Sunday, March 23, 2014

New Birding Assignments

Part One - 2014 Nestbox Cleanout

As a follow-up to the last post, I'm happy to report that the 2014 Nestbox Cleanout went extremely well.  The water level at Pearl River WMA was quite low this year; no canoe needed.  In fact, we were able to reach some boxes without wading into the water.  Reese and I worked the Pearl River WMA on Saturday, March 8th.  Louise joined us on Sunday for the Mayes Lake group of nestboxes.

We encountered our first gator, a reddish colored little guy, at the upper end of Hurricane Lake.  We assumed the color came from where he had spent the cold days of winter in some red-stained water along Pipeline Road.

This is Reese cleaning a box, and just to his right in the background you can see a gator floating calmly, as if we weren't any concern.


This photo actually has 5 gators in it, all of them smallish, probably 2-3 years old.

Part Two - Breeding Bird Survey 2014

I've been participating in the Christmas Bird Count for the last six years, the last two of which I've been accompanied by Michelle Williams, among others.  Michelle is an avid cyclist and writes a cycling blog for the local newspaper, the Clarion Ledger.  Now she's also an avid and enthusiastic birder, one of those who just can't seem to get enough of it. 

Some weeks ago, a call for volunteers went out on the email Missbird List.  In May and June, participants travel prescribed routes at various locations and count birds on according to detailed protocols.  Michelle and I both wanted to get in on the fun, so we agreed to partner and adopt two of the routes.  We are learning that it would be practically impossible to do the surveys alone. 

As recommended, we decided to visit our routes and get a feel for the territory.  A few weeks ago we visited the route at Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge first, then returned home via the second route, beginning at Benton, Ms. and ending near Canton.

At Panther Swamp NWR, we got great looks at Bald Eagles and flushed flock of Flickers.  The day was warm and sunny, and the gators were taking advantage of the weather.

After our first visit to Panther Swamp, Michelle contacted a US Fish & Wildlife Agent about some of the particulars on our route.  He agreed to meet with us, and we set off last Friday on another trip.  We had lots of time before our meeting with the agent, so we decided so visit nearby Hillside NWR near Lexington, Ms.. 

We saw lots of great birds, including White Ibis and these nice Anhingas.  We actually got buzzed by a Bald Eagle and saw a wild hog.  And once again, gators stole the show.

We were walking a trail around aptly named Alligator Brake, and after a big splash, one after another of these young gators came out of the brush.  We counted more than twenty in an area no larger than a family swimming pool.

This was a big one, probably 10-12 feet long, and it never moved as we passed.

Though I'm still training for this year's triathlon season, I can tell that the birding adventures are going to be a big part of this year's activities.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Nestbox Cleanout - 2013

The annual excursion to clean out the Prothonotary Warbler nest boxes fairly routine on a warm Saturday in March, 2013.  At the Mayes Lake location, Reese, Louise and crew found and cleaned most of the boxes, while some were repositioned and made attractive for the arrival of new tenants in the Spring. 

On Sunday, the conditions at the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area were not so normal.  The area is allowed to flood during the rainy Winter to attract waterfowl, then the high water is pumped into the Reservoir for the rest of the year.  This time the pumps malfunctioned, and Reese and Billy found the water in the nest box area much to high to access even with chest waders.  Time to execute Plan B!

Reese had canoed the area before and was somewhat familiar with navigating through the trees and brush, so it was decided to attempt the nestbox cleanout by canoe.  After loading our canoe with spare poles and boxes, we set off paddling over the same trails we normally walked, until we reached the observation deck at the Heron/Egret rookery.  From this familiar reference point, we had surprisingly little trouble locating boxes, even without Louise's detailed map notebook. 

Not long into our mission, we were rewarded with the sight of a vortex of Chimney Swifts circling a large, hollow tree.  Perhaps these should have been identified as Hollow Tree Swifts? 

One by one, we found the boxes and carefully approached, pushing off limbs and pulling around logs.  Reese worked the boxes as I paddled and sculled to keep him dry and in position.

We hadn't seen any alligators and only a snake or two, though it was warm enough for them to be about. We were probably not even thinking about gators when we heard a huge splash not far to our right.  Scanning the surface of the water through the trees, we spotted something swimming quickly toward us.  It turned away as it got within 20 yards, revealing itself, a large deer! 

The canoe mission was so successful, Reese and I are almost hoping the pumps break down again this year!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

New Friends

A few Saturdays ago, I was driving to the grocery and saw a pair of cyclists on loaded-down bikes.  Cool! These guys have been riding cross country.  I lost sight of them in the traffic and my mind went back to my grocery list.  Walking into the Kroger, I saw them again near the entrance and had to ask about their trip.  The couple introduced themselves, Hap and Diane Eaton, from Ohio, making their way back home from Florida.  We had a nice conversation and parted ways, both into the store to shop for groceries.  They had told me they would be tent camping for the night at Timberlake Campground nearby, and taking the Natchez Trace north the next morning.  I knew it would be colder and windy that night, so I found them again in the store and invited them to ride an easy three more miles to our house.  Diane made me call and get permission from Ruthie, which was easy, and they agreed to join us for dinner and stay for the night.

At the time I thought I was a real rescue hero, but after listening to their stories, I realized they would have been fine in their tent.  These guys have ridden thousands of miles on cross country trips and camped in all sorts of places.  They were really nice and interesting company, and were grateful for the comfort and convenience of a bed, shower and laundry machines.  We had a nice meal, a few beers, and a nice evening.

Sunday morning they headed out toward the Natchez Trace.  I had assumed they would be up early and eager to get on the road, which they did, but after reading their blog, I know more about their routine and regret not cooking them a big breakfast. 

You can read about their travels at

Sunday, May 12, 2013

May 2013

The months keep flying by.  My time is ticking away and I am determined to squeeze as much as I can into what I have left. 

Forget about that.  Here's a picture of a bird, a Great Blue Heron.  They're very common and easy to photograph.

This heron is standing on top of a submerged tree trunk in the middle of Pelahatchie Bay where I happened to be on a warm, late afternoon last week.  I was in my canoe with nothing in mind but getting out in the peaceful solitude.  If you are a skilled canoeist, it can be the next best thing to swimming, and you can take beer with you, and a camera.

It's no secret I'm a bird lover.  There is an island in the cove just west of our home, upon which a Purple Martin Gourd structure has been leaning, and finally falling into the water for the past few years.  I summoned the help of Kyle and his friend Daniel, and we paddled over with shovel, digger, rope and concrete to try to salvage it from the water.
I had seen birds nesting in the gourds even as they were only a few feet above the surface.

We were successful.  Martins were flying above and around the structure, and I saw two inside gourds and others perching on top.

While we worked, men nearby on a pier asked what we were up to, and one told us his father had put up the gourds over twenty years ago. 

Next...touring cyclists in the house!

Sunday, December 02, 2012


The weather has been such that we've enjoyed some vivid fall foliage this year.  The photo is one of many, and this one not particularly nice. 

 I pass this spot on my way to work most days on a parkway development that has not developed much in the three or four years since the road was opened.  The boulevard style thouroghfare passes through some tall hardwoods and open fields, with lots of marsh.  It's a great habitat for wildlife, and I often eat my lunch parked on the side of the road, camera and binoculars at the ready. I call it "Hawk Haven" because of the numerous Red Tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers that migrate there in the winter months.

Now begins the destruction.  Progress, jobs maybe?  It remains to be seen who will benefit from the conversion of vast wildlife habitat.  Certainly not the wildlife.

Sunday, November 04, 2012


Here's some pics from the past year while I wasn't posting to the blog.  

These dogs were sunning themselves on a hillside on a cool afternoon in November of last year.  Ruthie made me turn the car around to go back and get a picture. Ok. 

Water view of our new residence.  We moved from my home of 23 years about a mile away, to this wonderful place.  The details of the situation are known to some of you, but suffice to say we have been very fortunate and most grateful.

This is the family celebrating my Mom's 80th birthday.  Mom is seated holding John Franklin, the newest member at about five months old.


Blue Winged Teal
Saluting Leslie Nielsen in the Naked Gun, "Nice Beaver!"


I steered the canoe to within a few feet of this Banded Water Snake, Ruthie with the camera, surprisingly fearless. 


Ruthie again.  We head out on the water in the canoe just before sunset as often as possible.

Life is good.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Carolina Vacation

I finally did it!  I took a whole week off from work!  I haven't been away from the job for nine straight days since 2001.  Well, maybe I managed a Christmas week here and there.  Ruthie made the arrangements months ago, and informed me of the dates I would need to reserve.  She rented a cabin for three nights in the mountains of Maggie Valley, North Carolina.

We began our drive on Wednesday, dogs included, at 5:00 AM, following the Garmin trail through Birmingham, Chattanooga and a scenic route through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The drive took a bit over ten hours, and after arriving in Maggie Valley, the climb up 4000 feet of a sometimes narrow, one-lane, gravel, steep, winding road to our cabin really got my attention.  "We're not leaving this cabin 'til Saturday!" was the first thing I said as we came to a stop.  I recovered my driving courage the next day, and we eventually made several trips up and down the mountain to the town below, and to Asheville and Waynesville for shopping excursions.

This was the view from the upper of two decks of the cabin.  The leaves were just reaching peak colors, the weather was great, and the cabin was comfortable and interesting.

Thursday night, we visited Scott and Shelda and ate at a nice restaurant in Waynesville.  Scott is an old best friend and former brother-in-law who moved to NC twenty something years ago.  He is a house and cabin builder, and his wife Shelda sells and manages rental properties.  Here's a link to her website:

We were particularly pleased that we were able to take our dogs, Rabbit and Sheba on the trip. They seemed to enjoy the adventure, and behaved well while we left them alone in the cabin.