Saturday, August 22, 2009

House Mountain hike, new friends, and cool bugs

Kenny and I had thought about going to the Smokies to hike today, but we didn't get an early enough start. So, we went to Plan B. We had not gone to House Mountain, one of our newer state natural areas in east Knox County in a long time, so that turned into our next destination of choice. House Mountain is located off Hwy. 11 W. It is a quite popular area, we saw several people on the trail. The hike is steep and not especially easy, but it is worth it because the views from the top are spectacular. On a clear day you can see the Cumberland Mountains to the north, the Smokies to the south, andKnoxville to the west. The farmland around Corryton is so pretty, as seen in the photo on the right. It is possible to watch hawks, crows and vultures from the top, sometimes they fly below you! Here is a map of the area. We enjoyed seeing lots of insects and a few wildflowers along the trail. One of the more unusual insects was the Bristletail. You really have to be observant to see these strange insects as they scurry over the boulders. They are extremely well camouflaged, if they don't move you probably won't notice them. I was photographing the weird lichens (like this Toadskin Lichen) on a boulder when I spotted this one.

We also enjoyed watching a Tawny Emperor butterfly as it landed on one of the boulders at the top. It was trying to get salts or minerals from the rock. Butterflies will often land on hikers to drink their sweat. I know that sounds yucchy, but they need the salts and minerals that they can't get from flower nectar. It is not unusual to see butterflies on animal scat (poop) for the same reason! If you wondered, yes, I was laying down on the rock to get these photos!

Some of the wildflowers we saw included Flowering Spurge. It is related to Christmas Poinsettias. The little white "flowers" are interesting. Most flowers have the seed-producing ovary below the petals, Flowering Spurge has it above and it sticks out away from the flower on a stalk. I have joked that this should have been the "Official Flower of the Women's Movement" because it has a superior ovary and it is surrounded by male flowers (the 6 little yellow kobs) to take care of the job of pollinating the flower! We also saw lots of Southern Harebell, White Snakeroot (the plant that was responsible for the death of Abraham Lincoln's mother see the explanation on my website:, Dittany, White Leafcup, Bear Paw, Joe Pye Weed, Ironweed, Goldenrod, Grass-leaf Golden Aster, Tick Trefoils, Rosinweed, Lobelias and Spanish Needles. The seeds of Spanish Needles are quite adept at hitchhiking on socks and pants. I got a close-up shot of one to show the tiny barbs that hang onto peoples' clothes and animals' fur.

Even though we didn't get to do the hike we had planned, we had a great time today! The weather was cool and breezy, more like late September than late August.
We enjoyed talking to the people we met on the trail. We spent over an hour talking with 2 couples at the top (Pam, Steve, Heather and Chauncy). They were as interested in the bugs as Kenny and I were, so we had fun watching the butterfly and other insects.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A beautiful end to a violent storm!

I'm beginning to think we are living in the tropics! Yesterday afternoon and about the same time this afternoon we had violent thunderstorms with torrential rain. Although, after suffering through a drought the past couple of years, we can't complain. We are 5+" over normal for rainfall on the year. It is nice to have water in the creeks and to have the lake levels back where they are supposed to be. After the storm passed, I went out on the patio to get some herbs for a salad. It was still raining just a bit, but the sun was shining to the west; I wondered if there might be a rainbow. Sure enough, there was a beautiful rainbow arching over the sky in the east. I ran in and grabbed my camera, I had to quickly change the telephoto lens that I had been using earlier in the week to photograph hummingbirds. The raindrops got my lens wet so then I had to get an umbrella out of the car. I just hoped the rainbow wouldn't disappear. It was a nice surprise to see that it was actually a double rainbow, a second much fainter one was above the bright one. It is interesting that the spectrum of the second rainbow is reversed in color. So instead of ROYGBIV, it is VIBGYOR!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Piney Falls hike

Kenny and I had not been to Piney Falls (near Spring City, TN) in several months, so we headed down there on Sun. Aug. 16. We were so disappointed to see the damage some inconsiderate people had done while riding their 4-wheelers. The recent rains had turned much of the trail into a huge mud hole. Only the frogs seemed to appreciate the extra water! The state once had large metal poles across the trails to keep vehicles out, but the riders knocked them down, tore down the "hiking only" signs and proceeded to tear up the trails. Eventually, they will damage the road so much they will no longer be able to use it. To make things even worse, the trash they leave behind is so ugly. It is a shame there have to be people out there who just don't care what they do to the environment! OK, I'll get off my soapbox now!

This trail is not especially good for wildflowers, but yesterday we saw loads of mushrooms and puffballs. One very pretty wildflower I noticed growing on the cliff below the waterfall was the Roundleaf Catchfly. It has bright red, star-shaped flowers.

The most interesting things we saw were the various kinds of spiders. Since there are so many cliffs along that trail, there are many places for spiders to build their webs. We were amazed at some of the prey the spiders had caught. Among them were: a cockroach, a bumblebee, a katydid, a Daddy Long-legs, and even a small 5-lined ("blue-tailed") skink! I enjoyed seeing the Lampshade spiders in their cone-shaped webs.

Three was a huge orb-weaver spider eating its prey under a little rock overhang. I was able to prop my arm against the rock and get a really good close-up of it. Check out those eyes and fangs! :)