"birds"

Orbweaver....do the birds notice?

Bill Dunson offers an interesting question about a spider that occurs throughout the Atlantic States, but is often overlooked:

I have been noticing a small but brightly colored spider, the orchard orbweaver (Leucauge venusta) in my rambles at Wildflower Preserve in Charlotte County, FL.

I have not been able to discover the function of the striking colors of this tiny and relatively unknown spider. If it were larger I am sure it would be well known and often photographed.

Does anyone have ideas about the purpose of such a striking coloration? The bright red colors are reminiscent of the dangerous black widow and I am thus wondering about what will happen when I by mistake walk through the web of this tiny beauty and find one on my face. For a small day-active orbweaver which is so exposed to predation by birds, such bright colors must mean something. Or could it be that it is so small (body 5.5-7.5 mm) that predators disdain to bother with it?

Bill Dunson
Englewood, FL
Galax, VA

Mount Rogers Christmas Bird Count

December 19th, 2010

We met in Volney, Virginia at 8 AM to receive our assignments from Allen Boynton, the compiler for the Mount Rogers/White Top circle. This would be the 111th annual CBC (http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count).

In order to prepare for a CBC day in the frigid high country, one must pack the appropriate clothes, field binoculars and scopes, energy food, water and a truckload of humor. Mica Paluzzi, Jim Minick and I were gifted part of area five and all of area four, (which include both lower and higher elevations), thus offering us the chance to actually see some birds.

We set off for Sugar Grove, (taking a short side jaunt down Homestead Road and back), where we caught back roads to Buller Fish Cultural Station, along the edge of the South Fork of the Holston River, and earnestly began our count. Ice covered the hatchery driveways, so we took it easy and spent most of our time on foot. At first it looked like a bust, but perseverance paid off as we quietly watched and waited. Peering into the woods we found a mixed flock consisting of golden-crowned kinglets, Carolina chickadees, a tufted titmouse, one downy, a yellow-bellied sapsucker, and blue jay. We noted crows
harassing a pileated woodpecker as Mica spotted a flyover flicker. On the water we found a dozen mallards who spooked in mass, associating any human with a gunner. While working our way back to the road, we observed the arrival of a lone fisherman, who flushed three great blue herons and one kingfisher, causing us some jubilation. Deciding to inspect the marshy spots at the entrance to the hatchery proved to be a sound idea…yielding two of both Wilson’s snipe and killdeer.

Onward. Most of the lower country covered turned out to be residential, making conspicuous and annoying our slow driving and rubbernecking. A few times did we receive the impression that folks were not happy sharing the road with us, or scoping out their bird feeders. But here it was that we saw the large portion of the 36 species tallied, including rusty blackbirds, not always expected.

Relieved to leave the human density behind, we headed to Konnorock and Fairwood Valley, on the way stopping for lunch at an iced-in overlook. While munching on carrots and granola bars I spied a red-tailed hawk perched above the parking lot, and we three got a decent look as it lifted up and away.

Many of the roads were either not plowed, or simply too slippery for safe negotiation, so we played it safe and stayed on the main road alongside Big Laurel Creek, making several stops and short hikes. A swampy zone gave us our hermit thrush and swamp sparrow, the swamp being a ‘lifer’ for Mica. Nearby a feeder hosted purple finches, (another lifer for Mica), a goldfinch or two, and the needed white-breasted nuthatch. Jim kept finding turkeys, with our first handful found on Homestead Road, and last at the very edge of our circle. Crows and juncos were abundant…where ever a birder be, so be a crow, or more likely, many crows. Between crows (61), white-throated sparrows (19), dark-eyed juncos (70), blue jays (31), mallards (28), and wild turkeys (25), our count numbers grew rapidly.

We pulled into Grindstone Campground with determined hopes of adding a red-breasted nuthatch and brown creeper. Joining us, on their way home, was another of our circle group whose entire day had been spent in the higher elevations. Together then, we made an effort to find either of these little birds, and just when we were about to give up, Mica spotted a creeper flitting from one tree to another. His keen, (young), eyesight prevailed upon the moment.

Not being satisfied without at least one winter wren, Jim urged us to stop at a couple of likely wren habitats…along the fast flowing creek…and finally, we succeeded not with one but two. Deciding that we were done, I nosed the truck towards ‘home’ and just as we were crossing the circle line, we added two bluebirds.

It needs to be said that when otherwise perfectly rational people find themselves on such a foray as this, they begin to wonder about choosing to spend a day in such harsh climate over, say, sitting in a chair by a fire reading a book, cup of tea in hand. In defense of what some would insist is a temporary condition of questionable sanity I offer this. The winter landscape in the high country is infinitely beautiful, and cannot be experienced through calendar pictures. Nope, you gotta be there, wind in face, toes and fingers numb, laughing out loud at the pure joy of it all.

SJR

Birds at Galax Thanksgiving week

We traveled back to Galax from Florida for Thanksgiving week and were not only surprised by the beautiful warm sunny weather but the number of birds and their willingness to vocalize. There were lots of sparrows (white crowned, white-throated, Savannah, field, swamp, song, chipping), a purple finch, 3 WINTER WRENS, a BROWN CREEPER, a YB sapsucker, hermit thrushes, 4 red tailed hawks in a group, a "pair" of HARRIERS, a kestrel, a sharpie, a KINGFISHER (still here!), lots of bluebirds, meadowlarks, cedar waxwings and the usual cast of characters. Our numerous and well cultivated "weeds" are getting a lot of attention from the seed eaters.

A quick photo out the window documented a behavior we had not seen before- namely a chickadee feeding on the seed pods of rose of Sharon or althaea. I knew that this hibiscus/mallow was very attractive to hummingbirds for its flower nectar, but the value of its seeds to winter birds had not been that obvious to me previously. So this is one exotic Asian species that is quite beneficial to birds. It can be invasive in some circumstances, but if you plant one of the newer hybrids that produces few seeds you will get the flowers but will not provide a benefit for winter birds. I advise planting the fertile varieties and just pulling up seedlings that are unwanted.

Margaret had incredible looks of close golden-crowned kinglets, in one case a kinglet with a huge yellow crown & next to it one with a large brilliant orange crown. So what is so different about the feeding habits of ruby crowned and golden crowned kinglets that the GCK can stay so far north while the RCK must migrate further south?

So overall we really enjoyed a late fall visit to SW VA, but aside from one autumn meadowhawk dragonfly, a few lethargic grasshoppers and a stink bug, the insects were MIA.

Bill & Margaret
Galax, VA

Hornworms or hummers?

My wife and I have devoted a lot of effort to providing plants for wildlife to utilize for food and shelter. I greatly prefer to have a plant provide nectar for hummingbirds than to put out a feeder with sugar water. Coral or trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is a native species that provides a beautiful red flower with abundant nectar for hummingbirds (see photo above). This seems to be an unequivocal win for the garden since it is beautiful, hardy, and highly attractive to hummingbirds. But today I discovered the "rest of the story" as it pertains to the biology of this wonderful honeysuckle.

As I sat rocking on our porch without a care in the world, I suddenly noticed something troubling- there were bare spots on our two honeysuckle vines and tell-tale small dark pellets on the ground underneath. The pellets seemed to be "frass" or caterpillar poop and this indicated something was eating our valuable vines! A quick search and about 10 minutes picking produced the haul shown in the photograph of a group of caterpillars, mostly green but a few brown. A close-up of one of the more common green ones (see photo below right) indicated that this was clearly a hornworm with a terminal harmless spine. I checked this out in the "bible" of caterpillar identification (Wagner's "Caterpillars of Eastern North America") and found a match with the snowberry clearwing sphinx moth. This moth in fact resembles a hummingbird in its flight characteristics and feeding on nectar, but mimics a bumblebee as a means of protection from avian predators.

So here I had a conundrum- some very interesting caterpillars of a species that I value were competing with both hummingbirds and their own adult stage by eating the plant that produces their nectar. My solution for the moment is to pick off all the caterpillars that I can find (far from an easy chore since they are VERY well camouflaged- green and subtly counter-shaded to blend in extremely well with the foliage) and put them in a container where I will feed them on less valuable honeysuckles until they get ready to pupate, when I will release them.

So what have we learned- that once again Nature is more complex than our simple mindsets, and that manipulation of plants for our purposes is often diverted to other ends? This provides an education for us to remain open to new ideas and to value this complexity and not to find it frustrating. Indeed it is exciting that the unexpected can break out and astound us- we have only to be observant and find wonder in the events as they unfold. I also learned that I can sometimes learn more while rocking on the porch and contemplating Nature from that perspective than hiking in the woods and fields!

Bill Dunson
Galax, VA & Englewood, FL

Beware fuzzy caterpillars!

We have planted many hundreds of trees and shrubs on our property to encourage wildlife of all sorts, so I keep a careful eye out for pests that eat these plants. Some of the worse problems are due to insects that come in groups, such as caterpillars of various moths. I am used to dealing with army worms and web worms but came across a new enemy recently. Groups of hungry caterpillars appeared on our treasured black walnut trees (and sumac also) and started a full-scale attack (see photo above). In their young stage they were white with black spots and a black head, and were quite hairy. Now a fuzzy caterpillar often means "KEEP AWAY" since the hairs can be irritating and even toxic. These turned out to be hickory tussock moths or hickory tiger moths which are well known to possess stinging hairs and even to be toxic for birds to eat. They group together, likely with their siblings that hatched from their mother's eggs, and remain together for some time until they get much larger when they live alone (see photo below, of a much older caterpillar from our yard- not a typical coloration- often they are more black and white).
It is interesting to think about why not only insects but many types of animals group together in flocks or swarms. It is usually considered to be a defense, potentially to confuse and divert the attack of predators. In the case of these caterpillars, it is also likely that distasteful and/or toxic creatures ban together with siblings to gain an additional advantage if a predator does attack and learns to avoid this color pattern in the future. Siblings that share many of the same genes will benefit more by being together with their brothers and sisters than with strangers, if they are attacked and some are sacrificed to teach the predator to avoid the others.


Caterpillars have a variety of defenses other than stinging hairs and toxic flesh. They tend to be active at night and group together in daytime under protective webs. When I touched the leaf on which the young hickory tussock moths were sitting, a surprising thing happened- numbers of caterpillars began to drop down to the ground quickly on web lines (see photo). You might wonder why this would be necessary when these caterpillars seem to be so well protected. However virtually all good defenses have spawned a specialized predator that can circumvent the defensive strategy- in this case it is the yellow-billed cuckoo (see photo) which is a fuzzy caterpillar eater. Not coincidentally we have noticed far more cuckoos on our property this year than last when caterpillars were not so numerous. So the hickory tussock moth caterpillars drop from the tree at the slightest indication of a cuckoo being present, and can then crawl back into the tree after the cuckoo leaves.



The intricate natural history of something so seemingly inconsequential as a tiger moth caterpillar tells us once again that the adaptations of this larval moth are subject to very specific design criteria to maximize its chances of survival and subsequent reproduction. So even if we destroy some of these creatures that eat our yard plants, we cannot fail to marvel at their remarkable methods of existence.



Bill Dunson
Galax, VA & Englewood, FL

Exploring Cumberland Knob

BRDC Cumberland Knob field trip, May 26th, 2010
Front row (L-R): Eric Pratt, Jacob Pratt, Ben Pratt, Molly Widener, Filson Williams, Krista Shaw
Middle row (L-R): Matthew Rose, Abigail Williams, Cassidy Williams, Claire Gleason, India Williams, Alli Worrell
Back row (L-R): Michael Rose, Bill Perkins, Dr. Bob Perkins, Scott Jackson-Ricketts, Jason Shaw


Coordinating with Lisa Shaw, Southwest Virginia Home Educators Administrator, BRDC conducted a field trip at Cumberland Knob from 9AM until noon. Fifteen kids strong, with several parents, broke into two groups and hit the trail. Guiding for BRDC were Robert Perkins and Scott Jackson-Ricketts. Bob brought his brother Bill along, who helped keep an eye on the scramble into the woods.
Cumberland knob has a 2½ mile loop trail, and though we did not traverse it entirely, one group headed uphill and one down, with paying attention to all that was seen or heard on the agenda.


Hardly a log or rock went unturned, (and all were replaced), as we searched for hiding creatures, various forms of fungi, any evidence of former or current inhabitants, various seed pods, and such. We compared ground cover in opened-up areas to full canopy, stages of rotting logs, the visible differences based on slope orientation, and habitat in general. There were opportunities to discover the basics of camouflage, mimicry, and other techniques of survival.


It was noted that not long after nine, birdsong began to drop off in volume and intensity on the edges around the big field. But the deeper we went into the woods, the more we heard, causing us to wonder if the woodland birds were more active later in the day…perhaps because the morning light was just finding its way into some of the denser parts.

I assigned one young person in each group to be the keeper of the list. Following are those documents:

Claire Gleason recorded the birds seen for Bob’s group:


  • brown thrasher
  • red-eyed vireo
  • American robin
  • blue jay
  • wood thrush
  • blue-gray gnatcatcher
  • white-breasted nuthatch
  • American crow
  • pileated woodpecker
  • scarlet tanager
  • black vulture
  • blue-headed vireo

Bob added (though all were not seen or heard by the entire group):


  • oven bird
  • cedar waxwing
  • great-crested flycatcher
  • tufted titmouse,

    ...as well as these butterflies:

  • Eastern tiger swallowtail
  • cabbage white
  • red-spotted purple
  • silver-spotted skipper
Scott’s team assigned Michael Rose who recorded the following in order of appearance:


  • red-eyed vireo
  • turkey vulture
  • black vulture
  • wood thrush
  • brown thrasher
  • white-breasted nuthatch
  • blue bird
  • chickadee
  • ovenbird
  • sapsucker*
  • scarlet tanager
  • black & white warbler
  • American robin
  • Northern cardinal
  • red-bellied woodpecker
  • red-spotted purple butterfly

*I don’t recall this, but we did discuss the evidence of the sap wells


And Scott adds:

  • American toad
  • slug
  • brown-hooded cockroach
  • flat-backed millipede (everywhere along the trail)
  • bold jumping spider
  • some kind of woodland grasshopper
  • robber fly that mimicked a bee or wasp
  • wood boring beetle of some kind
  • mouse or vole (I did not see it)
  • monarch or viceroy butterfly
The grand finale was Terry Gleason’s copperhead find. Though our group had already assembled at the picnic tables to begin our sketches and field notes, when alerted to this news we all ran back into the woods. The evidence of the impression this snake had on the crowd is self-evident.
Sunning itself about 20 feet off the path on the fat end of a fallen tree, it seemed quite unaware of us, thus providing everyone the opportunity to get a long studied look.


As we prepared to disperse a little after noon, we agreed to plan a fall butterfly and insect foray for the home schoolers. When the date and place are finalized, we will let everyone know. Many many thanks go to Lisa Shaw for helping BRDC put this together, as well as Bob and Bill for the guiding efforts. And finally, a big round of applause go to Claire and Michael for keeping the lists.


-Scott Jackson-Ricketts

Aviatlas Sightings Record, Bridle Creek/Gold Hill

April 24, 2010
Bridle Creek/Gold Hill
US · Virginia
Lon. -81.251278, Lat. 36.613047, Alt. 2,680 ft

Member: Scott Jackson-Ricketts
Hotspot: Bridle Creek/Gold Hill

Notes:
First of the year black-throated green warbler was a nice surprise.The parulas seem to have moved on. Our yard, woods and sky are filledwith jays right now...can't recall so many at this time of year. Theyare kind of annoying, and I noticed some focused harassment of nestingrobins and doves. Turkey males continue to seek mates as they gobblewith great force in the early morning.

25 Species Reported:
Turkey Vulture (4)
Red-tailed Hawk (1)
Wild Turkey (1)
Mourning Dove (2)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (1)
Downy Woodpecker (1)
Pileated Woodpecker (1)
Eastern Phoebe (1)
Tree Swallow (2)
Carolina Wren (2)
Eastern Bluebird (1)
American Robin (1)
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher (1)
Carolina Chickadee (1)
Tufted Titmouse (1)
Blue Jay (19)
American Crow (5)
House Finch (3)
American Goldfinch (4)
Black-throated Green Warbler (1)
Eastern Towhee (3)
Field Sparrow (2)
White-throated Sparrow (2)
Northern Cardinal (3)
Red-winged Blackbird (1)

- Scott Jackson-Ricketts

This sightings record reported at www.aviatlas.com

Aviatlas Sightings Record - Cox's Chapel

www.aviatlas.com

April 25, 2010
Cox's Chapel Low Water Bridge an...
US · Virginia · Rugby
Lon. -81.242309, Lat. 36.596063, Alt. 2,402 ft

Member: Scott Jackson-Ricketts
Hotspot: Cox's Chapel Low Water Bridge and area

Notes:
Arriving at 8AM, and full of expectation, I left a half hour later with those expectations satisfied. In particular, I was hoping to find the eastern kingbirds and yellow warblers back on the breeding grounds, which they were. Typically they show up simultaneously with great fanfare, as they repeated for me this morning. Most pleased was I by catching the green-backed heron landing in a low tree along Bridle Creek, and a few minutes later, flying over to the big sycamore next to the bridge, both times giving me great views. No less was I so pleased to see a raven soar over with a mouthful of something, while trying its best to avoid one menacing crow. They both dived into the woods on the south side of the river, behind a barn. On the way to and from the river along Bridle Creek Road, I also saw many robins, a kestrel, two meadowlarks, one starling and a pile of jays at the Bridle Creek School feeder.

24 Species Reported:
Green Heron (1)
Canada Goose (5)
Turkey Vulture (1)
Downy Woodpecker (2)
Eastern Phoebe (1)
Eastern Kingbird (2)
Tree Swallow (7)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (5)
Carolina Wren (1)
Brown Thrasher (2)
Blue Jay (1)
American Crow (1)
Common Raven (1)
American Goldfinch (3)
Northern Parula (2)
Yellow Warbler (3)
Eastern Towhee (2)
Chipping Sparrow (1)
Field Sparrow (1)
Song Sparrow (1)
White-throated Sparrow (1)
Northern Cardinal (3)
Red-winged Blackbird (6)
Common Grackle (8)

This sightings record was recorded at: www.aviatlas.com

-Scott Jackson-Ricketts

Aviatlas Sightings Record

April 5, 2010Bridle Creek/Gold HillUS
VirginiaLon. -81.251278, Lat. 36.613047, Alt. 2,680 ft
Member: Scott Jackson-Ricketts
Hotspot: Bridle Creek/Gold Hill


Notes:
26 Species Reported:
Turkey Vulture (4)
Wild Turkey (2)
Mourning Dove (2)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (2)
Downy Woodpecker (1)
Pileated Woodpecker (1)
Eastern Phoebe (1)
Carolina Wren (2)
Brown Thrasher (1)
Eastern Bluebird (3)
Carolina Chickadee (1)
Tufted Titmouse (1)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
Blue Jay (3)
American Crow (4)
European Starling (1)
Purple Finch (1)
House Finch (4)
American Goldfinch (5)
Eastern Towhee (3)
Chipping Sparrow (1)
Field Sparrow (2)
White-throated Sparrow (3)
Northern Cardinal (6)
Red-winged Blackbird (8)
Common Grackle (1)


This sightings record was recorded at: www.aviatlas.com

Aviatlas Sightings Record

February 14, 2010
Bridle Creek/Gold Hill
US · Virginia
Lon. -81.251278, Lat. 36.613047, Alt. 2,680 ft

Member: Scott Jackson-Ricketts
Hotspot: Bridle Creek/Gold Hill

Notes:
Perhaps the sun and relative warmth, (up to 41 F. this afternoon), brought more activity to the feeders and general locomotion. I also spent a bit more time outside today, shoveling snow and paying attention. For instance, the three bluebirds counted were startled by my sudden arrival, and though I did not see them eating from the suet cake, that is from whence they flew. And looking up in mid afternoon, I caught two black vultures in a thermal, against a stunningly clear blue sky. Still no sign of the hermit thrush, and I fear the worst alas.

I would like a more thorough conversation on the ongoing argument as to whether we actually help birds by providing easy food. I stand by providing water without concern, but the question as to how we alter bird behavior and thus create dependencies has me wondering. There is no question that we humans benefit from feeding stations, at least as far as entertainment goes. And there are all the stats out there based upon feeder birds going to migrational and population records through the years. But are these records skewed by our middle management schemes of bringing the birds closer to us, rather than our going out in the field to find them in less compromised situations...is the question.

20 Species Reported: Black Vulture (2), Mourning Dove (4), Red-bellied Woodpecker (2), Downy Woodpecker (1), Carolina Wren (2), Eastern Bluebird (3), Carolina Chickadee (5), Tufted Titmouse (4), White-breasted Nuthatch (2), Blue Jay (6), American Crow (4), Purple Finch (3), House Finch (10), American Goldfinch (9), Yellow-rumped Warbler (1), Eastern Towhee (2), Song Sparrow (1), White-throated Sparrow (13), Dark-eyed Junco (6), Northern Cardinal (15)

This sightings record was recorded at: www.aviatlas.com

-Scott Jackson-Ricketts

Banded shorebirds on the loose

In the great expansive outdoors, it is nearly undeniable that all things are connected in some way. Ecosystems overlap and changes in one will have affect upon others. This is made more possible by the components of ecosystems that move around a lot, like birds, large mammals and insects. Other very fluid parts of systems are streams and air. They transport bits and pieces over great distances. Within this realm of connectivity, one can imagine distant patterns of activity having repercussions locally. One can imagine, on the geologic scale, a mountain range reducing to the sands that blanket our coastal plain and continental shelf. One can also see the importance of a highland river to the health of a shore ecosystem, as it carries nutrients that continually replenish the food source of millions of plants and animals in far off places.
The New River in these highlands is one such provider, sending its bounty to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There the shore birds feed upon the resulting plethora of food.

Below is a recent post from Bill Dunson, focused primarily on banded shorebirds and their migratory movements. Immediately upon reading this I wondered if any shorebirds make it to the Blue Ridge during migration?...to the headwaters that drive nutrient flow to the shores. Upon inquiring to a few bird "experts", the answer is yes! Shore birds in the Mountains, rare as it may be, happens. Keep your eyes open! Here are a few that have been verified:

"shorebirds that I see at least once per year are sanderlings, woodcock, Wilson's snipe, spotted sandpiper, least sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper, solitary sandpiper, and yellowlegs. I have also seen semipalmated sandpiper and short-billed dowitcher. Other species are much more irregular."


From Bill:

You might be interested to know that there is a huge effort to band and track shorebirds underway in the Gulf of Mexico and some of these birds may come your way at some point. I was at Don Pedro Island State Park yesterday on the SW coast of FL and was pleased to see a flock of about 85 red knots feeding in the surf.
I did not have binoculars since I was "beaching" with the grandkids but did have my trusty 18x camera. I took some random photos and was surprised to find that 5 of the birds were banded in an unusual way. There is the usual silver metallic USFWS band on the ankle,but also a colored strip with letters and a number. So for example in the photo attached the code seems to be upper right leg/light green/JN4.
I found a website which solicits reports on such banded birds: bandedbirds.org
The website allows you to report your findings and check on previous reports of the individual sighted. This particular group of red knots has been working its way up and down this coast between Clearwater and Sanibel Island since banding. But they will be heading north I suppose to Delaware Bay in the Spring.
So look closer when you see some shorebirds and maybe you will be able to help solve some of nature's mysteries, the migratory movements of our wonderful shorebirds.

Bill Dunson
Englewood, FL & Galax, VA

WAYNESBORO EXIT

Here is a draft of a poem I started a good while back...I have merged a few moments together as if they happened dreamlike in a short while...I have spent a few days at the hawk watch at milepost zero, aka Rockfish Gap, Afton Mountain. I have seen several thousand raptors there in a day, and have seen migrating butterflies and dragonflies at this site as well. This draft scarcely edges on that topic, even though I do mention Veracruz, where four million hawks (and counting) have been tallied this fall season....would love to spend a day counting a gazillion hawks, kites, accipiters, vultures, falcons, harriers, ospreys, yes!

Scott Jackson-Ricketts suggests I call the poem Waynesboro Exit, so that is what I will call this incarnation for now. I plan to post a couple more poems in a few days.



WAYNESBORO EXIT


The interstate freezes on Afton Mountain.
A few vultures perch on some broken pines.
I can see thin ice crusted on their feathers.
Traffic is sliding past the Waynesboro exit.


I'm parked in my rusty blue truck watching
clouds steal against the steep embankment
of Rockfish. Migration has fizzled into stones.
Not one hawk glides anywhere, a white pigeon
flaps from a bridge, and claps its feral wings
above the morning's grunting load of timber
scabbing around a curve.


I blame the bright noon hour of my windshield.
I think the sun has cracked open all the clouds
and I'm November talking to myself, talking
an empty sky into seven crows and a stray duck
shouldered from nowhere. I might just haul dirt
to my dead garden, might guzzle some cold rum
and laugh at you counting thirty thousand hawks
soaring today past Veracruz.


Copyright 2009, Clyde Kessler

Aviatlas Sightings

November 8, 2009
Bridle Creek/Gold Hill
US · Virginia
Lon. -81.251278, Lat. 36.613047, Alt. 2,680 ft

Member: Scott Jackson-Ricketts
Hotspot: Bridle Creek/Gold Hill

Notes:
Sparrows return. I have no idea how many song sparrows were in my
fields today, but certainly enjoyed their songs. I counted only what I
saw. The 24 black vultures were seen as they caught a mid-morning
thermal launch, so lucky me. Today, I took a purposeful walk to see
and hear what might be about. Not typical of my habits, given that I
usually have to attend to work at hand, extra effort was put into the
32 species count. The butterbutts, red-tails, and the two hermits were
good bonus birds. Today was a brilliant fall day, warm and clear.

32 Species Reported:
Black Vulture (24)
Turkey Vulture (2)
Red-tailed Hawk (2)
Mourning Dove (5)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (2)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1)
Downy Woodpecker (2)
Pileated Woodpecker (1)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (4)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1)
Cedar Waxwing (18)
Carolina Wren (2)
Northern Mockingbird (1)
Eastern Bluebird (4)
Hermit Thrush (2)
American Robin (1)
Carolina Chickadee (5)
Tufted Titmouse (3)
White-breasted Nuthatch (4)
Blue Jay (9)
American Crow (10)
Common Raven (2)
House Finch (1)
American Goldfinch (9)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (2)
Eastern Towhee (2)
Chipping Sparrow (1)
Field Sparrow (1)
Song Sparrow (6)
White-throated Sparrow (4)
Dark-eyed Junco (4)
Northern Cardinal (4)

-SJR

www.aviatlas.com

The Value of Water as a Bird Attractant

Our Florida location is on a barrier island (Manasota Key) only a short distance from the mainland, but a very dry location in terms of freshwater for critters to drink. The "soil" is basically sand with a maximum elevation of about 11 feet, and there are no natural ponds, except of course for sea water in the mangroves and beach areas. Since no typical terrestrial birds can drink sea water (it is about three times the salt concentration of their blood), non-sea birds must find their drinking water elsewhere, and thus be limited in their occurrence here, or get it from their food (seeds are very dry, but animal prey or fruit contain more water- a help but not generally enough). There is brackish water below the soil surface of the island- depending on recent rainfall, available to trees but not to most animals. Thus we have found that putting out fresh water in bird baths is very attractive to a wide variety of birds, including some that you might not expect to visit. For example yesterday I looked out the back window and saw a Cooper's hawk in one of our three bird baths (see photo)! This was a huge treat since these hawks are not generally that easy to study up close and personal.

So put out a water bath, preferably with a drip but OK if not, as long as you refill and clean it periodically, and watch for interesting visitors. Try putting out several baths in locations that differ in the amount of cover, and distance from your house.

Bill Dunson
Englewood, FL & Galax, VA

Aviatlas Sightings

November 2, 2009
Bridle Creek/Gold Hill
US · Virginia
Lon. -81.251278, Lat. 36.613047, Alt. 2,680 ft

Member: Scott Jackson-Ricketts
Hotspot: Bridle Creek/Gold Hill

Notes:
Palm warbler added to yard list. Bright morning sun reflecting off the yellow under-tail coverts, and adding that to the tail pumping and eye line brought a tear of joy running down my left cheek today. Palm warbler without a doubt. The Carolina chickadees were flooding the morning with their chatter and quickness...literally. This day was a good one for paying attention, so wising up to that, I stood outside near dusk to see what might chance by. Hearing a sound that reminded me of Canada goose, I turned to the general direction to catch a raven swooping in for what appeared to be its night roost. Caught by the last light behind it, creating a silhouette, the raven extended its tarsus and talons for the landing in perfection of grace.

25 Species Reported:
Turkey Vulture (11)
Mourning Dove (7)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (2)
Downy Woodpecker (1)
Pileated Woodpecker (1)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (2)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (2)
Cedar Waxwing (6)
Carolina Wren (2)
Eastern Bluebird (2)
American Robin (16)
Carolina Chickadee (7)
Tufted Titmouse (4)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2)
Blue Jay (6)
American Crow (8)
Common Raven (1)
House Finch (5)
American Goldfinch (2)
Palm Warbler (1)
Eastern Towhee (2)
Chipping Sparrow (1)
White-throated Sparrow (3)
Dark-eyed Junco (3)
Northern Cardinal (5)


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November 3, 2009
Bridle Creek/Gold Hill
US · Virginia
Lon. -81.251278, Lat. 36.613047, Alt. 2,680 ft

Member: Scott Jackson-Ricketts
Hotspot: Bridle Creek/Gold Hill


Notes:

Interesting how one day makes such a difference. Mocking birds are scarce in our yard, and today's was the first song sparrow since spring. Not a downy in sight, but the return of the sap-sucker was welcomed. All throughout the year an occasional phoebe makes an appearance, albeit sporadically. Then there was the grackle, whose gruff voice caught my doubtful attention, as a red-bellied woodpecker swung into range. I thought it must be the woodpecker, then spied the grackle. The transition from seasonal expectations makes for the larger temptation to just spend the time paying attention. It is never a disappointment.

25 Species Reported:
Turkey Vulture (5)
Mourning Dove (4)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (2)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1)
Pileated Woodpecker (1)
Eastern Phoebe (1)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (5)
Cedar Waxwing (6)
Carolina Wren (2)
Northern Mockingbird (1)
Eastern Bluebird (2)
American Robin (14)
Carolina Chickadee (3)
Tufted Titmouse (3)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3)
Blue Jay (6)
American Crow (4)
House Finch (5)
American Goldfinch (3)
Eastern Towhee (2)
Song Sparrow (2)
White-throated Sparrow (4)
Dark-eyed Junco (9)
Northern Cardinal (3)
Common Grackle (1)

-SJR

This sightings were recorded at:
http://www.aviatlas.com/

September 15, 2009: Mountain View Elementary School

This event was a partnered effort offered by Grandfather Mountain, Blue Ridge Birders, Ashe County Gardeners, and Blue Ridge Discovery Center.

Event summary: Jesse Pope presented his program at Mountain View Elementary today,
with Doug Smith and Scott Jackson-Ricketts providing back-up. Two program sessions were offered before noon, that in total included 90 kids, with a sound approach of conversation as opposed to lecture. Education tools included two live owls, bones, feathers, visual backup with Thayers software, nests, and the the most popular...a hands -on 'build-your-own-bird' activity, based upon choice of habitat. Special thanks go to Doug, Jesse, and Scott... and to Ruth Turnmire for being the smartest and most enthusiastic teacher Scott has ever known.
After the presentation, Doug, Jesse, Scott and Ruth walked the campus and found huge trail and garden possibilities. Many ideas were discussed, with the understanding that a long term vision will be required, along with the requisite patience and persistence.

Black-and-White Warbler, Wildwood Park

For the past four Sunday mornings (including early yesterday), I have walked through Wildwood Park in Radford. I have been conducting an informal census of birds just to see how several woodland species are faring there.

Yesterday I enjoyed hearing a Black-and-White Warbler singing near the creek. It is one of the few warblers I have heard in Wildwood since the end of spring migration. The others are one Louisiana Waterthrush offering a few chip notes near the south bridge, and a Common Yellowthroat singing. The yellowthroat may have been a migrant.

I hope the Black-and-White Warbler has a family in the woods.

Other birds in the park yesterday: Acadian Flycatchers (two holding territories along the creek), four phoebes (at least three nests, one of the phoebes took a moth to a nest under the north bridge), two Great Crested Flycatchers, several Red-eyed Vireos, two Wood Thrushes, two Indigo Buntings, some towhees.

I watched for several minutes to see if any birds would feast on the ripe serviceberries on several trees in the park. I saw none eating the berries. So I gathered a few berries that were super sweet and delicious.