Category Archives: Friends of Roan Mountain

Upcoming Roan Mountain Spring Naturalists Rally will offer chances to enjoy migrating birds and much more

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A tree swallow checks out a nesting box soon after returning for the nesting season on Friday, April 13 to Hampton, Tennessee.

Spring has certainly sprung. In the past week, several birds have made their return after a long absence, including broad-winged hawk, brown thrasher, blue-gray gnatcatcher, tree swallow and black-and-white warbler. It’s a good time to get outside and see what birds one can see without even really trying.

One long-running annual event will help interested people see birds and experience other aspects of the natural world. The upcoming 60th annual Roan Mountain Spring Naturalists Rally promises three days of nature-packed activities and events for people of all ages. This year’s rally will be held Friday-Sunday, April 27-29.

As always, in addition to bird walks and other nature hikes, the rally will offer evening programs by guest speakers on Friday and Saturday after a catered dinner.

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Photo Courtesy of Friends of Roan Mountain • Kris Light is shown during a nature walk while on a trip to Germany.

Kris Light will speak on Friday at 7:30 p.m. on “The Birds and Bees of Wildflowers: Pollination Strategies of Flowers.” Light is a lifetime Tennessean who grew up in Nashville and graduated from University of Tennessee-Knoxville. She has experience teaching classroom science for elementary school students and is an outreach educator for the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge. She is a lifelong student of nature and a favorite leader of wildflower walks for various parks around the state.

Light described her program as focusing on the fascinating interaction between flowers and their pollinators and how colors, odors, shape, and even the presence of stripes or spots on the petals can greatly influence the type of pollinators that will be attracted to them.

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Photo Courtesy of Friends of Roan Mountain • Kevin Hamed is shown holding a salamander. These amphibians will be the focus of his upcoming presentation at the Roan Mountain Springs Naturalists Rally.

Dr. Kevin Hamed will discuss the diversity of salamanders on Roan and other neighboring mountains during his Saturday program at 7:30 p.m. His presentation is titled “The Future of Appalachian Salamanders: What the Past Tells Us.”

Hamed is a professor of biology at Virginia Highlands Community College where he is dedicated to getting his students out of the classroom and into nature, where they gain experience collecting specimens and recording data. This field data has been useful to various local, state, and federal organizations in making important land management decisions.

Hamed is recognized as an expert on salamanders of the southern Appalachians. For his program Saturday night he will discuss the unique environment of the area’s mountains which makes this area “holy ground” for salamander study, present his research on the nesting behavior of salamanders, and discuss the importance of salamanders as indicators of environmental change.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Spring’s ephemeral wildflowers, like these bloodroots, are a major attraction during the Roan Mountain Spring Naturalists Rallies.

All activities and programs are free to members of the Friends of Roan Mountain. There is a charge, however, for the Friday and Saturday evening meals, which are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Visit friendsofroanmtn.org to register and pay online to reserve meals for Friday and Saturday. Deadline to reserve a meal is April 24. The website also offers a complete listing of morning and afternoon hikes, as well as other programs and activities. Charges do apply for attendees who are not members of FORM.

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Ruby-throated hummingbirds are back. My first ruby-throated hummingbird, a feisty male, zipped into the yard while I was on the front porch grading papers. He sipped at four different feeders before he zoomed off. He arrived at 5:40 p.m. on April 14. I’ve heard from other people who have already seen one of these tiny flying gems. I’ll provide more details on their arrival in next week’s blog post. Keep those reports coming to me by sending an email to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. Please list the date and time when you saw your first spring hummer.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Ruby-throated hummingbirds such as this male are returning to the region.

 

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Plovers among migration champions of vast and varied shorebird clan

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Photo by Janice Humble • A killdeer wanders in a grassy area near the Wal-Mart on Volunteer Parkway in Bristol. The killdeer, a species of plover, is one of the more common shorebirds found in the region.

I’m always glad to lend a hand at identifying birds. If you’re uncertain of a bird’s identification and have a photo of the bird in question, assistance is an email away. Janice Humble emailed me seeking some help with identifying the bird in a photograph attached with her message. She noted that the bird was accompanied by a companion in the grassy area near the Wal-Mart on Volunteer Parkway in Bristol. She also noted that the two birds uttered loud “peeps” during her observation.

The bird turned out to be a killdeer, a species of plover native to North America. Plovers belong to the family of shorebirds that include various sandpipers, curlews, dowitchers, stilts, avocets and other species. The killdeer is a rather common shorebird that finds itself at home far from the seashore, often present in habitats such as pastures and golf courses, as well as the grassy areas near the concrete and asphalt jungles that surround Wal-Marts and other such shopping complexes.

The killdeer’s famous for its faking of an injured wing. When its nest or young is threatened, a killdeer will go into an elaborate display, fluttering the “injured” wing and uttering shrill peeps to distract the potential predator. If successful, the bird will lure the predator away from the nest or vulnerable young. Once at a safe distance, the killdeer undergoes a miraculous recovery and takes wing, leaving behind a bewildered and perhaps chagrined predator.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A Killdeer explores near a stream bank.

Other North American plovers related to the killdeer include American golden-plover, black-bellied plover, Pacific golden plover, Wilson’s plover, piping plover, snowy plover, mountain plover and semipalmated plover. About 70 different species of plovers exist around the world, including such descriptively named birds as little ringed plover, red-capped plover, three-banded plover and white-fronted plover.

Musick’s Campground on Holston Lake has been one of the best area locations for seeking shorebirds during their migrations. The shore near the campground has been a magnet for persuading unusual shorebirds to pause their journey to rest, refresh and refuel. The location’s privately owned, but individual wishing to bird the shoreline can enter by signing the guest book located a small but well-marked kiosk. Some of the most memorable shorebirds I’ve seen at Musick’s Campground over the years include whimbrel, dunlin, sanderling, greater yellowlegs, short-billed dowitcher, American avocet, black-bellied plover and semipalmated plover. In recent weeks, the location has hosted such unexpected shorebirds as red knot and red-necked phalarope.

While the neighboring states of Virginia and North Carolina offer coastal birding opportunities, my native Tennessee remains quite landlocked. This fact poses a challenge for birders looking to capitalize on the seasonal migrations of shorebirds. Fortunately ponds, mudflats on the shorelines of lakes, riverbanks and even flooded fields offer adequate substitute habitat for many shorebirds. While the Mountain Empire region may lack a seashore, migrating shorebirds have learned to make do.

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Photo by Jean Potter • The American golden-plover, like this individual, is a long-distance migrant among the varied family of shorebirds.

This varied and far-flung family is also known as “wind birds,” a term which is an allusion to the capacity of many species of shorebirds to undertake nothing less than epic migrations. Many of the shorebirds that pass through in the spring are in haste to reach their nesting grounds as far north as the edge of the Arctic tundra. In fall, many of the same birds are eager to return to destinations in Central and South America ahead of cold weather and times of scarcity.

The plovers — the sedentary killdeer excepted — are among the champions of long-distance migration. According to the Audubon website, the black-bellied plover spends the brief summer season nesting in the world’s high Arctic zones but disperses to spend the winter months on the coasts of six of the globe’s seven continents.

The Pacific golden-plover’s twice yearly migrations represent an even more impressive feat. This shorebird often nests in Alaska and winter in Hawaii. The website Phys.org notes that research on this plover has revealed that the bird is capable of flying almost 3,000 miles in a mere four days. The website also reveals that those plovers wintering in Hawaii cannot lay claim to longest migrations. Some Pacific golden-plovers nest even farther south in the Pacific, reaching the Marshall Islands.

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Photo by Jean Potter • A black-bellied plover stands out from most relatives when it wears its nesting season breeding plumage.

Shorebirds represent only a single family of birds migrating through the region in the fall. Songbirds from warblers and thrushes to vireos and flycatchers, as well as raptors and waterfowl, wing their way through the region every fall. Get outdoors with a pair of binoculars and have a look. It’s almost impossible not to see something, which may turn out to be a delightful and unanticipated surprise.

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To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. To ask a question, make a comment or share a sighting, email him at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Upcoming programs offer insight into birds and birding

Fall migration has begun. The pace may be a trickle at present, but the floodgates will open in September and October as a multitude of neotropical migrants — birds that spend the summer nesting season in North America — make their way back to warmer territory in Central and South America.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Upcoming programs in the region will focus on topics such as songbirds, raptors and the basics of beginning birdwatching. Plan to attend one or more of the programs to learn more about birds, such as this green heron.

A few of the “early birds” are already well on their way. At home, I am already seeing evidence of the increasing pace of migration as hummingbird numbers increase daily at my feeders and thrushes and warblers make stopovers in the surrounding woodlands. In the coming weeks, I fully expect to see even more of these migrating birds. It’s one of the major reasons that autumn’s my favorite season. The birds that were in such a rush to get to nesting grounds back in April and May take a more leisurely pace as they journey back south in September and October.

September will also offer some opportunities to learn more about our feathered friends at some upcoming programs that aim to provide some unique insights into the birds that share the world with us. Consider attending some or all of these events, and then be sure to get outdoors in the next couple of months to discover the diversity of the birds that pass through the region every fall.

I will be presenting a free program titled “Bold Birding in the Backyard and Beyond” at the Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 6. The program, which is part of the library’s Adult Services program, is designed as an introduction for beginners to the pastimes of birding and birdwatching.

 
My presentation will feature photographs taken around my home, as well as from some of my birding adventures during my travels. I took many of the photographs that will be presented in Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina, but I will also show some photos from trips to Utah, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

 
I will offer some basic steps people can take to increase their enjoyment of the experience of birdwatching. I will also highlight the opportunities and advantages that membership in a local birding organization can bring.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Tufted titmouse checks out a feeder.

 

The library will provide light refreshments and a display of books on birds and birding that are available through the library’s collection. The library is located at 201 N. Sycamore St., Elizabethton. For more information, call 547-6360.

The annual Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally brings together nature enthusiasts from throughout the region and beyond for a weekend of nature programs, walks and other activities. This year’s rally — the 55th consecutive one in the event’s history — will be held Friday-Sunday, Sept. 8-10. Most activities will be based at the Roan Mountain State Park Conference Center in Roan Mountain, Tennessee.

While the focus of the annual rally is always on a wide range of topics in the natural world, this year’s two evening programs on Friday and Saturday will put the spotlight on birds.

Dr. Andy Jones has worked at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for more than a decade. He was hired in 2006 as the William A. and Nancy R. Klamm Endowed Chair of Ornithology, thanks to a donation from the Klamms to the museum. In 2011, he was also named Director of Science, overseeing all activities in the Collections and Research Division. A native of Kingsport, Tennessee, he has ties to several members in area birding organizations, including the Bristol Bird Club. His program, titled, “Using Sequences, Songs, and Serendipity to Understand Eastern North American Birds,” will explore birds and their songs, which are more complicated than anyone expected.

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Photo Courtesy of FORM • Dr. Andy Jones holds a Northern saw-whet owl.

Ranger Marty Silver has worked as an environmental educator and conservation officer for Tennessee State Parks for more than 38 years, most of that time at Warriors Path State Park in Kingsport. He is responsible for the park’s interpretive programming, resource protection, trail maintenance, habitat management and outdoor education. Silver works with people of all ages, especially school children, and shares nature discovery and conservation awareness with more than 30,000 students each year. In addition, he has presented numerous teacher training workshops and has received a number of state-wide and national environmental education awards.

Silver will bring some rehabilitated captive raptors that he employs in educational programs. These birds suffered injuries in the past that made it impossible to return them to the wild, but they now serve as feathered ambassadors to help people learn about a family of birds that is often misunderstood. These raptors (with a little help from Ranger Silver) share new insights into how everyone can play a role in resource protection through nature education.

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Photo Courtesy of FORM • Marty Silver and a great horned owl present an educational program on birds.

Both evening programs begin at 7:30 p.m. and follow buffet meals that will be held at 6:30 p.m. There is an additional cost to attend the meals, and reservations are necessary. There are registration fees to attend any of the activities, including the evening programs, at the Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally. Membership in the organization will result in fees being waived. For information on joining Friends of Roan Mountain or a complete schedule for this year’s Rally, please visit http://www.friendsofroanmtn.org for a downloadable brochure, registration form and contact information. In addition to the evening programs, the three-day rally will feature bird walks, as well as hikes featuring a variety of topics, including butterflies, mushrooms, wildflowers, salamanders and spiders.

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Attending these programs could offer some helpful information to prepare for this year’s fall migration. However, even if you’re unable to fit any of the programs into your schedule, plan on getting outdoors this fall. Birds are going to be much easier to find and observe as they migrate, so keep your eyes open.
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If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Keep a look out for wandering waders during late summer season

Summer heat and humidity make the summer season my least favorite one for birding, but every season brings birding surprises. I was reminded of this fact when Larry and Amelia Tipton sent me a recent email asking for help with the identification of some birds near their home.

Attaching a photo with their email, the Tiptons wrote, “These birds showed up a few days ago and we cannot identify them. We would like to know what they are.”

When I opened the photo, I realized that the birds captured in the image would not be considered out of place if the Tiptons lived near the coast of the Carolinas, Georgia or Florida. The birds in the photo, however, were somewhat unexpected in the foothills of western North Carolina near their home in the town of Old Fort.

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Photo Courtesy of  Larry and Amelia Tipton • Immature white ibises in a field near the Catawba River in North Carolina.

“We live on a farm near the Catawba River but have mostly woodland and fields,” the couple added. “We do not have a pond on our property but have a branch and a larger creek nearby.”

I wrote back and told the Tiptons that the birds they photographed were young white ibises. I informed the Tiptons that the two young ibises are likely testing their wings, so to speak, after leaving the care of their parents. If they like the area, and it sounds like they do, they may decide that the branch and creek are just what they need.

I received a followup email. “We sort of knew these were water birds but were surprised to find them so far away from marsh or wetlands or the ocean,” the Tiptons wrote. “We thought maybe a storm blew them off course during flight.”

While a diverting storm can’t be ruled out, it’s normal behavior for young wading birds to disperse far and wide after leaving the nest. North American waders, or wading birds, include such long-legged species as herons, egrets, bitterns, ibises, storks and spoonbills. Most species are associated with wetlands or coastal areas.

Late summer birding is usually a period of doldrums as heat and humidity can discourage birders as well as diminish bird activity. However, it’s also the time of year when birders can make some unexpected surprises as wandering waders, such as the ibises discovered by the Tiptons, explore uncharted territory.

Other waders this season showing up in unexpected location have included a wood stork found by Linda Walker in Polk County, Tennessee. Likes the ibises in North Carolina, the stork was confining its activities to a small branch bordered by heavy vegetation. These branches are a far cry from the usual wetland haunts of these two species.

Overall, the white ibis and wood stork have some superficial similarities. They are both long-legged white birds with black wing tips and unusual down-turned bills that they use to probe for food, which largely consists of fish and other aquatic prey.

The latter is North America’s only native stork. According to the National Audubon Society, Florida once provided a stronghold for the wood stork in the United States. Unfortunately, the population crashed in the 1990s, decreasing from around 150,000 birds to fewer than 10,000. In recent years, numbers have increased and wood storks have expanded their breeding range into South Carolina. Wood storks are nearly four feet tall, making them one of the tallest of the waders. Wood storks have a dark, featherless heads, giving them a resemblance to vultures. For the most part, they’re rather grotesque birds when observed at close quarters. Soaring overhead on thermal updrafts, wood storks look quite graceful and even majestic thanks to their white plumage and black accents. A wingspan of 65 inches gives them the means to soar easily.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens 
Worldwide there are 19 species of storks, but the wood stork (pictured) is the only native stork   found in the United States.

The Audubon Society identifies the white ibis as one of the most numerous wading birds in Florida, but the bird is common also in other parts of the southeast with appropriate wetland habitat. Like the wood stork, the ibis has declined in Florida in recent decades largely as a result of human encroachment. The white ibis looks like a bird that could have been invented by Dr. Seuss. The all-white plumage is contrasted by pinkish-orange legs, a reddish-pink bill and bright blue eyes. In flight, the white ibis shows black feathers on the edges of its wings.

The affinity for water and wetlands relates to the diet of most waders, which consists of fish and other aquatic prey such as amphibians, crustaceans and even insects. For the remainder of July and into August and September, birders should monitor ponds, small lakes, rivers and even branches and creeks for any wandering waders. For instance, I once made a trip to a park in Greeneville, Tennessee, to observe a pink-hued roseate spoonbill that had made a rare stopover in the region. While that observation took place nearly 20 years ago, I remember vividly finding the pale pink bird playing odd man out among a flock of several dozen Canada geese as a soft rain drizzled from an overcast sky. Although many of the waders cling to coastal habitats, they have wings like other birds and know how to use them. Other waders have been known to show up in unlikely locations, including birds such as tri-colored heron, limpkin and snowy egret.

Of course, I hope to hear from any readers lucky enough to glimpse one of these unanticipated finds. Enjoy your birding.

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Bryan Stevens lives near Roan Mountain, Tennessee. To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more.

Winter Rally returns to Roan Mountain on Saturday, Feb. 13

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                    Flock of Wild Turkeys forage on a hillside near Hampton, Tennessee.

As January moves into February, I’ve been seeing more of the birds I’ve come to associate with the winter months.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                  Ring-necked Ducks and Redheads visit a pond at Erwin Fishery Park in Erwin, Tennessee.

During afternoon drives I’ve observed flocks of wild turkeys in fields near my home. The largest of these flocks consisted of at least two dozen birds. In addition to the turkeys, I’ve been seeing waterfowl at various ponds at local park. Some of these observations have included ducks like Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, American Wigeons, American Black Ducks and Buffleheads, as well as Pied-billed Grebes, Common Coots and Great Blue Heron. I also found a large flock of Ring-billed Gulls at a large pond near the Elizabethton campus of Northeast Tennessee Community College.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                A Fox Sparrow arrived at feeders during a recent snowstorm.

Recent snowfall has also changed the makeup of the flocks of birds coming to my feeders. A Fox Sparrow has joined the Eastern Towhees I’ve watched foraging on the ground beneath the feeders hanging from the branches of a blue spruce outside my bedroom window.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                Ring-billed Gulls at a pond in Elizabethton, Tennessee.

More Purple Finches, in addition to American Goldfinches, have joined the ranks of birds crowding around my black oil sunflower-stocked feeders. Other recent visitors have included European Starlings (a winter rarity at my home) and a male Red-winged Blackbird, which linger for only one snowy day.

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David Ramsey

It’s time once again to join the fun for a winter celebration of the Roan Highlands on Saturday, Feb. 13, at the Roan Mountain State Park Conference Center. The event will celebrate Roan Mountain’s grassy balds, rare plants, birds, ancient geology and ongoing conservation efforts. The inclusive event is planned as for all ages, so be sure to bring the kids. Presentations are planned by David Ramsey and Gary Kauffman.

Ramsey is a well-known area conservationist, photographer, and tireless fighter for the protection of the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork tract — now a 2,000-acre Tennessee State Park surrounded by 7,600 acres of U.S. National Forest. Ramsey will present a program on photography being one of the most important items in the conservationist’s toolbox. A native of Unicoi, he was Field & Stream’s 2011 “National Hero of Conservation” and a Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s Stan Murray award winner. Ramsey, whose great-great-grandfather walked these forest paths, brings a generational love to contemporary times on Roan Mountain.

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Photo by U.S. Forest Service                              Gary Kauffman collects seeds for a project for the U.S. Forest Service.

Gary Kauffman is the botanist/ecologist for the National Forests in North Carolina, which covers 1.1 million acres across four forests, the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in the mountains, the Uwharrie National Forest in the Piedmont, and the Croatan National Forest in the Coastal Plain. He will speak on the Roan’s rare plants in the balds and forests and the threats of balsam and hemlock wooly adelgid, beech bark disease, and non-native invasive plants.

Since you’re bringing the kids along, be sure to let them know that Xtreme Roan Adventures will have a table set up for owl pellet dissection. Of course, several afternoon hikes are also on the schedule for this year’s Winter Rally.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                           The annual Roan Mountain Winter Naturalists Rally returns on Saturday, Feb. 13.

During lunch, Amanda “AJ” Smithson, Seasonal Interpretive Ranger at Roan Mountain State Park, will present a program on forests and fields’ edible plants. Smithson is a graduate from UNC Wilmington and NC State with degrees in Natural Resource Management and GIS.
For more information, on this annual event, visit http://friendsofroanmtn.org/winter%20rally%202016%20brochure.pdf

Annual rally will feature programs by educators from Cornell, ETSU

 

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A Common Wood-Nymph photographed in late August in Roan Mountain State Park.

For many naturalists in Northeast Tennessee, heading to Roan Mountain has become an annual trek every September.

Gary Barrigar, long-time director of the Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally, knows that after more than half a century the annual event has become a tradition for many people. For 53 years the Fall Naturalists’ Rally has drawn nature enthusiasts from far and wide to Roan Mountain on the weekend after Labor Day.Top naturalists volunteer their time and energy to make the event both enjoyable and educational for people of all ages.

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Charles Smith

Barrigar said this year’s fall rally will continue to celebrate the natural world by providing two top speakers, retired Cornell naturalist and educator Charles R. Smith and T.J. Jones, an ETSU Behavioral Ecology, Neuroethology and Science educator.

 

Because of the continued support of the Friends of Roan Mountain, all the Naturalists’ Rallies have the resources they need to prosper and grow and the FORM provides support for research and restoration projects on the Roan. Consider joining the Friends of Roan Mountain, if you are not a member. Members get free admission to all Naturalists’ Rally events and our newsletter, “Friends of Roan Mountain.”

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An Eastern Comma suns near a picnic shelter in Roan Mountain State Park.

Barrigar added that many thanks are due to Roan Mountain State Park for its long standing support of the Naturalists’ Rallies, as well as the speakers and the trip leaders who donate their time and expertise.

Evening and lunch programs will take place in Roan Mountain State Park’s Conference Center and field trips will leave from the field on the left before the cabins in the park.

Charles R. Smith will present “This View of Life,” the program for Friday evening. Charles R. “Charlie” Smith was born and raised in Carter County, near Milligan College. He is a naturalist, educator, and conservationist who lives with his wife, Claudia Melin, and their Border Terrier, Brodie, near Ithaca, N.Y. His serious study of natural history did not begin until he was 15 years old, when he joined the Tennessee Ornithological Society, after studying birds on his own for several years.

 

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Fall rallies offer hikes on a variety of topics from salamanders and mushrooms to butterflies and birds.

About that time, he decided he wanted to attend Cornell University. He earned his undergraduate degree at East Tennessee State University, with a double major in botany and zoology and minor studies in geology, meteorology, physical geography, and photography. Graduate studies at Cornell University concluded with his Ph.D. in wildlife ecology. He retired in 2012 from Cornell University, where he served in various administrative, research, and teaching capacities, including Executive Director of the Laboratory of Ornithology, for nearly 40 years. As an advisor and collaborator on science-based conservation, Smith has worked with a number of state and federal agencies. Though an ornithologist for most of his career, his current interests as a naturalist include studying dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies, and vascular plants; and nature photography. Some of his photographs of butterflies were published in Smokies Life magazine in 2012. Currently he is working with a former student on a field guide to the butterflies of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the southern Appalachians.

Smith offered his own description for the yearly brochure put out by organizers of the rally to promote his Friday evening program. “A naturalist can be described as a person whose curiosity about nature is boundless,” he said. “This presentation will examine the history, philosophy, and practice of natural history studies from a number of perspectives.”

Now is a great time to be a naturalist, according to Smith.

“Today, we have more good field guides to help us identify plants and animals than ever before,” he added. “With time, persistence, and self-discipline, detailed knowledge of a group of plants or animals is possible for most of us.”

In addition to the personal satisfaction they provide, Smith noted that natural history studies can guide conservation.

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Cape May atop a spruce tree in Hampton, Tennessee, during fall migration.

“Unless we know what a plant or animal is, where it is found, and how much of it we have, preserving and protecting it can be difficult, if not impossible,” he explained. “We can go beyond just knowing what it is, however, to understanding how plants and animals live, what are their needs, and how we might contribute to their long-term conservation for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.”

He is disappointed by one recent trend in the field of science.

“Ironically, at a time when knowledge and understanding of the needs of plants and animals is more important than ever, it is disappointing that colleges and universities are abandoning the teaching of natural history in the field, and few real field biologists are being schooled,” he said.

Smith said his talk will offer suggestions to help attendees become better naturalists or even be inspired to become a new naturalist. Some of Smith’s photographs will be used to illustrate the talk, and the origin of the title, “This View of Life,” will be revealed at the end of the presentation.

 

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Thomas “T.J.” Jones

Thomas “T.J.” Jones will present “Elegance and Efficiency: Spiders of Southern Appalachia” as the Saturday evening program. Jones also elaborated on his program for the annual brochure on the rally.

“When I was very young I remember my mother carefully catching a spider that had gotten into the house and tossing it onto the back patio, only to have a bird immediately fly down and carry it off.”

The incident was traumatic for a young boy. “My mother comforted me by explaining that the bird was probably going to use it to feed its babies,” he remembered. “Perhaps that was foreshadowing of my future career studying how spiders negotiate the challenges of world in which they are both predators and prey. I have always been fascinated by animal behavior, and through high school and college worked at zoos, aquariums, and even Sea World.”

Jones has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Cleveland State University, where he did research on the morphology of ciliated protists and physiological ecology of garter snakes.

“From there I went on to get a PhD from Ohio State University studying the evolution of social behavior in spiders. I continued that work as a post-doc at The University of Tennessee which is where I fell in love with the southern Appalachians, and I am now on the faculty at East Tennessee State University.”

Jones said his research group takes an integrated approach to studying aggression-related behaviors in spiders.
“We are studying how brain chemistry and circulating hormones regulate behaviors, and how these behaviors affect the spider’s success in nature,” he explained. “We currently have projects exploring social behavior, circadian rhythm, and the effect of environmental contaminates on behavior.

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Spiders will provide the focus for the Saturday evening program by T.J. Jones.

He offered a brief description of his program, which is admittedly about a creature that gives some people the shivers.
“Some say they are beautiful, some say they are terrifying, but most would agree that spiders are fascinating,” Jones said. “Spiders are among the oldest and most diverse group of predators; this is because they are extremely good at what they do.”

His evening program will provide general information on the biology and ecology of spiders including how they use their key adaptations of silk and venom. He will discuss species commonly found in southern Appalachia, including some interesting species which are only found here. Along with photos, there will be live specimens on hand and a guided night hike to follow.

“My hope is that the program will foster appreciation, and perhaps love, for this amazing group of animals,” Jones said.

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An American Redstart photographed in Hampton, Tennessee, during fall migration.

Buffet meals will be served on Friday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m., followed by the evening programs. Reservations are necessary for the meals, which cost $9.50 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Deadline for reservations is Tuesday, Sept. 8. For more information, call Barrigar at 423-543-7576 or email him at gbarrigar@friendsofroanmtn.org.

Mail prepaid meal reservations to: Nancy Barrigar, Treasurer, 708 Allen Avenue, Elizabethton, TN 37643.

For a detailed schedule of hikes, programs and other rally activities, visit http://www.friendsofroanmtn.org/Fall%20Rally%20Brochure%20web%202015.pdf

Fall rally will offer chances to look for birds, explore other natural wonders

Looking for a fun way to get outdoors and see some birds? The yearly Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally is always a great way to enjoy a preview of the imminent autumn bird migration. The three-day rally offers more than birding opportunities, however, and features hikes to look for everything from reptiles, wildflowers and mushrooms to butterflies, moths and other insects.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A curious Gray Catbird peeks from dense cover. Attendees at the fall rally can look for catbirds and other species at any of the offered bird hikes.

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                       A curious Gray Catbird peeks from dense cover. Attendees at the fall rally can look for catbirds and other species at any of the offered bird hikes.

This year’s Fall Naturalists Rally will be held Friday-Sunday, Sept. 5-7. For 52 years the rally has drawn nature enthusiasts from far and wide to Roan Mountain on the weekend after Labor Day. Top naturalists volunteer their time and energy to make the event both enjoyable and educational for people of all ages.

Gary Barrigar, director of the fall rally, noted that the event  continues to celebrate the natural world by providing two top speakers. This year the event will feature naturalist and ecologist Jennifer Frick and photographer Mark Peacock.

Because of the continued support of the Friends of Roan Mountain, Barrigar noted that all the seasonal rallies have the resources  they need to prosper and grow and that Friends of Roan Mountain provides support for research and restoration projects on the Roan.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                       A Horace’s Duskywing is a late-season butterfly that could possibly be found on some of this year’s butterfly walks.

Barrigar encourages people to consider joining the Friends of Roan Mountain, if you are not already a member. Membership provides free admission to all rally events and a subscription to the newsletter, “Friends of Roan Mountain.”

He also expressed many thanks to Roan Mountain State Park for its long-time support of the rallies, as well as to the trip leaders who donate their time and expertise.

Evening and Lunch programs will take place in Roan Mountain State Park’s Conference Center and field trips will leave from the field on the left before the cabins in the park.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                               Wildflowers and butterflies are only some of the topics for hikes and activities at the fall rally.

As always, programs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings.

This year’s rally will kick off Friday with registration at 5:30 p.m. at the Roan Mountain State Park Conference Center. Evening meals will be held at 6:30 p.m. both days. Dinner reservations are required.

On Friday evening, Jennifer Frick will present “Why Is There Such High Biodiversity in the Southern Appalachians?” It’s a question many attendees will probably have asked themselves.  A full professor of biology and environmental science at Brevard College, where she has taught since 1997, Frick will provide some answers to that question.

In January of 2014, she was promoted to Division Chair of Science and Mathematics.  She teaches courses in environmental perspectives, biodiversity and natural history and was awarded the 2003-2004 Award for Exemplary Teaching. She earned her Ph.D. in Zoology from Clemson University in 1995 and completed a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Smithsonian Marine Station in 1996-1997.

For nearly 15 years, she and her husband, Edward Ruppert, lived in a log cabin that they built in Balsam Grove, N.C. They generated their own electricity and lived “off the grid” without a direct connection to the power grid.

Once their son, Fritz, was born, they decided to adopt a more traditional lifestyle and built a “normal” home that does connect to the power grid, but is energy efficient and fits into the landscape.

Frick is working on a book titled “Dreams of Eden” that describes both the skills they acquired in living off the grid and the philosophy they developed in living so close to nature.91g3czbBOxL._SL1500_

Many of the skills necessary to live without modern conveniences were cultivated during a period in which she and her husband lived aboard a sailboat, cruising the Southeast.  Frick has recently published Waterways: Sailing the Southeastern Coast, which relates these experiences. Combining insights from ecology and sailing, she blends travel narrative and nature writing to inspire and educate.

Originally from South Carolina, she grew up with a love of nature and an appreciation for her surroundings.

She has written several scientific articles, most recently on the biology of the Blue Ghost Firefly and the caloric values of native fruits, in such journals as Biological Bulletin, Invertebrate Zoology, and North Carolina Academy of Science. She has also authored two websites for South Carolina Educational Television on the Natural History of the Saltmarsh and the Natural History of the Swamp. From 2001-2005, she wrote a regular column for The Transylvania Times.

As an outgrowth of those newspaper articles, she published a book called Mountain Nature: A Seasonal Natural History of the Southern Appalachians. Illustrated with both color and black-and-white images, it conveys the seasonal change in animals and plants of the region, emphasizing their interactions and unique characteristics.

Her program will focus on describing of the astounding local biodiversity and explaining why this region supports such a profusion of life. It will be illustrated with her photographs, many of which are taken from Mountain Nature.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens            Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are common on the Roan during fall migration.

Born and raised in Morris, Illinois, Peacock moved to the hills of northeast Tennessee in 1995 to attend Emmanuel Christian Seminary following law school and practicing law at his family’s law firm. He was soon hired by Milligan College to teach courses in business, law and ethics. Later he added digital photography to his list of courses offered. His love for photography was instilled in him by his grandfather, who taught him lighting and composition and that, at its best, photography is storytelling. Most weekends, he is out hiking and exploring the area with friends and his dog, Blue – and sharing his discoveries on his blog, “Appalachian Treks,” which seeks to promote this region and its beauty.

His landscape photography has been featured in various local and regional publications and graces the walls of numerous homes, offices and organizations. Recently, his work was featured in photographic shows “Seasons of the Blue Ridge” and “East Meets West” at the Nelson Fine Art Center in Johnson City. He often leads workshops for organizations and individuals, teaching the art and craft of photography. In addition to landscape photography, he enjoys working in the areas of family portraiture, sports photography, and higher education photography. Please  visit his gallery and blog at www.markwpeacock.com for more information.

In his Saturday evening program, he will explore the natural beauty of the Southern Appalachians through his photography. Journey with him as  he shares his landscape photography of many of the well-known scenic attractions of our region along with images of many lesser known, but stunning destinations found in these hills. Along the way, you’ll learn about some of the colorful characters who came before us in these beautiful mountains.

Photo by Bryan Stevens Spotted Jewelweed is a common wildflower on moist, shady slopes of the Roan.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
Spotted Jewelweed is a common wildflower on moist, shady slopes of the Roan.

In addition to the evening programs, a variety of hikes and activities will be held Saturday morning and afternoon, as well as Sunday morning. Visit http://www.friendsofroanmtn.org for a brochure outlining all the available hikes and other programs.

For more information on this year’s rally or FORM, call Barrigar at (423) 543-7576.

••••••

At home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton, I am getting glimpses of the start of fall migration. I’ve seen a few warblers along the edges of the woods and yard, including Chestnut-sided Warblers and American Redstarts. To share an observation, make a comment or ask a question, email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or “friend” me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                    The Aphrodite Fritillary is a fun discovery for butterfly enthusiasts attending the Roan rally.