A low guttural croak comes out of the fog hanging over the French Broad River. I turn and look towards the noise. A silhouette starts to form. I can see the shadowy outline of a large head and beak. Long wide wings row through the fog and long legs trail behind.
Regular readers of “The Naturalist’s Corner” may remember that I’ve decided to keep a 2017 year-list of birds. I noted, when I wrote about the list that I was not much of a “lister” nor “chaser.” My list would be made up of birds encountered in my backyard and during my Forest Service point counts and maybe a day of birding during our summer vacation to Isle of Palms.
The 2011 movie “The Big Year” — a comedy starring Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson — didn’t ruffle a lot of feathers. According to Wikipedia, the movie with its $41 million budget only grossed $7.4 million.
Essays and columns are difficult to categorize. Dividing them into the formal and informal is about all anyone can agree upon, if that. In retrospect, I can see that this one is a fine example of a type within the informal category I think of as the “ramblin’ disquisition;” in other words, it doesn’t have a central theme (except that, for the most part, it’s about birds); and it wanders around … here and there … getting nowhere much until it ends of its own volition. You’ll see what I mean.
This year will mark the 117th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC.) The CBC is the longest-lived and largest citizen-science project in the world.
The count began in 1900. It was the brainchild of Frank Chapman, one of the officers of the fledgling Audubon Society. Chapman created the “bird census” as an alternative to the traditional Christmas “side-hunt,” a contest where groups would shoulder their arms and hit the fields and/or woods — the team that came back with the greatest number of corpses would be declared the winner.
Our elementary school primers were populated by robins pulling worms out of holes. They appeared on television screens on Saturday mornings, hopping about in Disney cartoons that represented “the idea of a bird.” We know what a robin looks like in outline, but do we know much about the real thing?
When you’re out chasing fall migrants and you either have a good internal compass or you’re somewhere it’s pretty easy to orient yourself to the cardinal directions, like the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s not unusual to find mixed flocks of migrants moving in what appears, intuitively, to be a “wrong” direction. You may find groups of birds moving north, or east, or west rather than the general southwest route we expect here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. These early morning flights — usually just after sunrise — are called “redetermined” flights.
When I checked my email Friday morning (9/9), I had a message from Chris Kelly, mountain wildlife diversity biologist with North Carolina Natural Resources Commission. Kelly helps coordinate an annual nightjar (birds of the family Caprimulgidae like Chuck-will’s-widow and whip-poor-will) survey across the mountains of North Carolina for the national Nightjar Survey Network. The email was an update for those who volunteer for the nightjar survey but it started out with a note that, “It is Common Nighthawk migration time!”
The red-cockaded woodpecker (RCWO) is a small – cardinal-sized – woodpecker native to eastern pine forests. It once ranged from New Jersey southward to Florida and westward to eastern Texas and portions of Oklahoma and Missouri. The RCWO is dependant upon old growth pine forests, especially longleaf pine.
Cloud cover keeps the summer morning cool as Mark Hopey makes the rounds below Cowee Mound. By 8:30 a.m., he and his two wildlife technicians have already been working at the Franklin-area site for nearly three hours, making hay while the sun doesn’t shine — or at least doesn’t shine with the heat it will gather soon.
Hopey glances down a small trail leading to a net — higher than his head, wide as a volleyball net and strung with fine black netting — before walking on past. No birds there, but he’ll inspect it closer on the way back, just to make sure.