Monday, February 20, 2012

"Pre-Spring" Bird Count

Bird watching can be kind of a fair weather hobby. It’s not much fun to watch birds in a blizzard or a downpour but some days are sometimes custom made for getting out with friends and exploring the county.

We had three cars, eleven people, 43 species for about 5 hours work. The day was bright and sunny until just after lunch when the sky clouded over and the temperatures steadied. The next morning we had rain and the snow the following night. Our original January date got weathered out.

We birded western Washington County out near Limestone, Tenn., and Shiloh Church down in the south western most corner. We tallied 38 in the morning and 5 after lunch and those five were really nice.

Maybe the most enthusiastic find of the morning were two red-headed woodpeckers up on Saylor Hill Road. Red-heads are hard to come by. Despite all the forest surrounding us red-heads just don’t populate every patch of trees. They like dead wood and lots of it. We tend to remove quite a bit of dead tress of course for either aesthetics or safety. The effect is, of course, less habitat for many animals not just a slick, good looking redhead! We also run into many people who confuse the red-bellied woodpecker with the red-headed. The red-bellied has red kerchief that seems to double for a red “head” in many minds.

The hardest to find were the horned larks. They look like corn stubble until they move and they just look more corn stubble that’s just waved in the breeze. The farmers alternate green waterway and crops and the larks like to work the boundary. Once we found one we found half a dozen. From our vantage along the road we could also spot a kettle or two turkey and black vulture, Northern harrier, red-tailed hawks. (Last year we braved about zero wind chill to satisfy this lust! It was just a bright and just as sunny but only about forty degrees colder!)

The post-chow five were: coot, Eurasian collared dove, kingfisher, red-wing blackbird, brown-headed cowbird. The cowbird is not a fan favorite but for knowing when and where they are, we were rather glad to find them. The collard doves took two tries to find and lots of arguing in the car!

One of the many nooks and crannies we visited was the Henderson Wetlands what we in the group call the Bowmantown Wetlands named after the Bowmantown Ruritan meeting hall just up the road.  This time of year, the chorus frogs were more common than anything but in late summer ticks are such a nuisance you almost don’t go to Bowmantown. We struck out here but it was fun to hike back in the bottoms again. It’s been along time. Ten years ago, my friend Beth Hogan and I traipsed back in there fending off ticks right and left. (We didn’t know any better.) We stumbled --literally--over a red wing black bird nest and we got bombarded, screamed at, pounced on, by the parents. I don’t recall we actually ever found the nest but Mom and Dad sure found us.

If you want to check some locations look up Bowmantown, Tennessee and look up “Corby Bridge” road where it intersects Pendleton Road. You ought to be along the Nolichucky River in south west Washington County. It’s pretty countryside out there.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012


The news is of the severe winter weather in England and Europe. It seems like they just got over a brutal winter last year! Or do we and they switch off.

We’ve been lucky. A year ago (2011) I was writing about how much snow we were getting. This year the winter is nearly the opposite. We’ve had plenty of rain but not a bit of cold. (Sure helps keep the heating bill down.) Last year we were in for a record-cold winter with lots of snow which is unusual and bitter cold spells which is also unusual but it also not normal for us to have such a mild winter. My jonquils have been ready to bloom for some time. The periwinkle is thinking about it. The candytuft is just barely getting ready to pop out. The last time we had a very mild winter we were equally unlucky enough to also get a killer frost in early Spring. I bet we get a deep frost again.

With each passing week, my friends and I look forward to the winter weather, if it comes, to be short-lasting.

I’ve kept the bird feeding to a minimum. Yet, the yard is full of birds! A first for the year was (in town) a ring-billed gull. They like the parking lots just as the do the crows and house sparrows. Speaking of house sparrows I had two pair checking out the bird houses in the south yard. I don’t want them around but I was interested in watching them inspect their possible new digs. I think they decided to bed down elsewhere. When I checked the houses, all four were stuffed with wren nests which need removing soon.

We have the luxury, I guess, of having robins year around if the winter is mild. Do they know something we don’t? So much for the harbinger of Spring. One bird I’ve missed so far is the Black vulture. It’s same size generally and at a glance a cousin of the Turkey vulture but has no neck, so speak, and has a patch of white under the wind at the wrist.

Speaking of wrists, the popular science magazines are abuzz with some interesting articles about genetically altering chicken embryo to see if they can produce an embryo with dinosaurs features. Cool stuff. Can you imagine what great science fiction this would make?

And some really cheesy movies, too!