Category: Natural Highlights

Natural Highlights: Shumard Oak

Shumard Oaks ( Quercus shumard ii ) were among the tree species planted during our Annual Tree Planting event on Feb.16th.  Oaks and hickories are the dominant tree species in the upland forests of the Midsouth and there are numerous species of both groups which can be difficult to tell apart.  In general, oaks can be grouped into "red oaks" which have sharply pointed lobes on their leaves and "white oaks" which have rounded lobes.  The... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Sunday, February 24, 2019

Natural Highlights: Bouquet Mudplantain

                         The Bouquet Mudplantain ( Heteranthera multiflora ) is a rare wetland plant, quite beautiful especially when flowering, and picky about where it lives.  It was recently discovered on the Cornerstone property, the Conservancy's latest land conservation project.  This patch of Bouquet Mudplantain is now one of only three known locations for this species in the state of Tennessee,... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Natural Highlights: Big Brown Bat

  Big Brown Bat The Big Brown Bat ( Eptesicus fuscus ) is larger than most of the other bat species in the Midsouth, but it is hardly intimidating, weighing in at 32-35 grams, or a little over an ounce.  According to bat expert, Chris Grow, the Big Brown is one of the species most likely to utilize a bat box here in the Memphis area, along with the Eastern Red Bat ( Lasiurus borealis ) . Our Midsouth bats eat only insects, and lots of them, hundreds every hour, using their... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Sunday, July 29, 2018

Natural Highlights: Elderberry

            American Elderberry ( Sambucus canadensis ) is so common and assertive in these parts that many people consider it a weed and kill it without thinking.  In the right situation, however, and especially in a natural area, this spreading shrub provides multiple benefits both to humans and wildlife. The blackish berries are consumed by numerous birds and mammals. They are inedible and mildly toxic to people when raw, but can... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Sunday, June 24, 2018

Natural Highlights: American Wisteria

Visitors to the Ghost River section of the Wolf River in May will likely be treated to the sight of beautiful blooming American Wisteria vines growing along the riverbank. American Wisteria ( Wisteria frustecens ) has much to recommend it over the Japanese Wisteria ( Wisteria floribunda ) which is popular with many gardeners.  Both species have beautiful flowers, but Japanese Wisteria is a serious pest plant when it escapes cultivation and... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Sunday, May 27, 2018

Natural Highlights: Northern Parula

The Northern Parula (Setophaga americana) is one of many neotropical migrants moving through the Midsouth area every spring.  Along with the Prothonotary, Yellow-throated, and Black-throated Green Warbers and many other bird species, the Northern Parula has a fondness for the bottomland hardwood forests along the Wolf River, and it does nest here, though it prefers to nest in hanging spanish or beard moss.  As is typical of the wood warblers, this bright little... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Natural Highlights: Eastern Swamp Privet

  Swamp Privet Flowers If you take an early spring walk along the new segment of the Wolf River Greenway on the north end of Mud Island, you'll see something yellow blooming in the otherwise grey and swampy woods. Chances are, you'll be looking at Swamp Privet ( Forestiera acuminatum ), an obligate wetland plant at home in our riverine bottomlands.  Once the leaves come in, it resembles the exotic invasive Chinese Privet ( Ligustrum sinense ), but, though... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Monday, March 26, 2018

Natural Highlights: Ruby-crowned Kinglet

        The Ruby-crowned Kinglet is a fast-moving tiny bird, common in our area in the winter and during migration, which can be identified by its small size and its brisk, fluttery behavior, as well as a white eye ring and single white wing bar on an otherwise gray and olive green bird.  A miniscule, plain bird flicking its wings constantly and moving quickly through the shrubs and... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Monday, January 22, 2018

Natural Highlights: Fall Ladybugs

  Asian Ladybugs: Look for the "M" behind the head.   Nine-spotted Ladybug, a rare native species. Ladybugs are perennial insect favorites - colorful, easily recognized, seen as beneficial in the garden and as emblems of good luck.  Also called lady beetles, ladybirds, and ladybird beetles, ladybugs number some 6,000 species worldwide, all members of the family Coccinellidae.  Most of them are predators on other... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Good Night for Frogs

    June 3rd was a busy day for Wolf River Conservancy, with both Cycle the Greenway and a First Saturday paddle trip during the day, and our annual Frog Chorus Walk that night at the Mineral Slough boardwalk near LaGrange. This was actually the second frog walk of the year.  The first, on May 20th, took place despite a high chance of storms, and was a pleasant evening after all, with several adventurous participants and a few glimpses of frogs among the leaves.... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Monday, June 26, 2017

Natural Highlights: Lizard Tail

  Lizard Tail Lizard Tail is a common and abundant wetland plant that is blooming right now in the bottomlands along the Wolf River.  Those frequenting W.C.Johnson Park in Collierville can see several large colonies along the boardwalk there, as can visitors to the Kennedy Park wetland trail in Memphis and the Mineral Slough boardwalk in LaGrange, in addition to many other locations. Saururus cernuus , also called Lizard’s Tail or Water Dragon, is an... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Friday, May 26, 2017

Natural Highlights: Groundhogs

The groundhog ( Marmota monax ), also called woodchuck or whistle pig, is one of 14 species of marmots, and the only one that occurs in the Mid-South.  The other North American marmots are confined to nothern and western alpine or open forest regions.  All marmots are burrowing, herbivorous rodents in the squirrel family (Sciuridae) which enter true hibernation in the late fall and emerge in late winter or very early spring.  Our customary Groundhog Day on... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Monday, January 23, 2017

Natural Highlights: Native Hollies

  Winterberry       Possumhaw The hollies native to the southeastern U.S. make wonderful additions to the home landscape while supporting our local ecosystem. Some are deciduous and some are evergreen, all have inconspicuous yellowish-green flowers which are either male or female, and all produce fruits which are technically "drupes"  but are commonly called berries.  Native holly berries are an important source of food for... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Natural Highlights: Blackstripe Topminnow

    The upper Wolf River provides habitat for many species of small fish, each dependent on the clean water and abundant vegetation found in its unchannelized meanders.  The Blackstripe Topminnow ( Fundulus notatus ) can often be seen schooling in shallow water at Bateman Bridge and other spots along the upper Wolf, especially when the river level is low and the water is clear.  Look for the light spot on top of its head along with a distinct... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Natural Highlights: Tennessee Bats

    Eastern Red Bat ( Lasiurus boreali s ) Feared and persecuted for centuries and now facing multiple threats including the menacing disease known as White Nose Syndrome, the 16 bat species which occur in Tennessee are wonders of nature which consume vast numbers of insects, providing millions of dollars worth of agricultural pest control.  Many homeowners now want to attract bats to their property by installing a bat house where bats can shelter during the... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Natural Highlights: Rose-breasted Grosbeak

    Like an exclamation point at your birdfeeder, the male Rose-breasted Grosbeak's bold black, white and rose red colors are unmistakable.  Females and juveniles are easy to recognize, too, once you know what to look for: dramatic striping on the face, a really big beak, and sometimes beautiful orange yellow color, too.  Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are one of many neotropical migrants which travel through our area during the spring and fall between wintering grounds... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Monday, April 25, 2016

Natural Highlights: Redbud Trees

    The Eastern Redbud Tree ( Cercis canadensis ) is more than a beautiful harbinger of spring with pink-lavender pea-shaped blossoms covering its branches in March and April, cherished in both our backyards and natural landscapes. This small tree is also a host plant for the Henry's Elfin Butterfly and the Io Moth. Its flowers provide nectar for many pollinators and occasional food for hungry squirrels, and several animals nibble on the seeds and seed pods.  Native... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Natural Highlights: Nesting Great Horned Owls

  Great Horned Owls ( Bubo virginianus ) are very early nesters in Tennessee, often laying eggs in late January.  This makes sense because owls hunt at night and can take advantage of short winter days, and because the eggs (usually 1-3) need about 33 days of incubation before hatching.  It's another 7 weeks until the young owls fledge and 2 or 3 more weeks to become competent flyers. The young will remain with their parents, learning to hunt and relying on them for support,... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Natural Highlights: Swamp Snakes

Of the 23 or so species of snakes known to occur in this area, 7 are considered water snakes, adapted to spending their lives in and around water. Water snakes are very common in the Wolf River, especially in the unchannelized upper Wolf. Their abundance is an important indicator of the wildness of the Ghost River and other sections, adding to the beauty and adventure of paddling trips there. The Northern or Midland Watersnake ( Nerodia sipedon ) is probably seen more frequently than any... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Saturday, October 24, 2015

Natural Highlights: Pawpaws

Native to deciduous forests of eastern North America, the Pawpaw ( Asimina triloba ) is a small tree with large leaves at home in the shady understory.  It produces large fruits once cultivated by Native Americans here in the Mississippi Valley and consumed by early settlers.  George Washington himself was apparently partial to paw paws, but for a long time this true North American native fruit tree has been forgotten by most people, if not by wildlife. Raccoons, opossums, foxes, and... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Natural Highlights: Notable Caterpillars

  Monarch Butterfly larvae on Swamp Milkweed The new butterfly beds established by Gold Star Girl Scout Nathalie Prior and her mom, Minette, at the Lucius Burch trailhead area have been around for less than a year but are already hosting an astonishing number of butterflies and caterpillars. Butterfly expert Rita Venable, in town for our butterfly lecture last week, said she had never seen so many Monarch caterpillars in one place before. Several of the swamp milkweed plants in the beds... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Monday, August 24, 2015

Natural Highlights: Cliff Swallows

    If you are new to paddling the upper Wolf River, you might not have noticed the colony of Cliff Swallows on the downriver side of Bateman Bridge.  Cliff Swallows are easily recognized by their squarish tails, chestnut throats, light forehead spots and buffy rump patches which contrast with dark blue plumage.  Their gourd-shaped mud nests are small wonders of natural design, and you can watch the birds flying back and forth to supply nestlings with insects... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Monday, July 20, 2015

Natural Highlights: Periodical Cicadas

Big, noisy insects with bright red eyes, orange-veined wings, and black bodies, periodical cicadas are hard to ignore. They are also completely harmless to people.  There are seven different species of periodical cicadas, all in the genus Magicicada.  Some species emerge every 17 years, but the four species which occur in the Midsouth are 13-year cicadas.  They spend most of their lives underground feeding on the fluids of tree roots, then emerge en masse to find a mate, feed on... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Monday, June 29, 2015

Natural Highlights: Green Treefrog

  One of the most easily observed treefrogs in West Tennessee is the Green Treefrog ( Hyla cinerea ) which makes a distinctive quank call on warm spring nights. The males tend to gather in huge clusters and create a deafening chorus in hopes of attracting more females.  The beautiful bright green color with a yellow racing stripe down the sides is unmistakable.  This species is usually very easy to see and to hear on the Mineral Slough boardwalk during our annual Frog... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Friday, May 22, 2015

Natural Highlights: Red Buckeye

       The red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) is a beautiful small deciduous tree with red tubular flowers sought by hummingbirds as they migrate north in the spring. The large shiny seeds are commonly called buckeyes and they are avoided by most wildlife because they are toxic.  The large, palmately compound leaves are somewhat tropical looking, with five leaflets at the end of each stem. Red buckeye trees are always a pleasure to encounter in the forest, and make a... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Thursday, April 23, 2015

Natural Highlights: Purple Martins

  Among our earliest spring migrants are the Purple Martins ( Progne subis ), the largest members of the Swallow Family (Hirundinidae) in North America. In the eastern U.S., Purple Martins are entirely dependent on nesting cavities provided by humans in the form of houses or gourds where the birds nest in colonies. FedEx volunteers helped Wolf River Conservancy erect a Purple Martin gourd rack system at the Lucius Burch Gateway last fall in what we hope is an ideal location - an open... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Thursday, March 19, 2015

Natural Highlights: Wintering Monarchs

  You won't see any Monarch Butterflies in the Midsouth area this time of year.  Right now, the eastern Monarch population is concentrated on a few hectares of mountain forest in central Mexico.  The latest update shows a slight increase in the area occupied by wintering butterflies from last year, from .67 to 1.13 hectares. By comparison, as recently as 2002, butterflies covered 9.35 hectares.   This winter's slightly better numbers are still extremely low and... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Friday, February 20, 2015

January 2014: Bald Eagle Courtship

  Bald Eagle courtship takes place in the winter and is characterized by dramatic aerial displays and the selection of nest sites.  Wes Hopper  recently saw an Bald Eagle in flight just above the treetops on the Wolf River Greenway.  Maybe one day soon we'll see some eagle nest building, too!   Please let us know if you see a nest or courtship activity; contact Dale or Cathy . Here's a video showing the courtship flight of a pair of Bald Eagles. In... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Monday, February 2, 2015

February 2014: Great Backyard Bird Count

  Be a citizen scientist!  Join thousands of other people all over the country in providing a "snapshot" of where birds are and what they are doing on the weekend of Feb. 14-17.  Although it's called the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), birds can be reported from as many different locations as you like.  Count for a little as 15 min. on a single day, or count birds all four days, everywhere you go!  It's free, fun and easy - and it provides valuable information for... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Monday, February 2, 2015

March 2014: Chorus Frogs

  Natural Highlights: Upland Chorus Frog Have you heard this frog lately?  One of the earliest signs of spring is the sound of our Upland Chorus Frogs calling in the wetlands.  Click here for a short video of a calling male. Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Monday, February 2, 2015

April 2014: Barred Owls

             Photos from the April 12th trip courtesy of Mary Hugo Barred Owls are common in the Midsouth area and are quite fond of the Wolf River wetlands. The big birds can occasionally be seen flying silently through the trees or perched high in the branches, and are often heard making their distinctive "who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all" call.  On the Ghost River trip on April 12, several paddlers had already caught... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Monday, February 2, 2015

May 2014: Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly

            The lovely Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly gets its name from the plant on which it lays its eggs, the Pipevine ( Aristolochia sp.).  Dutchman's Pipe or Dutchman's Pipevine ( Aristolochia macrophylla ) is quite common on the Wolf River and Germantown Greenway.  If you look closely, you'll probably be able to see the striking black and orange caterpillars munching away, in addition to the unusual flowers which do indeed resemble a... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Friday, January 30, 2015

June 2014: Mississippi Kite

  You've probably seen Mississippi Kites aloft along the river, in your neighborshood, or driving to work.  These graceful birds of prey nest in our area.  Here's a video of a Kite in flight !   Learn More... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Friday, January 30, 2015

July 2014: River Otters

    Natural Highlights: River Otters Though shy and infrequently seen, North American River Otters ( Lontra canadensis ) do live in and along the Wolf River, dining on fish, crayfish, mussels, amphibians and other animals.  Learn More... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Friday, January 30, 2015

August 2014: Hummingbirds and Butterflies

     Whether you want to attract more hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden, assist in efforts to conserve these aerial favorites, or simply learn more about them, you'll find something of value in the resources listed below. North American Butterfly Association (NABA) NABA Butterfly Garden and Habitat Program NABA Middle Tennessee Chapter Butterflies of Tennessee Monarch Joint Venture Monarch Watch Milkweed Regions and Seed Needs ... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Friday, January 30, 2015

Sept. 2014: Great Native Plants

    American Beautyberry Check out this top 10 list of native trees and shrubs , ranked by the numbers of species they are known to attract.  Leading the list are oak trees, which attract 543 species of caterpillars alone!  The greater the number of caterpillars and other insects, the more food there is for nesting birds to feed their young. From the list in The Living Landscape, Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden (2014) by Rick Darke and Doug... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Friday, January 30, 2015

Oct. 2014: Ghost River Spiders

     Startling, beautiful, frightening, amazing, matter how you describe it, the Six-spotted Fishing Spider ( Dolomedes triton ) never fails to impress.  This large spider does not build a web, but roams freely on stumps, on land, on the water, and sometime even under the water. It often sits with its front legs extended onto the water surface, waiting for vibrations from prey animals which include insects, other spiders, small fish, and amphibians. It is... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Friday, January 30, 2015

Nov. 2014: Eastern Wild Turkey

    The Eastern Wild Turkey ( Meleagris gallopavo ) is one of only two native North American bird species to have been domesticated.  European explorers captured several birds from the Mexican subspecies, took them back home and bred them into domesticity.  Returning settlers then brought the domesticated turkeys with them to America. Turkeys relegated to the barnyard have lost the natural wariness, speed, and agility of their wild cousins, which can be elusive birds to... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Friday, January 30, 2015

Dec 2014: Winterberry

  Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is one of seven Tennessee species of native hollies, along with American Holly (Ilex opaca) and Possumhaw (Ilex decidua).  Its leaves are deciduous, leaving its beautiful red berries to remain on the plant through the winter.  The berries' fat content is lower than it is in most other native berries and birds tend to wait until late in the season to eat them.  This means we can enjoy the striking color of this shrub while providing food... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Friday, January 30, 2015

Natural Highlights: Winter Waterfowl

    Blue-winged Teal Winter is a wonderful time to look for waterfowl and to appreciate the importance of wetlands large and small in the Mississippi Flyway, the biggest bird migration route in the country. The wetlands of the Wolf River are part of the vast complex of wetlands within the Mississippi River watershed which lies at the heart of the Flyway. Puddle ducks such as Mallards and Blue-winged Teal, diving ducks such as Hooded Mergansers and Ruddy Ducks, Snow and Canada... Read More
Posted by Cathy Justis at Monday, January 19, 2015