Blue Ridge Parkway Wildflower Report from Virtual Blue Ridge

From the web…

This is the Blue Ridge Parkway Wildflower Report for the week of June 18. An abundance of rain in the region here in late spring has given us full creeks and nice waterfalls tumbling down to the piedmont along with prolific wildflower bloom.

In North Carolina, Doughton Park staff reports the Catawba Rhododendron is fading but nice Mountain Laurel displays are coming on along with Ox Eyed Daisy, Cardinal Flower and Buttercup. Hawkweed and Golden Rod are showy in the adjacent meadows.

Around the Moses Cone Estate walk the trails to find good examples of Spiderwort, Wild Geranium, Ox Eyed Daisy, Flame Azalea, Jack in the Pulpit and the Catawba Rhododendron. Take in the hike across Rough Ridge you’re likely to find Goat’s Beard and Galax, Laurel, some Mountain Ash and Yarrow. Much of the same can be found at the Linn Cove Visitors Center and the Tanawha Trail. Laurel and rhododendron, Little Brown Jug are nice at Beacon Heights.

Further south in the Pisgah District, south of Asheville, Flame Azalea is vibrant, Mountain Laurel are nicely on display. Fire Pink and Buttercup and Yellow Ragwort, Goat’s Beard, Mountain Krigia are making nice splashes of color as you make this drive. Indian paintbrush is on nice display in fields at milepost 437 and Mountain Spiderwort at Milepost 443 at the end of the Parkway, it’s certainly worth the drive.

via Blue Ridge Parkway Wildflower Report for June 19, 2009.

News From Grandfather Mountain

The news has been peculating through the internet all weekend and this announcement is from the Grandfather Mountain Website…

Grandfather Mountain To Become A Not-For-Profit Company

North Carolina Governor Mike Easley and Grandfather Mountain President Crae Morton today announced an agreement whereby the State of North Carolina will purchase approximately 2,600-acres of the Grandfather Mountain backcountry to become North Carolina’s 34th state park.

“The acquisition of this precious gem in our landscape speaks to North Carolinians’ love of this land and a sincere dedication to conservation,” Easley said.

Looking for new ways to guarantee that Grandfather Mountain will remain in its current state forever, the owners of Grandfather Mountain decided that the best way to protect the mountain and assure the public continued access to its peaks would be to convert the company to a 501c3, not-for-profit entity.

To accomplish this goal, Grandfather Mountain, Inc. is selling approximately 2,600 acres of the wilderness backcountry to the State of North Carolina for the purpose of a state park. This acreage is already under conservation easements with The Nature Conservancy.

Grandfather Mountain and the State will have a joint research/management agreement that allows Grandfather rangers continued access to the backcountry for research and to assist in trail maintenance.

Grandfather Mountain, Inc. will also sell to the State of North Carolina an easement on approximately 600 acres that include the Mile High Swinging Bridge, Nature Museum, Wildlife Habitats, summit road and MacRae Meadows.

This easement places legal restrictions on the new 501(c)(3) that allows the property to continue to be used as a nature park, but prohibits any future development that would change the character of the mountain as it exists today. The agreement further protects the atmosphere of the park by placing limits on any future expansion of the buildings and other man-made features at the travel attraction.

“This cooperation between North Carolina State Parks and the new non-profit organization allows for the complete protection and preservation of Grandfather Mountain,” said Morton. “Plus the new 501(c)(3) will have many new avenues to generate revenue to improve and expand the mission of preservation and education.”

Funding for the acquisition will come from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund. The acquisition was arranged with the help of The Conservation Fund and one of its directors, Mike Leonard, and The Nature Conservancy, which holds conservation easements on Grandfather Mountain and surrounding properties totaling close to 4,000 acres.

The owners of Grandfather Mountain took care to see that the agreement specifically covered public access to MacRae Meadows. All activities, events and programs that currently draw visitors to the Meadow such as the Singing on the Mountain and the Highland Games will continue as they have in the past.

The new not-for-profit company will continue to collect park admission fees that will be used to fund its mission: to conserve and protect Grandfather Mountain, and to educate and inspire its visitors.

Easley & Morton Anounce Agreement.

I look forward to my next visit…And wish all involved the best moving forward.

Bluejays

Have you ever watched a Bluejay eat an acorn? Around my home in Texas we have Bluejays year round. Actually, we have more Bluejays in winter than in summer but that’s neither here nor there. The Bluejays in my yard tend to eat acorns they find on the ground. Watching them find an acorn to try is fun but the amusing part is the way they approach opening the shell of the acorn…After selecting the best subject for his attention the discriminating Bluejay takes his selection and flies to a comfortable tree limb out of harms way. Once settled on the chosen base of operations the Bluejay proceeds to pound the poor unsuspecting acorn into submission. Once the hard nut has cracked from the pounding, the hardworking Bluejay is able to enjoy the fruit of his labor.

Then the process is repeated…By a multitude of birds on succeeding days. I have never noticed if the supply of acorns runs out or not, but I suspect there are acorns as long as the birds wish to search for them. I would imagine some of the nuts are from the stash the squirrels hide in the yard all fall and winter long.

As I alluded above, at this time of the year, the Bluejays visit us individually. During the winter months they arrive in the yard in great flocks of upwards of half a hundred or more. They appear to rotate through the yard on a regular feeding circuit they share with the Robins that overwinter here as well. Between the two species, they add a touch of color to an otherwise drab vista out my kitchen window.

June in the mountains – Twenty O’Four


It’s been three years now since this picture was taken up on the top of Roan Mountain. We were a bit early for the full bloom but even what we were in time for was impressive. Every time we go back to North Carolina I try to take the time to run up to the AT and the Garden’s. Even an old fart like me can walk a bit of the AT on the Roan. And the views go on and on and on, even when the ceiling is hanging low and the mists are brushing your hair as you walk.

Roan Mountain is actually a massif, or mountain mass, with two summits. It is part of a ridge known as the Roan Highlands, and is the highest peak in the Unaka Mountain Range. At its lower elevations, vegetation as southern as subtropical orchids can be found. But at the mountain’s height, vestiges from the ice age remain, including wood sorrel (Oxalis montana), witch hobble (Viburnum alnifolium), and green alder (Alnus crispa), a species usually found in New England.

In June, Roan’s open balds burst with the magenta-colored blooms of Catawba rhododendron, which John Fraser designated Rhododendron catawbiense on this mountain during his 1799 expedition. Each plant in the 600-acre spread of natural rhododendron “gardens” might produce as many as 100 flowers.

The combination of heath balds, Canadian-zone spruce-fir forests, and, at lower elevations, hardwood coves, supports more than 1,500 species of native plants, flowers, herbs, trees, shrubs, ferns, club mosses, lichens, and mushrooms. Bird scholar Fred W. Behrend named the snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) when he discovered it wintering on the balds. The area is also home to one of southern Appalachia’s greatest concentrations of threatened, endangered, or sensitive plant and wildlife species, with nearly 30 identified, including Gray’s lily, saxifrages, sedges, the saw-whet owl, and the northern flying squirrel. In 1941, 7,000 acres of this naturally significant area were incorporated into the Pisgah National Forest and Cherokee National Forest.

We have spent a number of hours walking through the Gardens on the Roan. Considering the actual number of hours we have spent exploring North Carolina, there are just a few places that have monopolized our time more. I look forward to eventually sitting on top of the Roan in the winter with the balds covered in snow…Probably wont happen this year, but soon, my friends, soon I’ll be North Carolina Mountain Dreaming for good.

Sherpa Guides are one of my favorite websites when it comes to checking out the natural world of the Appalachians. I spent so much time reading them on-line I finally chased down my own copies through Amazon. Check out the website, they have the full text of the books online. Then go pick up your own copy through the links below…The copies I have were all bought used through Amazon. I saved a few bucks and added some great guides to my bookshelf.

Source: Sherpa Guides | North Carolina | Mountains | Roan Mountain and Roan Mountain State Park

Don’t forget to check out my new blog at Coffee Muses

TGIF – Computer Blues

When I tried to put together this mornings post before I left home the laptop decided to lock up and laugh at me…So it was shutdown and hit the road with my post peculating in the back of my mind. The very first thing I heard on PBS as I was headed down the street I live on was about a major traffic backup two exits past the closest cross street to work. That told me right there not to hurry…so it was off through the country instead of down the freeway. Sadly, my back road trek still got me to within a couple of blocks of the office by 8am, and that’s where I spent 25 minutes trying to finish the trip. You really have to love Houston traffic…Or move.

The weather this morning was really what I consider springlike. It was 61 degrees when I hit the kitchen, so doors open and first cup of the morning while being serenaded by birdsong. The predominant player this morning, as on most here, was our state bird. When you get a half dozen Mockingbirds singing their hearts out to mark their territories, you really have a full chorus going.

I try not to let my political rants get out here very often, but this story in the Washington Post really got me .

The lawyers said any conversations Cheney and the officials had about Plame with one another or with reporters were part of their normal duties because they were discussing foreign policy and engaging in an appropriate “policy dispute.” Cheney’s attorney went further, arguing that Cheney is legally akin to the president because of his unique government role and has absolute immunity from any lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates asked: “So you’re arguing there is nothing — absolutely nothing — these officials could have said to reporters that would have been beyond the scope of their employment,” whether the statements were true or false?

“That’s true, Your Honor. Mr. Wilson was criticizing government policy,” said Jeffrey S. Bucholtz, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department‘s civil division. “These officials were responding to that criticism.”

So there America, as far as your government is concerned, if you criticize this administration they have an inherent right to lie about you or break the law and you, dear citizen, have no recourse. Welcome to Mr. Bush’s Compassionate Conservative America, land of the rich and liars…

Source: Judge Told Leak Was Part of ‘Policy Dispute’ – washingtonpost.com

Here is a photo I took earlier in the week of a moth sitting on the outside of the window beside my seat at the computer…The photo was taken from the inside with the outside lighting showing through.

Have a great day…

Almost through the week morning muse…

I see that even though the Blue Ridge Mountains are having a couple of days of early spring weather again they are looking a bit dry. Checking out Ray’s Weather Page today he closes his forecast with a warning about the lack of moisture and the chance of fires…But with maybe a frost in the forecast, my how nice it must be…coffee on the deck anyone?

Drought conditions continue to worsen in Western North Carolina with no relief in sight. Winter was very dry, and while we have had a few rainy days, Spring has been exceptionally dry as well. We are in the neighborhood of 50% of normal rainfall this year. Going into early summer, dry ground conditions will tend to reduce our normal afternoon and evening shower/thunderstorm activity. Our only hope at this point for drought relief is tropical activity later this summer. Be extremely careful with fire! The forest fire in Linville Gorge a couple weeks ago may just be the precursor of things to come. For more details about drought conditions across the country, see www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html.

Source: Ray’s Weather Center – Valle Crucis – booneweather.com

Kate at Cider Press Hill commented on the fact that the bird population in her area was down and posted on the connection to West Nile. I stumbled across this article this morning at the Washington Post…

Experiments had predicted that certain birds might be especially vulnerable to West Nile infection, and earlier tests on birds found dead on the ground appeared to confirm that some species were suffering a significant toll. But the new analysis is the first to track populations directly, species by species and year after year at the same locations.

It shows that the post-1998 declines were greatest at times and places in which the virus was especially prevalent — as indicated by the number of human infections diagnosed. As expected, American crows were among the worst hit, suffering declines of as much as 45 percent in some regions and wipeouts of 100 percent in some smaller areas. Other species that suffered included the blue jay, the tufted titmouse, the American robin, the house wren, the chickadee and — unexpectedly — the American bluebird.

“These are not the rare, vulnerable populations we think of as being at risk due to introduced species. These are our everyday, backyard country birds,” said Shannon LaDeau, an ecologist at the bird center who led the study with Marra.

Looks like we are in for a rough ride for the next few decades no matter what form of disastrous outcomes floats your boat…Global warming, imported diseases, bugs and plants let loose in damaged ecological niches. They all cause unforeseen consequences we have to live with.

Source: Bird Species Plummeted After West Nile – washingtonpost.com

Here is another shot from Monday. I stopped under the bridge on 1462 over the Brazos River and took this shot. You can tell from the red color of the water that the rains have been falling quite a bit far upstream. The dirt down here isn’t that color. And from the fact that the water is as high as it is, a whole lot of rain must of fallen. Normal water level at this point is probably 20 feet or more lower than this with a lot of sand showing in the bed of the river.
Time to hit the road…Y’all have a great day…

First Friday of NCMD Y2

I stood out in the backyard last evening and watched the weather light show as the severe thunderstorms moved across Houston to the north of here. Lightning rolled through the clouds over two thirds of the sky as the mockingbirds sang in the background. We were far enough away that the thunder didn’t really reach us…just the light. Oh, occasionally you’d hear a low rumble from off in the distance, but there nothing coming through to match the grandeur of the lights…Sometime later in the night we must have finally received some of the rain that was in the storms since the back porch is wet this morning, but our rain didn’t come with a percussion section like the rains to the north.

With a chance of rain forecast for the entire day today the prognosticators seem to thing the temperatures here will manage to stay below those in Boone and Floyd. I stay amazed at this weather year. I went out on Wednesday evening and was amazed at the relative cool as I walked along the bayou behind the house. As I did the suburban grassy thing of riding in circles on a large lawn tractor last weekend I cut my trail along the bayou, so the walk isn’t the obstacle course of reaching spiked canes of rose and dewberry. Also, since the grass is short for a double mower width, you don’t have to pay quite as much attention watching out for snakes. I wil be the first to admit though that in the decade and a half we have been here I’ve only seen two or three snakes on my walks through the woods and fields here.

The one thing I did have on that walk was my first encounter with a “wild” hummingbird. By wild I mean not near a feeder or any other human sort of habitation. Since I didn’t take my binoculars I am not sure of the species as the little thing stayed a good 30 feet or more away the whole time I observed it. It flitted around for a good five minutes checking out the tops of last years dead weed stems.

Bald Cypress in fog out in backyard this week.

Sunday Thoughts

If my posting slows down a bit in the coming weeks, chances are it’s due to a bit of a family crisis coming to a head. Nothing life threatening (at least for now), just parental control running up against teenaged thoughts of adulthood. Youngest daughter has taken the opportunity of her 17th birthday to remove herself from the family household. Seems in Texas even though the law says children don’t become adults until 18, the police do not consider them runaways at 17 unless you suspect foul play. So now we wait to see where this goes…

On a more positive note, it appears the question of what’s happening to the bees is moving into everyday Americans living rooms this week. I heard on the TV this morning that the prime time evening news is making the disappearance the “Disaster of the Week”. That will either move it into the attention span of the average American or make it old news before anyone even has a clue as o what is causing the problem. I must say the possibilities I have seen so far seem a bit far fetched but anything is possible.

The only news out of the Republican “Debate” that really caught by eye was that three of the candidates actually did raise their hands when asked how many did not believe in evolution…How do you feel about these three controlling the budgets for the different departments scientific research? The Department of Education? Just asking…

I better get up and do something…Even if it’s not “the” right thing.

Endangered turtle lays 84 eggs on South Padre | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle

From the local newspaper, this tidbit of environmental news…

The first endangered Kemp’s ridley turtle known to have nested this year on the Texas Coast laid 84 eggs on South Padre Island Tuesday, officials said…

From 1979 through 1996, only 17 Kemp’s ridley nestings were recorded in Texas. Last year, the known Kemp’s ridley nestings on Texas beaches hit 102, more than double 2005’s record of 50.

Source: Endangered turtle lays 84 eggs on South Padre | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle