Thursday, June 01, 2017


When I go hiking and backpacking it is always a thrill to see classic megafauna. That is, very large animals--the types of which are going extinct or being threatened in the wild. Here in the South, outside of places like Florida, the list of big animals is very small. Florida has manatees, alligators, bobcats, panthers, bears, deer, and a few other big critters. But in the southern Appalachians the list is much shorter. Basically the big animals you can hope to see are the black bear, the whitetail deer, bobcats, and in a very abbreviate area, the elk.

Recently I went on a day trip to the Smokies where I was looking forward to seeing black bears and elk. I chose to visit the Cataloochee area of the Park where I have not failed to see large numbers of elk since they were reintroduced a couple of decades back. And I can generally count on seeing at least one bear when I'm in the Great Smoky Mountains. Alas, this was not the case. I saw no elk at all and only one bear that had been darted and trapped by the Park Service and who was being released from its cage (that hardly counts).

But one thing that I did see in the Park that day was wild turkey flocks. Lots of them. Scores of them. When I was a kid backpacking the Park I was always told they were present in the ecosystem, but I never saw one. Never. These days the Park--and indeed most of the southeastern US--is packed with huge numbers of wild turkey. All due, I have been told, to reintroduction efforts and strict laws on poaching of wild turkey and heavy enforcement of those laws.

So I saw a lot of turkey that day. A couple of days later I went kayaking on Mountain Island Lake which is located about two miles from my house. And I again saw a number of impressive bird species. No turkey, but Great blue herons, Great egrets, and osprey.

I'm not sure of the exact definition of megafauna, but maybe birds like turkey, osprey, herons and egrets should be included. More and more they're about the largest animals that I encounter when I go hiking and kayaking.

Great egret, Mountain Island Lake.

Great blue heron.

Osprey, Gulf Shores National Seashore.

Tom turkey trying to woo the hens.

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