Saturday, July 2, 2016

Andrews Bald and a Perfect Day

Some days are truely magical from start to finish.  This July 1st hike to Andrews Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains with three friends had that quality.  
No one expects to find a day in the 60's in July in east Tennessee!  Nor do you expect to drive to the Smoky Mountains National Park on a holiday weekend without throngs of traffic.  We managed to enjoy both--low traffic and perfect weather!  (It was 69 F degrees when we finished our hike at 3:00 pm!)
We started at Clingman's Dome and hiked the rocky steps, some natural, most constructed for visitor comfort, leading down the slope to Andrew's Bald.  The trail takes you through pristine forest along the ridge edge, lush with native vegetation in various stages of maturity, thriving in the rich forest floor.  
There is something truely magical about the ferns, algea and lichen that line the trail edges and thrive in the shade and water that trickles down the mountain face in numerous places.

Part of the fun is the curiousity stimulated by these plants.  We stopped to take photos of some of them and wondered about their identification.
 Small Purple Fringed Orchid, above and below.

Our ultimate goal was to see the Flame Azaleas on the bald and enjoy the spectacular view.  We enjoyed that and more!
 Above, the view from Andrew's Bald through a rare and spectacular clear atmosphere!
Flame Azalea.

Though the azaleas are expected to be in full bloom in early July, their peek occurred earlier this year. Maybe that was due to our unseasonably warm May weather--I'm not sure how that works--but we were delighted to find blooms nonetheless.

The above beautiful blossoms were found on the shady side of one of the azaleas, showing a variety of color from pink to peach to orange.
The bald was a great place to relax for lunch and I checked out some of the bird activity around us. For the first time, I heard a breeding Dark-eyed Junco burst into song.  Normally I see them in the winter months.  The one below was hopping along the plank path and foraging along its edges.  I also found Cedar Wax Wings and heard a Common Raven.
After lunch, Kara pulled a package of bubble blowing liquid from her pack!  Of all the things I've seen someone pull out of their hiking pack, this was by far the most surprising.  What happened next was delightful.

On the bald with us were two families from Houston, traveling together.  The family members originated from Bolivia, France and Chicago.  It was the children of these families that Kara invited to play with the bubbles.  An unexpected entertainment for all of us in the higher elevation of the Smokies!

After the families started back down the trail, they encountered a bear foraging only ten feet from the trail!  They also saw a deer!  When we caught up with them only minutes later, the children could speak of nothing else.  "We saw a BEAR, and a DEER, and DEER POOP!"  I felt so happy for these children--an experience in nature they will never forget.

No, we didn't even catch a glimpse of a bear.  I'm sure he was long gone by the time we passed the spot!

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People and places 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Wood Thrush -- Singing Behavior

I am blessed with thrushes in my woodland yard.  Eastern Bluebirds have just fledged their first brood from one of my nest boxes.  Migrating Swainson's Thrushes were singing a week ago while I planted my hummingbird garden and I spotted one this morning, resting on a limb before dropping to the ground to forage.  Wood Thrushes are singing all around the yard daily, establishing breeding territories.
The habitat here is perfect for nesting Wood Thrushes--shade, shrubby understory, moist soil and leaf litter--all contributing to an attractive habitat for nesting and raising young.
The thick foliage often makes it very hard to find a Wood Thrush even when it is singing right in front of you. (It also offers poor light for early morning photography.) Luckily they often fly from perch to perch while singing and that's when you can sometimes locate them for a good look.
Yesterday morning, it was movement of a different kind that caught my eye and allowed me to locate my singing thrush.  He was flapping his wings vigorously, then stretched his neck, producing his beautiful flutey song.  This was followed by another series of wing-flapping while dropping down onto the limb on his stomach, straddling his legs on either side of the limb, remaining there for a few seconds, then bouncing back up again to sing another refrain of his song.  
He repeated this sequence numberous times--a phrase of his song, followed by wing-flapping, down to his stomach, up again and another phrase of his song,  This observation helped to explain the seemingly long pause between phrases.
I have checked Birds of North America for this behavior and could find nothing that resembled it. I eliminated "brood patch" related behavior because the female is believed to incubate alone.  My thoughts were these possibilties:  scratching his belly, mating display, pre-coital practice (if there is such a thing), energy discharge.

I am interested in what others may know or speculate about this behavior or if you know of this behavior occurring in other species.  
There is always something new to discover while watching bird behavior.  May is an exciting month for bird activity.  Keep your eyes open and ears tuned in!

More about thrushes on this blog:

Wood Thrush
Eastern Bluebirds
Hermit Thrush

Friday, April 1, 2016

Bird Banding Surprises at Seven Islands State Birding Park

Bird banding at Seven Islands State Birding Park sometimes brings surprises.  Our banding session on March 27th, brought a special one.  An American Woodcock was the first bird captured in our nets.  
Above, Master Bander, Mark Armstrong holds the woodcock so the rest of the banding team can see him/her before release.
Mark described the woodcock's beak as "soft as a noodle" while he was removing him/her from the net, but as soon as he was free, the beak hardened again.  The woodcock's beak is specially adapted for finding and digging earthworms in the forest floor.
This quote from Birds of North America describes some of the woodcocks unique qualities:  "Several features help to distinguish this forest-dwelling shorebird from its more aquatic relatives (Scolopacidae): a long bill specialized for feeding on earthworms, a stout head with large eyes set far back for rearview binocular vision, a polygynous mating system, sexes monomorphic in color with females substantially larger than males, and plumage with mottled, leaf-brown patterns that blend superbly with the forest floor. Indeed, the body and behavior of this woodcock have given it many colorful vernacular names such as timberdoodle, Labrador twister, night partridge, and bog sucker."
The Woodcock is a game bird so we did not band or record this capture, we just admired it and released.  No one expects to see a woodcock at such close range and this was quite a treat for all of us!

In addition to the their "penting" call during courtship, the male woodcock makes a rushing sound with its outer flight feathers.

Most of the rest of our banded birds were goldfinches, sparrows, cardinals and chickadees, but we did have one special catch at our last net run--a beautiful male Tree Swallow!
Tree Swallows have just returned to east Tennessee from their wintering grounds and they were flying in groups, all around the area, checking out the nest boxes.
It was delightful to listen to their calls and hear their chattering as they landed on the nest boxes and considered their options.  Seven Islands has a nest box trail of about 50 boxes that provide homes for chickadees, wrens, swallows and bluebirds.

To see more posts on Seven Islands bird banding, click the link.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Eastern Bluebirds and Real Estate Decisions

I have seen Eastern Bluebirds visiting the nest boxes in my yard throughout the month of March, but until a day ago, investigation behavior was all I had observed.
I noticed a female bluebird visiting the nest box but she wasn't entering the box. She repeatedly fluttered around the entrance and landed on top peering down toward the entrance.  Her mate was on a limb above, singing.
When she did finally enter, I could hear screeching and the male bluebird flew down from his perch wing-waving,  He was clearly prepared to come to her aid, but out flew a Carolina Chickadee followed by the female bluebird who landed on the top of the nest box.
I thought the matter was settled at that point, but apparently both the male and female chickadees were in the box when the female bluebird arrived.  The female bluebird continued to flutter around the box entrance and sat on the top of the box for a long while watching and listening, with intermittent peering inside.

When she peered into the entrance, calls could be heard from inside.  The female chickadee was standing her ground, refusing to leave the nest box.  
In past years, I have had a bluebird build her nest on top of a nearly completed chickadee nest. Though, very brave-hearted, I don't think a tiny chickadee stands a chance when a bluebird decides she wants the nest box.

Ten minutes or so of the bluebird's repeated peering into the entrance and call exchanges and the female chickadee finally departed.  I later checked the box and found that she had the floor of the box nearly covered in moss, a first soft layer for her nest in progress.
Once the chickadee left the box, the male and female bluebirds, in turn, went inside to investigate. The female of the pair will select the nest box, though the male is very active in finding boxes and escorting her to them to take a look.
Now it remains to be seen whether this pair of bluebirds will actually nest in the box. Since they've driven the chickadees away, I'm hoping that means they're staying.

More seasons with Eastern Bluebirds on this blog:  Eastern Bluebird Family
Videos of an Eastern Bluebird family
Carolina Chickadee posts on this blog.
Eastern Bluebird art
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Ocean Trail at Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, California--2015

Ocean Trail at Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, California--2015

Bird-banding at Seven Islands State Birding Park--2014

Bird-banding at Seven Islands State Birding Park--2014
Photo courtesy of Jody Stone

Bird-banding at Seven Islands

Bird-banding at Seven Islands
Photo courtesy of Karen Wilkenson

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill!--2014

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill!--2014
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Expeditions

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane banners and son, John--2014

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane banners and son, John--2014

The Incredible Muir Woods near Stinson Beach, CA--2014

The Incredible Muir Woods near Stinson Beach, CA--2014
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

Me and Denali--2012

Me and Denali--2012
Photo courtesy of Bob King

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