Sunday, December 20, 2015

Eastern Screech-Owl

If a mysterious trill catches your attention in the night, bear in mind the spooky sound may come from an owl no bigger than a pint glass. The Eastern Screech-Owl is a short, stocky bird, with a large head and almost no neck. Pointed ear tufts are often raised, lending its head a distinctive silhouette. Whatever the overall color, they are patterned with complex bands and spots that give the bird excellent camouflage against tree bark. Eyes are yellow.

Red and gray individuals occur across the range of the Eastern Screech-Owl, with about one-third of all individuals being red. The Eastern Screech-Owl is known to eat a variety of songbirds, including the European Starling.

"Both of these Eastern Screech-Owls were located in barns near Burkes Garden, VA."

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Tundra Swan

On wintry days, flocks of North America’s most numerous swans gather on lakes and estuaries or descend out of gray skies. These elegant creatures—slightly smaller than our other native species, the Trumpeter Swan—nest on arctic tundra and visit the U.S. only on migration and in winter. Most have a smudge of yellow at the base of their black bill, but otherwise are pure white.
Lewis and Clark provided the first written description of the Tundra Swan during their expedition to the West, where the birds’ whistle-like calls prompted Meriwether Lewis to dub them “whistling swans.”
Swans have long been associated with ideals of romance. Added to their elegant outlines and all-white plumage is their tendency to form permanent pair bonds.

"Nine Tundra Swans were seen at Falls Mills Lake on December 2, 2015"

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Burkes Garden Birds

Two years have passed since Clancey Deel and I teamed to restructure what is known about birds in Burke’s Garden, VA and how they have been studied. Probably no birder in Southwest Virginia has accomplished as much in such a short period of time. None have traveled across their county and over a mountain into a 3000 ft. elevation valley to bird many times each month. He has missed few weeks of birding there in that time. Clancey has been to Burke’s Garden to make 140 lists of birds and enormously contributed to our understanding of 164 species which have been found there. He not
only has been there so many trips you couldn’t count them but in every season under almost ever condition you can imagine. He lives in Richlands of Tazewell County. We have probably spent a hundred hours of more on the phone and visiting and birding. The goal was to meet every major landowner in the garden, get to know them all on a personal basis, gain their respect and gain warm and welcome access to the thousands of acres they own and manage. It was a door-to-door effort and a farm-to-barn effort across Burke’s Garden.
Clancey was to find and bird every hidden habitat, pond, creek and path available. Take no one lightly, respect everyone and their property and earn a trust that has never been established by any other naturalist or birder.
One of the astonishing jewels Clancey has discovered is this farmer who owns significant property, is into birding and has been a blessing beyond compare. His property and barns have been searched for owls at dark and dawn and he has contributed beyond imagination. He even hosted a BBC field trip party at his place. One amazing discoveries was a landowner so into developing habitat and support for birds that he erected an Osprey nesting platform in Burke’s Garden.

Members of the Bristol Bird Club have compiled more than 25 years of mapping good bird finds
in Burke’s Garden. Efforts made there by Clancey in the past year reveled that the eBird reporting locations for the garden did not measure up to snuff so an all new system has been developed and
implemented. We have created new locations and names for reporting hotspots in the garden. They have found favor with the eBird editor for the mountain areas of Virginia. One problem that's definitely relevant to Burke’s Garden is the use of the current "Burke's Garden" hotspot.
 It is common for people to submit lists of 10+ miles covering the entire area giving the location as "Burke's Garden." eBird encourages traveling checklists of 5 miles or less. Probably, as time goes on, more and more checklists will get invalidated due to imprecise location - even though people are using the hotspot - when those long checklists are entered. The solution to that was to submit some new hotspots for the Burke's Garden area, and then to encourage people to use them, i.e. submit a different checklist for each stop in the area, or at least for each road or birding area in the valley, rather than a single "Burke's Garden" checklist.
Here are some of the new hotspots Clancey and I have worked with:
Burkes Garden – Blue Spring Creek (West End)
Burkes Garden – General Store
Burkes Garden – Gose Mill Road (Oak Grove Pond)
Burkes Garden – Snyder Branch (Banks Ridge)
Burkes Garden Creek – Gose Mill Pond
Burkes Garden – Spring Creek (MBC Pond)
Current hotspot data, listed as only Burke’s Garden, is being converted to the new sites above. These will soon come up on your smart phones and input lists to eBird automatically from Cornell when you are working with garden data. Data will become much more useful to those compiling data and records for the state and Burke’s Garden for future publications.
We have been invited by the Burke’s Garden community association to present a program on our bird study efforts in the garden and how we might advance working arrangements with landowners. The hidden ponds, forested interior habitat and much more that Clancey has made access to as well as identified have never been birded by anyone until he got there. Landowners sharing information with us and pointing the way and granting very selective and personal access for what we are doing has been a cornerstone.
Key to some of the most useful associations have been developing trusted relationships with the Amish community that lives there. Not only did that lead to their helping BBC with food preparation at the store but also has identified teenage birders living in the valley that have gone under the radar. We have gotten literature and checklists to them and met some. This is an enormous development, as we see it. From that we learned that the Burke’s Garden Store is closing for the winter today (30 Nov) and will not open again until spring.
We have made an effort to search large and isolated pine stands in the Garden in hopes of finding Long-eared Owls. We have turned up a roosting location for a Short-eared Owl but have not yet seen a bird.
Burke’s Garden is known as the large thumbprint of God. What a great description!

Wallace Coffey
Bristol, TN

Monday, November 16, 2015

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird is one of North America’s most rapidly declining species. The population has plunged an estimated 85-99 percent over the past forty years and scientists are completely puzzled as to what is the cause. They are relatively uncommon denizens of wooded swamps, breeding in the boreal forest and wintering in the eastern U.S. In winter, they travel in small flocks and are identified by their distinctive rusty feather edges and pallid yellow eyes.
Rusty Blackbirds are often gather in small flocks in winter, sometimes mix with Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds and European Starlings.
The Rusty Blackbird has undergone one of the sharpest and most mystifying recent declines of any North American songbird. The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates that populations declined by 6.2 percent every year between 1966 and 2010—a cumulative decline of 94 percent.

"Only, three sightings in two years: (7) individuals in January 2014 at Burkes Garden, (2) individuals in October 2014 at Falls Mills and (15) individuals with Red-winged Black Birds in October 2015 at Burkes Garden".

Friday, November 13, 2015

Wilson’s Snipes

Though the long tradition of “snipe hunt” pranks at summer camp has convinced many people otherwise, Wilson’s Snipes aren’t made-up creatures. These plump, long-billed birds are among the most widespread shorebirds in North America. They can be tough to see thanks to their cryptic brown and buff coloration and secretive nature.
Because a Wilson’s Snipe’s eyes are set far back on its head, it can see almost as well behind as in front and to the sides. This arrangement makes it difficult for a potential predator to sneak up on a feeding snipe—it almost literally has “eyes in the back of its head.”
The word “sniper” originated in the 1770s among British soldiers in India who hunted snipe as game. The birds are fast, erratic flight style means they are difficult targets.

Monday, November 2, 2015

House Finch

The House Finch is a recent introduction from western into eastern North America (and Hawaii), but it has received a warmer reception than other arrivals like the European Starling and House Sparrow.
The House Finch was originally a bird of the western United States and Mexico. In 1940 a small number of finches were turned loose on Long Island, New York, after failed attempts to sell them as cage birds (“Hollywood finches”). They quickly started breeding and spread across almost all of the eastern United States and southern Canada within the next 50 years.
The more pigment in the food, the redder the male are. Females (plain grayish-brown with thick, blurry streaks) prefer to mate with the reddest male they can find.

"The female (bottom/right) seems to be having a difficult time choosing from the suitors."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


A shorebird you can see without going to the beach, Killdeer are graceful plovers common to lawns, golf courses, athletic fields, and parking lots. These tawny birds run across the ground in spurts, stopping with a jolt to see if they’ve startled up any insect prey.
The Killdeer’s broken-wing act leads predators away from a nest, but doesn’t keep cows or horses from stepping on eggs. To guard against large hoofed animals, the Killdeer uses a quite different display, fluffing itself up, displaying its tail over its head, and running at the beast to attempt to make it change its path.

"My largest count for the killdeer was made today (10/29/15) at 158. They congregate into large flocks during migration."

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Yellow-rumped Warblers

Yellow-rumped Warblers are impressive in the sheer numbers with which they flood the continent each fall. Shrubs and trees fill with the streaky brown-and-yellow birds.
The Yellow-rumped Warbler is the only warbler able to digest the waxes found in bayberries and wax myrtles. They are perhaps the most versatile foragers of all warblers. They're the warbler you're most likely to see fluttering out from a tree to catch a flying insect, and they're also quick to switch over to eating berries in fall. There are two separate races, "Audubon's" (western) and "Myrtle" (eastern).
"A large flock was encountered eating wax myrtle berries in Burkes Garden on October 17, 2015. The registered count was 24, but many were flying away that could not officially be counted."


Friday, October 9, 2015

Ruffed Grouse

The dappled, grayish or reddish Ruffed Grouse is hard to see, but its “drumming on air” display is a fixture of many spring forests. It can come as a surprise to learn this distant sound, like an engine trying to start, comes from a bird at all.
Ruffed Grouse can digest bitter, often toxic plants that many birds can’t handle. The toes of Ruffed Grouse grow projections off their sides in winter, making them look like combs. The projections are believed to act as snowshoes to help the grouse walk across snow.
"After three years of effort, I was able to photograph this Grouse in Burkes Garden on October 9, 2015. This is the first recorded Ruffed Grouse in Burkes Garden."

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Loggerhead Shrike

The Loggerhead Shrike is a songbird with a raptor’s habits. A denizen of grasslands and other open habitats throughout much of North America, this masked black, white, and gray predator hunts from utility poles, fence posts and other conspicuous perches, preying on insects, birds, lizards, and small mammals. Lacking a raptor’s talons, Loggerhead Shrikes skewer their kills on thorns or barbed wire or wedge them into tight places for easy eating. Their numbers have dropped sharply in the last half-century.
"Burkes Garden and surrounding areas still have Loggerhead Shrikes. This one was seen in Burkes Garden on October 7, 2015"

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Northern Pintail

Slim and long-necked, the Northern Pintail has a distinctive silhouette. The male is easy to identify by his striking markings and long tail, but even the female can be recognized by her graceful, long-necked shape.
Northern Pintail populations have declined throughout most of their range at a rate of 2.6 percent per year between 1966 and 2010, resulting in a cumulative decline of 69 percent, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey.
"This pair of Pintails was seen in Burkes Garden on October 3, 2015. A very early occurrence for this location."

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Forster's Tern

One of several medium-sized terns that are similar in appearance, the Forster's Tern breeds primarily in marshes and winters along the coasts. The comma-shaped black ear patch in winter plumage is distinctive, but some other plumages are very confusing. Forster's Tern is the only tern restricted almost entirely to North America throughout the year.
"Three Forster's visited Burkes Garden on September 25, 2015 when a high pressure in New England and a low pressure on South Carolina's Atlantic Coast produced eastward prevailing winds with 40 MPH gusts that was aimed directly at southwest Virginia. The terns were able to ride the winds to Burkes Garden. A rare occurrence".

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

American Golden-Plover

A large shorebird of pastures, open ground, and mudflats, the American Golden-Plover makes one of the longest migratory journeys of any shorebird. It breeds on the high Arctic tundra of Alaska and Canada and winters in the grasslands of central and southern South America. The bird's migratory routes includes of over 25,000 miles. Of this, 2,400 miles are over open ocean where it cannot stop to feed or drink.
"This Golden-Plover was seen in Burkes Garden on September 21, 2015. A very rare occurrence."

Friday, August 21, 2015


"My pursuit of finding and photographing owls in Tazewell County has been slow. With help and permissions from land owners, I have a couple photos to share"

The Eastern Screech-Owl is a small, short, stocky bird, with a large head and almost no neck. Its wings are rounded; its tail is short and square. Pointed ear tufts are often raised, lending its head a distinctive silhouette.

Barred Owls are large, stocky owls with rounded heads, no ear tufts, and medium length, rounded tails.
Barred Owls are mottled brown and white overall, with dark brown, almost black, eyes. The underparts are mostly marked with vertical brown bars on a white background, while the upper breast is crossed with horizontal brown bars. The wings and tail are barred brown and white.

Great Horned Owls are mottled gray-brown, with reddish brown faces and a neat white patch on the throat. Their overall color tone varies regionally from sooty to pale.
These are large, thick-bodied owls with two prominent feathered tufts on the head. The wings are broad and rounded. In flight, the rounded head and short bill combine to create a blunt-headed silhouette.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782 and a spiritual symbol for native people for far longer than that. These regal birds aren’t really bald, but their white-feathered heads gleam in contrast to their chocolate-brown body and wings
Bald meaning derived from Greek phalios having a white spot.
"Burkes Garden has an ongoing (years) nest that can be seen from Burkes Garden General Store parking area. It is located on James Hanes' property (Hanes Underwear)."
Proud Parent
Courtship (January 2015)
Nesting (February - June 2015)

Baby (July 2015)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorants are large waterbirds with small heads on long, kinked necks. They have thin, strongly hooked bills, roughly the length of the head. Their heavy bodies sit low in the water.
Double-crested Cormorants float low on the surface of water and dive to catch small fish. After fishing, they stand on docks, rocks, and tree limbs with wings spread open to dry.
"This immature Cormorant was seen on the Clinch River (North Tazewell) in the latter part of July, 2015. It may be an early migrate from the breeding grounds near the Great Lakes"

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Red-tailed Hawk

Most Red-tailed Hawks are rich brown above and pale below, with a streaked belly and, on the wing underside, a dark bar between shoulder and wrist. The tail is usually pale below and cinnamon-red above, though in young birds it’s brown and banded. “Dark-morph” birds are all chocolate-brown with a warm red tail. “Rufous-morph” birds are reddish-brown on the chest with a dark belly.
"The following Red-tails were seen scouting for escaping rodents while hay was being baled in Burkes Garden, Va. (July 25, 2015)"

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Great Egret

The elegant Great Egret is a dazzling sight in many a North American wetland. Slightly smaller and more svelte than a Great Blue Heron, these are still large birds with impressive wingspans. They hunt in classic heron fashion, standing immobile or wading through wetlands to capture fish with a deadly jab of their yellow bill. Great Egrets were hunted nearly to extinction for their plumes in the late nineteenth century, sparking conservation movements and some of the first laws to protect birds.

"The Great Egret's summer vagrant migration in Tazewell County usually begins the latter part of July. 'Vagrant Migration' refers to the northward movement of birds that were reared in the south (Gulf Coast in this case) of the current year. They are normally the young that were forced to find new feeding grounds. They will continue to move northward if the newly found food source will not support the numbers. As the temperatures drop, the return southward migration to the Gulf will begin (normally in October for Tazewell County)."
October 20, 2014 in North Tazewell (Clinch River)
Burkes Garden on July 22, 2015
Burkes Garden on July 22, 2015


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Wild Turkeys

Early settlers in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries were dependent on wild game for meat year round due to inadequate methods of food preservation. Wild turkey and other game were staple food items for settlers who explored and developed the Virginia countryside. But with increasing colonization, wild game was also hunted professionally and sold at markets to feed the growing human population in larger towns and cities. Wild game meats were sold in quantities comparable to domestic animals, and at a fraction of the cost of domestic meats.

Early settlers survived by taming the land with ax and plow. Forests were cut to make way for agricultural production and lumbering. By the turn of the 20th Century the landscape of Virginia had changed significantly from the days when settlers first arrived at Jamestown. The extensive forests that were havens for wild turkey and other wildlife were gone. Most forests had been cut for lumber or to developed as agricultural lands for crops or grazing domestic animals. These changes in habitat conditions, combined with market hunting, led to the disappearance of wild turkeys from 2/3 of Virginia and they had become rare in other sections. Populations of wild turkeys in Virginia were probably at their lowest during the period from 1880 to 1910.

These big, spectacular birds are an increasingly common sight as flocks stride around woods and clearings like miniature dinosaurs. Courting males puff themselves into feathery balls and fill the air with exuberant gobbling.

"The turkeys were strutting their stuff on March 19, 2015 near Lincolnshire Park, North Tazewell"

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Wood Ducks

The Wood Duck is one of the most stunningly pretty of all waterfowl. Males are iridescent chestnut and green, with ornate patterns on nearly every feather; the elegant females have a distinctive profile and delicate white pattern around the eye. They are one of the few duck species equipped with strong claws that can grip bark and perch on branches.The Wood Duck nests in trees near water, sometimes directly over water, but other times over a mile away. After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest tree and make their way to water. The mother calls them to her, but does not help them in any way. The ducklings may jump from heights of over 50 feet without injury.
When females begin incubation, the male abandons the female and clutch and forms flocks with other males. By mid-summer the molting process begins for the male. The male loses his flight feathers all at the same time. This means they cannot fly and are at high risk of predation. During this time they move into remote places that are full of tall reeds where they can hide. This molting process takes up to four weeks. The male will have a more drab appearance and look similar to the female but maintaining bill color.
"First photo was taken at North Tazewell (Clinch River) on March 14, 2015 (migration arrival). The second photo was taken at Burkes Garden (Gose Mill Pond) on June 27, 2015. Note: In the 2nd photo's lower row, the second duck from the left is an example of a male in full molt."

Barn Owl

 Ghostly pale and strictly nocturnal, Barn Owls are silent predators of the night world. Lanky, with a whitish face, chest, and belly, and buffy upperparts, this owl roosts in hidden, quiet places during the day. By night, they hunt on buoyant wingbeats in open fields and meadows. You can find them by listening for their eerie, raspy calls, quite unlike the hoots of other owls. Despite a worldwide distribution, Barn Owls are declining in parts of their range due to habitat loss.
Most birds cannot chew their food and owls are no exception. Owls and other raptors usually swallow their prey whole. They do not have a crop, the bag like organ used to store food after it has been swallowed so that it can be digested later.The bones, skulls, claws, fur and feathers and other parts of prey which cannot be digested are formed into a pellet which is regurgitated and dropped beneath their roost sites. Barn Owl pellets are compact and do not break apart upon impact with limbs or the ground. They make a good study of the owl’s prey types by opening them and inspecting the bones and the bird had eaten before the pellet was formed.
"This Owl was photographed on May 11, 2015 by Clancey Deel"

regurgitated pellets
vole skull

mouse skull