Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spring Count, April 24, 2010

We have lived through what surely feels like the longest winter ever! Undoubtedly it wasn't but from Christmas through to April 15 seemed to creep through cold, dark, miserable days. Maybe it was because I'd decided to retire. Maybe it was because we don't usually get dreary winters. Maybe it was just age. For whatever reasons, I felt like Spring would never come. Spring means when the back yard dogwood, quince, and redbuds are all blooming at the same time. Here it is almost the last weekend in April and I've mowed once and the neighbors twice, at least. Is that more a sign of Spring? Robins come and go. Waxwings dash through. A warbler here a warbler there.

We are three inches shy in the rain gauge. Even last evening's storm that roared through Mississippi and northern Alabama won't make a dent. What we have so far is snow melt.

Instead of over night lows in the teens the overnight lows are in the low 40s. Soon, in mid-May, the overnight lows will be in the mid-50s and I can put out the orchids for the rest of the summer.

The Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter performed it's spring count on Saturday. This is a quarterly population census of the upper five counties. I was lucky enough to join Don Holt and Diane Draper, Kim Stroud and Joe McGinness surveying Unicoi county. There 37 club members out in the counties. We found 139 species which is not a record and is a little low, I'm told, but not bad. The concensus of the experts is the migrations aren't in full swing yet. Give it a week or two. Other observations by other outdoors folks suggests the same thing. This has been a peculiar spring.

My personal total is now at 70. Big deal? We had six members of our club last year count over 200 species, just in our area and cannot cross over the state in into North Carolina. If you'll locate Carter County Tennessee on google maps you'll see what we're up against and why 200 species is such an accomplishment.

The spring count is not the start of the "season." About mid-March when the weather is supposed to change we begin to see different birds moving in (or out. Buffleheads are gone now.) Some of the early flowers pop up. There is indeed that oft-spoken shaking aside of slumber by the world as it emerges from the cold of winter. The days are a tad longer. Going to work in the sun if just for a moment rather in the dark. You notice these things, don't you, and we respond just like the natural beings we are.

The naturalist rally at Roan Mountain is coming up next. Then a few trips to bird around the country. Then we settle in for a warm, over-white summer. The migration to Rankin Bottoms is already on the calendar. Summer seems to go by too quickly.

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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Watauga Lake Shelter April 2010

One of my favorite hikes is follow the Appalachian Trail from the Watauga Dam Road to the Watauga Lake shelter on the end of the near the dam. If you use google maps to locate "Wilbur Lake Tennessee" you should be able to find the dam in the photo and then follow your nose across the lake but you'll end up in the trees! The hike is two miles, one way. Fairly easy. The hard part is the return hike from the dam to the parking lot. I hiked it on Friday, April 2, 2010, with Kim Stroud, who is a friend and member of the Elizabethton Bird Club, and a two-legged walking guide to flowers.

Clear sky. Light breeze. Record setting warm temperatures. It was a good day to be out on Good Friday.

The forest is still pretty sleepy. You can see a lot of green but it's vine and honeysuckle already making their way towards the sunshine. We found bloodroot, spring beauty, and toothwort blooming. The rest is just waiting for that right moment, like it will overnight, when suddenly everything is greened up. Here in Johnson City the pear trees are out like snow cones. The cherry trees are out. The grass is up. (I mowed some already.) Daffodils, periwinkle, hyacinth are all in full color. The quince bush is bright red.

Once summer gets here it is also very popular. Soon we'll have the first arrivals of the through hikers. Trails Days at Damascus can't be far behind. The distraction is from the lake. If you want your forest to be serene, quiet, perhaps tranquil, this is not the place. For holidays and weekends the lake is boat happy. Motors and loud music. If you want serenity go northbound instead. Just expect an uphill slog that'll take the wind out of you.

But this trip is nice and easy and year around fun (see other postings). If you keep going it's only about 2.5 miles to the swimming area on the far side of the lake from the dam and from there you head trudge further southbound to Roan Mountain.

Directions: Drive up from Wilbur Lake and as you pass where the AT crosses the road, ahead of you on the right maybe 50 yards is the dam access road. Keep on going to the parking lot on your left. Park there and double back to the access road and take it. You'll actually pick up the trail at the top of the hill. The AT will come to you from the right. Most importantly, remember, you are southbound on the AT. Cross the dam, stay the course. and after a while (I have no feel for distances) you cross over a creek (the only creek) and turn right, follow the trail a bit further along the creek and the shelter will be on your right. Look for the trail post marker also on your right.

Don't drink the water. Expect visitors.

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