Saturday, January 31, 2015

magnificent finch

Good birding at Ijams. And you really do not have to walk that far. In addition to the juvenile red-headed woodpecker that's been hanging around the parking lot, this morning in front of the Visitor Center we had a purple finch and a pine siskin. (There's got to be more. They never travel alone.)

Photographer Chuck Cooper got the magnificent finch listed as an irregular winter visitor throughout the east but their population numbers have been dropping for years.

As the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website states, "Purple Finches seem to be losing numbers in eastern North America as House Finches have moved in after being brought to New York City in the 1950s. One study of finch behavior found that Purple Finches lost out to House Finches more than 95 percent of the times the two birds encountered each other."

The lookalike house finches are in our area year round but the declining purple finches—really more raspberry colored than purple—are much harder to locate. But doing so is a memorable moment. 

Thank you, Chuck! For sharing your find. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

visiting redhead

Notice the white secondary feathers 
beginning to come in
to form the triangle on the back.

The juvenile red-headed woodpecker first reported by John O'Barr, Jay Sturner and Jimmy Tucker in the parking lot at the Ijams Visitor Center is still hanging around. The initial report was posted on the Ijams blog: redheaded.

It's been seen everyday since.

The species is common on the Cumberland Plateau, but only rarely seen in the valley

John managed to get a photo. "Not a great pic, the lighting was terrible, and he didn't show himself too well before he flew away," he emailed. 

But, any photo that documents this species at the nature center is a memorable.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Wilderness Wildlife Week 2015

LeConte Center at Pigeon Forge

The 25th Annual Wilderness Wildlife Week starts tomorrow at the beautiful LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge. The yearly gathering features oodles of free activities and programs designed to connect visitors to nature.

This is my tenth year as a presenter 
with five presentations scheduled:

Sun. Jan 25, 12 Noon
Hawks of the Smokies
Greenbrier Hall A

Tue. Jan 27, 12:15 PM
IDing Local Birds of Prey
Greenbrier Hall C

Wed. Jan 28, 12 Noon
Audubon's "Birds of America"
Greenbrier Hall C

Thurs, Jan. 29, 2 PM
Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner & the Ivorybill
Greenbrier Hall C

Thurs. Jan 29, 4:30 PM 
Secrets of Backyard Birds
North Room 2


Thursday, January 22, 2015

the wanderers

Photos by Jason Dykes.

peregrine [per-i-grin] adj. wandering, traveling, or migrating.

And at speeds of well over 200 MPH, they are the fastest animal on Earth. 

Peregrine falcons are wanderers. Ode to be so. As the map shows, they can be found virtually all over the globe except the polar regions, yet the map is somewhat dated. The dark blue indicates winter resident, the dark green means breeding resident and that range is expanding as the species slowly recovers from the affects of DDT. Historically, peregrines were once in the Great Smokies, then they were all gone. In the late 1980s, the fierce falcons were reintroduced into the national park, and they're back. The most reliable place I know to find them is Alum Cave Bluff on the trail to Mt. LeConte, April into June where they nest once again. 

Or, if you cannot wait, go to downtown Maryville now. One has been hanging out in the foothills city the past several days where it's probably eating pigeons, its plat préféré. Jason Dykes found it and sent me these photos.

Magnificent creature. Such a gift to see.

Thanks, Jason.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

sunset today

Sunset over downtown Knoxville today

“There's a sunrise and a sunset every single day, 
and they're absolutely free. Don't miss so many of them.” 

- Jo Walton, Welsh-Canadian fantasy and science fiction writer and poet.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


"It became clearer to me, as life progressed, that finding natural places within the city was not just a matter of recreation but of emotional and spiritual survival. In the woods, finding nature meant stepping out of my door. But in the city, I needed to seek out these places and the wildlife that lived there."

-From Sacred Paths and Muddy Places, By Stephen Altschuler

Saturday, January 17, 2015

craning for cranes

Sandhill cranes. Photo by Bob Davis.

"During migration and winter, non-related sandhill cranes come together to form 'survival groups' which forage and roost together. Such groups often congregate at migration and winter sites, sometimes in the thousands," notes Wiki.

Bob Davis took the above photo this week of sandhills flying just east of Washington Ferry bridge on TN Hwy 30.

We'll be making our annual Ijams Birding & Breakfast Club trip to Hiwassee to see the sandhills on Saturday, February 14.

Thanks, Bob.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

just visiting Pellissippi

Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) with Canada goose (Branta canadensis). Photo by Jason Dykes

Pellissippi State Community College has had its share of attention the past two months. Last week it was President Obama and Vice President Biden and his education-minded wife Jill. That's a big deal for the Hardin Valley campus.

In December, the visitors were avian. Two geese, or two northerners, spent some time at the campus pond and local environs. First, there appeared a lone snow goose that spent a short amount of time hanging out with the resident gaggle of Canada geese. The snowy white birds nest so far north they probably know where Santa's workshop is located. They do make forays into the US in the winter but not that often to Tennessee.

After that it was a lone greater white-fronted goose hanging out with the Canadas. They are somewhat rare here as well being that they breed in the tundra from Nunavut to Siberia, across Russia, and in Greenland and spend their winters primarily in Central America and along the west coast.  

I went twice, but saw neither. I didn't get to see the president or vice president or Jill Biden either, so I can't check that off my life list. Bummer. I did see President Nixon once but that was a long time ago, pre-Watergate and pre-life list and pre-notion-of-such.  

So is it geese or gooses? According to my online dictionary: goose, noun, plural geese for 1, 2, 4, 8; or gooses for 5—7. So six geese are called gooses? Isn't that the oddest thing? Is it real? Or is some bored Internet lexicographer messing with us?
Jason Dykes saw both special geese and sent me photos to document it. The top photo of the snow goose has two total geese, the top one below has three total geese. So they are not gooses. But collectively they show five geese, so then they are gooses? Go figure.

For fans of binomials, the bird family Anatidae contains the tribe Anserini. There are three genera in that tribe: Anser, Branta and Chen. All three are represented in these photos.  

Thanks, Jason! 

Greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons) in foreground with Canada geese. Photo by Jason Dykes.

Friday, January 9, 2015

2015 then some

Being that it's nine days into the New Year, it was time I hung a new wall calendar in my office. 

This year it's The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offering with a cover photo by Linda Petersen. And look at that blithe thing, could it be that yellow? Oh yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia), you're like a winged sunbeam with a song so sweet (mnemonic: sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet.) Could there be anything more perfect on this sub-freezing day?

All the yellow warblers on the planet are not freezing their little saffron cheeks off. They're wintering in the Yucatán Peninsula south through Central America to Columbia and Venezuela. Oh, to be so blithe; flash such élan on a distant wooded mountain. But in three months they'll pass through our valley, most on their way to breeding grounds farther north.

Sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

5 is not enough degrees

5 is not a respectable degree. It's the number of cold fingers I had on my right hand as I started the car this morning and later the same 5 fingers picked up a can of frozen, bruised Pepsi I found in the bank parking lot.


The thermometer read 5. 

5 is the number of easy pieces Jack Nicholson played,

5 is the number Joe DiMaggio wore when he hit safely in 56 straight ball games,

5 is the number of the slaughterhouse, Schlachthof-fünf, in the Vonnegut novel,

5 is the number of Beach Boys or Fleetwood Macs,

5 is the number of cards in a poker hand,

5 the number of heads Borglum wanted on Rushmore 
   but he ran out of room, 

5 is the number of limbs on a starfish,

5 is half of a ten dollar bill, 

5 is the dimension Serling called the Twilight Zone,

5 is the number of letters in the word Pepsi that was frozen,

5 is the number of Supreme Court Justices if four phone in sick,

5 is the number of sides on the Pentagon,

5 is the number of rings in the Olympic symbol,

5 is the number of toes on Lincoln's left foot,

but, 5 is not a respectable number of degrees, 
although it makes a fairly respectable left foot.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

great owl interview

Yesterday, the Ijams great horned owl granted its first TV interview of the New Year to WBIR Channel 10's Live@5@4 effervescent reporter Emily Stroud.

The two talked about upcoming birding programs at the nature center. The first is a Birding & Breakfast Club chat about "IDing Winter Birds" this Saturday morning at 9 a.m. (Luckily, the breakfast will be prepared by Peg, not me.)