young bluebirds on beautyberry
The young bluebirds
converge on the suet
outside my window.
I am sure they are
from the same brood;
teenagers, actually.
Three young gents, two ladies;
they are skinny and awkward,
not quite muscled out,
politely waiting in the queue–
one on the feeder,
two on the porch railing below,
one on the swing, and
one on the nearby red maple.
Except when they’re squabbling
over the greedy one who
lingers too long.
All are much bigger than
the bossy Carolina wren
who chases them off;
but they defer, because
they are young, and he,
most assuredly,
knows what he’s doing.
They are too old to be fed,
too young to be alone,
uncertain of what they
should be doing,
so they stay together.
For now, despite
the annoyance of
one’s siblings,
they’ll choose the familiar,
looking to each other
for food and safety.
My heart smiles to see
them out my window,
tentative but together,
as they try on their
adult wings.

FORECO Daily: Whiteside Mountain



Alan Weakley asking our crew of 8 students to assess the unique seepy rock face below the Whiteside summit. This unusual community has too little soil for trees and takes a constant beating from rain and ice, but it makes an ideal habitat for other species, some of them rare. In the foreground you can see stately Turk’s cap lily, aptly named Lilium superbum. The hula hoop was my idea for a teaching exercise and so far has raised some hilarious questions and looks from fellow hikers.

2017 Forest Ecosystems

For the next 2 weeks I’ll be teaching my summer field course, Forest Ecosystems of the Southern Appalachians, at the Highlands Biological Station with my friends and colleagues Julie Tuttle and Alan Weakley. It’s my 7th time here: 1999 as a student with Tom Wentworth and Dan Pittillo, as a teacher in 2005, 2007, and 2009 with Tom; and 2013, 2015, and now 2017 with Julie Tuttle and Alan Weakley. There is always at least as much learning as teaching in this course. As always, we have what looks to be a great cadre of 8 students from a mix of backgrounds and experiences; we’ll also have several guests with us who will contribute their knowledge of ecology and conservation.


Field notebooks from 1999, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2013, and 2015, with a new one for 2017.

Field courses are fun and intense. We often have 10-12 hour days in the field and students will earn their 4 credits in two weeks’ time. Our evenings (as instructors) are spent reflecting on the day’s teaching, what worked and what didn’t, assembling gear and planning for the next day, and checking directions. It is pedal to the metal.

We are leaving for the Smokies early tomorrow for 3 days. I’m especially excited about the second day of our trip, which Julie planned, to see some of the sites that burned in the severe fires that hit Gatlinburg, TN last fall with Rob Klein, the leader of the Fire Effects crew for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and hike a new elevation transect on the Trillium Gap Trail.

A few stats from past courses: ~900 miles driven, 13 days in the field, 27 sites visited, 40 miles of hiking, 80-page field notebooks filled by each student with their take on the day’s events and each site visit.

Forest Ecosystems 2017.PNG

Sites we’ll visit, color-coded by day. We project a good illusion of organization. 

I need to get to other tasks and the wifi is sketchy here, but I do hope to post a daily photo like I did in 2015. To find those, search Forest Ecosystems in the search box.

There’s always something new in Forest Ecosystems: the new sites we’ll visit above, a neat cove forest I found outside of Franklin, trying out a new assignment and teaching strategies. I love the dynamic teaching and knowing that things will happen that we don’t expect and we’ll be adjusting accordingly. Stay tuned!



Forest Ecosystems Gallery: Slide show


This gallery contains 80 photos.

Click on the thumbnail to scroll through the photo gallery. Photos are roughly in chronological order, July 20-31st, 2015, for the 9th class of Forest Ecosystems of the Southern Appalachians at the Highlands Biological Station.

Forest Ecosystems Daily: Seeing the Forest with the Trees


dave 3

Scaly assessment

On our last day of class, we climbed the section of the Bartram Trail toward Scaly Mountain. We hiked up into the forest and stopped. “What’s the story here?” was the question of the day, and indeed, of the whole Forest Ecosystems class–the question we answered for every site we visited. This time, however, Julie, Alan and I were quiet, while our students looked around, dug into the soil, assessed the canopy, measured the slope, counted the herbs, identified dead trees and conferred with each other. They were seeing the story of this forest for themselves.

Forest Ecosystems Daily: Rarest of asters


Rhiannon's aster (Symphyotrichum rhiannon) may only exist at the Buck Creek Serpentine Barren, an unusual serpentine soil habitat managed by the US Forest Service in Clay County, NC. Small preserves like this one are important to conserve plants and animals that need specialized habitat--in addition to the aster, four species of butterflies also call Buck Creek their only home in the world.

Rhiannon’s aster (Symphyotrichum rhiannon) may only exist at the Buck Creek Serpentine Barren, a small and unusual serpentine soil habitat managed by the US Forest Service in Clay County, NC. Small preserves like this one are critical to conserve plants and animals that require specialized habitat–in addition to the aster, four species of butterflies also call Buck Creek their only home in the world.

Forest Ecosystems Daily: Bogs from above and within, Panthertown Valley


alan panthertown view

Look for the flat, treeless bog in Panthertown Valley from the summit of Little Green.

bogging at panthertown

Inside the Panthertown bog. Bogs are rare habitats and are home to many rare and specialized species.

sphagnum mosses 5 species

A soggy bouquet with five species of sphagnum: Sphagnum recurvum (green), S. capillifolium (yellow green), S. bartlettianum (red), S. angustifolium (yellow), S. fuscum or S. warnstorfii (brown).