Hawk Hunt

One of the best wren shots I've managed to capture--this little guy posed about 6 feet away from me

One of the best wren shots I’ve managed to capture–this little guy posed about 6 feet away from me

On a Saturday afternoon, with only 1 day left in a “Birdathon” (a competition to find as many bird species as possible in a 3-week period), what’s a girl to do after returning home from spending 3 ½ hours wandering around a wetland looking for birds?

You guessed it–go look for more birds.  Never mind that it’s the afternoon and not exactly prime birding.  Never mind that I’d just spend all morning walking around straining my neck.  Never mind that I had a dog that needed to go for a walk.

There was still a good chance of picking up a species or two in the afternoon, I would drive to the trailhead to reduce the walking, and Tisen would just have to go birding with me to get his walk in.

The only question was where to go.  Since I hadn’t been up to Stringer’s Ridge during yet and I knew there were Cooper’s Hawks nesting up there last year and I didn’t have Cooper’s hawks on my list yet, I thought Stringer’s Ridge was a good place to go.  Besides, if anyone is likely to be up and active during the middle of the afternoon, it’s a Cooper’s hawk.

Tisen peering back at me through trailside brush

Tisen peering back at me through trailside brush

Tisen and I gathered up our respective equipment–binoculars, birding book, and camera in my case; Pink Elephant in his–and made our way to the car after a brief potty break for Tisen.

Stringer’s Ridge is close enough to walk to from our place, although it’s probably a good mile away and part of that mile is up a steep climb.  I was happy I’d decided to drive as we made our way through the neighborhood and up to the parking lot, my back was already aching from the wetland walk.

We parked in the empty lot and I enjoyed being able to let Tisen walk off-lead for a change with no one else around.  Tisen was pretty happy about getting to explore, too.  One problem with birding with Tisen is that he doesn’t really do a great job flushing birds for me.  He tends to scare them off in the opposite direction.  I found myself contemplating whether I should try to train him like a hunting dog to circle around and flush the birds towards me.  I decided it probably wasn’t worth the effort.

My sweet boy coming back to Mommy after wandering aways ahead

My sweet boy coming back to Mommy after wandering aways ahead

There weren’t many birds for him to scare away that day.  The occasional drumming of a distant woodpecker reached our ears and the ubiquitous Carolina Wren seemed to be following us along the path, but no Cooper’s Hawks were to be found.  Thankfully, as we made our way along a loop trail that gave us a nice walk through the woods that was probably less than 2 miles long, I heard a Wood Thrush singing its glorious, wistful song.  If you’ve never heard a Wood Thrush, you owe it to yourself to give it a listen.  You can play its flute-like song here:  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wood_Thrush/id


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.