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.
Translation — 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.
Of 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.