Birdathon Awards

The winner with the most observed birds in the elementary age group celebrated with his family

The winner with the most observed birds in the elementary age group celebrated with his family, but his sister wasn’t so excited

Our first annual Birdathon to raise money for the Chattanooga Audubon Society came to close this Saturday when we gathered together to award prizes.  Due to the fickle weather that fluctuated between sunshine and pouring rain every half hour or so, the event was moved into the visitor’s center.

This little one wasn't a birder, but she sure enjoyed modeling

This little one wasn’t a birder, but she sure enjoyed modeling

The event kicked off with hot dog roasting over the fire.  However, the use of the fireplace had to be timed carefully–the Chimney Swifts nesting in the chimney are only out so long in the evening and we wanted to make sure we didn’t asphyxiate them with smoke when they came back to roost for the night.

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We didn’t have to worry about the heat–the fire didn’t get hot enough to roast the marshmallows at the end of the evening.  This was probably for the best.

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It was a lot of fun to meet the kids who participated and discover how much they and their families had learned about birds in the process of Birdathoning.  They had a similar experience to what I think most birders have when they get started–the sudden realization that we’ve been missing an entire world of incredible creatures that surround us every day.

Kyle MC'd for the Evening

Kyle MC’d for the Evening

Birding can be addictive.  It creates a sense that someone has been pulling one over on you and you become determined not to let them get away with it anymore.  Like you’ve been part of a big cosmic joke because you haven’t noticed the Hooded Warbler singing over your head or the Scarlet Tanager feeding in the tree tops.

Most Bird Species Identified Award (prize of a bird feeder not shown)

Most Bird Species Identified Award (prize of a bird feeder not shown)

It’s a great analogy for how many of us live our lives–so busy and so worried all the time–thinking, thinking, thinking–that we don’t notice where we are or what’s around us.  For me, listening for birds, watching for birds, spending time looking at them carefully and listening to their songs to really see them, really know them is not just a process of identifying a bird; it’s an experience of seeing and hearing with intention and purpose.  Of seeing with intensity more of the world that is and less of the world in my head.  And being rewarded with wonder and awe in return for paying attention.

The top fund raiser award (who also got a bird feeder)

The top fund raiser award (who also got a bird feeder)

All in all, it was a satisfying first go.  We raised a fair amount of money for a small band of 23 people.  We got 19 children interested in birding and their moms got excited about it, too.  We had a lot of fun in the process and some of us added many birds to their life-lists (myself included).  I got to bird with several talented birders who taught me new things, and I even got a couple of decent shots of birds in the process.

Certificates were also given to "judge" participants who weren't eligible for prizes--Linda identified 123 birds during the event

Certificates were also given to “judge” participants who weren’t eligible for prizes–Linda identified 123 birds during the event

If that wasn’t satisfaction enough, I was given a really nice gift by my fellow organizers for importing the event from Columbus and helping to plan it.  They even gave me flowers.  I felt a little guilty, but it was nice to be appreciated.

 

Mind the Gap

A Red-winged Blackbird takes a stroll in the grass

A Red-winged Blackbird takes a stroll in the grass

I would now like to take a moment to interrupt your regularly scheduled program.  I discovered a set of photos from my last solo bird walk of the Birdathon over a week ago.  I suppose I was getting tired of posting bad pictures of birds and writing about bird walks, so maybe it was a Freudian slip?

A roosting coot

A roosting coot

In any case, on the last day of the Birdathon, I decided to take a drive over to Standifer Gap Marsh for the second time.  It was a long shot given it was going to be about 1PM in the afternoon when I arrived (the worst time for birding) and it was hot and sunny out.  But, needing 10 more species to get to my goal of 100, and knowing that the marsh is well known for Least Bitterns and Virginia Rails, I thought is was worth taking the chance.

Turtles trying to escape over the fence

Turtles trying to escape over the fence

Tisen and I arrived to discover a completely empty parking lot.  We got out of the car and spotted our first bird–a Red-winged Blackbird.  This was not very exciting since we see Red-winged Blackbirds every time we walk the park outside our building, but I did take a few shots of it.  I managed to get one of it walking, which was kind of fun.

My friend, the Yellow-rumped Warbler

I really thought this was another Yellow-rumped Warbler in the field, but in looking at the photo, I think this must be a Magnolia Warbler

We walked slowing along the road that goes between two parts of the marsh, looking on either side to see if we could spot anything really exciting.  The bad part about going birding some where new and hoping to see something even newer is that the odds of me feeling confident that I’ve correctly identified whatever it was are pretty slim, meaning I pretty much needed to get a good enough photo to identify it later and get confirmation from someone else.  That’s a lot of pressure when you’re birding in the middle of the afternoon and walking a dog at the same time.  Of course, that would have been a good problem to have.

Yellow-rumped finding a snack to fuel up for a long flight

Yellow-rumped finding a snack to fuel up for a long flight

As it was, I spotted a coot hanging out in broad daylight taking a nap on top of a broken off snag in the marsh, endless numbers of turtles, and a gaggle of Canada geese in the nearby soccer field before deciding we’d had enough sunshine and heading back into the wooded part of the park.

One more shot of my hungry friend

One more shot of my hungry friend

The woods were quite nice.  Tisen got to walk off lead, exploring ahead and behind me while I cranked back my neck and looked for Warblers.  I heard several different warblers, but am a bit rusty on my warbler songs, so I didn’t feel certain I could correctly identify them by song.  The one I saw and then saw again and then saw some more until I was rather tired of seeing it was the Yellow-rumped Warbler.  It makes me laugh how quickly we go from being amazed to annoyed when someone becomes overly familiar.

More content turtles hanging out in the marsh

More content turtles hanging out in the marsh

In the end, I found no new birds, but Tisen and I enjoyed our walk.

Bird (and other Stuff) Walk

This dragonfly (or is it a damselfly?) appeared to be depositing eggs, but we weren't sure

This dragonfly (or is it a damselfly?) appeared to be depositing eggs, but we weren’t sure

April is primetime for birding.  The number of bird species here increases dramatically during spring migration.  For example, while only a handful of Wood Warblers nest and breed in the Tennessee area, dozens fly through Tennessee (including the Tennessee Warbler) during migration.

False garlic bloomed in the grass

False garlic bloomed in the grass

Spring migration is also easier on those of us with bad eyes.  This is for three primary reasons:

  1. They sing more, making it easier to figure out where they are and, with a bit of practice, to identify which bird it is from its song,
  2. In early spring, there are few leaves for the birds to hide behind, and
  3. The birds are in full breeding plumage, making them (especially the males) much easier to spot and recognize.
Oh how I wanted to trim the branches between me and this Brown Thrasher

Oh how I wanted to trim the branches between me and this Brown Thrasher

Therefore, it only makes sense that we would decide to have a Birdathon in the month of April.  This is a stolen idea from a friend up North who started raising money for the local Audubon chapter up there.  This friend introduced me to birding when she invited her sponsors to go on a bird walk each year as a thank you for contributing.  I guess it stuck–I think the first time I went on a bird walk with her must have been over 15 years ago now.

Trillium was just starting to bloom along the trail

Trillium was just starting to bloom along the trail

In any case, as part of the Birdathon, we are trying to raise money for the Audubon by taking pledges for the number of bird species we identify over a 3 week period.  I am not doing so well.  I don’t think I’ve even gotten up to 50 yet.

Much easier to shoot, this turtle basked in the sun

Much easier to shoot, this turtle basked in the sun

One of the rules is that if a bird is not commonly found in the area, you have to either have a second person who agrees with the ID or a photo of the bird.  This has led to me carrying my DSLR with the 100-400mm lens on it every time I go walking through the park or on an official bird walk.

Evidence that someone got only half a meal--we discovered the back half of a 5-striped skink

Evidence that someone got only half a meal–we discovered the back half of a 5-striped skink

I so want to get some great photos of song birds.  But every time I carry the camera, I end up with tiny shots of song birds up in tree tops.  I need a tree house with a blind to sit behind so I can get up closer to the birds.  Since I don’t think Park and Recreation will approve of me building a birdhouse, I guess I will have to stick to cropping the heck out of my images.

A muskrat surprised us while we looked for birds--I like how it is actually just under the surface of the water

A muskrat surprised us while we looked for birds–I like how it is actually just under the surface of the water

The photos in this post are from 2 bird walks, 2 locations.  One at the park near me and one at Audubon Acres.  I am slightly proud of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher’s photo–that sucker is a 4 ½” bird and I was not that close–the fact that it’s as sharp as it is even though I cropped it a lot is what I’m proud of.

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher busy hunting among the tree tops

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher busy hunting among the tree tops

What strikes me as funny is that I only came back from 3 hours of looking at birds with images of 2 birds–I hope bird photographers are well paid.

These turtles looked like they were in the middle of some sort of dating ritual

These turtles looked like they were in the middle of some sort of dating ritual