Forest Service and Fish & Wildlife and organizations like The Nature Conservancy and Southeastern Cave Conservancy across the country, to close access to caves in states where WNS has been detected plus adjoining states.
The Nature Conservancy in North Carolina has closed Bat Cave and Rumbling Bald Cave in Rutherford County as a precaution against the spread of WNS. Of course the Forest Service announcement covers all caves in the Nantahala and/or Pisgah National Forests. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has also ordered closure of all its caves.
One can find a little carping regarding cave closures across various caving/spelunking forums but the local, regional and national caving/spelunking organizations and the overwhelming majority of their members are supportive of whatever measures are needed to halt this terrible disease. After all there is a kindred spirit between these furry cave dwellers and the light-dependant bipeds that are drawn to their subterranean haunts.
Birds of a feather
Yep, they’ll be flocking June 25 at 10 a.m. at the North Carolina Arboretum, 100 Frederick Law Olmstead Way in Asheville. The event will commemorate the publication of North Carolina Birding Trail’s Mountain Trail Guide. The mountains section is the third and final component to NCBT’s outstanding collaborative effort to, in its own words, “... conserve and enhance North Carolina’s bird habitat by promoting sustainable bird-watching activities, economic opportunities and conservation education.”
The 105 sites in the Mountain Trail Guide join 102 Coastal Plain Trail Guide sites and 103 sites from the Piedmont Trail Guide. So when you hit U.S. 64 in Murphy and see the sign that says Manteo, Nc. 563 miles don’t think of it as a looonnnnngggg drive but rather an opportunity to visit as many of the 310 outstanding birding sites across the state as time will allow.
According to the guides’ publisher UNC Press, “...the Mountain Trail Guide presents 105 premier birding destinations in the North Carolina mountains, from the Tennessee border in the west to Interstate 77 in the east. The spiral-bound volume features maps, detailed site descriptions, and color photographs throughout. Each site description includes directions as well as information on access, focal species and habitats, and on-site visitor amenities. Special “while you’re in the area” listings accompany each of eighteen site groupings, so visitors can travel to a cluster of birding destinations and enjoy other local highlights and attractions along the way.”
A number of those mountain sites like Lake Junaluska, Max Patch, Heintooga Spur Road and the southern Great Balsam Mountains adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway are here in Haywood County.
Representatives from the six agencies - NC Wildlife Resources Commission, NC State Parks, Audubon NC, US Fish & Wildlife Service, NC Sea Grant, and NC Cooperative Extension – that partnered to create the NCBT will be at the Arboretum to talk a little about the project and the results.
Field trips to some of the sites will be offered in the afternoon. And if you don’t want to get in your car – the Arboretum is one of the mountain sites. The Arboretum boasts a species list of more than 100 birds.
The Arboretum is the perfect place to highlight NCBT’s efforts to link birders with communities and cultural and environmental attractions as participants will have an opportunity to take in Birds: The Science of Illustration a new exhibit at The Baker Exhibit Center featuring the art and work of H. Douglass Pratt, ornithologist, artist and research curator of birds at the NC State Museum of Natural Sciences and local artist and field guide illustrator John C. Sill of Franklin.
Regrettably I cannot personally attest to Pratt’s work, though I’m sure it is of the utmost quality or it wouldn’t be on exhibit. I can tell you from personal experience that John’s bird art is not only strikingly beautiful but that the attention to detail is impeccable.
Additional exhibit features include: A bird nest collection, containing nests and egg replicas of local songbirds; An interactive bird song display to test and instruct visitors on recognizing songbirds by vocalizations; A habitat match-up interactive mural designed to teach concepts of animal needs and the distinct habitats of local birds in habitats that occur in WNC; An illustration table with sketch paper, pencils, erasers and colored pencils; and Discovery Packs containing binoculars for children to check out birds in the gardens are also available for families to enhance their exploration.
Goodbye to a native son
A light has dimmed in the universe. It was a light that shone with gracious comforting warmth yet it was sparked by a lucidity so radiant, so white hot, that it cut laser-like through the intellectual and pseudo-intellectual babblings of science and religion straight to the heart of the universe like a hot knife through butter.
Thomas Berry, born William Nathan Berry in Greensboro on Nov. 9, 1914 left this corporeal universe on June 1. One of 13 siblings, he was surrounded by family, in Greensboro at the time of his death.
Berry took the name Thomas, after Thomas Aquinas, when he entered the Passionist Order of the Catholic Church at the age of 20. Though ordained a priest, Berry chose the life of scholar, teacher, learner, and sharer.
Some books by Berry include The Great Work, The Universe Story, Dream of the Earth and Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community. Two new titles, The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the 21st Century and Christian Future and the Fate of Earth will be released this year.
A glimpse at the light that spilled forth from the mind and soul of Thomas Berry:
From a 2002 interview with Caroline Webb:
“We can’t survive without using what’s around us but we have to do it in such a way that we recognize this mystique of the community of the Earth. It is time to step back and find the human place in the natural world and not think that we can make the human world primary and the natural world secondary. We have got to say to ourselves, ‘Let’s begin to try to understand the natural world and find a way of prospering the natural world first.’ Then find our survival within that context. Because if we think we can put ourselves first and then fit the natural world into our program, it’s not going to work. We have got to fit the human project into the Earth project. That is what I am suggesting with Law. You have got to fit human law into the structure and functioning of planet Earth.”
[And that mystique makes] “All the difference in the world. In other words it’s the mystique of the mountains and the birds, the sea — it’s what makes us sing. It’s what makes our literature. Even though we have worked out a mechanics that is fairly helpful, it doesn’t give us an interior world. The natural world gives us an interior world. It gives us a healing presence, a fulfilling presence. By the term `presence’ I mean that indwelling quality that manifests itself throughout the natural world. We find this awesome presence in the sun and moon and stars in the heavens, in the mountains and seas of Earth, in the dawn and sunset, in the forests and meadows and wildlife. We are immersed in an ever-renewing wonder-world that evokes our music and dance, our poetry and literature as well as our philosophical reflection and our scientific inquiry. None of our industrial productions brings such inspiration as we obtain from these sources.
“So, even if we use solar energy, without some mystique of the Sun and the Earth, it won’t work. We should do away with the light pollution in cities so that children and all of us can see the stars. Our children don’t have the experience of seeing the stars, and they are crippled, emotionally and in other ways. And that’s the danger of putting children into this context of computers and machines, because what we make, makes us. Children don’t have contact with anything natural, they don’t wander through the meadows and see butterflies, fireflies, lizards and frogs and so they do not have contact with reality — they are living in an artificial world. The greater difficulty is not the physical damage to our lungs from industrial pollution; it is what is happening to our souls, our minds and our emotions.”
“Indigenous people still live in a universe, but we don’t; we live in an economic system. We’ve got all kinds of scientists but we don’t have a universe. There is an Earth out there, but for us it’s just a collection of resources to be exploited. It’s got no dignity. But really it is a communication of wonder.
“Let me recite a poem I wrote about children. It expresses what I mean about ‘cosmology’:
The child awakens to the universe
The mind of the child to a world of wonder
Imagination to a world of beauty
Emotions to a world of intimacy
It takes a universe to make a child
Both in outer form and inner spirit
It takes a universe to educate a child
It takes a universe to fulfill a child
And the first obligation of any generation to its children
Is to bring these two together
So that the child is fulfilled in the universe
And the universe is fulfilled in the child
While the stars ring out in the Heavens
The light Berry shined is not unique. We all have that light. What is unique is that Berry could see that light and understand that it is just a small part of the light of the universe.
Stop and smell the flowers
Sure, we all hear it and we all think, “I’m gonna do just that as soon as I catch up.” And then next year we hear it again.
Well thanks to a wonderful offer from Chuck Dayton and Sara Evans from St. Paul, Minn. and Waynesville, I had the opportunity to ditch my rapid, rabid point to point birding survey for the Forest Service and stop and smell the flowers on Saturday, May 23.
Chuck and Sara were entertaining a group of friends from Minnesota and asked if I would lead a birding/wildflower trip. I had met Chuck and Sara on this spring’s Waynesville Watershed hike and knew they were knowledgeable about and had a keen interest in the natural environment.
Chuck is a retired environmental lawyer whose many accolades include being dubbed Minnesota Sierra Club’s Environmentalist of the Decade for his work in the 1970s to increase and expand wilderness protection in the Boundary Waters. Sara’s love for the outdoors may be in her DNA. Her Mom, Maxilla Evans helped establish and design the Cornelia Bryan Native Garden at Lake Junaluska and in 2006, Maxilla was awarded the 20th annual Tom Dodd Jr. Award of Excellence which is presented each year at the Cullowhee Conference on Native Plants in the Landscape.
There were no hard-core birders in the group so we had a rather leisurely start from Chuck and Sara’s around 9 a.m. Saturday. I believe there were 13 guests from Minnesota plus Chuck, Sara, Kate Queen and myself.
While it was a large group, it was the kind of group hike leaders dream of. The group was interested and attentive and it was easy to see they were enamored by our beautiful old mountains.
We ended up with a decent bird list (58 species) for birding primarily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in late May. And while birds — many likely incubating — were hard to coax from the woods and/or tangles we did get some really good views of Canada warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, black-throated blue warbler, northern parula, wild turkey(s) with polts and sadly, ruffed grouse fledglings on the side of Heintooga Spur Road, where their mom and one brood mate lay mashed by some inattentive driver.
Our birding time was also compromised — in a great way — by all the wildflowers in bloom. I was surprised to find serviceberry and silverbell still blooming at higher elevations along with large-flowered trillium. Other trilliums included wake robin and painted trillium. Canada mayflower was beginning to bloom along Heintooga Road and we found some large stands of umbrella leaf.
Two of my favorite wildflowers were duly noted. Pinkshell azalea, Rhododendron vaseyi, is blooming profusely around the wet, ragged rock outcroppings just before and just beyond Waterrock Knob.
The pinkshell was discovered in 1878 by George Vasey and is known from only four counties in Western North Carolina. The majority of pinkshells are, indeed, pink. But blossoms can range from almost pure white to deep purplish-pink. Grandfather Mountain is home to an extensive population of pinkshell.
Another of my favorite wildflowers, Indian paintbrush is in bloom along the shoulder of Heintooga Road. You can’t miss the scarlet head of Indian paintbrush glowing from the green roadside. But the color is not from the flower. The flowers are actually yellowish-green and the scarlet bracts surround them.
Pinkshell azalea and Indian paintbrush are both ranked S3 in North Carolina meaning they are at moderate risk of extinction due to restricted range and relatively few populations. But both of these species, as well as countless others, are in full bloom now so there’s no excuse not to stop and smell the flowers.