Friday, December 21, 2012

Calliope Hummingbird Wintering in Tennessee

The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird that lives and breeds in North America and the smallest long-distance avian migrant in the world.  It's wintering grounds are typically found in a selective area of south-central Mexico, however, we currently have a wintering calliope in south Nashville, in middle Tennessee, that has been present in that area since October.   
 This is the seventh known record of a Calliope species wintering in Tennessee.  The first was recorded in 1997-1998, also in the Nashville area.  During that year, Bob Sargent describes capturing and banding five members of the Calliope species in the eastern United States.
Sargent describes this hummingbird as about two-thirds the size of our eastern Ruby-throated hummingbird and along with its small size, its short tail is one of it's identification characteristics.  
Thanks to Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency State Ornithologist, Scott Somershoe, for permission to post the above images.  More images of this winter migrant can be found at the following link:  Dec 21st, 2012_Calliope Hummingbird in Nashville, TN.

To learn more about this hummingbird species visit:  Bob Sargent's report on wintering Calliope's and Cornell on the Calliope Hummingbird.

Visit this link to see other reports on wintering hummingbirds in Tennessee.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Red-breasted Nuthatches--A Fun New Arrival

Nuthatches are believed to migrate only when there is a shortage of food in their home territories.  This shortage drives them further south in the fall in search of food and is known as irruptive migration.  It happens periodically and this is obviously one of those years.
I live in east Tennessee, and while we have white-breasted nuthatches as year-round residents, we only see their red-breasted cousins during an irruption year.  About two weeks ago (October 14th), my yard experienced an influx of nuthatches, both white-breasted and red-breasted calling incessantly.  It was spectacular--wrap-around nuthatch sounds everywhere.  And there was no doubt that more than one species was present.
At only 4.5", over an inch smaller than their white-breasted cousins, red-breasted nuthatches seem tiny by comparison.  But, wow, what bold little personalities.  I was stunned to see how unconcerned they seemed while landing on the feeder when I happened to be only a couple of feet away.  They aren't blind.  And I'm not invisible.  I didn't move, but I did laugh and talk to them and it didn't matter one iota.  They stayed and went about picking out the perfect seed, despite my presence, then took off to either "hatch" their nut or bury it in the bark.  

I noticed that red-breasted boldness with birds, as well. Measuring .25 inches smaller than a Carolina chickadee, they fanned their wings and tails to exaggerate their size and vocalized to lay claim to the feeder.  Even the highly vocal and irreverent  titmice heeded their warnings.
Endearing, lively, bold, and acrobatic, these little guys are a joyful addition to my feeders and I'm hoping they hang around all winter!

Links and Resources:
Nuthatch posts on my blog
Irruptive Migration
Red-breasted Nuthatch--listen to the call here!
White-breasted Nuthatch

Next post:  Back to Alaska!  I have ptarmigans, artic ground squirrels and a discovery hike to show you in Denali's fall tundra!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tennessee Conservationist Features Majestic Sandhill Cranes

Louise Zepp, editor of the Tennessee Conservationist,  has selected "Tennessee's Majestic Sandhill Cranes" as the website's feature article for the November/December issue to help promote the Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival, scheduled for January 19th and 20th, 2013.
The most exciting part about being selected as the feature article is that the entire article is available for reading on line.   So visit the link provided below and enjoy!  The article features the Eastern Population of Greater Sandhill Cranes and their spectacular migration staging each fall when they stop to rest and feed at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge.  That collection of thousands of sandhill cranes creates a majestic spectacle that we all enjoy seeing and celebrating each year at our Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival.

The beautiful four-page layout includes six full color images, including my watercolor, "Sandhills Landing", depicting one of my favorite sandhill crane postures as they float down for a landing.
If you do not already subscribe to this beautiful magazine, you should, so also visit the subscription section while you are visiting the article at the website.

A special thank you, again, to Louise Zepp, TN Conservationist editor, for promoting our majestic sandhill cranes and the sandhill crane festival!
Links and Resources:
Visit my blog posts on sandhill cranes and the Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival  .
Visit this link to see my other Tennessee Conservationist articles.
The Tennessee Conservationist website

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Grizzly Bear Gets a Good Scratch!

On my first full day of visiting Denali National Park, I was fortunate to not only get a good view of Mount McKinley which had been hidden by clouds for many days, but to also get some extraordinary views of grizzly bears.  In the images below you are seeing the same bear from my previous post and, above, my sketch of that bear.       
Just over the rise in the image above and below, is the Stony Hill pull off, where vehicles can pull over to take in the view.  The Stony Hill area lies between the Toklat River camp and Eielson Visitor Center, at mile 66.  The only vehicles on the road are buses and the few vehicles that have special permits.  Road restrictions are one of the key preservation features of this national park:  private vehicles are restricted beyond Mile 15 to preserve the integrity of the wilderness and wildlife viewing.  And to help with perspective, the Eielson Visitor Center is an eight-hour drive from the Wilderness Access Center near the entrance of the park where visitors catch shuttles to the wilderness.
I will let the images below speak for themselves--a bear thoroughly enjoying a favorite scratching/rubbing spot.  Bears are also believed to rub and scratch to scent mark, leaving information for other bears in the area.  

We most often hear about the fierceness of the grizzly bear as a top predator. What you see in this post and the previous, is a more rounded glimpse of the daily life of this omnivorous species.  The images are a bit like an impressionist paintings, fuzzy.  The distance was out of range for the 200 mm lens I was using, but, nonetheless, an intimate look into a seldom seen behavior.  My impression from the postures--pure pleasure!

Mount McKinley and our Stony Hill grizzly, Denali National Park and Preserve.

Links and Resources:

Click this link to view all my posts on Denali National Park and Preserve.  To see all posts on my visit to Alaska in the fall of 2012, visit Alaska

Denali National Park and Preserve
Grizzly Bear
Bear behavior
Bear Safety

Monday, October 8, 2012

Grizzly Bears in Denali National Park

Beautiful bears with shaggy blonde backs and thick, dark hair growing in for winter insulation.    

Bears are more than beauty, of course.  They are wild animals.  We have to be mindful of our human  tendency to see them as less than they are--wild predators.  In fact, grizzly bears are wild predators that are at the top of their food chain, a species to be admired and respected from a distance.
There are about 300 grizzly bears in Denali National Park.  This is quite different from the more than 3000 that can be found in Katmai National Park, many of them concentrated around the rivers in summer months and accustomed to seeing large groups of visitors.  At Denali, visitors encounter bears in a sparsely populated wilderness.  There are no crowds, only crowded buses.  The park road cuts through 92 miles of the six million acres of park and preserve land, and it is along this road, while in park buses, that most visitors view wildlife.  Beyond that, deeper in the wilderness, a bear will encounter humans infrequently.
The safe distance to view a bear in Denali is 300 yards--that's three football fields. This measure of safety comes from years of experience and is based on the agility, speed and nature of these animals.  So keep in mind, when you see these photos, the bear is that far away, brought closer only by the lens of the camera and image cropping.  In a few images, like the one above and below, the bear was on a hillside about 100 yards from the road. The images were taken through the window.
It was a special treat to see these bears in their element with the fall season changing around them, their shaggy fur also in transition, their foraging intent as they fattened up for winter months, their bow-legged gait passing over knee-high willows as if they weren't even there.
In the images below you are seeing (and imagining with me) this bear after he came down to willows near the road.  He was higher on the hillside when we pulled over, but in a matter of minutes, faster than you would expect, and using an unhurried gait, he reached the stand of willows near the road.  He briefly disappeared behind them.  
I watched and waited, sensing, or maybe only imagining, that he was still there, foraging with his head down.  It didn't matter that metal and glass separated us, my heart rate increased.  While others in the vehicle were watching for his appearance ahead of us, my eyes were still scanning the willows.  All at once he rose-up on hind legs, just enough for his shoulders and head to rise above the willows.  There aren't too many things that could startle more, even though the bear was simply getting a better check on his surroundings.  I gasped and barely got the words out--there he is!

Then just as quickly, he was down on all fours again, moving on.  For an instant, I got a glimpse into what it must feel like to encounter a bear hidden by willows while hiking in the wilderness.  This is the reason for the infamous chant, "hey bear, hey bear."   Neither bears nor humans like this kind of surprise.
Don't miss the cool foot pad on his left hind foot in the image above.
You will love seeing what this bear does next!

Links and Resources:

Click this link to view all my posts on Denali National Park and Preserve.  To see all posts on my visit to Alaska in the fall of 2012, visit Alaska

Denali National Park and Preserve
Grizzly Bear
Bear behavior
Bear Safety

Friday, September 28, 2012

Denali--The Mountain

"The mountain is out!"
This expression has specific meaning when you are in Denali National Park and Preserve and refers to the most sought after geological feature for many park visitors when they come to the park--Mount McKinley.  More often than not, the mountain is hidden by clouds, so it was a surprise to hear these words on the morning of my second day in Denali, especially after arriving in steady rain on the previous day!  We wasted no time.  
Mt McKinley, with its summit elevation of 20,230 ft above sea level, is the tallest mountain in the United States and in North America, and the third tallest in the world next to Mt Everest, in Tibet at 29,029 ft, and Aconcaqua, in Argentina at 22,837 ft. This feature makes the mountain a notorious and popular mountaineering site.  1223 registered climbers climbed the mountain in 2012 before the season closed--498 of those climbers made it to the summit.
View from Eielson Visitor's Center

Besides the incredible beauty and mystique surrounding this mountain, it's also fascinating to consider its geological history and the fact that the mountain is continuing to change. Mt McKinley is considered a granitic pluton, a mass of magma or lava that cooled and hardened beneath the earth's surface.  Over tens of millions of years the mountain was up lifted by tectonic pressures imposed by the collision between the Pacific plate and the North American plate, large segments of the earth's crust that shift and overlap over time in a process called subduction. These pressures formed the mountain and surrounding range and continue to influence them.
Above and below, views of Mt McKinley from the Wonder Lake area.

Earthquakes occur along the Denali Fault line, which runs through the park and the Alaska Range, and glaciers advance and retreat making this mountain and its surrounding valley alive with change and movement.  In fact, geologists report that Mt McKinley continues to grow taller by 1 millimeter each year.
I could only absorb a small amount of this fascinating geological history while visiting Denali from Sept 1st through 6th and since that time.  I brought home many books to enjoy at my leisure!  I encourage you to visit some of the links below that offer more interesting details about the history of the mountain formations and their dynamic influence on the land and ecosystems around them.

Up Coming:  More about Mt McKinley and its glaciers, Wonder Lake, and Wildlife Encounters

Links and Resources:

Click this link to view all my posts on Denali National Park and Preserve.  To see all posts on my visit to Alaska in the fall of 2012, visit Alaska

Mt McKinley's geological history
Ecological Overview of Denali National Park and Preserve
Geological Features of Mt McKinley
Wiki on Mount McKinley
Mountaineering in Denali, current climbing activity
Glaciers in Denali National Park

Monday, September 24, 2012

Western Hummer Species Have Reached Tennessee

This beautiful male Allen's hummingbird is currently in east Tennessee!  
Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell, Knoxville, TN

On November 19th of 2011, Mark Armstrong, Knoxville, TN master bander, banded an immature male Allen's hummingbird in east Tennessee, in Russellville.  That hummer has migrated back to the same area as the beautiful mature male you see in the images above and below.  Reported by his hosts, he was captured again and released on September 23rd, 2012, confirming that he is the same individual that was present last year and in good health.      

This information can only be confirmed through banding research.  As researcher and co-founder of the Hummingbird Study Group, Bob Sargent, states:  The only way to preserve all species of birds for future generations is to know what they require for survival.  The best way to accomplish this is to learn as much about them as possible. Banding is one of the tools in that effort."  
Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell, Knoxville, TN.  Above you see the green head and back of the male Allen's hummingbird.  The bird is held by master bander, Mark Armstrong, of Knoxville, TN while being examined before release.

Allen's Hummingbirds breed in coastal California and their traditional wintering grounds are in northwestern Mexico.  Prior to 1991, an Allen's had never been documented in the five eastern states of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee or Mississippi, according to Sargent, and the first documented case occurred in Alabama in 1991. The first recorded Allen's in TN was banded by Bob and Martha Sargent in the Chattanooga area in 1993.  Since that time, eastern residents have been encouraged to leave at least one feeder out after November 15th.  It is now known that these western migrants, the most common of which is the Rufous Hummingbird, can arrive as early as July and August, though they are more difficult to identify midst a steady influx of migrating ruby-throats. 
Photo credit:  Wally Manspeaker, Russellville, TN.  Above and below, the beautiful mature Allen's hummingbird currently visiting east Tennessee feeders at a home near Russellville, TN.

Wintering western hummingbirds do not rely on human-provided nectar sources, but find their own sources of nectar and protein in nature.  The primary reason people are encouraged to leave feeders out in the winter is so we can better document these birds and learn about their survival habits.
Photo credit:  Wally Manspeaker, Russellville, TN

The following report was provided to the Tennessee List-serve on November 19th, 2011 by Mark Armstrong:

"On November 19 I banded a young male Allen's hummingbird at a home near Russellville, Hamblen Co. [TN]....It has been a banner year for wintering hummingbirds this year.  In the eastern TN area I cover I have banded 5 Rufous hummingbirds, the Allen's, a late Ruby-throat and I had a return Rufous that I banded last year.  The Rufous that I've banded have been in Johnson City, south Knoxville, and 3 in Tellico Village, Loudon Co....I'm not the only one seeing a lot of hummingbirds.  Other banders [in] the eastern US are getting record numbers of Rufous as well as Calliope, Broad-tailed, Allen's and Anna's.  If anyone has thought about leaving a feeder out this would be the year to try it."

Clearly, 2012 promises to be a busy year also!

Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell.  Above, Mark Armstrong, in Russellville, TN.  Beside him is the trap apparatus that is used to capture hummingbirds for banding.  The trap door is closed via a connected line after the hummer enters to feed.

Not only do we have this Allen's Hummingbird present in the eastern portion of our state, we also have Rufous Hummingbirds currently being reported in upper east Tennessee and in the Chattanooga area.  These birds are often first identified as immature birds, but as in the case of this Allen's, they frequently return to the same areas while migrating and to the same wintering grounds year after year.

With each season that western breeding hummingbirds are documented in the eastern United States, we learn more about the nature of the species and their migration patterns.  If you live in the east, keep at least one feeder out during fall and winter and check the reference link below for information about who to contact to report a wintering hummingbird in your state.

Links and Resources:

Previous blog posts on western hummingbirds in the east:  wintering hummingbirds
More on hummingbird banding:  hummingbird banding
Sketches of an incubating Allen's Hummingbird

Who to contact if you have a wintering hummingbird
Hummingbird Study Group
Allen's Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Wintering hummingbirds in TN:  Second record of Allen's in TN, The Migrant 2001, The Migrant 1998:  five species of wintering hummingbirds

Next:  back to Alaska!
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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