Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dirty Dancing Hotel & Nature

Yesterday, I led 70 first graders (in 3 separate groups) on a short hike on one of Mountain Lake Hotel's trails. We scared most of the birds away but did get a good look at a robin's nest with the panicked mother nearby and a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. Warblers scattered before we were able to identify or even see them really. The kids also examined several holes and had some pretty exotic ideas of what animal might live in them (dinosaurs, boa constrictor snakes!) instead of the probable chipmunk (small hole) or ground hog (large hole).

Mountain Lake Hotel's elevation is about 4000 feet, almost 2000 feet higher than where I live. Consequently, I can see early spring again as the trees were just beginning to leaf out. Along the trail, we saw a few flowers.

Photo: May 21, 2008

This Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatrum) bloomed in the dappled sunlight. I only find this flower on Mountain Lake's and the Cascades Trails in this area.

After the school children left in the afternoon, I strolled around the grounds. I saw Dark-Eyed Juncos which stay here year round while others have left my place a couple of weeks ago. Barn Swallows swooped across the man-made wetlands area and back to their nests on the porch of the hotel.

Photo: May 21, 2008
The hotel was the location for one of my favorite movies, Dirty Dancing. This view is similar to the first shot of the hotel in the movie.

Photo: May 21, 2008

The gazebo was built for the movie (scene where Baby went to get Johnny to help Penny). It is popular for weddings in the spring and summer. The first graders played a camouflage game here. In the background, you can see the greatly diminished lake. The natural lake is fed by several springs but holes in the bottom drain it. Most times the lake is up due to ample moisture. But, the lake has not recovered from the severe drought even with the recent rains.

Photo: May 20, 2008

Back at home, blackberries are blooming while the shrub is just beginning to leaf out at Mountain Lake. If the rain keeps up, we should have lots of blackberries in July.

Photo: May 20, 2008

The Yellow Poplar trees are also blooming, mostly at the top of the trees. The large flower--3 inches across-almost looks tropical. I didn't see any poplars at Mountain Lake while this is the most common tree we have here on our land.

My nature hike was part of the environmental education programs of Mountain Lake Conservancy which is dedicated to educating people about nature using the lands around Mountain Lake Hotel.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

More Spring Wildflowers

We received another inch of rain since my last post. The trees have filled in completely around our house so we cannot see a view of Walker Mountain. The rain has spawned a fresh crop of ticks, making it risky to go into the woods. I braved it anyway the other day to take some photos of the late spring wildflowers.

Photo: May 13, 2008

This Hoary Puccoon (Lithospermum canescens) is a small plant--no more than 12 inches high. It grows in a stand of Eastern Cedar trees, catching only a couple of hours of sun a day. The flowers are about 1/2" in diameter but with several in a cluster are quite showy against the dark green of the cedar trees. The soil is quite poor and the only other flower there is the columbine.

Photo: May 13, 2008

Wild Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum) is a native sedum that grows in many areas of the woods. I transplanted it once and put it on a sunny, rocky slope. It dried up and died soon after but I was transplanted stonecrop by accident later. I had transplanted a clump of Christmas fern to plant near our house. To my delight, Wild Stonecrop sprouted between the rocks I had placed around the fern.

Photo: May 14, 2008

This close-up photo shows the tiny 1/4-inch flowers. The white flowers against the darkening forest floor remind me of stars twinkling in the night sky.

Speaking of transplanting wildflowers, I have had the most success with geraniums.

Photo: May 13, 2008

The Wild Geranium (Gernanium maculatum) has been blooming for several weeks. I transplanted one plant many years ago and the geraniums have spread to make a 100 square-foot flower bed in a semi-shaded area (as shown in photo). According to Leonard Adkins in Wildflowers of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, the dark lines on the petals of the geranium have an important role in germination.
If you were a bee, these lines would be even more pronounced due to your ability to see ultraviolet light, and would direct you to land on the plant's reproductive parts, to deposit he pollen you picked up from the previous plant you visited, and thus insure the propagation of the species. (p. 158)
Adkins notes that the pollen is blue, rather than the more common yellow. So, the Wild Geranium is a lot more interesting than at first glance!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Barred Owl Encounter

We had severe thunderstorms on Thursday night, receiving about 1 inch of rain. The skies began to clear last evening so I took a walk. As I walked up up a hill, I saw a large bird which flew to a tall poplar. I walked toward the top of the hill and turned around to look again at the poplar since I hadn't seen a bird fly off. As I scanned the tree, I saw the Barred Owl looking back at me.

Photo: May 9, 2008

The Barred Owl is the only owl in the United States that has dark eyes but this one's eyes appeared red because he was facing the sun I suppose.

I watched him for a long time. He only stopped staring when my cat climbed a tree. He then turned his head to watch the cat.

Photo: May 9, 2008

After a few minutes, a Scarlet Tanager flew into another yellow poplar tree. The owl turned its head almost 180 degrees to look at him. I was scared the owl might attack the beautiful bird but no, he did not. I had spotted a pair of male and female Scarlet Tanagers earlier in the week, feeding on the blooms of an oak tree. I was hoping I would see one again.

Photo: May 9, 2008

I went up the hill and then started down this old logging road which was lined with more Yellow Poplar Trees and a blooming dogwood in the distance. It is starting to look like summer already.

Coming back, I noticed the owl had left. I guess he was waiting for me to leave.

Photo: May 9, 2008

When I returned to the house, I noticed an Indigo Bunting below the feeders. I have seen these for a couple of weeks now.

To cap off a nice spring evening, I sat outside to watch the bats fly out of the bathouse which has been on the side of our house for almost 20 years. First, four flew out, then another three for a total of 7 --I think Big Brown Bats. We have had as many of 30 bats in there one summer (with moms and the babies). No matter how many times I watch, it still gives me a little thrill to see them fly overhead. And, I don't mind them eating all the mosquitoes!

The bedroom windows were open last night but I did not hear the Barred Owl as we sometimes do. I read that the Barred Owls mate for life and use the same nest every year. So, I will be looking for the nest which I hope is on our land.