There are a lot of schools celebrating Spring Break right now, but Spring has also broken in the woods of Tennessee. Louisiana Waterthrush call from streamside, Yellow-rumped Warblers flit through the trees by the dozen, and a Barred Owl’s haunting cry echoes across Radnor Lake.
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.
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.
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.
My awesome friend Beth visited for some intense birding this weekend, and we were not disappointed. One of her best finds was a red phase Eastern Screech Owl sitting on a tree in our own backyard! This seemed a good omen to our next quest, finding a Barred Owl at Radnor Lake.
And, voila! Again, the first spotting goes to Beth.
On our return home, we looked for the red Screech, to no avail. Then I spotted a little feathered head poking up from a cavity in the same tree. I didn’t realize it was a different owl until Beth pointed out it was grey! The little she-owl slowly wiggled back down into her nest, but I managed to get a picture.
Lo and behold, one more trip to the tree revealed these two fuzzy nestlings! It was dark, so the image is a little blurred, but I had no idea it wasn’t one of the adults until I downloaded. What a gift, to have this family so close. And yes, we are trying to not harass them too much 🙂
Springtime in Tennessee! I took these pictures after a run last week, and already the blooms are fading. Oh well, I guess that’s what photography is all about – keeping precious visions like this in our hearts.
The most beautiful were the Bluebells. I rounded the corner, running downhill, and was so stunned by the beauty that I slowed down, goggling at the sunlight filtering through the trees upon them. A woman walking towards me beamed: “There are more coming up!” But that patch, right there, was the most lovely.
This stone pillar was one of many placed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. You can also see their work in the bluebell covered wall above.