Saturday, April 25, 2015

Birds and Blooms

Black-throated Green Warbler
Every spring, we have a hard decision to make. Where shall we go this year for birds and blooms? We belong to several organizations which sponsor weekends at various state parks. Or there are trips to the Smokey Mountains or Magee Marsh in Ohio. April is also a busy time for our volunteer activities, so it's hard to get away at all. Add the Kentucky Derby to the equation (even though we aren't too much into horse racing) plus grandchildren, and you can see our dilemma. Sigh.
Yellow-throated Warbler
This year we threw a dart at the wall (figuratively speaking of course), and decided to join the Kentucky Ornithological Society on their spring trip to Cumberland Falls State Park. I haven't been to this park, home of the "Niagara of the South," since we were newlyweds with no vacation money. Plus, if we are looking for warblers on migration, it's always best to go with the experts. We came a day early to take a few hikes on our own before the official activities began. The Weather Channel forecast rain and storms for all day Saturday and most of Sunday, but birders are tough, so I just packed my raincoat and pants.
Black and White Warbler
Birders are subject to an ailment in the spring known as "warbler neck." You guessed it - watching these small but often colorful birds can give you a stiff neck from looking straight overhead all day. Since most of the facilities at Cumberland Falls State Park are built atop steep sandstone cliffs, we had one advantage over the birds. We can stand on the cliff top, and see many birds at eye level! Our trip leader today knows every bird song and call there is, so when we heard a bird, he brought out his phone, with birdsong software and a wireless speaker to invite the bird in for a closer look. Some came in, but hid among the leaves and blossoms on the trees. Others darted from branch to branch so quickly, it was hard to find them in the binoculars let along a camera lens. But birders are nothing if not persistent!
Kentucky Warbler
This little Kentucky Warbler slipped in to spy on us from behind a branch. Then he popped over the top of the branch to challenge us in song, before dropping back into hiding again.
Hooded Warbler

We saw and heard more Hooded Warblers than anything else today. Some on our trip were disappointed not to see more variety, more exotic species of birds. I, on the other hand, was glad for a chance to reinforce my somewhat scanty knowledge of the more common warblers shown here. I don't get out to go birding as often as I did a few years ago, and from year to year I tend to forget birds I might only see once a year. This weekend allowed me to add some good photos to my collection. I only hope I will remember the songs for them after I get home!
Northern Parula
One little bird was easy to identify by ear, but trying to pronounce its name.... You probably know of the controversy between the "pill-e-ated" and "pile-e-ated" woodpecker. There is also the "par-you-la" and the "pa-roo-la".  If George Gershwin were still alive, he could probably write a song, concluding "let's call the whole thing off!"
Red-eyed Vireo
Among the warblers, we saw and heard several species of vireos. When I was a Brownie Scout in Ohio, we went to day camp in the summer, and I remember one bird that sang all day, no matter how hot it got. When I became a birder, many, many, many years later, I was surprised to find that call came from the mysterious Red-eyed Vireo. It still sings from the tree tops all day long. And they all seem to be named after colors - the red-eyed, the blue or the white-eyed.
Yellow-throated Vireo
The Yellow-throated Vireo must have bad vision, since it wears little yellow spectacles! In case you haven't guessed, many of these photos are the first I have ever taken of the species, so this has been a great weekend for me. KOS was joined this weekend by a young man who went to birding camp with the American Birding Association last year on a scholarship from KOS. He is here this weekend, and still very enthusiastic. Plus, he brought along 4 or 5 friends or brothers too, so I traded birding photo stories with one of his friends all morning. It's great to see some young people interested in my favorite sport. Our speaker this evening was from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and he gave a great update on eBird and how the data collected by birders around the world is being used. Absolutely fantastic stuff. Guess I need to look into it again. All my birder friends assure me that it's easy to use, even if I don't go out very often.
Birding in the Fog
Although the weather guys predicted rain all day Saturday, none fell until the thunderstorm struck about 10 p.m. that evening. But we were all in bed, and nobody cared. Sunday morning, all the rain turned into fog, requiring us to bird by ear.
Worm Eating Warbler
One last warbler came when called, this little Worm Eating Warbler. What? Don't they all eat worms? I often shake my head at the names these birds get. This little guy opened his mouth as wide as he could and sang with all his might, but we could hardly hear anything because he sings at an extremely high pitch. Birders who have trouble hearing the higher ranges often miss many small birds.

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