Saturday, February 14, 2015

See, Share, Save Birds

The Weather Channel loves stormy weather. They send meteorologists all over the country to stand out in the wind, rain and snow up to their arm-pits, and the last month has been just heaven for them. Today, the Weather Channel predicted 20% chance of snow here in Kentucky, supported by a blue blob on the radar.
 Most folks think of February 14 as Valentine's Day, but this weekend is also the Great Backyard Bird Count, during which birders around the world count the birds they see, either from the comfort of their kitchens or out on the trail, and submit that data to Scientists need data to analyze, but gathering it is a time consuming process. Besides, birders always like another reason to see and count birds.
A little snow, of course, never really stops true birders, so after my PowerPoint presentation about common Kentucky birds, a dedicated group headed out into the horizontal snow at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve to see what they could find. I'll confess, I wimped out and stayed behind to do my counting from the warmth of the indoor bird blind. After all, birds at the feeders deserve to be counted too, right?
Don't know why this Junco decided to perch in a tree. All his friends stayed on the ground looking through the seeds scattered beneath the feeders by other birds.
They were joined by other winter visitors such as this White-crowned Sparrow. It was a good opportunity to show our other birding friends the difference between White-crowned...
...and White-throated Sparrows, another winter visitor. They can be confusing for beginners, or anyone who doesn't look carefully. It snowed and blowed all the way home, and the sun came out as we pulled into the garage. I think I'll stretch out for a nap now.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sandhill Cranes Kentucky Stopover

It's such a thrill to hear Sandhill Cranes calling ka-roooo from high in the sky as they migrate over Kentucky. If you look online, most of the articles are about the Greater Sandhills which gather in such large numbers along the Platte River in Nebraska.
Decent numbers of Lesser Sandhills migrate on an easterly path over Kentucky and Tenneessee too, and many are now stopping in Hardin County, KY, just south of Louisville. It's an easy hour's drive to see them.  The small community of Cecilia has a bank, two churches, and railroad tracks running through the closely clustered houses. When you reach the firehouse, you are in Crane Country!
Kentucky has a Sandhill Crane hunting season and 96 Sandhill Cranes were reported killed this year (Dec. 13 – Jan. 11). 400 are permitted by law. The Cranes have always know to stick to the middle of the fields. A good birder friend says you won't see them in soybean fields, so we looked more in the corn stubble. These fields aren't particularly marshy, and Cranes favor wetlands. You can usually find them around drainage ditches between the fields though The problem is finding a safe place to stop your car. The local folks drive pretty fast, and there aren't any shoulders on most of the roads. Of course, you can't pull into someone's driveway either, since that's private property. One year I got lucky and they were right up next to the fence and I could get close photos without leaving my car.
Dick and I speculated about how the Cranes decided to forage in one field instead of one right next to it. If it were sunny, I'd guess they might see kernels of corn shining in the sun. But it was cloudy and very windy on Sunday. Maybe they just remember from year to year. The omnivorous birds dine on grains, plant tubers, mice, snakes, insects and worms. Farmers like them because they probe into the soil and aerate it. If they are migrating, how do they know when or whether to move farther north. We haven't had any snow to speak of, but it's deeper nearer the Great Lakes. I guess they'd go south for a while if the food supply became frozen here.