Little red efts were crawling the wet forest floor at Frozen Head State Park yesterday. They’re poisonous to eat but generally won’t bite. They live on the land but they’ve just left the water and will return again.
They’re really just another phase of newts, a flashy youthful stage in which they roam the land.
As I point out in my book they never know their parents, not even as babies.
This was in contrast to me, at age 31, living on my own but still enjoying some time with my parents on a hike at Frozen Head, joined admittedly by 21 people and two other naturalists. Dad, a plant ecologist by degree entertained the crowd by naming and providing facts about the natural world around us, such as the eft and the iris shown below. While at the time our book describes, I wanted to break free of Dad, I realize now, just how good I have it hiking with a Dad who knows so much.
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.”
Fountain City is a neighborhood of Knoxville Tennessee, not a separate town. A recent trip there gave me a chance to mess around with photos of some of our least shy wildlife along with a few domestic Pekings.