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HEARING THE WHIP-POOR-WILL’S CALL IS ONE OF THE PERKS OF COUNTRY LIVING

     There are many reasons why my wife and I enjoy country living. One of the benefits of living beyond the glaring lights of town is each year we are treated with the dawn and dusk calling of the whip-poor-will. My wife heard our first whip-poor-will on the morning of March 28.

       Well before the rays of the rising sun began dissolving the darkness of night, she took our family dog out for a bathroom break. While she was waiting for Sassy to take care of business, she heard an oft-repeated whip-poor-will, whip-poor will call of a male whip-poor-will. The bird was calling from far out in the woodlands located west of our home.

       When she returned to the house, she told me of her experience. Since I wanted to hear the bird too, I had every intention of jumping out of bed and going outside to listen for the nocturnal vocalist. However, for some reason, I drifted off the sleep for about a half an hour. When I awoke, I scurried outside to listen for the bird.

       During the brief time that passed between my wife reporting her experience and my finally going outside, the dawn chorus had begun. Consequently, a cacophony for bird songs filled the air. The loud chorus of untold numbers of birds coupled with the sounds made by vehicles going up and down the highway made trying to hear the far away calls of the whip-poor-will difficult. However, eventually I was able to hear the sound of this member of the goatsucker family.

       Remarkably, legends tell us the term goatsucker stems from a once popularly held belief whip-poor-wills drank milk from goats. It was also believed that this act of thievery caused the unfortunate goats that suffered this fate to go blind.

       Folks that have taken the time to count how many times a whip-poor-will calls report that the bird will repeat its name upwards of 400 times in a row. The frequency of this bird’s calls suggested his vocal efforts were falling far short of this lofty figure.

       During the early part of the twentieth century, if you did not live in the Georgia mountains, you were unlikely to hear a whip-poor-will. However, over the years the whip-poor-will has been expanding its breeding range. As such nowadays whip-poor-wills can be heard throughout much of the northern half of the Peach State to just south of the Fall Line. However, even if you do not live in this area, you still have a slim chance of hearing whip-poor-wills in the remainder of the state.

       I hope that you will be treated to the call of this rarely seen bird. Although he incessantly repeats it call, far too few of us get to hear it.

       Later in the morning when I called when I called a close friend to tell him I had heard the first whip-poor-will of the spring he lamented that he used to hear the bird’s pleasing call. However, since much of his neck of the woods has been developed, it has been years since he has heard one.

       When I hung of the phone, my excitement was tempered with thoughts of what he is missing.

A PLACE TO RELIEVE THE STRESS CAUSED BY COVID 19

        Each passing day brings news reports of the continued spread of the COVID- 19 virus and its horrible impact on people throughout our state, nation, and world. As a result, we all have to cope with increasing levels of anxiety, stress, and fear. Each of us has different ways in which we try to cope with these frightful times. One of the best ways I have found to deal with it is embark of a journey of discovery in my backyard. I would like to share with one such treks.

       Recently after watching the noon news present the update on the numbers of cases of the pandemic in Georgia, I grabbed my camera and went outside to take a walk about. I was greeted with bright sunshine and balmy zephyrs. Standing on my deck, I was taken aback by a colorful collage created by the blossoms of jonquils, native and ornamental azaleas flowering dogwood, and other plants. After drinking in the beauty of this living mural, I began my walk.

       One of the first things that caught my eye was a pipevine swallowtail nectaring at both yellow and orange blooms borne on native azaleas. I just had to stop and photograph this scene. A short time later, I just happened to notice a dragonfly flying just about my lawn. From time to time, the insect would land. Each time the dragonfly touched down, I was able to snap a few pictures as well as study the relative small aerial hunter. It was obvious that this was a species I had never seen in my yard before. The dragonfly was a female blue corporal.

       Moving on I stopped in my tracks when a silver-spotted skipper landed in a patch of purple dead nettle. This marked the first time this spring I had seen this butterfly.

       As I continued to walk, I noticed something different every few minutes. During one circuit, I spotted a eastern tiger swallowtail. During another circuit, I spied a cloudless sulphur. Carpenter bees seemed to be everywhere.

       In subsequent trips around my yard, I stopped to study and photograph the fresh blossoms of flowering dogwood trees, bluets, and a native thistle.

       Throughout my brief time afield, I was treated with the soothing songs of chipping sparrows and pine warblers singing from the tops our tall loblolly pines.

       When I finally ended by backyard walk, sat in a chair on my deck, and began reviewing all that I had seen during my brief half hour backyard journey, Mother Nature surprised me with one final event. From around the corner of the house, a mockingbird appeared carrying a stick and quickly disappeared into the bowels of a nearby shrub.

       I must admit, I wished that I could have extended my visit with my backyard neighbors; however, I had to address a few other demands on my time. However, when I went back inside, I was totally relaxed and convinced I need spend in my yard every day.

       While aside of practicing social distancing, there is little that I can do to help thwart the spread of the terrible Covid-19 virus, I am certain that my backyard wildlife haven will help me deal with our uncertain future.

       If you have your own wildlife haven, I hope you will visit it and your backyard neighbors often. I am certain each trip will help you unwind and strengthen your bond with the natural world during these turbulent times.

BACKYARD SECRET — ONE OF OUR FOUNDING FATHERS CREATED THE COUNTRY’S FIRST DETAILED BIRD LIST

       It goes without saying Thomas Jefferson is one of our most beloved Founding Fathers. While we are all aware of many of his multitude of interests, skills, and accomplishments, chances are you did not know he was fascinated with birds.

       His deep interest in birds led him to pen a publication entitled Notes on Virginia in 1787. In this work, he listed less than 130 species of birds known to live in that section of the country. Historians tell us this represents the first detailed list of birds compiled in this country.

A BROWN THRASHER HERALDING THE IMPENDING ARRIVAL OF SPRING

      When late winter begins releasing its icy grip on the on the landscape I am constantly listening for sounds that herald the coming of spring. One sound that I am hoping to hear is the song of the brown thrasher.

       In spite of the fact the temperature hovered in the low 30s, one of the first birds I heard as I stepped outside my home Saturday morning (March 7) as the sun was just beginning to rise above the horizon was a song uttered by a brown thrasher. I must admit I was both surprised and happy to hear the bird’s pleasant melody. In fact, it so startled me, I had to convince myself I was not listening to a northern mockingbird. However, after listening to the songster for a couple of minutes I was sure I was indeed being serenaded by a brown thrasher.

       I hear the brown thrashers more often than I see it. This comes as no surprise since they stake out its domain in and near the shrubby border surrounding my yard. As such, unless you can recognize their rambling, complex song, thrashers can be easily overlooked. However, in springtime when males are courting females they will sing atop a high perch. However, since the brown thrasher’s song sounds much like the more often seen and heard northern mockingbird, it is easy to assume you are listening to a brown thrasher. Since we hear mockingbirds sing so often, even when a thrasher is singing from upon high, we might not even look up to take a glimpse of this accomplished minstrel.

       It is actually very easy to separate the vocalizations of the brown thrasher and the northern mockingbird. All you have to remember is the brown thrasher typically utters a rambling series of phrases twice.

       One of the earliest descriptions of the brown thrasher’s song was penned by the famous American naturalist Henry David Thoreau. In his well-known book “Walden, or, Life in the Woods,” published in 1854, Thoreau recalls a time when he was hoeing a row of beans as a brown thrasher kept repeating, “Drop it, cover it up, cover it up, — pull it up, pull it up, put it up.”

       The Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology’s modern version of the song is “Plant a seed, plant a seed, bury it, bury it, cover it up, cover it up, let it grow, let it grow, pull it up, pull it up, eat it, eat it.”

       The mockingbird, on the other hand, usually repeats the phases in its song three times.

       The next time you are taking a walk about in your backyard and hear what sounds like a mockingbird, listen carefully the songster just might be listening a brown thrasher.

       Now that I have heard a brown thrasher singing, seen the and realize I should spot my first ruby-throated hummingbird in a little over a week, I know spring is knocking at my backdoor. The only thing that would make things better is spring’s arrival will finally end the weather pattern that has dumped far too much rain on Georgia during the past several weeks.

BACKYARD SECRET–THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD POPULATION IS DOING WELL THROUGHOUT THE USA

       Experts estimate the breeding population of the ruby-throated hummingbird is roughly 20 million birds. It is interesting to note that at least 16.8 million of these birds spend a portion of the year in the United States. The population of rubythroats that nest in the Southeast increased one percent per year from 1966-2005.  Currently the ruby-throated hummingbird population in Georgia is considered to be stable. This is great news for the millions of folks that enjoy watching these amazing birds.

AMAZING HUMMINGBIRD FACTS

        In a few weeks, ruby-throated hummingbirds will be making the long trip from their winter home to Georgia. Those hummers that fly across the Gulf of Mexico have long are arduous flight without having the luxury of stopping to rest or refuel.      

       Depending on where they take off and land, this migratory flight spans anywhere from 500 to 600 miles of open water. In order to successfully make the flight, a rubythroat must beat its wings some 2.7 million times. To top it all off, a hummingbird may use only 3/40th of an ounce of fuel.

BACKYARD SECRET—LAWNS DOMINATE OUR HOME LANDSCAPES

        I recently stumbled across a sobering statistic. It seems that, if we are a typical homeowner living in the eastern United States, 90 percent of the landscape around our home is lawn.

       Most wildlife enthusiasts would find this figure depressing. However, if you view this green carpet as a giant pallet, think of all of the ways you can transform this sea of grass into a wildlife haven, you cannot help but be excited about all of the possibilities it provides.

       There is no better time to begin the transformation than right now!

BACKYARD SECRET–BIRDS USE MOST OF THEIR ENERGY JUST TO KEEP WARM

       You might find it surprising to learn birds use most of their energy just to keep warm. Studies have demonstrated that roughly 90 percent of the energy birds derive from the foods they eat in the wild and at our feeders is used by their bodies to keep warm. This leaves them with precious little energy devoted to reproduction and growth. This is in stark contrast to the green anoles, toads and other reptiles and amphibians living in our backyards. It seems they are able to employ 90 percent of the energy obtained from their diets directly into growth and reproduction.

       For this reason, it is always a good idea to offer our bird diners foods containing oils, fruits, and fats. With this in mind, the menu we provide our feathered guests should include such foods as suet, peanuts, and black oil sunflower seeds, as well as dried and fresh fruit.

BACKYARD SECRET–A CHIPPING SPARROW CAN HUSK A MILLET SEED IN ABOUT ONE SECOND

        I enjoy watching chipping sparrows feeding on white millet seeds. I am amazed how a chipper can daintily pluck a single tiny round millet seed from a feeder with its bill. However, I find it even more even more fascinating that, while it takes the tiny brown up to three seconds to husk some seeds, it can remove the outer coat of a white millet seed in only about one second.

BACKYARD SECRET–AMERICAN ROBINS WERE ONCE SHOT FOR FOOD

       In this day and time, it does not seem possible that the American robin was once shot for food however, it is true. It seems that up until the adoption of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act on March 4, 1913, each year thousands of robins were legally harvested for food.  

       This practice was more common in the South than anywhere else was in the country. The reason for this is large flocks of robins spend the winter throughout the Southeastern United States. Some of these flocks are tremendous in size. One year on the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Christmas Bird Count, observers recorded an estimated 2 million birds flying southward along the Ocmulgee River.

       While I have never personally eaten one of these large songbirds, I once worked with a colleague that grew up in rural Arkansas. He said that each year his mother canned American robins shot by members of his family. According to him, the birds were quite tasty.