Archive | June, 2014

Shake Rattle and Dive

Female belted kingfisher with dinner - Teddy Llovet photo

Female belted kingfisher with dinner – Teddy Llovet photo

Often it is the loud, dry, rattling call of the belted kingfisher that alerts the paddler to its presence. This noisy fisherman calls in flight as it patrols up and down the river searching for prey. The belted kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, is one of three kingfishers found in North America. The other two barely make it to the southern U.S. The ringed kingfisher, which is larger is sometimes found as far north as south Texas and the green kingfisher, which is much smaller can be found in south Texas and occasionally Arizona.

Once you get the silhouette of this chunky, big-headed bird with the heavy bill and raggedy crest dialed in, you will be able to pick it out perched on tree limbs, snags, power lines – basically any suitable perch on or near the water where it can watch for its prey below. The belted kingfisher feeds on amphibians and crustaceans as well as fishes. It likes to perch over water where it can simply plummet headfirst into the water to take unsuspecting prey. It does, also hunt on the wing – stopping to hover before diving for prey.

Male belted kingfisher - note the single blue band across the breast - USFWS photo

Male belted kingfisher – note the single blue band across the breast – USFWS photo

The belted kingfisher is a stocky bird about the size of a male Cooper’s hawk (14 inches in length.) it is one of the few birds where the female is actually more colorful than the male. The head and back of both sexes is slate blue and the feathers are black tipped with small white dots. Both sexes have a blue band across the breast and white underparts. The female has a second chestnut-colored band across its belly that extends down the flanks. This second stripe is thought to help camouflage the female when she is on or at the nest. The nest is a burrow dug into an exposed bank on or near the water’s edge. Males and females both help excavate the nesting site, which can be up to eight feet long. The burrow tilts up at the back end where the eggs are.

Belted kingfishers nest from the southern U.S. to Canada and Alaska. They are obligate migrants – meaning they move southward in the winter as water sources freeze. They can overwinter as far south as Central America and northern South America. Birds that nest far enough south to have open water in the winter are generally year round residents. Whether in migration or just post nesting dispersal, belted kingfishers do tend to wander. They have been recorded from the Galapagos Islands, British Isles, Greenland, Hawaii and other places far and wide across the globe.

The oldest known fossil of a kingfisher is from Alachua County Florida and dates back 2 million years. Fossils of the belted kingfisher as we know it, dating back to the Pleistocene (600,000 years ago) have been discovered in Tennessee, Virginia, Florida and Texas.

The belted kingfisher is a year round resident along the French Broad. And while it is likely more common and more active during the summer nesting season don’t be surprised, should you take advantage of some winter high water, to be greeted by its garrulous call.

 

0

I Walk the Line

Lori Wilkins finds her groove on a slackline at Carrier Park

Lori Wilkins finds her groove on a slackline at Carrier Park

 

Two sturdy trees, 50 feet of nylon or polyester webbing, and a soft landing are all that’s needed to set up a slackline. All of which are abundant on Sunday afternoons at Carrier Park where a group of dedicated slackers – as they’re known – can be found just downstream of the picnic shelter at Carrier Park in a cluster of trees along the French Broad River.

Lyle Mitchell has been organizing the collective of slackers since February – what devotees of the sport call a “jam” – from four in the afternoon to sundown. What drew Mitchell to the pastime was to become a better rock climber. And indeed, the sport was developed by climbers who, several decades ago, spanned rope or webbing between two trees to hone their balance.

Since then, the sport has taken a path of its own.  For instance, soon after getting hooked on slacklining Mitchell pursued a popular outgrowth of the sport performing traditional yoga poses on a slackline.

Yoga aside, to simply balance upright in a single spot or to place one foot in front of the other on a one inch wide piece of slightly tensioned webbing takes more than just flexibility and confidence. Mitchell says that finding a place of mental and physical stillness is necessary in order to get the feel for a slackline. And even on a leisurely Sunday afternoon on the banks of the river there’s plenty to addle your state of mind – walkers, dogs barking, bicycles grinding.

Mitchell points out that any strain or stiffness in your body is amplified by the looseness of the line; your nervous energy transmitted into wild tremors on the webbing.

“You have to be present in the moment. As soon as your mind wanders you’re off the line,” he says.

But unlike rock-climbing, which typically involves a destination (the top), Mitchell says the end game of slacklining isn’t necessarily to get from one tree to the other. “The goal is to get a better sense of where your body is in space; how to engage your sense of being,” says Mitchell who adds that the weekly jams are beginner friendly and regular attendees will demonstrate a few fundamentals to help newbies off the ground.

If you’re up for the challenge check out the group’s Facebook page (Yoga Slackers Asheville) or for less than $100 rig up your own line in the front yard – a nod to the simplicity and versatility of the sport.

 

0

Take Me to the River

bridgeAsheville is a runner’s paradise: Cool summers, moderate winters, never-ending trails and convenient urban routes provide a ‘no excuse’ running environment. The area boasts a number of intriguing runs along our local rivers and streams. Here are a few local favorites riverbank runs.

Connect Asheville!

The parks and greenway along the French Broad offer one of the most accessible river runs in Asheville. On any given day, hundreds of runners, cyclists and walkers utilize the riverbanks and paved greenway.

Local runner and marathoner Uta Brandstatter enjoys running along the greenway and Carrier Park. “I like the convenience: car-free and ‘flat’ terrain,” she says. Brandstatter, also a hospice nurse, has run several marathons, including the 2013 Boston Marathon. Finding long stretches of level ground in Asheville can be challenging, another reason she likes this run. “A few years ago, I often ran on the greenway and Carrier Park during my 18-mile training runs for a coastal marathon.” Brandstatter combined the park and greenway with a run on the river road (Riverside Dr./Lyman St.) to extend her mileage. Another park bonus she pointed out, “Seeing other active people running and biking there is motivating for me!”

But you don’t have to be a long-distance runner to enjoy this run in the park. There are several options and distances for all levels. Choose from multiple loops or figure-8’s in Carrier Park to an out-and-back, park-to-park 6-mile stretch from the French Broad River Park to Hominy Creek Park parking lot. Water fountains and restrooms are available at the French Broad River Park and Carrier Park.

Swannanoa River Romp

A charming route, this run begins and ends at Buncombe County’s Charles D. Owen Park. Start with a 1-mile warm up around the park’s two lakes. A grassy trailhead at the western end of the park leads to Warren Wilson’s River Trail that straddles the river and college farm.

The trail hugs the banks of the Swannanoa river for nearly 2.75 miles and provides a gentle out-and-back course. Turn around at Old Farm School Road. Route highlights include rolling farmland, a 40’ rock outcrop overlooking the river and several deep-plunge pools. The trail is well-groomed but keep your eyes out for roots and rocks. Of course, respect the college’s trail rules and regulations (posted at the trailhead), which require dogs be leashed.

Sneak Route Along Bent Creek

Those who know me well know that I’m pretty thrifty. Paying for an entrance fee to run trails just isn’t in my DNA, especially with all the free options in WNC! I love the NC Arboretum, and I’ve supported them from the very beginning. But when it comes to running there, I take advantage of their free entry policy for walkers, cyclists and runners (first Tuesdays of each month are free for motorists, too).

Park at the Bent Creek River Park parking lot off Hwy. 191 and walk under the bridge along the M-T-S connector trail built years ago by a local Eagle Scout. Cross over the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance ramp and enter the gates. Past the gatehouse, take a left onto Hard Times F.S. Road and cross Bent Creek, then take a right on the wood chip trail that runs upstream along the creek and intersects with Bent Creek Road (gravel).

To keep it simple, stay on Bent Creek and continue along the stream until you reach the Arboretum’s boundary. Continue through the self-closing gate and enter Pisgah National Forest. When you reach the intersection of Hard Times, continue straight for a scenic ¾ mile loop around Lake Powhatan. The trail snakes along the lake and beach area before it enters into a rhododendron-laced natural tunnel that leads to the dam. Downstream approximately ¼ mile, the trail returns back to Hard Times Road/Bent Creek Road intersection. The entire out-and-back ‘lollypop’ route covers a shade over 5 miles.

What are you waiting for? Grab one of your pals or four-legged friends and add one of these river excursions to your running repertoire.

River run tip ~ Pack a towel and a change of clothes. After the run, treat yourself to a dip in the stream or river. Some say cool water stimulates the body and boosts recovery after exercising. Try it, you’ll like it!

0