OUTSIDE

Hummingbird Hype

The hummingbird needs no introduction since everyone at one time or other has been mesmerized by its bright color, tiny size and amazing aerial abilities.

There are several hundred species of hummingbirds in the world, but only one is found in the eastern US, the Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). It is around 3 inches long and weighs only one-half ounce (hummingbirds are the smallest of the bird world). Both sexes have metallic green feathers and a long, straw-like bill. The male has a metallic red throat while the female has a white throat.

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Kudzu Crud

Normally I am a plant lover kind of guy, but there is a group of foreigners that I love to hate. They are classed exotic invasive plants, and they are determined to take over the world an acre at a time, disrupting native plants and ecosystems as they go. Probably the most notorious and recognized invasive in the south is Kuzdu (Pueraria montana). You don’t have to drive far to find its vines carpeting the ground, trees, buildings, and anything else standing in the way.

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Butterflies Versus Moths

One of the joys of summer is watching bright colored butterflies flutter from flower to flower feeding on nectar. Some moths are also beautiful to see, but most tend to be dull in color and only seen at night. Because of this you probably notice more butterflies than moths, even though there are four times as many moth species as butterflies.

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Independence History: An Appeal to Heaven

It intrigues me how trees are so often intertwined with our culture and history. The July celebration of our Independence is a good time for a history lesson. The Liberty Tree was an elm tree in Boston where protesters of English rule would congregate. It became a symbol of individual liberty and resistance to tyranny, and during the Revolutionary War several flags were designed with a tree that represented the Tree of Liberty. One flag in particular had an important message.

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June Bugs of Summer

Anyone who has picked blackberries is familiar with June bugs, because they'll startle you when you reach in and pick one of them instead of a berry. As a youngster I was taught that June bugs are those large, green backed beetles an inch long that are common during the heat of summer. They can often be seen flying low over your lawn in a zigzag pattern. You will also find them feeding on their preferred foods which includes grapes, berries, apples, and ripening corn.

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The Complex Cicada Song

No doubt you have heard plenty of news stories about the 17-year cicada emerging this year. I have yet to see or hear them in my area yet, but I look forward to hearing the male cicadas’ persistent and often loud chorus. The combined drone of thousands of cicadas singing at once hides the fact that there are three species of cicadas out there, each singing a different song, which chances depending on the proximity to a possible female mate.

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Poisonous snakes in our area

Humans seem hardwired to fear snakes, and it is useful to help us be cautious around poisonous species.
But most snake species found in our area are harmless and perform a useful service of keeping rodent populations in check.
There are two well-known poisonous ones in our woods where caution is advised, though.

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Buttercup: Unwelcome Fields of Yellow

By: Steve Roark
Volunteer Interpreter, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

You have no doubt noted the large swaths of yellow flowers in pasture and hayfields this Spring. Those are buttercups, and while picturesque, are not welcome to farmers because they can poison cattle and take up growing space that should be growing grass.

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Mulching Do’s and Dont's

Mulching around trees and flower beds offers several benefits, such as soil moisture retention, reduced weeding, and keeping yard equipment a safe distance away from plants. Shredded bark is a popular mulch to use, which requires periodic touch up as it gradually decomposes. However, I have seen landscapes where a lot of mulch was routinely added every year whether it was needed or not, creating an overly thick layer of mulch that can injure or even kill the plants you are trying to benefit.

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Dandelion, a Wildflower You Know

By: Steve Roark
Volunteer Interpreter, Cumberland Gap National Park

Everyone knows the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), which is usually found somewhere in your lawn unless herbicides are heavily used. This European import is probably enemy number one on the lawn weed list, but it is still an interesting study, being both an edible and a medicinal.

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The Freeze in the Trees

We had a hard freeze recently at a bad time for some trees, with many just putting out those very succulent and tender new leaves. A number of trees and shrubs got hammered in my yard, totally wiping out all of the leaves, and many forest trees took the same hit. If your trees were impacted too, you may be wondering what all this means in terms of tree health and fruit/nut production.

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The red-tail: King of the hawks

Photo by Harold Jerrell

Photo by Harold Jerrell

While several hawk species spend time in East Tennessee, the red-tailed hawk stays around all year and is the most common one seen.
They prefer to hang out in open fields near woodland edges. Seeing a red tail gliding across the sky and hearing their high-pitched cry gives one a pleasing dose of wildness.
The red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) has a body around two feet long with wide wings that span around 4 four feet, making it the largest hawk we have. The female is a third larger than the male.

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Planting By Nature

Photo By Steve Roark

By: Steve Roark
Volunteer Interpreter, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Our forefathers paid a lot more attention to natural events than we do now. They had no radio, TV, or newspaper to provide weather trends, so they looked to nature to tell them when to plant beans or when to strip hickory bark for chair bottoms. They didn’t know it but they were practicing phenology: the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate, plant, and animal life.

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Roadside Forests

It’s a given that in our mountainous terrain you’re going to see trees while driving down the road. Most of them are growing in natural forests with good soil that supports a wide variety of species. But some trees you see especially close to the roadside are not growing in natural conditions, but on road cuts. These are places where soil and rock were removed to make way for the highway and are plentiful in hilly terrain. Conditions at these sites are harsh for growing things, and yet certain tree species and plants are able to make a go of it.

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Speaking Mountain

If you read my stuff much, you know that I am unabashedly proud to be mountain bred. I love our southern Appalachians mountains. The terrain, the climate, the plants and animals, the culture and history, all blend together to form a unique place to live.

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Redbud: Spring calling card

Volunteer Interpreter, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
One of the more popular trees in the spring is the eastern redbud (Cercis Canadensis), which blesses us with a beautiful bloom of purple pea-like flowers that pop out on the trunk and large branches as well as on twigs. Another common name for redbud is Judas tree, which comes from the belief that Judas hung himself from a Middle Eastern redbud after betraying Christ.

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The Singing of the Frogs

Spring can be pretty noisy around ponds, lakes, water holes, and other moist areas. Male frogs and toads are the minstrels of warm weather, calling out in loud, pleading voices to woo females. Pause and listen to them, for what you are hearing is a love song.

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Arbor Days

The first Friday in March is when Tennessee celebrates Arbor Day, while Kentucky, Virginia, and the nation designate Arbor Day as the last Friday in April. The dictionary defines a tree as "a woody perennial plant having a distinct trunk with branches and foliage at some distance above the ground". This simple description falls short of what a tree is to humans and other life forms. What is a tree? Let me count the ways:

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Snow Colors Beyond Yellow

Snow is normally a dazzling, at times blinding white and we all enjoy the good snow that sticks to all the trees and is a thing of beauty. Snow strangely enough can be other colors at times, the most common being yellow where a dog peed on a tree or a juvenile male human peed his initials in the back yard. There are still other colors of snow that occur on the planet and so here is a rundown of some of them.

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