Showing posts from 2014

Last minute Christmas gift idea for the Alabama nature lover

Five Star Trails: Birmingham, my newly published hiking guide to Birmingham, should be available this weekend at Little Professor Book Center in Homewood, Church Street Coffee and Books in Crestline, Neighborhood Hops and Vine, Mountain High Outfitters, and now at Alabama Outdoors in Homewood. Books-A-Million and Vulcan Park have also carried it.

You'll find a kind mention of the book, plus a lot of other ideas at Joe's Outdoor Office Gift Guide on
All merchandise available from local merchants.
Couple of other ideas: I highly recommend River Dreams, a film chronicling Hunter Nichols voyage from Birmingham down the Cahaba and out to the Gulf of Mexico. Beautiful, fascinating, sort of makes you want to do it. Except that it looked really tough at points.

 Another great documentary film is America's Amazon, an exploration of the Alabama's remarkably biodiverse river system. You may have read about it recently in print editions of The Birmingham News.

Bald Eagles fishing and nesting at Lake Guntersville Dam |

Great gallery of photos by Joe Songer of juvenile bald eagles learning to fish and fly at Lake Guntersville.

Bald Eagles fishing and nesting at Lake Guntersville Dam |
"The action takes place most of the day with a slight lull around noon. The fishing starts just after sunrise and peaks between 8-10 a.m. and again between 3 p.m. and sunset.

If you want to visit and see the action for yourself, pack a lunch and bring a good set of binoculars. Also a comfortable folding chair comes in handy. Restrooms are available on the south side of the dam. Dress comfortably and wear warm clothes."

Audubon Society scientist highlights urban bird habitats in visit to Birmingham |

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Audubon Society scientist highlights urban bird habitats in visit to Birmingham |

National Audubon Society Chief Scientist Gary Langham was in Birmingham this week and pointed out that climate change and development are likely to decrease bird habitat and range, but city dwellers can help counter the trend by creating bird friendly habitats:

"Alabama species whose ranges are threatened include the wild turkey, the wood duck, bald eagle, mallard, osprey, and dozens of others.

The good news is that efforts that can help birds also have positive effects on a city, Langham said. "Urban landscapes and corridors that are good for the community in and of themselves, but also help support some of the species that are most at risk for climate change."

The Met Embraces Neglected Southern Artists - The New Yorker

News of the acquisition by the New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art of of fifty-seven paintings, drawings, mixed-media pieces, and quilts by thirty African-American artists from the South. The pieces, including works by Mose-T of Montgomery and Thorton Dial of Bessessemer are from the collection of Atlanta collector Bill Arnett.


The Met Embraces Neglected Southern Artists - The New Yorker: Marla Prather, who will be the curator of the 2016 show, said that the Souls Grown Deep gift represents “significant shifts in the pattern of how the Met has collected art to date.” She said, “African-American art is not a completely overlooked area, but there’s work to be done. To my knowledge, we’ve never looked at a concentrated group of works by black artists” until now. “These artists have been neglected; there isn’t necessarily a substantial art-historical record for them,” she said. Souls Grown Deep’s research has documented a “whole important, legitimate world for scholarly rese…

I thought the world was on a truck bound for hell, until this man told me how to hike to paradise |

Great piece by John Archibald on appreciating what we've accomplished together in preserving our natural places.


I thought the world was on a truck bound for hell, until this man told me how to hike to paradise | Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til ...

You get out and live it.

Is Alabama home to America's Amazon? Journey into one of the planet's treasures, a cradle of biodiversity |

In a piece published on Ben Raines reminds us of the riches of Alabama's nature gifts. His documentary, America's Amazon is now available for sale on line.

"Is Alabama home to America's Amazon? Journey into one of the planet's treasures, a cradle of biodiversity | This river network and its surrounding forests represent the true cradle of American biodiversity. Because of the Mobile River basin, Alabama is home to more species of freshwater fish, mussels, snails, turtles and crawfish than any other state. And the competition isn't even close."

Appreciating the Homewood Forest Preserve

On a flank of Shades Mountain near Homewood High School, there is a great wooded walk to be had at the Homewood Forest Preserve. It's a convenient place to catch some fall colors.
I included a hike at the Forest Preserve (along with an amble on the Shades Creek Greenway) in Five-Star Trails: Birmingham. One option for exploring the Preserve would be a work day scheduled for this Sunday (though the weather forecast makes it questionable that this will proceed). A schedule of future work days is below. Of course, you can go any time.
Especially now, since the trail just got better thanks to an Eagle Scout Project by Cade Fowler of Troop 95 in Homewood.
Fowler has installed signs for tree identification throughout the mountainside trail system. And its a thoroughly modern system of markings.
Bring your smart phone. The tree identification signs include a QR code, which allows you to pull up extensive information on the tree in question.  The sturdy and simplified signage system shou…

Five-Star Trails: Birmingham coming to Church Street Coffee & Books

Please come out to Crestline Village Wednesday night at 7 p.m. I'll be at Church Street Coffee & Books to sign Five-Star Trails: Birmingham and talk about the experience of writing it. I've been thinking about that as I've listened to the rain these last few days.

It's been so dry I've was worried I was going to be accused of faking all that visits to waterfalls since most had probably had ceased to exist. Now, they are back.

Red Mountain Park Hike This Sunday In Search of the Longleaf

Come out to Red Mountain Park at 2 p.m. Sunday for a Free Guided Nature Hike This Sunday!

(If it is pouring rain, we might have to cancel, but we go if it is just a drizzle).

This hike is going to be guided by Scot Duncan, a Birmingham-Southern professor and author of Southern Wonder: Alabama's Surprising Biodiversity. He is also a principal author of the TrekBirmingham website, which offers geological, biological, and cultural information about various outdoor destinations in the Birmingham area.

Duncan is going be guiding us on a quest to find the remnant populations of longleaf pine on the Red Mountain ridges. The story of the longleaf, Alabama's state tree, is a fascinating one, well told and illustrated in Longleaf, Far as the Eye Can See: A New Vision of North American's Richest Forest.

I'll be there to introduce Duncan, sell and sign books, and recommend hikes on which you can find longleaf.

Red Mountain Park's New Adventure Tower

TheThe zipIt doesn't get much cooler than the new 80 foot climbing town  The new 80-foot-tall, Hugh Kaul Adventure Tower at Red Mountain Park is a sight to behold. And it's a blast to climb and take the zip down, airborne at 30 mph. Now open to the public. More information.

Sip and Sign at Neighborhood Hops and Vine

Join me on Thursday, Nov. 13th at Neighborhood Hops and Vines in Crestline Park. From 5:30-7 p.m., I'll be signing copies of my book Five-Star Trails: Birmingham and the fine folks in the shop will be offering selected samplings from their eclectic and excellent selection of wine and beers. What's not to like about that?

Pass the word. Besiege the place. Next door to Saw's Juke Joint.

Home Page: Neighborhood Hops & Vine is a retail beer and wine shop located in the heart of Crestline Park. We offer a wide selection of estate and small production wines, craft beer & draft beer to go.

E.O. Wilson on the Boy Scout Handbook A Manual for Life

E .O. Wilson is one of the world's foremost biological scientists. He grew up in Alabama and visits the state often. In this past Sunday's New York Times Book Review he penned a tribute to the lasting influence the Boy Scouts of America and its Handbook for Boys had on him.

It may have taken its knocks from the right and the left of late, but I agree with Wilson. It's a force for good. Having spent the past year hiking trails in Central Alabama, I can tell you those trails wouldn't be nearly as appealing without the bridges, kiosks, steps, and platforms built by Scouts. And that's only the self-evident traces that the Scouts leave.


"A Manual for Life - I’m well aware that to many, the Boy Scouts seem unsophisticated and outdated. But I ask doubters at least to consider this: If asked to decide who would be both successful in life and exceptionally useful to society, the graduating senior of an elite New England prep school or an Eagle Sc…

The New Yorker returns to look again at Alabama's criminal Justice System

This piece centers on judicial override, the practice of allowing judges rather than juries to have the final say over which defendants get the death penalty.

In Alabama, Judges Play God: Currently, Florida and Delaware are the only other states with override, but their judges use the provision very sparingly, and when they do it’s almost always to convert death sentences to life. Nobody in Delaware is on death row because of override, and it has been fifteen years since a Florida judge has exercised override to impose the death penalty. In thirty-one of the past thirty-two years, Alabama’s judges have condemned someone to death through override at least once.

Want to go hiking? New book highlights the best places in Central Alabama |

Five Star Trails: Birmingham featured on blog: Joe's Outdoor Office.

Want to go hiking? New book highlights the best places in Central Alabama |

Joe is one the state's best outdoor photographers and writers and when I worked at The Birmingham News we collaborated on many great outdoor expeditions. Explore other posts by Joe at

Book availability and signings

My new book is available online through Menasha Ridge Press which is the most immediate way to get it, other than getting it straight from me. I have plenty in my car trunk. Call or stop by. Little Professor in Homewood should have it in stock by Sunday, Nov. 9.  You can also order from other online retailers like Amazon and Books-A-Million.

A limited number of books are currently in stock at Vulcan Park. Supplies should be arriving at other bookstores and outfitters soon.
Copies will be available November 1 & 2 - Moss Rock Festival I plan to be at Moss Rock Festival Sunday afternoon from 1 to 3:30 at the Fresh Air Family Tent. The Festival is held at The Preserve, near the Boulder Fields trailhead of Moss Rock Preserve. Several hikes at Moss Rock Preserve are in the book, and it should be a great weekend for exploring one of the regions best and most convenient hiking destinations.
Sunday, November 9 - Little Professor book signing - 12-2 p.m. Come out for Sunday brunch and pick up…

Reviving A Southern Industry, From Cotton Field To Clothing Rack : NPR

From NPR: A story about cool Alabama Farm to Closet clothing experiment.

Reviving A Southern Industry, From Cotton Field To Clothing Rack : NPR: Keeping Cotton Local

Hanback is one of about 30 people who work at The Factory, home to Alabama Chanin, the fashion and lifestyle company founded by Natalie Chanin. The site includes a cafe, workshop and the company's flagship store.

My first book

It's Here!Five-Star Trails Birmingham by Thomas Spencer Five-Star Trails Birmingham
by Thomas Spencer
ISBN: 978-0897325141
Menasha Ridge Press
Take a look!
Connect with
Menasha Ridge Press:

Anniston receiving almost $1 million in trail project grants |

Great news out of Anniston, Alabama's homebase for hiking and biking.

Anniston receiving almost $1 million in trail project grants |

36-year-old Alabama Red Hills salamander discovered at the Cincinnati Zoo |

Ben Raines story on Red Hills Salamander at the Cincinati Zoo: 36-year-old Alabama Red Hills salamander discovered at the Cincinnati Zoo | Captive salamanders tend to live longer than their wild counterparts, with reports of a number of 25-year-old specimens of various species. But a 36-year-old salamander? That's got the amphibian experts excited.

"That is awesome that salamander is still alive," said J.J. Apodaca, one of a small handful of scientists specializing in the endangered Red Hills salamander, Phaeognathus hubrichti, which is one of the rarest creatures in Alabama, and the nation.

A First Visit to Remy's Dog Park at Red Mountain Park

I didn't get the dog park thing.
Now, I do.
When I was growing up, dogs roamed.
As parents, my wife and I resisted the idea of a dog, despite the begging of the children. I couldn't abide the modern suburban existence of a dog: only getting out to walk on the leash under the hand of the master, the master reduced to picking up poop and fretting whenever the dog escaped confinement.
 But we finally broke down and got a wonderful affectionate, older dog. The drawbacks are there but are outweighed by unmitigated affection Pa-Ching brings to the family.
Still, I find the leash walking thing unsatisfying. I want him to be free. And I don't want my arm jerked out of socket.
So, on a recent Saturday we packed up to make our first visit to Remy's Dog Park at Red Mountain Park, a large, fenced, off-leash park which offers both open sunny space and shady woods. No leash, no worries, full-stride running, and unmediated dog socialization.
It was liberating. For me, my son, and our…

Rolling on the Chief Ladiga Trail

My son James and I recently biked and camp on the Chief Ladiga Trail from Piedmont to Cedartown, Ga. It's one of the prettiest sectoins of the the paved rail-trail (also known as the Silver Comet) which runs 100 miles from Anniston to the outskirts of Atlanta. It was a beautiful ride and the scenery only going to get better as the leaves change in the coming weeks. It's a gentle grade, generally uphill to the state line and downhill to Cedartown. But no matter how gentle the grade, 50 miles is a tough ride for the uninitiated. But James pumped the whole way, without complaint. To find out more, check out Chief Ladiga Trail information here and Georgia's trail website for the Silver Comet.

The Civil Rights Movement Is Going in Reverse in Alabama | New Republic

The Civil Rights Movement Is Going in Reverse in Alabama | New Republic

This is a piece in the New Republic about the increasing racial polarization of political parties in Alabama. It's an unfortunate outcome but one that is almost inevitable as a result of two interests that seem to be conflicting but wind up being complementary. First, there is the desire to maximize the political representation and office holding for blacks in Alabama. Second, there is the ascendancy of a conservative Republican Party in the state. Both end up wanting racially-identifiable, safe districts.

In-depth wonky studies on health benefits of urban vegetation and green space

Health benefits of urban vegetation and green space: Research roundup Journalist's Resource: Research for Reporting, from Harvard Shorenstein Center:

From one of the studies:

Individuals have both lower mental distress and higher well being when living in urban areas with more green space. Although effects at the individual level were small, the potential cumulative benefit at the community level highlights the importance of policies to protect and promote urban green spaces for well-being.”

Watch Muscle Shoals Online | Netflix

The Muscle Shoals Documentary is now on Netflix.  Available other places as well.  Watch now.  Watch Muscle Shoals Online | Netflix

The Pageant King of Alabama -

New York Times on Andalusia lawyer who's become the a top beauty pageant consultant.

The Pageant King of Alabama - For this, he charges $125 an hour. And hundreds of aspiring beauty queens pay up. They call, text, Skype, even drive to his home in Andalusia, Ala., because Alverson is one of the most successful beauty-pageant coaches in America today.

Steel Magnolia -- National Geographic Traveler

National Geographic Traveler stops in Birmingham:

Steel Magnolia -- National Geographic Traveler: I’ve found a modern city that has retained its pace and charm, one with many of the accoutrements and attitudes of the New South but without the shiny facelessness common to too many cities around the region. You can do a billion-dollar banking deal in Birmingham. But you can also still eat at Niki’s.

Saw's BBQ in Homewood is No. 1 on Paula Deen magazine's list of 10 best barbecue places in America |

Via's Bob Carlton:

Saw's BBQ in Homewood is No. 1 on Paula Deen magazine's list of 10 best barbecue places in America | Saw's BBQ is No. 1 with Paula Deen, y'all.

The popular Homewood barbecue joint tops the list of "The Best Barbecue Across America" that appears in the July-August issue of Cooking with Paula Deen magazine, which is available on newsstands now.

Alabama Second "tightest" state

Washington Post piece on academic paper which looks at the contrasting views among the various states and how they are shaped.

"How “tightness” vs “looseness” explains the U.S. political map: Professors Jesse R. Harrington and Michele J. Gelfand studied "the degree to which social entities are 'tight' (have many strongly enforced rules and little tolerance for deviance) Aversus 'loose' (have few strongly enforced rules and greater tolerance for deviance)" and then produced a ranking of each state from tightest to loosest. (Among the various characteristics they used to define "tight" or "loose" included the use of corporal punishment in schools, the rate of executions, access to alcohol and the legality of same sex unions. You can read the full paper here.)

Rotary Trail in Context

In case you've been wondering what is happening in the Railroad Cut along First Avenue South, the Rotary Trail is in now under construction.

In case you missed it, here is a nice update of the project in context. It was written by Phillip Ratliff for B-Metro.


In the coming months, a cadre of funders and designers will transform the cut into a gorgeous, and hopefully thriving, pedestrian pathway.

Birmingham’s Rotary Club chapter is spearheading the project, which has an estimated cost of $3.5 million, through a competitive process marking their centennial. When completed (it has an estimated completion date of spring 2015), the Rotary Trail, as it will be called, will anchor new development and provide a crucial segment in the city’s extensive network of bike lanes and pedestrian walkways.

'Eating Alabama' wins James Beard Foundation Award for best special/documentary |

'Eating Alabama' wins James Beard Foundation Award for best special/documentary | “Eating Alabama” won one of the Beard Foundation’s Broadcast and New Media Awards for television, webcast and radio programs that aired in 2013.

If you haven't already track down a copy of Eating Alabama. It's funny and poignant and thoughtful.

It's on Amazon or iTunes.

Birmingham Pizza in New York Magazine's Grub Street Column

Post Office Pies in Avondale is getting attention.'s Bob Carlton, who has been writing about the project, noted this week that Pies was featured on a New York Magazine food blog called Grub Street.   

National Rail Trail Magazine features Red Mountain Park

The development of Birmingham's Red Mountain Park is featured in the summer issue of Rails to Trails, a national publication of the Rail-To-Trails Conservancy. Red Mountain Park has over 10 miles of trail now and is on the verge of adding more. A good portion of that trail system follows the beds of the railroads that once transported iron ore from the mountainside mines to the furnaces in the valley.

Doggie Work Day at Red Mountain Park

Calling at dogs.
(and owners)
If you want to feel like you have a hand in making the world a little better place for your canine companion, come out to Red Mountain Park on Saturday morning and help build Remy's Dog Park, a six acre, off leash dog park coming soon to the 1,200 acre park off Lakeshore Parkway in the Oxmoor Valley.
 Share with friends.Get the word out.

Cahaba River Society Canoe Trip Schedule Posted

The Cahaba River Society has just released its 2014 schedule of guided trips and other fun events.

River trips begin in April and continue into the fall. See the Cahaba lilies between May and June. Take a moonlight float in the summer or explore parts south: the oxbow lakes in Perry County and the river's end at Old Cahawba State Archaeological Park.

Southern Wonder book signing at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens

One of my favorite Christmas presents has been the new book from Birmingham-Southern College professor Scot Duncan, Southern Wonder: Alabama's Surprising Biodiversity.
Duncan will be talking about the book and signing copies tomorrow night, Thursday, February 6, from 6–8 p.m. at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens – Ireland Room.
This book includes gorgeous pictures, detailed maps and deep-diving science describing Alabama's geology, biology and ecology from the coast to the mountaintops. 

 Here's more from the Gardens release:
The State of Alabama ranks 5th nationally in biodiversity. Dr. Duncan takes us on a journey through Alabama with insightful prose and 132 beautiful color illustrations. "Southern Wonder" explores the coastal dunes of the Gulf of Mexico to the Tennessee River Valley; interweaves ecology, meteorology, evolution, and geology; and introduces species found only in Alabama, including the cave salamander and the beach mouse. Dr. Duncan’s book has alr…

Renata Adler on the March to Montgomery : The New Yorker

Nice piece for MLK Day.

Renata Adler on the March to Montgomery : The New Yorker: Adler resists the impulse to write about the march as myth. Instead, she shows how things are a little disorganized.

Having covered many reenactments of the bridge crossing, I'm glad the "disorganized" character of the original march was consistent with the original.

TrekBirmingham and Shades Creek

Our friends at TrekBirmingham have released another update to their burgeoning collection of outdoor destination explications.

The latest addition is a behind the scenes tour of the Shades Creek Greenway, the walking and biking train the runs along the creek banks and Lakeshore Parkway in Homewood.

As always, the TrekBirmingham exploration goes below the surface we see as we amble along, delving deeper to explain the geology, ecology, and history of your everyday surroundings. Such as:

Where was the lake that gave Lakeshore Parkway its name?
How to wade the creek and find hog suckers, stonerollers, and shiners.

And for more options and other destinations check out the TrekBirmingham homepage.

TEDxBirmingham 2014 — Rediscover the Magic


The Watery Wilderness Down South

I highly recommend a beautiful new documentary I caught this week on Alabama Public Television that explores the great watery wilderness of Mobile Tensaw Delta. It was written and narrated by Ben Raines, the former Mobile Press-Register reporter, now the executive director of the Weeks Bay Foundation.
The documentary, which features Alabama native and well-known scientist E.O. Wilson,  celebrates Alabama's biodiversity and helps us up her in Birmingham both what we have been blessed with and what we are in danger of losing if we don't take care.  There is a movement afoot to preserve the Delta as a U.S. National Park.
You can stream the video from the APT site or I do believe it will be broadcast again on Sunday afternoon if you want to watch it then or record it.

Black Belt BBQ Revue

I caught a great piece on the barbecue clubs of Sumter County recently on Alabama Public Television. I wrote about the same subject back in 2008 and the documentary brought back fond memories.

The video, which is available to stream, is part of the Journey Proud series of documentaries about Alabama heritage and culture hosted by Hosted by Joey Brackner, Director of the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture.

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, a set on Flickr. A precious few Whooping Cranes and thousands of Sandhill Cranes and other waterfowl on view at the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Ala. If you want to go this weekend is the Crane Festival, so plenty to see and do.