The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Displaying items by tag: native grass

Monday, 01 February 2021 11:44

Counting birds and taking names at Seven Islands

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Tina Brouwer, left, and Ranger Clare Dattilo look for birds Jan. 3 at Seven Islands State Birding Park.  Thomas Fraser/Hellbender Press

Dozens join annual avian survey at Seven Islands State Birding Park

Kodak, Tennessee — State park interpretive ranger Clare Dattilo led the group slowly but surely across the muddy winter landscape of Seven Islands State Birding Park, taking note of birdsong and investigating undulating flashes of quick color against the backdrop of green cedars and nude tree branches and grasses flattened by the weight of a recent snow.

Even in the dead of winter, woods and fields are filled with life.

The birding park hosted both trained ornithologists and casual birdwatchers to scope out species to include in the annual Audubon Society Christmas bird count. Dattilo was tallying her numbers with a couple of journalists and a long-time friend from college.

Bluff Mountain loomed to the east. The crest of the Smokies, in commanding view on clear days, was shrouded in freezing fog. Ring-billed seagulls flew high overhead while a couple of Carolina wrens chirped in the underbrush.

Bursts of bluebirds and cardinals yielded glimpses of color. Flycatchers and downy woodpeckers concentrated on their rhythmic work amidst the barren winter branches of the huge oaks, hickories and maples that spread across the ridges of the park and into its small hollows. White-tailed deer browsed silently, undeterred and seemingly and correctly unbothered by the birdwatchers.

“The Christmas Bird Count is important because it's a long-running bird census that helps scientists understand the changes in bird populations over time,” Dattilo explained. “This data alerts scientists to possible issues with the health of populations which leads to conservation efforts.” 

The national count has occurred every year since 1900, when conservationists offered a more peaceful alternative to traditional Christmas Day hunting. It has since been billed the longest-running citizen-scientist project in the country.

Published in Air
Monday, 18 January 2021 23:08

Marking points in time: The Hal DeSelm Papers

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 Hal DeSelm takes a break during an outing in the Smoky Mountains in the 1970s.  Courtesy UT Tree Improvement Program
 

A life dedicated to the flora of Tennessee

Dr. Hal DeSelm clambered around the crest of Cherokee Bluff in the heat of a late Knoxville summer 22 years ago. The Tennessee River flowed languidly some 500 feet below. Beyond the river stood the campus of the University of Tennessee Agriculture Institute. The towers of the city center rose to the northeast beyond the bridges of the old frontier river town.

DeSelm was not interested in the views of the urban landscape below. He was interested in the native trees, shrubs, herbs and grasses that clung to the ancient cliffside with firm but ultimately ephemeral grips on the craggy soil.

The retired UT professor, a renowned ecologist and botanist who died in 2011, had been sampling the terrestrial flora of Tennessee for decades. The life-long project took on a new urgency in the early 1990s, when he accelerated his data collection in hopes of writing the authoritative guide to the natural vegetation native to the forests, barrens, bogs and prairies of pre-European Tennessee.

Between 1993 and 2002, DeSelm collected 4,184 data points from 3,657 plots across the state. Many of those plots have since been lost to development, highways, and agriculture, or overrun by exotic species, but he assembled an invaluable baseline of the native landscape. Many of the sites he recorded have since been lost to development.

Published in Earth