Monday, August 26, 2013

Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival is a Great Success!

Knoxville's Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival was a big hit again this year with more than a thousand visitors attending.  Visitors were treated to hummingbird banding, heard educational speakers, watched wildlife demonstrations, and enjoyed vendors with plants, nature related arts and crafts, and, of course, food!

Mark Armstrong, Knoxville's Master Hummingbird bander was assisted by a team from the Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society (KTOS) and visitors were able to see hummingbirds expertly banded, measured, and weighed, and each bird released safely back into the wild.
Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell

While Mark was banding hummingbirds, other visitors enjoyed wildlife demonstrations, including parrots, a non-releaseable ground hog and other mammals, and a lovely female American Kestrel exhibited by Stephen Lyn Bales of Ijams.

I abandoned my art exhibit twice to listen to speakers, including David Unger of Maryville College on "The Good Wolf", a presentation that included the myths surrounding the public's fear of wolves and a very interesting report on the beneficial impact of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park.  Scientists found far more benefit to the ecosystem than they expected.

Biologist David Pitts, below, shared his fascinating study on Ruby-throated hummingbird nesting and the female hummingbird's amazing nesting behavior which has never before been documented.
You probably know by now that female hummingbirds do all the nest building and rearing of young.  They often nest more than one time in a season.  But did you know that they may be laying eggs in one nest while still feeding young in another? Amazingly busy creatures!  More about this interesting lecture in a later blog post.
The festival was packed with vendors including nature crafts, art and photography, plants for your hummingbird garden, and a variety of other nature related vendors including hummingbird feeders, hummingbird swings, and other aids to help your enjoyment of birds.

  Below, Tom Howe, of KTOS, helps a young visitor look through binoculars.
And Cyndi Routledge, below, shows off a Tawny Emperor that rests on her finger.  There were a number of these butterflies around the nature center grounds and visitors had fun viewing them as they landed to feed on salt and minerals.

Stephany Porco, a self-described "butterfly geek", was more than happy to receive the butterfly from Cyndi and study it more closely.
Below, my exhibit table at the festival with watercolor prints, note cards and festival logo mugs (now my favorite coffee mug!)    
It was fun to see my art walking around the festival on logo T-shirts worn by all the KTOS volunteers.  The shirts were also sold to visitors to raise funds for the non-profit organization's conservation projects. 
Below, the beautiful logo banner that welcomed visitors to the festival.  You can find prints and note cards of this watercolor on my website at the following link:  Vickie Henderson Art.
The festival was co-sponsored by the Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society and Ijams Nature Center.  KTOS is a non-profit organization that promotes the enjoyment, scientific study and conservation of birds.  Ijams Nature Center seeks to increase knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the natural world by providing quality environmental education and nature related experiences.

Links and resources:
More about hummingbird banding and hummingbirds on this blog
To see a discussion of this painting in process:  Hummingbird Studies
More on hummingbird art
Ruby-throated hummingbirds

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sandhill Crane Season Passes in Tennessee

Despite strong opposition--888 comments opposed out of 1073 responses--the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unaimously to pass a new sandhill crane season in Tennessee.

Sandhill crane viewing created a direct economic impact of $232,200 in 2012 and Tennesseans have a strong history of 22 years of celebrating sandhill cranes in an annual festival that attracts thousands to the viewing areas in and around the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge.  Despite the watchable wildlife value of this species, the Commission's vote was unanimous.  The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has stated that sandhill crane hunting is not expected to generate additional revenues for the Agency, yet TFWC Chairman, Jeff McMillan, was quoted by the Chattanooga Times Free Press as saying, "By getting people interested in hunting sandhill cranes more revenue would be available to create more habitat."
Additionally, strong penalties for the accidental shooting of Whooping Cranes and an online ID course that can be taken as many times as needed to make the required 100% score, are expected to protect the valuable reintroduced eastern population of endangered Whooping Cranes that mingle with wintering sandhill cranes in Tennessee.

Read Pam Sohns comments on the proposed season and the planting of corn that attracts the cranes in her August 24th opinion editorial.  In its report of the issue, the Chattanooga Times Free Press interviews Axel Ringe, conservation spokesman for the Sierra Club, who suggests the wildlife commission needs to be "rebalanced".  I think most citizens in Tennessee would agree.

Previous blog posts and information about the eastern sandhill crane hunting issue.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival--August 24th!

Join us at the Wonder of Hummingbird Festival tomorrow, August 24th and Ijams Nature Center, Knoxville Tennessee.

A fun, exciting event that will be filled with hummingbirds!  Hummingbird banding with Mark Armstrong, our very gentle Master Bander of songbirds and hummingbirds, expert speakers on several different nature subjects including bluebirds, hummingbirds, bears and wolves, vendors with plants and nature crafts, lots of food vendors and wildlife demonstrations!  Great fun and education for the whole family!  

Visit this link to get more information and complete directions:  Wonder of Hummingbird Festival
Learn more about hummingbird banding
More posts about hummingbirds!
To visit my hummingbird art visit:  hummingbirds

Friday, August 9, 2013

August 10th is Deadline for Comments on the Proposed Sandhill Crane Season in Tennessee

Tomorrow at midnight will be the last opportunity to submit comments to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency regarding Tennessee's proposed sandhill crane season.

President Jimmy Carter, an avid hunter, urges the Commission to not approve this season because of the whooping cranes that mingle with sandhill cranes in Tennessee throughout the winter.

Dr. Jane Goodall has urged the Commission to not aprove this season because of the peaceful, watchable wildlife qualities of the species and the endangered whooping cranes that mingle with them.
 Photo credit:  Charlie Corbeil

My letter:
Dear Chairman McMillin,

I am writing to urge the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission to deny approval of the proposed sandhill crane season in Tennessee, for the following reasons:  1) hunting of sandhill cranes and watching sandhill cranes cannot successful occur in close proximity; 2) a sandhill crane season would increase the danger of accidental shooting of whooping cranes; 3) there is no evidence that the Eastern Population needs to be managed; 4) there is no evidence that sandhill crane crop depredation is a significant problem in Tennessee; 5) sandhill cranes are conservation ambassadors and offer the opportunity to educate the public, attract wildlife-watchers, boost the economy, and increase the potential for funding support for the Agency.  

The Eastern Population History
Sandhill cranes have been hunted for many years in the west and mid-continent of the United States.  The majority of these cranes are of the Lesser Sandhill Crane subspecies whose population numbers are approximately 650,000.  The Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes that migrates through Tennessee is a separate and distinct population composed of the larger, Greater Sandhill Crane subspecies, and their numbers approximate 87,000.

Sandhill cranes were once rare in our state and were on the brink of extinction in the 1930’s.  Without receiving any direct human assistance, they recovered as a result of wetland conservation, hunting regulations and their own ability to adapt to smaller breeding territories.  Their dramatic come-back has been a reason for celebration in Tennessee for 22 years and has resulted in the oldest and most well-attended wildlife festival in our state, the Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival.

The Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge is now the second largest staging area for sandhill cranes in the east, next to the Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Management area in Indiana.   This concentration of staging sandhill cranes attracts thousands of visitors annually to the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge.

Why can’t the hunting of sandhill cranes and wildlife watching co-exist in Tennessee?

Our eastern migrating sandhill crane population travels through a funnel-shaped migratory corridor that concentrates the population as it stages at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in search of good roosting sites and food.  Sandhill cranes must roost in shallow water for safety.  They are attracted to the vast wetland created by the confluence of the Hiwassee and Tennessee Rivers and, of course, find the grain planted by TWRA for waterfowl.  The areas designated for hunting are in close proximity to the refuge.  Visitors come to the refuge from November through February to view cranes.  It is impossible to peacefully enjoy the sight and sound of staging sandhill cranes when you also hear gun shots in the vicinity and know these guns are targeting the very birds you have come to admire.

Whooping Cranes
In 2001, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership began to reintroduce Whooping Cranes to the eastern United States in an effort to establish a separate breeding population of the endangered species to further protect it from extinction.  The original wild population, migrating from Canada to Texas, numbers less than 300 birds and recently faced drought conditions leading to the starvation of some and causing many of the birds to disperse beyond their traditional wintering grounds to find food and water, making the population more difficult to monitor.

The Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge and surrounding area is a major staging area for eastern Whooping Cranes as they migrate in the spring and fall where they mingle with sandhill cranes can easily be confused with sandhill cranes.

There are currently a maximum of 104 whooping cranes in the re-introduced eastern population.  The designation of “Non-essential Experimental Population” (NEP) gives states the freedom to make hunting season decisions without the burden of considering an “endangered species”.  The NEP designation, however, does not lessen the importance of each individual bird in the eastern Whooping Crane population to the survival of the species.

In the USFWS summary of the proposed Tennessee season, it is stated:   “The proposed crane hunt in Tennessee would begin in early December and continue until late January. These proposed season dates would begin approximately 2 to 3 weeks after whooping cranes are normally migrating through Tennessee and would reduce the likelihood that sandhill crane hunters would encounter whooping cranes.”

According to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership database, whooping crane presence in the vicinity of the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge from December through January for the past five years is as follows:

2012/2013: 11 (2 in Davidson County, 9 in Meigs/Rhea additional bird was released in Meigs Co in mid-Feb)
2011/2012: 11 (all in Meigs/Rhea Co area)
2010/2011: 21 (11 in Meigs/Rhea Co, 2 in Bradley Co, 8 in Hamilton Co)
2009/2010: 27 (14 in Meigs/Rhea Co, 2 in Bradley Co, 1 in Greene Co, 2 in Lawrence Co, 8 in Hamilton Co)
2008/2009: 22 (13 in Meigs/Rhea Co, 2 in Bradley Co, 2 in Davidson Co, 5 in Lawrence Co)

These numbers make it very likely that potential sandhill crane hunters will encounter whooping cranes.

The reproduction rate of the eastern whooping cranes is low, partially due to a slow maturity rate.  One of the most tragic losses to the population was the shooting death in 2009 of the “First Family” female, the first female in the population to successfully fledge a chick in 2006.  I describe this because the accidental shooting of even one whooping crane is not an ordinary loss but can represent an enormous set-back to the reproduction rate and genetic diversity of the population.

Need for Management
Research from the International Crane Foundation indicates that when breeding habitat is not optimal sandhill cranes will not breed.  The increase in the eastern sandhill crane population has resulted in expansion of the species’ breeding territories to new states and provinces.  For example, Ohio and Illinois are enjoying the return of their breeding population for the first time in over 80 years.  In 2011, one of Ohio’s radio tracked breeding pairs spent a portion of the winter months at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge.

Crop Depredation
There is no research that indicates hunting is beneficial in the reduction of sandhill crane crop depredation.  In Tennessee, there is no evidence that cranes are having a detrimental impact on farmers.  I have attached a summary of crop depredation complaints through 2010, provided by TWRA Region 3 Biologist, Kirk Miles.  There are very few complaints.  In 2011 and 2012 (not included in the chart), only one depredation permit was granted each year.

Sandhill cranes are majestic creatures, and their staging behavior is magical to observe and hear.  There is no other wildlife species in Tennessee that creates this kind of spectacle, offers this type of visibility, tells as compelling a conservation story, or affords us as grand a viewing opportunity to both celebrate and use to educate the public about wildlife and wildlife conservation in Tennessee.

I sincerely hope the Commission will vote to keep the sandhill crane a celebrated, watchable wildlife species in Tennessee and deny approval of a sandhill crane season.

Vickie Henderson

For more information visit the following link:

Send you comments to:  and give the subject title:  sandhill cranes
Photo credit:  Charlie Corbeil

Charlie Corbeil Photography

International Crane Foundation
More on this issue:

Julie Zickefoose:  Sandhill Cranes Need Your Voice Now

Results of Tennessee Resident and Hunter's Survey on Knowledge of and Opinions on Sandhill Cranes:  62% of residents are opposed to hunting sandhill cranes; only 42% of hunters support and 35% are opposed; 62% of wildlife watchers are opposed.

TN Ornithological Society's Position on Sandhill Crane Hunt

Report from University of Wisconsin, Madison.  Hunting could hurt genetic diversity.

Richard Simms Comments at
Wintering Sandhill Cranes:  three blog posts with close up photos and stories about sandhill cranes wintering at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge; first post is at the bottom
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Other posts on this blog discussing key issues in Tennessee's Sandhill Crane hunt proposal in 2010.
Sandhill Crane Hunting in Tennessee--Multiple Factors say No!
Greater Sandhill Crane--An Intimate View of Family Life
Links to sandhill crane posts related to hunting proposals in both Kentucky and Tennessee

The history of sandhill crane hunt initiatives in the east at the Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes website

Summary of the 2011 USFWS National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Activity
Tennessee's Survey Results      To find your state click here

Friday, August 2, 2013

Hummingbirds, Pollination and Knoxville's Hummingbird Festival

From flower to flower, hummingbirds accidently carry pollen from one blossom to another.  The pollen sticks to their beak and feathers, and if the flower they visit next happens to be the same species, pollination occurs. 
This series of images tells one story of how that pollination happens.  The red flowers are cardinal flower blossoms and the stigma which releases the flower's pollen sits in a perfect place to rub against the hummingbirds crown as it nectars the flower.

The hummers feathers and the stigma rub against each other, and as the hummer backs out of the flower, the stigma is stimulated to release its pollen, shooting it out as if from a faucet.  

Below, a layer of pale yellow pollen covers the top of the hummer's head, ready to pollinate the next flower visited.

Hummingbirds are fascinating for many reasons.  Next to size and speed, pollination and migration are two of the intriguing qualities of these tiny birds.  On August 24th, when fall migration is at its peak in Tennessee, the Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society is celebrating hummingbirds with the Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival featuring hummingbird banding demonstrations by master bander, Mark Armstrong. The festival will also include expert speakers on hummingbirds and other nature topics, nature related vendors, great food, and, of course, I will be there exhibiting art, so come by and visit!

Links and Resources:
Wonder of Hummingbird Festival
Hummingbird Banding
Information about hummingbird gardening and taking care of your feeders below:
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Fish and Wildlife Habitat Management Leaflet
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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