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.


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