Posts Tagged ‘Elk’

The Amazing Adaptable Whitetail Deer (Odocoileus virginiana)

March 5, 2013

The whitetail deer is probably the oldest large mammal species in North America.  Some whitetail deer fossils found in Florida  date to an astonishing 3.5 million years BP.  By contrast Homo sapiens as a species is roughly 200,000 years old.  Whitetail deer evolved from a similar species known as Odocoileus brachyodontus that existed from about 3.9-3.5 million years BP.  O. brachyodontus had different teeth and antlers from O. virginiana, but otherwise was a similar animal.  The direct ancestor of O. brachyodontus is unknown, but it was probably a species closely related to the Eurasian roe deer that crossed the Bering landbridge during the late Miocene.  As far as I know, a genome wide study of the deer family has yet to be completed.  The roe deer is the Eurasian species anatomically most similar to the Odocoileus genus, and therefore most likely to share a common ancestor.

Deer ecologically replaced the slender 3-toed species of horses and the American rhinos that formerly occupied the browsing niche in forested environments during the Miocene.  Ice Ages began occurring early in the Pliocene, and deer were better adapted to the resulting environmental changes than 3-toed horses and rhinos.  South of the ice sheets, a once year round climate of warm temperatures deteriorated to cycles of summer/hot and winter/cold patterns.  Drought became more frequent.  Broad-leafed trees evolved to drop their leaves during long cold winters and during prolonged droughts.  Deer were better able to survive in these deciduous forests.

Whitetail deer buck in its summer red coat.  This is the time 0f year pioneers collected deer hides and sold them for a dollar, hence the word “buck.”

Whitetail deer in its dull winter coat that helps it blend in a deciduous woods background.  Maybe it’s this adaptation that allowed it to survive when 3-toed horses couldn’t.

Whitetail deer thrive in fragmentary forests, explaining why they’ve been successful for so long.  Forests in southeastern North America have always been fragmentary.  Factors such as fire, windstorms, megafauna foraging, insect damage, plant diseases, and seed consumption create the patchy forest edge environments of constantly changing composition favored by whitetail deer.  The teeth of whitetail deer evolved from those of O. brachyodontus to enable them to include more grass in their diet–another advantage over Miocene browsers as the amount of grassland increased when climatic conditions changed.

Contrary to what I’ve read on some websites, during the Pleistocene, whitetail deer were just as widespread as they are today.  It is more accurate to say that in some regions they were less common than some now extinct species of megafauna.  In south Florida for example long-nosed peccaries apparently were more abundant than whitetails.  Llamas and tapirs likely competed with deer for the same resources in forested environments, while bison and horse were more successful in grasslands.  But deer were present just about everywhere, and I suspect they were the most common large mammal in the mid-south, even during most of the Pleistocene.

Modern anthropogenic land usage contributes to the fragmentary habitats whitetail deer are so well adapted to.  Men converted farmland to wooded suburbs, and abandoned farmland has become second growth forest.  Overhunting by man is the only threat to the existence of whitetail deer.  Whitetails do reproduce faster than all the extinct species of megafauna that couldn’t withstand human hunting pressure.  But in the past, intense human hunting has eradicated whitetail deer populations in many areas.  Deer were reported as scarce near large Indian settlements as early as 1704.  By the early 20th century deer were almost extinct in Georgia, but deer from the Great Lakes region were re-introduced here, and with proper management practices they remain abundant.  When I go jogging in my neighborhood I see fresh tracks daily, and I see  deer sprint in front of me about once every 6 weeks.  Some hunters complain deer are becoming less common, and they’re quick to blame coyotes.  I think the DNR needs to take a second look at the annual limit which is now up to 10.  30 years ago, the limit was just 3.  I find it ironic when hunters shoot 10 deer on their property, then wonder why they don’t see any deer the next year.  “It’s the coyotes,” they say.  Couldn’t it have something to do with the overgenerous season limits?

Whitetails are outcompeting mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in parts of the west undergoing suburbanization.  The latter prefer unbroken wilderness rather than the fragmentary habitat favored by their close relatives.  Mule deer evolved from an isolated population of whitetail deer some time during the early Pleistocene.  Some scientists proposed that the mule deer is a recent species resulting from a hybridization of blacktail and whitetail deer, but the fossil record and genetic studies debunk this hypothesis.  There are distinct fossils of mule deer dating to the mid-Pleistocene of California.  Moreover, studies of mule deer genetics show that blacktails and mule deer are the same species, despite sporting marked differences in physical appearance.  During the Last Glacial Maximum the Cordilleran Glacier separated mule deer from West Coast blacktails for thousands of years, accounting for the different physical traits, but they are still considered the same species by most experts.

Incidentally, Bjorn Kurten mentioned Pleistocene mule deer fossils found in Arkansas.  This is about 100 miles east of the species’ current range.  Whitetails are the only deer species found throughout the south, but the fossil record shows that elk (Cervus elephus), caribou (Rangifer tarandus), and the extinct stag-moose (Cervalces scotti) ranged into the mid-south during the Pleistocene.  Elk likely inhabited grassy hilltops in the piedmont region of Georgia until about 1760.  Elk fossils have been found as far south as Charleston, South Carolina.  Caribou fossils have been recorded from north Mississippi, north Alabama, north Georgia, the continental shelf off the coast of North Carolina; New Bern, North Carolina; and Charleston, South Carolina.  Most caribou fossils found in the south date to the Last Glacial Maximum, but 1 specimen came from interglacial strata. In the primeval wilderness of the Pleistocene there were probably a considerable number of stragglers that broke from huge herds located farther to the north, and these stragglers often wandered south.  There were no manmade barriers stopping them.  Fossils of the stag-moose have been found in Charleston, South Carolina and north Mississippi.  Elk, caribou, and stag-moose never could colonize the lower south and Florida because winters were too short and mild to limit the populations of blood-sucking insects that weaken northern species of deer.

Mule deer.  During the Pleistocene they ranged as far east as Arkansas.  Unlike whitetails, they prefer unbroken wilderness.

Elk.  William Bartram found elk bones on a grassy hilltop that I believe is located in Columbia County just above Augusta.  See https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2013/01/01/a-serpentine-barren-in-georgia-burkes-mountain/

Woodland Caribou wandered south, especially during the Last Glacial Maximum when stragglers broke off from huge herds migrating south of the ice sheets in what is now southern Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvannia.

Replica skeleton of a stag-moose, aka elk-moose.  Neither common name is accurate.  It wasn’t closely related to either elk or moose.  I prefer calling it the giant stag deer.  It was slightly bigger than a modern day moose.

South American red brocket deer.   All South American deer likely evolved from whitetails.  There’s no convincing evidence that any South American deer species ever lived in North America, though a member of the fossil forum claims he may write a paper about material he found in Florida that can be attributed to a South American species.

I used to think an additional extinct species of deer populated the upper south–the stilt-legged deer (Sangamona fugitiva).  But scientists analyzed the remains attributed to this species and determined all the material came from whitetails or elk.  Sangamona fugitiva is no longer considered a valid species, and as I related last week, fossil remains of marsh deer in Florida are probably from an incorrectly identified whitetail.

All South American deer probably evolved from whitetail deer.  Andean mountain deer, marsh deer, brocket deer, and pudus became geographically isolated from whitetails.  The latter do range into northern South America, but environmental change throughout the Pleistocene isolated the original populations of whitetails further south in the continent, resulting in varied speciation.  Dry climatic phases isolated tropical forests, causing them to become separated by vast grasslands and wetlands, and isolated populations of whitetails evolved into different species.

Vacation at Land Between the Lakes

June 22, 2012

This beautiful strip of land on the border between Kentucky and Tennessee was originally known as land between the rivers.  The Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers flowed parallel to each other and often flooded the land in between.  The floods enriched the soil, creating fertile farmland, but they were disastrous to homesteads.  By the 1920’s a once-thriving iron smelting industry began disappearing because the trees being used to fire the blast furnaces had largely been felled.  During the Great Depression the people living here had depleted most of the natural resources, and floods were ruining their only other remaining source of income–agriculture.  The Federal government saved the region by creating the Tennessee Valley Authority.  The TVA dammed the 2 rivers, creating Kentucky Lake and Lake Barclay, and in the process provided many much needed construction jobs and a long term source of hydroelectric power and flood control. The Land Between the Lakes was protected and trees grew back.

Black walnut trees are once again common in the forests of Land Between the Lakes.  This surprised me.

Thanks to the public works projects of the 1930’s, thousands of hillbillies and rednecks were elevated above poverty.  Ironically, today this region is a stronghold of Ron Paul followers who believe in free market Laissez-Faire economics, lax regulations, and no taxes–a return to the policies that wrecked this region almost 100 years ago.  They reject the federal government, the entity that literally saved their lives then.  The stupidity and ignorance of Ron Paul supporters is astounding.  If these tea baggers think the government is so bad, why do they want to be in it?

Land Between the Lakes is the greatest natural area I’ve ever visited.  From my cursory 5 hour survey, I estimate the upland is covered in about 80% hardwoods, 15% meadow, and 5 % pine.

Much of 18th century North America from Ohio and Pennsylvania south to middle Georgia and Alabama looked like this.  Note the buffalo wallow.  There were buffalo wallows all along the road that went through the Elk and Bison Prairie within Land Between the Lakes.

Biologists use fire to establish these 18th century-like landscapes.  Imagine bigger trees and this is what much of the eastern half of the continent  looked like when the pioneers first crossed it.  Many Pleistocene landscapes probably looked much like this as well.

Dominant trees include white oak, post oak, southern red oak, black oak, shagbark hickory, pignut hickory, sycamore, black walnut, sugar maple, red maple, mimosa, and cottonwood.  Willow grows in the low areas.  There are some wetlands but most were inundated by the reservoirs.  I recognized 3 species of pine–shortleaf, white, and Virginia.  I notice on the range maps that this population of Virginia pine is a disjunct one.  Birch, juniper, and ash are also present.  I forgot to try and identify the kinds of grass that grows in the meadows here but purple coneflowers and various species of coreopsis were blooming in abundance.

Coreopsis is abundant in meadows this year everwhere from Augusta, Georgia to LBL.  Heavy spring rains made for a good wildflower year.

Most of the mature trees look to be about 80 years old, but I did see 1 exceptionally large white oak growing on land within “The Home Place,” a replica 1850 farm.  This oak may have been growing on private property, and landowners saved it from the shortsighted iron smelters who were cutting all the trees down from 1870-1925.

I estimate this white oak to have a diameter of almost 6 feet.  Primeval forests consisted of widely spaced trees such as this.  Imagine the photo of the bison wallow above juxtaposed with bigger trees like this one.  Many shagbark hickory sapling grow in the shade of this oak.  Several nice specimens of mature shagbark hickories grow nearby.

LBL is 250 square miles, and there probably are other trees surpassing this one in diameter.

I enjoyed LBL much more than my trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The latter is crowded and holds little wildlife accessible to the public.  We saw only a few people in LBL during mid-morning hours and maybe a few more in mid-afternoon.  Despite the heat wave, an unfortunate stroke of luck, we saw lots of wildlife.  At the Elk and Bison prairie we ran into a herd of bison and a flock of cattle egrets.  They hardly noticed us.  We also saw 2 small flocks of turkeys.

These bison must be used to cars.  They didn’t budge, though the nursing calves hid behind the cows.  Note the cattle egret, and the bison’s coat in the process of shedding. Bison wallows occur all along the road and flattened bison patties are visible.

Cattle egrets, an African species, naturally colonized North America within the last century.  Nobody knows exactly when or how.  Presumably, a few flew here.

This is a mounted elk at the visitor’s center.  Unfortunately, I must be destined to never see a wild elk.  The hot weather forced the elk to bed down in the shade where I couldn’t see them.

We saw several wild white-tailed deer in broad daylight, despite the heat, but they wouldn’t stay still for a photo.  They are in their beautiful red summer coats.  This is the time of year 18th century market hunters killed them for their hides.  A buck skin was worth a dollar then, hence the slang “buck” for dollar.  I suspect a person traveling through the length of LBL during dusk or dawn would see dozens of deer–LBL is just ideal habitat for them and so is the adjacent Fort Campell and Fort Donelson Battlefield Park.

In addition to turkeys and cattle egrets, I saw brown-headed cowbirds, bluebirds, purple martins, eastern kingbirds, black vultures, turkey vultures, an unidentified hawk, a great blue heron, cardinals, and crows.  The Woodland Nature Center is a little zoo within LBL for orphaned and injured animals.

Gray rat snake.

Timber rattler.  Accounts of early white explorers suggest rattlesnakes were abundant in pre-Colonial Kentucky.

LBL is 20 miles from any town that is big enough to have a decent hotel.  From Augusta, Georgia a traveler can choose from hotels in Clarkesville, or Paris, Tennessee.  (There are plenty of campgrounds within LBL, but I like to sleep behind locked doors where tv is available.)  We stayed at the Westgate Inn  in Clarkesville and enjoyed a spacious clean room, a reasonable rate, an indoor swimming pool, and a generous breakfast bar, plus we got to witness a loud dispute between a tattooed customer suffering from a severe case of PMS and the hotel management who with the help of the police were trying to evict her and her family.

Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse Restaurant

Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse Restaurant in Monteagle, Tennessee.  The food was so good we ate here for lunch on the way to LBL and on the way back to Augusta.  It’s like a museum inside.

The best and most interesting restaurant we encountered on our vacation was Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse in Monteagle, Tennessee which is halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga. The place has a Cracker Barrel type atmosphere, but it seems more like the original blueprint, whereas the famous chain is merely an inferior rip-off.  Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse resembles a museum.  It houses a player piano, taxodermic wonders, and antiques of all kinds.  Jim Nabors’ albums plaster the walls.  There’s a tribute room to a locally famous country music band I never heard of.  Old fashioned candies, Jim Oliver’s country smoked hams and bacon, cheeses, and genuine fried pies are for sale.  They serve smoked meats–pulled pork, brisket, turkey, and ribs.   On our first visit I had a smoked roast beef open-faced sandwich with mashed potatoes and covered with gravy.  Smoking roast beef made for a delicious and unique dish.  Jim Oliver makes at least 8 kinds of sauce to go with his dishes.  I used the Trail of Tears sauce, a sweet, hot, barbecue sauce.  My beef didn’t need it, but it added nice variety.  I would alternate one bite with just gravy and one with sauce.  On our return visit I tried fried frog legs–the most unusual item on the menu.  The frog legs were juicy but lean white meat.  There’s nothing objectionable to the taste when they’re fresh.  (Frog legs can taste like biology lab, if they’re not.) 

This restaurant deserves high praise for serving authentic fried pies.

Fried chocolate pie !!! Words can’t describe how good this is.

The fried pies sold in grocery stores are made with regular pie crust and taste like cardboard.  Real fried pies are made with fluffy biscuit dough and resemble doughnuts.  Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse offers apple-pecan, peach, coconut, chocolate, and blackberry.  I had the peach.  On request they serve it with homemade ice cream.  One of the waitresses told me the fried pies sell out everyday.

Mounted bobcat, ruffed grouse, and gray fox on top of an antique piano.  That’s a particularly large specimen of bobcat (and fox).  This bobcat’s hind leg is bigger than my pet cat’s entire body.

Mitt Romney’s Tour Bus

While traveling home on I-24 through Nashville, we drove alongside Mitt Romney’s tour bus by accident.  What a coincidence.

Couldn’t be.

Yep, it is.  If the American people are stupid enough to vote for a man who says “Corporations are people too, my friend,” than they deserve what they get.

Excerpts from the Journal of an Expedition to Kentucky in 1750

April 20, 2012

Dr. Thomas Walker led 5 men on an expedition through the wilds of western Virginia and eastern Kentucky in 1750.  This was 20 years before Daniel Boone hunted and trapped the then Indian territory.  Dr. Walker kept a fascinating if brief journal of his experience.  Lyman Draper included the journal in his manuscript, The Life of Daniel Boone.

I wish I could’ve seen Kentucky in 1750.  Some early explorers reported seeing a thousand animals including bison, elk, deer, bear and flocks of turkeys all within 1 view of a Kentucky prairie landscape–a scene as rich as any on the African plains.  Though not as pristine as it was during the Pleistocene before the Indians, it must have been much more beautiful and impressive than any landscape in today’s America.  I’ve copied excerpts from Dr. Walker’s journal for this blog entry, and I’ve alternated them with my comments (in italics).  Most amusing is the way Dr. Walker sums up incredible adventures in 1 short sentence without any elaboration whatsoever.

***

Thomas Walker’s Journal 1750

Having on the 12th of December last, been employed for a certain consideration to go to the westward in order to discover a proper place for a Settlement, I left my house on the 6th day of March at 10 o’clock in Company with Ambrose Powell, William Tomlinson, Colby Chew, Henry Lawless, and John Hughs.  Each man had a horse and we had two  to carry the Baggage.  I lodged this night at Col. Joshua Fry’s in Albemarle, which County includes the Chief of the head branches of James River on the East side of the Blue Ridge.

March 13th.  We went early to William Calloway’s and supplied ourselves with Rum, Thread, and other necessaries and from thence took the Waggon Road leading to wood’s or the New River.  It is not well cleared or beaten yet, but will be a good one with proper management.  This night we lodged in Adam Beard’s low grounds. Beard is an ignorant, brutish fellow, and would have taken us up, had it not been for reason, easily to be suggested.

That last sentence is not clear to me.  I think it means Beard was being inhospitable because he thought they weren’t going to pay him enough for lodging.  Sounds like the exasperated Dr. Walker had to talk him into it.

March 15th.  We went to the great Lick on a Branch of the Staunton and bought corn of Michael Campbell for our horses.  This lick has been one of the best places for game in these parts and would have been of much greater advantage to the Inhabitants than it has been if the Hunters had not killed the Buffaloes for diversion, and the Elks and Deer for their skins.  This afternoon we go to the Staunton where the houses of the Inhabitants had been carryed off with their grain and Fences by the Fresh of last Summer, and lodged at James Robinson’s, the only place I could hear of where they had corn to spare, notwhithstanding the land is such that an industrious man might make 100 barrels a share in a Seasonable year.

Even this early in colonial history, overhunting wiped out the game in some areas.  Salt licks abound in Kentucky, formerly making it a destination for large herds of game.  A Fresh is an archaic term for flood.

March 24th.  We went to Stalmaker’s, helped him raise his house and Camped about a quarter mile below him…

This guys were handy, capable of building a log cabin in a day.

March 27th.  It began to snow in the morning and continued till Noon.  The Land is very hilly from West to North.  Some Snow lies on the tops of the mountains N.W. from us.

How unusual is snow in West Virginia in late March?  A cooler climate did prevail in the 1700’s compared to the present day.

March 31st.  We kept down Reedy Creek to Holston where we measured an Elm 25 feet around 3 feet from the ground.  We saw young Sheldrakes, we went down the River to the north Fork and up the north Fork about a quarter mile to a Ford, then crossed it.  In the Fork between Holstons and the North River, are five Indian Houses built with loggs and covered with Bark, and there were abundance of Bones, some whole Pots and Pans, some broken, and many pieces of mats and Cloth.  On the West side of the North River, is four Indian Houses such as before mentioned.  we went four miles Below the North River and camped on the Bank of Holstons, opposite to a large Indian Fort.

Wow, an elm with a 25 foot circumference, and an abandoned Indian village.  Nice day of exploration.

April ye 1st. The Sabbath.  we saw perch, mullets, and carp in plenty, and caught one of the large Sort of cat fish.  I marked my Name, the day of the month and date of the year on several Beech trees.

No telling what kinds of fish these were because he used familiar English names for American species of fish.

April 2nd.  we left Holston and travelled through small Hills till about Noon, when one of our Horses being choked by eating Reeds too greedily, we stopped having travelled 7 miles.

By reeds he undoubtedly meant bamboo cane which grew abundantly in pre-Colonial Kentucky.  He treated the horses that choked on reeds by giving them a lot of water to wash them down.

April 7th.  We rode 8 miles over Broken Land.  It snowed most of the day.  In the Evening our dogs caught a large He bear, which before we could come up to shoot him had wounded a dog of mine, so that he could not Travel, and we carried him on horseback, till he recovered.

They had many encounters with bears.  Note–it snowed again.

April 12th.  We kept down the Creek 2 miles further, where it meets with a large Branch coming from the South West, and thence runs through the East Ridge making a very good Pass; and a large Buffaloe Road goes from that Fork to the Creek over the West Ridge, which we took and found the Ascent and Descent tollerably easie.  From this Mountain we rode four miles to Beargrass River.  Small Cedar Trees are very plenty on the flat ground nigh the River, and some Bayberry trees on the East side of the River.  on the Banks is some Beargrass.  We kept up the River two miles.  I found some Small pieces of Coal and a great plenty of good yellow Flint.  The water is the most transparent I ever saw.  it is about 70 yards wide.

Herds of buffalo trampled down vegetation and earth into sunken roads as much as 3 feet deep and often 20 yards wide.  Indian paths followed these Buffalo roads.  Today, many state highways follow these same paths.  Coal and flint demonstrate interesting geology.  River waters were clear then, unlike today’s muddy rivers.

April 13th. We went four miles to a large Creek, which we called Cedar Creek, being a branch of Beargrass, and from thence Six miles to Cave Gap, the land being Levil.  On the North side of the Gap is a large spring, which falls very fast, and just above the spring is a small Entrance to a large Cave, which the Spring runs through, and there is a constant Stream of Cool air issuing out.  The Spring is sufficient to turn a mill.  Just at the foot of the Hill is a Laurel thicket, and the Spring Water runs through it.  On the South side is a plain Indian Road, on the top of the Ridge are Laurel Trees marked with crosses, others Blazed and several figures on them.  As I went down on the Other Side, I soon came to some Laurel in the head of a Branch.  A Beech stands on the left hand, on which I cut my name.  This Gap may be seen at a considerable distance, and there is no other, that I know of, except one about two miles to the North of it, which does not appear to be So low as the other.  The Mountain on the North Side of the Gap is avery Steep and Rocky, but on the South side it is not so.  We called it Steep Ridge .  At the foot of the hill on the North West Side we came to a Branch, that made a great deal of flat Land.  We kept down it 2 miles.  Several other Branches Coming in to make it a large Creek, and we called it Flat Creek.  We camped on the Bank where we found very good Coal.  I did not Se(e) any Lime Stone beyond this Ridge.  We rode 13 miles this day.

This is a more detailed entry than others.  I think he’s describing a gap through the mountains to aid  future settlers.

April 16th.  Rain.  I made a Pair of Indian Shoes, those I brought out being bad.

These guys had to be a jack of all trades.  In additions to making their own shoes, they could build cabins and canoes in about a day.

April 19th.  We left the River but in four miles we came on it again at the Mouth of Licking Creek, which we went up and down another.  In the Fork of Licking Creek is a Lick much used by Buffaloes and many Large Roads lead to it.  This afternoon Ambrose Powell was bit by a Bear on the Knee.  We rode 7 miles this day.

This is my favorite passage.  Oh yeah, and by the way, a bear bit Ambrose on the knee.  No elaboration whatsoever.  I wish he’d taken some literary license and added some exciting details.  Like what happened to the bear?

April 20th. we kept down the Creek 2 miles to the River again.  It appears not any wider here than on the mouth of Cl0ver Creek but much deeper.  I thought it proper to Cross the River and began a bark Canoe.

April 21st.  We finished the Canoe and tryed her.  About noon it began to thunder, lighten, hail, and rain prodigiously and continued for two hours.

They made a canoe out of bark in a day.  No mention is made of the shelter I’m sure they made to stay out of the rain.

April 23rd.  Having carried our Baggage over in the Bark Conoe, and Swam our horses, we all crossed the River.  Then Ambrose Powell, Colby Chew, and I departed, Leaving the others to provide and salt some Bear, build an house, and plant some Peach Stones and Corn.  We travelled about 12 miles and encamped on Crooked Creek.  The mountains are very small heareabouts and here is a great deal of flat Land.  We got through the Coal today.

Well, this answers the question of what happened to the bear that bit Ambrose.  I guess they were contemplating making this a regular stop, if they planted corn and peach seeds.  I wonder how the peaches did without any human care.  Unlike most fruits which are mutants that need grafting, peach trees will grow similar quality fruit as their parents, and they can produce in as little as 3 years.

April 26th.  The River is 150 yards wide and appears to be navigable from this place almost to the mouth of Clover Creek…On the Lower Side of the mouth of the Creek is an Ash mark’d T.W., a Red Oak A.P., a white hiccory C.C. besides several Trees blazed Several ways with 3 Chops over each blaze.  we went up the North Side of the River 8 miles, and Camped on a Small Branch.  A Bear Broke one of my Dogs forelegs.

They initialed their names on the trees. I’m sure these trees are long gone. Initialing trees was a way of proving where they were in case they got kidnapped by Indians or killed.  I’m surprised about how aggressive bears were.

April 28th.  We kept up the River to our Company whom we found all well, but the lame Horse was as bad as we left him, and another had been bit in the Nose by a Snake.  I rub’d the wounds with Bear’s oil, and gave him a drench of the same and another of the decotion of Rattle Snake root some time after.  The People I left had built a House 12 by 8, clear’d and broke up some ground, and planted Corn and Peach Stones.  They also had killed Several Bears and cured the meat.  This day Colby Chew and his Horse fell down the Bank.  I Bled and gave him Volatile drops and he soon recovered.

Physicians still practiced the medieval treatment of bleeding.  Colby Chew recovered despite the archaic treatment.

May 1st.  Another Horse being bit, I applyed Bears Oil as before mentioned…

The rattlesnake population must’ve been very high.  The rocky country is favorable habitat for them because it provides plenty of denning areas.

May 7th.  We went down Tomlinson’s River the Land being very broken and our way embarrassed by trees that had been blown down 2 years ago.

This is a landscape not often seen but common then.  Lumber companies often harvest storm blown trees.

May 12.  Under the Rock is a Soft Kind of Stone almost like Allum in taste; below it a layer of Coal about 12 inches thick and white Clay under that., I called the Run Allum Creek…

Interesting geology.  Probably been stripmined since.

May 17th.  Laurel and Ivy are very plenty and the Hill still very steep.  The Woods have been burnt some years past and are now very thick, the Timber almost all kill’d.  We Camped on a Branch of Naked Creek…

May 26th.  We kept down the Branch almost to the River, and up a Creek, and then along a Ridge till our Dogs roused a large Buck Elk, which we followed down to a Creek.  He killed Ambrose Powell’s Dog in the Chase, and we named the Run Tumbler’s Creek, the Dog being of that Name.

Poor Ambrose.  First bitten by a bear, then his dog gets stomped by an elk.

May 30th.  We went to the head of the Branch we lay on 12 miles.  A Shower of Rain fell this day.  The Woods are burnt fresh about here and are the only fresh burnt Woods we have seen these Six Weeks.

The Indians burned the woods regularly to improve habitat for game.  It was unusual for Dr. Walker to have travelled so long through country that hadn’t been burned lately.  I wonder, if the local Indians had suffered a smallpox epidemic, and there weren’t that many setting fires here.

May 31st.  We crossed 2 Mountains and camped just by a Wolf’s Den.  They were very impudent and after they had been twice shot at, they kept howling about the Camp.  It Rained til Noon this day.

June 4th.  I blazed several trees four ways on the outside of the low Grounds by a Buffalo Road, and marked my Name on Several Beech trees…We left the River about 10 o’Clock and got to Falling Creek, and went up till 5 in the Afternoon when a very black Cloud appearing, we turn’d out our Horses, got tent Poles up, and were just stretching the Tent, when it began to rain and hail, and was succeeded by a violent Wind which Blew down our Tent and a great many Trees about it several large ones within 30 yards of the tent.  we all left the place in confusion and ran different ways for shelter.  After the Storm was over, we met at the Tent and found all safe.

Sounds like they got caught in a downburst.

June 13th.  We are much hindered by the Gust and a shower of Rain about Noon.  Game is very scarce here, and the mountains very bad, the tops of the Ridges being so covered with Ivy and the sides so steep and stony, that we were obliged to cut our way through with our Tomohawks.

June 15th-16th. We got on a large Creek where Turkey are plenty and some Elks. we went a hunting and killed 3 Turkeys.  Hunted and killed 3 Bears and some Turkeys.

June 19th.  We got to Laurel Creek early this morning and met so impudent a Bull Buffaloe that we were obliged to shoot him, or he would have been amongst us…

Dr. Walker considered the wolves and buffaloes as impudent, if they didn’t flee the vicinity when people appeared.

June 20th…my riding Horse was bit by a Snake this day, and having no Bear’s Oil I rub’d the place with a piece of fat meat, which had the desired effect.

June 21st. We found the Level Nigh the Creek so full of Laurel that we were obliged to go up a Small Branch and from the head of that to the Creek again, and found it good travelling a Small distance from the Creek.  we Camped on the Creek.  Deer are very scarce on the Coal Land.  I having seen but 4 since the 30th of April.

July 13th.  I got home about Noon.  We killed in the Journey 13 Buffaloes, 8 Elks, 53 Bears, 20 Deer, 4 Wild Geese, about 150 Turkeys, besides small Game.  We might have killed three times as much meat, if we had wanted it.

I’m surprised bears were the most common large mammal killed on the trip.  I wonder, if the bears were attracted to the food cooked at camp. or were they simply more numerous in the heavily wooded country.  Just 6 men sure did a lot of damage to the wildlife in just 5 months.  No wonder market hunters wiped out all the large game in Kentucky by about 1840.

Irrational Anti-Wolf Hysteria in the Rocky Mountains

July 21, 2011

Photo of Yellowstone gray wolves from google images.  Note the color variations within the same pack.

The timber wolf (Canis lupus) is a beautiful animal well adapted to hunting big game.  It’s an ancient species having first evolved in Eurasia about 1 million years ago.  They crossed the Bering Landbridge and became widespread in western North America at least 300,000 years ago.  Based on the number and distribution of fossil specimens, dire wolves (Canis dirus) outnumbered timber wolves during most of the Pleistocene in the southern regions and lowlands, and apparently, timber wolves never penetrated the southeast, perhaps because red wolves (Canis rufus) were already present and occupying a niche not directly in competition with dire wolves.

The extermination of wolves from Yellowstone National Park and many sparsely populated regions of the west was an ecological disaster.  Elk and deer overpopulated the range, forcing National Park officials into the awkward position of having to shoot elk inside National Parks.  Canadian wolf populations rebounded, and they began recolonizing Montana and Idaho naturally in the early 1990’s.  Scientists reintroduced wolves back into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, improving the quality of the ecosystem.  Wolves now number between 1300-1600 in the northern Rocky Mountains.  Idaho held a spring hunting season on wolves in 2010 that led to the deaths of 188, not counting the puppies that starved to death following the deaths of their parents. 

The furious anger of irrational wolf haters pressured the Idaho Fish and Game Department into planning annual hunting seasons on wolves that will begin this upcoming fall, unless a lawsuit stops it.  The Idaho Fish and Game Department itself showed a bias in favor of killing wolves with the leading questions they asked on a pre-hunt survey such as “”Should wolves be managed to protect public safety?” instead of questions I would ask such as “Should wolves be slaughtered so their puppies will starve?”

The hatred of wolves is not based on reality or facts and seems most vocal among hunters who believe humans are the only animals on earth with the God-given right to kill other animals.  Although the Idaho Fish and Game Department only wants a sustainable “harvest” of wolves, many militant anti-wolf fanatics insist that wolves should be completely exterminated.  According to them, wolves “destroy all wildlife” and are causing big game populations to collapse.  It doesn’t occur to them that wolves are wildlife.  Hunter “harvest” statistics don’t support their erroneous beliefs.  I researched this and discovered how wrong they are.

Hunter “Harvest” Record from Wyoming Fish and Game Department for Selected Years

…………………………………..Elk …………………………..Deer

1994…………………………….24,534…………………………………….44,488

1996……………………………..20,612…………………………………….NA

2001…………………………….22,772…………………………………….47,943

2009……………………………22,971……………………………………..53,267

Note the elk “harvest” has remained steady in Wyoming, despite the reintroduction of wolves.  Deer “harvests” show a noticeable rise.  People spent an estimated $35 million in Wyoming just to see wolves, so their reintroduction has been beneficial economically as well as ecologically.

Hunter “harvest” table from Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks from selected years

……………………………………….Elk………………………..Deer

2001……………………………….20,578………………….111,783

2004……………………………….23,313…………………..119,266

2005………………………………26,201…………………….115,238

2010……………………………….24,744……………………94,730

Again, elk populations show no signs of collapsing.  Deer show a slight decline in the most recent year but this may be due to a severe winter.

According to the Idaho Fish and Game Department, in 2010 the elk population there was above management goals in 10 districts, within management goals in 13, and below management goals in 6.  Since wolves recolonized the state, the elk population has declined from 125,000 to 100,000, but “deterioration of habitat” is considered a greater factor than wolves, especially in districts where wolves are getting blamed.  There has been no economic loss due to a decline in big game tags issued.

Clearly, there is no collapse in big game populations in areas wolves have recolonized.  In any case I’ve asked some of these wolf haters how wolves could be increasing in numbers, if the population of their prey was supposedly collapsing.  A dearth of game would cause wolves to starve and decrease in numbers.  I’ve yet to see an answer to this logical point  that makes any sense.  One man insisted that after wolves exterminate elk they’d gobble up everything else including people–an ecological impossibility.

Many ranchers hate wolves as well.  However, losses of livestock to wolves is minimal.  In 2007 in Idaho ranchers lost 53 cattle, 170 sheep, and 8 dogs to wolves.  This out of a population of 2.2 million cows, 235,000 sheep, and probably hundreds of thousands of dogs.  For cattle this can be calculated to a loss of something like .000002%.  Infinitesimal.

Wolf haters also have an irrational fear that wolves will attack people.  The chances of this happening are remote–in North America there have been about 25 reported attacks of wolves on humans in recorded history.  In Europe and Asia documented wolf attacks on people number in the thousands.  In the Old World only the nobility were allowed to hunt and wolves didn’t learn to fear peasants; but in America where more people have guns in an egalitarian society, intelligent wolves did learn to avoid people.  Contrast these 25 reported wolf attacks in all of American history with 34 people killed by domesticated dogs (Canis familiaris) in the U.S. in one year, and the estimated 4.7 million dog attacks annually.  Yet, no rational person is calling for the extermination of domesticated dogs.

I’m not opposed to hunting for food. In my irregular series on this blog about my imaginary life living in Georgia 36,000 years BP, I hunt deer, elk, peccary, and bison for most of my meat (see the March archives for my most recent post on this).  But I’m disgusted with the attitude of many hunters today, and this certainly includes wolf haters who are all hunters unable to stand seeing other animals kill their game.  Direct TV offers 2 hunting channels.  More often than not on the hunting shows I’ve watched, hunters giggle like demented sadists after they’ve killed an animal.  When it comes to politics, the overwhelming majority of hunters are twisted fascists.

July 26, 2011 anti-wolf rally Federal judge Donald Molloy could once again halt a much needed wolf control hunt. - Sportsmen Needed To Protest Latest Wolf Hearing In Montana!

The controversial judge ruled against wolf haters in 1 case.  Freedom of speech does not include terroristic threats.  Whoever fashioned this sign should be arrested. (Note: the link to this photograph originally featured a picture of anti-wolf nuts hoisting a sign threatening Judge Molloy who ruled that wolves should remain protected.  Instead the photo on the embedded link was replaced with this asshole carting 4 dead wolves.) 

The above sign illustrates the intolerant hostility wolf haters have for people who oppose their point of view.  This sign is all one needs to know about these people.  They’re not nice guys.

Incidentally, one of these wolf haters who runs a ridiculous anti-wolf propaganda site known as save the elk.com was arrested recently for…felony poaching of an elk.  How ironic.

Another irrational fear wolf haters share is their belief that the federal government is going to take their guns away from them.  The way they carry on, one would think they were afraid the federal government was going to take their penises away.

References:

Idaho Fish and Game News 22 (2) August  2010

Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Hunters “Harvest” Tables

Wyoming Fish and Game Department Hunters “Harvest” Tables

What was the Deer-Hunting like in Pleistocene Georgia?

September 3, 2010

Deer-hunting season begins in Georgia this month.  The only native species of deer modern hunters can hunt in state is the white tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) which numbers close to 1.2 million, making it the second most common large mammal in the state, behind man.  This season, hunters are allowed to take an astonishing 10 antlerless and 2 antlered deer, suggesting either a shortage of hunters or an overpopulation of deer.

The fossil record provides evidence that white tail deer were a common large mammal species during the Pleistocene too.  Their bones are found in almost all Pleistocene-dated sites in state.  They’re a species that prefers forest edge habitats, and the dynamic ecosystems of the Ice Age with fire, rapid climate fluctuations, and megafauna  destruction of trees, created extensive areas of this type of habitat.

Photos I took of white tail deer at Fripp Island, South Carolina.  The deer here are numerous and have little fear of humans.  Nevertheless, they should not be approached or fed because they are unpredictable wild animals and dangerous.  They can use their hooves to stomp people.  Deer have been known to kill dogs.

I suspect elk (Cervus canadensis) may have been the second most common kind of deer in what’s now Georgia during the Ice Age, ranging as far south as the fall line between the piedmont and the coastal plain.  Elk fossils from Kingston Saltpeter Cave in north Georgia, and near Charleston, South Carolina are the southernmost record of this species.  None have been found in Florida’s abundant fossiliferous deposits.  I think this is evidence of an abrupt difference in climate between the piedmont region of southeastern North America and the coastal plain.

Scientists don’t know much about the extinct fugitive or stilt-legged deer (Sangamona fugitiva).  It was like a white tail deer but approached an elk is size, maybe being slightly smaller.  The deer lived in east central North America from Missouri to West Virginia and a definitive record comes from Hamblen, Tennessee.  It probably occurred in northern Georgia because Dr. Clayton Ray found a tooth that may or may not have been from this species–the specimen was in too dodgy a condition to identify with certainty.

That caribou (Rangifer caribou) lived in northern parts of southeastern states during the Ice Age fascinates me.  Caribou fossils discovered in Bell Cave, Yarbrough Cave in Georgia, and near Charleston, South Carolina are evidence this species lived much further south than it did in historical times.  Were they stragglers or members of large migrating herds that regularly travelled through Georgia?  I wish I knew.

The stag-moose, or elk moose (Cervalces scotti) is kind of misnamed for it wasn’t closely related to a moose or an elk.  It was named so because it slightly surpassed a moose in size and sported antlers similar to those of the elk.  However, it was a distinct species, now extinct.  Its fossils are occasionally found in places like Ohio or New York.  One tooth of this species was discovered in Magnolia Phosphate Mine near Charleston (as I noted in a previous blog entry about the site)–evidence a small population roamed the upper south.

Pleistocene venison may have had a bitter flavor.  According to pollen records, wormwood (Artemesia) flourished more abundantly in the south than it does today.  This plant still commonly occurs in western localities, such as in Yellowstone National Park.  Reportedly, game that’s been eating wormwood acquires a bitter taste.  I can attest to the fine qualities of wild Georgia white tail deer meat–it tastes like dry beef, and I think the wild venison is better than New Zealand farm-raised animals, which though also good, tastes more like lamb.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee–A Tale of a Tourist Trap Nightmare

June 20, 2010

I’m taking a break this week from my usual essays about Pleistocene Georgia to write a travelogue of a vacation my family forced upon me.  For my daughter’s 15th birthday my wife promised her a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a crowded tourist trap, bordering the north end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is itself an overhyped haven for wildlife.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

The sidewalks are jammed with tourists from early morning till midnight, and they come from all over the world, including Ohio, Louisiana, Iowa, Florida, Texas, Missouri, Japan, and Germany.  Little shops and stores, like cigars crammed inside a tin can, stand in line on both sides of the confusing winding streets, beckoning the tourists to throw money their way.  There’s a Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Store, a Guinness Book of World Records Museum, a wax museum, a celebrity car museum, a hat and cowboy boot outlet, a country western bar, pancake houses and barbecue restaurants, a McDonalds, and untold other high, low, and middle end stores.  All this exists but with precious little parking.   There are no alleys in between the stores and no parking lots in front or to the sides of the businesses.  We found a parking lot in back of one museum that cost us $10.  My wife is disabled and I didn’t want to have to wheel her chair across town.  Gatlinburg’s not that big–I recommend (if tourist traps are your cup of tea) to hike downtown from your motel, or you can take one of the trolleys.  The streets are interspersed with rights of way for walking tourists, but out-of-town motorists don’t realize this, creating a dangerous hazard.  Other motorists disregarded the pedestrian rights of way, until they saw me stopping.

My daughter chose to throw our money away at the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum

I found this freak show rather lame and outdated, but I guess it’s ok for kids.  There’s nothing here surprising to a person well versed in science and history.

This is a hairball from a pig.  The poor animal must have coughed its lungs up to get this out.

This is a photo of me next to a replica of Robert Wadlow, the tallest man to ever live.  In a boxing match between us it would’ve been hard for me to land punches above the belt.

This poster of spiderman is made out of real spider webs.  Amazing!

This is a medieval chastity belt.  I bet men found a way to overcome this.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Mark Gelbart Eats an Eyeball–Believe it…or Not

We ate supper one night at the Smoky Mountain Trout House, an overpriced tourist trap restaurant.  They serve trout 13 different ways.  The sides were nothing special–frozen crinkle cut french fries, the driest hushpuppies I ever ate, and bottled salad dressing.  The trout was good–I wolfed down a whole crispy fried one.  This was the first time I’d ever eaten a fish with the head left on.  I made Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel series Bizarre Foods proud when I dared to eat a fish’s eyeball.  It tasted strong, much fishier than the flesh, and I could feel the solid texture of the lens on my tongue.  I didn’t eat the other eyeball and don’t recommend eating them, unless starvation is imminent.

We ate lunch at the Flying Pig Smokehouse.  The prices here were more family friendly, and the barbecue genuine.  The apple cinnamon barbecue sauce went well with smoky pork.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I highly recommend this park for those interested in botany.  Situated as it is in the middle of eastern North America and with varying elevations, plant species diversity is high.  There are plants that prefer warm climate growing next to species with cold climate affinities, much like what grew further south in Georgia during the Ice Age.  I found hemlock, white pine, loblolly pine, white oak, chestnut oak, northern red oak, beech, birch, elm, tulip, red maple, box elder, buckeye, sweetgum, sycamore, hickory, bigleaf magnolia, and black walnut.  The large numbers of black walnut within the park boundaries surprised me.  This tree’s wood is prized by furniture makers.  It’s rare outside the park, though it formerly was a common species of our eastern deciduous forest.  Rhodadendron was common in the understory.

This is the view from Newfound Gap.  The mountains are literally smoking.

Meigs Falls

Rhodadendron in the center of the photo.

This is a potential bear den next to the Appalachian trail.  When large mature trees fall, the roots rip up caverns, making it easy for bears and other critters to dig deeper tunnels.  This part of the trail was busy and noisy.  We were sandwiched between a motorcycle convention in the parking lot and a hiker playing loud music.

I do not recommend Great Smoky Mountains National Park for tourists interested in wildlife viewing.  By far the most common large mammal species in the park is Homo sapiens–the park is badly overcrowded.  The main highway #441 that bisects the park has bumper-to-bumper traffic.  I even got stuck in a traffic jam.  Supposedly, the park holds 6,000 white tail deer, 1600 black bear, 600 wild boar, and 100 elk.  The only mammals I saw were an estimated 40,000 people and one gray squirrel–a bitter disappointment.  Supposedly, 200 species of birds reside in the park.  I saw 5, and they were species commonly seen in Augusta, Georgia where I live.

95% of the park is a closed canopy forest; the balance is meadow.  Some of the forested area is old growth.  Large mammal populations are low in old growth forests, and what little lives there is hidden in the trees.  No timbering is allowed so mast-producing trees, such as oaks,  are being shaded out by less productive trees.  Coupled with the loss of the chestnuts to the blight in the last century, this means there is little food available for large mammals.  Moreover, most of the areas in the park that are favorable for wildlife viewing were closed. Cades Cove, Roaring Fork, and Clingman’s Dome were all closed either for maintenance or due to rock slides.  Cataloochee Valley, on the eastern side of the park where the elk were re-introduced, is remote and difficult to access.  It’s at the end of a long, winding, unpaved road that’s steep and has a speed limit of 5 mph.  Because my wife’s disabled, I was nervous about continuing on this road.  If our car broke down, it would’ve been a disaster because she couldn’t walk back to civilization.  So I turned back.

I didn’t even see any interesting small mammals.  Red squirrels, also known as chickarees, inhabit the park as well as chipmunks and woodchucks.  None of these species live near Augusta, but alas I didn’t see them here either.

I did see lots of butterflies, especially eastern tiger swallowtails.  Their larvae feed on many of the tree species so common here.  I also saw two different kinds of butterflies from the Pieridae family.

The museum at the park welcome center had many fine stuffed specimens.  The museum affords about the only opportunity for a visitor ot see animals in the park.

I did catch a whiff of a nearby skunk at Newfound Gap.  It didn’t smell as bad as our hotel room which I nicknamed the Armpit Motel.

This is a tulip tree trunk.  Large, mature tulip trees are a dominant tree in the park.  None I saw approached this is circumference.  Most people don’t realize that much of the original forest in this area was leveled by 1910.   The forest now consists of second growth.

This is the biggest bald faced hornets next I’ve ever seen.  They’re a marvel of insect engineering.

Supposedly, this is a trout stream.  The waters are clear but I saw no fish, turtles, frogs, or fish-eating birds.  Don’t expect to catch trout here.  The only trout left in the area are grown on fish farms.

Admittedly, I’m a cynic.  I suspected the park administration exaggerated mammal population estimates to encourage tourism.  So to prove to myself that animals actually live in the park, I looked for tourist videos of wildlife in the park on youtube as evidence that they weren’t just making these figures up.   I don’t have direct links but do a search at www.youtube.com for “Bear breaks into car at Clingman’s Dome,” “Cades Cove black bear,” and “Elk in the Cataloochee Valley.”  Note how incredibly ignorant some of the tourists act around bears.  The footage of bears tearing up logs while looking for termites, and another of one digging up a yellow jacket nest is interesting.  The video of a bull elk bugling, while the rest of the herd rests behind a flock of turkeys is the kind of scene I had hoped to see.

Overall, I think the park is poorly managed and underfunded.  The current ratio of closed canopy forest to meadow limits quality wildlife habitat and viewing.  Selective tree cutting, as practiced by native Americans, would improve both.  Bison, wild horses, cougars, and wolves should be re-introduced.