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New French plan aims to double nation’s renewable energy capacity in 10 years FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Reuters:France plans to double its renewable energy capacity with a system of regular tenders under a draft 10-year energy strategy plan published on Friday.The so-called PPE plan, which lays out capacity targets for various energy sectors over the 2019-2023 and 2024-28 periods, also confirmed that four to six nuclear reactors – including two in Fessenheim – will be closed by 2028, as announced late last year.France aims to boost electrical renewable energy capacity – including hydropower – from 48.6 gigawatts (GW) end 2017 to 74 GW in 2023 and 113 GW in 2028, mainly by boosting wind and solar.Through regular tenders, onshore wind installed capacity will be more than doubled from 13.5 GW at the end of 2017 to about 25 GW in 2023 and about 35 GW in 2028. Offshore wind capacity will rise from zero today to 2.4 GW in 2023 and about 5 GW in 2028, while solar capacity is set to grow from 7.7 GW at the end of 2017 to 21 GW in 2023 and about 40 GW in 2028.In fixed-foundation offshore wind, the government plans tenders for 500 megawatt (MW) this year at a price of less than 70 euros per megawatt hour, 1,000 MW in 2020 at 65 MWh and 1,000 to 1,500 MW at 60 MWh in 2023-24.It also wants to kick of floating offshore wind with a first tender for 250 MW at 120 euros per MWh in 2021, followed by 250 MW in 2022 and 250 to 500 MW in 2024. From 2025 onwards, it plans one 500 MW project per year, either fixed or floating.More: France to double renewables capacity under 10-year energy plan
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Renew Economy:Norwegian multinational energy company Equinor has received approval to build a 200 MW floating offshore wind farm off the coast of the Canary Islands which would be the world’s largest planned floating offshore wind farm.Equinor – a company involved in both the renewable market as well as the oil and gas sector, and controversially in proposed oil drilling in the Great Australia Bight – has confirmed to various trade outlets that it has received a necessary permit to move forward with building the 200 MW floating offshore wind farm, which will require investment of around €860 million (AU$1.3 billion).The project, to be built in the Canaries Special Zone, could begin operations as early as 2024 – depending on a smooth bureaucratic and regulatory process. The project is expected to create between 120 and 200 jobs during the 20-year lifespan of the project.Equinor is already responsible for the world’s largest operating floating wind farm, the 30MW Hywind Scotland project, which was first approved by the Scottish Government back in late 2015, and which began generating electricity in October 2017. Hywind Scotland has been a landmark project for Equinor, and for the offshore wind industry as a whole. In early-2018, Hywind Scotland was revealed to be outperforming all expectations, and operating at levels consistently above bottom-fixed offshore wind farms.Floating offshore wind does not need to rely on specific water-depths but can be tethered to most any depth, allowing projects to be built further out from the shore, out of sight, and accessing stronger and more consistent winds. Floating offshore wind also serves a further purpose in regions where there are tectonic, volcanic, or extreme weather conditions, where bottom-fixed turbines would simply be implausible.More: Norway’s Equinor to build world’s biggest floating wind farm near Canary Islands Equinor to build world’s largest floating offshore wind project near the Canary Islands
The single best reason to learn to telemark?“It makes a small mountain a lot bigger,” says Brian McCormick, a ski patroller at Wisp Resort in Maryland. “Wisp has 600 vertical feet, and I ski there two dozen days a year. I needed something to make it more interesting, so I started to telemark.”Tapping into the telemark turn can transform our tame Appalachian mountains into behemoth peaks waiting to be conquered. Once you learn to telemark, you can do it anywhere given enough snow. Here are three prime telemark locations:GARRETT COUNTY, MDLocated in the far western corner of Maryland, the mountainous Garrett County takes advantage of the Great Lakes’ Snow Effect, pulling in an average 100 inches of fluffy a year. The county is Maryland’s telemark hub, with acres of backcountry skiing at Savage River State Forest, on-piste action at Wisp Resort, and groomed cross-country and telemark trails at Backbone Ski Farm. Wisp offers private telemark lessons, and Backbone Farm has introductory telemark classes as well as backcountry telemark tours with descents boasting 1,000 vertical feet. backbonefarm.com.For more information about Wisp Resort, check out http://basecamp.blueridgeoutdoors.com/?p=2562ELK MOUNTAIN SKI RESORT, PENN.The telemark scene at Elk Mountain is vibrant and growing, with a regular crew of freeheelers shredding Elk’s 1,000 feet of vertical. Once a year, telemark skiers take over the mountain during Elk’s Telemark Fest (Feb. 28), where you can check out the latest telemark gear, join a clinic, or compete in races. Elkskier.com.CANAAN VALLEY, W.VA.The undisputed king of telemark in the Mid-Atlantic, there are more backcountry powder stashes in this corner of West Virginia than anywhere else in the region, and the telemark vibe is strong. Check out Timberline Resort for private on-piste telemark lessons (timberlineresort.com) and a host of group telemark workshops. Their annual Telemark Fest (March 1) features a backcountry race and Nordic hash. For backcountry tours, telemark lessons, and more freeheeling fun than you can handle, head to Whitegrass. Twice a year, Dickie Hall chooses Whitegrass for NATO workshops and adventure tours (Telemark Workshop Jan. 24-25; Telemark Adventure Tour: Feb. 7-8; telemarknato.com).TelepaloozaYou want to throw yourself into the freeheel culture head first? Hit Telepalooza, an annual telemark festival at Seven Springs Resort organized by the Appalachian Telemark Association. Beyond the standard clinics, demos, and revelry, Telepalooza features the biggest uphill/downhill race in the Mid-Atlantic. Ski up the mountain, ski down the mountain. First one to finish is king of the freeheelers. 7springs.com.
If she is a hiker or skier, pick up a few pairs of Lorpen socks to put a smile on her face. Lorpen has been keeping my feet happy for the last couple of years. The Lorpen Tri-layer Light Hikers are equally adept at keeping feet feeling good while on the trail or an urban adventure. The Tri-Layer Light Hikers are not just any sock, these socks sport three layers of technology which all aid in keeping feet comfortable, dry and at the proper temperature. The Ski Tri-Layer socks are excellent in both ski boots and city boots. From the slopes to the après ski, the Ski Tri-Layer socks keeps toes warm and arches feeling supported with the blend of merino wool prima loft yarn. If you or your gift recipient’s feet are big, make sure you order up a size large. MSRP: Tri-Layer Light Hikers $17.99; Ski Tri-Layer socks $21.99.Finally, if your valentine is a runner, the Merrell Mix Master Glide shoes will help you spread cheer. These Merrell shoes literally feel like bedroom slippers. They are a little too thin on padding for me to use as trail shoes, but perfect for road runners and those who prefer trails covered in crushed surfaces. The Mix Master Glide shoes with their 4 mm toe to heel rise provide the closest thing to the barefoot running movement that I have been able to handle while still offering adequate support, padding and protection. The shoes are super breathable and quick draining on runs that lead you through streams or on rainy days. I find myself wanting to slip these on even on rest days when I am out and about running errands. They make my feet feel so good. As an added bonus, the Mix Master Glides are vegan friendly—really. No animals were harmed in the production of these kicks. My recommendation is to order up ½ size to ensure adequate toe space. MSRP $100.00 Some girls expect chocolate, flowers and a fancy dinner on Valentine’s Day. Others, yours truly included, hope for new gear. New gear can serve as the catalyst to inspire us to plan an adventure to some place that we have wanted to explore. The gift need not be a big ticket item to instill inspiration. I’ll admit that something as simple as a new map given to me by a friend, encouraged me to plan a backpacking trip to a nearby wilderness area. It does not take much, to encourage a new adventure. Most important, long after the excitement of the gift has waned, what remains are the unforgettable memories created. This review is focused on a few of our favorite gift ideas, no matter what category your mate falls into, to help you and your valentine create your own unforgettable experiences.For the weekend warrior and day hiker consider the Eureka! Panther Peak 30L day pack—Eureka! may have designed the penultimate day pack. I have been hiking with the Panther Peak 30L pack for the last seven months. The Panther Peak 30L pack is the perfect size for day hikes in the mountains when you need to carry water, snacks and an extra layer. It also functions well as an overnight bag for a quick trip out of town. I even used it as my carry on for my travels out West this past summer and then relied on it to supply me during day hikes in the Rocky Mountains. It would also make a great extra pack to bring along on longer backpacking trips where you plan to take day long excursions out of a base camp area. The pack sports plenty of pockets and storage areas, including a hydration pocket as wells as a blaze orange rain cover. The comfort and fit of the Panther Peak 30L pack is exceptional. MSRP $79.99For the nature lover and camper, how about a Latitude Sleeping Bag from High Peak—High Peak, known for their outstanding line of backpacks, is proving to be a serious contender in the sleeping bag market. I have recently discovered the High Peak Alpinizmo Latitude 0ºF sleeping bag and put it through the paces. It is perfect for camping on chilly and cold nights. The mummy style of the Alpinizmo Latitude bag reduces the risk of cold toes, and the length of the bag was plenty sufficient for my 5’11” frame. The sleeping bag outer features a rip stop nylon for durability. The liner, made of a unique, lightweight, breathable fabric radiates body heat to aid in regulating body temperature by allowing excess moisture to wick away while retaining body heat. The bag is insulated with a synthetic blend of solid and hollow fibers, not down, for added warmth and comfort. If you have ever shopped for a reliable sleeping bag rated to 0ºF, you know they can be quite pricey. High Peak tends to be a value leader in back packs and sleeping bags. Of all of their products that I have owned, I have been quite satisfied with the functionality, durability and most importantly they tend to be offered at a much more reasonable price point. The Latitude Sleeping bag comes in three temperature options: (20ºF/-6ºC, 0ºF/-17ºC and -5ºF/-20ºC). MSRP: $142.00 (20°), $155.00 (0°), and $158.00 (-5°)For the adventure traveler, you will score big points with the Eagle Creek World Traveler Pack-It System Set and the Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Cube Set. Long known for their reliable and quality luggage and packs, Eagle Creek has introduced a new line of packing solutions. These two items provide travelers a means of getting and staying organized. How will these products make travelling better, you ask, one word—organization. The World Traveler System Set comes with three items (1) the folder—which allows your traveler to pack up to 12 shirts or pairs of pants with fewer wrinkles; (2) the cube—which accommodates items that are capable of being rolled up- think t-shirts, socks and undergarments; and (3) the pouch—perfect for cosmetics and toiletries. This packing system works well with a rolling suitcase, duffle bag or larger backpack and allows you to separate the clothes for separate parts of your trip, which can be a big help, especially when a trip involves business and leisure travel. The Specter Cube Set provides a second lightweight organizational option. The cubes are translucent which allows you to see what you have packed in each one without emptying the contents. The Specter Cube Set is perfect for keeping a backpack organized. These packing aids add compartments and organization where it otherwise does not exist. The Eagle Creek products also feature a lifetime warranty. Seeing is believing with the Eagle Creek Pack-It System. MSRP: World Traveler Set $40.00; Specter Cube Set: $35.00.
Essential Paddling Gear for On and Off the Water1. Adventure Technology Oracle Carbon PaddleThe Oracle is both a touring and downriver paddle featuring lightweight carbon construction and a high angle blade that improves boat control and maximizes stroke efficiency, especially when bracing or rolling in choppy conditions.$300. atpaddle.com2. Bomber Gear Bomb Dry Top The Bomb Dry Top includes several upgrades and a little extra armor for those who consistently push limits. Highlights include the double-stitched, taped and patched seams, four-way stretch neoprene, and cone-shaped cuffs with fused (not glued) gaskets. Looking for bells and whistles? How about a hidden emergency whistle stitched into the top? Bomber Gear has also beefed up the design by adding abrasion-resistant nylon to the elbows and polyurethane reinforcement to the shoulder panels for additional durability in the areas where you need it most.$299. bombergear.com3. Chaco Mighty SandalChaco’s lightest sandal is also its most comfortable and durable. The strapping system allows custom adjustment to keep your feet secure and to personalize your fit. The super-grippy outsole keeps you grounded on wet or dry terrain. Our tester wore them on downriver paddling expeditions, swimming hole cliff jumps, and fords across waist-deep water. They dried quickly and provided excellent traction and performance. They were equally impressive at the pub afterward.$90. chacos.com4. Sazzi Digit SandalThe name and design are derived from the woven sandals worn by the Anasazi tribes who used their footwear to navigate the rugged terrain of the American Southwest. Today, the Sazzi translates into a strong, agile and light five-toed sandal. The Digit has a single independent toe, four toe posts, a lateral stability system, and a heel strap to accommodate rugged trail and water environments. It’s made from 100 percent recyclable PLUSfoam, a material that also boasts anti-microbial properties and impressive traction in wet and dry conditions.$100. sazzi.com5. Wave Sport ReconWave Sport’s all-new Recon is one of the most versatile high-performance boats on the market, ideal for creeking, river trekking, and class IV-V+ boating. The continuous rocker profile makes the Recon very fast and easy to boof, and its upswept shape allows the Recon to resurface and unload water quickly when blasting through holes. The domed stern deck minimizes back-ending in holes and drops, and the location of the full stern chine combined with the generous side wall flare provides superb stability and control when carving, moving across a current, or tracking.$1099. wavesport.com
It’s June, it’s hot, and that means you’re probably thirsty and ready to jump into a fresh body of water. Here’s my advice: Head to Bryson City for a dip in Lake Fontana and a visit to the Nantahala Brewing Company to catch a bottle of their limited release Trail Magic Ale. Named after the good Samaritans who hand out burgers, cookies, lemonade and good cheer to thru-hikers as they make their way up or down the Appalachian Trail, these beers are random acts of kindness for your liver.NBC releases three Trail Magic Ales throughout the year: March, June, and October. You still have time to sample this year’s summer release, which features hand-picked honey-suckle in a Belgian Farmhouse Ale. It a wee-bit bitter and packs a punch at 9 percent alcohol by volume, but it’s as refreshing as the honeysuckle that’s infused into the ale.Do yourself a favor and make a whole day out of it by paddling Lake Fontana or knocking out a big hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I like the short trek to Andrew’s Bald that begins at busy Clingman’s Dome, then leaves the crowds as it drops towards a magnificent view of Lake Fontana and the Nantahala National Forest.And if you’re itching to do some trail magic of your own, head towards northern Virginia or Maryland to try to catch the wave of north bound thru-hikers. We hear they like it when you set up a grill on the side of the trail and offer fresh-grilled burgers. And beer.Follow Graham Averill’s adventures in drinking and Dad-hood at daddy-drinks.com
The October Trail Mix sees the return of David Mayfield, noted guitar player, singer, and producer. Last month, Mayfield released Strangers, his third solo record and first release for Compass Records. Long known for his frenetic live performances, Mayfield showcases his songwriting skills yet again on his latest record; Strangers is perhaps his most cohesive, heartfelt collection of tunes to date.Trail Mix is also happy to welcome back one of the finest voices in contemporary country music, J.P. Harris. Along with his band, The Tough Choices, Harris churns out honest country music the way the old country guard – Willie, Waylon, and Haggard – churned it out in country’s golden era. Skip the modern country drivel you will find on the radio and take a listen to “Give a Little Lovin’,” off of Home Is Where The Hurt Is, Harris’s latest release.I first saw Mike Farris way back in 1994 in Knoxville when he was the front man for The Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies. He slipped off my radar until 2007, when he returned with his first solo record, Salvation In Lights. There isn’t a bigger, more soulful voice in contemporary Americana. Farris released Shine For All The People last month and Trail Mix features his fantastic interpretation of Mary Gauthier’s “Mercy Now.”There is oh-so-much more to this month’s mix. Check out tunes from up and coming singer/songwriters like Reed Foehl, Ben Rabb, Phoebe Hunt, wWaylon, and Derek Fawcett.If you are in the mood for some sick pickin’, perhaps the new songs from Billy Strings & Don Julin or Michael Barnett will be right up your alley.Also make sure to check out new stuff from Delta Spirit, Luke Winslow-King, TV Eyes, Game Theory, Maggie Bjorklund, Lost & Nameless, Field Report, Sneakout, and Yawn.Please spread the word about Trail Mix. Link it up or tweet about it. Share it with your friends and colleagues. And get out there and buy, buy, buy these records. Your ears will thank you for it.
Tucked into the far western reaches of North Carolina where the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Nantahala National Forest give way to the rugged terrain of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Tsali Recreation Area is home to 40-plus miles of purpose nationally renowned mountain biking trails that draw riders from all over the country. Not only are the trails here fun, flowy and fast, but the scenery they provide is unparalleled, looking out over the blue waters of Lake Fontana into the wild woodlands of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.“We’re really lucky to have some of the best trails in the state right here in our backyard,” says Diane Cutler of Bryson City Bicycles in downtown Bryson City—a quaint outdoor mecca situated just 12 miles from the Tsali trail system.Diane is an avid mountain biker herself who rides Tsali frequently, but more often than not she can be found in her Bryson City shop renting out high end bikes for surprisingly reasonable prices and dishing out some of her hard-earned knowledge to Tsali newcomers.“The trail system in Tsali consists of four excellent loops which contain some of the the flowiest hard packed singletrack you’ll find in Western North Carolina,” she says. “It makes for a fast, fun ride and is accessible to intermediate and more adventurous beginner riders.”The TrailsThe four intermediate to moderate loops that make up the Tsali Recreation Area are the Thompson Loop, Mouse Branch Loop, Left Loop and Right Loop.The multi-use trails are enjoyed by mountain bikers, trail runners, hikers, and horseback riders with an alternating schedule that keeps horses and bikes on separate trails each day. Trails are best described as fast, flowy, hard-packed singletrack and three of the four loops offer a stunning overlook of Lake Fontana and the surrounding Smoky Mountains. The trails are maintained by the local Nantahala Area SORBA.Left and Right LoopsWhile all of the trails in the Tsali Recreation Area are great for mountain biking, the Left and Right Loops are undoubtedly the more scenic of the four loops.Left Loop, which totals 13.9 miles in length, is usually ridden clockwise from the trailhead. It starts the rider off with a descent towards Lake Fontana. Once you reach the lake, passing the remains of an old homesite along the way, the trail will continue to hug its banks for a while offering great views of the reservoir below. Eventually you will arrive at the trail for Cliff Overlook, which is well worth the climb as it offers even better views of Fontana and Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the north.One you’ve taken in the view from Cliff Overlook, you can either hop on the County Line Road— which divides the Left and Right Loops—and head back toward the trailhead or, if you’re feeling ambitious, continue on to the Right Loop Trail. If you opt to go this route, you’ll meander along the opposite side of the peninsula for several more miles before ending up back at the trailhead where you started. Those taking on the Right Loop Trail should consider making a detour up to the Windy Gap Overlook.Thompson and Mouse Branch LoopsShorter than the Right and Left Loop trails, Mouse Branch and Thompson Loop each have their own unique draw. Thompson is the mildest trail of the system and is loved for its smooth flow while Mouse Branch offers a rough and tumble overlook loop. Those who combine the two loops can expect a 16 mile ride with something in the neighborhood of 1,800 feet of elevation gain and descent. Like the Left and Right Loops, Mouse Branch Overlook offers another great vista which gazes out upon the lake toward Great Smoky Mountain National Park. IMPORTANT NOTE TO MOUNTAIN BIKERS: Tsali trail use routes alternate with horse back riders, meaning that when the Left and Right Loops are open the mountain bikers, the Mouse and Thompson Branch Loops will be open only to equestrians and vise versa. If you’re unsure of which trail is open to mountain bikers on any given day, give Bryson City Bicycles a call.Where to StayIf you’re looking to make your trip to Tsali a multi-day adventure you’re in luck. There is great little campground right next door to the trail with 42 first come, first serve sites for tents, trailers and RVs. Snag a spot here, and you’ll be able to ride straight to the trailhead from the comfort of your campsite.If camping isn’t your style, there are ample lodging options in nearby Bryson City from cabin rentals and hotels to Air BnBs and traditional bed and breakfasts.The HistoryThe Tsali Recreation Area is named for a Cherokee man who once called the valley home. During the forced removal of the Cherokee from their beloved ancestral homelands, which took place during the tenure of U.S. President Andrew Jackson, a Cherokee man name Tsali was taken captive like so many others and led on a march that would ultimately become the Trail of Tears. Tsali, however, managed to overtake his captors, agents of the U.S. government, with help from his fellow detainees, and fled into the hills and valleys that are now buried deep below the surface of Lake Fontana. Click here for a more in depth look at the legend of Tsali.
When she learned that the tall man with the scruffy beard who had introduced himself merely as ‘Simon” was, in fact, Simon Thompson — globetrotting bird guide, possessor of a monster lifetime birding list, undisputed champion of a listing contest called Bird a Day — Leslie MacDuffie instantly morphed from birder to fan.“I’m just delighted that I actually shook his hand today, to tell you the truth,” said McDuffie, of Waynesville. She was extra thrilled, she added, to learn that her online photo of a rare duck, the greater scaup, had lured Thompson to this spot, Lake Julian Park in Asheville. “That is so way cool, the fact that he recognized my name. … I always said I wanted to hobnob with Simon. Wait until my husband finds out. He’s going to be floored.”Thompson, gracious but desperate to cap MacDuffie’s gusher, responded by peering through his scope at a winged silhouette on the opposite shore“There’s a red-tailed hawk over there by the pines,” said Thompson, 57, of Asheville.It’s his default mode, sighting birds, an activity he’s engaged in as prolifically and consistently (the key to his Bird a Day success) as just about anyone on the planet. A lifetime list of 500 bird species is the mark of a committed birder; 700 is the realm of fanatics willing to travel to obscure corners of North America. Among the birders on Cornell University’s eBird site — the go-to worldwide birding forum — Thompson’s list of 5,725 ranks him 27th. Once he completes the tedious task of entering all the birds from his several predigital decades as a birder, he said, the total will be at least 7,000, which would place him 8th.The circumstance that stops him from competing for the absolute top spot — as the owner of Ventures Birding Tours, his first duty is to his clients rather than to his passion for birding — makes him a natural for Bird a Day.This is one of several forms of listing, one more birding “game,” Thompson says, along with the more common big year or big day races to count the most birds in a given time period. It was initiated by the establishment of a website, birdaday.net in 2008. Since then, the number of entrants who met its self-explanatory challenge, sighting a different variety of bird every day of the year, has been, at most, a handful, and several years have passed without a single winner. Thompson, meanwhile, reached this goal three straight years, in 2015 and 2016 when he shared the distinction with other birders, and in 2017, when he was the only participant to last all 365 days.“It’s an impressive thing because you have to be out every single day and you have to be able to identify a bird you had not previously listed,” said Bill Boeringer, a South Florida lawyer who unsuccessfully tried to revive the site late last year after the sudden death of its founder, Trey Mitchell. Bird a Day participants are temporarily keeping tabs of their own progress while hoping that a group of Australian birders build a new site.“The Aussies seem particularly gung ho on this,” Boeringer said.The trick of Bird a Day is to count as many rare and, especially, seasonal birds on good birding days early in the year, leaving a store of common species to tap into during lean periods.“There’s inevitably going to come a rainy, nasty day when you want to be able to see that robin at your bird feeder from the comfort of your own kitchen,” said John Koon, a commercial airline pilot and Bird a Day regular from Asheville.Most people have no hopes of lasting the year, Boeringer said.“It’s like amateur golf: you are a winner if you exceed your own expectations. I work in an office; I cannot compete with people who are park naturalists, or are retired, etc. My “par” is making it to the first week of June.”And because a limited number of bird species appear in most part of the country — about 250 in western North Carolina, for example — strategy and dedication can only get you so far.“You have to travel,” Thompson said, and on this day in early January, his upcoming itinerary as a full-time guide and ex-pat Brit was as follows:“I’m going to Georgia on Friday and then I’m taking a group to Virginia. Then I’m going to (Florida’s) Space Coast. Then I’m going to India and I’m coming back through Dubai and then I’ll go to England for a week or two.”A similar routine in 2017 allowed him to squander birds he might normally hold in reserve — the turkey vulture, for example, that he recorded in October — because of the prospect of seeing, as he would, a jackass penguin in South Africa in November and a red-crested pochard on a trip to Spain in December. The only remotely dramatic event of last year’s contest came on a day when he was stranded at London’s Heathrow Airport and resorted to peering through windows to spot a runway-dwelling white wagtail.Though normally self-effacing, Thompson acknowledged that a feat that had proven impossible for every other entrant was actually pretty easy for him.“It was not a difficult year,” he said.Still, he said, “I make the effort. It doesn’t happen without me trying.” And the aspect of Bird a Day he most appreciates, that it forces him to get out with his scope every day, is the one that led him to take a break from it in 2018. It’s a concession to his long-time partner and new husband, Chris Jaquette, and their caretaking obligations for sick friends and relatives.But after all his Bird a Day success, it’s not an easy habit to break. He was keeping his options open and adhering to his usual strategy in case he decides on a late entry. “My start has always been, at the beginning of the year, go out and get those ducks,” he said.And so he set up on the shores of Lake Julian, where a steam-belching Duke Energy plant makes for warm, ice-free water — a wintertime duck magnet.Thompson admits he’s “a bit obsessive,” but he carries this obsession comfortably, and is so far removed from the stereotypical species-and-location spewing birder that he often can’t remember what he saw where. “I’ve been to Peru 18 times,” he said. “It becomes a bit of a blur.” He still sounds and looks — in a bulky cardigan, flat woolen cap and wide wale corduroy pants — distinctly British, even though he’s lived in Asheville for about 30 years. “I came to visit and I just stayed. I like it here.” Because of the surrounding National Forest, it’s also one of the few places where he’s seen little depreciation of habitat. He has watched this happen in Africa, where he grew up in what he describes as a birders’ paradise and started setting out with his binoculars as an 8-year-old boy. And though he’s heard enough hopeful reports about protection efforts in Chad and its rebounding elephant population to plan a trip there, he’s witnessed enough destruction of natural lands in other countries to make him think the peak era of global birding has probably passed. “In places like the Philippines and Indonesia it’s almost like an all-out war on the environment,” he said.As engaging as Thompson is, when he’s in the field all conversations are interrupted conversations; his eyes and ears constantly wander for evidence for birds.On, this, one of the first warm days of the year, he found the recently reported flotilla of ducks on the lake had vanished. But he took note of the semi-domesticated, feed-caging mallards and Muscovy ducks waddling on the shore. “Emergency Bird a Day birds,” he called them. “We’re quite disparaging, aren’t we?”He identified slightly better birds, Carolina chickadees calling from branches and dark-eyed juncos feeding at the base of pine trees. He paused periodically to look through his top-of-the-line Swarovski scope for distant sightings of what he termed “good Bird a Day birds,” pintail ducks and American widgeons.And when the time came to fold up his scope’s tripod, he was visibly disappointed that he had failed to see MacDuffie’s greater scaup.“That would have been a great Bird a Day bird,” he said.
Locals and rural folks know a lot more about the outdoors than we often assume.“I guess you could say we spent our youth on this river.”A trio of fishermen are leading me down an abandoned railbed in Virginia’s Guest River Gorge, talking about waterdogs. Or, more appropriately, we’re talking about hellbenders, a giant salamander native to Appalachian streams like this one. The group of anglers, all of them at least twenty years my senior, has joined me to share their experiences with these monstrous salamanders, known by locals under the waterdog name.We pass through a tunnel above the river as one of them continues. “At night, we would see waterdogs as we were gigging fish. Most of the time we’d turn ’em loose, but some of the boys would kill ’em.”Hellbenders are a mountain river’s ultimate conversation piece. Growing over two feet in length, hellbenders spend almost their entire lives under rocks on the river bottom, feeding on crayfish and other aquatic creatures that live nearby. Despite being ancient—hellbenders are descendants of a lineage that dates back over 100 million years—the species is also in trouble, declining at a frightening rate as a result of water pollution and a bizarre appearance that can lead some to mistakenly view the harmless amphibian as a threat.Their weirdness has also elevated hellbenders to rockstar status in Appalachian folklore. Hellbender-centric short films abound on social media, while road races, microbreweries, and burrito joints all bear the hellbender name. For a critter with such a firm hold on our culture, it would be easy to assume that we have learned all there is to know about them. But here in the most rural corners of coal country, the status of our largest native amphibian is a mystery.It’s a problem that extends beyond hellbenders. Take a peek at a nationwide map of scientific collections—the currency biologists use to verify where wildlife species live—and the Blue Ridge lights up like a Christmas tree, thanks to centuries of researchers crawling through our rivers and woods. Look closer, though, and you’ll notice something different: well-traveled places like the Smokies and our national forests are covered in scientific records, while the coalfields to their west sit relatively empty.There are plenty of reasons for those differences. The coalfields have fewer public lands that researchers can access, and biologists tend to be creatures of habit, often returning to the same places year after year for their work. It also might be tempting to write off the coalfields as an environmental wasteland due to devastating practices like mountaintop removal, but that would be a mistake. The region’s environmental issues are real, of course, but they obscure a sort of biological lost world that’s been overlooked in the hollers that lie in between.We might be able to supervise a field survey or give an educational seminar in our sleep, but what can we learn when we accept that we’re not always the experts?It’s this lack of understanding that has brought me to the Guest River with that group of anglers. There are nearly 1,000 miles of waterways in this part of Virginia that have never been surveyed by herpetologists—streams that may or may not hold hellbenders—and it would be impossible for any single research team to cover them all. So over the past several years, I’ve tried a different approach. What if I asked the people who have lived on those rivers their entire lives what they’ve seen?The result has been a window into a forgotten chapter of our environmental history. During that hike along the Guest, for example, one man tells me about how he encountered hellbenders frequently as a child, only to see their numbers decline as surface mining moved into his community. Another, fighting back tears, talks about the pain he felt watching his favorite fishing hole flood in the 1960s following the construction of a downstream dam.On another occasion, a student researcher and I set up a booth at a nearby town’s outdoor festival, where the only spot available for us sat next to a traveling professional wrestling troupe. Between the piledrivers and sleeper holds happening next door, a woman told us about how she grew up killing hellbenders out of fear, only to learn to love the creatures later in life. Now she teaches her grandkids to safely remove fishhooks when the giant trout they’ve snagged turns out to be a waterdog.Chatting about wildlife is a simple proposition, but it’s all too often missing in the way scientists like myself engage with the outdoors. We might be able to supervise a field survey or give an educational seminar in our sleep, but what can we learn when we accept that we’re not always the experts?My epiphany for how important that question can be came on a blisteringly hot afternoon last June. For years, anglers had told me there were hellbenders in a stream that plunged off of a nearby mountain, but I’d ignored them. The creek was too steep and small, I’d said, assuming that they had either seen something else or were just pulling one over on me. I never paid a visit to see if they were right.But as I led a college class down a trail along the stream that afternoon, the students asked if they could jump in to cool off before our ride home. I told them to go ahead, and before long I heard a shout. “You’ve got to come see this!” a student yelled. “What is this thing?!” Cradled in his hands was a young hellbender—the first one ever recorded from that watershed.It wasn’t really the first giant salamander anyone had ever seen there. Those anglers had been scaring them up for years. But the real lesson that stream had been hiding is that our mountains’ treasures are often right in front of us. To find them, all we have to do is look—and listen.