Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Bird Count

If I wrote for Wheel of Fortune on television, I would use this title in the Before and After category. I want to include our first Christmas Bird Count, but also want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, so here goes! As retirees, Dick and I don't get up before dawn very often now, but the Christmas Bird Count at Otter Creek Park started at 8 am. As one expects at Christmas, it was cold and overcast, but we layered up and thought we could take it. Otter Creek Park used to belong to the City of Louisville, even though it is located in Meade County not far from Ft. Knox. It hosts the YMCA's Camp Piomingo, an we drove there regularly when the kids were camp age, and Dick served on the board. Now the City no longer runs the park and it has been closed for almost two years. Apparently the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife people are going to take it on as a recreation area rather than a wildlife management area. Here's hoping they make a success of it. The park has a spectacular overlook on a large horseshoe bend in the Ohio River and is a favorite spot for many people. This is the 111th Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the Audubon Society, but the first for Dick and me. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations - and to help guide conservation action. Each group takes an area with a radius of 7.5 miles, resulting in 70-80 squares miles of potential territory to cover. Six of us took Otter Creek Park, and other friends from Beckham Bird Club headed out into the rest of the circle. Unlike our usual bird hikes, we counted individuals of each species as well as the different species. At first, things were very quiet and we saw few birds. I wonder if the chattering of our teeth scared them away! We drove down to the river and sighted 5 Black Scoters and a Bald Eagle. The Bluebirds hopped in the treetops eating mistletoe berries. Then the sun broke through the clouds and birds and birders both sang with joy for the warmth!
For the most part, we saw the birds one expects in a Kentucky winter outing - Juncos, Robins, Chickadees, Titmice, Gold Finches, Cardinals, Nuthatches, Carolina Wrens, and murders of Crows. Last weekend other members of Beckham Bird Club found 90 species in their Jefferson County count. We got lucky with the Woodpeckers though, and saw almost all the Kentucky Woodpeckers except a Sapsucker, including Downy, Hairy, Flickers, and Red Bellied. Then we found six Red Headed Woodpeckers chasing each other around in the trees, something rather unusual for this part of the state. Dick and I had to leave around noon, and as we stood in the parking lot, I noticed a small bird hanging upside down in the pine cones. It turned out to be a Red Breasted Nuthatch, another bird not often found around here! We haven't received the total numbers or species list from Barbara yet. We saw some Turkeys as we drove out, and Barbara said she saw a Barred Owl too, so I look forward to the totals.
The Christmas Bird Count may become a new Christmas tradition for us. I've been thinking about those traditions during the last few weeks. Since our children are grown and moved out, our traditions have changed a bit. We still use the same old ornaments though, and I mean that in a good sense. Some are survivors of my childhood and bring back wonderful memories, but I won't say how old they are! Others were given to us as wedding gifts since we got married in late November, 37 years ago, and we cherish all of them. We will spend Christmas Day with our immediate family, and my brother and sister from Cincinnati will join us on Sunday. Family is important, and it seems harder to get together as we get older ourselves.
The cats are fascinated by all the hub-bub, of course. We are careful not to put down the tree skirt until it can be covered with boxes, since the cats think the tree and fancy skirt are just for them! Binx is giving his opinion of all the decorations, and moves from the mantle to the steps, to the back of the sofa to get just the right angle. Dick and I wish all of you a wonderful and safe Christmas Holiday and a birdy New Year!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Good Day to Stay Home

One of the great things about retirement is staying home without guilt when the weather is bad. If you've been watching the Weather Channel today, you know that Louisville is covered with about half an inch of ice. The temperature is 32, not too bad, but it won't warm up substantially. It's a good day to stay in, drink hot coffee, and watch Christmas movies while wrapping gifts. I'm hoping the roads will clear by 3 p.m. when I have to go to the Raptor Center. It's like being a dairy farmer--you must take care of them no matter what. I bought some salt to leave there, and am crossing my fingers that someone has spread it before I arrive today!
When I went out to salt our own sidewalks, I decided to walk in the grass and flower gardens to reach the garage. The sidewalks were just tooooo treacherous to risk. Dick broke a rib last winter, and I don't want to go through that too.
The squirrels and birds are looking for seeds. They have faith in me.
The ice is beautiful though when it coats the branches and berries. As long as it doesn't bring down any tree limbs! And, thank goodness this is nowhere as bad as the last ice storm we had!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

First Snow of the Season

It's December 4, and a clipper system blows its way across the midsection of the country. The staff at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve plans for the annual Nature of Christmas in Goshen with their fingers crossed. On one hand, Kentuckians are not used to driving in snow, and are likely to just stay home if the weather is bad. On the other hand, snow will be beautiful for the Christmas event, and we are prepared. We make special arrangements for all the red berries to glow under the snowy branches. A few people will be brave enough to walk around and enjoy them. I will take lots of photos for both this blog and the Preserve's website.
Crafts people set up their booths inside the house this year. Last year people stood in line for hours for the free hot dogs, chili, coffee and hot chocolate. This year, there is a tent with a heater that allows people take off their coats as they sit down to eat. The grounds look like Christmas cards. Maybe we should try making Christmas cards or a calendar as a fund raiser next year.
Fluffed up Song Sparrows perch on the window sill of the nature center, then hop to the feeder for a quick bite. The snow is wet and makes terrific snow balls. It's a great day to attack dear old Dad.
Other neighborhood residents take advantage of the safe slopes to slide down the hill on saucers. Two girls sharing one have a hard time getting started, then they laugh as they spin in circles.
Buddy Freckles, the director's dog, stayed inside most of the day, but says that he loves playing in the snow. Entertainment included a handbell choir, followed by Santa and Mrs. Claus. As the crowds finally left at the end of the afternoon, one little boy came to ask a very important question. "Is that the real Santa?" he whispered. "What do you think?" I replied. With big glowing eyes he nodded his head. "Yes, he's the real one." "You are absolutely right. He is the real Santa Claus!" Anyone who will sit for and hour and a half, listening to the soft mumbles of children and acknowledging their wishes, is certainly the real Santa in my book! And he brought Mrs. Claus along to be sure everything was written down correctly.
I got a present too. Tavia's book about Bernheim Forest is now available for purchase, both at Bernheim, local book sellers, and online, and I got my copy on Saturday. 28 of my photos are featured, including two that fill entire pages! Sometimes I had to check the credit on a photo to see if it was Tavia's or mine, since I have many that are very much like hers in some instances. I started taking bird photos to help me remember what we saw on birding trips. I think they are pretty good, and tried submitting them in photo contests for a while. I never got recognized for them though, and gave up that effort. I don't really need recognition, but I must admit that I'm very excited about being published! Dick and I enjoyed remembering trips we made to Bernheim with his parents and our own young children. Today the landscaping is quite different than it was 25 or 30 years ago. We also looked at the pictures of friends who volunteer with Dick and our special friend Wren Smith, who taught us both in our Certified Interpretive Guide class. In fact, Tavia included a section on this opportunity. Whoo-Hoo! I'm published!!!

Monday, November 22, 2010


Have you heard of Wordle yet? I saw the reference on another blog I like, and went to learn about it. Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends. I put in my blog URL and it came up with this. Click on the image to get a larger and more readable version.

Isn't the Internet cool?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Endangered Bird Sighted

For our final day in Florida, Dick and I headed north to the 6500 acre Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area. We chose this spot because the Florida Birding Trail says they have Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers. These birds are on the endangered list, since they only live in mature pine forests, and their habitat is disappearing throughout the southern states, so we figured this was an important opportunity.
Fish and Wildlife marks the trees in which you might find these black and white birds, but don't guarantee anything. When we saw the white marks on the trees we got out of the car and started across the field. Of course, we don't plan day-to-day activities before starting on a trip, so we weren't really prepared for this landscape, wearing shorts and sneakers as usual. I've got some scratches and bug bites, but we didn't find any snakes. The first tree we examined had a Woodpecker condo, with a plastic pipe for an entrance. This little bird stayed safely inside, just peering out at these odd creatures walking around near its tree. We didn't get too close, not wanting to disturb it.
The next one was out foraging in a pine tree, and paid no attention to us at all. He jumped around from branch to branch, not drilling holes, but pulling chunks of bark off entirely, tossing them to the ground. Look closely at this photo, and click on it for a larger version. You can see that he has been banded already. We never did see any red, so I'm not sure if this is a female, or a male that isn't showing his small red cockade.
Very distinctive patterns of black and white, don't you think? Another bird in trouble is the Wood Stork. Apparently their breeding is directly related to the water levels here in Florida. If the water is either too deep or too shallow, they won't breed at all that year. We didn't see any on the ground, but saw 6 or so soaring overhead, and their wingspan is enormous.
These spiders are enormous too, although I don't know what kind they are. They had large webs strung between the trees at Babcock. Can they see or hear? I don't know, but every one we found quickly ran up the web when we approached, although we tried to be quiet. They must have been almost 3 inches long!
Wildlife Management Areas, by definition, are managing wildlife for the benefit of hunters. The quail season started this week, but no hunting was going on today. Apparently the hunters come for long periods, and bring their RV 's, hunting dogs, camping kennels, and these big marsh buggies, which leave huge ruts where every they go, even when the sign says "No vehicles beyond this point."
Sometimes the hiking trail looked like a field plowed for planting, very difficult to walk on. Later, we decided those weren't trails, but fire breaks, since they stretched across every field we saw. Fire is important to the health of the pine flats. Other times the hiking trail would have been easier to use if we had a kayak! From now on we have a new rule. If "Wildlife Management Area" is in the name of the birding spot, always wear long pants and water-proof hiking boots! What an adventure we had trying to work our way on the grassy edge of the trail, without sinking in over the tops of our sneakers!
Ah, but it was an adventure after all, and we headed back to pack our bags with big smiles.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Second Helpings

Today we went for the second helping of birds and habitats in southwest Florida. Six Mile Slough is a city park and a smaller version of Corkscrew Swamp. We went on the hike led by volunteers and had a great time. It's fun to see how other volunteers handle their jobs. I must admit though, that I'm getting tired of driving an hour every day from Leghigh Acres to ANYWHERE we want to go! Places in Florida look pretty close on the map, but it takes much longer than anticipated to reach them.
We lost my prescription sunglasses at Ding Darling on Sunday. I left a message about them, and someone actually turned them in, so we returned today for the glasses, and to visit the education center which had been closed on Sunday. It's very well put together, and we worked hard to restrain ourselves in the gift shop. I think we may have been inspired for some Christmas gifts from this trip. Then we couldn't resist another trip around the wildlife drive as the afternoon waned.
The same birds were still around, but putting on a new show. Yes, fluff those feathers! Count the species on this mudbar...five? Fiddler crabs chased each other around, brandishing one large claw. Don't mess with me! The Bald Cypress is a wonderful wood, useful for may things, but often contradictory. A conifer that is also deciduous, the cones make oil slicks in the water when they fall in. Squirrels love them. Male Anhingas have black and white wings, while the females are blond. They actually spear fish with their straight beaks, then they have to shake them off to eat them. We went to another site at Ding Darling, a fresh water marsh, rather than mangrove or cypress swamps. Finally found the Coots and Moor Hens we knew must be down here somewhere.
The sun sets so early in winter, even in Florida. We have watced the sunset and driven home in the dark every night. Even the Egrets seem to be reflecting on something as they watch the sun go down. Dick and I always wonder why we don't hear the hiss as it drops into the ocean.....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Beach Birding

Ouch! Ooouch! EEECH! Now I understand why this area is so well known for its shelling. I've never seen so many shells in one place before! The beach is pretty narrow, but I did of lot of yelping and jumping to get from the chair to the sand. Instead of walking for hours, we decided to just sit still and let the birds come to us, and they did. I sat in the shade of the umbrella to actually read the Stokes book on shorebirds, and I think it will make a difference in my struggle with "shorebird anxiety."
Lillian Stokes asks the key quesion, what is a shorebird? She covers four different families (which I won't try to spell in Latin here), noting that "These birds are grouped together because of structural similarities in the characteristics of their skull, backbones, and syrinx. Of course, none of these characteristics are apparent to the casual observer." (Yeah, right.) She then lists these characteristics, concluding that "You'll know one when you see one." Sometimes these birds are seen at the sea shore, and something they aren't. Yet they do not include birds such as gulls and terns that are always found at the shore. Willets are pretty easy to recognize, especially when they take flight. I didn't realize what speedy birds they are either, but the wing pattern is unforgettable.
The little Sanderlings are always some of my favorites, as they run down to the sea and back. They remind me of an album I liked in college called "The Sea." I can't recall who made it, just the lyrics about going down to the sea and back.
The Ruddy Turnstones turned over lots of shells since there weren't any stones on the beach today. If I ever come back to Florida during the breeding season, I'll have to learn many of these birds again, since I've only seen them in the winter.
A juvenile Royal Tern followed the others around, begging for food. The adults just ignored him.
I love to watch Pelicans flying in formation. Have you ever noticed that they flap up and down in unison? Well, for the most part they do. That guy at the end of the line is a little off beat.
At least you have a chance to spot and follow the Pelicans as they fly along the length of the beach. Gulls, such as these Laughing Gulls come in and drop quickly to the ground.
When they gather on the beach, it's time for a good preening, checking each feather, and stretching wings and legs. Then tuck your beak under your wing for a quick nap.
Well, you can try to nap until the beach bully comes up, squawking at all the other gulls.
As we waited for the tram back to the parking lot at Lovers Key State Park, an Osprey called from a snag before she started to eat her freshly caught fish. See the necklace of brown feathers? That makes this a female. An Eagle tried to steal her fish, and I watched them fly off, but they separated before I could get off the tram and take a photo.
At the end of the afternoon, we left to meet Dick's former boss for dinner, but we agreed that this was a pleasant and relaxing day.