Saturday, April 30, 2016

Sharps Ridge 4

Scarlet tanager. Wiki commons by Bmajorus

As has been our routine of late, Rachael Eliot and I do an hour's worth of birding at Sharps Ridge Memorial Park before her first class at UT. 

It's the early morning peace before her "organic chemistry brain"—her major—has to click into high gear, sort of the calm before the storm. 

Last Wednesday has to be labeled "scarlet tanager day." Red red redder than a fire engine, they were all along the ridgetop, albeit singing high in the trees as is their bent. 

We also tallied the first indigo buntings of the season, a little later than normal, one very much alive and one lying dead in the road below one of the TV towers. Sadly, migrants often fly into the towers in the dark of night as they pass through—a journey of a thousand miles ended with a head-on collision. All too sad, like neutrons in particle accelerator. BAM! (Your physics reference of the morning.)

Ellie also saw another palm warbler, heard a possible hooded once, saw a possible chestnut-sided once and most definitely yellow-rumps in breeding plumage were ubiquitous.

Finding a single small bird high overhead in an oak is harder than a needle in the haystack because the needle doesn't move.
High in the top of the middle tree is a scarlet tanager. Do you see it?
This indigo bunting's migratory flight ended with a crash into a TV tower.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

exploring the Urban Wilderness

Kids are happier if they grow up outside, where their minds have plenty of space to roam.

Last Saturday was a perfect day for the Ijams Hiking Club to meet and explore all things great and small.

For more photos, click: Urban Wilderness.

The inventor of the mobile home.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Sharp's Ridge 3

Palm warbler. Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson: Wiki media.

Bette Davis-eyed Ellie
Our third trip to Sharp's Ridge Memorial Park yesterday morning before I went to work at the nature center proved to be a little more migrantful. (Made up word. Don't look it up.)

Rachael Eliot and/or I saw/heard broadwing hawk, scarlet tanager, blue-headed vireo, and several warblers: pine, yellow-rumped, black-and-white, blue wing and palm (a lifer for Ellie). Despite its tropical name, the palm warbler breeds far to the north "in bogs, open boreal coniferous forest, and partly open situations with scattered trees and heavy undergrowth, usually near water." *

We encountered Shane Williams again who was a huge help to our spotting. He has an excellent ear for birds. In addition to our list, he also tallied a hard to find cerulean warbler and a yellow-throated vireo.

Thanks, Shane! Thanks, Robin!

* Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Ellie at the J.B. Owen Overlook

Friday, April 22, 2016

Wildflower Pilgrimage

Ovenbird. A warbler that nests on the ground. Wiki photo by Dick Daniels.

Thank you to the organizers of Gatlinburg's Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage for inviting me to speak yesterday on one of my favorite topics: Migratory Birds 

This is the 66th year of the festival that runs April 19-23, so there is still plenty of time to enjoy one of the 143 planned activities. 

It is always an honor for me to return to my hometown, the place I fell in love with nature and, in particular, birds. 

Thank you Judy Collins for inviting me.

P.S. As I write this from my second floor deck, I'm listening to a singing wood thrush. Can life be any sweeter?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Edward R. Murrow Awards

WBIR's Jim Matheny

Congratulations to our friends at WBIR and television journalist Jim Matheny for winning several 2016 Edward R. Murrow Awards for writing, videography and overall excellence.

Matheny's work included a story on freshwater jellyfish reported last August.

Here's a look back, click: Jellyfish 

And Matheny's creative use of video, click: Jellyfish

Pat yourselves on the back!

The Matheny Rig: GoPro camera rigged to float underwater and follow the canoe.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

things have changed

Wiki photo by Snowmanradio

"People are crazy and times are strange. I'm locked in tight, 
I'm out of range. I used to care, 
but things have changed," to quote Dylan.

But there is a natural order, so pop the champagne!

Things HAVE changed. Last night I heard a whip-poor-will in the woods behind the house. He is just passing through. This morning there's a wood thrush singing on the back of beyond, he may stay to claim territory.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sharp's Ridge 2

Huh? What? Shouldn't it be?

Where are they?

Again, Ellie and I went to Sharp's Ridge Memorial Park this morning before her first class at UT. And it's the week of finals, so she didn't have much time, and again: Where are the migrants?

Are they stuck at a Stuckey's in Georgia on Route 23? (Parenthetical information: Actually, pecan-based Stuckey's began in the 1930s on Route 23 in Eastman, Georgia.)

Shouldn't the neotropicals be here by now? Well, I would think so, but not yet, apparently. We found/heard the same birds as last week but fewer winters. Ellie located another yellow-rump in breeding plumage, and surprisingly we met yet another man who had had his car attacked by a hormonal pine warbler.

But, we did not find the big kahunas of spring migrants: no Blackburnians, no redstarts, no veerys, passing through the valley.


Friday, April 15, 2016

nature club

Hey. What ya looking at? Oh, yeah! Our new Family Nature Club made yesterday's Knoxville News-Sentinel

Here is the online version, click: Into the woods

We meet again in May.

Thank you, Susan Alexander and Ali James with the News-Sentinel.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sharp's Ridge 1

Sharp's Ridge
Rachael Eliot and I swung by Sharp's Ridge Memorial Park this morning before her first class at UT.

Rachael Eliot
We were checking for migrants: warblers, tanagers, vireos, but all was relatively quiet. Historically, the city park in the middle of urban Knoxville is the best place to find the passing migratory birds in late April. After flying all night, the birds get a much needed respite on the ridge before another nocturnal journey. But, the nighttime winds have been wrong the past few days. Plus, the winter species are still hanging around. Ellie found a ruby-crowned kinglet, white-throated sparrow, pine warbler and with the help of a visiting birder named Paul from Colorado we found a yellow-rumped warbler in breeding plumage.

We also met a local birder named Shane Williams who had just had an odd encounter with a hormonal pine warbler that was being territorial, attacking his Jeep, or rather attracting his own reflection in the windshield and side mirror of his Jeep. (See series of photos below.)

Oh, the signs of spring. Male birds throwing themselves against their own reflections.

Thanks, Shane. 

Aggressive pine warbler. Photos by Shane Williams.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Family Nature Club

Thanks to all who attended yesterday's first meeting of the Family Nature Club @ Ijams. Our topic of the day was birds.

And thanks to the junior naturalists (B.K.U.) the Best Kids in the Universe, for making the day so memorable.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

migratory birds

Thank you to all who attended my class on migratory birds this morning at Ijams. We looked at several species that pass through Knox County on their way to breeding grounds farther north or in the Smoky and Cumberland Mountains. 

We also welcomed the return of a pair of blue-gray gnatcatchers, a species that typically nest in the Shumardii oaks outside my office window. The gnatcatchers spent their winters along the Gulf Coast and south into Mexico and central America, where, we assume, there's plenty of wintertime gnats. 

Notice those petite gnatcatcher bills. I wonder how many gnats you'd have to eat to get a good meal. 

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

Thursday, April 7, 2016

it's migration time

Blackburnian Warbler. Named in honor of English botanist Anna Blackburne.  
Can there be a more beautiful songbird?

After spending their winters in Central and South America, thousands of colorful avian visitors will be passing through our valley during the next few weeks. They fly thousands and thousands of miles, all in a mad rush on their way north to raise a family. Join me and hear more about it.

 Saturday, April 9, 9 a.m. 
Birding & Brunch at Ijams 

(All Ages) Join me for this fun and light-hearted look into the world of migratory birds: warblers, tanagers, vireos, thrushes. We’ll discuss some of the more common spring visitors to look for in the trees and woods around your home and how they survive their travels. 

Live@5@4 co-host Beth Haynes
We’ll also enjoy a light brunch to fuel our own short migration around the park in search of birds. The fee for this program is $5 for Ijams members and $8 for non-
Please call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register.

Today, I spoke briefly with WBIR's Beth Haynes. For that chat click: Live@5@4.

American redstart

Monday, April 4, 2016

thanks for volunteering!

Thanks to all who stopped by my site at Marine Park on Alcoa Highway to volunteer for this year's River Rescue

My site was just one of over 30 that was cleaned up on Saturday, all part of the 27th annual local river and creek shoreline cleanup. River Rescue is one of the oldest such volunteer-driven cleanups in the country! Pat yourself on the back. As of yet, I haven't heard of the total number of volunteers and tons of trash removed from locations from Ijams downstream to Ft. Loudoun Dam. 

Knoxville News Sentinel photographer Adam Lau and reporter John Shearer covered River Rescue. Lau visited my site. To see their report, click: Knoxville News Sentinel