Saturday, August 6, 2016

Hummingbird Days!

Some days are hummingbird days!  These are days when activity at the nectar feeders so captivates our attention that we don't want to miss anything.  Watching is irresistible. Nothing else gets done!
Ruby-throat approaching Royal Catchfly            Photo by Vickie Henderson

Today was one of those days for me!  Yesterday, I brought home a new native plant species hummingbirds love--Royal Catchfly (Silene regia).  A native prairie plant, it gets its name from glands that secrete a sticky enzyme that attracts and captures insects. Though the plant is related to carnivorous plants, it does not benefit nutritionally from the insects.
Hummer and Royal Catchfly                

The new flower species was only one change that attracted my attention and the hummers.  I added a new feeder.  The two males guarding the four feeders I had out were chasing all the juveniles away. No sooner would an approaching juvenile escape one male, than it would be intercepted by the second. Not nice--but typical hummingbird behavior.    
A juvenile male waiting to approach a feeder.

I added the new feeder around the corner near a small garden.  Wthin minutes of hanging it, Wow! Juveniles! Sometimes two or three arriving at the same time, reacting to each other with tails flared, face-offs and chirps. Very shortly, however, another male showed up.  A beautiful male, breath-taking to see at such close range. I was sitting only a few feet from the feeder.
The male, pictured above, was showing some molting, replacing old feathers with new ones, his feathers getting ready for fall migration.

The tenacity of one of the juveniles was surprising  He did not want to give up his feeder and challenged the male repeatedly.  In the image below, the male is watching the juvenile and balancing to face him as he hovers and threatens.
When the juvenile landed on the feeder after the male departed, the male was quickly on him displaying shuttle dives, short repetitive U-shaped dives, coming very close to the juvenile at its lowest point.  I have seen this display during courtship but never before witnessed it during aggression at the feeder.  Serious stuff. So far, warnings, but getting close to the real thing.
To my relief, the juvenile retreated to the garden and perched on the plant stake supporting the catchfly. For a while, he sat very still, looking like one of the leaves, blending in with the foliage. The male went about his business and the confrontation ended.
Male juvenile, above, hiding in the catchfly, showing developing red gorget feathers as he looks up. Every day of their fast-paced lives holds a survival story!
Juvenile Ruby-throat with Coneflowers     Watercolor by Vickie Henderson

This is the height of hummingbird season, the best time to see and enjoy them. The first juveniles are out of the nest, second nesting has begun, and northern hummingbirds have already begun migration.

For an extra treat this season, join us at the Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival at Ijams Nature Center, in Knoxville, TN, on August 20th to celebrate these magnificent birds!  More information is found in the link below.
Links and resources:

Photo credits:  All the photos in this blog post were taken by Vickie Henderson

Ijams Nature Center website with festival information
Wonder of Hummingbird Festival 

Links for hummingbirds in art:
Hummingbird art at Vickie Henderson Art
Hummingbird posts at Vickie's Sketchhbook
Sketching hummingbirds in flight
Hummingbird Studies in watercolor

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!

Links and resources:
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.
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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