On a wispy, cloudy day, even a walk around the neighborhood can yield awesome photo opportunities. I am lucky to live in such a beautiful place.
And Tennessee has more than its share of old barns, especially lovely in Autumn foliage.
The summer brings an oppressive, torrid hush over the wooded areas of Tennessee. Almost jungle-like, the only creatures present seem to be the incessantly droning cicadas and languidly flapping butterflies. Gone are the dueling, bright warblers and exciting glimpses of migratory species.
But the species that call Tennessee home all year can be found by someone determined (and daft) enough to brave the heat, humidity, and myriad biting insects.
The Ghost of the Woods: The Barred Owl, unlike most of the members of its order, can often be seen during the day.
A young Pileated Woodpecker learns to fend for itself in the forest canopy.
And a mother Wood Duck keeps her ducklings close.
Despite the frustration of the onset of Spring migration and the confusion of trying to identify warbler songs not heard in a year – and the self-inflicted malady of “warbler neck”… there is still peace in the woods.
A Barred Owl diligently peruses the creek, and scoops up a crayfish lunch.
A female Northern Cardinal believes herself unseen in her not-so-hidden nest.
A Great Blue Heron balances on one leg, perhaps resting after a successful morning hunt.
And, even if the warblers don’t cooperate for pictures, the wildflowers are there, ever lovely.
As a lifelong birder and raptor fan, it seemed I was always frustrated in my quest to see a Barred Owl. When I lived in South Florida, I frequented the Everglades, where I saw many incredible birds. But despite hearing the haunting “Who-cooks-for-you?” call drift across the swamps, I never had a sighting.
That bad luck seemed to follow me to Tennessee, where multiple unseen owls screamed daily across the tree-filled Hollow where I lived. I even made a couple of trips to Radnor Lake, a place where, aside from its many other charms, Barred Owls are almost guaranteed.
Well, the third time was truly a charm! Since my first magical sighting of an apparently unconcerned owl sitting next to the path, I have been blessed with an owl almost every visit. This past weekend, another wish was fulfilled – to see one hunting! I watched this owl stalking the streams, coming up with a staple of the Barred Owl diet – crayfish! It may not be as spectacular as watching a Peregrine Falcon’s plunge or a Golden Eagle’s swoop, but I enjoyed every minute.
Insectivorous species that would normally not come to seed feeders will approach suet, and if times are lean, fights will ensue! This leads to some awesome sightings, as well as fascinating interactions. Species seen at suet include the ubiquitous woodpeckers, wrens, mockingbirds, and the occasional warbler.
It surprised me, when I moved to Tennessee, how cold it can get here. Originally from Pennsylvania, it seems that driving 12 hours south would put you in a warmer climate. But the growing zone is the same here as for my native Philadelphia.
One thing we usually don’t get here is snow, but the last 2 weeks saw more than our share. My life-long hobby of feeding the birds amped up considerably due to the frozen, covered ground. When I walked outside recently to chase a passing grackle hoard off the feeders, the resident songbirds, more used to my presence, provided me with some great photo opportunities.
Screech Owls are the Napoleons of the owl world. Despite their tiny size, they are fearsome predators in the wild. And captive screeches, held for educational purposes, are never truly tamed, and relish every opportunity to pierce their human handler’s tender digits. Despite this, or because of it, they are many people’s favorite owl.
Although they can be quite fierce, Screech Owls, when confused or alarmed, can go into a deeply still state of almost fainting when approached. We call it “going to their happy place”, where they ignore all outside stimulus. This happened to me thrice recently.
The first owl flew into our work vehicle and stunned itself silly. Luckily, we are trained veterinary professionals, and the little owl was whisked to the clinic, radiographed, given fluids, and examined thoroughly. Within 2 hours, the screech seemed unchanged, but knowing the “freeze” mode they go into, we elected to try for a release. And sure enough, once tossed gently into air, he remembered his wings quickly and flew off. He was spotted several more times during the year, so we know he made a full recovery.
The second was “kidnapped” by a couple of other staff members. They saw him swoop at a sparrow, and when he missed, he stayed on the ground. Wanting to help, they scooped him up into the car, where he promptly sat on the back of the passenger seat as though he had been traveling thusly all his life. Again, we examined him, and found nothing wrong. We tasked his erstwhile rescuers with returning him to exactly to where they found him, and he promptly made his escape.
The third screech was mine alone; I found him crumpled next to a plexiglass exhibit wall, the apparent victim of a window strike. But after I touched him gently, he roused, glared at me, and took off. So please, if you find a “hurt” owl, give it a few moments, and encourage it to leave under its own power. If you suspect greater injury, a local wildlife rehabilitator can heal them for return to the wild, where they belong.