The Photography of D L Ennis, and more!


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Review: Birds of Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park: A Field Guide

Birders today have a wealth of bird guides and other identification material to use on their trips into the field and for home study. Even as North American guides have continued to expand their coverage and have become more sophisticated, there has continued to be interest in guides with a narrower, more regional focus. A newly-published field guide profiles the bird species of a region close to me: Birds of Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The book was written and organized by Ernest Preston Edwards.

As Edwards explains in his introduction, the Blue Ridge is an interesting area ecologically due to its rapid changes in elevation. Variations in the landscape encourage avian diversity. While southern bird species inhabit the lower elevations, a few miles away one may find some northern species at the tops of the ridges. Several species can be found breeding in the Mid-Atlantic at such higher elevations. There have been 336 species recorded in the area covered by this book.

Aside from a brief introduction that includes maps of the book's coverage and a diagram of bird topography, the bulk of the book consists of species accounts and plates. The descriptions and plates accompany each other on facing pages. Species accounts include the English and scientific names, a brief description of characteristic plumages, and notes on habitat and locations to find the species. Specific locations are rarely given; the note simply states whether to look along Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Rare species and vagrants are placed at the very end of the book, for reference and to signal that these are relatively unlikely. There are no range maps. In a continental guide, the lack of maps would be a major drawback, but in a small regional guide, they are probably unnecessary.

The illustrations are mostly reprinted from a work by the same principal author and illustrator: A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Adjacent Areas. A small number were contributed by Ramiel Papish and F.P. Bennett. The authors chose to use painted illustrations rather than photographs. While photographic guides have been improving lately, especially with the publication of highly-detailed guides to specific familes, illustrations are still largely the best choice for general field guides that cover all species in a given area. The illustrations are competently done and show the salient markings. Male and female forms are shown for sexually dimorphic species, and immature forms are shown for species where there is a major difference from adult plumages. While most illustrations are in color, some - particularly among the loons, grebes, some raptors, gulls, and terns - appear in black-and-white. For these species shape and pattern are generally more important than color.

This guide's illustrations do not quite measure up artistically to those in the Sibley guides, which have set the standard for illustrated field guides. The colors in the illustrations tend to be duller than Sibley's. They are more in line with those in the National Geographic guide. Some birds also seem slightly misshapen. This is especially noticeable among the thrushes. Other family groups, such as the woodpeckers, are much better.

With all of the field guides to North American birds that already exist, one might reasonably ask if another one is really necessary. Someone who does a lot of travelling or demands a high level of detail for the tricky species and subspecies may be better off looking elsewhere. However, this guide will be of use to at least three groups of birders. Beginning and some intermediate birders who watch birds primarily in the southern Appalachians will find this guide useful because it narrows identifications down to the most likely species. One of the challenges of starting out birding is making such distinctions between common and rare birds. Since the guide is very small and lightweight, it can easily be carried into the field. For that reason, it may be good for backpackers who need to reduce weight as much as possible. While the guide is marketed for birders in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia, birders in the Mid-Atlantic region outside of the Appalachians may use this book profitably. Most species found in the Blue Ridge are present in other areas at one time or another during the year, and vice-versa. Unless you do a lot of birding along the shore, the regional focus should not be an obstacle.

Full citation:

Ernest Preston Edwards, Birds of Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park: A Field Guide. Illustrations by Edward Murrell Butler, Ramiel Papish, and F.P. Bennett. Blacksburg, Virginia: McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, 2006. Pp. x, 142; maps, illustrations, checklist, and index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 0939923963.

To purchase:


Crossposted at A DC Birding Blog.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Migration of the Monarch

In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where I live, monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) made their first appearance on their migration south about a week ago. There are many butterfly bushes in my gardens that are still blooming and they have been covered in monarchs all week.

Eastern populations of the monarch winter in Florida, along the coast of Texas, and in Mexico, and return to the north in spring. Monarch butterflies follow the same migration patterns every year. During migration, huge numbers of butterflies can be seen gathered together.

Milkweed is the chosen plant of the monarch; actually, the monarch butterfly is sometimes called the "milkweed butterfly" because its larvae eat the plant. In fact, milkweed is the only thing the larvae can eat! If you'd like to attract monarchs to your garden, you can try planting milkweed.

Most predators have learned that the monarch butterfly makes for a poisonous snack. The toxins from the monarch's milkweed diet have given the butterfly this defense. In either the caterpillar or butterfly stage the monarch needs no camouflage because it takes in toxins from the milkweed and is poisonous to predators. Many animals advertise their poisonous nature with bright the vein of the monarch!

Unlike most other insects in temperate climates, monarch butterflies cannot survive a long cold winter. Instead, they spend the winter in roosting spots. Monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains travel to small groves of trees along the California coast. Those east of the Rocky Mountains fly farther south to the forests high in the mountains of Mexico. The monarch's migration is driven by seasonal changes. Day-length and temperature changes influence the movement of the monarch.

In the entire world, no butterflies migrate like the monarchs of North America. They travel much farther than all other tropical butterflies, up to three thousand miles. They are the only butterflies to make such a long, two way migration every year. Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roosts, often to the exact same trees. Their migration is more the type we expect from birds or whales. However, unlike birds and whales, individuals only make the round-trip once. It is their children's grandchildren that return south the following fall.

Some other species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) travel long distances, but they generally go in one direction only, often following food. This one-way movement is properly called emigration. In tropical lands, butterflies do migrate back and forth as the seasons change. At the beginning of the dry season, the food plants shrivel and the butterflies leave to find a moister climate. When the rains arrive, the food plants grow back and the butterflies return.

If you live south of Virginia and have been waiting for the monarchs to pass through your area, keep looking, because if they have not already reached you they will soon.

If you would like to know more about monarch butterflies visit, Monarch

If you would like to learn how you can attract monarch butterflies to your area and in doing so help insure that they can make the arduous migration visit the, Monarch Waystation Program. Monarchs need our help! Get involved in monarch conservation by creating a Monarch Waystation.

Images by D L Ennis


Monday, September 25, 2006

Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #24: Swainson's Thrush

Like spring migration, fall migration proceeds in stages, each bearing different sets of species. The birds one sees on the morning after a cold front will be much different in late September than in early September. In the thrush family, most veeries pass through the D.C. area during early September. By late September, most veeries have departed, and the Swainson's thrushes and gray-cheeked thrushes are on the move. Sunday was a good day for spotting Swainson's thrushes, as I saw several of them at the National Arboretum in D.C.

Swainson's thrush is a member of the genus Catharus. Thrushes of this genus are small and brown with some degree of breast spotting. Most Catharus thrushes are noticeably smaller than American robins and slightly smaller than wood thrushes. Similarities in shape, size, and plumage make this the most challenging North American thrush genus, even though it is fairly easy to distinguish Catharus thrushes from other genera in the thrush family.

The most distinctive of eastern Catharus thrushes is probably the Swainson's thrush. The key field marks are on the face of this species. Swainson's has prominent buffy eye rings. A buffy line over the bill connects the eye rings so that the bird appears to wear spectacles. Now one field mark is not enough to base an identification, so make sure to check the back and breast even on bespectacled birds. The back, wings, and tail should be a cold grayish brown with no hint of rufous; from the rear a Swainson's thrush should resemble gray-cheeked more than hermit or veery. The breast should be covered with small dark spots on a buffy background; the spots are less heavy than a wood thrush but bolder and darker than a veery. The spots and buffy wash extend from the throat about halfway down the breast. Put these marks together, and you have yourself a Swainson's thrush.

Swainson's thrushes breed in a wide band across southern Canada and the northernmost states of the United States, including the Appalachians in upstate New York and Vermont. Very few spend the summer at the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge. Though they prefer spruce woods for breeding, Swainson's thrushes can be found in any type of forest and even some edge habitats during migration. The birds we are seeing now are on their way to the Andes of western South America.

Image credits: Top, Photo by NPS; Bottom, Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.

Crossposted at A DC Birding Blog.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Banned Books Week September 23-30 2006

“[I]t’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.” — Judy Blume

"Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."—Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas," The One Un-American Act." Nieman Reports, vol. 7, no. 1 (Jan. 1953): p. 20.

Observed since 1982, this annual ALA event reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted. Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read is observed during the last week of September each year. This year, 2006, marks BBW's 25th anniversary (September 23-30).

BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met.

One of the most challenged titles includes the “Harry Potter” series of fantasy books for children by J.K. Rowling. Some parents, among others, believe the books promote witchcraft to children. However, the “Harry Potter series has probably done more to get children reading than any other books published since the 1950’s. How can this be a bad thing?

Other “Most Challenged” titles include: "Fallen Angels" by Walter Dean Myers, for racism, sexual content, offensive language, drugs and violence; “It's Perfectly Normal,” a sex education book by Robie Harris, for being too explicit, especially for children; "King and King" by Linda de Haan, for homosexuality; and “We All Fall Down” by Robert Carmier, for offensive language and sexual content.

Atop the 2004 most challenged book list is "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier. Here are some complaints according to the American Library Association's (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“The book drew complaints from parents and others concerned about the book's sexual content, offensive language, religious viewpoint and violence.”

Also three of the 10 books on the "Ten Most Challenged Books of 2004" were cited for homosexual themes; the highest number in a decade. Offensive language and sexual content are the most frequent reasons given by those seeking removal of books from schools and public libraries.

The most frequently challenged, are:

"The Chocolate War" for sexual content, offensive language, religious viewpoint, being unsuited to age group and violence

"Fallen Angels" by Walter Dean Myers, for racism, offensive language and violence

"Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture" by Michael A. Bellesiles, for inaccuracy and political viewpoint

Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, for offensive language and modeling bad behavior

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky, for homosexuality, sexual content and offensive language

"What My Mother Doesn't Know" by Sonya Sones, for sexual content and offensive language

"In the Night Kitchen" by Maurice Sendak, for nudity and offensive language

"King & King" by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, for homosexuality

"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou, for racism, homosexuality, sexual content, offensive language and unsuited to age group

"Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck, for racism, offensive language and violence

Banning of books is goes against one of our most basic freedoms and cannot be condoned. Do your part by visiting the ALA and making use of their promotional information. And, join the Blue Ribbon campaign.

First Amendment Basics

“Congress Shall Make No Law Respecting an Establishment of Religion, or Prohibiting the Free Exercise Thereof; or Abridging the Freedom of Speech, or of the Press; or the Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble, and To Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances.” — First Amendment

For more information on “Banned Books Week,” visit the American Library Association website.

Seeking to Boost Travel on Blue Ridge Parkway

Image by D L Ennis, Blue Ridge Parkway

Visitors have been coming to the Blue Ridge Parkway in smaller numbers and now a business group is stepping in to help.

The group is planning a promotional campaign to get motorists back on the scenic mountain drive.

Angie Chandler is president of the Blue Ridge Parkway Association. The group won the $438,000 federal grant for the campaign.

The association, which includes more than 600 businesses and travel groups in Virginia and North Carolina, will use the money to buy ads, upgrade its Web site and promote the parkway at trade shows.

The number of people driving the road dropped to 18.67 million last year from a record 23.48 million in 2002.

Source: WTVD

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Artists Communities in the Blue Ridge

Image: by Woody McKenzie, Musician and instrument maker in Lynchburg, Virginia

The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina are rich with art and artists of diverse disciplines and talents. Although there are smaller pockets of artist communities along the mountain range, there are three major art communities of note.

Art in Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina is an attractive area to hip and creative young people as well as to hip and creative retirees. Asheville has been listed in both Rolling Stone and Modern Maturity as an ideal place to live or visit. The open and accepting character of the city is evidenced by the many lifestyles and beliefs that coexist peacefully there.

The art scene is especially active, and Asheville has become a mecca for potters, painters and musicians, with much of the current creativity inspired by the folk art and old ballads of early Scottish, English and Scots-Irish settlers.

Art in Asheville online:

Art in Lexington, Virginia

Lexington, Virginia is a fairly small city compared to Asheville but is stuffed to the gills with talented artists.

Lexington offers an art gallery walking tour through the city‘s historic downtown district. The tour consists of eight fine galleries within easy walking distance of one another. Although the galleries are all located in the heart of downtown Lexington, there is no mistaking that each of them has their own artistic style and spirit. You will discover everything from local art and hand-made jewelry to contemporary black and white photography and traditional Chinese paintings. In addition, many local restaurants and shops often have temporary art exhibits that showcase local and regional artists. Take a leisurely stroll through the art galleries and enjoy the history and culture that make Lexington a special place and artist’s community.

The Art in Lexington brochure and locator map can be found at the Lexington Visitor Center (106 E. Washington Street).

From I-81Take exit #188B. Follow Rt. 60 west. At the 4th stoplight (Lewis Street) turn right. Lewis Street will curve around to your left and turn into Washington Street. The Lexington Visitor Center is on the right.

From I-64Take exit #55. Follow Rt. 11 south. As you go over the Maury River Bridge Rt. 11 will split. Merge to the right (Rt. 11 Business). As you come into downtown Lexington turn left on Washington Street. The Lexington Visitor Center is 2 blocks down on the left.

Admission: FREE

Hours: The Lexington Visitor Center is open daily 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (8:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m. in June, July and August). The hours at the art galleries vary, but are primarily Monday-Saturday 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Art in the Shenandoah Valley

Last but not least are artists of the Shenandoah Valley. A beautiful and well known area for its history, Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive, many wineries, the Shenandoah Valley is also rich in art and talented artist of nearly every genre.

The Shenandoah Arts Council is a 501(c)3 non profit organization working to foster awareness and appreciation of the community's diverse cultural heritage, showcase local artists and art organizations, and strengthen arts education in the community.

The Shenandoah Arts Council's facility provides:
A Gallery for the visual arts
A venue for the performing arts
A stage for children's theatre, music, drama and dance
A venue for showing classic films to audiences of all ages
A place for authors and poets to share their work
A forum for lectures and special programs
A site for arts receptions and events
A place for arts organizations to meet
Studio and workshop space for artist, musicians and writers

The SAC Gallery is Open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10-3, Fridays and Saturdays, from 11-3 and Sundays from 1-3.

The Shenandoah Arts Council's facility is at 811 South Loudoun StreetPH: 540.667.5166 FX: 540.667.3395

Art in the Shenandoah Valley online:

Also visit:
5906 Main Street
(U.S. Route 11)Box 676 -
Mt. Jackson,VA 22842
Telephone: (540) 477-4131

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #23: Red-eyed Vireo

On Sunday I attended the DC Audubon Society's annual September field trip to Rock Creek Park. For those not familiar with the area, Rock Creek Park is the hotspot for migratory songbirds in Washington, DC. Picnic areas 17/18 on Glover Road and the maintenance yard are particularly productive.

On Sunday, the most common neotropical migrant was probably the red-eyed vireo. Every tangle of vines, every tree, and every bush seemed to have a red-eyed vireo hopping in and out of the foliage. Other birders estimated that there were about 30 red-eyed vireos around the ridge, maintenance yard, and nature center that day.

Red-eyed Vireo / Painting by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Red-eyed vireos reported in D.C. during the fall are a mixture of local breeders and migrants from up north. This species breeds as far north as the Yukon Territories in western Canada; in the east it ranges up to the southern half of Ontario and Quebec. In the mid-Atlantic, red-eyed vireos are widespread and common breeders. Throughout the summer one can hear their simple three-syllable songs echoing from high in the canopy. Even in the middle of the day, red-eyed vireos will keep singing: "Here I am. In the tree. At the top. Can't see me." All red-eyed vireos, whether they bred in D.C. or farther north, are on their way south to their wintering grounds in northern South America.

In the flurry of drab birds that make up fall migration, it is helpful to be able to recognize red-eyed vireos. Being able to confirm or eliminate red-eyed vireo quickly will help one to pick out other, less common, migrant species that share the red-eyed vireo's drab coloration. Within the vireo family, warbling vireo and Philadelphia vireo are superficially similar in their facial markings and drab backs. However, the eyebrow and eyeline of both species are far less bold than on a red-eyed vireo. A warbling vireo tends to be browner than a red-eyed vireo's olive-green back. Philadelphia vireos have clearly yellow throats and undersides, as well as a shorter tail.

Outside of the vireo family, red-eyed vireos may be confused with Tennessee warblers. Like red-eyed vireos, Tennessee warblers show gray heads, olive backs, and light undersides. However, one can usually tell the difference by the bill, which is hooked for vireos but straight and sharp for warblers. In addition, while Tennessee warblers have white eyebrows, they lack the bold black eyeline that distinguishes red-eyed vireos. Tennessee warblers also have shorter tails.

Get out and enjoy the challenge of fall migration while it is with us. Several species pass through in good numbers at this time but not at others. A cold front has just passed through the D.C. area, and we are sure to get a few more before all the warblers have passed. But time is short; by mid-October most of the warblers, and the red-eyed vireos, will be gone until next spring.


Monday, September 18, 2006

The Beauty of Autumn in the Blue Ridge

The waning days of summer have been wonderful here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The heat and drought of midsummer have given way to cooler temperatures and ample rain and the rivers and creeks have been up enough to make canoeing and kayaking interesting.

However, tourism has been down and I imagine that when the numbers come in we will find that Blue Ridge Parkway visitation will be at record lows. The cost of gasoline has likely been responsible for lack of tourism this summer and as a result many of the regions entrepreneurs, many self-employed crafts people and artists, will be looking at a belt tightening winter.

With autumn approaching and the weather cooling it is the ideal time to head for the Blue Ridge. It’s hard to beat the autumn show of the delicious deciduous waves of reds, oranges, yellows, purples greens and tans that roll across the Blue Ridge Mountains in fall. Our lush Blue Ridge Mountain range puts on one of the longest-running color displays in the country.

As a rule, the number one question is: “When is the peak color?” No matter when you plan an autumn visit in October or early November, you can take a short drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway to find the best color. Elevation is the biggest factor in the color show. Weather patterns and temperatures can speed or slow the process. Here is our best guess of the progression of the color show:

*October 5-15: Highest elevations north of Asheville above 5,000 feet show the most color.

*October 13-22: Color will increase in elevations greater than 4,000 feet.

*October 19-28: There should be plenty of color this week, especially in the 3,000-4,000 foot elevation range.

*October 24-November 3: At the 2,000 foot elevation you’ll find the brightest colors this week.

*October 29-November 8: The color show will conclude in areas with an elevation of 1,300 feet.

Another reason for an autumn visit: the many events and festivals that abound during October, including the many Autumn Harvest festivals along the expanse of the Blue Ridge.

When you come to the Blue Ridge Mountains this autumn don’t forget to bring your Christmas list and visit some of the crafts people and artisans of the region to pick up unique gifts for you special friends and family!

All images by D L Ennis


Sunday, September 17, 2006

It’s Getting Hot Out There – Or Is It?

Image by D L Ennis

Article by Dave Perault

You’ve heard the buzz words: greenhouse effect, climate change, global warming, sea level rise. As the heat of summer approaches, you’ll hear them even more. These topics underlie one of the most controversial environmental debates today, with even scientists arguing back and forth, and politicians unable to take a stand. Here, we’ll review the facts, discuss the fiction, and dispel the myths. Although the relevance of this debate is not limited to the Blue Ridge Mountains, its implications may certainly affect both the environment of this region and those that live within it.

First, the greenhouse effect is a real and natural phenomenon (although a bit of a misnomer as a true greenhouse actually functions slightly differently – but that’s another story). Without it, our planet would be too cool to sustain life as we know it. The mechanism underlying the greenhouse effect is actually quite simple. The sun emits shortwave radiation in the form of light. This light passes through our atmosphere and strikes the planet’s surface. The surface then absorbs this radiation and re-radiates it in the form of longwave radiation or heat (if you’ve ever walked barefoot along a beach during a sunny day, you’ve experienced this). Finally, due to the structure of some atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane, this longwave radiation is unable to completely pass back through the atmosphere and is trapped, in turn warming our planet. This process is well understood and accepted by all scientists.

Next we hit the dicey stuff, beginning with climate change and global warming. Throughout history, the earth’s average temperature has fluctuated – even well before it could have been impacted by humans. These fluctuations are mostly attributed to natural changes in the earth’s orbit and fluctuations in the composition of atmospheric gases. During cooler periods, the Appalachians were much different, with glaciers extending down into the eastern U.S., and boreal climates found even on our southern mountains. Curretnly, most scientists agree that average temperatures are on the rise, and have been for over 100 years.

Now things begin to get murky as we arrive at the big question: Are human activities responsible for the recent rise in temperatures? On one hand is the established relationship between greenhouse gasses and warming, and the fact that humans are dramatically increasing the amount of such gases in our atmosphere. Deforestation increases carbon dioxide, agriculture (think cows) and landfills (think decomposition) increase methane, and the use of fossil fuels (think cars and coal-burning power plants) is especially problematic. On the other hand, however, are the arguments that the recent temperature changes are simply part of the natural cycle, that the earth will correct itself (for example, with the oceans absorbing excess heat) and that increasing greenhouse gases could push temperatures either direction (think how clouds warm a winter night by blanketing in heat, but also cool a summer day by blocking out sunlight). While most scientists do believe that human activities are simply too much to not attribute part, if not much of the blame to, there are some well-respected experts who disagree.

Let’s move away from the above debate, and ask ourselves: If the planet is warming, does it really matter? Simply predicting hotter days is not the answer as many of our planet’s processes are tied in to its heat budget. Precipitation, extreme weather, plant growth, and sea levels are just a few that may be affected. The key is understanding where these impacts may occur and to what extent. Glaciers are indeed currently retreating, polar ice caps are shrinking, hurricanes are increasing and becoming more violent (at least for 2005!), oceans appear to be rising, and droughts seem to be more common. Even human health may ultimately be affected. But as before, there are a few scientists who question these events to be directly linked to global warming.

To end this discussion, let’s assume that the recent temperature increases have been caused by human activities, and that there are serious repercussions as a result. This brings up the final question: What can be done? In simplest terms, the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning, along with decreasing deforestation rates. Neither will be easy to accomplish. As our population grows, trees will continually give way to other land uses. And as President Bush stated recently, “America is addicted to oil,” an addiction all too common across much of our planet. While politicians wait as scientists continue to collect data on this issue, individuals can take steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by improving the energy efficiency of their homes, and by making conscientious decisions regarding vehicles and driving habits. In the meantime, one thing we do know for certain regarding global warming is that the debate will continue to heat up.

As with any topic, too much information on global warming can be found on the internet. An excellent site that is both informative and objective is the EPA’s Global Warming page:
A similar one for kids (and even adults) is also available:

Most of the topics discussed above are explained in more detail on these sites. In addition, I used information from to help explain natural variations in the earth’s climate.

Dave Perault is an Environmental Science professor at Lynchburg College in Virginia. When not teaching about the environment, he can usually be found outside enjoying it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

May I Have Your Attention Please...

Due to the climate of political correctness now pervading America;
North Carolinians, Kentuckians, Tennesseans, Virginians and West Virginians
will no longer be referred to as "HILLBILLIES."From now on, you must now refer to us as:
Thank you.
Now if you'll excuse me; I got possums to fry...

Our National Parks are being Vandalized and Neglected

Image: by D L Ennis, the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Bluff Mountain tunnel in Virginia.

Our National Parks have been vandalized and neglected in recent years to the point absurdity!

On the Blue Ridge Parkway, where I have traveled since the 1950’s, vandals have stolen signs and exhibits from the overlooks and trails and no attempt has been made by the park service to replace them.

Only in the past ten years has the Parkway begun being abused like it is. There have always been people who abused our public lands by painting graffiti on boulders along the Parkway and carving on trees along trails, which is bad enough. However, this year I have noticed that it is becoming much worse.

Image: by D L Ennis, another problem is litter, in this image there are two water bottles thrown under the overlook sign on the parkway; there was a trash can, provided by the NPS, no more than 15 feet away. I’ve never, in 45 years, seen so much litter on the parkway as I see nowadays!

Between budget cuts and the loss of respect for our national treasures by our citizens, it is becoming obvious that if things don’t change soon places like the Blue Ridge Parkway will go to ruin.

Perhaps President Bush’s new nominee for National Park Service director, Mary A. Bomar, will be able to coax more money out of our federal government to help save our parks.

President Bush has chosen a British-born career Park Service official to replace National Park Service director Fran Mainella, who announced this summer that she would step down. Bush's nominee, Mary A. Bomar of Philadelphia, has served as the Park Service's Northeast regional director since 2005. She previously helped manage several major revitalization projects that led to surges in park attendance.

Mainella announced her resignation in July, citing family concerns. Bomar's nomination needs Senate confirmation.

Park advocates, some of whom blasted Mainella for bending to commercial interests, praised Bush for choosing a nominee from within the agency.

'She (Bomar) has been a very good regional director in terms of supporting park needs and park resources, and I think that gives us reason to believe she would be quite an improvement,' said Bill Wade, executive council chairman of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

Please, be kind to our national parks, and other public lands, as these places really are national treasures and we can’t afford to loose them!

Quotes from: “Bush Nominates New Park Service Chief” By Jennifer Talhelm
The Associated Press

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #22: Broad-winged Hawk

Birders typically divide the year into seasons devoted to certain activities. May, for example, is a time when birders want to be out as much as possible and in as many habitats as possible to see and hear birds on their way north. June and July tend to be times for searching out breeding birds, especially for birders participating in breeding bird surveys and atlas projects. August is a month devoted to shorebird-seeking. September and October are great for finding many species as they make their way south to their wintering grounds. I could list more, but you get the point.

The southbound migration of September and October is perhaps most distinctive for the massive flights of hawks along the Eastern Seaboard. Hawks migrate in other months as well, but the largest concentrations of raptors will be found in mid to late September. Among the most common hawks in the early stage of migration is the broad-winged hawk.

Broad-winged hawks are small for buteos: 15 inches long with a 34-inch wingspan (compared to 19 inches and 49 inches for red-tailed hawks). Adults may be distinguished in flight by their broad black-and-white tail bands, the dark edging around their wings, and the overall paleness of their undersides. Immature broad-wings do not show the tail bands but do have the dark edging around the undersides of their wings. During the breeding season, they nest in forests and may be hard to find. During their autumnal flights to Central and South America, they become far more apparent.

Broad-winged Hawk / Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

During migration, broad-winged hawks are notable for engaging in a practice known as "kettling." Large groups will migrate together; when they gather, the rising and falling motion of individual hawks gives the appearance of bubbles in a boiling kettle of water. This activity is not merely a sign of sociability; it is an important part of their migration flight. Unlike passerines, which migrate at night, hawks depend upon thermals and updrafts to minimize the work they need to do to stay aloft. Hawks use these to rise high in the air, and then glide onward until they meet another thermal, and repeat the process. "Kettles" usually occur where there happens to be a strong rising stream of air. (For photos of broad-winged hawks in flight, including a kettle, see here.)

The premier hawk-watches in the Mid-Atlantic are Cape May and Hawk Mountain. There are also many other good sites. While they may not have the volume of the premier sites, each makes for a good show. Many great sites for hawk watching are located along the peaks of the Blue Ridge in Virginia; DL Ennis has a list of such sites here. Rockfish Gap, for example, maintains hawk counts each migration season; last year that count recorded over 10,000 hawks during fall migration, dominated by over 7,000 broad-winged hawks. A list of hawk watching sites in Maryland can be found at the MOS website. In addition to the sites on that list, Point Lookout State Park, where the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay converge, is productive for hawk watching under the right conditions. Several good spots lie along the Eastern Shore, notably Kiptopeke State Park in Virginia.

Unfortunately, Washington, D.C., does not have a high-quality hawk watch location. However, if you keep your eye on the sky, you are sure to see at least a few migrants on good days. To do your own hawk watch, choose a location that is somewhat elevated and has good sightlines in all directions. You may or may not see broad-wings, but you should see a variety of raptors.

Crossposted at A DC Birding Blog.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Beautiful Cardinal Flower

There is still time to take in the beauty of the Cardinal Flower in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I sat on the bank of a mountain creek the other day and watched a grouping of Cardinal Flowers as Ruby-throated Hummingbirds came and went feeding on the beautiful flowers nectar; it was wonderful!

In late summer the brilliant scarlet of Cardinal Flower flashes from the marshes, stream banks and low woods. Called "America's favorite" and "spectacular", its extremely showy blossoms can be recognized at considerable distance. Few native plants have flowers of such intense color as this common herbaceous perennial.

The blossoms are delicate, gradually opening from bottom to top on two to four foot spikes. Five petals are united into a scarlet two-lipped corolla. The lower lip has three very prominent lobes; the upper lip has two small ones. Five stamens are joined forming a red tube around the style and are topped by bearded anthers which form a mustache-looking brush.

Beneath the flower spikes are numerous dark green leaves, tapered at both ends. A moderately tall plant, stout and erect, it is the favorite of our ruby-throated hummingbird, who obliges as a pollinator. The many seeds come in two-celled pods which open at the top.

Beautiful but deadly, the Cardinal Flower has been used as a medicine but is also very poisonous. It contains fourteen alkaloids similar to those in nicotine. Extracts of the leaves and fruit produce vomiting, sweating, pain and finally death.

The root was part of a Native American love potion and the powder of the entire plant may have been used as sort of a magic power to dispel storms and was used in ceremonies.

Native Americans used this and other Lobelias to treat worms, stomach problems and syphilis. Its use for the latter by the Cherokee and Iroquois Indians prompted testing in England in the 1770s but the results were negative.

The Cardinal Flower is a member of the Bluebell Family, Campanulaceae. It was named after the Mathias de Lobel (1538-1616) who was physician to King James I of England.

Images by D L Ennis, Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) Cardinal flower is also known as Red Lobelia.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Batten Down the Hatches: It’s Hurricane Season

Image: by D L Ennis, storm damage from the most recent hurricane related storm—Ernesto—to pass through the region.

Article by Dave Perault

As hurricane season heats up, it’s a good time to discuss these tropical events and their relevance to the Blue Ridge region. We’ll review their origins and naming, history, and impacts. As with most weather extremes, knowledge is key to understanding and preparing for these types of events.

Hurricanes (also called typhoons and cyclones in other parts of the globe) originate in the tropics where warm oceans, high humidity, and light winds are all ideal conditions for formation. For our region, this tends to occur from June through November (our official hurricane season) throughout the tropical Atlantic, from off the coast of Africa all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. During formation, thunderstorms can converge and, along with falling pressure and
counter-clockwise rotation of the air mass, continually build into a higher energy storm. Such storms generally move northwest towards Central and North America, either gaining or losing intensity as conditions change. A tropical disturbance grows into a depression and becomes a storm when its sustained winds reach 39 mph. At this point it is given a pre-assigned name; if it continues to grow with sustained winds reaching 74 mph, it officially becomes a hurricane. Hurricanes are further classified as Category 1-5 based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale – also primarily based on wind speed. Tropical storms tend to dissipate as they move north and inland due to cooling, friction, and the loss of warm, moist air.

The naming of hurricanes is as interesting as the storms themselves. Originally, storms were given names based simply on location (lat/long), then letters of the alphabet (Alpha, Bravo . . . ). In 1953 female names began to be used with weathermen sometimes naming storms after their girlfriends (or ex-girlfriends, depending on intensity). In 1978, the current method of alternating between male and female names was adopted, based on a list that repeats every 6 years. Once the end of the list is reached (as happened only once, in 2005), the Greek alphabet is used. Names from especially damaging storms such as Andrew, Hugo, and Katrina are retired.

And there have been some whoppers. In 1900, the worst natural disaster in American history occurred when as many as 10,000 people were killed by a hurricane striking Galveston, Texas. Since then, devastating hurricanes have occurred regularly. One of the most destructive to hit the Blue Ridge was Hurricane Camille in 1969, which dumped as much as 30+ inches
of rain overnight in Nelson County, Virginia, and killed well over 100 Virginians. While many think of hurricanes as coastal events, heavy rains inland can cause major flooding throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Image: by D L Ennis, Flood waters fill the usually gentle flowing, Otter Creek, on the Blue Ridge Parkway as Ernesto is passing through.

But hurricanes can also greatly benefit our region. In Virginia, for example, Camille helped to offset drought conditions, and in general such storms can bring highly needed rains to our area. By the time these events reach the Blue Ridge Mountains, their intensity has usually decreased dramatically, with soaking rains often the only remaining impact. Such rains can salvage crops that would otherwise have not survived a dry summer, and replenish dwindling surface and groundwater supplies.

In the end, the impact of a hurricane is dependant on the preparedness of people. As with any natural disaster, staying ready is crucial. In the Blue Ridge this means tracking tropical storm paths, and being prepared for loss of power due to high winds and loss of roads, fields, and houses due to flooding. By staying on top of deteriorating conditions, one can make wise decisions to protect both life and property. Realizing that hurricanes are a recurring part of weather and nature – and planning for them – will help us to both accept and minimize their impacts on our region.

Some good places to learn more about hurricanes include the following web pages:

The Greatest Storms on Earth:
National Hurricane Center:
Hurricane Central on the Weather Channel:

Most of the topics discussed above are explained in more detail on these sites. In addition, C. Donald Ahrens’ Essentials of Meteorology was a valuable source of information.

Dave Perault is an Environmental Science professor at Lynchburg College in Virginia. When not teaching about the environment, he can usually be found outside enjoying it.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Third Annual North Carolina Natural Products Association Conference

Please join us at the 3rd Annual Natural Products Conference:

Cultivating the New Wellness-Driven Economy in North Carolina
November 17-18, 2006
Friday 12 pm – 8 pm
Saturday 8 am – 6 pm

At the Broyhill Inn & Conference Center
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC

Registration information:

The cost for this year’s conference is $95 for North Carolina Natural Products Association (NCNPA) members; $135 for all others.

• Please click here to download a printable registration form.

After completing the form, please mail it with payment to:
455 Research Drive
Fletcher, NC 28732.

Checks only. Registration and other fees are non-refundable.

If you'd prefer to request a conference packet via mail, please use our contact form

On Friday, November 17th we will offer six half-day workshops, and one day-long workshop followed in the evening by dinner and an evening social featuring a keynote address by Michael McGuffin, President of the American Herbal Products Association.

Friday Workshops
Pre-registration is required for Friday's workshops. Space is Limited.

On Saturday, November 18th, we will offer five tracks, each consisting of four sessions. While the exact time schedule has not been developed, you can find the courses listed below. Saturday morning will feature a continental breakfast followed by an address from George Briggs, Chairman of the Board of NCNPA. During lunch, we will hear a plenary address from Loren Israelson, Executive Director of the Utah Natural Products Alliance. After the sessions, there will be a late afternoon roundtable discussion lead by George Briggs and Greg Cumberford outlining the next steps needed to cultivate the wellness-driven economy in North Carolina.

Saturday Sessions:
1. Natural Health and Wellness
o Wellness and Preventative Medicine in WNC – TBD
o Panel on Integrative Medicine – Dr. Susan Gaylord, UNC Chapel Hill
o The Issue of Heavy Metals in Natural Products – Dr. Keith Levine, Research Triangle Institute
o Herbs for Stress, Insomnia, and Energy: Growing Opportunities – Omar Cruz, Gaia Herbs

2. Science and Natural Biotechnology
o The International Center for Natural Biotechnology and Integrative Medicine – Cheryl McMurry of the NC Biotechnology Center, Dr. Jeff Schmitt of Wake Forest University, and Greg Cumberford of Gaia Herbs
o Ecological Pharmacology – Kevin Spelman, UNC Greensboro
o Quality of Herbal Drugs: Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty – Dr. Nick Oberlies of Research Triangle Institute and Selester Bennett of Nature Diagnostics
o Biofuels in the High Country – Dr. Jeff Ramsdale at Appalachian State University

3. Business of Natural Products
o Successful Natural Products Businesses Panel – Annice Brown of the Small Business and Technology Development Center, Red Alderman of Wounded Warrior, and Belinda Pardue of Botanical Supply Inc.
o What Really Matters – Loren Israelson of the Utah Natural Products Alliance, and Michael McGuffin of the American Herbal Products Association
o The Future of Natural Products – TBD
o Good Manufacturing Practices/Good Agricultural Practices for Medicinal Herbs – Ed Fletcher of Strategic Sourcing, and Michael McGuffin

4. Regional Opportunities
o Adding Value to a Mountain Tradition: Ramps – Beverly Whitehead of Smoky Mountain Native Plants Association
o Adventures of a Natural Products Marketer – John Grassby of Yampa Valley Botanicals and Robin Suggs of MoonBranch Botanicals
o Functional Foods – TBD
o Mobile Quality Assessment – Dr. Grant Holder of Appalachian State University

5. Horticulture
o Using the USDA Germplasm Collection – Dr. Joe-Ann McCoy, USDA
o Forest Production of Ginseng – TBD
o Opportunities with Woodland Botanicals – Dr. Jeanine Davis of NC State University
o Commercial Production of Organic Field Medicinals – Jackie Greenfield and Ric Scalzo of Gaia Herbs

Exhibitor Booths:
Exhibitor booths are limited. Booth Space is 10’ x 10’ and cost is $95, including set-up for both days. (Does not include conference registration or any meals.) Please contact us for more information.

Choose & Cut Christmas Trees:
For conference attendees interested in purchasing a Christmas tree, we will be working with a local tree farm to offer you a beautiful, WNC-grown Christmas tree at a great price. Time: Ongoing throughout the weekend.

Conference Meals:
Your registration fee covers dinner Friday night, a continental breakfast Saturday morning, and Saturday lunch. Please indicate on your registration form if you would like a vegetarian meal.

Directions: available online at

Hotel Information:
A limited number of rooms have been reserved at the Broyhill Inn for November 17 and 18 for $59.75 per night for a single and $79.00 for a double. Reservations must be made prior to October 17th to get the discounted price. Call the Broyhill Inn directly to make reservations at 1-800-951-6048. Additional rooms have also been reserved at the Holiday Inn Express. For both, be sure to mention you are with the NC Natural Products Association.

Questions? Contact Lindsay Benedict.
Office: (828)665-2492; Cell (828)777-5747; or email:

For more information click here.

See you in November!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Be Prepared—Be Weather Wise

Image: lightning.gif Photo courtesy and (c) Charles Doswell

Yesterday morning, evening, and last night thunderstorms moved through the area where I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains; some of the storms last night were quite significant. These storms reminded me of the importance of a hiker or camper’s knowledge of weather and what to do in the event that you are caught in the outdoors during an electrical storm.

When hiking, always be on the lookout for the signs of an approaching thunderstorm. It’s wise to check the weather forecast before setting out on a hike. However, if you are on a long (several days) hike you may not have access to weather forecasts and, as we all know, you can’t always depend on a forecast being accurate. Even though thunderstorms are more prevalent in late afternoon than in the morning, you must always be alert to signs of approaching inclement weather.

Lighting can originate from 6 – 8 miles (10 - 13 km) away from its last derivation, so it is possible for lighting to strike on the edge of a storm; if you wait until you see lightning, it may already be too late to take action.

If you are caught in a thunderstorm in the outdoors there are a number of things you can do to help protect yourself, but remember, there is no completely safe way to survive outdoors in a lightning storm.

If you think a storm is approaching move out of open and exposed areas. Ridges, open fields, or nearby tall objects like solitary trees, communication antenna, or rock spires are a bad place to be. Ridges and open fields leave you exposed and as the tallest object around, solitary trees and rock spires serve as natural lightning rods. Stay away from lakes, rivers, beaches where you are in the open and exposed. You will not be safe underneath canopies, small picnic or rain shelters, outhouses, rock overhangs and shallow caves.

Photo right: Courtesy of NOAA, Lightning causes around 100 deaths in the U.S. annually (more than hurricanes and tornadoes combined). In the picture right, the young woman and her friends were severely injured by lightning just a few seconds after this picture was taken. Notice that no rain was falling, clearly illustrating that lightning can strike up to several miles away from the thunderstorm.

If you are hiking as a group spread out at least 20 feet (6 m) apart; lighting can jump as far as twenty feet and if you stay close together a lightning strike can injure a group of people.

Look for an area that is not exposed, an area with trees of uniform height or an area with low brush and bushes. Never seek shelter directly under a tree. If you cannot find any shelter at all, for example if you are above the tree line, go as low as you possibly can away from any ridges.

If you do get caught in the open and lightning is nearby, the safest position to be in is crouched down on the balls of your feet. A good bet is to crouch on top of a rock (not the highest one in the area) that is somewhat elevated or otherwise detached from the rocks underneath it. Do not allow your hands (or other body parts) to touch the ground, and keep your feet as close to one another as possible. The reason why you should hunker down on the balls of your feet is that when lightning strikes an object, the electricity of the lightning’s discharge does not necessarily go straight down into the ground. Often the electricity will travel along the surface of the ground for a significant distance. This is known as a "side flash". Many people who are "struck" by lightning are not hit directly by the main lightning channel, but are affected by the side flash as it travels along the surface of the ground (this can be especially true if the ground is wet). By keeping the surface area of your body, relative to the ground, to a minimum (that is, keep your feet together and do not allow any other part of your body to contact the ground), you can reduce the threat of a side flash from affecting you.

Alternatively if the above is difficult, sit on top of your pack, if you have one, with your feet together on the ground; crouched down with your eyes closed and your hands over your ears. Sight and hearing injuries are very common among lightning strike victims and near strike injuries. DO NOT lie flat on the ground, as this is not a safe position.

If you have metal gear like a metal hiking stick, lay it on the ground at least twenty feet (6m) away from you.

Stay away from sharp changes in terrain such as the edge of water, the edge of a forest, where rocks meet dirt, the top or bottom of a ravine etc; such areas are naturally more hazardous and lightning tends to follow down the slope.

If your hair stands on end, you feel a tingling sensation, or if the area around you appears electrified, lightning may be ready to strike. Keep your ears covered and your eyes closed and hold your breath; people have been seriously injured when they breathe in the superheated air that surrounds, and is expanding out, from a lightning bolt.

It’s best to wait at least 30 minutes after the lighting and thunder has stopped to move on and resume activity; be sure the storm has left the area.

If a member of your party gets hit by lightning start emergency treatment immediately. A person is not electrified after being hit by lighting and a full 80% of people that are hit by lightning recover. If a person has no pulse or heartbeat, start performing CPR. Treat electrical burns as you would any other, and as soon as possible, get the injured person professional help.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Experience Whitewater Adventures in the Blue Ridge

The author enjoying the New River Gorge in West Virginia.
(photo by
Leisure Sports Photography)

Looking for a different way of exploring and enjoying our great outdoors? Ever take a glance at the water below you when crossing a bridge and wonder where it goes? Like getting wet on a hot, summer day? If so, consider trading in your car for a boat. Rivers all along the Blue Ridge Mountains, from the Kennebec in Maine to the Chattooga straddling South Carolina and Georgia, offer some of the best opportunities anywhere to see nature from a unique perspective and to enjoy loads of adrenaline-filled fun.

As with most outdoor activities, before embarking on any water sports, do your homework. With the proper precautions, whitewater is an inherently fun and safe endeavor. If you decide you want to try things on your own, such as in a kayak or canoe, make sure you have the proper gear and know how to use it. Your best bet is to take a lesson or join a club. Some great instructors include those at Zoar Outdoor in Massachusetts, Riversport in Pennsylvania, Valley Mills Kayak School in Maryland, and the Nantahala Outdoor Center or Endless River Adventures in North Carolina. Folks at these places and others will teach you the basics, from proper stroke techniques to Eskimo rolling to hole playing. They will also teach you safe river reading and running, and ensure you understand the difference between straightforward Class I rapids and killer Class VI. Local clubs can be found throughout the Blue Ridge, and in addition to providing help with safety and logistics, offer up some great friendships.

Not ready to strike out on your own? Consider whitewater rafting with an experienced guide. In most rafts, you’ll be an important part of the team, responding to your guide’s enthusiastic cadence for strokes to get you through the biggest rapids. Whitewater rafting opportunities can be found in every state along the Blue Ridge, but the state best known for its whitewater has to be “wet and wonderful” West Virginia. And the rivers that make it famous are the New and the Gauley. The New (which, ironically, is the second oldest river in the world, behind the Nile) is known for its bodacious rapids, huge holes, and a beautiful float through a remote gorge. The Gauley receives its fame from world-class rapids and scheduled fall releases from upstream Summersville Lake. For a list of licensed rafting companies in West Virginia, click here.

Finally, don’t forget that to keep enjoying these awesome natural resources, they must be protected. Two great organizations that focus on both river running and river protection are American Whitewater and the American Canoe Association. Joining groups such as these is a good way learning about the rivers you paddle, while also giving something back.

See you on the river!

Dave Perault is an Environmental Science professor at Lynchburg College in Virginia. When not teaching about the environment, he can usually be found outside enjoying it.