Monday, February 21, 2011

A Spring Head-dress and a Heart-stopping Thrush

This female northern cardinal visiting the bird bath for a drink gave me my first belly laugh of the day.     
Her plumes on her crest stood up like flames in the wind.  Despite the winter-y blast of heavy snow in the mid-western states, we're having mild temperatures and blustery pre-March winds in Tennessee.  And if that weren't enough to hint of spring, birds are showing signs of spring molting.  Just twelve days ago, I snapped the image below, of a female cardinal in the snow.  She was fluffed and warm in her thick winter plumage.   But in the days since, we've had more moderate weather with some days reaching as high as the 70's F.
My Atlas of the Breeding Bird of Tennessee says, "In late February and March, cardinals form stable, monogamous pair bonds. Both the male and female defend the territory with song, displays, and mild combat."   Females pick the nest site usually in April but as early as mid-March, meaning that the tolerance of communal winter foraging is about to end, replaced by freshened spring plumage and territorial attitudes.
Along with the tattered and comical appearance of her crest, feathers have molted around this cardinal's face. New feather sheaths will emerge quickly where old feathers have been shed and fresh ones will rapidly grow to replace the lost ones.  This female's colors are beautiful, nonetheless, even though she wears a wind-blown look.  I couldn't be sure if she was on the alert or if the wind was standing her remaining crest feathers up so tall.
The watering hole is definitely a fun place to hang out, a good place to watch the tall pines, oak and maples waving in the gusting wind, as well as, to see birds that may otherwise go unseen as they come for a drink.  Several times I've seen a yellow-rumped warbler both drink and forage near the feeders but, so far, not when I'm outside with the camera.
Today I enjoyed a better look at the beautiful streaking and contrast in an American robin's plumage as she braved the birdbath for a drink.  When she flew, my heart picked up a beat, as a hermit thrush popped in to replace her, its 7-inch stature seeming exceptionally petite next to that of a robin, ranging from 9 to 11 inches.
It was special to get lingering looks at this shy bird, standing tall on tiny legs.  More often I notice her hanging out in the shadows of the hemlock, impossible conditions for a good photo, and visits to the birdbath are usually glimpsed through the window.  This made today's surprise visit exceptionally appreciated and I fell in love with the wind-blown look below!
Hermit thrushes are best known in Tennessee as a migrant and wintering resident, generally arriving in October and departing by early April.  Breeding seasons have only been sparsely recorded in Tennessee in the higher elevations of Roan Mountain and the Great Smoky Mountains (Atlas of the Breeding Birds of TN, ed. Charles P Nicholson.)

When this thrush turned, giving me nice looks at her body proportions and rust tail, I thought she was leaving.      
But she lingered a few minutes longer and reached from the side to take several more drinks.  Sigh.  One of many special moments enjoyed in the backyard.  
Links and Resources:
Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Tennessee, edited by Charles P. Nicholson.  This book is out of print and pricey on the secondary market, but with patience, you may find lowered pricing on Amazon with time.  
And more about cardinals and molting in A Day-making Family of Cardinals

If you have not already signed the petition requesting a new management plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill cranes, visit the petition site right now and voice your opinion on this important conservation issue.  Kentucky is battling a sandhill crane hunting proposal similar to the one deferred in Tennessee.  We have a lot of work left to do to protect this population that has only recently recovered from near extirpation.  To read more visit A New Plan for Eastern Sandhills.    

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #130 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Wild Turkey and Eastern Bluebirds

What could they possibly have in common? My yard comes to mind at the moment.
It was the turkeys that caused me to grab my camera and step outside. They were headed around the front of the house. I caught the tail end of the parade and since pursuit is a doomed activity, I didn't follow them. I paused instead and looked around. That's when I discovered a family of Eastern bluebirds dining on privet growing at the edge of the yard.
What is glorious about this, I've seen a pair, or possibly more than one pair, frequent the yard to hunt and check out my two nest boxes, one near the house, the other lower in the yard near the woods.
After this pair foraged on berries, they moved about the yard selecting various perches for hunting.  I captured the female hunting from the nest box near the woods. Dandy!  The more she likes the nest box, the happier I am. Now whether selection as a hunting perch has any relationship to nest box selection, I have no idea. I suspect not. But I'm optimistic just because of the frequency with which I'm seeing them.

As I was watching the bluebirds and snapping images, I noticed movement in the woods. The flock of turkeys had circled around the house and into the woods. But something changed their direction and suddenly out into the open yard they came. Ah! Look at the displaying that begins as the Toms encounter the flock of hens.
I have been privileged to see Toms displaying twice this winter, but this was the most spectacular. The beauty of the morning light against their fanned tails as they puffed up to more than twice their size was magical.
Not a combination I would have expected, bluebirds and wild turkeys.  But I will say, it made for a very satisfying morning in the yard! And when I looked through the photos later, I became intrigued with the Tom's faces. What a menacing expression they create by engorging their skin and enhancements.
I didn't quite capture that expression in my sketch, mostly because I think they are so much fun! I'll show you a portrait still in progress. There is nothing like the wonder and the intimacy of trying to capture a turkey's expression in watercolor!
Related Links:
More about the turkey's anatomy with sketch: A Turkey Work of Art
Click here to see Wild turkey in the snow and learn about their unique feather characteristics.
More about Eastern Bluebirds.  Watch for my upcoming article on the bluebird and Tree Swallow nestbox trail at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge in the March/April issue of the TN Conservationist.
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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