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out natcornTranslation — Great Backyard Bird Count at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge; the tradition continues.

Since a spur-of-the-moment GBBC at Black Bayou with my brother back in 2006, I have only missed two years of counting in Louisiana. It’s a great excuse to visit friends and family with a great bird count in a beautiful setting thrown in as lagniappe. And this year’s trip followed suit beautifully.

out natcornOf course, you’re no longer confined to your backyard like you were back in 1997 when the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) launched. Sixteen years later and the GBBC is going global. Anyone around the world with Internet access can participate. The basic count format is the same. One watches at any location for at least 15 minutes – and yes your backyard feeders are still relevant – record the species seen and the number of individuals of each species.

Friday, Dec. 28, was the date of the eleventh annual Balsam Christmas Bird Count (CBC) — 11 dates but 10 actual counts as the 2009 CBC was cancelled due to inclement weather. This year’s weather was much better for the Balsam count — cloudy to overcast, breezy and cool but not too bad.

out natcornI wrote about wood storks, Mycteria americana, back in August of this year after a trip to Isle of Palms in South Carolina ( It was really cool to see these large prehistoric-looking birds cruising over the marsh in undulating lines. And it seems that more stork lines must be undulating over more marsh and/or wetlands across the Southeast because the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service just announced that they planned to upgrade the wood stork’s status from endangered to threatened.

mtn voicesWhen I was a boy my favorite sport was baseball. I was a pitcher. I didn’t have any idea where the ball was going … or care … but I could throw hard. I liked the game and I liked the language associated with the game: “high hard one” … “powder river” … “chin music” … “circus catch” … “ rhubarb” … “dying quail” … “frozen rope” … “blue darter.”

mtn voicesBecause they seem so delicate and vulnerable, we go out of our way to feed birds that overwinter here in the southern mountains. This no doubt helps maintain bird populations at a higher level than would otherwise be the case, but our feathered friends long ago devised basic strategies for withstanding wind and cold, which are both effective and ingenious.

Don’t know why, but the last two birding trips to Tessentee Bottomland Preserve in Macon County — one last Sunday and one in November a year ago — have been rushed affairs, allowing about two-and-a-half hours of birding from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Now, of course, two-and-a-half hours of birding at Tessentee is much better than no birding at Tessentee, but I would love to have more time to chase more LBJs (little brown jobs) from thicket to thicket and more time to hit more of the trails.

out natcornBack in spring of 2011 I wrote about a wetlands restoration project at Lake Junaluska - www.smokymountain Candace Stimson, in order to fulfill her Low Impact Development degree at Haywood Community College, unearthed Suzy’s Branch behind Jones Cafeteria and created about 100 feet of free-flowing stream and wetlands.

The sounds of silence

This morning when I had coffee on my deck, I did not hear the hooded warbler that nests in the tangles in the young woods below my yard. I did not hear a northern parula singing from the tops of the tulip poplars. There was no buzzy black-throated blue song emanating from the rhododendrons along the little creek. I did not hear a single raspy “chickbuuurrrr” anywhere in the forest. There were no schizoid red-eyed vireos talking to themselves as they bounced from tree to tree, and no wood thrushes graced the early morning with their sweet flute song.

mtnvoicesMigrating rose-breasted grosbeaks have been appearing at feeders throughout the Smokies region in recent weeks.

Those birds that migrate hundreds of miles across the Gulf of Mexico from Central and South America to nest in the United States and Canada are known as the neotropical migrants. Each spring a number of these migrants breed here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. No other bird in our avifauna is more striking in appearance.

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    Books that help bridge the political divide Time for spring-cleaning.  The basement apartment in which I live could use a deep cleaning: dusting, washing, vacuuming. It’s tidy enough — chaos and I were never friends — but stacks of papers need sorting, bookcases beg to see their occupants removed and the shelves…
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