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.

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Feeder Birds

Watching the Audubon Visitors’ Center is not exactly an arduous task.  In fact, the only reason it’s nice to have at least 2 people there is so that one of them can go do something else from time to time.  While visits are picking up as more and more activities are scheduled, it really isn’t like there is ever a line of people trying to check in.

As such, when I was asked to be the backup volunteer last Saturday, I took my camera along and thought I might get an opportunity to do a little shooting while I was there.

Not wanting to assume anything, I decided to come back for my camera after establishing how much help the main volunteer was likely to need.

I hopped out of the mini-van and immediately heard the plaintive cry of a red-shouldered hawk.  She was flying straight at me over the roof of the visitor’s center.  I stood there admiring her and simultaneously kicking myself for not having my camera at the ready.  She flew overhead and perched on some wires briefly.  When I started to move back towards my car, she flew off.

Now, I might have gotten a clue and grabbed my camera right then and there, but I figured that was going to be my one big sighting for the day and continued on my way into the center. And of course, I got to chatting with the other volunteer and one of the board members who stopped in and didn’t get back out to get my camera right away.

And, of course squared, as we were chatting, a family of wild turkeys suddenly appeared in the parking lot.  There were 7 chicks with two adults working there way across the parking lot.

I have a history with wild turkeys and my camera.  Whenever I see a wild turkey, I think “wild goose” and I don’t even try to chase it.  It’s just fortunate I’m shooting digital.  Otherwise, I would really resent all those shots of bushes where a turkey had been a moment before.

I did, however, learn my lesson and go get my camera.  I didn’t, however, see any more birds that were exciting.  I did, however, manage to get some shots of the birds at the feeders.  I particularly like the female house finch drinking the water that collected in the indentation in the hummingbird feeder.  Who says you have to go all out to create a water feature attractive to birds?

I also really like the hummingbird and the bee racing to the feeder.  I wish it were a better shot (not enough depth of field), but I was at least pleasantly surprised that I managed to get them both in the frame at the same time.

The titmouse peeping at me also makes me smile.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen a titmouse from quite that angle. It took me a while to remember what kind of bird it was.