Blue ghost and synchronous fireflies

Old Jun 14th, 2021, 11:57 AM
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Blue ghost and synchronous fireflies

A few months ago I started searching for anyplace and any experience in the US that I may have missed in the past, but would make good domestic trips coming out of COVID travel restrictions. Although our vaccinations are taken care of, we know there are many still without and we have some vulnerable relatives and friends whom we do not want to risk even with the low odds of transmission, so we are choosing driving distance outdoors destinations for now.

One SE US oddity I found were the blue ghost and synchronous fireflies that occur in the Appalachians. Evidently, the blue ghosts were "discovered" for study and tourism only a decade or two ago, but interest and trampling has boomed with the Internet. So, I have mixed feelings about posting, but I trust most Fodorites to be responsible tourists if they want to have this incredible experience.

I learned that a tour at the Cradle of Forestry outside Brevard was a responsible way to see the blue ghost fireflies over a 3-week period in May-June set by the staff guesstimating when the fireflies will emerge and look for mates. They sell tickets online, this year on April 15. I marked it on my calendar, but didn't think to check what time the booking opened. I saw the entry after breakfast that day, fired up the computer and saw that by 9:15am that all Saturday night tickets were sold and by the time I selected a May Friday and entered our information, that date was sold out, so I quickly jumped to the third/last Friday, entered our info twice as fast (skill acquired booking vaccine appointments) and nabbed two tickets. Then I told my husband that he had to take a day of vacation to drive to NC to see fireflies . Synchronous tours are given in Smoky Mtn NP with tickets by lottery. The fireflies occur in various forests near streams from at least Alabama to Virginia, but you have to know where/when to look and if you go walking about in the forest after dark, you are likely to trample/kill the females on the ground. Dupont State Forest closes at night during this time because so many tourists were coming that they decimated the population. Cradle of Forestry offers a walk on a paved 1.5 mi loop trail .

The information provided with the tickets was a little off so lots of folks were arriving early before the gates were unlocked--anxious to see those fireflies. After an OK introduction when our flashlights were covered with red cellophane, we headed out on the trail--choosing between following the guide to hear stories and look for other glowing creatures in addition to fireflies or to head in the opposite direction to stumble along at our own pace. We chose stumbling with a few bumps into other visitors and benches along the trail.

It was magical! Numerous blue glowing lights streaming amongst the trees, most between 1-4 feet off the ground. The males don't blink quickly, but turn on their "spotlights" for several seconds as they swirl through the forest looking for a mate on the ground. We were alone in stands of trees for several minutes at a time just absorbing the experience before we moved on to another section to keep spread out from others. Approaching an open area, I thought there must be some white lights attached to some posts or the railroad bridge, but they turned out to be synchronous fireflies. There were only a few, so they didn't synch up much, but they were much brighter and glow longer than the common eastern firefly. An unexpected surprise appearance.

Rangers were posted along the trail to answer questions and obstacles were lighted with red lights (except those pesky benches--ouch!). One ranger happily told us--"I can't believe I get paid to watch this." Turns out the blue ghosts were relatively late coming out this year (probably due to weather, but not really known why), so going on the last week of tours was lucky for us. An hour in the woods quickly passed and my tired husband was ready to head to our bed 40 minutes away, so I couldn't persuade him to head back into the woods for just a few more minutes before they closed. The peak of activity had passed anyway. The next day I toyed with the idea of driving up or emailing (no phone calls, please) CoF to see if there were any cancellations on the Saturday tour so we could go again, but after a long, hot hike followed by me slipping and falling in the mud on an easy waterfall hike, I thought better of asking my husband to drive up/down to CoF for another late night even if tickets were available. We stopped and bought ice cream to eat with dinner back at the Airbnb instead.

The guide told us not to even try to film or photograph the fireflies without professional equipment (they do run photography tours). Most photos of the blue ghost fireflies are timelapsed, showing strings of light winding among the trees.

If you are a nature lover, it is a neat experience, especially if you are lucky and see the fireflies at their peak. Just watch where you step and keep the lights off. cradleofforestry.com/
Kay2 is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2021, 01:24 PM
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Sounds like a fun evening. I love it when nature gives us those kinds of gifts. Kind of like doing a night swim with phosphorescent.
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Old Jun 17th, 2021, 12:27 PM
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Thanks for sharing wonderful experience! I was in the Smoky Mt. NP recently & a trail was closed in preparation for that evening's viewing. Volunteer told us that rain had been interfering with the walks on past evenings.
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Old Jun 18th, 2021, 04:56 AM
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Oh how cool. WE have spent many fun times in the Pisgah and the C of F but long enough ago that we didn't know about this. Thank you
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