May 5 was a soggy morning. At 7:30 a.m. a light drizzle had engulfed Lake Junaluska. We sat in our cars and debated our plight. This was the date selected for the Haywood County Arts Council “Fun Party – Art of Birdwatching.” About 20 arts patrons were beginning to wonder how much fun they were going to have.
Now here’s a way to bird from your kitchen table, in your pajamas and slippers, with a steaming hot cup of coffee in your hand. This year will be the tenth annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The count is a collaboration between Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. It is sponsored in part by Wild Birds Unlimited so you don’t even have to fork over the five bucks required to participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Count dates are Feb. 16-19.
The fifth annual Balsam Christmas Bird Count was conducted last Saturday, Dec. 30. The 15-mile diameter circle, which covers a large portion of western Haywood County as well as Balsam Mountain Preserve in Jackson County, is one of more than 1,800 official Audubon count circles. This year marked the 107th annual Audubon CBC.
For a bunch of “little ole ladies in tennis shoes,” birders are a hardy lot. Gone is the green of spring and summer, and with it go the scarlet of tanagers, the indigo of buntings, the blue of grosbeaks and the rainbow of multicolored warblers. With us are the browns and grays of winter and the sparrows.
While observing your backyard bird feeder this winter, you may be startled by a blue flash that suddenly rockets into the scene and snatches one of your resident cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees, or titmice. The “blue flash” will have been either a sharp-shinned or a Cooper’s hawk, the infamous “chicken hawks” of rural lore that primarily feed on other birds. Because of their slate-blue backs and lightning-quick movements when swooping or tracking prey through brush, they are also widely known in the South as “blue darters.”
Birders are rejuvenated. Binoculars and spotting scopes have been cleaned and readied. Field guides have usurped The Da Vinci Code’s spot on the nightstand. Fall migration is in full swing.
No, it’s not another reality TV series, and there’s no need to call in and vote for your favorite. But if you pause a moment with that first cup of coffee, you’ll notice that the mornings are becoming quieter. It’s hard for us sedentary humans, slogging through 90-degree heat and afternoon thunderstorms to realize, but autumn is just around the corner. Nature, however, runs on a more intuitive clock.
On one level, the natural history of a region consists of its terrain, habitats, plants, animals and how they interrelate. I also believe that no full understanding of the natural history of a region can be realized without coming to terms with its spiritual landscape. And when we consider the spiritual landscape of the Smokies region, we enter the realm of the ancient Cherokees.
Jerry Smathers is public enemy number one for a ruffed grouse named Gus that lives on the forest bordering Smathers’ pasture in Dutch Cove of Haywood County.
Whenever Smathers boards his all-terrain vehicle to ride from his house to his pasture, he keeps one eye on the edge of the forest for wayward attacks from Gus the Grouse. Gus confuses the idle of Smathers’ ATV with a show of dominance by another male grouse, namely a thumping sound made by beating wings.
Step out on the deck with your morning coffee or pause in the yard for a moment after you strap the kids in the car for the ride to school and listen.
Yep, those are birds singing. Chickadees, tufted titmouses, cardinals, towhees, song sparrows, mourning doves and robins are all in full voice in my yard.