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!