Thursday, January 29, 2009

late hummer

The 2008 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) for Knox County was held Saturday, January 3. The annual census is made within a 15-mile diameter circle centered on the intersection of Kingston Pike and Ebenezer Road.

Every year, Patty Ford and I count the same small wooded neighborhood off Alcoa Highway east of the river. This time we hit the jackpot, although we had been alerted beforehand. The CBC complier Dean Edwards e-mailed that a ruby-throated hummingbird was still visiting a feeder at the home of Ruth and Tom Clark. The Clarks had been making sure the feeder had fresh sugar water every day. They named the small bird, "Wee Hattie the Hardy Hummer."

"News-Sentinel" columnist Marcia Davis had already seen it and local bird-bander Mark Armstrong had also caught it only to learn that the young female had already been banded.

Patty and I went to the Clark's home early the day of the count and within 20 minutes the tiny bird came to the feeder. As it turned out, it was only the second time in the 51-year history of the Knox County CBC that a ruby-throat was found in our area late enough to make the count.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

two finches

The pine siskins continue to come to the thistle feeders at Ijams Nature Center. (See my January 18 posting.)

Generally, the siskins feed with the American goldfinches, but the former far outnumber the latter. Both are yellowish finches, but the siskins are covered with soft brown streaks.

Here's a good photo showing the two species side-by-side.

Friday, January 23, 2009


"Some days are long. Some days are short. The days that I have to stay in the house are the most long days of all."

- From "The Story of Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart" by six-year-old Opal Whiteley published in 1920.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


It snowed here yesterday, barely. Just a bit here and there clinging to the trees but very little on the ground. Pitiful. We've lost all ability to have an honest snow.

The Inuit live from the northeastern tip of Russia, across northern Alaska and Canada and on into Greenland. As you might imagine, these people deal with all types of snow on a daily basis. It therefore makes sense they’d have several terms for snow, be it wet, dry, dirty, crusty or glistening in the moonlight.

According to “Outside” Magazine’s Stephanie Gregory, the “Kobuk Iñupiaq Dictionary” used by the Inuit has at least 20 words for snow. “Qannik,” “aniu” and “apun” all mean “snow on the ground.”

A second Inuit dictionary, “West Greenlandic,” lists 49 words for snow and ice. Words like “auksalak” for melting snow, “pukak” for sugary snow thawed to make drinking water, “qanipalaat” for feathery clumps of falling snow and the deadly “sisuuk” for wet snow that can slide and cause an avalanche.

Avalanche? What's that? A hockey team from Colorado?

Wow! 49 words for snow! That’s exactly 48 more than we have here in East Tennessee. We only have one word: snow. But, we get to use it so rarely many of us have forgotten its true meaning, like the word gramophone. When we do use it, it’s always in the past tense, i.e. Remember that snow we had back in ’93 or the one on Christmas Eve in '85?

Otherwise, if someone mentions snow, we just look at each other and shrug our shoulders.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


The pine siskins that turned up at our feeders at the nature center before the holidays are still coming and going. Like the goldfinches, they are fond of Niger seeds.

They're chattery and gregarious; you really never see just one siskin for long. Once the first one arrives to feed, it seems to be quickly joined by several others. They are often with goldfinches. Siskins are yellowish, streaked finches that do not always make it this far south in winter. Their migration is highly variable, probably related to food supply. Large numbers may move south in some years; hardly any in others. It's been several years since I saw any in the Tennessee Valley.

Worldwide there are many species of siskin, the word itself is apparently derived from either the Danish word "sidsken" or the Swedish "siska." Both mean a "chirper," which indeed they are.

The photo taken at Ijams shows nine siskins feeding with one goldfinch.

Friday, January 9, 2009


Wilderness Wildlife Week begins tomorrow in Pigeon Forge and runs for eight days. It's one of the most remarkable events in the country with dozens of nature-related speakers and activities planned throughout the week.

I'll be doing two programs:

Sunday, January 11 at 10 a.m.
"Natural Histories" a talk about my book published by UT Press.

Monday, January 12 at 3 p.m.
"Identifing Local Birds of Prey"

Friday, January 16 at 2:15 p.m.
Paul James, executive director of Ijams Nature Center
will do his talk about "Lost Species" looking at the passenger pigeon and other extinct species

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Although totally arbitrary, this day, the first of the New Year, often produces quiet reflection and the need to contemplate life’s mid-course corrections. It's a good day to look at the stars and see if we are adrift.

In honor of such self-evaluation, here are a few lines from the 13th century poet simply know as Rumi.

“Those who don’t feel this love
pulling them like a river,
those who don’t drink dawn
like a cup of springwater
or take in sunset like supper,
those who don’t want to change,
let them sleep.”

- Thanks Karen Sue.