Today is Friday, August 18, 2017

Woodpecker Heaven

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Baltimore Oiriole

We are standing on the threshold of May, and all I can think about is getting things planted in my vegetable garden. Just the thoughts of having home grown tomatoes at my disposal gets my mouth to watering. Other things in the pre-planting stage is okra, hot and mild peppers, broccoli, squash, "I hated that when I was younger", egg plant, cucumbers, and finally, did I mention tomatoes? That's alright if I mention them a hundred times, I still love them.

Where were all of this past Saturdays storms? Someone seems to have dropped the ball when it came to the weather forecast around here. I am glad that Anthony Gray and I was able to go out and do a little birding. Headed out to South Dickerson Chapel Road, we come to an abrupt halt at the old blown out bridge, lest we want to go for a swim.

I have heard of Great Blue Herons catching fish by wading around the shallows, but this is the first time that I have witnessed one diving head first in the water like a Brown Pelican from about fifteen feet in the air. Evidently he came back to the surface with a keeper in his bill, maybe a skipjack shad as best as I can guess. We talked to a fisherman who told us that the Herons were building a nest on the north side of the creek. He actually watched as one of them flew from the waters edge to place a stick in the nest.

Other birds seen in the area of Cedar Creek were Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Goldfinch, and a variety of more common birds. It seems that every new day brings more birds heading through our area on migration. Next weekend should really be rocking, bird wise that is.

Driving over to the Hunters Point boat ramp on the Cumberland River, we could hear several birds singing in the tree tops. Using my electronic microphone, a single note was teasing my ears as to what was making the noise. All of a sudden, a bright color flashed up amongst the green leaves of an oak tree. Here we got to watch the antics of a Baltimore Oriole, (see photo), catching large caterpillars from up high. He would beat the fattest ones against the limb, maybe trying to make them a little more tender. As I made "shusing" sounds, trying to get the Oriole's attention, up pops a male Prothonotary Warbler, in his finest yellow colors, (see photo). These bright yellow members of the Warbler family were named for officials of the Roman Catholic Church, the protonotarii, who wore golden robes. They were also called the Golden Swamp Warbler.

Now, let us flash back to the day before. Friday, I did my bird program for the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center at the Cedars of Lebanon State Park. I used campsite 111 over in campground #3. When I first got there, I saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on one of the oak trees next to that site, which would not return when I started my program.

At around 1:30 in the afternoon, Teresa Botts drove up with two more cars in tow. After leaving the van, we wound up with a total of sixteen friends from the center. People there for my program were Liz Franklin, Teresa Botts, Diana Bright, Carolyn Horner, Sandy Freeman, Nancy Bush, Darryl Matthews, Sue Abernathy, Betty Taylor, Beth Duchame, Mike Shields, Joe Pierce, Carol Lannom, Helen Walker, and Pat, sorry we didn't get her last name. Most of them brought their binoculars and were ready for what ever came by.

Teresa introduced me, but I already knew most of them, just a formality I guess. Before starting my Woodpecker calls, I wanted each one to be aware of the poison ivy that was clinging to almost every tree in the area. The old smart saying is, "leaves of three, let it be". Another vine with five leaves is harmless, Virginia Creeper. Some one mentioned that it too was poisonous, but I chewed a piece to show them that it was safe. It didn't taste too bad, but I wouldn't recommend others trying that.

Our first Woodpecker that made an appearance was our smallest, a Downy Woodpecker. The pair flew all around us as I played it's call. Everyone, it seems was very familiar with that one, and most have them visit their feeders at home.

Next to come in was the Red-headed Woodpecker, whose bright red head stood out in contrast to it's black body. A large white patch on the wings rounded out their ensemble, almost like they had on a tuxedo. This is most likely the same pair of birds that I mentioned in last weeks article. The Red-bellied came in where all of our birders could see the difference between the two.

You might call our Pileated Woodpecker, the grand finally. Everyone was gasping as the pair flew around close enough for all to see. They are quite impressive with their large, crow like size, red top-notch, looking like their head was on fire, and their massive feet. One landed in the tree above our heads, not fifteen feet in the air, another gasp, and the crowd goes wild.

Just to stir up the forest, I played my Eastern Screech Owl call. Any bird within ear shot, during daylight hours will instantly mob the owl. One started calling from a distance and eventually came close, but we couldn't find hide nor hair of it. It was close as the birds were fussing in a circle amongst a tall cedar tree. Birds that came in to voice their opinion were a pair of Male Summer Tanagers, our only true redbird, White-breasted Nuthatches, Magnolia Warbler, and a host of others that wouldn't be still long enough to get a good look at.

Leaving the campground, we went to the Dixon Merritt Nature Center, where we toured the Butterfly garden in the rear. People were amazed to learn that we were walking over the remnants of the old swimming pool, but parts of the wall, painted that special shade of blue, were visible in spots. Taking the trail down to Jackson Cave presented an opportunity for a group photo. I hope they all had a great time and nobody came down with a rash from the poison ivy.

I would love to hear from you as to what's lurking about in your neighborhood and at your feeders. You can write me at, 606 Fairview Ave., Lebanon, TN, 37087, or e-mail me at, rpope15@bellsouth.net

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Our Feathered Friends
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Anthony Gray, Ray Pope, Teresa Botts
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