Thursday, March 19, 2015

Spring Break?

Tuesday was another fine day to get out and watch birds and view our great east Tennessee farmlands and enjoy the company of some friends. It is almost like spring has finally sprung. But, no.

I added three to my year’s list: blue-wing teal, black-crowned night heron, and redheaded woodpecker. We also had turkey, widgeon, gadwall, a wood duck, and “almost added” a collared dove which we could hear but wouldn’t come out and play.

We visited Fort Henry Dam which a TVA dam between Kingsport and Colonial Heights, Tennessee, for our pair of night heron. This also a favorite roost for great blue herons. If TVA is not generating then the water level is fairly low and other ducks show up. They were generating that morning so below the dam was heron country only.

The redheaded woodpecker was in a wood lot that is itself threatened by nearby development. If you drive out in Washington County of enough you’ll find once empty dales beginning to grow McMansions. For some species, like the redheaded woodpecker, they either parish or just get pushed farther out and harder to find.

We stopped at several ponds in the more western part of Washington County. There is plenty of water in the streams and ponds right now. More snow is not likely but also not unheard of. We have had some heavy snows as late as late April. And not all the farm ponds were healthy enough for the all waterfowl. Mallard and Canada geese seem to be the most tolerant of dirty water. We are more likely to find them over a larger area than we would expect to find teal and gadwall and the others.

The lone woody was doing duck things in a low spot by a stream poking around a patch of cattail. He probably won’t be there long.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Out & About March 10, 2014

We count pie-billed grebe and horned grebe as two whereas, obviously, an immature eagle and an adult eagle count as one. One of our group is up to 99 species in the five counties since January 1, 2015. The five counties are Washington, Sullivan, Carter, Johnson, and Unicoi. Elevation range from about 1,500 feet to 5,200 feet so the weather is always diverse on any given day. But, we are on the western slopes of the southern Appalachian Mountain range and that sometimes effect weather.

I am up to 60 species. Two new for the year are Ross’s goose and the white-fronted goose. Some of our group keep lists for every state and since we live next door to Virginia and North Carolina those lists can grow, too. One of our favorite haunts is Musick’s Campground which is in Tennessee (Sullivan County) but you have to duck into Virginia by fifty yards to get there. Or, Carver’s Gap which straddles North Carolina and Tennessee and if you drive up to the top of Roan Mountain (N.C.) you enter and exit Tennessee. It gets confusing.

Bird watching is best done over time. We get to see migrants and summer or winter residents and make comparisons. We notice variations between location and dates but only over a couple of years’ or more time. I’ve been at it for 20 years but it’s always new to me. I just like getting out. My bird guide is a 1990 edition of Peterson’s published by Houghton Miffin.

In this recent outing we had several guide books and three very experienced birders (and then there was me) and it took some to identify a first spring Black scoter which don’t show up in these parts very often. Having three different guides gives us a good chance to check some variation. I will attempt to attach the photograph that had us fooled. The interesting part of this was that one of our group had directed us to drive a certain route along the ramp (where US 421, east of Bristol, Tenn./ Va. crosses South Holston Lake) and there was this surprise waiting for us amid three-hundred gulls.

We were fortunate to have some very nice spring warmth. Last time I was with this group it was icy cold and blowing a full gale and I was not wearing enough clothes.

(photograph by Roy Knispel)