The Naturalist's Corner: Birding daze

The six weeks from May 1 to June 15 are always a busy time for me. That is the window for my annual Forest Service bird survey. I have more than 200 points spread across the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests from the Hiwassee Dam to Yellow Mountain, to Brevard, to Mt. Mitchell and Roan Mountain and points in between. This year because of all the rain in early May and then the passing of my brother in late May, that window was even more constricted.

Virgin’s bower is a favorite mountain wildflower

It’s late July and before long summer will be slip-sliding toward autumn. The gap between now and then is often overlooked in regard to wildflowers. The first flaming cardinal flowers appear along the creeks and purple Joe Pye weeds and ironweeds throw up their scraggly heads. The entire countryside will be blanketed in a seemingly endless array of thistle, flowering spurge, evening primrose, mullein, heal-all, mints, goldenrods, asters, and so on. 

The best reason of all to play

It’s one of those late March days that can’t make up its mind whether winter is really over or might hang on for another of weeks. When the sun elbows through a patch of low, gray clouds, it’s warm enough to take off your jacket, but then the wind picks up and you put it back on.

Adjusting to WAHM summer life

As I write this column, my two little boys are rummaging through LEGO bricks bickering about who needs which piece, KIDZ BOP Kids is playing on Pandora and eggs are boiling on the stove for egg salad sandwich lunches. 

This is my summertime work setting.

Play me that mountain music

With Memorial Day right around the corner, the fun in the sun of summer in the mountains is here, ready to surprise and delight any and all.

Upcoming tuition drop could have unintended consequences

A state program that’s set to lower Western Carolina University’s tuition to $500 per semester could have unintended consequences when it comes to the university’s summer programming. 

Summer’s fading, and it’s all happening much too fast

On my Sunday afternoon jog around Lake Junaluska, I can actually feel for the first time that summer is slipping away. There is the slightest sliver of coolness in the air, like a strand of different-colored hair, and some of the trees are beginning to flash a tiny glimpse of the dramatic changes in color that are just around the next bend. I’m pushing myself a little today, as if I might outrun the image forming now in my head of my family huddled together, waving goodbye to the best summer we’ve ever had as it pulls away like a train leaving the station.

Hilarious and serious; two different summer reads

bookNovels that make me laugh aloud are rare. Two novels, Confederacy of Dunces and Freddy and Fredericka, brought laughter, and in several of his books, Anthony Burgess had me going. Some essayists have the same effect — here I’m thinking of Chicago columnist Mike Royko, who died almost 20 years ago, but whose columns, depending on the subject, are still funny, mostly because of Royko’s acute sense of the ridiculous in politics and culture.

Home for the summer: Birders seek out migrating birds in the mountains

out frIn a woodsy neighborhood up a winding mountain road from Franklin, late May is pretty quiet — at least from a human perspective. Many of the second-home owners who live there haven’t yet moved in for the summer, and with lots spanning as many as 40 acres, things are spread pretty far apart anyway. 

But the avian summer move-ins are there in force, and if you’re a bird, you’d probably say the forested neighborhood is anything but quiet. It’s full of tweets and chirps and chirrs, pretty sounds that actually mean things are a-stirring in the bird community.

Saying farewell to summer

It’s mid-September ... late summer is sliding toward early autumn. The end of summer officially arrives with the autumnal equinox of Sept. 23, when the sun crosses the celestial equator going north to south.

One senses this transition in the cool mist-shrouded mornings as well as by the brown-splotched and red-tinged leaves of the buckeye trees. Communal groups of swallows will soon be gathering on wires and branches prior to their annual southerly migration. Before long, monarch butterflies will be skipping with ease along the Appalachian chain headed for their ancestral wintering grounds in Mexico.

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