How Much Wood Would a Wood Duck Chuck?

This guy knows how to impress the ladies

This guy knows how to impress the ladies

Bright and early Saturday morning, I joined my fellow birders in a walk around the VW wetland.  After we saw many heron perched on their nests in a giant heron rookery and a collection of Canada Geese roosting on top of a beaver hut, we made our way back through the brambles to a trail that allowed us to circle the wetland.

This took a little bush-whacking.  Well, whacking may be an exaggeration.  It was more like taking 3 steps forward and then freezing in place when caught in the brambles and peeling the brambles off carefully, trying not to rip skin in the process.  Then, three more steps forward.  Fortunately, once we made it to the trail cut by the surveyors, we were able to make good progress.

She may look indifferent, but I think she's just being coy

She may look indifferent, but I think she’s just being coy

Everyone develops their own methodology for getting through brambles.  I think there are 3 main approaches to bramble thrashing, which one you choose is generally dependent on what you are wearing.

Still not optimally lit, this male Orchard Oriole impressed us with his song

Still not optimally lit, this male Orchard Oriole impressed us with his song

The three main approaches to brambles were:  1) accelerate through them as fast as possible and stop for nothing (approach taken by people who had on several layers and/or thick skin and who don’t care much for their top layer), 2)  Accelerate until you get stuck and then stop (approach taken by people with several layers but who do care about not ruining their top layer), and 3) Pick you way through slowly and carefully (approach taken by people with not enough layers to protect their skin).  I tended to fall into the 2nd category while our guide fell into the first. We didn’t have many people in the third category except when bare hands got tangled in thorns.

If this guy had moved just  a bit more, you would be able to tell he's a beautiful Orchard Oriole

If this guy had moved just a bit more, you would be able to tell he’s a beautiful Orchard Oriole

Thankfully, we all made it to the cleared trail with a minimal number of scratches.  We worked our way around slowly, passing the top of a major beaver dam in the process.  The work of the beavers was quite impressive–a testament to the expression “busy beaver.”  They had built a dam that must have been a good 50 feet wide or more.  It enclosed one end of the wetland, creating a waterfall given the amount of rain we’d been having.  On the other side of the dam, the wetland continued.   We was a second dam that had been broken apart.  Apparently the humans have to break the second dam every couple of days to keep the water from getting too backed up in the wetland.  The beavers are busy indeed.

As we came around the bend of the wetland, we spotted a male wood duck siting on top of a snag in the middle of a bright sunbeam.  As we all admired him, one of our group was looking at a different wood duck on tip of a different snag–it was the mate.  The male showed off for her, obviously trying to get her attention.  She ruffled her feathers and acted indifferent, but I suspect they lived happily every after.

I'm pretty sure this is the wood duck equivalent of "shaking your booty"

I’m pretty sure this is the wood duck equivalent of “shaking your booty”

Tisen looking for food (I think)

Tisen looking for food (I think)

 

Biking, Birding, and Bystanding

Biking and birding reminded me of several life lessons I have learned, forgotten, and learned again.  First, speed causes us to miss details.

I think back to the native prairie by the bike path back in Columbus, Ohio.  I used to ride by wondering why I didn’t see more birds.  When I went by on roller blades, I saw more birds, but was surprised I didn’t see any hummingbirds.  When I walked by, I saw hummingbirds but was surprised there weren’t any bees.  When I stood completely still, it was like a magical veil was lifted and suddenly I saw an amazingly dense array of life, buzzing and hovering and dipping among the flowers.  I am frequently reminded that sometimes, to really see the abundance of life, you have to sit still.

The second lesson was:  it probably isn’t a good idea to point out birds–even really big ones–to a bunch of people on bicycles.

When we all pulled well off to the side of the path to stop and look, everyone was able to see the differences between a Turkey Vulture and Black Vulture, and many got to see an Osprey soaring overhead with no injuries.

As I watched these birds of prey, I had to wonder if they experienced the same kind of joy in catching a thermal and soaring on the wind as I was experiencing pedaling my bike through the early autumn breeze.  Some may think that birds just do what they do for the purpose of finding food, but I have to believe there is a joy that comes from doing what you were born to do that even birds experience, particularly on a beautiful day.  I find it impossible to watch the grace of soaring raptors without being moved.

As we made our way up the Riverwalk to the Curtain Pole Road swamp area, I learned the third lesson of the day.  Sometimes, it’s not the birds that are the most interesting part of a bird walk.  One of the other participants spotted turtles and frogs.  Although the wood ducks were still my favorite (see photos from yesterday’s post), the turtles and frogs were pretty darn fascinating.  By the way, one attendee pointed out that in the last Wood Duck photo in yesterday’s post, there is a camouflaged turtle right in front of the Wood Duck.  I totally missed that!

The final lesson for the day was that we all have different levels of excitement about the same birds.  I was so excited to stand and watch the Belted Kingfishers at Amnicola Marsh.  I could have stood there all day with them swooping across the marsh, chattering away.  In the meantime, most everyone else was looking for something more interesting.

Regardless, I think we all enjoyed the outing. For me, it doesn’t get any better.  A beautiful day, a bike, a new group of interesting people to meet, some really cool birds, and my camera.  What more could anyone ask for?

Bike and Then Bird

I have been riding the Tennessee Riverwalk twice a week for a few months now.  It’s one of those places that makes me happy.  It’s just a beautiful way to wake up.  Riding along the river on the mostly quiet trail, exchanging smiles with the dozen or so pedestrians who also haunt the riverwalk just after dawn–there just isn’t a better way to start the day.

I have also been leading bird walks a couple times a month.  And, I went on a biking tour of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park last year, which was organized by Outdoor Chattanooga.

Thus, it was only natural that, as I rode past great birding spots along the riverwalk, I would think “I should organize a bike and bird!”

Allow me to clarify for safety reasons:  I am not advocating birding while riding a bike.  That would be dangerous.  However, a bird walk is a usually a slow meander through a relatively small area with a good bird population and does not afford the opportunity to cover much distance without driving.  It seems counter-intuitive to me that we would increase the amount we drive in order to pursue an activity motivated by the desire to learn about and appreciate creatures quite dependent on an unpolluted environment.

To give credit where credit is due, a friend of mine back in Columbus, OH previously organized “eco bird walks” where all participants agreed to walk, bike, or take public transportation to the starting point and they walked from there.

So, I my idea was not exactly unique.  Regardless, I get a special pleasure out of combining activities.  I formed a plan:  Outdoor Chattanooga organizes bike tours all the time.  Why not ask them to do a bike and bird?  They have a fleet of bicycles so even people without bikes could join.  I would invite the Chattanooga chapter of TOS and the Audubon Society and we could have a lovely morning of riding and birding.  Or, to be more accurate, riding, stopping, and then birding.

And so it was.  It took a few emails and phone calls, but that was it.  Outdoor Chattanooga did the rest–and what a great group of people they are!

Finally, the Saturday selected was upon us.  I’m not sure which of the folks at Outdoor Chattanooga was in charge of arranging the weather, but they did a fabulous job.  I suppose if it would have been a little less breezy, we might have had an easier time spotting small birds among the trees, but the clear blue sky with little humidity and the cool breeze kept me smiling the entire ride.

We saw quite a few good birds, although not quite the bonanza I was hoping for.  As I told our guide from Outdoor Chattanooga, it was such a beautiful day that I would have enjoyed it even if we hadn’t seen a single bird.