Monday, August 25, 2014

Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival Celebrates Its Fourth Year!

The Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival celebrated its fourth year on Saturday, August 23rd at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, offering visitors an exciting day of nature-related activities, including hummingbird banding!  
Above, the logo art found on all the signs, t-shirts, schedules and banners at the festival. Everytime I saw a new sign or banner for this year's festival, I couldn't help but smile.  This watercolor image is one of my most spontaneous and playful sketches and I am happy to see it inspiring people to enjoy hummingbirds!
New this year, the festival offered a special area for children's activities.  Children were given opportunity to view a slide show introduction to birds, participate in a bird walk lead by Discover Birds volunteer, Chris Welsh and other KTOS volunteers, create bird feeders from pinecones and bagels, make their own hummingbird paintings, and participate in a migration game, among other available activities.
Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell.    
Above, young  festival visitors make bird feeders with peanut butter and pine cones.

Photo credit:  Karen Wilkinson

Above and below, an activity table loaded with paints, brushes, markers and paper supplied young artists all the tools they needed to display their talents!
 Photo credit:  Karen Wilkinson

Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell

More than 100 visitors, children and adults, enjoyed viewing the Barred Owl, below, while on their nature walks at the festival.  The owl dropped down to the creek behind the brush for a few minutes, out of sight, but delighted when he flew back up to a limb dripping wet from his bath and remained in view for the birding telescope and cameras.  Everyone enjoyed great looks.  
Photo credit:  Jimmy Tucker

Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell

Lynne McCoy, above, wildlife rehabilitator, displayed "Hawkeye", a Broadwinged Hawk, and "Pockets", the ground hog, pictured below, along with other wildlife species, educating both children and adults. Everyone enjoyed petting Pockets and he seemed to enjoy it too.  When he grew tired of all the attention, he rolled over on his back and went to sleep!

Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell
Below, face painting, a favorite with the kids and with us!

 "Faces Gone Wild" transformed smiling faces into magical wild creatures!
Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell

Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell

Nature walks, hummingbird banding, face-painting, expert speakers, arts, crafts, food and wildlife demonstrations--all in one spectacular fun-filled day!

Next:  Festival exhibits and hummingbird banding!

Wonder of Hummingbird festival on Facebook
Wonder of Hummingbird Festival Blog
Faces Gone Wild
Wonder of Hummingbird Festival_2013
Wonder of Hummingbird Festival 2013 on Tennessee Wildside
KTOS on Facebook
Hummingbird Banding Demonstration 2009
Mark Armstrong, Master Bander
Knoxville Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society
Ijams Nature Center

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Rainy Day South Loop Enchants with Eastern Box Turtles

Rain isn't exactly the weather that causes people to flock to a hiking opportunity, but there were three of us willing to take a chance on August 9th, hoping that the rain in the area would be light and scattered.  
We encountered drizzle as we began, but it only lasted minutes, cooling the air and creating a damp lushness in this little bit of wilderness at Marie Myers Park along the South Loop Trail of Knoxville's Urban Wilderness.    
Turtles clearly like the dampness and were moving around.  We encountered four of them during our hike and there were likely many more that we didn't see hidden in the vegetation.  I usually see Eastern Box Turtles in my yard, one at a time, throughout the year.  Seeing four of them within a short period of time gave me a unique opportunity to witness their variations in shape, color and patterns.
Naturalist, Stephen Lyn Bales, picked up the turtle briefly to determine if it was male or female.  Males generally have red eyes but that is not always an indicator. On the underside of the shell or plastron, you can feel whether the shell is concave or convex. Males have a concave shape to the lower two thirds of the plastron.  
The second turtle we encountered was young and did not withdraw his head into the shell but continued moving with his neck extended. Besides inexperience, young turtles do not have the capacity to close their shell tightly as adults do.
He was intently feeding on something which he continued to hold in his mouth as Stephen Lyn examined his plastron to again check for gender.
Eastern Box Turtles are believed to be declining and biologists are concerned because we do not have effective ways to count and track populations. Habitat loss and fragmentation, death by automobiles and human collection for pets are putting box turtle populations at risk.
Above, you get an idea of the lushness of the park environment. Portions of the trail follow a ridge where water runs down periodically. Along this portion of the trail we found large stands of jewel weed, a favorite plant of hummingbirds. Our third box turtle encounter is pictured, below.
At the end/entrance of one section of the trail their is a path cut through exotic bamboo.  This is an invasive species that sends runners underground and is very difficult to contain.  You can see how the bamboo blocks light and crowds out native plants as it grows thicker and matures.  It will continue to spread if not kept trimmed back, a task that generally takes a chain-saw.
Our fourth turtle, below, quickly retracted his head and hid under his shell.  The yellow patterns on his back were noticeably different from the previous turtles encountered with less yellow.

Eastern Box turtles are one of the few turtles that can actually close their shell tight. The upper one-third of the plastron is hinged, making this closure possible.  You can see the slant of the upper plastron and the hinged area in the image below.  The ability to completely close their shells means that box turtles have few successful predators--primarily raccoons, whose strength, dexterity and sharp teeth enable them to pry open the shell.  The broken edges on this turtle's front carapace lead one to suspect he has encountered a raccoon.  
Below, Stephen Lyn Bales, examines a box turtle to determine sex.  All of the turtles we encountered appeared to be males.  The Eastern Box Turtle is a species that has  temperature-dependent sex determination--that is, the sex of the hatchling is determined by the environmental temperature during a temperature-sensitive period that occurs while the embryo is developing gender characteristics.
Piece-by-Piece is the name of a series of hikes scheduled monthly by Ijams Nature Center, and led by Senior Naturalist, Stephen Lyn Bales.  These hikes traverse the South Loop of Knoxville's Urban Wilderness Trail in 2-3 mile sections and occur every second Saturday of the month.  We're casual hikers with no speed or endurance goals other than finishing the hike!  We're there to enjoy physical activity, nature, and get familiar with the South Loop trails so we can continue to enjoy them.   Come join us!

Blog posts on hiking the South Loop Trail
Blog posts on sea turtles
Stephen Lyn Bales--Nature Calling
Piece-by-Piece--Urban Wilderness South Loop
Knoxville's Urban Wilderness
Legacy Parks Foundation--Knoxville's Urban Wilderness hike descriptions with trail maps

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bird Banding at Seven Islands State Birding Park

Seven Islands Willdife Refuge officially became Tennesee's Seven Islands State Birding Park on July 1st. Five days later I drove the thirty-minute drive to my first banding session after the official change and was happy to see the interstate sign with symbols that indicate the park is a good place for birding, wildlife watching, hiking, canoeing and kayacking.
Above, bird-banding team members Eddy Whitson, Patty Ford, Billie Cantwell, Mark Armstrong, Janie Kading and Colin Leonard walk back to the banding station on July 6th after an early morning net-run.   

I couldn't take a picture of the interstate sign without risking my life and those around me, so I satisfied my urge by snapping an image of the sign pointing out the park direction as I turned off the interstate.

Above and below, Master Bander, Mark Armstrong, processes a Yellow-breasted Chat, a warbler common to the park.  Banding sessions this summer will help document how habitat changes have impacted the numbers and species of breeding birds in the area.
Historically, the banding station collected MAPS breeding bird data.   MAPS stands for the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship Program, a program conducted by The Institute for Bird Populations in Point Reyes Station, California.  The MAPS program is conducted from May to August during breeding season and has specific data collection requirements with a goal of analyzing data to understand how bird populations are changing over time.  The information collected and reported by MAPS banding stations helps scientists to determine causes and effects of environmental change.
MAPS banding data requires that the net locations and habitat remain the same, however, and recent changes have impacted this continuity.  Mark is using this opportunity to determine how these changes are impacting the breeding birds and to provide a continuous history of species breeding activity for the park. Above, Janie Kading records data while Mark Armstrong and Billie Cantwell examine birds.
Mark examines a male Common Yellow-throat, a warbler that is far from common in appearance, but whose song is frequently heard in the park during summer months.  The Common Yellow-throat was the subject of a painting I created for the announcement of the new state park earlier this year.
Above and below, Billie bands a juvenile Northern Cardinal.
You can see the yellow, stretchy corners of the juveniles beak that are his remaining "gape".  This young bird is still being fed by parents.  Notice that the juvenile's beak is dark or brown and has not yet developed the bright orange that is characteristic of adult cardinal beaks.

Above and below, another view of the dark beak and yellow gape of the juvenile.  It is impossible to tell at this stage of plumage whether the juvenile is male or female.  With young birds like this one, frequently encountered during the breeding season, juveniles are walked back to the area where they were netted to reunite with their parents.

Below, Colin Leonard extracts a bird from one of the nets.
We had the good fortune of processing some vireos along with more common birds found in the nets. Below, a Red-eyed Vireo and a good look at the thick vireo beak.
Very soon after this bird was banded, we also had a White-eyed Vireo giving a good comparison of the two species.
Above, Mark and Bille consult the Pyle reference to determine the age using the vireo's plumage and eye color.
Above, a White-eyed Vireo has its tail measured.
In the above image, you can see the two species side by side.  The Red-eyed Vireo is closer and larger than the White-eyed Vireo.  The White-eyed Vireo is more colorful, with its yellow markings and white wing bars.
Vireos are incredibly curious and spunky birds.  After being banded, this White-eyed Vireo sat on Mark's fingers for a while before flying.  This gave me an opportunity to get some good images of its thick beak and that beautiful white eye.

Above, banding team members return from a net run with birds held in bags.
Black-eyed Susans sprinkle the fields around the park's grassland.

One of the youngest birds netted was a newly fledged Yellow-breasted Chat.  It is hard to even identify the species when the bird is so young with mostly gray plummage.
This youngster was quickly banded and walked back to the net to rejoin its parents and carry on with morning feeding activities.
Above you can see the newly fledged bird's short primary feathers, downy body and newly developing, short tail.
Many feathers are still growing on the throat and face.

Mark, Master Bander of both songbirds and hummingbirds, will be banding hummingbirds at Knoxville's upcoming Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival  held at Ijams Nature Center on Saturday, August 23rd.  Mark your calendars!  Festival visitors will have the opportunity to see hummingbirds upclose, learn more about their nesting and migration habits and enjoy the many expert speakers and vendors that will be present for the event.

Links and Resources:
Hummingbird banding will occur from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the festival, Saturday, August 23rd
For more information visit:  Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival
Hummingbird festival Speaker and Event Schedule
My previous posts on bird banding.
Knoxville Tennessee Ornithological Society
Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge, now Seven Islands State Birding Park

For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham