Birds of SGG

Posted on: September 24th, 2015 by Christine Davis No Comments

Birds of SGG  

Pat Pepper by Pat Pepper

Sept. 14 was one of those promises of Nature days, a promise that cooler, lower humidity days were on the way. Finally, after several months of hot, sticky weather, I was able to don my favorite birding attire: long sleeves and pants, socks and real shoes. Anything less than that makes me vulnerable to harmful UV rays and ravenous insects. I am so excited that autumn is finally here, not only for the cooler weather but also for fall bird migration.

I got a late start, arriving at the gardens at 11 am. I knew I was probably too late to see much warbler activity, but many other birds were still very active. I was attracted to a lot of bird activity in a small tree on the gravel path headed westward from the gravel path on the west side of the main meadow.

Many Tufted Titmice and Carolina Chickadees were flying in and out of a small tree that had some ripe red berries that looked like small strawberries. The birds were picking at these berries. Because I did not know what type of tree this was, I picked up one of the berries, which was lying on the ground. Later, both Stephanie and David told me that this tree was a Kousa Dogwood, a Japanese variety.


Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse


Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee


Kousa Dogwood

Kousa Dogwood


(bird pics from Cornell Labs & Kousa pic from

As I was enjoying watching the birds peck at the Kousa berries (which I later learned were also edible for humans), I then saw these smaller birds quickly scatter. They knew much more quickly than I that danger was coming. On a pine branch about 10 ft. above my head, a Cooper’s Hawk alighted.

Cooper’s Hawks are very skilled hunters in woodland areas. They are smaller and more agile than the larger Red-shouldered and Red-tailed hawks. I turned my binoculars on the Cooper’s. He stared down at me, decided I was no threat, and began to search elsewhere with his piercing yellow eyes. Then, like the smaller birds before him, he must have sensed a more formidable competitor approaching because he flew off just as a Red-shouldered Hawk landed on the next pine over.



Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk


Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

I then put the Red-shouldered in my sights. He also was not bothered by me but jerked his head upward at the shrill calls of two more Red-shouldered hawks circling over the main meadow. Soon after hearing the other hawks, he flew off.

Hawks were definitely the focus of the day. Cooper’s, Red-shouldered, and Red-tailed hawks live year-round in Georgia. The hawk that has been with us through the summer is the Broad-winged, but he has begun his migration south. Hawks migrate in the daytime, so hundreds of them can be seen from higher elevations. Hawk Mt. in Pennsylvania is a famous site for seeing many Broad wings. Caesars Head in Cleveland, SC, while not as famous as Hawk Mt., is a closer site for seeing migrating hawks.


Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

As I continued to walk around the garden, I saw a Robin-sized bird fly downward. I walked to where I saw him go down and came to the beautiful, now-flowering abelia bush (thanks again to Stephanie and David for the ID), which sits at the eastern edge of the main meadow. The bush had about six Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies on it. That in itself was a beautiful sight, but I was looking for the diving bird. I aimed my binoculars on the interior of the abelia and there sat two Gray Catbirds. I have been seeing a lot of Catbirds lately. They, too, are migrating south, but a few will remain with us for the winter.



Gray Catbird (Cornell)

Gray Catbird (Cornell)

Tiger Swallowtail on Abelia (Piedmont Gardener)

Tiger Swallowtail on Abelia (Piedmont Gardener)

Just as I was preparing to leave, I was awarded the sight of a very beautiful migrating warbler in the Conifer Garden: a male American Redstart. A few days later as I was birding in Price Park, which is just north of SGG on Stilesboro Rd., I found a small flock of these beautiful warblers. It was a glorious day of birding in SGG. Keep your eyes open for these free gifts from Mother Nature.

Male American Redstart (Cornell)

Male American Redstart (Cornell)

Happy Birding!

Pat Pepper

Plant of the Week: Red Spider Lily

Posted on: September 15th, 2015 by Christine Davis No Comments

Red spider lily (Lycoris radiata) is native to Japan and can grow up to 1 to 2 feet in height. It is in the amaryllis family and sometimes can be referred to as hurricane lily, especially in Florida because it blooms during hurricane season. It has a bright red bloom that is seen from August to September. The spider lily has long dark red stamens that resemble spider legs, which is how the plant was given its common name.

You can find the spider lily near the birthplace of the Garden.11960136_1030724110285317_5562176484295473709_n

Birds of SGG

Posted on: August 27th, 2015 by Christine Davis No Comments

ALL THINGS HUMMINGBIRD: Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Pat Pepper, SGG Volunteer Birder


The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are generally found in wooded areas.

Food Sources:

  • Nectar: Prefers red & orange flowers such as trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, honeysuckle, jewelweed, bee-balm, red buckeye, red zinnias and red morning glory. They also like sugar water in feeders and tree sap.
  • Insects: Mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, small bees, spiders, small caterpillars, and aphids.


Male or Female? Males have a red throat and black chin.


Did You Know?

  • The Ruby-throated Hummingbird beats its wings about 53 times a second.
  • The extremely short legs of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird prevent it from walking or hopping. The best it can do is shuffle along a perch.
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds prefer to feed on red or orange flowers (though it’s not necessary to color the sugar water you put in a hummingbird feeder).
  • Males hang around only long enough to court and mate. They do not help the female raise the young.
  • Incubation and fledging takes about a month.
  • Males may began to migrate south early in August.


Bring Hummingbirds to your yard by making your own nectar. Here’s how:

  • Boil one part table sugar with four parts of water. Cool before putting in feeder.
  • There is no need to color the sugar water, but having a red or orange feeder will help.
  • It is not necessary, but feeders with perches are greatly appreciated by hummingbirds.


Wondering which is better: Saucer or Inverted Feeder?

Pros and Cons

Saucer Feeders

  • Are easy to fill, clean and assemble
  • Can be more easily mounted on poles or railings

But, they also

  • Have a smaller capacity and must be refilled frequently
  • May be less visible to visiting birds

Inverted Feeders

  • Are easier to check nectar levels
  • Typically have a greater capacity

But, they

  • Are more prone to leakage and attracting insects
  • Can be more difficult to clean and fill


Cleaning Tips

  • Some feeders are dishwasher safe.
  • If washing by hand, use hot tap water and bleach, soap, or vinegar.
  • Scrub with a small bottle brush to remove sugary residue and any black mold spots.
  • Fill cleaned feeder with just enough sugar water to last a day or two.
  • In hot weather, the sugar water can turn cloudy quickly; this means it has fermented and must be discarded.
  • Hanging the feeder in a shady spot can reduce fermentation.


Keeping Pests Away

  • Ants, Bees, Wasps, and Bats also like sugar water, and feeders that drip will attract more insects.

Use Bee Guards! Insert bee guard into plastic flower on feeder.

Or, use an Ant Guard. The ant guard contains an insect repellent disc that will last throughout the summer. Hang it above your feeder.



Birds of SGG

Posted on: June 9th, 2015 by Christine Davis No Comments

Birds of Smith-Gilbert Gardens

By Pat Pepper


Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush Photo courtesy of Cornell Labs


On the morning of June 1st, I parked in the back parking lot of SGG in the spot in front of the lamp post, which is located just to the right of the large Princess Tree. As I got out of my car, I heard the song of a male Wood Thrush coming from the woods behind the lamp post. If you ask birders what their favorite bird song is, many will reply “the Wood Thrush.”

Hearing the song of a Wood Thrush is the beginning of summer for me. These birds winter in Central America and migrate to the eastern half of the U.S. in late spring and will spend the summer here. If I hear a Wood Thrush, and have the time, I will just sit down, close my eyes, put a contented smile on my face and be serenaded. My spirit begins to rise with the sweet, flute-like melodious notes.

I have heard many more Wood Thrushes than I have seen. Some field guides call these birds reclusive. They like to perch themselves around eye level or lower in deciduous woodlands. They feed on the ground, looking for insects among fallen leaves. Once, while I was sitting on my front porch, I was lucky enough to see a Wood Thrush feeding on the ground beneath a tree.

The Wood Thrush is a little smaller than a Robin. It is reddish brown on its back with a boldly spotted white chest and potbelly. It has a bold white eye ring and a fan-like marking under its eyes. It can be easily confused with a few other thrushes we see in Georgia. Most of the other thrushes are just migrating through our state in spring and fall except for the Hermit Thrush. While the Hermit Thrush and the Wood Thrush look very similar, they are not here at the same time. The Hermit Thrush winters here and moves on when the Wood Thrush arrives.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush photo courtesy of Cornell Labs

Note the snow in the picture of the Hermit Thrush. I usually always get at least one Hermit Thrush on my Audubon Christmas Count.

The Wood Thrush, while still numerous, is having problems. The parasitic Brown Cowbird lays its eggs in the Wood Thrush’s nest. The Cowbird hatchlings are more aggressive than those of the Wood Thrush, so the Wood Thrush parents end up raising Cowbirds instead of their own future American Singing Idols. Cowbirds grow up to be members of the Avian Mafia.

In addition to their Cowbird problem, Wood Thrushes are seeing their source of food diminish as acid rain kills off many of the invertebrates they feed on. I hope I go extinct before the Wood Thrushes. I can’t imagine living through a Georgia summer without my reason to sit down in the shade of a deciduous tree, close my eyes and open my ears to one of the most beautiful sounds on the earth.

Listen to a Wood Thrush:

Happy Birding!


Birds of SGG

Posted on: April 23rd, 2015 by Christine Davis No Comments

Birds of SGG

by Pat Pepper


Just as the plant world dazzles our eyes with incredible blooming beauty in spring, so does the bird world. Spring means spring migration, and it is starting right now. The avian males are all decked out in their spring finery, and the neotropic migrants that are only passing through Georgia on their way north will give us a chance to view them in all their spring glory.

These migrants do present a challenge to us, however, when it comes to identifying them. Since we only get about six or seven weeks to try to see these migrants, it may be difficult to find out what bird we have seen. You might be able to get a picture of some of them, like the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, because they will sit at your feeder long enough to be photographed. I always see a few of them at the SGG feeders every spring.

Male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

If you get a picture, then you can show it to someone who has some birding experience and hope he or she can ID it for you.

Many birds, however, like the colorful warblers, forage high up in trees and are very hyperactive. Photographing them is quite difficult. So, what’s a novice birder to do? You can buy bird guides that organize birds according to color. They are helpful, and that is what I used in the pre-personal computer days.

Luckily, we are living in a wondrous digital age. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has produced an extremely helpful new computer app for IDing birds. It is called       Merlin after the small falcon named Merlin.



The Merlin App is free and can be downloaded very quickly to an iPhone, iPad, or Android.

If you see a bird that you can’t identify, you can use the Merlin App to help you. The App will ask you to enter the location where you saw the bird, the date you saw it, then click on a bird silhouette closest to the size of your bird, click on all the colors you saw on the bird, then click where the bird was, such as your feeder, in a tree or bush, or wherever. Submit this info and Merlin will show you pictures of birds in your area that match the information you submitted.

A few weeks ago I was birding in Southern Arizona. It was dusk, so the lighting was poor. From my car, I saw a small flock of birds by the side of the gravel road. I could not ID them. I was not totally familiar with what species could be in Sasabee, AZ, in Feb. that looked like what I saw. I used my Merlin App and found my bird. They were American Pipits.

American Pipit

American Pipit

Here is a link that will show you how Merlin works:

It is quite simple to use. I hope you will consider downloading it to your smartphone, if you have one, so that you will have a bird ID source handy whenever you need it.

If you do download and use it, I would love your feedback on how it worked for you. Please e-mail me at the address below:



Happy Birding!

Pat Pepper

Pat Pepper


Pat Pepper

Birds of SGG

Posted on: February 19th, 2015 by shaerynck 1 Comment

Birds of SGG

By Pat Pepper

2015 Great Backyard Bird Count




Photo by Gary Mueller, Missouri

First, I want to give a big shout out to Stefanie Haerynck for her wonderful organizational skills during SGG’s first GBBC event on Feb. 14, 2015. She made my job as bird guide extremely easy with her handouts, white board, writing utensils, and binoculars for visitors to use.

The first bird walk of the day began at 10am. There were adults and children alike braving the cool, though sunny, weather. I handed them a bird list with accompanying pictures of thirty-four birds that I have seen at SGG in winter and asked them to try to find as many of them as they could.

We began our walk by the birdfeeders behind the Hiram Butler House. As if on cue, a Red-shouldered Hawk landed in the tall oak behind the gazebo and began his repeated “kee-yer” screams. Most likely these were courtship calls as this is hawk courting time. My three-year-old granddaughter, Cora, was in the crowd and began shouting “There’s a Red-shouldered Hawk! There’s a Red-shouldered Hawk!”

While my fledging birders were very excited to see this hawk, I was excited to see the delight on their faces as they studied this beautiful creature through the magic of their binoculars. After viewing the hawk, we looked at the birds coming to the feeders. There were many Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, and Tufted Titmouse.

In addition to these more common feeder visitors, other species seen throughout the two-hour event were Turkey Vulture, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Brown Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, Pine Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Song Sparrow, and many many Common Grackles. The Grackles were quite noisy, flying in and out of the holly trees behind the feeders.

I conducted four bird walks and really enjoyed meeting so many bird enthusiasts and sharing what I know about our fabulous feathered friends. Although this was a fun event for all who participated, we were also taking part in a serious scientific project.

The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place every February over four days—a Friday through Monday. It is a world-wide event. This year, in the U.S., it ended on Monday, Feb.16. Audubon, The Cornell Lab, and the Bird Studies of Canada team up to coordinate this event.

Here are the results of the checklists that were submitted over the four-day event:

Statistics from 2015 GBBC

  • Checklists Submitted:
  • 120,493
  • Total Species Observed:
  • 4,528
  • Total Individual Birds Counted:
  • 15,578,720

Our SGG checklist is one of those 120, 493. Contributing to the study of birds in order to insure their survival should make all of us who contributed in any way feel good about our efforts.

Thanks so much to the staff, volunteers, and visitors who helped find birds. I was in bird heaven with you all!

Happy Birding!

Pat Pepper


Birds Spotted during GBCC 2015 at SGG on February 14.

 All photos courtesy of Cornell Labs


Turkey Vulture

Red-shouldered Hawk



Downy Woodpecker


Blue Jay


American Crow


Carolina Chickadee


Tufted Titmouse


Brown-headed Nuthatch


Carolina Wren


Ruby-crowned Kinglet


American Robin

Brown Trasher

Brown Trasher


Northern Mockingbird


Pine Warbler


Eastern Towhee


Song Sparrow


Northern Cardinal




Tower Gardening Workshop for Teachers

Posted on: January 23rd, 2015 by shaerynck No Comments

Spring will be here sooner than you think!

Let’s GROW a Garden in your Classroom!!!

… a garden with NO DIRT? NO WEEDS?? Really???

…. Jump right into science with the aeroponic tower garden!


 Join for a free teacher

tower gardening workshop

Smith-Gilbert Gardens, Carriage House


Thursday February 26



Saturday March 28

Cost: teachers are free

Registration required!

Call 770-919-0248


to reserve your spot for this unique learning opportunity

What to expect:

– Learn about the tower garden and how it is great for the classroom

– Info on aeroponic system

– What you can grow, when to harvest, replanting…

– Comparison to traditional gardening

– Hear about how teachers around the country are using the tower garden as part of the STE(A)M program

– Check out Smith-Gilbert Gardens as a field trip opportunity for your class

Birds of SGG

Posted on: January 2nd, 2015 by Kelli Fuson No Comments

Birds of SGG by Pat Pepper

It’s that time of year! From Dec.14 to Jan.5, birders all over North and Central America  volunteer to count birds for the National Audubon Society. They usually spend up to twelve hours on one day identifying birds, both the species and number spotted. This information is invaluable in spotting bird migration trends and breeding success.

The Evening Grosbeak, for example, was once quite common here in Georgia, but now you must travel to Canada or the Northwest Region of the U.S. to spot one. Information like this can be gleaned by studying the results of these Christmas counts.

On December 14, 2014, I and three of my birder friends formed a team to count birds in two designated areas. Both areas were close to SGG, so any of the birds we spotted could be found in the gardens. Our first area included all the land in an area bordered by Stilesboro Rd. on the north, Paul Samuel and Acworth Due West on the east, Dallas Hwy. on the south, and Holland and Mars Hill on the west. Our second area was comprised mostly of Lake Acworth.

We started in the dark at 6am, hoping to hear owls. We were rewarded at Lake Acworth by the sound of a Barred and an Eastern Screech Owl. Birds may be counted either by sight or sound or both. The Lake Acworth area produced 47 different species. The most numerous species was the European Starling (47) and the Mallard Duck (43). The most exciting find, however, was three Common Goldeneyes (ducks). These are so rare for our area that we had to report them on the Rare Bird Alert.

The area south of Stilesboro Rd. produced 48 different species. Leone Price Park on Stilesboro, just west of SGG, and Green Meadows Reserve at the corner of Acworth Due West and Dallas Hwy. had the majority of birds. The most numerous bird was the Cedar Waxwing. We spotted 70 of them in the top of a tree. We also enjoyed watching 23 Eastern Bluebirds flit around near the communal garden. On the ground adjacent to Acworth Due West were a few Savannah Sparrows, always a treat to find.

Of the 63 species we found, I must confess that my favorite find was a very common bird found throughout the US. While common, it is rarely seen because of its excellent camouflage. This bird is the Brown Creeper. I have only spotted one other, and that was at SGG. It has the unusual pattern of walking up the trunk of a tree but then flying down. Nuthatches and Woodpeckers walk both up and down a tree trunk. Luckily, one of our team members lived in our birding area, and she had seen the Creeper in her back yard a few days before the count and had hoped it would still be there. It was!

We concluded our count at 4:30 pm. We were all tired but so excited by how many different birds we had found. You may wonder why the count is conducted in winter when it is not so pleasant to be outside, especially in Northern climes. The main reason is that the birds have finished migrating, so they won’t be counted twice or more in different parts of North and Central America.

Audubon will sponsor another count, The Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb.13-16, 2015. I will be at SGG on Saturday, Feb.14, to help Stefanie Haerynck conduct a count and help visitors

identify birds. It will be Valentine’s Day, so if you LOVE birds, please join us!

Happy Birding!

Pat Pepper


In Bloom

Posted on: January 2nd, 2015 by shaerynck No Comments

Walking through the garden this week, I found that there are signs of color and sweetly fragrant blooms to be found throughout. Below are some photos I took of some of the most notable plants I found. As you can see, there’s lots of yellow!

Photos below (L -> R clockwise)



  1. Chimonanthus praecox – fragrant wintersweet : The name says it all. Sweet-smelling blooms that arrive early. While it is growing a ways off of any path, you can smell the fragrance wafting through the air quite readily near the north side of the camellia garden.


  1. Rhapidophyllum hystrix – needle palm : This hardy palm adds a bit of a tropical flair to an otherwise gray wintry day just around the corner from Thelma & Louise.


  1. Mahonia x media ‘Arthur Menzies’  — hybrid mahonia : This is a rather tall evergreen shrub with quite showy flowers found near the Japanese maple island.


  1. Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ – Adam’s needle :   Selection of colorful evergreen shrub native to sand dunes and dry areas of coastal Southeastern US. Growing just outside the magnolia gates.


  1. Platycladus orientalis ‘Van Hoey Smith’ – Oriental arborvitae : This loose, upright evergreen shows off electric yellow foliage in the conifer garden.


  1. Eriobotrya japonica – Japanese loquat : Small, fuzzy orange fruits will arrive in spring. This tree is typically not hardy in our climate, however it looks in good health with its sweetly fragrant, white blooms.


  1. Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’ – glossy abelia : This low, compact evergreen is quite showy with its golden variegated leaves. New growth in spring will show off hues of red and orange as well.

Dave Simpson – Lead Horticulturist

Upcoming Events 2015

Posted on: November 11th, 2014 by shaerynck 1 Comment