Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Spring notes and arboreal inscriptions

Yet another great couple hours on the greenway. Temperatures increased greatly and it felt like mid-spring in New York. Most of the usual species were exhibiting increased activity. Three Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) were counted before reaching the south side of the river. The small band of coots (Fulica americanus) were well upstream from their usual posts, enjoying the increased production of morsels generated by all the rains. The Tennessee River has swollen to the highest levels I have seen and the turbidity has elevated, causing what some refer to as a chocolate milkshake color. A few miles in I was rattled by a loud song bird. For a moment I thought it was something new. Then it dawned on me. I have heard the song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) singing all winter, but the change in weather and day length has begun to affect their song. Instead of the weak, seemingly pathetic song I've grown used to, the birds have started to break into full song. Now the jumbled notes babbled through the winter are slung together with an energetic purity to be further mastered through the breeding season. Here in Tennessee and through northern Florida we have other winter visiting sparrows, such as the White-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). Their warbled, "oh... sam peabody peabody..." seems comedic in the winter. They, like their cousins in the Melospiza genus have begun to regain their pipes. A second song brought me to a halt another two miles up the path. Carolina chick-a-dees (Poecile carolinensis) have made the switch, too. (Click here to view it) At least some have. I made a good recording of a pair. Upon playing the first song back to them, one became very territorial and started a row with a neighboring chick-a-dee. I recorded there argument, too. (Click here to see part of that). They seemed to have one particular snag with a nest cavity which was the source of there current contentions. Onward, I trekked... no sign of the usual Belted kingfisher or blue-birds just yet, but just as I entered Ijams a bird flushed from a meter away. I know what the usual birds sound like as they flush from nearby. This was heavier sounding than most of the sparrow-like foragers, did not call, and flew from the base of tree. I stopped on a dime. First I looked at the tree the bird had flown from. Glistening in the sun was a perfect line of freshly chiseled holes. The tell-tale signature arborealily scribed with the efficient precision serves as not only an identifier to us, but a feeder to other kingdoms as well. I figured a few photographs from close range would be appropriate and would also create a little anger in the sapsucker. I predicted a prompt investigation by the sapsucker into my fussing with the well-holes. This would give me a good chance for a good photo or two of the bird itself. So, I snapped a few photos, taking full advantage of excellent lighting. I deliberately overexposed a shot to illustrate the exact depth through the cambium the drill holes reached. I stepped back several meters and sure enough, the sapsucker returned for a portrait. Note to self: a yellow-bellied sapsucker will raise it’s tail upward and sideways. At that point it can project it’s feces a few meters from the tree. This bird is a great defecator.

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