10 Spring Creatures You Can See in Cherokee, NC4.5.2017
Spring is a rich time in Cherokee, NC. Not only are the days getting warmer and longer, but nature is stirring! In Cherokee, we are gifted with an abundance of wildflowers and with different kinds of wildlife you can’t find anywhere else.
We spoke with Michael LaVoie who works in Natural Resources for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and Caleb Hickman, PhD, Supervisory Fish and Wildlife Biologist, about some of the special wildlife in the region that sets Cherokee apart. Here are 10 wildlife highlights that you may be lucky enough to see this spring in Cherokee. Keep your eyes, and ears, open! For some of these critters, you’ll want to keep a safe distance, casting your admiration from afar.
1. Spring Peeper
You know it’s spring in Cherokee when you hear this little frog, known as the spring peeper. Some locals call these tiny frogs “knee deeps” because that’s what it sounds like they’re saying, and the name also refers to the shallow waters where these frogs can be found. Because frog eggs are easy food, spring peepers are usually in or near fishless ponds or on edges where fish will not penetrate.
(Photo by aecole2010)
Hellbenders are the largest salamander in North America, and they can reach lengths of up to 24 inches! These ancient nocturnal amphibians often hide under the same rock for their entire adult life span—up to 30 years. At night, they cruise the river beds to feed on crayfish. Hellbenders are reclusive creatures that play an important role in keeping the ecological balance of our mountain streams intact.
(Photo by cmh4529)
3. Black Bear
Just North of Cherokee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States where black bears live in the wild—around 1,500 to 1,600 of them! Rules in the Smokies state that “willfully approaching within 50 yards of a bear or within any distance that results in their disturbance or displacement is prohibited.” It’s not good for you or the bears. Same goes for seeing bears in and around Cherokee. Keep a safe distance, and let them be.
(Photo by AndrewK24)
Elk can be viewed everywhere, from lower elevations in town to high mountain tops in tribal reserve forests near Mile High Campground. The animals, which can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, were a native species to Western North Carolina. Habitat loss and overhunting led to their extinction in the mountains 200 years ago. Elk were reintroduced to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001 and 2002, and the herd is now estimated at 150 animals.
In Cherokee, elk are often spotted in the fields that surround the Oconaluftee Visitors Center and can sometimes be seen crossing the Oconaluftee River.
(Photo by Visit Cherokee NC)
5. Eastern Red Bats
As far as bats go, the eastern red bat is considered one of the most beautiful. Like their name suggests, they have bright red fur, which is soft and dense. If you’re lucky, you can catch sight of one of these bats just before sunset, as they set out for food. Some Native Americans, including Cherokee, consider the bat a “trickster spirit.”
(Photo by missluuluu)
In North Carolina, the osprey is a spring and summer resident of the lakes and rivers of the Coastal Plain where they nest and raise their young, but they are also found near lakes and rivers inland to the mountains. Ospreys are large birds, standing 21 to 24 inches tall, with a wingspan as large as 6 feet. Ospreys usually mate for life, and they return to the same place, usually in early March of each year, to repair and enlarge their nests.
(Photo by Don Miller)
Cherokee records include many different types of warblers, including American Redstart, Black-and-white Warbler (shown above), Norther Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Canada Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, and Yellow-throated Warbler, to name a few. The Black-and-white Warbler is unique in that it nests on the ground, at the base of a tree.
(Photo by Bill Chitty)
8. Wild Turkey
In Cherokee, turkeys were known as “gvna” (or sometimes “duleji”), which means “kernels” — a reference to the bird’s red throat appendage, which has a kernel-like texture. In ceremonies, the wild turkey held an important place. Turkey meat was consumed during annual religious festivals, and large fans of turkey feathers were waved over each new chief during the inauguration ceremony. Beautiful capes were made from turkey feathers sewn onto leather or cloth. An excellent example of this type of garment is on display at The Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee.
(Photo by Jeffrey Pott)
9. Redhorse Suckers
Historically and culturally, the redhorse species of fish were all very significant to the mainstay and subsistence of the Cherokee people. In the winter months, smoked-and-dried sicklefin redhorse provided a valuable source of protein. Today, the rare sicklefin redhorse is on the endangered list, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are working with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and other organizations to save this species.
(Photo by Brian Gratwicke)
10. River Otter
From 1990–1995, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission released 49 river otters in the western part of the state in order to restore the river otter to its former range. River otters were also released in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Due to these restoration efforts, the otter population is now fully restored in North Carolina and considered abundant throughout the state.
(Photo by Nathan Rupert)