I have had an absolutely amazing summer so far as one of the DLIA interns in the Great Smoky Mountains. While it is not my first time at the park, the hazy blue mountains never cease to hold new wonder for me every day. There are way more species of plants and animals here than I could have ever imagined and I have been given some incredible opportunities to see some of these creatures firsthand. Take a hike on just about any trail and there will be something that you have probably never seen before. One of my favorite critters out there is the salamander. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts about 30 species of salamanders which can be seen in many of the parks streams and wet areas. I had the privilege of finding a red cheeked salamander which is a species found only in the Smokies.
I have also found several other species of salamanders and the fun of searching for them never grows old.
Another neat opportunity that I have had is to help with bird banding and bat banding. Both processes use mist netting which is very fine and tangles easily but the biggest difference between the two is that birds are caught during the day and bats are caught at night. I have immensely enjoyed both bird and bat banding but it can be pretty crazy being out in the middle of the woods at 1 AM hoping to catch a bat in the net! I actually had the opportunity to hold a bird (specifically a red-eyed vireo) and to help with some of the data collection from the bats.
The more time I spend in the Smokies the more I discover and realize just how much biodiversity exists in the mountain environment. The obvious critters are the large ones like bears, elk, coyotes, and wild hogs and some smaller ones such as rabbits, salamanders, snakes, bats and a huge variety of birds (note: these lists are nowhere near exhaustive). In addition to the obvious ones though, there is an abundance of tiny and elusive critters that one might never notice without taking a closer look at nature. I have had the opportunity to see some of these tiny creatures through a project of my own that is required as part of my internship. Specifically, I have been collecting and documenting a family of flies known as Tephritidae or flower flies. These little critters are suprisingly intricate and actually rather pretty as far as flies go. I also got to travel to some pretty neat locations in order to find and collect them (and play with a butterfly in the process).