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Nature Journal

L. J. Davenport, John C. Hall

Publication Year: 2010


Nature Journal is an innovative presentation of the best columns and photographs from L. J. Davenport’s popular column in Alabama Heritage magazine. Readers of the magazine have come to relish his artful and often witty descriptions of common species encountered in the Alabama outdoors. But Nature Journal is designed to be much more than a mere collection of entertaining essays; it is also an educational tool—a means of instructing and encouraging readers in the art of keeping a nature journal for themselves.


Each of the 25 chapters is a self-contained lesson in close observation of species morphology, behavior, and habitat; research in the literature; nondestructive capture of the subject by photography or drawing; and written description of the total observed natural phenomenon. At the end of each account, stimulating questions and gentle directives guide the reader into making his or her own observations and recordings.


This book is intended for broad nature-study use in Alabama and throughout the southeast by the general reader and nature enthusiast alike, as well as visitors to museums and outdoor centers, and students of nature and nature writing at the high school and college levels. Beautifully designed to look like a personal journal, it is a perfect gift and treasured keepsake for all lovers of the natural world.  


Publication supported in part by Samford University  

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Series: Gosse Nature Guides

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-11


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

It is comforting to see the growing body of accessible books concerning the natural history of Alabama and the mid-South. The reported wonders of the Alabama environment are not just propaganda from various environmental organizations. The state really is among the most interesting and diverse environments in North America, a world-class landscape ...

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pp. xv-19

This book began twenty years ago when I was asked by Guy Hubbs, then an assistant editor of Alabama Heritage, to turn my previous (dry but scholarly) work on the botanist Charles Mohr into a popular magazine article. I struggled. But finally, and with the help and patience of both Guy and the magazine’s founding editor, Suzanne Wolfe, I produced ...

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pp. 1-4

I confess to having no formal training in nature writing. Instead, my training is in field biology—observing natural phenomena, collecting information, and connecting to a greater whole. The writing always teaching, I collect all pertinent information, digest it down to a meaningful outline, then present it as a story, from beginning to middle ...

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1. Bioblitz: The Walls Of Jericho

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pp. 5-14

Day one dawned cool and cloudy as I scrambled down the Red Trail from Highway 79 near Hytop in northeast Alabama. And “down” was definitely the operative word, my feet falling fast toward an unseen chasm, then catching themselves just in time...

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2. The Soldier Fish

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pp. 15-22

Day one dawned cool and cloudy as I scrambled down the Red Trail from Highway 79 near Hytop in northeast Alabama. And “down” was definitely the operative word, my feet falling fast toward an unseen chasm, then catching themselves just in time...

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3. Great Blues

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pp. 23-30

Some childhood memories haunt us forever, evoking powerful feelings that refuse to dissipate with time. For me, one such memory involves a great blue heron. Way back when, my family enjoyed a little cabin on a little lake near a little town in western Washington. Sharing it with us was a lone...

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4. Doodlebugs and Ant Lions

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pp. 31-38

You knew them first as children, crawling under the back porch of Grandma’s house to peer into those mysterious dimples in the warm sand. Perhaps with a pine needle, or a single hair purposely plucked from your sister’s scalp, you poked at the slopes of a...

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5. Fence Lizards

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pp. 39-46

It’s not easy being male. First you’ve got to woo your beloved, hoping to captivate her with your looks, charm, and physical prowess while intimidating all rival suitors. Then you anxiously await her decision—yes, no, or maybe—with... a good chance to suffer...

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6. The Wheel of Life

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pp. 47-54

Snake doctors, devil’s darning needles, horse stingers, and mosquito hawks—these colorful names reflect the folklore and superstition of dragonflies and damselflies. Winged emblems of victory in Japan, their less-esteemed American cousins purportedly...

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7. Giant Swallowtails and Metamorphosis

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pp. 55-62

Butterflies are the stuff that myths are made of. With their flashing colors, elusive flight, and amazing life history, butterflies have long held a treasured place in human lives, considered..

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8. Luna Moths and Pheromones

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pp. 63-70

Few summer sights match that of a male luna moth hovering near a lamp post, dodging and darting, zooming to and fro, desperately seeking something that he can’t quite find. And in his frenzied...

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9. Bolas Spiders

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pp. 71-78

I’m Charles E. Hutchinson’s biggest fan. Now, I never met the guy, nor do I know anything about him. But he was the first to see, describe, and understand something that no one else had: the hunting behavior of a female bolas spider....

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10. Pink Moccasins

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pp. 79-86

Ah, beauty! How we marvel at its perceived perfection, briefly ignoring just how deceptive and costly (and entrapping) beauty can be. Perhaps the most beautifully deceptive, and deceptively beautiful, wildflowers in North America are pink lady’sslipper orchids or moccasin...

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11. Jack- (or Jill-) in-the-Pulpit

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pp. 87-94

Sex is never simple, nor without its costs. While the high costs of sexual reproduction—attracting a mate, transferring gametes, and supporting the offspring—are obvious in animal species (including humans), the same lessons can be learned from...

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12. Birding Dauphin Island

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pp. 95-102

We migrated south that blustery April day, flying down the highways in our minivans and SUVs, hoping to collide with a more traditionally winged migration heading north. Destination: Dauphin Island. Five miles off the coast—and the first...

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13. Shark’s Tooth Creek

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pp. 103-110

Most folks enjoy a good pirate yarn, filled with coldhearted, steely-eyed swashbucklers, their pitiful and luckless “prey,” plus the mysterious (and, perhaps, imaginary) buried treasure. But those folks lucky enough to stumble into Shark’s Tooth Creek...

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14. Sex and the Single Freshwater Mussel

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pp. 111-120

Put yourself in the place of a freshwater mussel. There you sit, wedged into the gravel of an Alabama river, rhythmically extending and contracting your muscular, hatchetshaped foot to stabilize yourself in the rushing current. With that foot, you clamber..

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15. Periodical Cicadas

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pp. 121-128

Every thirteen years—precisely every thirteen years—near the beginning of May, the woodlands of Alabama waken to an eerie, incessant din. The strange, numbing noise is quickly traced to thousands of two-inch-long, blackbodied, red-eyed creatures that...

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16. Opossums

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pp. 129-136

Early one Sunday morning—much too early, in fact—I wakened to an ominous knock at the door. I opened it to find a tearful woman standing there clutching a wet and lumpy paper bag. She thrust it toward me, sobbing, “I ran over her and she still has...

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17. Brown Pelicans

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pp. 137-144

Poetry, even in its crudest form, sometimes captures biological truth. Dixon Lanier Merritt’s 1910 limerick, for example, teaches us that a pelican can hold more fish in his beak than his “belican,” and we pause to wonder, with the author, “how the...

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18. Neither Spanish nor Moss

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pp. 145-152

Festoon—a funny-sounding word referring to festival decorations and closely associated with Spanish moss, whose own name makes little sense. . . . One of the world’s most widespread and readily recognized plants, Spanish moss grows naturally from the southeastern United States to...

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19. Flounders and Other Flatfishes

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pp. 153-160

“Step right up! Right this way! See the fish with eyes on the TOP of its head! This is a totally amazing freak of nature!” Not even a carnival sideshow could fabricate the amazing freaks of nature known as flatfishes. Gliding through the ocean like finned flying carpets, they settle to the bottom, flip sand on their “backs,” and...

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20. Liverleaf and the Doctrine of Signatures

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pp. 161-168

Some belief systems embrace the universe, uniting all living things with the very heavens above. Liverleaf, a common North American and European wildflower, embodies one such “truth.” Compared to its more spectacular springtime colleagues, liverleaf (or hepatica) appears...

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21. Green Tree Frogs

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pp. 169-176

As spring hurries toward summer and evening temperatures rise, so does the decibel level at southern ponds and puddles. Every night, in a ceremony that pre-dates the dinosaurs, male frogs and toads congregate at the water’s edge to grunt, moan, whistle, or trill their...

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22. Cedar Apple Rust

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pp. 177-184

One drizzly spring day, while wriggling through a thicket in Franklin County, Alabama, I came face-to-face with a most horrible sight: an entire cedar tree “eat up” with orange oozes, dripping dew like a thousand noisome noses. But—intrepid biologist that I am...

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23. Gopher Tortoises

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pp. 185-192

Sometimes a hole is more than just an empty space. For a gopher tortoise, its hole or burrow is home, sanctuary, courting ground, and incubator—its very life. “Gophers” are native to droughty, deep sand ridges from South Carolina through...

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24. The Siren’s Song

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pp. 193-200

There’s a certain romance to natural history—or, at least, there can be. And it took a truly romantic soul to stick the name “siren” on some of nature’s homeliest creatures. Eellike in shape, with slimy skin, bushy gills, tiny lidless eyes, and no hind limbs, sirens smack...

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25. Lessons in Morelity

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pp. 201-208

The morel of this story is a fungus—a fungus bathed in mystery, intrigue, and even occasional death. A fungus also sautéed in olive oil, with perhaps a touch of garlic, and relished by the most discriminating epicures. Like other fungi, these...

Further Reading

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pp. 209-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780817383916
E-ISBN-10: 0817383913
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817355692
Print-ISBN-10: 0817355693

Page Count: 253
Illustrations: 26 illustrations
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Gosse Nature Guides