Happy Thanksgiving. Here’s a Turkey … Vulture


Ijams Nature Center turkey vulture
Happy Thanksgiving! Zoe, a turkey vulture at Ijams Nature Center.

So we’re between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

What better way to celebrate that spot between creepy stuff and turkey stuff than with a turkey … vulture.

This one, Zoe, lives at Ijams Nature Center.

Ijams Nature Center in South Knoxville is not a zoo, per se. The center features a quarry swimming area, boat rentals, trails along the river, a challenge course and outdoor movies.

But if you’re visiting Ijams, you will see some local animals for free at the main visitors’ center. Turtles and fish swim in tanks inside. Outside you’ll find a few birds in enclosures. Among them is Zoe.

Zoe is a turkey vulture, which is a kind of vulture, not a kind of turkey. You can find out more about them on the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s excellent page. Unlike black vultures, who have dark grey heads, turkey vultures have pinkish heads, kind of like turkeys.

Vultures are underrated, to say the least. But I enjoy spotting them both up close and soaring overhead. I would rather live in a world of vultures than one of rotting carcasses everywhere.

While birds of prey specialize in sight, turkey vultures have a keen sense of smell, which they use to spot their (to us) smelly meals.

They have standards though, even if you can’t call them food snobs by our standards. They prefer more recently dead critters to longer rotting ones. Also, they refuse to eat skunks’ scent glands.

Since this is a family time of the year, it’s worth noting that like many birds, turkey vultures feed their children, by throwing-up. They also defend their children … by throwing-up. And in both cases, it’s vomited carrion. Ok, so they’re gross. But it’s striking they’re two bird households, with both parents feeding their young.

Zoe’s a little tamer than her high flying brothers and sisters, as you can see in this picture, although she’s not a bird you can pet or hold without experience. She’s usually behind glass. Say hi to her the next time you stop by.

Both my Dad and I write about turkey vultures and a few other birds, along with other family relations among animals, plants and each other in our book, “Wildly Strolling Along.”

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Fall color on Cateract Falls Trail, Great Smokey Mountains


Upward view on Cateract Falls Trail

People get so focused on straight in front of them or below to avoid tripping on roots that they often forget to look up, especially if it’s not at a mountain.

This weekend is a crowded time at the park. But I encourage you to get out and enjoy the colors and if you enjoy them, the crowds. I again did not have time for a long walk, but rather revisited a short one.

Cateract Falls
Cateract Falls

Cateract Falls edited

As I have written before, the Cateract Falls Trail is an easy, flat hike close to the Sugarland Visitors Center.

 

Clingman’s Dome, Great Smoky Mountains


Ah, Clingman’s Dome, highest point in Tennessee! Climb the tower’s spiraling path above the spruce trees, up to the deck where you can see an amazing view of …

Foggy view from Clingman's dome
… nothing.
Clingman's Dome in the fog
This picture was in color. I swear.

But then, just as we were about to leave a wind whooshed away those clouds giving us this:

 

Sunset at Clingman's Dome, Great Smokey Mountains
This speaks for itself.

 

Clingman’s Dome is a rather odd place. It’s at the crossroads of the Appalachian Trail and a rather uphill but paved path leading up from an overcrowded parking lot. A spiraling path leads to the top of a viewing tower.

Indeed between its benches, its gift shop with cute stuffed foxes, bears and forest critters, and its interpretive signs it’s hard to think of a place less like the wild, narrow and uninterpreted AT.

The signs are unique in that they are bilingual, in English and Cherokee, using the syllable alphabet Sequoyah developed. As they explain the Cherokee found the spot to be a sacred place. Indeed the spot emphasizes the multiple traditions: scientific, Biblical and Cherokee describing the formation of the mountains.

The Cherokee tradition, as I explain in my book Wildly Strolling Along is as follows: a giant vulture shaped the land into mountains and valleys by accident through the force of his wings, feeling very sorry afterward. There’s a certain beauty to that — unintelligent design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Invasive plants and a wig on the trail


As I stated in my last post, on the day of the new Soak Creek section of the Cumberland Trail’s grand opening, many people had come out to walk the new trail.
But one woman, Lisa Huff stayed behind. I passed her as she worked.
IMG_20180929_134535171-3.jpg
She pulled exotic invasive plants out of the ground, specifically, Japanese stiltgrass
a grass that as I explain in my book Wildly Strolling Along came to Tennessee as a packing material. Less flashy in its dominance than kudzu, it still takes over whole forest floors.
But among that bundle was something that belonged in the woods even less: a black, curly wig.

Image result for captain planet wig
At least it wasn’t this guy’s wig.

For those of you not my age or just slightly older, the guy above is Captain Planet, a guy who taught children such as myself not to litter and about other environmental problems through what now seem to me to be enjoyably dumb children’s superhero antics, sometimes even getting the science wrong. He never told us not to throw wigs in the woods though because such a concept never occurred to most people.

As I say in my book about more conventional litter, tires:

“People leave monuments that they intend for future generations to notice, like cemeteries, churches or pyramids. Then there are relics like these, thrown in order to be out of everyone’s way but telling a more honest story for the noticers that spot them.

Yes, I invented the word noticersTM. No, I’m not going to change that in any later editions. It’s the name of a whole chapter. My book. I make the rules.

I won’t go any further. Anti-litter PSAs are a dime a dozen and sadly they haven’t helped.
Anyway, I salute all those who work on the trails we enjoy to keep them clean. May they continue.

Stinging Fork Falls and new Cumberland Trail


Tucked away on a road closed to through traffic, the route to Stinging Fork Falls is probably quiet most of the time.

Not this time, however. Today, thanks to a ribbon cutting and the anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the parking lot was full and I saw many people coming back as I hiked forward.

I recommend the hike to the falls as a fairly short walk with excellent payoff after rain. Granted recent rain also made the trail’s rocks slippery, and the descent is somewhat steep.

The trail continues along Soak Creek in the other direction eventually rising back up. As it’s a new part of the Cumberland Trail, it’s marked by ribbons not blazes but the trail already has stone steps laid down by volunteers. The recent rain meant occasionally crossing cascades and at one point, I even saw a salamander run from underneath a rock.

I did not reach the end of this new Cumberland Trail section. It was built too recently to include in my book Wildly Strolling Along, which I promoted shamelessly to everyone who walked by. Still, I plan to return.

The entrance is on Shut in Gap Road near Spring City.

This page from the Cumberland Trail Conference is outdated, but it shows the trail head and the route to the falls. The new trail heads to the right along Soak Creek while the falls route as shown here is to the left.

Daddy’s Creek Tennessee with Daddy


As summer is refusing to surrender to autumn here in East Tennessee, the Cumberlands are exploding with flowers.

My Dad Larry Pounds and the co-author “Wildly Strolling Along” along with me recently led a group of wildflower lovers to two unique habitats near each other. Both were part of Catoosa Wildlife Management area.

First was a meadow area with a short access road on which we walked. We would stop every few minutes and Dad would get down, examine, give Latin names, sometimes certain, sometimes speculating, surrounded by others who seem drawn like bees to them.

Next we drove down to a “cobblebar,” along Daddy’s Creek, a which is not a place for booze and homemade desserts but rather a rocky area along the banks of a stream. It too had flowers, some growing out of big outcrops.

A pool not too far from the trail entrance is also good for swimming. I was the only one of our party who jumped in, possibly because everyone else was identifying more ferns and flowers. Which far too often, I can’t do.

But I am me. My Dad is himself. Not everyone can name every flower. But maybe you can at least enjoy them.