Thursday, September 30, 2010

Raptor Rhapsody Festival--Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

What you see in the image below is a kettle of more than a dozen hawks, most of them Broad-winged hawks, spiraling in the thermals over my yard this past week.  What an unexpected surprise.  Naturally, I was so taken with what I was seeing, that they starting disappearing behind the trees before I even thought to lift my camera!
Fall migration is such an exciting time of year.  Birds are on the move, in route to their wintering grounds, and trees are busy with migrants, plucking berries or dining on the insects that gather around them.
And all of that activity is exactly the focus of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park's Raptor Rhapsody Festival this weekend.  It's all about nature and birds--bird walks, bird watching, bird presentations, hawk migration watching at Pinnacle Overlook, as well as, stories about the pioneer history of these beautiful Appalachian mountain ridges.  

While you're visiting the festival activities, come by and say, hello.  I'll be exhibiting and demonstrating art, and giving presentations about the fun I have with Birds and Art.   

For information about the park and the Raptor Rhapsody festival visit Cumberland Mountain National Historical Park

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Migration--Part II

There's some cold air moving into east Tennessee right now with steady rain through last night and this morning.  I'm located in the Tennessee Valley on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains.  It's amazing how different 60 degrees F can feel when its accompanied by rain and wind.  Without a doubt, our hummingbirds are feeling it too.  (Click images to enlarge)
Just two days ago, I spent most of the day outside on a sunny, breezy, short-sleeved day.  Sometimes Ruby-throats pulled me out the door with their wing buzzing and shrieks.  A dozen or more had descended upon the feeders, arriving in waves, ahead of the rain.  Another time it was the Pileated Woodpecker family with the male announcing their arrival.  And once you're out the door, anything can happen.
But I'm devoting most of this post to a hummingbird juvenile, one who endeared himself to me far more than I expected.  I noticed him a day earlier, perched on the stem brace in a flower pot on the patio--the flower pot positioned just below his feeder and only a few feet from my door.
I saw my last male Ruby-throat on September 19th.  According to Bob Sargent, a leading hummingbird specialist, the females usually follow the males within about ten days.  The majority of birds we are seeing now are juveniles, with a few late-nesting females.  That change in population make-up has dramatically altered the feeder dynamics.  I still see all the threatening displays, scolding, chasing, beak biting and body slamming, but there are also some peaceful periods in between.  Below you see a battle image that made me shudder.
Challenged by the fact that I was hearing clashing sounds--'splats', I called them--like wings or beaks striking, and also that I saw one hummer land on another's back through my lens, I became determined to capture a few action images, no matter how blurred, to confirm for myself what kind of contact was happening.

I'm showing you these images to round out the picture and dispel any doubt about whether hummers are sweet.  They may look sweet, but behaviorally, they are not.   And they do get injured.  Feathers are stripped off, skin is exposed, and strike wounds appear.  It's a bit reassuring that they all have speed, long beaks, and for the most part are among peers this time of year, so the field is relatively level.  Experience and superior genetics seem to make the difference in who prevails.  But while watching these juveniles, my heart tugs as I quietly gasp at their relentless aggression.  Despite all the 'hoodlum' antics and ambushes, this is necessary training for survival.  Only 20% of this year's juveniles will survive to reach their first year milestone.    
This juvenile male you see above was particularly mean or stealth, as we might call it.  In comparison to the other juveniles who flared tails, chirped and gave warning, he slammed unsuspecting birds relentlessly during his stay.  In my mind, I alternately called him, Calico and Mr. Bad, cringing at some of his attacks.  I believe all that color under his chin is his emerging gorget feathers but it's hard to tell.  Here's another view of him below from a different angle.
But now I want to show you the sweet moments, the ones that endear these birds to us, capture hearts, and guarantee attachment.  Below you see the flower child.  He not only guarded the feeder but incorporated the flowers below it into his territory, swinging down to sip nectar as he returned from chasing intruders.
And here is what was so different.  He and another juvenile guarded their nectar source from the top of the feeder, the feeder perch itself, and from perches below it, all places of disadvantage in the presence of more experienced birds.  At the top of their form, males in my yard typically perch twenty or more feet away, giving opportunity for steep, high-speed dives and unquestionable dominance.  After seeing that kind of action, these late juveniles, no matter how fierce their intent, seemed endearingly naive by comparison.

As much as watching his behavior at such close range, a distance of about seven feet, what endeared him to me even more was his acceptance of my presence.  Neither the clicking of my camera nor my movement in and out the door stirred more than a casual turn of his head to see what I was up to.   And yes, despite all the mean-tempered combat I've witnessed, I still call them 'sweet'.  Oh my, will I ever miss them when they're gone!

To see more of my blog posts about hummingbirds visit Ruby-throated Hummingbird Migration and Hummingbird Banding.  And you may enjoy reading Hummingbirds and Sea Turtles to see what brings these two species together for me while creating art.

Reference for the latest on hummingbirds:
Hummingbird Study Group .

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Bird Welcome to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

I paid a short visit to the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park this past weekend to take advantage of the beautiful weather we had on Sunday and enjoy the mountains.
When I reached the Pinnacle Overlook the mountains were still veiled in fog.  As I waited for the sun to clear the view, a Yellow-billed cuckoo paid a visit, perching in full view on a tree at the edge of the trail.  Of course I had the wrong lens on the camera for this shot.  But his appearance, along with the arrival of a Pileated woodpecker, made my first visit to the overlook all the more welcoming.
I got one more teasing glimpse of the cuckoo about ten minutes later as he flew closer and lower to grab one of the blue berries pictured below.
His berry-plucking style was more like a snatch as I caught the flash of brown wings and light underbelly as he departed.  The upside is, I'll be visiting that spot again soon and I know at least one place where he likes to hang out.   Below, the beautiful view from Pinnacle Overlook as the fog was lifting.
The park contains 24,000 acres and more than 80 miles of trails nestled in ridges of the Appalachian Mountains that spill into the three states of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia.  From the Ft Lyons trail near the overlook you can see the peak where the borders of these three states come together.  The park abounds with history and stories of pioneers who crossed these ridges on foot.  Something to consider as you take in the view.

I visited the park's visitor's center where I'll be exhibiting art and giving presentations on Birds and Art during the Raptor Rhapsody festival October 1st, 2nd and 3rd.  The three-day festival has a packed schedule of bird related presentations and activities, including a hawk migration watch at Pinnacle Overlook, several in-the-field photography classes, and numerous nature and history interpretive programs that will be taking place throughout each day.

Below are a few of my finds as I wandered the park's trails.
Golden aster with spider web, above, and Jewel Weed, below.
A Halysidota tessellaris caterpillar (Banded Tussock moth) with lichen, below.
A gorgeous Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis).  I love the way the icy blue edging on the wings stands out against that pale leaf! (Click image to enlarge.)
Below, a sketch of the view from Pinnacle Overlook.  

You may enjoy the following links:

For information about the park and the Raptor Rhapsody festival visit Cumberland Mountain National Historical Park

Discover Life's ID Nature Guide is a great help in identifying many species and where I found my caterpillar and confirmed the Question Mark ID

And if you like Pileated Woodpeckers, you may also enjoy visiting my series of posts on the Pileated Woodpeckers that occasionally visit my yard.  Always a treat!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Migration

I'm stuck on hummingbirds right now.  They are so entertaining that I can't get enough of watching them.  I have a ring-side seat right in front of the nectar feeders--four of them--and the birds don't seems to mind. With this intimate view, I see lots of interesting behaviors.  
Like juveniles 'flight-wrestling'.  With tails fanned, their bodies in vertical positions, they circle each other,  moving up and down until one of them finally dominates.  On three separate occasions while watching these maneuvers, I've seen both birds hit the ground.  I'm never fast enough to capture it with my camera, but my jaw drops every time.  And I think to myself, they're practicing, preparation for survival on their wintering grounds, and they're exercising, getting stronger, becoming more skilled in flight maneuvers and quickness.  That just stirs my heart.  
And I'm always intrigued when I see shifts in the feeder dominance.  For example, when three white-throated birds settle on a  single feeder together almost at the same time, with no dispute at all.  Is this just three seriously thirsty hummingbirds, a group of timid juveniles, or maybe my resident female with her fledglings?  I did manage to capture the fledgling you see above, who perched for a long time and drank without interruption.  It made me wonder if I had been seeing the parent female among the quarreling birds, quickly intervening when others flew in.  If you look closely at the image (click to enlarge), you can see the fledgling's gape.  His mouth is slightly open.
Above, Ruby-throated hummingbird male

And then there are the times that I see two males settle on the feeder together.  Wow, I think, a couple of no-nonsense travelers with no time to quarrel.  Below you'll see a series of images of a male perched as a juvenile joins him on the feeder, another fun moment.   After watching the loud buzzing and high-speed dives of some of the males who perform these maneuvers from high oak limbs, watching a juvenile settle beside a male on the nectar feeder feels like a sweet moment even if the motivations are far from it.

Eventually, it had to end.  They always seem to depart with a burst of aggression.
New visitors to the feeders seem to come in waves.  I can tell when they are perched on limbs overhead waiting to advance by the continuous chirps from the guards, which today at times, numbered five.  In an instant, those waiting seem to descend all at once.  The more aggressive birds give chase and while they are gone, a quick glance at the feeders reveals other hummers have quietly slipped to the feeders to drink.

For more images and stories about this year's Ruby-throated hummingbirds, visit Delightful Hummingbird Fledglings, Hummer Smiles and Surprises, and Peak Hummingbird Viewing Days.  To read more about how banding hummingbirds is helping us to discover many new things about their migration, visit Hummingbird Banding.  You might also enjoy seeing my sketch of a Downy Woodpecker and a hummer at the feeder together.  They actually did drink from the feeder at the same time.

For more resources and information about hummingbirds, visit The Hummer/Bird Study Group.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

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