Beyond festivals, sandhill cranes pass through Southeast in increasing numbers
BIRCHWOOD — Every year in mid-January, a few thousand people gather here for The Sandhill Crane Festival because the cranes have returned. The community center at Birchwood is filled with vendors selling wildlife art or promoting conservation. The nearby Cherokee Removal Memorial at Blythe Ferry offers a chance to celebrate Cherokee culture and learn the story of indigenous people who were taken from their homes and sent on a long journey to Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, there are opportunities to see and appreciate these amazing birds through February in East Tennessee and beyond.
At least 20,000 cranes gather or pass through Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, having come from their nesting grounds in southern Canada and the upper Midwest to winter here in the American South. Many spend the winter there, but some will continue southward to Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and the Gulf Coast.
Tennessee Aquarium releases endangered sturgeon on a fin and a prayer
CHATTANOOGA — Lake sturgeon are living fossils.
They are dinosaur fish. They have no scales. They are protected by a tough skin with boney plates, and are unchanged for millennia. They are part of a widespread related group of fish, with 23 species worldwide, and are an endangered species in Tennessee.
Tennessee Aquarium staff released some of these dinosaurs into the Tennessee River here on Earth Day, observed this year on April 22. Aquarium staff were joined by 30 students from Calvin Donaldson Elementary School and the public to release 65 juvenile lake sturgeon into the Tennessee River at Chattanooga’s Coolidge Park.
Poignant plastic-waste art exhibit washes ashore at Tennessee Aquarium
CHATTANOOGA — Visitors to the Tennessee Aquarium will see a dire warning in the guise of colorful art crafted from plastic debris at a unique exhibit beginning April 16.
Washed Ashore is an Oregon-based nonprofit organization dedicated to repurposing plastic waste through artists and sparking conservation conversations. The Tennessee Aquarium will host an exhibit of its sculptures and collages.
Those who walk ocean and lake beaches see the accumulated debris. Some may try to ignore it. Others may abandon their favorite places for recreation and relaxation because they can no longer bear the unsightly wreckage. Plastics impact every living creature.
MONTEAGLE — Naturalists and nature lovers are invited to South Cumberland State Park April 8-10 for the Trails and Trilliums Festival sponsored by Friends of South Cumberland State Park. The Dubose Conference Center will be the base of operations for activities throughout the park.
Registration opens at noon April 8 with activities for those who arrive early, followed at 5 p.m. by Wine and Wildflowers, a kickoff event featuring author David Haskell. In 2012, “The Forest Unseen” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction. Haskell is expected to speak about his latest book “Sounds Wild and Broken” released by Penguin Random House on March 1.
The rest of this weekend-long celebration of nature and education will feature activities throughout the park and the community. From Foster Falls to Savage Gulf and Sherwood Forest, participants will enjoy bird walks, wildflower walks, nature journaling and sketching, and a university herbarium and greenhouse tour. The Saturday evening star party is sure to be a hit, weather permitting.
Find a full schedule and registration information at Trails and Trilliums.
So you want to be a citizen scientist? There’s a new app for that!
The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute wants to assess the status of various fish populations throughout the Southeast so it released a new app to help outdoor folks and anglers identify the fish they spot, report the sighting, and enter their discoveries into a regional fish database.
The Freshwater Information Network (FIN) accepts and includes data for three major watersheds: The Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, and Mobile Bay.
Tennesseans may be familiar with the two rivers, but may think of Mobile Bay as a distant place with no connection to them, but its headwaters touch Tennessee in the Conasauga River. With its geographic isolation, the Conasauga is home to species of fish found nowhere else in the world.
Not just for preppers anymore: Chattanooga energy-independence event promises three days of music, learning and fun “powered by the sun.”
“A decade ago, the cost of the equipment needed to live off the grid limited the experience to the wealthy few. Presently, and in the near future, the technology is far more widely available to even modest income homesteaders. These days, you can’t afford NOT to get off the grid.” - Bill Fleming
The Chattanooga and Middle Tennessee areas are among the top producers of electric cars in the nation. What better place to facilitate and celebrate the growing use of alternative fuels?
This summer’s Get off the Grid Fest near Chattanooga is a phenomenon with roots in the alternative energy movement of past decades. Today, it offers a strong vision for attaining energy independence and building sustainable communities for the present and future.
The latest installment of the festival is set for the weekend of Aug. 20-22 at Camp Jordan in East Ridge.
Bill Fleming and Ed Witkin are bringing the traveling, biennial festival to East Tennessee this year. They are musicians and festival organizers and have been promoting and installing alternative energy technology for decades. The events are billed as ways “to explore and present practical methods of protecting and preserving our natural resources,” according to organizers, with a focus on harnessing alternative energy sources.
The celebration of energy independence — and ways to achieve it — will include three music stages; a curated art exhibit; an electric vehicle exposition; a sustainability fair with workshops such as homesteading demonstrations; and a health and wellness tent.
“EVX is Tennessee’s first multi-day music festival/exposition showcasing the latest in electric vehicle products, components, and services,” said McCord, the owner/operator of B Presents, a Nashville-based company that provides concert and event promotion, entertainment marketing, and promotional services.
The Electric Vehicle Expo will include vendors across the entire EV spectrum, including OEMs, dealers, and suppliers for a full weekend of presentations, test drives, workshops and guest speakers.
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Dollywood joins Tennessee Aquarium effort to limit the introduction of cigarette butts to our shared waterways.
“As all humans need access to clean water, it’s an incredibly important treasure to protect.” — Dr. Anna George, Tennessee Aquarium vice president of conservation science and education.
Cigarette butts are everywhere, and are perhaps so familiar they go unnoticed by the millions of people who pass them on our streets and roads.
Not only are they unsightly, they contaminate our water resources — the puddles after a sudden rainstorm, the streams that flow through our landscapes, and the stormwater drains that ultimately lead to the Tennessee River. The butts quickly break down, polluting water with “tiny plastic fibers and a devil’s cocktail of chemical compounds,” according to the Tennessee Aquarium.
Restoring wings to rise above the Earth again
“I think the most amazing and rewarding thing about raptor rehab is taking a bird that's literally at death's door to a full recovery and then releasing her back to her wild home.” Alix Parks, Wildlife rehabilitator
Alix Parks became a certified wildlife rehabilitator 25 years ago. Her new career was sparked by a class in wildlife rehabilitation at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga taught by Debbie Lipsey.
Parks also counts Lynne McCoy and Katie Cottrell of the Clinch River Raptor Center as early mentors. At first, she prepared food for the animals and worked with any animal brought to her. She is now a certified rehabilitator and has specialized in birds of prey for 16 years.
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MTSU researchers document hellbender’s accelerating decline in Middle Tennessee
(Author’s note: I was aware of the hellbender before interviewing Brian Miller, but did not know the giant salamanders were present on the Highland Rim of Tennessee. Subsequent reading and interviews with other researchers, including Dr. Bill Sutton at Tennessee State University, Nashville, confirm Miller’s statements that hellbenders are vanishing from large portions of Tennessee, and Missouri. The healthy populations in portions of the Great Smoky Mountains and Cherokee National Forest may be an exception to a general trend toward extirpation and, ultimately, extinction).
Brian Miller has been researching hellbenders for decades. He serves on the faculty of Middle Tennessee State University where he teaches in the biology department and mentors younger researchers, many of whom publish their research.
He has even developed a digital “Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Middle Tennessee.” The guide began more than 30 years ago as a dichotomous key for students in his vertebrate zoology class and now includes hundreds of photographs and exceeds 400 pages.
Dr. Miller researches the hellbenders of the Highland Rim, the upland that surrounds Nashville and the Great Basin. Populations of hellbenders in streams of this region are perhaps Tennessee’s most endangered.
QUESTION: I noticed that you specialize in herpetofauna. Most of the research listed on your faculty page is focused on amphibians, but with some papers on snakes. Can you comment about your research?
ANSWER: You are correct that amphibians are my primary research interest, particularly salamanders. However, I also have strong interests in reptiles, and my students and I have conducted research on various species of snakes and turtles.
When did you become interested in hellbenders?
Hellbenders have been of interest to me since I first encountered them while enrolled in a course on herpetology at the University of Missouri in 1977. I was fortunate that the professor of that course, Dean Metter, was involved with research on hellbenders and I began to assist with his research in 1978, in collaboration with Robert Wilkinson at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri.
Chris Petersen was working on his master’s degree with Dr. Wilkinson at that time and he matriculated to the University of Missouri a couple of years later to start on his Ph.D, which was also with hellbenders. Chris and I spent time in the field gathering data for his Ph.D. project until I moved to Washington State to work on my Ph.D.
I was hired into the biology department at Middle Tennessee State University in 1989 and began working with hellbenders in this state in 1990. At that time, I was able to locate populations in several rivers in Middle Tennessee, including a large population in the Collins River. I decided to concentrate my efforts on this population and one in the Buffalo River.
Of note, the population I worked with in the Collins River was dominated by large adults, whereas the population in the Buffalo River consisted of many age classes, including young individuals.
The Collins River situation was like what I was familiar with in Missouri and Arkansas populations. Unfortunately, by the early 2000s the population I was working with in the Collins River was gone; however, populations remain in the Buffalo River. My research with hellbenders during the past decade has been concentrated in streams in the Western Highland Rim.
Do you work with both subspecies, the Ozark, and the Eastern hellbender?
I worked with both subspecies while a student at the University of Missouri when assisting with projects in the Metter lab, but since I moved to Tennessee, I have worked only with Tennessee populations.
What do you perceive as the greatest threats to hellbender populations?
I am not certain why most populations of hellbenders are in decline rangewide, but suspect that habitat alteration, including sedimentation, and disease are involved in many if not all areas where declines are occurring. Lack of recruitment of young is a common theme of populations that decline.
New hellbender exhibit at Chattanooga Zoo will serve as a hub for cooperative research
Thanks to grants from two generous organizations, some oft-elusive hellbenders have a new home at the Chattanooga Zoo. The Hiwassee Education and Research Facility is nearly complete, and it features hellbender exhibits and a classroom. The exhibit includes juvenile hellbenders hatched from eggs collected from the Duck River in central Tennessee in 2015.
The zoo is also fabricating a stream environment exhibit that will house nine larger sub-adult hellbenders, each about 10 years old and 14.5 inches long. Visitors can observe hellbenders feeding in the completed exhibit, but it will be open only during limited hours. After the project’s completion, the zoo plans to partner with researchers who hope to learn more about hellbenders.
“The Chattanooga Zoo is thrilled at the introduction of its new Hiwassee Hellbender Research Facility,” zoo officials said in a statement to Hellbender Press.
“We believe that this new facility will open rare opportunities for guests to be educated on this otherwise elusive native species, and that the project would lead to important strides made in hellbender research.
“From all of this, our hope is for more conservation efforts made in our local waterways, also known as the eastern hellbender’s home.”
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