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