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Sunday, November 17, 2019

Birding in West Tennessee's Big Sandy Natural Area

This weekend my wife and I had planned a camping and birding trip to West Tennessee.  The weather turned a bit chilly for camping, but as I had already requested the day off on Friday to prep for the trip, I decided to keep it and spent the day roughing it with my pups (and did a little planning for the trip).  With travel and getting the study spruced up, miniature painting has definitely taken a nose dive in terms of output, but as I see it I am just building up for a jolt of creativity later.  Besides, it is important to shift gears and get outside on beautiful fall days.

 The pups and me enjoying a lazy Friday morning (above).  I did eventually have to get my rear in gear and go into the office for a brief meeting with my boss, but that was my own fault for scheduling a meeting on a day off!


 We started the day with a drive along rural highways to the Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park.  Yes, Tennessee has a state park named after the founder of one of the most racist organizations ever.  Despite the name, the park itself is beautiful, and the museum staff were some of the friendliest and most helpful folks I have ever met.  The park itself is somewhat secluded on the west bank of the Tennessee River and not terribly easy to access via a direct route.  On our five mile hike we met not a single other soul on the trails, despite the gorgeous weather.

 The park gets it name because it was a site of a Civil War action, in which Forrest cannonaded a Union supply depot across the river at Johnsonville.  Forrest claimed it as a great victory, but it may have actually contributed to Sherman's scorched earth policy as he marched to the coast.  With his supplies temporarily interrupted, Sherman was obliged to live off the land as he marched south, something he was only too willing to do, as he left a swath of destruction in his wake to cripple the South's ability to continue the war effort.  

The park, frankly in my mind more importantly, also comprises parts of the historic route of the trail of tears, by which tens of thousands of Native Americans were forcibly removed and settled to the west in the Indian Territories.  It was indeed sobering to know that we were walking in the footsteps of such suffering.

 Despite the parks painful past, it truly is a natural wonder, with tall Oaks, Poplars and Beech trees on high hills surrounding the lakes of the Tennessee River created by the TVA's hydro-electric program.  Vibrant lush mosses were prolific along the leaf strewn trail and the crisp fall weather and changing leaves made for a spectacular hike.

 The park has an extensive network of trails with over-night shelters along them.  We took the five mile "orange trail", but for those with more time there is also a ten and a twenty mile trail, as well as a shorter three mile trail.


 On our way back to the trail-head near the museum/interpretive center (The museum has a nice display about the economic history of the area .  Logging and the fresh water pearl industry were the mainstays of the economy.), we stumbled across these fenced off areas and were delighted to find they held saplings of the now virtually extinct American Chestnut.  The American Chestnut is being cross-hybridized with a similar Chinese Chestnut that is resistant to the disease that killed off this once most prolific of American trees.  There were three distinct species of the trees being grown here; the American, Chinese, and Hybrid cross of the Chestnut.

 Above is one of the American Chestnut saplings.

 Next to the trees was also a bee hive.  We wondered if it was to ensure that cross pollination was naturally aided, but really have no idea why it was there.

 After a nice long hike Cindy and I filled our tanks at the "fillin' Station" in the booming metropolis of Big Sandy Tennessee.  The restaurant was a real slice of Americana as was the menu.  Talk about some heavy food!  When we got back home at the end of a long day, Cindy and I both were craving a heaping helping of vegetables!  Once again though, it must be said the folks we met there were delightful.

 I'm still trying to figure out the engine dangling from the ceiling.

 If you ever need a burger or anything fried - the Fillin' Station is for you!

 We ended our day at the Big Sandy Unit of the Tennessee Wildlife Refuge.
 There is a gravel road on which to access the refuge (not a loop so be warned).  At our first stop by a birding platform over-looking a sheltered breeding area along the river, we were immediately over-flown by a bald eagle and a red-tailed hawk.  With such a great start to this area we couldn't wait to see what all of the waterfowl in the lake was.  We set up our scope with great expectation, only to find hundreds of mallards, which are ubiquitous around here and can be seen in any local pond.  They are beautiful, but not exactly what we had hoped for.

 Above is one of the many vistas that can be seen from along the road.  They make for lovely birding habitat, but also just a beautiful place to visit.  

Our next stop was along the sandy bank of Pace Point.  There we saw seagulls in large numbers, but struggled to identify a flock of waterfowl that were back-lit by the sun.  Unfortunately our presence spooked them and they flew before we could make an ID.  We were rewarded however, with a fantastic view of a great blue heron who virtually posed for us up in his tree while illuminated by beautiful golden light.

We were losing light fast and though the bald eagle sighting was a real stir, we had honestly hoped for a bit more variety, and then, just when we least expected it, we came alongside a small pond and spotted a dozen or so hooded mergansers (you can see their wake in the photo above, and maybe them too if you have really good eyes).  I don't believe I have ever seen them before and they were a stunning sight and simply delightful to watch.  Their elaborate crest can be retracted as they dive, so they would emerge from a dive and then shake off the water by flicking up their crests, which frankly was just kind of hysterical to see.  Just to add a little sweetener to this site, we also saw a belted kingfisher hanging out in the branches along the shore.  The photos below are courtesy of  All About Birds - a website maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

I thought my birding couldn't get any better, but sometimes you can find treasures at home too.  I hiked at Warner Parks this morning and was rewarded with a sight of seasonal visitors drinking from the creek behind the visitor's center.  One of my all time favorite birds:

Cedar Waxwings!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Hobby Friends From Across the Ocean and Steady Study progress

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mark Dudley this weekend for a tour of the nearby American Civil War battlefield of Chickamauga.  The battle in the Fall of 1863 was precipitated by the near bloodless capture of Chattanooga by the clever maneuver of the Army of the Cumberland by Union General Rosecrans.  A reinforced Army of Tennessee under Bragg tried to cut off Rosecran's Union army from their supply base of Chattanooga, and thus the battle began along the banks of Chickamauga Creek.

After a well lead ranger tour of the battlefield, Mark and I struck out on our own, only to meet two living historians coming in to pay homage to the fallen dead of Florida.  Joshua Corry (left from California) and Grahm Salisbury (middle), representing the A and F companies of the 4th Florida Regiment, were kind enough to entrust Mark with the duty of holding the Hardee pattern battle flag while posing for a picture.

The full monument to the 4th Florida is pictured above.

Grahm was kind enough to provide a few links to the history of the 4th Florida Regiment:

I did not envy these gentlemen all of the wool clothing on a beautifully warm and sunny autumn afternoon!

Mark getting a picture of one of the many monuments of the battlefield.  Chickamauga was the nations first military park.  It was created in 1895 with the preservation of 5300 acres of the battlefield, including much of the creek itself.

It was a distinct pleasure to share the day with Mark.  We talked shop about miniatures of course and painting strategies, but also ventured into global politics.  I very much valued the first hand insight regarding current British politics, as well as a great discussion around American attitudes, which was plainly evident when the Ranger asked the tour group why the soldiers on each side of the conflict were fighting here at Chickamauga.

After such weighty discussions, it seemed only appropriate to end our time together with a good meal of southern BBQ.  Mark was even foolhardy enough to try one of the grilled Jalapenos!  I'm already lobbying for a trip to Yorkshire to return the favor of the visit, and perhaps head even a bit further north to sample the local distilled spirits....

And now in other news:

I have finally found a proper home for the Tennant collection of Hinton Hunt Miniatures.  It is a behemoth of a piece - the only kind of display case that could accommodate such a large collection.  I found it through facebook in a local estate sale, so off to the truck rental store I went, and with the help of my daughter and a good friend, we got the dis-assembled display case to its new home.

The case breaks into two sections, with the final assembled piece being 7.5 feet long by 8.5 feet high, and 16 inched deep.  It was a custom made piece from a cherry tree that was cut on the owner's farm, and originally housed a much loved doll collection.  

Originally intended to have glass shelves between the two sections, I will be adding wood shelves between the two and installing improved LED lighting.

The move was far from easy, and in order to say thank you to my friend who helped, I spent three hours wedged into the front seat of his Willy's Jeep, helping him bleed the brake line.  Lets just say the Jeeps back in WWII weren't built for someone my size!

Starting to set up the Tennant collection to see if I will indeed have enough space, and if the shelf spacing is appropriate.

Can't wait to have them all unpacked.  Six months or more after purchasing Mr. Tennant's Hinton Hunt collection, I have still not seen it all out of the transport boxes displayed as a whole.

Here is the final piece assembled, but much work is still to be done.  The four outer panels were never installed as doors, but rather screwed in place, so I will need to get hinges and mount them as proper doors, not to mention find appropriate shelving and stain it to match.  Much left to do, but even so, the study is starting to take shape at long last!