Southwoods Ghost

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. Barred Portrait2

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.

Barred Lunch

Suet Wars

Jackpot (891x1024)When Winter’s cold begrudges Spring’s return to warmth, bird’s appetites soar. So you may find atypical “feeder birds” battling over resources.  confrontation (1024x683)

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. Awkward (1024x970)  YRWA (1024x773)

But marital bliss may also be seen, as in this pair of Downy Woodpeckers sharing a meal.domestic bliss (1117x1280)

A Cold (Southern) Winter

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. White throated portrait (1280x913) Shadow (776x777)
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.

     crowded (985x1280) Cardinal Party (1024x683)

Concerning Screech Owls

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.

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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.

Late Fall Birds

For three seasons of the year, birdwatching can be a hectic sport. Spring and Autumn bring migration; Summer has the dawn chorus of frantically breeding birds. But birding in the Winter is a more subtle enterprise. Familiar birds are quiet, leaving mainly one’s sharp eyes to distinguish a fluttering movement, or a lump of not-a-dead-leaf on a bare forest branch. If you do hear birds, they are quietly murmuring to one another, not out brazenly singing in the open. YR Warbler

Winter birding is usually a solitary enterprise. Titmouse

Winter birding makes usually “dull” birds stand out crisply against grey backgrounds of naked trunks and overcast skies. CEWA

And winter birding brings subtle, unexpected surprises. BAOW

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinals are one of the most beloved songbirds. As proof, it is the state bird of seven states, more than any other species! Personally, though, I prefer more eclectic birds (and states which have a cool, unique state bird – Greater Roadrunner, from my beloved New Mexico, springs to mind). But all it takes to set off my fascination is a “cardinal of another color”. Last winter, I had a female with white cheek patches visiting my feeders. They gave her a sweet expression. I was never able to get good pictures of her, but have lucked out on this year’s oddity.

The brilliant red of a male cardinal is usually broken only by a dashing black mask around the base of the beak. But this handsome guy only has a “soul patch” of black. I think it gives him a surprised look. IMG_0504

 

Here is a normal male for comparison. IMG_0500 (1280x931)

And another view of the special guy; looking grumpy! grumpy