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Tag Archives: Flora and Fauna

It’s All About Them Bears, ‘Bout Them Bears, ‘Bout Them Bears

Ursus americanus, the American black bear and one of the best known features of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. where the bears live in wild, natural surroundings.

A spectacular looking creature measuring up to 6 ft in length, and standing 3 ft tall at the shoulder. A typical male can weigh in at 250 lbs, females normally weigh in at around 100 lbs, however by fall bears can double in weight getting ready for their long periods of sleep when the cold months of winter set in.  Bears live 12-15 years however when they have access to human foods/garbage they live half that long.   Like humans bears are omnivores, their diet consisting of 85% plant material, the other 15% made up of insects and animal carrion.  Bears have a very keen sense of smell, color vision, they are good swimmers, can run 30 mph and boy can they climb!

Black bears in the Smokies don’t actually hibernate but they do den for long periods of time through the winter.  Mama bears and cubs (usually 1-4) begin emerging from their dens in late March/early April. Cubs remain with their mama for about 18 months until she mates again.  Anytime you are visiting the Smokies please be on the lookout for bears (and other wildlife) which may be in or crossing the road. Pictured here mama and 3 cubs on Roaring Fork Motor Trail.

bears

Most all the travelers that stay at one of our cabins would love to see a bear, many get that opportunity without ever leaving the cabin!  We can’t guarantee a bear siting however we will guarantee that when you do see one you will be in absolute awe of them. One of the best wildlife viewing areas in the Smokies is Cades Cove in Townsend, TN  If you are a wildlife lover you most certainly will want to make a trip here.

The national park website has great do’s and don’ts when it comes to viewing/encountering wildlife.  If you plan to be in the park I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with park regulations regarding the wildlife as well as reading the article on their site devoted to keeping you and the wildlife safe.

The prospect of seeing a black bear in it’s wild, natural surroundings is just another great reason to come to the Smoky Mountains!  When you do we hope you will stay in one of our cabins, enjoy the view and just maybe you will be one of the fortunate ones that sees that spectacular creature known as ursus americanus!

 
 

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Behold the Bugler

Fall is quickly approaching in the Great Smoky Mt National Park and that means lots of wonderful things!  One of the first things that comes to mind is the changing of the leaves which brings out brilliant colors and paints the land in rich hues of yellows, golds, oranges and reds.  Another thing that comes with fall is the mating season of the elk, also known as the rut (September into early Oct).

The elk were reintroduced in 2001-2002 after a 200 year absence in the Smokies.  They are spectacular creatures to behold.  The best places to do so in the park are in the Cataloochee Valley or near the Oconoluftee Visitor Center.  The best times for viewing are early morning or early evening just before sunset.  Fields may be closed during the rut to minimize conflicts between elk and humans.

elk

During the rut the adult male elk (bulls) use a combination of bugling and aggressive behavior in an attempt to dominant over other males.  They use their huge antlers to spar with other males in a show of strength.  The bugling is a very distinct sound beginning as a deep resonant then increases to a high pitched squeal and ends in a succession of grunts.  These bugles can be heard a mile or more away!

To view a video of the elk click here

Seasons of the elk:  Spring (March) the male shed their antlers which are calcium rich and quickly eaten by other rodents and other animals.  It is illegal to remove the antlers from the park so look don’t touch!

Summer is birthing time with most calves being born in June.  The majestic creatures like to roll and wallow in the mud to cover themselves as a deterant to pesty insects.  By August the antlers are full grown and have lost their “velvet”.

Fall is the rut as discussed above and the display of aggresive, dominant behaviour and bugling begins.

Winter, the elk wear a two layer coat in colder months with the longer hairs repelling water and the fuzzy undercoat keeps them warm.

It really is quite a treat to view the elk in their natural habitat.  Be sure to follow all park rules regarding wildlife viewing for your saftey and that of the animals.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2014 in Great Smoky Mt National Park

 

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Gobble Up The Sights of Spring

It’s courtship time for the Toms from March to May. So with the coming of spring comes the strutting and gobbling of male turkeys.  It is said the gobbles of Toms can be heard up to a mile away. Often the Toms will display right in the roadway and have no interest in anything but strutting their stuff for the ladies.  Please use caution when driving the roads, be on the lookout for all wildlife and prepare to give them the right away.  Be especially careful on blind curves and be aware other visitors may be stopped for wildlife who will often be found either in the roadway or very close to the edges.

turkey

 
 

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Flower Power

Spring is coming and with the brutally cold temperatures of this winter I know many of us are more than ready for it to be here.

When I think of spring I think flowers, flowers, flowers and The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is full of them.  The park is sometimes referred to as the Wildflower National Park since it is home to over 1,500 kinds of flowering plants.  The earliest to show beginning in February are in a group called ephemeral.  This group of flowers begin to show before the deciduous trees leaf out and include trillium (shown below), violets and lady slipper orchids to name a few.

trillium

Flowering trees soon follow with the flowers of red maples, Fraser magnolias, redbuds and flowering dogwoods.  We can’t forget the lovely blossoms of the flowering shrubs here in the Smoky’s, the brilliant yellow of spicebush and the pink and white of the azaleas and rhododendrons.

Each spring the area hosts a wildflower pilgrimage.  In 2014 the dates for the pilgrimage are April 15-19 and registration is required.  The pilgrimage includes professionally guided walks, seminars and indoor presentations.  If you love flowers or just want to know more about the fauna, ecology and natural history of the area check out the 64th annual wildflower pilgrimage.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Great Smoky Mt National Park

 

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The When and Why of Fall Color

Fall Colors

High elevations trees with golden leaves interspersed with dark green spruce trees.

High elevations along Newfound Gap Road are ablaze with fall color in early October.

The park usually experiences an autumn leaf season of several weeks as fall colors travel down the mountain sides from high elevation to low. However, the timing of fall color change depends upon so many variables that the exact dates of “peak” season are impossible to predict in advance.

Elevation profoundly affects when fall colors change in the park. At higher elevations, where the climate is similar to New England’s, color displays start as early as mid-September with the turning of yellow birch, American beech, mountain maple, hobblebush, and pin cherry.

From early to mid-October, fall colors develop above 4,000 feet. To enjoy them, drive the Clingmans Dome Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the Foothills Parkway.

The fall color display usually reaches peak at mid and lower elevations between mid-October and early November. This is the park’s most spectacular display as it includes such colorful trees as sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and the hickories.

Autumn is both a beautiful and a busy time in the Great Smoky Mountains. The annual show of fall colors attracts huge numbers of sightseers, especially during the last three weeks of October. Areas in the park which experience the longest traffic delays are Cades Cove and Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441). Try some of these suggestedautumn drives and hikes to enjoy fall leaf colors in areas of the park that are a little less crowded.

Why are fall colors so remarkable in the Smokies? One reason is the park’s amazing diversity of trees. Some 100 species of native trees live in the Smokies and the vast majority of these are deciduous.

How do colors change? As summer ends, the green pigments in leaves deteriorate, giving other colors a chance to shine. Carotenoids, the pigment that makes carrots orange and leaves yellow, are exposed as the green fades. Reds and purples come from anthocyanins, a pigment that is formed when sugars in leaves break down in bright autumn sunlight.

 

Article from the National Park System website.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Great Smoky Mt National Park

 

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Elk in the Smoky Mountains

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.

A primary mission of the National Park Service is to preserve native plants and animals on lands it manages. In cases where native species have been eliminated from park lands, the National Park Service may choose to reintroduce them. Reintroduction of elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in 2001 when 25 elk were brought from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. In 2002, the park imported another 27 animals.

Viewing Elk

The best times to view elk are usually early morning and late evening. Elk may also be active on cloudy summer days and before or after storms. Enjoy elk at a distance, using binoculars or a spotting scope for close-up views. Approaching wildlife too closely causes them to expend crucial energy unnecessarily and can result in real harm. If you approach an animal so closely that it stops feeding, changes direction of travel, or otherwise alters its behavior, you are too close!  The park has strict regulations against approaching wildlife or causing them any distress, fines and even arrest could result.  Remember these are wild creatures and can prove to be very dangerous epecially if they are protecting young, if they are spooked or provoked.

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Most of the elk are located in the Cataloochee area in the southeastern section of the park. The easiest way to reach Cataloochee is from Interstate highway I-40. Exit I-40 at North Carolina exit #20. After 0.2 mile, turn right onto Cove Creek Road and follow signs 11 miles into Cataloochee valley. Allow at least 45 minutes to reach the valley once you exit I-40.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2013 in Great Smoky Mt National Park

 

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