Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Unaka Mountain Auto Tour

We were originally going to visit the Big Bald Bird Banding Station up on the Appalachian Trail at Sam’s Gap, N.C./Tenn. Weather apparently interfered with stations ahead of this one being forced to delay their banding and so by Saturday morning we found ourselves not heading up the mountain.

Instead we partook in a very nice expedition of our own on the Unaka Mountain Auto Tour. This is only about fifteen miles long but it took us about six hours to drive it. We had six observers in two cars. The weather was gorgeous. The tour dives in and out the forests, up on the balds, out onto the overlooks, and marvel at the green hills of Tennessee stretched forever it felt. At least to North Carolina!

We had 51 species officially with a few perplexing misses. Like any outdoor adventure, some days are better than others.

I made a few notes of our sightings: red-eyed vireo, titmouse, black and white warbler, ovenbird, red-tailed hawk, hooded warbler, Canada warbler, towhee, chestnut-sided warbler, veery, indigo bunting, junco, broad-winged hawk, scarlet tanager, black-throated blue warbler, grey catbird, least flycatcher, Arcadian fly catcher, chimney swifts, winter wren, and a kinglet (species).

If the numbers seem slim for the time spent, they are. We had more than a few stops where nothing called and nothing responded to our calls. That happens. We did, however, pick up that many species in fifteen miles and about 2,500 feet elevation change.

No other hawks (and only two individuals). No vultures.

For information on the station try this link: If you are in the Unicoi, Tennessee area and want to try the Unaka Mountain Auto Tour visit the USFS station to obtain a map..

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

NIghtjar Survey, May 2014.

Not everyone in the world gets to do a survey for nightjars. Mostly because, most people have no clue what a nightjar is and why would perform a survey on something so seemingly benign as night jars.

The nightjars are an insect eating nocturnal bird. They roost in trees bordering fields and come out on those warm early summer nights to feed and call. You might know of one: whip-poor-will. The other species here in the east is the “chuck-wills-widow.” They sound a lot alike at first but once you get a few calling at the same time it becomes easier to tell the difference. If you can recognize

The nightjar business comes from their eating habit of keeping their mouths wide open like a jar to capture the bugs.

So far, I’ve never had to tell some shotgun-toting’-hound dog-loving stranger, at eleven o’clock at night, standing in some cemetery in the middle of the county, under a full moon, “We’ll sir, we’re surveying nightjars.”

We did one time, run into a group from the local paranormal organization who wondered if we’d noticed any paranormal activity so far that night. We didn’t quite know how to answer them.

One thing that has changed a bit it at some of the cemeteries, we notice the solar powered blue lights have been replace by solar power multicolored lights placed next to headstones.

This time around we counted fourteen whips and eight chucks. Not quite a record but close to it.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Spring Bird Count, May 2014.

This Spring bird count has a couple of decades behind it for the upper five counties: Sullivan, Johnson, Washington, Unicoi, Carter. We had nine parties of forty people. The total tally was 158 species. The average for the last few years has been 147 species. We cover all elevations from Roan Mountain to the South Holston River a sweep of four thousand feet or so.

John Whinery and I were a party of two covering an area surrounding Boone Lake except for the stretch that borders Winged Deer Park in Johnson City. For us, the survey took about seven hours and covered about thirty-five miles. We had only forty species but it was a nice day to be out so who cared if the count seemed a bit light. Of course, you can’t hardly beat a day of birding when right out of the box you find a spotted sandpiper!

While the weather was good, that good day meant everyone and their brother was on Boone Lake which scared off untold Mallard and heron. At Pickens Bridge, between Boone’s Creek and Piney Flats, the boat traffic was so bad they almost need a stop light under the bridge. I kept waiting for a major collision or someone ramming a pylon. It didn’t seem to bother the four hundred Cliff Swallows we counted!

But, a week can make a big difference. At the tally we found quantity had changed since the previous weekend. Next weekend? Who knows we might have scads of everything we didn’t have a one of this weekend.