Sunday, January 31, 2016

today's sunset

Knoxville sunset 31 Jan 2016

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher a storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
Ravīndranātha Thākura, Bengali polymath, (1861-1941) 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

purples today

Raspberry butt?

The ice and snow of the past four days have left the nature center closed and opened and then closed again. And me somewhat housebound to write and do what I have done since I was 8- or 9-years-old, load up the seed feeders and sit back and watch. It's 1 p.m. and 23 degrees outside, what else can I do? The milk sitting in the refrigerator is warmer.

I've had the normal cadre of backyard birds: chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, cardinals, jays, downies, red-bellies, white throats, juncos, doves and, surprisingly, more towhees than I expected, which leads me to believe that a lot more is going on in the bushes than I realize. 

Eventually, I just started throwing the mixed seed out on the deck itself, turning it into one giant platform feeder. Pow! That worked. It's now like Cracker Barrel when the tour buses stop.

And, I have been hoping that all the bird activity would catch the attention of one of my favorite winter visitors: purple finches. I do not see them that often; it has been at least two years.

Initially, I got oodles of goldfinches and several house finches, but late this morning a few purples found my buffet. If I had been in charge of their naming, I would have opted for raspberry butt.

I keep hearing that the erratic pine siskins are also in the area, but they have yet to find me. Perhaps, I need a neon sign.

And, if I could lure in a fox sparrow, my work here would be done.

Oh, the joy!

Male cardinals get all the attention but the females have panache.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

the Bales' cabins

The creation of national parks in the west was a boon. Yellowstone was the first, established in 1872. Oddly, the law that established it didn’t call it a national park, but rather a “public park or pleasure-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” And the people enjoyed the new pleasure-ground, so much so that other lands were soon so designated: Yosemite (1890), Mount Rainier (1899), Glacier (1910), Rocky Mountain (1915) and the Grand Canyon (1919). All, more or less, coalesced around federal, untouched lands.

But what about the east? Shouldn’t there be pleasure-grounds for the people near where most of them lived? 

The principal problems were that there were no large blocks of federal land and the region was certainly not untouched, much of it had been timbered or cleared for farming. Creating a national park in the east meant that businesses and individual property owners had to be bought out and homesteaders would have to pack up and move. In a sense, evicted for the common good.

For the Great Smokies to become a park, hundreds of these small home sites had to be purchased and families uprooted. But would their existence be lost forever? 

For the rest of the story, look for my article in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of The Tennessee Conservationist. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Coooooold Lake thank you

Thanks to all who bundled and fleeced up to join me this morning to look for ducks, coots, grebes and mergansers on cold, cold, cold Cove Lake near Caryville. There were oodles of coots; a smidgen of everything else. Birding in January may seem daft but there's often a lot of very interesting migrants spending their winters in East Tennessee like the Teddy Bear chunky American coot pictured here. The coots proved to be amiable; the mergansers and gadwalls kept their distance.

Yet, all great fun.

And thanks to Deb and Joe for bringing the muffins. Deb for baking them and Joe for carrying them to the car.

Someone scored a cup of hot cocoa.
Deb's homemade muffins.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Cove Lake B&B

Hooded merganser, a duck with teeth

Let's go ducking.

Join me tomorrow morning for an Ijams Not-So-Far-Afield road trip, a Birding & Brunch outing to Cove Lake in search of wintering ducks and other waterfowl: coots, grebes, mergansers. 

Ijams will provide hot cocoa (We're going to need it) and brunch. You bring binoculars and dress for wintry weather. Fee: Ijams members $15, non-members $20.

To register call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110.

For more information, click: WBIR's Live@5@4

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

a birthday twofer

Quick, Watson. The game is afoot.

For her 24th birthday, I decided to give Rachael Eliot a twofer: two Life Birds in one afternoon; two species she had never seen before. But their reported locations were miles apart. We'd have to get lucky. The clock was against us.

The Merlin (Falco columbarius), a medium sized falcon, at Lakeshore Park in West Knoxville presented itself fairly quickly, perched on a bare branch in the sun, a bit of good fortune that gave us extra time to skedaddle to Cades Cove and Hyatt Lane in the Great Smokies.

The day before I had heard from Jimmy Tucker that short-eared owls (Asio flammeus) were wintering there, which they periodically do. (Short-eareds primarily nest in Canada, venturing south this time of the year, but not always as far as Tennessee.) I also knew they begin to feed in low light, the afterglow of a dying day.

We were in position by 4:30, patrolling the dirt road on foot, 50 to 100 yards apart in the cold, watching both sides, the wide meadows tawny with native grasses and windblown. There was a beauty to the starkness, the isolation, the long shadows, the fading sunlight, the close of day. For over an hour we watched and waited, waited and watched. Northern harriers presented themselves as did a lone kestrel, all hunting for that one final meal before a frozen nightfall. 

The eager anticipation of the hunt that had kept us warm in the 20 degree afternoon began to ebb away replaced by numbing cold.

At last, through my binoculars I found two moving shapes in the twilight, but the distance was great and details scant. They looked right in their circular movements low over the ground, wings rounded, light underneath, but yet too far away to be absolute sure and only I saw them. If you're searching for a Life Bird you want a satisfying look, not a fleeting glimpse. By the time we were back together, darkness had set in and the shadowy phantoms had vanished. We had been tantalizingly close, but that didn't count.

The short-eared owls will have to wait until another day but we had created a memory which would last far longer than any dime store bric-à-brac.

Happy Birthday, Ellie.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Do owls get cold too?

Do owls get cold too? Do androids dream of electric sheep? (Blade Runner reference, not relevant. Back to topic.)

Thanks to all who attended my January Owl-ology 101 class yesterday afternoon at Ijams despite the cold. And, burrrrr, did it get cold. (Notice the youngest bundled member of our group to my right, your left.)  

All the owls we saw were indoors not out.

Don't forget Quack-ology 101 coming Sunday, January 31 weather permitting. Ducks don't mind the cold, but we do. Call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Owl-ology was a hoot

Lynne McCoy and Sugar. Photo by Rex McDaniel

My December Owl-logy 101 class at Ijams proved to be great fun. So much so, that we scheduled another for Sunday, February 7. Like before, local wildlife rehabilitator Lynne McCoy will bring along her rescued albino barred owl named Sugar.

For a look at the December offering, click: Owl-ology 101

Thursday, January 7, 2016

2015: saddest moment

A little late with this one, but it's now been exactly six months. The saddest moment of last year and any of my years was Tuesday, July 7, the day my mother, Mary Helen Bales (a Latham at birth), died.

And we had the same nose
If you have a good father you're lucky; a great father, then you're blessed. But the bond with your Mom is something different. Perhaps it's the pain of childbirth you both shared that forms an unshakable natal memory deep in you both. 

Mom would say that "The pain of childbirth is the most severe you'll ever feel, but the quickest one forgotten." But the pain of losing her still lingers and I'm not sure it will ever be forgotten. The pain is still there, you just learn to stop talking about it.

She taught me to walk and talk and my love of birds. And in the end, what more did I need?

My tribute at the time: Mom 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Knox CBC kicks off new year

Sunrise: 2 January 2016. Cold: 27º
Well chilled at dawn: 
Rachael Eliot, Dr. Cheryl Greenacre, Eddy Whitson, Patty Ford 

What's the best way to break out of the sugar laden holidays and step briskly into the New Year? The key word here is "briskly."

How about getting up before sunrise on a cold January morning (27°) and count birds. Its all a part of the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC), the oldest citizen science project in the world. 

The first CBC in the country was held in 1900; the first in Tennessee came two years later in Knoxville. According to the late J. B. Owen, on December 1, 1902, the state's first bird count was made by Magnolia Woodward who tallied birds around her home near Park Avenue (later changed to Magnolia Avenue).

Flash forward 113 years: The CBC count circles are 15 miles in diameter. There are four circles in this general area: Norris, Cades Cove, Great Smokies and the one here in this more urban location. Knoxville's circle is centered on Ebenezer Road on the west side of the city. (See map below.) 

The 2015 Knoxville CBC was held a couple days past: Saturday, January 2, 2016.  

And Jimmy Tucker
My group always counts the northern portion of Area #12 off Alcoa Highway, the Lakemore Hills peninsula out to the Tennessee River at Peter Blow Bend and north to Looney Island and Cherokee Farm. (See map below.) Our chilled cadre was only one of dozens of similar die-hard, frozen fingered birders who counted in other areas in Knox County. (Again, see map below.) And did I mention it was cold. We were bundled, but heated by the thrill of the hunt. After six hours we had tallied 54 species, a total 1454 birds. 

And fancy chapeaux!
Thanks to my group: Patty, Eddy, Dr. Cheryl, Jimmy and Rachael! Now, it's time to thaw out. 

Here's our stats: Canada Goose 230, Mallard 4, Great Blue Heron 8, Black Vulture 1, Turkey Vulture 1, Bald Eagle 1, Sharp-shinned Hawk 2, Red-shouldered Hawk 1, Red-tailed Hawk 2, Killdeer 1, Ring-billed Gull 38, Rock Pigeon 4, Mourning Dove 20, Belted Kingfisher 3, Red-headed Woodpecker 2, Red-bellied Woodpecker 19, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 6, Downy Woodpecker 19, Hairy Woodpecker 1, Northern Flicker 3, Pileated Woodpecker 1, Eastern Phoebe 3, Blue Jay 54, American Crow 36, Carolina Chickadee 84, Tufted Titmouse 52, Red-breasted Nuthatch 2, White-breasted Nuthatch 4, Brown-headed Nuthatch 2, Carolina Wren 17, Golden-crowned Kinglet 5, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 9, Eastern Bluebird 17, Hermit Thrush 3, American Robin 270, Northern Mockingbird 39, Brown Thrasher 3, European Starling 124, Cedar Waxwing 64, Yellow-rumped Warbler 21, Palm Warbler 1, Eastern Towhee 31, Field Sparrow 4, Savannah Sparrow 5, Song Sparrow 71, Swamp Sparrow 1, White-throated Sparrow 29, Dark-eyed Junco 3, Northern Cardinal 71, Eastern Meadowlark 2, Common Grackle 6, House Finch 12, Pine Siskin 1, American Goldfinch 41

Sunrise: Maxey Boat Dock
 And two of the 1454 birds. Photos by Jimmy Tucker.

Eastern Bluebird by Jimmy Tucker
Eastern Meadowlark by Jimmy Tucker