Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunset Paddle

This was only the second time I’ve ever been kayaking  --ever! The first was Fontana Lake just about this time last year. (see below).

Sunset Paddle is just a test drive on Watauga Lake in Carter County, Tennessee. There were four of us in four singles. The lake was very calm. Our route paralleled the AT from where it crosses the Watauga Dam and begins the climb to Vandeventer Shelter about 5.5 miles from the dam, northbound. (Although the direction of the trail is more northeast. The lake runs more easterly.)

We kayaked two miles one way. On the trip back, I wondered about the trail, up there on the ridge over us. I’d hiked it a couple of times. (Trust me, it’s uphill all the way. I’ve done both directions --north and south, uphill and downhill-- and they’re equally brutal.) The shelter was long ways beyond were we stopped. This was the first time I ever wondered about that part of the trail from this point of view.

Saw one Great Blue Heron and three Cormorants. Lots of Canada geese. One kingfisher. Crows. Pileated woodpecker. Jays, all over the place. No eagles!

The lake is lowering, of course, the bathtub ring is starting to show. The ever present litter is just more obvious now.

Still, a person can’t ask for much more. Elegant blue skies. Green forests. Not a cloud in the sky. Four colorful kayaks skimming across the water.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Big Bald Banding Station Sept. 2012

I was asked if I were the reason that the banding station gets hit with these huge numbers of birds of one species.

The Big Bald Banding Station (BBBS) is located about one half-mile northbound on the Appalachian Trail from the Big Bald. The bald itself is northbound several miles from where the trail crosses over I-26 south of Johnson City, Tenn., at the N.C./ Tenn. state line. The station is nothing more than a table, a canopy, a bunch of strategically-placed nets, and a handful of volunteers. And all the right tools. Everyhing about the station is under the supervision of Mark Hopey.

I think it was last year (see below), I visited the station with other members of the Lee & Lois Herndon Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society based in Elizabethton, Tenn. We surveyed thirty Tennessee Warblers (TEWA in data speak.) Since each captured bird must be banded, weighed, and measured it doesn’t take too many birds to overwhelm the crew. (Netted birds don’t just get tossed back to the wild just because we’re too busy! The object is to thoroughly survey what’s coming past this point during migration so we count as many as we can.)

Previous year to that (see below) we had a beautiful, cold day on the mountain, topped off by netting a Sharp-shinned hawk. Nice weather only means maybe fewer birds but the view was great and we get plenty of fly-over to check.

My first visit was in 2009 with some of our club members to help Rad Mayfield survey on a day that became known as Junco-fest.Ii don’t recall how many Juncos we had but it was a lot!

I mostly stand around trying not to get in the way. These folks know what they’re doing and so an amateur like me also needs to know when to stand aside.

This year, though, for this day (Saturday, Sept. 1) the station was hit with 70+ Tennessee Warblers and enough others to bring the day’s total band to one hundred. If felt like all 70 Tennessee Warblers (TEWA) struck the nets in the last thirty minutes. Chaos reigned (and rained) momentarily.

Even though there were nine of us, one person does the final okay and that okay can’t be rushed. Not for weather. Not for lunch. Not for 60 more birds behind this one.

Each time, though, there’s been a new find for me personally. One year it was the sharp-shinned hawk caught in one of the snares. This year, so far, at least, the crowd favorite was a yellow-bellied flycatcher. Very rare. Very special.

But we caught or saw one least flycatcher, Veery, several black-throated blue warbler, Swainson’s thrush, hummingbird (they’re released immediately from the nets to preserve their energy), black and white warbler, Goldfinch, Raven, Turkey vulture, and Junco.

It was long day! And sometimes we do relax for a moment. This photo is from last year when the sun shone!