Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mountians to coast

Last weekend was a busy one.

It started with an unsuccessful hunt. The cover here is still so thick, wading through it is tough enough, but the squirrels are able to just disappear.

We saw plenty, but Tess wasn't able to connect.

So I loaded up the car and picked up my coworker, Lee, and we headed west.

It didn't take long before we started to see signs of Fall. On the Outer Banks we don't get a real fall. Eventually, the leaves turn brown, curl, and fall. But many of the trees, the live oaks especially, don't lose their leaves. We don't get that spectacular change.

So it was nice to see some vibrant leaves.

Before long, the road began to undulate, up a hill down a hill, and there were mountains in the distance.

We were spending the weekend with the NC Museum of Natural Science searching for elk.

The experimental release of elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in February, 2001 with the importation of 25 elk from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. In 2002, the park imported another 27 animals. All elk were radio collared and were monitored during the eight-year experimental phase of the project. In 2009-2010, the park began developing an environmental assessment of the program and a long-term management plan for elk. Project partners include the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Parks Canada, Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association, Friends of the Smokies, the U.S.G.S. Biological Resources Division, and the University of Tennessee.

Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian Mountains and elsewhere in the eastern United States. They were eliminated from the region by over-hunting and loss of habitat. The last elk in North Carolina was believed to have been killed in the late 1700s. In Tennessee, the last elk was killed in the mid-1800s. By 1900, the population of elk in North America dropped to the point that hunting groups and other conservation organizations became concerned the species was headed for extinction.

We were here to see if we could find them.

We woke the next morning to cold and frost. I could see my breath as I peeked outside the cabin to check the weather. 15 educators loaded into a van and traversed the switchback laden road over the mountain and into Cataloochee Valley.

The trees opened up around the road and there they were. One big bull elk and his harem of females. The were silent, munching on the valley grasses steam rising off of their frost covered backs. Then the male rose its head and bugled smoke rising from his snout. The sound echoed.

The teachers were giddy. we watched them for hours as they fought, bugled and the males tried to make their advances.

These elk were reintroduced from a Canadian herd and tend to be smaller than the elk out west. But they were still impressive.

We spent the day hiking and observing the herd. Turkey would wander the fields with impunity as we were involved in talks from the park rangers and educational staff.

The valley filled with tourists, there for the same reason.

We left late in the afternoon after being educated on terrestrial snails, lichen, and the blight affecting the smokey mountain hemlock trees.
Saturday night we celebrated elkoween; lame costumes and cheap wine. It was fun.

Sunday was more of the same - with the elk ever present in the valley.

It was a good weekend and I learned a lot. I will be spending more time traveling with the museum.

We left in the afternoon, our brains full and jiggly.

We spent Sunday morning doing the same

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