Maybe someone heard my plea.
For the last two weekends, the rain, for the most part, has stayed away, giving us at least one nice day without a drop to enjoy some time outdoors. And after having my first attempt to go birding cancelled because of the weather, I was looking forward Saturday to finding out why others enjoyed the hobby so much.
As we turn to bask in the full glow of the summer sun, mornings begin to heat up quickly. As they heat, they become quieter.
Last week, we set the stage for the 29th annual Great Smoky Mountains Birding Expedition (GSMBE). The group starts at 9 a.m. at George and Elizabeth Ellison’s office/studio in downtown Bryson City. I know, birders out there are rolling their eyes — to start a count at 9 a.m. is like missing half the day, but there are caveats.
Although bird identification can be perplexing — baffling at times for even the most accomplished birders — the principles of identification are relatively simple. We recognize birds by their visual appearances and by their vocalizations.
What could be more fun than a weekend of fellowship and great birding? Maybe setting a new record for total number of species recorded during the annual Great Smoky Mountains Birding Expedition?
Last Saturday, I led a bird identification workshop for the Smoky Mountain Field School. We started out in the morning in a residential area (Minot Park) in Gatlinburg and worked our way into the higher elevations of the national park by late afternoon. The weather at Newfound Gap was perfectly awful: wind, rain, fog, cold, you name it. But it was a good group and we did OK.
That’s the news. Our common breeding swallows have always been purple martins, barn swallows, and northern rough-winged swallows. To a lesser extent, tree swallows also breed here, where there are suitable tree cavities or boxes. Cliff swallows are another matter.
The blue-headed vireo sang to me of spring sometime around the first week of April. Blue-headeds are generally the last “non-resident” songbird we hear in the fall (sometimes into November) and the first we hear in the spring — probably due to the fact that many overwinter in the warmer climes of the Southeast.
Elizabeth and I were sitting on the deck Monday evening when a tiny bird made an abbreviated appearance — apparently just to check us out — and disappeared. It took only a fleeting glimpse for us to know that our visitor had been a blue-gray gnatcatcher. There is, after all, nothing else in the avifauna of the Smokies region quite like the mighty mite. It’s a bird you’ll enjoy knowing once you learn its basic characteristics.
I like “old time rock and roll” too. And I recently got some of my old time records, CDs, iPods, etc., off the shelf. But what I‘ve been listening to are bird calls and songs. The birds are getting ready for the breeding season — and so am I, in my own way.
I forget most everything from season to season, if not from day to day. Wildflower names have to be relearned. Bird calls and songs fade. So I return each year to self-imposed and self-taught remedial Bird Song 101.