Sunday, March 31, 2013

crane declared wild

Hooded crane at Hiwassee in 2011. Photo by John Kuehnel.

Wild. Wild. Wild.  The crane was wild.

"After extensive research and consideration the Tennessee Bird Records Committee (TBRC) voted 5-1 that a captive origin of the Hooded Crane (seen at the Hiwassee Refuge in Meigs County TN from December 13, 2011 through January 2012) was unlikely and accepted the record as a wild bird which will be added to the Official List of Tennessee Birds," posted Kevin Calhoon, Secretary of the TBRC, today on TN-Bird. 

Calhoon added, "We decided it was more likely that this Hooded Crane from Eurasia somehow ended up with migratory Sandhill Cranes in North America and over time drifted east to Tennessee, than it being a escaped captive bird."

So now, in 2013, we can add the hooded crane to our official Tennessee Life Lists. 

Here's a link to my original post 28 December 2011: lost crane.

And one to Kevin Calhoon's today: crane WAS wild.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

yellow with teeth

Although winter keeps hanging on, there are a few signs of spring in the woods.

It's hard not to notice the spring ephemerals, they're slowly beginning to emerge. But, their time is brief, soon they will be gone. POOF! 

Bloodroot has been up for awhile and this morning I discovered that a small, yellow wildflower is blooming. This one is a bit challenging to ID. You can tell by the leaves that it's related to squirrel corn and Dutchman's breeches, but the flowers are much smaller and yellow.

According to my Peterson's Wildflower Field Guide (Roger Tory co-authored with Margaret McKenny. He did the illustrations) there are three species of corydalis: C. flavula, C. aurea and C. micrantha. 

The differences are in the shape of the small flowers themselves. C. flavula (yellow corydalis) has a toothed crest on the upper petal; C. aurea (golden corydalis) does not; and C. micrantha (slender corydalis) has a straight or upturned spur, slight crest, no teeth.

Got that?

Any who. The one in the photo, the one growing along the North Cove Trail at Ijams Nature Center, is yellow corydalis. It has a toothed crest.

Now you know in case it turns up on Alex Trebek's Jeopardy! under the heading "Almost Totally Too Much Information" for $1,000.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I think? Therefore I am?

Are you fulfilling your destiny, or are you somehow off track? 

Sitting here typing these words, is that part of my destiny? Or should I be hiking up the side of Mt. LeConte despite the 18 inches of snow reported on Top of Old Smoky?

Is this the only me, or is there a parallel me pondering his own existence somewhere else in the universe, or in a parallel universe? Or is pondering one's own existence alone, proof that we obviously exist? I think, therefore I am. But if I spend the day not thinking, do I cease to exist?

You do exist don't you? Or did I only imagine you?

Do you also think, therefore you also are? Or am I here only because you imagined me? But if that is true, why didn't you imagine me better looking? Say, something more George Clooneyish.

Or am I but an ant crawling across the patio of life? I seem to do a lot of scampering.

When I get caught up with such questions, I usually consult someone with a younger, more pliable brain than my own.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Phil indicted

What? Me worry?
So sue me. I'm only a ground-loving rodent,
cousin to mice, squirrels and African mole rats! 

Late March: With snow swirling outside and cold weather still the law of the land. (Over 50 percent of the lower 48 has snow on the ground.) International superstar, bon vivant and most well-known resident of Gobbler's Knob, Punxsutawney Phil, has been indicted for fraud for predicting an early spring on his brief Groundhog Day's appearance just six weeks ago.

Phil remains his usual stoic self, taciturn to a fault, releasing no comment on the topic through his legal team: Woodsy Owl and Rocky the Flying Squirrel although Rocky was heard to utter to his long-time partner, "Hokey Smoke, Bullwinkle. Can't they take a joke? What's with these people?"

Speculation has it, Phil will plead "Not guilty" using the little-tried "I'm only a groundhog" as his defense. 

Me? Spring Fever aside, I'm having to unpack my winter clothing. 

For more details go to CNN, click: Phil's indictment. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

young birder

There's a special place in my heart for the drawings of kids.

Recently, I spoke to the Atlanta Chapter of the Audubon Society at the Chattahoochee Nature Center about my book on Jim Tanner and the ivory-billed woodpecker, a.k.a. the Ghost Bird of the 1930s.

After I finished, young Allan came to me quickly and gave me a drawing he had just completed. An ivorybill with a smiley face floating over it, a good sign for a species that could be or could become extinct. 

Our greatest responsibility as adults is to teach, guide and influence our youth. Nurture their blossoming spirits. Kids adrift have uncertain futures. Too many fathers in this country think that fatherhood comes with an escape clause, when the most precious thing on earth is the love and respect of a child. Shearwater was abandoned by her father but through the love of birds she has been able to reconnect to the joy inherent in all life.

If ivorybills are still with us—and many, many people believe they are, despite the odds against them—then their survival is due to their never-say-die tenacity. 

Allan's parents are avid birders and teachers, therefore I know that Allan is getting a good start on life. And he'll know his birds and an ivorybill if he sees it.

Many thanks, Allan.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

coot: flashing fancy feet

One last photo, we think (the royal or Victorian "we"), from this past winter sent to me by Jason Dykes.

Don't you just love the toes on an American Coot? The cute coot tootsies. 

Jason took the photo at the Alcoa Duck Pond on December 2 the day after my "Duck, Duck, Goose!" program at the nature center. Coots are not ducks, although they swim like ducks, they have big feet but they are not webbed, they are lobed.

As the Cornell Lab or Ornithology website states, "Instead, each one of the coot’s long toes [indeed, each digit] has broad lobes of skin that help it kick through the water. The broad lobes fold back each time the bird lifts its foot, so it doesn’t impede walking on dry land, though it supports the bird’s weight on mucky ground."

It's like having retractable webbed feet.  Very practical.

The next time someone says, "Oh, you have such coot feet." Take it as a compliment.

Click photo to get a closer look


Monday, March 18, 2013

real men can wear pink


As we slip through the closing days of winter, and bid the season a guarded adieu, we get one last gift: purple finches, at both my feeders at home and the nature center. Seed-eaters like most finches, they're attracted to black oil sunflower seeds.

Wow, how I love this colorful bird, but they are only in the valley in winter and very irregularly at that. It's been a few years since I saw so many. 

Needless to say, they really are not purple but softer shades of pink and raspberry, like a rosé wine from the Provence region of France. Joie de vivre. Although only the hes are so hued, the shes dress in browns. (Yes, real males can wear pink.) The females are attracted to the most intensely colorful males. The drab boys may have to sit this breeding season out.

They nest much farther to the north: Great Lakes into New England and Southern Canada, so they will be on their way soon. 

Adieu. Adieu. Pink boys, adieu.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Thank you!

Special thanks to the Atlanta Chapter of the Audubon Society and my new friends at the Chattahoochee Nature Center for hosting me Thursday evening. My talk was about my book: Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, 1935 - 1941 published by the University of Tennessee Press.

And special thanks to my KTOS friends Tracey and Charlie Muise for making the trip to Atlanta to attend the program. 

Great venue!

Friday, March 15, 2013

on guard

Hidden in the branches, deep in the viburnum, the Northern mockingbird guards its larder. Its ticket to spring. Even at this time of the year, late winter, there are still a few withered blue berries hanging on the shrub, and I'll be darn if this mocker is going to share. 

The best place to find a mockingbird in March is to search for the viburnums, hollies, privets still bearing their precious little fruits. Mockers are berry eaters, and once they find a loaded bush, it's theirs! They will guard it for days, weeks, months, as long as its bounty endures.

A mocker will let a photographer approach, but NOT another berry-eating bird. No sir!

Ergo: If you have berries to guard, hire a mockingbird. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

rite of spring

Peent! Peent...Peent! 

The sound is insect-like and primal. The buzzy "peenting" call of a chunky upland shorebird, a male, his opening salvo of spring and impending, albeit brief, romance. In strict terms of biology: The passing of his genetic material to the next generation, so that other chunky timberdoodles will follow. 

And a rite of spring for me: Searching for the aerial displays and raspy calls of American woodcocks hidden in the muddy fields, the sodden grass, at twilight. 

Thanks to all who joined me on the outing orchestrated by Ijams Nature Center. And thank you, Hannah in the bright pink coat!

Fellow searcher Jason Sturner writes: "A nature-filled weekend in Knoxville: male frogs and toads vocalizing for the ladies; woodcocks in courtship flights beneath the clouds and stars; a gorgeous Fox Sparrow amid a flush of juncos; fresh layers of sun on swelling tree buds; hepatica blooming on a woodland hill; the air an arrived exhalation of the coming spring."

Valarie Johnson linked a video.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

the GISS of it

Standing in the lab-kitchen at the nature center, I noticed movement in the distance. A fidgety flutter centered around one tree down slope from the back of the building. It was high in the canopy but because of our elevation difference, it was almost at eye-level.

The hyper little thing was much too far away to see a field marking. I was indoors so couldn't possibly hear a vocalization, but my general impression of the bird was that it was smaller than a chickadee and much more active. 

A kinglet? But which one? We have both golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets that spend their winters here in the valley.

Clues to the proper ID are buried in my opening lines. "High in the tree," "centered around one tree" suggest golden-crowned. 

What I was practicing was GISS (General Impression of Size and Structure) plus its overall behavior.  And kinglets are a good place to start because rarely do you get more than an impression; they're far more ephemeral than in-your-face cardinals.

Most field guides focus on the field markings and vocalizations. They have to because by definition the books are kept small and pocket size. But knowing a species individual behavior is just as important. 

That's why I like Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion. Aptly named, it's meant to be a companion to your field guide and with a good paragraph or two on each bird's behavior for some IDs, it's essential.

Case in point: Golden-crowned kinglet, "forages higher in the canopy [than a ruby-crowned] more site-tenacious forages longer in a tree before moving on...hyperactive feeder, hopping quickly between branches and wing-flicking often...forages by picking or hovering."

It confirm my suspicion, I retrieved my binoculars and when I returned, it was still in the same tree. Yes, a golden-crowned! 

GISS whiz. 


Alvin Lee passes away

COMPLETELY UNRELATED: Those of us of a certain generation will note the death of Alvin Lee, lead guitarist and singer with the British blues rock band: Ten Years After. Here's a memorable performance at Woodstock in 1969: I'm Going Home.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Cat the ripper

If you are a towhee, wren or ground-loving sparrow, this could be the last face you ever see. And it's not friendly; it's lethal.

A new study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute doesn’t pussy-foot around the topic: Cats kill birds. Mass slaughter. In the U.S. alone, tabbies are responsible for the deaths of up to 3.7 billion birds every year. That's 3,700,000,000!

So, keep your kitty safe, well-fed and...indoors.

NBC's Brian Williams reports: Cats are murderers.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

bearer of victory

Despite the cold wind and rain that moved in a few days ago, the speedwells are thriving. Nothing perks up a late winter walkabout like a carpet of speedwells. Growing low-to-the-ground protects the small sky-blue flowers, but because they are prostrate they are often overlooked.

A member of the genus Veronica, this species is a winter annual that reproduces from seeds every year. The genus name likely comes from the early Christian Saint Veronica; the word itself a latinisation of Berenice meaning "bearer of victory." And indeed, this trailside common speedwell succeeds at a time that others would fail.

You go girl!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

passing the gas

Bassian thrush (Zoothera lunulata)

Forgive me for being indelicate and sophomoric, but I played four years of high school baseball, so I'm used to locker room humor. I wish I'd known about this mottled bird's little trick when I was roaming the outfield for good old Gatlinburg-Pittman.

This is apparently true. And its appeal? Remember I was once an adolescent male

Birds have many curious behaviors. In my part of the world, a towhee hops backwards through the dead leaves on the ground, turning them over to stir up a meal—insect, spider, worm, etc. On the other side of the world, in Australia and Tasmania, the secretive ground-loving Bassian thrush goes a step further. According to author Dominic Couzens, the medium-sized songbird also searches the leaf liter for prey and ever so often, squats and farts. As Natural History magazine reports, "The flatulence, we are told, startles earthworms into revealing their location."  And how could they not?

In one end and out the other, so to speak.

Thanks, Shearwater, for this nature factoid.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


Brown-marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys)

Stink bugs invade county!

“The brown-marmorated stink bug is a native of Asia and was first collected in the United States in 1998 in Pennsylvania, according to Penn State University. It has caused severe damage to fruit crops like apples and peaches,” reported Rebecca Williams on knoxNews three years ago.

“But now the bugs are hitting hard in the suburbs of Knoxville, [Neal] Denton said. They have reproduced vigorously during the warm summer and are now looking for warm places to stay as the weather cools, including homes, garages and campers.”

Well they're back.

Now that the weather has turned colder again, I’ve had a marmorated (it means having a marbled or streaked appearance) stink bug loitering about my bathroom sink this week. Its cherub little face watches me brush my teeth, dry my hair, trim my graying beard. Like the movie Being There's Chance the gardener, "It likes to watch." A rather nonthreatening voyeur, that seems inordinately interested in me. Are they government drones, should I be paranoid? Although honestly, it's kind of nice having something that actually wants to share my morning curry. It's been rather lonely up to this point.

I wonder if it will be with me the rest of the winter.

I'll miss it when it's gone.