Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Rankin Bottoms and the reddish egret

In upper east Tennessee, we’re lucky to have some wonderful bird watching opportunities. This last weekend 17 of us canoed the shallows of Douglas Lake near Rankin, Tennessee, looking for early shorebirds and for the second sighting in Tennessee of a reddish egret.

Rankin Bottoms is off the beaten track. Drive down I-81 from Johnson City to Exit 8 at White Pine take 25W south through White Pine, go across the lake and left at the viewing sign, about where it says "Rankin" on Google maps. Take this county road to “other side” and turn left at the Rankin Deli (closed). Take this township road onto the gravel road onto the railway right of way onto the dirt road and stop in sight of the coal tipple. This is Rankin Bottoms. (Sorry, no porta-potty and no water available.)

About this time of year, TVA is lowering Douglas Lake in anticipation of the winter rains and snow run offs from up here in the mountains. What they create is a several-square mile shallows and mud flats that has become the migration stopover for shore birds from great egret to sandpipers and just about everything in between.

Timing is everything. Last year, with the drought just beginning, the drop was too severe and too dry and the shore birds passed over us. This year, so far, they’ve arrived on time and in healthy numbers.

Countless great, snowy, little green, g.b.h, yellow legs, sandpiper, plover, cormorant, tern, osprey, and gull of just about every variety. This may not seem all that unusual until you realize you’re 600 miles from the ocean in two directions, hemmed in by the southeastern mountains, no large natural lakes, no natural shorebird flyways, and it’s mid-summer.

Bird watchers from Knoxville to Bristol congregate at Rankin Bottoms. The net is alive with awe of the reddish egret. While some bird watching calms down during the summer, Rankin is where it gets started.

Thanks to Don Holt who organized this event. He provided 6 canoes! And, thanks to Michael Sledjeski and Leslie Gibbens for being the tour guides. They have been taking pictures and keeping track of the goings-on at Rankin Bottoms all summer.

(Google “leadvale tennessee” for the right spot on the maps.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

All night love song?

There is  a persistent urban legend that the Northern Mockingbird (mimus polyglottus) will sing his heart out for his loved one all night long. 

I can't say one way or other for sure that this happens, but I'd gotten up in the dead calm of the early morning (perhaps 2:00 a.m.) and, after what seemed to be forever to get back to sleep, a mockingbird began to call. So much for that myth. If he'd been active while I was asleep of course I'd have no recall of it but this one, for sure, had not been calling. 

Obviously, in early summer, mockingbirds and other males (of various species and kingdoms) have an insatiable appetite to serenade, if not being downright bothersome about it. Wren chatter endlessly. Robins and cardinals get downright vicious. Blue jays like to fuss more than usual. Horses and men chase their mares around the pastures and the yards until there are paths worn in the grass. As that man with the gift of turning a phrase once remarked: "Fishes do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. Let's do it. Let's fall in love?"  

I could never be able to tell if one mockingbird stopped and another started or if the same individual kept it up late into the night. But I did wonder from the human point of view, if "she" was actually impressed?