Rocky Fork Creek has the cleanest water of any tributary in the Nolichucky River Watershed. Clean water allows for healthy biodiversity—and it’s why Rocky Fork has been inventoried and studied by scientists as a biodiversity hotspot. Its cove forest interlaced with pristine mountain streams is a bear sanctuary, home of the Southern Brook Trout, and a haven for numerous frogs and salamander species including the Yonahlosse, Gray-cheeked, Hellbender and Red-spotted Newt. There are charismatic fireflies, delicate pink and yellow lady slipper orchids and, before the recent onset of Whitenose Syndrome, the highest diversity of bat species in the state according to Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Perhaps the most iconic species to make its home in Rocky Fork is the Peregrine Falcon, a raptor with a fabulous conservation success story. Brought back from the brink of extinction due to DDT poisoning in the 1950s and ’60s, literally hand-raised one at a time until viable populations were reached, this indomitable bird is now once again flying over much of its former range. A species that traditionally has not tolerated human disturbance, it seeks out remote, wild, unpopulated areas like Rocky Fork and can be seen near the watershed’s jagged cliffs.
Perhaps the most charismatic species in Rocky Fork are its fireflies, the Synchronous Firefly, Photinus carolinus and the Blue Ghost Firefly, Phausis reticulata. Each year in May and June these beetles can be seen lighting up the night with their eerie glow along Rocky Fork Creek and in adjacent fields and open mature forest. The exact dates of the displaying varies related to weather and soil temperature but generally occurs between mid-May and mid-June. Each night the display begins about 30 minutes after sunset, continues for one hour and then begins to taper off. The Synchronous Firefly—yes, the same one responsible for the popular “light show” of the Smokies—produces “flash trains” of four to 11 quick flashes followed by ten seconds or so of darkness before it repeats. A group of individuals all flashing and going dark simultaneously makes for quite a show. The Blue Ghost Firefly has a different but equally interesting display. The males turn on their “lanterns” and remain lit for up to one minute, during which time they move about just above the forest floor, creating the effect of little fairies floating about. A group of dozens all within sight at once is enchanting and they are quite numerous in Rocky Fork.
Since Rocky Fork is such a large area of relatively unspoiled forest surrounded by thousands of acres of additional preserved land, almost all of the wildlife species found in the Southern Appalachians can be found here as well. Rocky Fork is particularly good for spring wildflowers, birds, butterflies, fireflies, salamanders, bats, and ferns and lichens. Over time, this journal will cover many of these topics in detail and also include many photos as well.