Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sprintime on the Cumberland Ridges in NE Tennessee

Late Morning and the CERWCREW team-members; Than, Emily, Evan, and myself begin the ascent up the mountain in the trusty ford. As the trees roll by my mind travels back to all the wonderful experiences in these mountains during the summers of 2006-07. We pause to listen to a few black-throated green warblers, pileated woodpeckers, and American redstarts along the windy roads. The temperatures have plummeted to temperatures nearly as low as mid-April last year, When we finally disembarked on plot 1, the temperature change was fully felt. We soon parted ways as we all had our respective valuable work to do. My teammates had to do some transect marking and orientation, while I needed to get a handle on what birds were in the plots. So, on I trekked over Monarch mine, up 200 m to 3,000 ft at Huckaby Knob. There, at Huckaby Knob.... I paused, giving thanks for being there.. I took a picture of a flower at the high point and sat to snack on trail mix as I soaked in the views and the surroundings. I pileated woodpecker wailed in the distance as I pondered whether or not it was using the large snag cavity directly above me. As I began my northern ridge-top descent towards the next plot I heard small peeps. Nuthatches were chipping about with Black-throated green warblers nearby. "Pik..... pik... PIK...," came intermittent calls from a hairy woodpecker. This small mixed-genera assemblage was gathered there for shelter. The wide east to west saddles are harbors for birds along narrow mountain ridges. I marked waypoints and took photos along this ridge.One particularly pleasing sight was a fine black morel. Winds were gusting strongly. Small hail bounced off of my numb face and settled in my beard. It felt like winter and I felt alive. Plot 2 stretched far downslope to my west, but I pressed on. In order to find ceruleans or other first arrivals, one must cover some ground. It was cold, gusty, and hailing. There was little chance of finding a cerulean. I never heard or saw one on this hike. They could have been there and just weren't vocal or they simply haven't arrived. Vernal Pool I came into view before reaching Flint Gap. It was the lowest I have ever seen it, but large amphibian egg globs were numerous. The spring which drained from the pool held a mountain dusky that was too fast for me to photograph, but I caught a few shots of small crayfish. "Are there any undiscovered species in these mountains?", I pondered.... Maybe a crayfish expert will help me with this one. I angled up plot 3 past another vernal pool and found the southwest corner. It was calm along an east slope, far different from the storm-blasted tops. I marked some key boundaries of the plot and enjoyed the views along the way. I thought about "Kroodsma", "Charlie", and other ceruleans we had banded and observed in nests in the now leafless trees around me. Ah..haa... another first of the year for me... bear corn. Just after the bear corn that was feasting on oak roots, the intensively harvest plot 3 treat appeared. On the horizon above it all lay the infamous Rock. There are many rocks on the plots, but this rock, the rock, is somehow special. I remember watching many ceruleans battle, forage, sing, and preen from this rock. I stood on the rock looking down, through the forest, down the valley, and up to the next horizon. I was recalling one experience with a 2006 crew member. Brad Alexander and I were haveing lunch on the rock. Brad has good bird skills and those of you who bird frequently know how enjoyable it is to be in the field with a colleague who knows birds and how to spot them. "Brad... cerulean." Brad followed my line of sight and coolly turned his head to see the bird. All he said was "Hello beautiful." Within in seconds we were down from the rock and searching for the female. Brad lost her and then I'd find her. Only to lose her again. Then, Brad found the nest. We were jubilant and a simple, solid handshake said it all. Lost in a good memory, I was awoken by my colleagues. They needed a couple pointers for finding the transect markers and I obliged. Onto plot 4, "Good Medicine" via the ridges for about a mile. I had just reached plot 4 and was into some chipping birds and the phone rang again. Another daydream was ended, but springtime had just begun and snapped a photo of a red-eft newt and a bloodroot on my way down from Good Medicine.

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