Weightless for two seconds is not a moonwalk but at the top of the Space Shot at Huntsville, Alabama’s (Rocket City) U.S. Space & Rocket Center, it does give your brain a split second to wonder — am I going up or down?
A couple of Saturday’s ago Bob Olthoff and I made a quick trip up the Blue Ridge Parkway. We were going up to Black Balsam to look for yellow-rumped warblers. Yellow-rumps are regular visitors to Western North Carolina during the winter but generally pack their bags and head back to New England and/or Canada for nesting season. Occasionally nesting yellow-rumps can be found at higher elevations in the mountains of North Carolina.
I often remind everyone who reads “The Naturalist’s Corner” to remember to look up. But each spring while surveying birds for the Forest Service I am reminded to look down. I have a couple of survey points in the Pisgah National Forest along Locust Creek near the South Toe River that must be red eft mecca. Red eft is the terrestrial stage of eastern or red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens.)
You’re hiking streamside through a rhododendron tangle when you hear a short, musical trill – it kind of mimics the riffles in the stream. I know, you’re in a hurry – got a lot of hiking to do. But if you have a minute to track this little chorister down you won’t be disappointed. What you’re hearing is a Canada warbler.
I spend six weeks every spring doing bird surveys for the Forest Service across Western North Carolina. My travels take me from Hiwassee Dam, to Lake Chatuge, to Black Balsam, to Hot Springs, to the Pinks Beds, to Roan Mountain, Mount Mitchell, Roaring Creek and Boone Fork plus other locations.
I just finished four wonderful days of birding in the Smokies, helping out with the 66th Annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage. Well 3.8 wonderful days and 0.2 days getting drenched last Friday before we gave up. Man those pilgrims are tough!
I was having my morning coffee on the small floating dock in the narrow, clear Weeki Wachee River about three miles upstream of the Gulf of Mexico and watching for manatees. The girls and I had discovered that early morning was a good time to catch these unique creatures headed in or out of the river. The loud, incessant calling of a red-shouldered hawk from the woods across the river suddenly shattered the morning quiet.
Due to contractual obligations with the Forest Service I have been in the woods a little earlier than usual this year. I’m not complaining, it’s been wonderful watching spring arrive. I began hitting the woods in February and everything, except the conifers and other evergreens, was brown and/or gray. There was a little bird life — chickadees, titmice, juncos, woodpeckers and other winter residents — but not a lot, a few chips and call notes but only an occasional chickadee song.
Waterfowl have been scarce across Western North Carolina this fall and winter. Traditional haunts like Lake Julian in Asheville, Lake James near Marion and our own waterfowl magnet Lake Junaluska have been mostly vacant this season. Even coot numbers are really low this year.
One of the greatest shows on Earth is about to take center stage. Spring ephemerals will begin clawing through the gray-brown leaf litter within the month. Some of the earliest wildflowers to open will include spring beauty, various violets, hairy buttercup, hepatica, trailing arbutus, bloodroot and trout lily.