Birding with Enthusiasm

Tuesday night, I set up the coffee maker and set the timer so it would start brewing at 5:15AM.  I put out the clothes I would wear for rowing.  Everything I needed was ready to go so that when the alarm went off at 5:30AM and I was stumbling around disoriented and wondering why in god’s name I continue to get up at 5:30AM, I wouldn’t have to think.

Wednesday morning, hot coffee in hand, I looked at my schedule for the day and there, low and behold, was a bird walk on my calendar for 7:00AM.  As in a bird walk I was leading!

Startled by my oversight in planning, I shifted gears, pulling together my bird walk backpack and gathering binoculars and my camera.  I pulled up the flashlight app on my iPhone and went searching in the darkness for a different outfit.

I admit I was feeling slightly resentful about giving up my rowing time as I imagined sitting alone in the park waiting for others who never show up.

At 6:50AM, it wasn’t even the crack of dawn yet.  I sat in darkness until I was surprised by a silhouette that turned out to be the Audubon property manager.  Next, a father with 4 enthusiastic children arrived.  Then, a regular from the condos arrived.  I stopped feeling bad about missing rowing.

I started my lesson about birding during fall migration.  I talked slowly and told more stories, hoping the sun would rise.  Every time a shadow went by, one of the children would turn, point, and shout, “What was that bird?”  I need to find out what kind of coffee they drink in the morning!

The amazing thing was how much the kids knew about birds.  They knew which birds were locals and which birds would not be found in Tennessee (even during migration).  The girl immediately recognized a Brown Thrasher she had barely seen for a split second.  Her older brother told me all about the birds he sees at his feeder at home.  Their father told me the interest in birds was the kids passion.  I thought that was pretty cool–also an advantage of home schooling.

I didn’t do so well on photography that morning.  First there wasn’t enough light.  Then I was just a bit flustered by all the questions and exclamations (LOOK!!!  THERE’S A CARDINAL!!!  LOOK!!! THERE’S A TURTLE!!!  LOOK THERE’S A BLUE HERON!!!  LOOK!!! THERE’S A SQUIRREL!!!).

As much fun as it is to be surrounded by little people who think everything is fascinating, it does make it a little more challenging to take a moment to shoot.  I’ve filled in the photos a bit with some leftovers from the previous walk and one shot of Cody, an unreleasable Red-tailed Hawk who has appeared in this blog several times as part of the S.O.A.R. raptor program.  I saw Cody again over the weekend, but that’s another blog post.

Feeder Watch

Apparently there were more exciting things going on in Chattanooga last Saturday than sitting around watching bird feeders because I was the only one at the visitor’s center diligently watching the feeders.  However, this gave me the opportunity to get some shots of the birds that I wouldn’t have been able to get had a crowd of people showed up, so it worked out just as well.

The House Finches were the most plentiful by far.  There seemed to be a couple of males who had collected large harems.  Or, perhaps they were couples who had many almost-adult daughters but no sons?

The cardinals and titmice were close seconds in number.  One of the feeders at the visitor’s center has a mechanism that closes off access to the seed if something heavy lands sits on the perch.  This keeps squirrels off of the feeder.  However, it also means only one bird can perch and feed at a time.  This creates a great study of bird learning.

Some arrive, see another bird on the feeder eating and attempt to join it.  If the bird eating is an experienced and assertive bird, it will flap and squawk at the newcomer, attempting to deter it from landing.  If successful, the newcomer will go perch nearby and wait until the first bird leaves or it gets impatient.

If it gets impatient, it may land on the perch far enough away from the second bird so that it leaves it alone.  However, the extra weight causes the perch to lower and the doors to the seed close.  Then both birds fly away and, usually, a third bird swoops in to take advantage of the opening before the other two birds can regroup.

Some birds simply give up and join the squirrels on the ground hoping for someone to knock out a bunch of seed while eating.  They are joined by the birds that prefer to eat off the ground regardless.

For me, I got a rare close look at both a male and female Eastern Towhee.  I say rare because I rarely saw them in Columbus and so far, in Chattanooga, they have mostly been perched high in the tree tops when I’ve seen them.  Apparently all I needed was a feeder.  Chipping Sparrows seemed to keep them company.

Even though the brown-headed nuthatch is a common bird here, having never seen one before, I was pretty stoked to get to see three of them gathering at the feeder.  They don’t make it up North, so I’ve only seen white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches in the past.

Not at the feeders, but nearby, a Carolina Wren called from the gate.  Then, a Brown Thrasher showed up under a feeder-less tree.  If that wasn’t enough, a wild tom turkey went strutting by the parking lot fence and crossed the railroad tracks in plain view.  We’d seen a whole family the last time I was there, but Tom was fun to watch, too.

Not a bad birding day.