Monday, May 11, 2009


We spent the weekend near Mt. Rogers and went out on one of the field trips with a birding group. It was a pleasure to be with such knowledgeable people. Allen Boynton of VDGIF led the excursion but he was aided by Scott Jackson-Ricketts, whose keen ears turned up Canada (musical jumble that ends with pickety wip) and chestnut-sided warblers (pleased to meet you . . . I want to add, hope you guess my name) deep in the hardwoods. The other birders helped as well: one guy said he had been birding for over 37 years, and he knew his songs: how to tell the black-throated blue (zoo zoo zoo zee) from the green (zee zee zee zee zoo zree). We saw least flycatchers (chebeck) and a redstart, red-eyed vireos and blue headed ones (a slower, slurred red-eyed). All beautiful. Alan and Scott were able to catch some in their scope for all of us to view. For some reason, I kept having trouble finding the little guys in my binoculars. I could see them perched on a limb, but then would fail to aim at them or something, so I’m going to have to be a better binocularist if I’m going to be a better birder.

The highlight for Sam was probably a ruby-crowned kinglet, which he had never seen before, but I think it was also just the company of other bird lovers. At one point we were all were walking down an unpaved road, Comer’s Creek, and saw a cedar waxwing. A local farmer approached in his red truck, but all the birders were still looking up, tripods in the street. They’re a funny bunch. If there’s a good looking bird to see, all else stops. The guy in the truck was clearly not used to seeing such a crowd of people before on this road, and for sure wondered what we could all be staring at.

Several of them were glad to have a young person along, the only one. They wanted to know his favorite bird (not sure), most interesting (yellow warbler), and if he had a “life list.” He doesn’t really, yet, but he might as well. This birding thing, and it is an activity, to bird, doesn’t require too much exercise but it will get you out, and is a good hobby to foster. An obsession for some, yes, but it was easy to see that these people, at 8:00 on a Saturday morning in the Appalachian woods, many had left spouses and family home to be there, are happiest doing something they love.

In other birding news, a friend of ours planted 10 bluebird boxes on our farm and Sam is helping to keep track of their progress. We don’t have any bluebirds in our boxes yet, but we do have a chickadee haven. Chickadee nests are built out of moss. If they were bigger, they look something to take a nap in . . . Here’s the update we sent to Jason Davis, a biologist at Radford University who is studying bluebirds in the area (he and Judy Guinan told me they may be on a hiatus during the summer, but I said we may keep sending reports anyway, so we can at least feel like we’re a part of a real scientific study, have "real responsibilities" to paraphrase our VP candidate)

Box 1 - Chickadee Nest, six eggs (change over last time)
Box 2 - wren's nest (nest too high to see if eggs)
Box 3-4 - NA
Box 5 - Still starling nest, not much progress
Box 6 - wren's nest, possible eggs (also too high to check)
Box 7 – tree swallow nest
Box 8-9 - zip
Box 10 - 6 chickadee chicks!

Oh, and we have Baltimore orioles nesting in our sycamore. And the red-winged blackbirds are everywhere. Now to get out and bird.