Hiking Nature

Hiking in Nashville, Tennessee and beyond

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Cumulonimbus capillatus: Before the storm

March 22nd, 2012 · weather

Beautiful clouds in Nashville, Tennessee

birds flying under cumulonimbus capillatus clouds: Nashville, Mar 14, 2012, Stephen Frasier Photography 2012This amateur cloud spotter recently noticed a unique, beautiful cloud with the appearance of a great big splash of water, as though a huge log had been tossed into a lake. The stringy, thin nature of this cloud led me to misidentify it as some type of cirrus cloud. In retrospect, that was an unwise choice; cirrus clouds are far higher than the cumulonimbus cloud to which this interesting splash of a cloud was connected.

cumulonimbus capillatus clouds: Nashville, Mar 14, 2012, Stephen Frasier Photography 2012What I initially and mistakenly believed to be cirrus clouds turned out to be an incredible splash of cumulonimbus capillatus clouds. Without The Cloudspotter’s Guide — one of my favorite weather-related books – I would not have correctly classified the big white splash painted on the blue sky.

This amazing cumulonimbus capillatus marked the western edge of a severe thunderstorm: a supercell which drove south Nashville residents into their basements and storm cellars. Having one of the few basements in our neighborhood, we had a small crowd for this exciting severe weather event. Love those storms…

NOTE: Dozens of additional photographs in this series (shot at the same time) can be seen on the recent post, Incredible capillatus clouds mark the edge of a thunderstorm

Resources: Cumulonimbus capillatus clouds

This post was written on Thursday, March 22, 2012.

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Mammatus clouds at sunset: Green Hills Mall, Nashville

March 20th, 2012 · weather

mammatus cloud at sunset over Green Hills Mall in Nashville, TN - after storm on Mar 14, 2012I am fairly sure that there’s a small patch of smooth, rounded mammatus clouds here. Whether or not I have correctly identified this cloud, it sure did make for some nice eye candy.

Although these cloud photographs are not particularly good examples of mammatus clouds, I see (or at least notice) them so rarely, they are worthwhile to this nature enthusiast. As far as I could tell, only this small patch of

dinner with Dad at Noodles - Green Hills Mall: Nashville, Mar 14, 2012, Stephen Frasier Photography 2012These clouds were also photographed on March 14, 2012, the date of an interesting bout of severe weather in Nashville, Tennessee. For hours on end, the sky seemed to present photo op after photo op.

These shots were taken just before dining at the Noodles restaurant there at Green Hills Mall next to Ruby Tuesday.

Photo gallery: Post-storm clouds at sunset in Nashville

Resources: Mammatus clouds at sunset

This post was edited on Thursday, March 22, 2012; Sunday, April 15, 2012…

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Western edge of looming thunderstorm

March 14th, 2012 · weather

These storm-cloud images (shown in the photo gallery below) represent Set #2 of the Nashville, TN cloud photography by Stephen Frasier taken in the late afternoon hours of Wednesday, March 14, 2012.

Set 1 | Set 2 | Set 3 | Set 4

Set #2: Western edge of looming thunderstorm – Nashville cloud photography (3/14/2012)

NOTE: Set #1 photos — entitled Incredible clouds at the edge of a thunderstorm — were uploaded to Flickr, but they took up the rest of the maximum space allowed for free Flickr accounts! No more Flickr…)

These are dramatic, beautiful images of the western edge of the thunderhead — comprised of thick, billowing, cumulonimbus clouds — which drove a small but severe thunderstorm cell through Brentwood, TN in the late afternoon hours.

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Incredible capillatus clouds mark the edge of a thunderstorm

March 14th, 2012 · weather

Today I took hundreds of interesting cloud photographs. I have arranged today’s fascinating Nashville weather photography into several sets of photographs, to be published here as soon as possible.

These storm-cloud images (shown in the photo gallery below) represent Set #1 of the Nashville, TN cloud photography by Stephen Frasier taken in the late afternoon hours of Wednesday, March 14, 2012.

Set 1 | Set 2 | Set 3 | Set 4 | Set 5 | Set 6

Set #1: Incredible capillatus clouds – Nashville cloud photography (3/14/2012)

What I noticed first regarding today’s interesting weather developments was a highly unusual, triangle-shaped burst of cumulonimbus capillatus clouds (previously misidentified as cirrus clouds) to the southwest, in an arrangement not often seen. I later learned that these unusual, splashing capillatus clouds marked the far western edge of a looming thunderstorm cell, yet to be noticed by this photographer.

After a few minutes, it became apparent that these cumulonimbus capillatus clouds were only a sliver of a much wider photogenic section of sky; those clouds marked only the western edge of a huge, billowing, looming thunderhead: the edge of a small but severe thunderstorm that raced through Brentwood, TN late this afternoon.

I took many photographs of the western edge of the thunderhead – billows of cumulus clouds being illuminated by the setting sun.

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Amazing skies persist during drive to Green Hills

March 14th, 2012 · weather

Set 1 | Set 2 | Set 3 | Set 4 | Set 5 | Set 6

Set #3: Shots taken during drive to Green Hills – Nashville cloud photography (3/14/2012)

The first few photographs in this set were taken from our driveway; the others were shot from the passenger side of my father’s car as we drove from Lipscomb University to the Shell gas station in Green Hills at Warfield Drive. (Many blurry photos were left intact; although I deleted a few unusable shots, I decided to keep many of the motion-blur photography to mess around with and photo-edit later.)

By this time, the small but severe thunderstorm cell had passed by. The sun broke through the remaining post-storm clouds, hitting the freshly budding, greening treetops in a uniquely interesting and colorful way (as you’ll see in the photo gallery below). It is still quite difficult to believe that this May-like weather is happening in mid-March! Weird.

This winter’s 2nd (second) early budding & flowering phase is well underway — another highly unusual weather phenomenon. For the first time in my life (and quite possibly for the first time ever, or at least in recent history), the winter has broken into unseasonably warm weather to allow not one, but two separate early budding/flowering phases due to record-breaking temperatures! Far out.

Most of the shots in Set #3 were taken from the passenger seat as we drove; even the blurry images were retained for possible editing at a later time.

Photos included
This set includes cloud photographs #167 to 249 (renamed 1024px photographs)

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Machine Falls at Short Springs, a Tennessee natural area

August 7th, 2011 · Tennessee hiking trails

Short Falls - hiking in Tennessee- photo by Kelly Stewart

I had never heard of Short Springs State Natural Area – and certainly not Machine Falls – until Kelly Stewart emailed me his fantastic panoramic photograph of Machine Falls dwarfing his friend! What a photo.

(Original photos by Kelly Stewart)

The Short Springs State natural area is a 420-acre area just north of Tullahoma in Coffee County – ruled completely by Mother Nature (and also jointly by TVA, the Tennessee Department of Conservation, and The City of Tullahoma) since being designated a state natural area in 1994.

Short Falls - hiking in Tennessee- photo by Kelly Stewart

For those of you who like to have all the info you can possibly have, there’s a Garmin graph of the elevation changes of the 3.5 mile hike at Short Springs on the EveryTrail.com site.

Also in the Short Springs area:
Machine Falls hiking trail – 2 mile loop
Bob Creek Trail
Busby Falls
Rutledge Falls (nearby)

Resources: Short Springs – waterfalls, hiking in Tennessee

Sunday, August 07, 2011

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Largest spider on earth: Goliath Tarantula

July 9th, 2011 · non-local

Some might assume that a fellow who goes out of his way to capture and examine a wild snake would also be enthralled with spiders. Not necessarily so; seeing big hairy spiders like this brings my neck hairs to attention.

I’m grateful we don’t have to worry about running into the likes of bird-eating spiders while hiking here in Tennessee. Yes, these spiders are so large they eat birds – and these tarantulas are hunted and eaten by the locals as well, for as the BBC video states, picky eaters don’t last very long in the jungle.

NOTE: Spiders are not insects; nevertheless, references to the largest bugs in the world are also referenced here.

Resources & more

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What are the most common snakes in Tennessee?

July 2nd, 2011 · snakes

Timber Rattlesnake - public domain pic

During my research on Timber Rattlesnakes I ran across an article stating that the copperhead is the most common species of snake in the southeastern United States. While within the realm of possibility, it’s completely at odds with my own personal experience as an amateur herpetologist.

I became fascinated with reptiles of all kinds (especially snakes) when I was about five years old. This interest of mine was perhaps sparked during trips to Lake Barkley, one of the Kentucky Lakes where my grandfather used to take me fishing. I often found Northern Water Snakes under the loose shoreline rocks, sometimes capturing them by the dozen if the season was right – temporarily stowing them in a small white minnow bucket.

Northern water snake at Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville, Tennessee

If it wasn’t those fishing trips with Granddaddy that got me into snakes, then it was probably the convergence of three creeks into a single stream in what was then our family’s backyard in south Nashville, Tennessee on the edge of Crieve Hall, near Ellington Agricultural Center. There were snakes galore back then. (In contrast, more recent expeditions into Nashville snake territory have revealed a far smaller variety of snake species.)

My excursions into nature throughout Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, and Alabama have resulted in less than five (5) positive IDs of poisonous snakes. In each case it was a Timber Rattlesnake. However, given the amount of time and all the snake sightings over the years, it’s a virtual certainty that at least a few of the many serpents that got away during all those snake hunts were poisonous snakes.

Northern water snake at Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville, Tennessee

I suppose the main point I wish to convey is that poisonous snakes are not as common as one might believe. The species of snake most commonly sighted in Tennessee throughout the years (by this reptile enthusiast, at least) include the Northern Water Snake and the Gray Rat Snake.

The ubiquitous Common Garter Snake should probably grace just about any list of snakes commonly sighted in the United States; however, I’ve run across far more water snakes, if for no other reason than growing up searching in and around creeks and streams.

Northern water snake at Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville, Tennessee

The most significant visual indicator that a snake might be poisonous, at first glance anyway, is a relatively thick, heavy body. In Tennessee at least, a snake that’s long and thin is far less likely to be poisonous than a snake that’s short and fat. For this reason, the Northern Water Snake is frequently mistaken to be a Water Moccasin (especially when found in or near water) or a Copperhead (due to its banded, often rusty complexion). In fact. I’d guess this water snake-for-cottonmouth assumption is the most common snake identification error in this part of the country.

But all this is not to say that caution should be thrown to the wind. IMHO, it is a major fluke – highly unusual — that a person like me who has spent such a large quantity of time over the years exploring the creeks and woods of Nashville — has somehow had so very few positive IDs of poisonous snakes.

So, please don’t approach a wild snake unless you are certain it’s not poisonous. On the other hand, please don’t harm them, either.

Resources: What’s the most common snake in Tennessee?

Timber Rattlesnake - public domain pic

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Timber Rattlesnake spotted during Fiery Gizzard hike

June 29th, 2011 · snakes

timber rattler on a ledge at Fiery Gizzard hike in Tennessee

One of the most memorable reptile sightings while hiking in Tennessee was this Timber Rattler sunning itself on a ledge overlooking the canyon. Fantastic! I was hiking with my dog Sky that day – fortunately she didn’t get too curious.

NOTE: I must apologize for the quality of the first couple of Timber Rattlesnake photos – low-resolution scans from my film camera days. I captured the top two photos on the wonderful Fiery Gizzard trail near Monteagle, Tennessee; the other pictures – also Timber Rattlesnakes unless otherwise noted – are public domain images (as far as I could tell).

The well-represented Crotalinae subfamily of snakes, or crotaline snakes, is comprised of the pit vipers: snakes that possess an additional tool consisting of a heat-sensing pit organ located between the eye and the nostril on either side of the head, allowing them to hone in on warm-blooded prey like mice and rats.

timber rattler on a ledge at Fiery Gizzard hike in Tennessee

Herpetology experiments have shown that pit vipers can strike accurately at moving objects that are less than 0.2°C warmer than the background – even when deprived of their senses of sight and smell. It’s almost as if the pit organs work like a primitive pair of eyes; however, no one knows for certain (yet) whether these snakes experience this “sixth sense” visually or in some other manner. In any case, the pit organs are of immense value to predators operating at night.

Poisonous snakes in Tennessee

Timber Rattlesnake - public domain pic

According to the Tennessee Amphibians and Reptiles website, Tennessee is home to 138 species of snakes, turtles, lizards, salamanders, and frogs. Of these, over forty species are snakes, and only four (4) of these are poisonous pit vipers. Topping this short list as the coolest and most beautifully patterned venomous snake in Tennessee is the Timber Rattlesnake, which can be found all over the state in now dwindling numbers.

The other poisonous snakes found in Tennessee include cottonmouths, copperheads, and pygmy rattlers. The cottonmouth or water moccasin (generally the Western Cottonmouth) is found in wet areas, mostly in the western half of Tennessee. There are two copperhead subspecies in Tennessee: the Southern Copperhead lives predominantly in the southwestern section of Tennessee and the Northern Copperhead throughout the rest of the state. The diminutive Pygmy Rattler lives primarily in the counties along Kentucky Lake.

Kill! Kill! Kill! No, don’t.

Timber Rattlesnake - public domain pic
As a major reptile fan I’ve always been both amused and disturbed by an all-too-common reaction many humans have to being surprised by a snake – especially when it occurs near a creek, river, pond, or lake. “It’s poisonous! I know it’s poisonous – my grandfather taught me when I was a kid, yada yada yada. Kill it!” To these people, all snakes are poisonous and a threat: a clear and present viper. In truth, the vast majority of snakes anyone sees in the wild – including in and around bodies of water – are harmless.

If a snake is near water…

I mentioned water for a couple of reasons: First, a faulty assumption is made by the intrepid snake hater that any serpent near water is a Water Moccasin – a Cottonmouth. Reality check: water snakes are some of the most common types of snakes remaining in Tennessee; most of the time a snake is found in or near a creek or pond, it is one of the water snakes.

Northern water snake at Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville, Tennessee

Second, a great many water snakes (e.g., the very common Northern Water Snake) have a really nasty temper and will frequently change its appearance when frightened or threatened. These snakes can instantly change their body shape from cylindrical to flattened, while the head of the snake becomes almost triangular. Why? Water snakes do this in order to mimic poisonous snakes and thus appear more threatening.

Harmless water snakes of the genus Nerodia are often mistaken for Water Moccasins. These Colubrid snakes, like Water Moccasins, are semi-aquatic, thick-bodied snakes with large heads that adopt a rather aggressive demeanor when they feel threatened, but they behave differently. For example, water snakes usually flee quickly into the water, while a Water Moccasin will more often stand its ground with its threat display. Also, water snakes do not vibrate their tails when excited.

While this water snake ploy probably works wonders with most animals (except for raccoons and others who enjoy dining on snakes), the bluff has caused almost everyone to adopt and believe critical misinformation about these incredible legless reptiles. Undoubtedly, thousands upon thousands of water snakes have been mistaken for Water Moccasins or Copperheads and killed, in Tennessee alone — often because of their little trick to mimic the appearance of a snake that actually can be dangerous under certain circumstances.

There’s another highly popular but ridiculous old wives tale: Cottonmouths (aka Water Moccasins, Swamp Moccasins) are so aggressive and mean they will chase you. In reality, these snakes are more frightened of you than you are of them. They will get away if they think they can, and if not, they will stand their ground and perform a scary ritual designed to make you flee; however, Cottonmouths do not typically engage you in a chase as you run.

Northern Water Snake - a common harmless snake in Tennessee

See what I mean about water snakes looking like copperheads to the untrained eye? The banded Northern Water Snake not only pretends to be poisonous when frightened, the bands often cause this species to be mistaken for the poisonous Copperhead. It’s a double whammy against the Northern Water Snake in terms of its already severely limited appeal to most humans.

Sad status of the Timber Rattlesnake in Tennessee

I suspect very few of you will join me in mourning the fact that the Timber Rattlesnake is now threatened in Tennessee. The cause is very predictable: the Timber Rattler is losing its home to development. Each year the habitat of the Timber Rattler shrinks in Tennessee from the year before.

The truth is, no one should be happy or relieved about this. Like all other species of animal, plant, insect, fungi, fish, and what have you, the velvety, often colorful Timber Rattlesnake has a specific role to play in our ecosystem – a role that cannot be played by any substitute (me for him, coke for gin…). Like it or not, the Timber Rattler is part of the web of life. When it disappears, there will necessarily be an effect; after all, no creature – no matter how ugly, mean, or poisonous – lives in a vacuum.

Fortunately – yep, I’m glad – it’s illegal in Tennessee to kill, harm, or hold any native wild snake against its will without a permit!

Snakebite Statistics for the United States

Here are a few interesting U.S. snakebite statistics, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA):

Around 50,000 people are bitten by snakes in the United States each year. While that figure may sound alarmingly high, keep in mind that it includes ALL reported snakebites. As an amateur herpetologist and unpaid naturalist from the age of five, I’ve been bitten by non-venomous snakes dozens of times and I’ve never even thought about reporting it (and I never had a bad reaction even when all those small but sharp teeth made me bleed. Considering all the other reptile aficionados out there, the 50,000 number is very, very low. The actual number of Americans being bitten by snakes each year is perhaps in the hundreds of thousands.

Of the reported fifty thousand snakebites in America, only 8,000 were bites from poisonous snakes. Of those bites from poisonous snakes, 1,200 did not even seek medical attention yet recovered fully.

Bites from non-poisonous snakes

It is true – but highly unlikely – that a medical situation could result from the bite of a non-poisonous snake. This is due mainly to the possibility of infection or allergic reaction. But think about it: it’s not that there’s anything worse about a non-poisonous snake than other creatures; after all, a bite from another human could be far more dangerous. The bite from almost any reptile or mammal could pose a danger if it breaks the skin; mouths and teeth naturally harbor bacteria in most animals, and it can enter the bloodstream when a bite draws blood.

Bites from venomous snakes

Actual deaths from venomous snake bites are very, very low in this country. You are about eight (8) times more likely to be struck by lightning than die from a snake bite, and you are twice as likely to die from wasp or bee stings as from being bitten by a venomous serpent! Only 6 to 15 people die from poisonous snake bites each year in the United States, and of those few individuals, less than half die as a result of being bitten by the kinds of poisonous snakes we have here in Tennessee (we have only four kinds of poisonous snakes here). Finally, in Tennessee there have been only seven (7) recorded deaths from snake bites during the last 40 years. There’s little to worry about.

As I conducted research for this post, I noticed that Wikipedia even has list of people who have died from being bitten by venomous snakes!

Quick ways to tell if a snake is poisonous

Unless one is familiar with snakes, it is difficult or impossible to determine for certain whether a snake is poisonous without getting too close. Even so, here are some general guidelines.

Poisonous snakes in Tennessee:

  1. Are thick, heavy-set, with comparably fat bodies
  2. Are all pit vipers and thus possess the pit organ on the front of their heads
  3. Have elliptical pupils; non-venomous snakes have round pupils
  4. Have triangular heads that are more distinct from the body than the heads of most non-poisonous snakes in Tennessee; but, as discussed above, some water snakes and hognose snakes can mimic this appearance when they want to
  5. Have thick, somewhat flattened bodies – a feature that is enhanced when the snake is bothered; however, some water snakes and hognose snakes can mimic this, too (most harmless snakes have a rounder, more circular cross-section than the poisonous snakes in this state)

Binomial nomenclature of the Timber Rattlesnake

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Viperidae
Subfamily: Crotalinae

Resources: Timber Rattlesnakes in Tennessee

Resources: Pit vipers

Resources: Tennessee snakes, related links

Resources: Snake bite

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Hike at Cummins Falls: Nashville Hiking Meetup Group

June 11th, 2011 · Cummins Falls

brown dog with mini-dreadlocks at Cummins Falls swimming hole - Tennessee

Taking the opportunity to hike in a beautiful natural area for the first time is always a blast, and today was no exception. With a little luck Cummins Falls will soon be a state-conserved natural area or park; fundraising is in process.

While I try to write a halfway-entertaining post and edit the photos taken today, I leave you with a wet dog which reminds us of Bob Marley with its mini-dreadlocks. It was fun watching the two dogs interacting with their owner: they were having a blast, and I was reminded of my dog Sky (my number one hiking buddy).

NOTE: As is the case with most images on this blog, this dog pic was chosen at random from an image folder containing multiple pics (in this case, there are 2 images of the brown Bob Marley dog). If you revisit this page (or click your browser’s reload or refresh button), you may see the other image. It’s like flipping a coin. I like to use these random image folders to keep things fresh and poppin’.

Please visit again soon for more about the Cummins Falls adventure.

Kelly Stewart taking a group photo at Cummins Falls swimming hole - Tennessee

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