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


Native Song

Having survived the Japanese garden at Gibb’s Gardens, I moved on with my co-shooter, John, to another part of the park.  This time, we entered an area that looked like natural woods.

As much as I enjoy gardens, natural woods are still my favorite.  By “natural,” I mean woods with plants that belong there.  This is not the same as, say, a woods covered in kudzu or so overgrown with privet or honeysuckle, you can’t even see through it.

Here, the woods had only native plants and we were both tickled when John discovered a Jack-in-the-Pulpit.  Soon, we were finding more of them.

Near by, we also found some spent Trillium, Solomon’s Seal, Virginia Creeper, and the one native I don’t like to see, Poison Ivy.  I should rephrase that.  I like to see it (it is a beneficial native), but I don’t like to be anywhere near it.  I’m starting to itch just thinking about it.

As we hunted for wild flowers, a wood thrush started serenading us.  The wood thrush’s song is my favorite.  Thrushes can sing more than one note at the same time–they harmonize with themselves.  The wood thrush in particular has a haunting, flute-like song that always makes me want to stop and listen.  You can play a clip of its song here (scroll down a bit).

Although I have heard a wood thrush many times–in fact, one used to summer near our house and was my alarm clock many mornings–I have only actually seen one once.  I have never even gotten close to getting a picture of one.  This relative of the robin is reclusive by comparison.  Wood thrushes hang out in the lower story and underbrush of the woods, magically disappearing behind the tiniest of leaves.  Their brown camouflage helps them disappear, I guess.

We eventually moved on from the wood thrush and made our way towards the rose gardens.  Along the way, John pointed out a tree that was growing at a nearly 90-degree angle.  He told me native americans used to train trees to grow at angles as a directional indicator towards water or other resources.  However, he felt this tree was too young to be an example of a pointer.  We never did get an explanation for it.

When we got to the base of the hill covered with roses, I was pooped.  Carrying around my 40+ pound backpack and tripod all day had wiped me out.  I suddenly realized I hadn’t had any water since 9:30AM and it was now nearly 3:30PM.  I looked up the hill and decided I really didn’t need to shoot any roses.

John, carrying less than 3 pounds of equipment including a bottle of water, was still feeling energetic enough to head on up to not only the roses, but also the day lilies at the top of the hill.  I guess that’s what a lifetime of experience shooting does for you.