Feb 26, 2011

they're here

Toothworts sprouted today. Most have a good bit of growing left before they flower, but that will not take long while the days are as warm and bright as today. Soon our woods will be sprinkled with a pinkish white that is the starter's pistol on the wildflower bloom, cutleaf toothwort.

Sure, bloodroot and hepatica can emerge earlier, but their appearance does not foretell spring like Dentaria laciniata. Bloodroot and hepatica are hard to find, whereas toothwort is all over the place. It is the uncurling of their stalks that defines the start of spring, and it was today.

Feb 20, 2011

unexpected nature

Ten Mile Creek runs through the heart of West Knoxville's sprawl, accompanied in segments by a paved greenway. Today I hiked there, and I found it clogged with privet and bush honeysuckle to the point that little else grows. The canopy is native trees, but much of the understory is invaders. Native vines have been crowded out and replaced by honeysuckle and bittersweet.

Recent construction has respected the creek more than a few older developments with flat grades and rubble piled to the lip of the creekbed. Such earth moving restricts the floodplain, raising floodwaters. Sprawl's parking lots, rooftops and roadways allow less rain to soak into the ground. Instead, it finds its way quickly to creeks, which overtop their banks more often.

Scouring along Ten Mile is a culprit in the absence of biodiversity. Much of the seed bank that might have restored native plants after construction was washed away in sprawl-exacerbated floods. The sprawlyburbs are flood-prone by design. That is why it is comforting amid all that ecological damage to see life persevere.

Ten Mile Creek Greenway curls between a fence and an artificial cliff at the edge of the Sam's Club/Walmart complex. The cliff is constructed of wire-baled rocks, but the trees below were not cut, so large tulips, sycamores, hackberries and others butt up against the fake cliff. Below that fence and through the woods, a wetland remains, and I saw ducks in the water.

I stopped to look through binoculars and found two pair of mallards feasting on aquatic plants. I heard a rustling from the leaves on the other side of the fence, looked down and discovered a hermit thrush flipping leaves and hopping toward a rusted shopping cart of uncertain age. Around the next bend I stopped to scan the wetlands from another vantage point and noticed a lump on a limb overhead. It was a sleeping raccoon curled into a cradle of tree limbs.

Nearby I saw a Cooper's hawk fly up from the creek to a low perch. It was probably cleaning itself after devouring a small bird. A few native alders linger in the sea of privet.

Feb 2, 2011

fooling a heron

After a delicious lunch at Sweet P's BBQ on the Stock Creek embayment, I wandered over to the water to see what was around. A song sparrow lurked in the weeds, but mostly I saw great blue herons, about a dozen. Most had staked out a hunting spot, and the few that had not were squabbling over turf with swoops and squawks.

Then the gulls moved in, at least a hundred ring bills. They glided over the water and soon began diving en masse into the water with vigorous plunges. A nearby heron had the same thought I did: they are after fish. The heron excitedly ambled out into the water, right into the center of the flock of gulls, but there were no fish. After a few indignant moments amid plunging gulls, the heron returned to its spot.

I snapped a bunch of photos at the fastest shutter speed the overcast day would allow, and upon inspection I could see the gulls were hitting the water feet first. Gulls have webbed feet, not talons, and when they pluck fish from the water, they grab them with their bill. My guess is the gulls were taking a bath. I'm not sure what the heron thought.