Monday, August 30, 2010

Newly Discovered Ivory-billed Woodpecker Images Described in Bales' Smithsonian Article

Author, artist, photographer and local naturalist, Stephen Lyn Bales, left a gift at my door while I was visiting family in middle TN this past weekend--a copy of the September issue of Smithsonian Magazine.  Not only does my friend's article on the Ivory-billed woodpecker appear in this issue, but it is also featured on the cover's headline.  And, as I am writing this post, the article, "The Rarest Bird", currently ranks No. 1 in popularity on the Smithsonian Magazine's website, as well as, ranking in the No. 1 position among all articles emailed from the site.  Not bad for a writer's Smithsonian debut!
In his article, Bales recaps the story of James Tanners' famous 1938 photographs of an Ivory-billed woodpecker nestling taken while Tanner had the young bird out of the nest for banding.  Two of these photographs were published in Tanner's dissertation in 1942, and, along with four others, were thought to be the only images in existence.  
For the past four years, Bales has been working with Nancy Tanner, wife of the famed ornithologist, while writing his book, Ghost Birds, which focuses on the field work of the late James Tanner.  It was during this research, in June of 2009, that an envelope was discovered containing never before published negatives of the young Ivory-billed woodpecker found at the Singer Tract.
I'll let you read Bales' account of how this all came about (link provided below). You will enjoy his entertaining style and a titillating glimpse of what is to come in his new book.  And while you're visiting the Smithsonian website, don't miss the photo gallery link in the right hand column where you'll find some of the endearing Ivory-billed juvenile images that were recently discovered.

Smithsonian Magazine's "A Close Encounter With the Rarest Bird"
Ghost Birds at Amazon
Stephen Lyn Bales' blog, Nature Calling
Natural Histories:  Stories from the Tennessee Valley, also by Stephen Lyn Bales.  Read my review, third from the top.  

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Delightful Hummingbird Fledglings

I've been having morning coffee on the patio with the hummingbirds just as often as possible.  The frequent thunder storms we've had lately have boosted nectar feeder activity even more.  This morning I saw two males drinking at one feeder at the same time.  A little later, a family with wing-twittering fledglings arrived.  It could be the same family that visited previously, but its impossible to know.  Either way, I'm happy!
It is apparent when a mom with fledglings arrives.  They drink together initially and she sets herself apart by vigorously challenging any other hummer that approaches while the youngsters drink.    
The normal vocals, buzzing and diving from the three males who've staked out the feeders quiets for a short while.      
It's as though the nectar feeders are momentarily off-limits, each of the males sitting motionless on their perches, accepting the family without interference.  Eventually Mom buzzes the youngsters.  Chirping, she fans her tail and hovers, as if to say, lets go.  They circle for an instant, then off they fly into the higher canopy.  Sigh.
One of nature's many smiles.    

For more hummer sketches visit my post on hummingbird banding and don't miss another fun surprise at the feeders!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hummer Smiles and Surprises

It's easy to fall in love with hummingbirds, their fast-lane lifestyle, their intolerant response to each other, the occasional buzz you get when one decides to take a closer look at you.
Unfinished sketch of fledgling hummer watching its mother hunt in the leaves above--artist Vickie Henderson.

When you sit among them to watch and listen, you also discover surprises, like two males guarding separate feeders as though there is an invisible line between them.  Or when a third male comes along and perches within inches of one of these guards.  Believe it or not, they ignored each other.  The stand-off ended when the new-comer headed for the nectar feeder.

But the behavior that brought the most smiles on this day was the arrival of three 'white-throated', fan-tailed hummers moving in a fairy-like dance, resembling leaves caught in a mini whirl wind.  That's how I happened to notice the fledgling sketched above and its nest mate.  They swooped in on mom as she arrived, and circled her begging for food, an eye-catching sequence.
When I first saw the younger bird land, it became apparent this was a fledgling with fluffy, downy feathers in disarray, and frequent wing twittering and tail fanning to get mom's attention.   Below, you see both fledglings, the older at the lower left and the younger stretching his neck in the upper right.  Both are watching mom who is buzzing around overhead.  It's shady under there.  Click on the image to enlarge.
And below, my camera clicking caught the attention of the younger fledgling who was busily begging seconds earlier.  His wings are still raised.
As I watched them, I wondered at their vision and hearing, powers that enable them to recognize their mom among all other hummers.  And how can they possibly learn to feed themselves, catch on to the unforgiving social order of hummingbirds, and be ready for their migration journey in only a few short weeks?  But they can.  They've been doing it for centuries.
Unfinished sketch of fledgling with wings still unfolded after begging--artist Vickie Henderson.

I feel privileged to have witnessed all this activity, especially the female with her young.  And while our Ruby-throats are still moving through Tennessee, I'll spend as much time watching them as possible.  All of it will make me miss them even more as the days shorten and they steadily move southward to wintering grounds in Central America.

To see another illustration of a fun hummingbird interaction at my feeders, visit Tripling the Fun of Painting.  And for some interesting information about hummingbird migration, visit Banding Reveals Hummingbird Migration Surprises.  Also, be sure to visit my new page, Art Cards and Prints, where you'll find a collection of my recent bird sketches and paintings.

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #103 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Peak Hummingbird Viewing Days

In my area, the southeast USA, August and September are prime hummingbird viewing days.  It can be a challenge to understand what activity you're watching, but time spent among them will certainly tug at the heart strings and cause you to marvel at their high-speed lifestyle even more.
In the image above, you see a male Ruby-throated hummingbird chirping a warning to intruders.  As you scroll down the page, the series of images show stages of this same hummer as he is posturing.   The final image is what you see if you're a hummer and you don't heed those warnings fast enough.  A fire ball!

This morning I watched a male ruby-throat feed at the feeder while I drank my morning coffee.  My first thought was, that's not 'the King'.  What's going on here?  The King is my nickname for a male hummer who has claimed the feeders as his breeding territory.  Within minutes, the King appeared, chased away another hummer, and the first male, resting on a branch nearby, swiftly departed.  
According to Bob Sargent, author of Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a male may claim a territory for a period of time and then abandon it to establish another if it is not attracting enough females.   But there are other activities going on this time of year, as well.  Breeding season is coming to an end and male hormone levels are shifting causing a change in focus from breeding to feeding and fattening up for migration.  In addition, we may be seeing many different hummingbirds at the feeder.  In fact, hundreds are traveling through our yards, those we see and five times that many that we don't see, according to Sargent.  

Hummers from northern breeding territories are already migrating and research shows that they may visit the same feeding areas on the same day each year.  The only way we know for sure is through the efforts of hummingbird banding.  Everything we learn from banding our birds helps us know more about how their populations are managing in an environment full of challenges and changes.

For more about this 'King' visit my August post, Hummingbird Days of Summer, at Knoxville's Wild Birds Unlimited.  
You may also enjoy my series The King, about a male hummingbird I followed during the 2008 breeding season and Hummingbird Banding with fascinating information we've learned from banding our hummingbirds.
And watch for my article on bird banding at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge, upcoming in the Nov/Dec issue of The Tennessee Conservationist magazine.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Australian Bird Guide Give Away Today!

It's August 1st, the beginning of a brand new month and time to give away a beautiful field guide to the Birds of Australia to one of my lucky blog readers.  

As I thought about this yesterday, I realized I put a lot of pressure on myself to make the selection based solely on my reaction to the stories told.  To everyone who reads my blog, I want to say a big THANK YOU.  And to everyone who told their story, an extra special thank you for sharing your stories with us!  They were all special, enriching and great reasons to win a field guide.
Okay, I know, get on with it--about the book!

Above, I've posted images of a Laughing Kookaburra, one of the birds on the field guide page I featured in my review post.  That was no accident.  I had just met this enchanting kookaburra at the Brevard County Zoo in Florida, just days earlier.  He made me laugh, mesmerized me with his hilarious song, and captured my heart with his beautiful plumage.  He made me forget I was in a zoo and I felt the wonder of another country filled with interesting birds I've never seen before.  (Of course there are plenty in my own USA I haven't seen!)

My passion is not just birds but the conservation of birds.  Operation Migration's Whooping Crane Activity Book has been my effort to reach children and entice them into the world of conservation by telling them the magical story of how people are helping endangered Whooping Cranes, leading them on their first migration south behind ultralight aircraft.  (If you don't know this story, you can read about it here and here.)

All of that is to say, children are the future of conserving wildlife.  When Peter Gustas told me the story of his nine year old grandson's excitement over the continent of Australia and that he was introducing him to birding, it tugged my heart.  I thought, what better way for a young person to get to know a country than through its birds!

So Peter, you and your grandson are the proud winners of a beautiful new Australian field guide!  All you have to do now is send me your address so the publisher can get your book on its way (email Viclcsw (at) aol (dot) com).  I suspect one day that field guide will be traveling to Australia clutched in your grandson's hand!

Penguin Australia
Operation Migration
Brevard County Zoo

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #101, to promote the conservation of our world's birds!
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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