Sunday, April 21, 2013

Swarming Hummingbirds Inspire Art

You won't be surprised that I think the most satisfying way to celebrate a joyful experience with a bird is to draw or paint that bird. That's just what seven-year-old Gail wanted to do, too, after having her close and exciting experience with the many hummingbirds that swarmed her Paris, TN, yard to visit feeders as a cold front was moving through.
I received Gail's permission to post her beautiful hummingbird drawing here, colored with Prisma watercolor pencils.

After I published the first post about her experience, "Swarming Hummingbirds Find a Special Perch", I thought about the patience it takes to wait for thirsty hummingbirds to settle down to perch before taking a drink.  When you watch the video you will see that Gail has that patience.  You will also see hummingbirds zipping all around her.  Even though there are five larger feeders, hummers still come to Gail and her small one-well feeder.  Her steady focus is rewarded.

Video credit:  Shawna Ellis

In Tennessee, hummingbirds more commonly trickle through our yards and stay so briefly that we don't see them unless we are sitting outside or watching through a window.  We seldom know how many are hidden among the tree limbs.  This is one of those special migration events that come rarely and unexpectedly when hummers advance on feeders in large numbers.  Gail's mother took the opportunity to offer Gail an unforgettable experience--her first time to be close to hummingbirds.  I am sure she will never forget it!

To see the first post about Gail's hummingbird experience visit:  Swarming Hummers Find a Special Perch

Visit the Discover Birds Blog to see how Knoxville's Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society is helping to inspire more children Gail's age to enjoy birds.

Links and Resources:

To see more hummingbird blog posts visit this link:  Ruby-throated hummingbirds.
To find more facts about hummingbirds visit the Hummer Bird Study Group

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Swarming Hummingbirds Find a Special Perch

A cold front moved through Tennessee yesterday resulting in frost warnings in the east after having temps in the 80's just a day before.  At the same time, we have been enjoying the arrival of Ruby-throated hummingbirds that are either migrating through or here to settle into their breeding territories.  One of my male feeder visitors was already busy chasing away new arrivals this morning in the brisk 38 F degree air.
On our bird alert network, TNBird, I read a fun account of hummingbirds swarming to feeders in west Tennessee, April 19th.  Shawna Ellis returned to her home in Paris, TN, in the early evening, around 5:15 p.m,. to find her six nectar feeders swarming with hummingbirds and several of them empty.  She quickly filled the feeders and added two more.
Photo published with permission.  Photo by Shawna Ellis

Recalling her close encounters with hummers as a child, Shawna encouraged her seven year old daughter, Gail, to stand near the feeders.  Shawna describes Gail as "delighted in the exciting sensation of all the birds buzzing so near.  Tentatively she held out a finger and then she thrilled as a few different birds landed on it."    Gail is pictured above and below.
Photo published with permission.  Photo by Shawna Ellis.

There were six filled, larger feeders available near by when these photos were taken. Do you think it was the red coat that attracted the hummers to Gail and the small feeder next to her?

Many hours of observation lead me to believe that birds readily discern safety from danger and are far more observant than we sometimes give them credit. I like to think the hummers were attracted to Gail's innocent wonder and the special perch she was offering!

To see a video of Gail's experience visit Hummingbird Experience Inspires Art
Visit this link to see hummingbirds swarming to my feeders ahead of a front in September 2011.  To see more blog posts on hummingbirds visit this link.
Click this link to Bird and Blooms to see hummingbirds swarming to nectar feeders in Virginia after hurricane Irene moved through.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Personality Plus--The Hermit Thrush

Can you find the bird in the photo below?
I saw her land in the rocks, but when movement stopped, I could no longer see her.  I aimed the camera and snapped a few images anyway.  Within a few seconds, she hopped up the rocks and into the grassy area above to forage.
The camouflage function of feathers is fascinating.  I think the Hermit Thrush has a combination of several kinds of camouflage: cryptic coloration, disruptive coloration, and countershading.  In the first, the coloration of the feathers is similar to the environment in which the bird forages or nests causing her to blend with her surroundings.  That would be the soil, sticks, rocks and decaying matter covering the ground--all that gray and brownish neutral you see around the bird that she matches so well.
Disruptive coloration describes the broken blocks of color, such as the specks on her breast, that cause her to blend with the environment even more and not stand out as much as she would if solid brown.  "Countershading" is the dark on top and white underneath phenomenon that is nature's way of taking away the appearance of depth. Without motion to give her away, the thrush flattens and disappears.  Above you see her where I often find her first, hiding in the shrub or foraging underneath in its shadows.
And then, she runs out onto the lawn in pursuit of an insect.
Here's where you will notice something interesting.  Hermit thrushes often forage on the ground with a "quivering" foot , tapping the ground in a strategy that is believed to stir insects. In the image below, you can see one foot is lifted.

 And below, she appears to be listening....for insect movement?  Also notice her lifted right foot.
Hermit thrushes generally nest in higher elevations and more northern states. I am curious about this individual since migration is said to occur in March and early April. It is now mid April and she's still hanging around. I am more than happy for her to stay.  

Links and resources:
Cornell All About Birds on the Hermit Thrush.  Be sure to listen to its song.
More on the hermit thrush

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Pileated Woodpecker--Ground Foraging

Pileated woodpeckers are totally spectacular birds.  Most of the time, it's not by accident that I find this bird in the yard--I hear his call.
This time he was interested in foraging on the decaying logs on the ground which is always fun to watch.  As I opened the door in response to his call, I caught a glimpse of him as he disappeared below sight-level, landing on the ground in an area where I've known him to forage before.   
Pileated woodpeckers eat mostly insects--ants, beetle larvae, termites, flies, spruce budworms, caterpillars, cockroaches, grasshoppers--with their favorite food considered to be the carpenter ant.   They find the insects with hearing, sight, and by chiseling decayed wood and probing with their tongue.  
In the image above you can see a glimpse of his tongue, a long slender tool that wraps around his skull in a special design that enables long extension.  Additionally, woodpecker tongues are sticky and barbed with hair like appendages that make it easy to pick up tiny insects.  
Even so, I've wondered how they feed their young with their food source being so tiny. The answer is they are a regurgitant species, meaning they partially digest their food and regurgitate it into the young's gaping mouth.
The latin name for the Pileated Woodpecker is Dryocopus pileatus.  The word dryo comes from the Latin word for tree, and kopis is Latin for dagger.  The term "pileated" or "pileatus" means capped or crested, referring to the bird's bright red crest.  This woodpecker lives up to the name with his long, chisel-shaped beak and his large crest that becomes even more impressive when raised.   

Pileated woodpeckers are attracted to mature forests with dying and decaying limbs, and downed wood.  That is what attracted this male to the ground--the split logs that surround a small garden area in the yard.  These cut pieces of wood decay over time and the same insects that burrow in the dead limbs of a tree, may also be found in fallen limbs or logs.

He moves on the ground just like he moves on a tree trunk, a scooting type walking motion mixed with hops and jumps. These images were taken on March 31st, a very windy morning and he frequently stopped and froze for a few seconds to look and listen, mostly in the direction of the moving tree limbs.  He also pauses amd holds his head up to swallow the food collected on his tongue. 

Around the turn of the twentieth century, the pileated woodpecker was declining and biologists were afraid the species would disappear because of the clear cutting of old growth forests.  Fortunately, unlike the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, this species adapted to second growth forests and its population numbers are considered to be in good shape at the present.

Visit this link to see an earlier visit this month from the whole family:  Pileated Woodpecker Family Visit
To hear the pileated calls visit Cornell's site and listen to the sound recording:  Cornell's All About Birds

And to see some of my other visits with Pileated Woodpeckers on this blog, visit:  Pileated Woodpeckers
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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