FORECO Daily: Whiteside Mountain

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

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

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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).

Forest Ecosystems Daily: Wolf Mountain Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway

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Sticky false asphodel (Triantha glutinosa) in flower on the left and in fruit on the right, ekes out a living in the wet, dripping rock face on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Wolf Mountain overlook. Many plants take advantage of abundant light and moisture that are available where the road was blasted through to create the Parkway.

Sticky false asphodel (Triantha glutinosa) in flower on the left and in fruit on the right, ekes out a living below the wet, seepy rock face on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Many plants take advantage of abundant light and moisture that are available where the road was blasted through to create the Blue Ridge Parkway. Gorgeous hanging gardens are the happy and unexpected result. New plant for me!