28 Sep Birding and fishing at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
Birding has always been a morning hobby. I woke up at 4 am to prepare breakfast and go bird banding with park scientists. My housing is in the south district, while Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont is located on the west district, an hour and forty-five minutes from my housing. The drive never bothered me, I would play AC/DC and wonder what new birds I might see that morning. I was able to arrive sooner than expected and helped install the metal tubes where the mist nets are hanged. It is important to highlight that park volunteering is indispensable for the park to function, it is thanks to them that a lot of research is possible within the park. Most of the personnel who helped verify the nets every 30 minutes were volunteers. We would do our first run at 7 am, then 7:30 am, and so on, until 12 pm.
Our first catch was at 8 am, a Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla).
After our waterthrush friend flew off, we received another bird at 9 am, a Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus).
Some cool facts I learned while bird banding was about brood patches. A brood patch is a patch of featherless skin in the belly, birds will drop the feathers on that particular region to help incubate their eggs during nesting season. Feathers act as inherent insulators and do not help in delivering heat to the eggs. That featherless skin is full of arteries with warm blood to do the job. You can see a birds brood patch by blowing gently on its underbelly. Here is a video showing off its brood patch.
One of my favorite parts of bird banding is when we release them. We don’t just throw them into the air and hope they fly. We always need a launching pad for the bird to take off. Thats where our young volunteers come in to give a hand, literally. Erin Carter, the biologist in charge of bird banding at Tremont always gave a fun and educational approach for the kids to learn with enthusiasm. Speaking of great jobs, Karen Metcalf, a wonderful volunteer whose family has helped in bird banding for years, organized the date to invite young children who are home schooled just outside the Smokies to come birding. These are the same kids who helped as landing platforms and learned about birds in the best way possible.
Finishing our last run of bird banding, some of the kids noticed a water snake bathing on top of some large river stones. I was able to record her just as she was leaving. I always loved seeing a snake since I couldn’t see them much during my stay.
Right after our snake encounter, we came back to headquarters to see a successful bird run, this time, a Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus).
Now you might think this is where I say everything went super cool and I finished my day. In reality, while we were waiting for another bird run, I asked the kids if they wanted to be Junior Ranger Anglers that very same day. The day before, I’d packed fishing poles, Junior Ranger Angler books, and badges with me in case I did a surprise program in the park, it worked out perfectly. After we where done birding, we grabbed some fly fishing poles and began casting.
Fly fishing with four Junior Ranger Anglers
The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont offers an exceptional learning opportunity, visitors can engage in fun activities with nature while also supporting citizen science. Not only is it a great place for birding, but the Middle Prong Little River that runs besides it offers a great chance to practice your fly fishing or even to get into it like my Junior Ranger friends. We walked just a couple of minutes to a bridge that crosses the river, this is where our fishing lessons would take place.
After we were done fishing, we certainly were not done for the day. They decided to see the fish instead of catching them, and so we did. I grabbed a couple of snorkels and started a snorkeling program with them.
Snorkeling for fishies
Just a minute up the river, there was a huge swimming hole that would serve perfectly for snorkeling and bathing. The kids did not even care about the freezing water and jumped in with me like true rangers.
What a day for these kids. They saw three birds being banded, a snake, and got their Junior Ranger Angler badges, I don’t know who was prouder, them or myself. After our bodies grew tired of swimming, we called it a day and went near my van to congratulate them. But their effort deserved more than just a vocal congratulations, so I offered them their earned badges and sworn them in.
These were one of my favorites kids to swear in as Junior Rangers, they definitely deserved them, I hope they get to be Park Rangers as well one day.
To be honest, when I was driving to go birding, I never thought I would end the day fishing and snorkeling with some kids. I think that goes to show how magical the Smokies are, or maybe it was me bringing my fishing materials everywhere I go, who knows.