Monday, March 29, 2010

Bird Counting in Kentucky


Trees near the hotel in Oak Grove, KY 3-15-10

The sun shone brightly as we left the hotel in Texarkana, AR and headed east to Oak Grove, KY. I watch for birds out the windows as Gus drives. The landscape before me amazes me. I had expected to hate Arkansas and instead I am delighted! This place is beautiful! I watch as creeks flow through woodlands, and green fields roll to the horizon. So much of what I see reminds me of New England where I grew up. Even as the clouds gather and the light dims, I enjoy the drive across Arkansas.

DSC_0465 We get off the interstate highway in Tennessee and travel the back roads through small towns to Oak Grove. The hotel we booked is a dive with holes in the walls and the sheets and dusty old pillows. It is late at night when I finally see the place and I am so tired that I just fell into bed. I was thinking of asking Gus to switch hotels in the morning no matter how much it cost. However, I awaken early this to the sounds of birds outside my window. Dressing quickly and warmly I exit my room on the second floor to a vacant lot before me and agricultural fields rolling away towards the road.


DSC_0462 The vacant lot and the agricultural field are separated by a hedgerow with tall trees and brush. In the vacant lot the weeds and grasses have grown wild and untamed, the fields are mowed short and turning green. A large puddle has formed at the edge of the dirt in the vacant lot, and all the trees and bushes and grass are full of birds. At that monument I decide I will stay in this room. I want to see the birds!

DSC_0466 Of course, my primary reason for being here is to see Alex, Diane and the new baby, but I did my research on eBird before arriving here and I know that NO ONE has counted birds in Christian county KY so far this year. Every bird I count matters. It may be the only data that eBird gets for this county this year! I already have my bins on with my pen and notebook in hand. Though the day is gray and drippy and cold, I stand on the second floor balcony and count birds. I quickly discover that this set-up is perfect. The balcony acts as a blind. The birds are used to people walking by under the rooftop, and so do not flee when they see me.

DSC_0467 I hear field sparrows calling from the weeded field. I see cardinals, robins, starlings and house sparrows. I count a song sparrow, a killdeer and an eastern meadowlark. Then, in the midst of all the other sounds I think I hear a bob white call! I scan the agricultural fields looking for movement. I listen to hear it call again, but it never does. Was it my imagination? I do not have Bob White on my life list, though I grew up hearing and seeing that species as a child in Connecticut. How I would love to see that bird. But though I wait and wait, I do not see that bird today, or any other day while I am here.

DSC_0341 When Gus gets up we drive onto Main Street looking for someplace to eat breakfast. Gus notices a large flock of turkeys in the field. He turns the car around for me and parks on the side of the road and I count birds.

DSC_0345 We find a local restaurant called G’s Pancake house. We decide to eat there because we call our oldest son “G.” I count the birds in the parking lot on our way into and out of the diner. Since we sit near a window, I count the birds from there. I see mourning doves, a mockingbird, a blue jay, 2 crows, 4 starlings, 10 common crackles and 3 house sparrows.

DSC_0349 We stop at Wal-mart on the way to Alex’s house. I count 1 ring-billed gull, 2 killdeer, 1 robin, 1 mockingbird, 3 red-winged blackbirds, 5 starlings, 10 house sparrows and 30 rock pigeons there. All day long, where ever I am, I count birds in Oak Grove, Kentucky. Over the course of our 3 days I see blue birds, turkey and black vultures. I see mourning doves and blackbirds everywhere. Monday is our last morning here. Alex had to go back to work this morning but he will be home for 1 ½ hours at lunchtime. So, while he is at work and Gus is sleeping in, I finally decide to get down off the balcony and take a walk in the fields.

DSC_0469 The sky is gray as it has been every day that we have been here. Though my pictures won’t be great, I take my camera with me anyways and walk quietly along the hedgerow. Cardinals and sparrows fill the foliage. Blackbirds line the utility wires or feed in the field. I still hope to find a Bob White, but no luck. The earth is damp and soft beneath my feet. The misty air makes me feels as if I am moving in a dream. All my senses are on alert and I watch and listen for birds. I find white-crowned sparrows and song sparrows. I see and hear field sparrows. A killdeer calls and then flies by. Eastern meadowlarks sing from a weed and an eastern towhee appears briefly in the brush before me. I find Carolina wrens singing in the trees, and then a hawk flies over my head and lands in the tall trees near the hotel.




DSC_0483 DSC_0487

At first I think it is a Cooper’s Hawk with its long and banded tail, but after I see the photographs I am doubtful. Is it a red-shouldered hawk? I haven’t decided yet. If you think you know, please tell me! Whichever species it is, I believe it is a juvenile due to the vertical streaking on the breast. At the far end of the field I near a marshy area I find a fox sparrow, and then a swamp sparrow! I have been gone quite awhile and I sense it is time to head back. My journey across the field was slow, but now I walk briskly back to our room. I know it is time to go and say good-bye.

We savor the last hours with our son and his wife and our new little grand-daughter. I carry her outside with my bins hoping to infuse her with this love of nature and birds. Then we gather on the front porch for family photos and hug and say good-bye. I will not cry. Not now. Alex will be going to war soon. I do not know when I will see him again. But for his sake, I do not cry. I choke, but I do not cry.

Gus stops at the gas station near the highway to fill the tank for our trip to Alabama. It will only take us 3 hours to get there. While he gets gas, I count birds. I will not cry. 1 turkey vulture, 2 killdeer, 1 red-winged blackbird, 2 starlings, 2 rock pigeons, 2 house sparrows, my last count in Kentucky. I will not cry.

In the end I added counted 29 species in several locations in Oak Grove Kentucky.  For the moment they are the only birds counted in Christian county, KY.  I do hope that some one out there will add to this information.  You may not think your one little birding list will matter, but it does!

Birds seen in Christian County, KY March 12-15, 2010:

  1. Killdeer
  2. American Robin
  3. Mourning dove
  4. European Starling
  5. Field sparrow
  6. Song sparrow
  7. Northern Cardinal
  8. red-winged blackbird
  9. Eastern meadowlark
  10. House sparrow
  11. Wild turkey
  12. Turkey vulture
  13. Blue Jay
  14. American Crow
  15. Northern Mockingbird
  16. common Grackle
  17. Ring-billed gull
  18. rock Pigeon
  19. Eastern bluebird
  20. House finch
  21. Red-tailed hawk
  22. Black vulture
  23. Cooper’s hawk*
  24. tufted titmouse
  25. Carolina Wren
  26. Eastern Towhee
  27. Fox Sparrow
  28. Swamp Sparrow
  29. White-crowned sparrow

*This data will change if it is determined this is a red-shouldered hawk or some other species.


Celeste said...

Wow Kathie, you are so brave, I do not think I could have stuck to your 'I will not cry' mantra. I wish you and your son and his new young family the very best of luck.

Kathie Brown said...

Celeste, I only stuck to it in his presense. It came like a flood later on! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Kathie, you are fearless, brave, kind, and beautiful. I hope your granddaughter takes after you, because she will be a wonderful person if she does.

Arija said...

Such a lovely lottle family. You were so right. Someimes we just have to suppress our tears for a while.
Sorry I have not visited much, I have been beset by some overpowering pain.

Carolyn Ford said...

These are fabulous photographs of unbelievably beautiful birds! I can't believe how many different kinds of birds there are in our country...when I see the same ones day after day. I need to open my eyes more, no doubt. Your passion for birding is to be commended...

kayleen said...

Isn't it frustrating to get photos of a bird that you think will confirm an id, and then because of the crummy lighting of an overcast day, they really don't help much?

Hawks confound me most of the time, probably because we don't see a lot of variety here, and because there are a number of variations for most of them.

All that said, I'm wondering if your hawk might be a juvenile Northern Goshawk?

Max said...

If pressed, I would say your hawk is a juvenile Red-shouldered because of the white spots on its back and the lack of a white band on the end of the tail.
We have a few Red-shoulders in Oregon and my wife and I always have a hard time convincing ourselves of a positive ID.

FAB said...

That's a good list for your brief visit Kathie. Let's hope it inspires other locals to see what they have on their doorstep. FAB.

DeniseinVA said...

Kathie, you are wonderful! "I will not cry!" How brave you were in front of your son, yes the tears came later I know. Looks like you had a great bird count there.

Kathie Brown said...

Wren, what a nice thing to say! Thank you! I can only hope she learns to love nature. In that regards, I will do my best to influence her.

Arija, no apology needed! I am so sorry and I do hope that you are feeling better soon! BTW, the tears DID come in Alabama!

Carolyn ford, I am amazed at all the birds we have! And I still have so many more species to see!

Kayleen, that thought crossed my mind but I am not experienceed with goshawks. I only know that it is way to large to be a sharpie and from the photos it looks too chunky for a Cooper's. Also, I did notice the line above the eye and the seperation of the head cap and the back on the nape of the neck. However, the lighting was horrific. I have the brightness boosted to 100% on this photo.

Max, that is exactly what I was thinking. I may send the photo off to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to see what they have to say, but I tend to agree with you. the other possiblity is what kayleen suggested. (See comments above.)

Early birder, it would be so good if someone went out there and counted birds to add to what I have started. Who knows when I will be back.

Denise, I did have a good bird count and the tears did come later on in Alabama. They kind of snuck up on me and came through the backdoor but I must say, it felt good to let it all out!