Birds of SGG

Posted on: September 25th, 2014 by shaerynck No Comments

By Pat Pepper

While birding at SGG on Monday, Sept.15, I ran into Stefanie Haerynck, SGG’s education coordinator. We started talking when I noticed a bird quickly dive into a small tree behind Stefanie. We were standing just off the northwest section of the main lawn.

I told Stefanie I would like to see what bird had flown into the tree so I got my binoculars on it. It was a Brown Thrasher, and it was hungrily gulping the red berries on the tree. While I could ID the bird, I could not ID the tree. I asked Stefanie if she knew what type of tree it was, and she did! She told me it was a linden viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum).

Linden Viburnum -  Powell Gardens

Linden Viburnum – Powell Gardens

Brown Trasher -  Cornell Labs

Brown Trasher – Cornell Labs









This incident got me thinking about the relation between birds and what they eat to our ability to find and ID many birds. This is an area in which I definitely need more knowledge and field experience, but I would like to share some basic information I have learned about what trees and flowers we can plant in our yards that attract birds.

According to the USDA, north Georgia is in Zone 7 for plant hardiness, so I will only suggest bird-friendly plants that can exist in Zone 7.

If you want to attract thrashers, you can plant ‘Heritage’ everbearing red raspberry, Washington hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum), red mulberry (Morus rubrum), and as mentioned, linden viburnum.

If you want the beautiful songs of a thrush (wood, hermit, veery or robin) to envelop your yard, try planting flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), ‘Winter Red’ winterberry (planted along with a male winterberry variety such as ‘Jim Dandy’), blueberry, or spicebush (Lindera benzoin).

Wood Trush - Cornell Labs

Wood Trush – Cornell Labs

Spicebush -

Spicebush –  A garden for All

While the brown thrasher and the wood thrush can fill your yard with glorious song, they won’t visually dazzle you with their two-tone, brown and white feathers. In order to get some color, you need to attract some finches. Cardinals and blue jays provide vibrant red, white and blue, but you will need to do almost nothing to attract them. A male goldfinch or indigo bunting can take your breath away with their beauty. A purple finch and, to a lesser degree, the house finch have lovely splashes of red over their brown and white streaks.

In order to attract finches, plant mustards, purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), annual sunflower (Helianthus spp.), lettuces (when they produce a flowering stem), and zinnia.

Purple Coneflower -

Purple Coneflower –

Indigo Bunting - Cornell Labs

Indigo Bunting – Cornell Labs

I am going to end this article with telling you how to attract an elegantly beautiful bird that you can enjoy in spades as you rarely see just one. They flock and can strip a berry tree pretty quickly, but just getting to view them, especially through binoculars, is worth a naked tree afterwards. This avian delight is the regal-looking cedar waxwing. They love berries, so try planting trees and shrubs that get berries at different times of the year such as serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), hawthorn, sour cherry (Prunus cerasus), sweet cherry (P. avium), red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), or mulberry.


Cedar Waxwing - Cornell Labs

Cedar Waxwing – Cornell Labs


Serviceberry - Mother Earth News

Serviceberry – Mother Earth News

I hope the next time you decide to plant something new in your yard, you’ll plant something that will please both you and our feathered friends.


Happy Birding!

Pat Pepper

Pat Pepper

Plants that Hummingbirds Love

Posted on: August 28th, 2014 by shaerynck 1 Comment

Plants that hummingbirds love

Birds of SGG

Posted on: August 27th, 2014 by shaerynck No Comments

by Pat Pepper


Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby throated Hummingbird

Photo courtesy of Cornell Labs

On Saturday, Aug. 23, SGG hosted its most popular public event, Hummingbird Banding. Most people are fascinated by Hummingbirds because they are beautiful and are astounding aerial acrobats. I was telling my mother in Florida about this event when she interjected, “How in the world can you band those tiny little legs?”

Banding is definitely a skill that requires a permit, which not many people have. SGG is very fortunate to have Julia Elliott volunteer her time to show us all how it is done. Last year I wrote a column about the process of banding, so if you didn’t get to read that, I have included an excerpt attachment at the end of this article.

The only Hummingbirds that were seen this past Saturday at SGG were the Ruby-throated. While we here in the East are blessed with many different warblers, our western states get the Hummingbird blessings, and Central America has so many different species that my head spins with exorcism delight when I travel down there.

On Aug. 25 my husband and I will travel to Marin County, California, to visit my daughter and son-in-law who have recently moved there. I am hoping to see at least three species of Hummingbirds that might be in that area right now: Black-chinned, Anna’s, Allen, and Rufous.

All photos courtesy of Cornell Labs:



Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

Allen's Hummingbird

Allen’s Hummingbird


Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

The Rufous Hummingbird can be seen here in Georgia in the winter, but only the Ruby-throated breeds here. We are seeing so many Ruby-throats at our feeders right now because they have finished breeding and are plumping up for their arduous journey back to Central America for the late fall and winter. Studying the migration of these tiny birds will only increase your admiration for them. They are definitely more than just a pretty face!

Happy Birding!

Pat Pepper

Pat Pepper


Bird Banding

Posted on: August 27th, 2014 by shaerynck No Comments

(excerpted from Aug.2013 Birds of SGG by Pat Pepper)

In order to legally band birds, one must be trained and obtain a U.S. Federal Bird Banding and Marking Permit. Bird banding is controlled under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and only official federal bands may be legally placed on birds that will then be released into the wild. The North American Bird Banding Program is directed in the U.S. by the Bird Banding Lab (BBL) at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and in Canada by the Bird Banding Office (BBO).

On August 7 my cousin Dr. Gary Heinz, a wildlife biologist at Patuxent, showed me around the center. He showed me the BBL building where all banding data is housed. His knowledge and the Patuxent website, gave me much of the factual information in this article.

Bird Bands are provided free of charge to permitted banders by the BBL. Most bands are made of aluminum and inscribed with CALL 1-800-327 BAND and www.ReportBand.GOV followed by a 8 or 9 digit number. There are 25 standard size bands and 5 specially sized bands to fit the smallest hummingbird to the large Trumpeter Swan.

bird bands

Patuxent Wildlife Reasearch Center’s BBL Bands

            Why band birds? The beneficial data obtained from these bands far exceeds the minimal stress placed on the birds during the banding process.  The data are useful in both research and management projects. Band information makes studies of bird dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, lifespan and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth possible.  Banding has enabled researches to learn that the Arctic Tern makes the longest migration flight of any living species: an annual round trip flight of 25,000 miles!

In April of this year, I and two of my favorite birding buddies, Wayne Heinz and Lucie Fritz (Wayne is Dr. Heinz’s brother), went to Dauphin Island, AL, to see all the migrating warbles. While there we took a ferry over to Fort Morgan on the Gulf to observe a bird banding.

We were fascinated by the entire process. We went into the areas where the mist nets (soft, loose, nearly invisible nets) were set up. Handlers would get the caught birds as quickly as possible and take them to the banders.

Once the banders got the birds, they very efficiently began the data collection. The entire process goes as follows:


  1. The banders hold the bird loosely between the index and middle fingers of their hand.
  2. If the bird already has a band, the registered band number is found in the BBL’s computer data bank and the new status of the bird is recorded.
  3. If there is no band, the bander removes the appropriate band for that particular bird from a ring containing many bands.
  4. The band is fitted around the bird’s leg and then squeezed until the band’s two ends meet.
  5. A ruler is used to measure the wing chord (the measurement taken to the nearest millimeter with the wing bent at a 90 degree angle, from the most prominent point of the wrist joint to the most prominent point of the longest primary feather).
  6. The breeding condition, body molt, and fat content are checked by gently blowing aside the body feathers. (The banders we watched used a straw to blow the feathers, and most of the fat contents recorded were zero. These birds had just flown over the Gulf of Mexico, so they had no reserves left)
  7. Flight feather conditions are checked.
  8. The bird’s skull is dampened in order to determine its age.
  9. The bird is weighed.
  10. Finally, all this data is entered on paper or on a computer and submitted to the BBL at Patuxent.

Birds of SGG

Posted on: July 21st, 2014 by Raj Prashad No Comments

Thursday, July 17, was a beautifully cool morning at SGG. I decided to take my 2yr. and 9-month old granddaughter, Cora, to SGG and introduce her to the delights of the garden. She played with the giant bubbles, dug in the dirt, meditated on the koi, chased juvenile Blue Jays and Brown Thrashers in the meadow, and, of course, smelled the roses.


Cora, playing in the vegetable garden dirt

My joy in birding is only equaled by introducing the delights of nature to my granddaughter. I also appreciate her sharp, young eyes as she often spots birds before I do. If you would like to bird with a young one, I can recommend a pair of binoculars that I bought for Cora, and they have been perfect for her. They are called GeoSafari Jr. Kidnoculars. They are made of durable plastic, have a 3X magnification and no moving parts. She and I have had a lot of fun birding with these.

SGG continues to be a big playing and learning area for many juvenile birds. Find a human juvenile and join the fun with him or her!

I have been writing about the birds I have seen at SGG for several years now, but not all of these birds are at SGG all the time. Ann, SGG’s new Director, asked me if I could tell you what birds you could find at what time of year. I decided to make a list of the birds I have seen at SGG the past three years and what season of the year I saw them. This may help you to know what you may have seen but couldn’t identify.

SGG’s Year-Round Birds:

Great Blue Heron (Flying)

Black Vulture (Flying)

Turkey Vulture (Flying)

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Rock Pigeon

Mourning Dove

Barred Owl

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Pileated Woodpecker

Blue Jay

American Crow

Carolina Chickadee

Tufted Titmouse

White-breasted Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Carolina Wren

House Wren

American Robin

Northern Mockingbird

Brown Thrasher

House Finch

European Starling

Pine Warbler

Northern Cardinal

Eastern Towhee

Chipping Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Common Grackle

Brown-headed Cowbird

House Sparrow

American Goldfinch

SGG’s Summer Birds:

Chimney Swift (Flying)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Red-eyed Vireo

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Eastern Wood Pewee

Acadian Flycatcher

White-eyed Vireo

Gray Catbird

SGG’s Winter Birds:

Eastern Phoebe

Brown Creeper

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Cedar Waxwing

SGG’s Spring & Fall Regulars:

Sandhill Crane (Flying)

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Palm Warbler

White-throated Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Pine Sisken

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (At the Feeders)

As you can see, the longest list is the year-round one, so go birding anytime at SGG!

Happy Birding!

Pat Pepper

Recipes that celebrate the Fourth!

Posted on: July 2nd, 2014 by Smith-Gilbert Gardens No Comments

Well, let’s just admit, it has been hot for the past few days. But, it is the middle of the summer in Georgia, it is supposed to be hot. Sometimes in the middle of the summer, I tend to shy away from heavy foods and heavy cooking and turn to lighter and more creative food. If you are planning to head out to a Fourth of July event and need to bring something, I wanted to share a few easy-to-transport recipes you might enjoy.

But, first I’ll share a recipe that, although it is not good for transporting, is a delicious, light, and low-calorie dessert – perfect for these hot days!

Carrie’s Angel Food Cake
No baking required!

1 large store-bought Angel food cake
1 pint orange sherbet
1 pint lime sherbet
1 pine raspberry sherbet
1 Large container Cool Whip

Soften sherbet until spreading consistency, but not runny. If it is too runny put back in freezer until smooth. Slice Angel food cake horizontally into four layers. Use a good knife, slice them about one inch and try to keep the layers even. Spread the bottom layer with orange sherbet, top with a layer of cake and spread with lime sherbet, then add the next cake layer and top with the raspberry sherbet and place the top back on the cake. Working quickly (if it starts to get runny, stick the cake in the freezer for 10 – 15 minutes) spread the Cool Whip over the top and down the sides. FREEZE until firm. Remove cake from freezer only about 5 minutes before serving. Slice and look at those beautiful layers. Not only is this pretty, it is cool, light, healthy and good. Enjoy.

Watermelon Appetizers
This is a great change of pace for watermelon and it is so good. Just give it a try. This transports well and is ideal for that neighborhood 4th of July party.

Watermelon cubes
Asiago cheese
Olive Oil
Black pepper

Slice the Asiago into small slivers about the same size as the water melon cubes. Tear, fold or cut the Prosciutto into small pieces. Thread a piece of watermelon on a long party-style toothpick, add a sliver of the cheese. Then, add another cube of melon and then top with the Prosciutto. Lay these on a pretty serving plate making as many of these as you have ingredients or friends. Lightly drizzle a very good quality olive oil over the appetizers and give a light sprinkle of cracked black pepper. These travel well and are delicious.

The last recipe is the famous Smith-Gilbert Gardens Basil White Wine!

We seem to be able to grow lots of healthy herbs here at SGG and one of those is basil. If you have ever attended one of our events where we have brought out the basil-infused white wine, then you know how refreshing and different it can be for a summer afternoon. This is so easy, so elegant and, honestly, adds such an amazing flavor to the wine – uncork and enjoy.

Basil Infused White Wine
Good quality Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio – chilled
About a six-inch stalk of basil with beautiful bright green leaves

Uncork your wine. You may need to drink a little off the top so you have room, don’t worry, it’s OK. Stuff the sprig of basil, leaves and all, into the bottle of chilled white wine and replace the cork. Put back into the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Sit on the porch, have a watermelon appetizer and a glass of basil-infused wine and enjoy the long weekend ahead.

Birds of SGG

Posted on: June 18th, 2014 by Smith-Gilbert Gardens No Comments

By Pat Pepper

While most of us are already in summer mode, the bird world is still exhibiting spring fever. Friday, June 13, was not an unlucky day for me at SGG as I made the rounds of the garden looking for bird activity. I smiled at that House Wren I wrote about last month, still singing away at the top of the red cedar. I was surprised that he hasn’t found a mate yet, but, perhaps this was a different house wren. I hope so.

SGG is a bird nursery right now. After looking and listening to the House Wren for a while, I saw a bird on the ground near the prayer flags. I did not recognize its markings right away, but its size and behavior (scratching at the ground and hopping backwards) was that of an Eastern Towhee. I assumed that this bird must be a juvenile Towhee. I checked my bird guide and matched this bird with the juvenile picture in the guide. They matched!

Juveniles of any bird species can be very difficult to identify. Just like fawns who have white spots for camouflage, juvenile birds look very different from their parents, even their mothers. This, of course, is for their protection. Notice the differences in the male, female, and juvenile Eastern Towhees in the following pictures. They all, however, have a small white patch on their upper wing.

Male Eastern Towhee

Male Eastern Towhee

Female Eastern Towhee


Juvenile Eastern Towhee

Juvenile Eastern Towhee

I had guessed the identity of this juvenile based on its behavior, which is a good reminder to all birders that you must take into account visual and audio clues, behavior, and range when trying to ID birds. Light, as well as your binoculars, can play tricks with the coloration of birds.

As I continued on my walk, I spotted another juvenile. This time it was a Gray Catbird.


Juvenile Gray Catbird

Juvenile Gray Catbird

Juvenile Gray Catbirds look much like their parents except they appear fluffier. Like most juvenile birds, they are less wary of us. If I had approached an adult Gray Catbird as closely I had this juvenile, the adult would have quickly flown away. Usually, the juvenile’s parents are not far away and still are watching out for their offspring, so the juvenile is not completely defenseless.

Another example of a juvenile bird’s immature behavior in regard to wariness occurred soon after I saw the Catbird. I was standing near the metal ornamental arch on the trail at the south end of the meadow looking at a male Brown Thrasher chase another male Brown Thrasher on the lawn when I heard a whooshing sound above my head. I looked up to see a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk on a pine branch. He had a juicy caterpillar in his mouth and stared at me for a few seconds before proceeding to eat his breakfast.

 Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk

Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk

A mature Red-Shouldered Hawk would not have chosen to perch so close to an animal (me) that might be a threat to it. This was something that juvenile hawk still had to learn. After the juvenile finished his caterpillar, he flew to another pine branch higher up in a nearby pine. The juvenile began to vocalize with that high, clear cry…keeyur keeyur. One of his parents quickly flew to him. I’m sure that juvenile got a quick reprimand about having landed so closely to me.

There is so much fascinating drama going on all around us in nature. Go grab your binoculars and get a front row seat!

Happy Birding!    5  Pat Pepper

Georgia’s Hidden Treasures

Posted on: June 13th, 2014 by Smith-Gilbert Gardens No Comments

Recipes for a Healthier You

Posted on: May 29th, 2014 by SGG Editor No Comments

In support of our Healthier You Initiative, I have been thinking about recipes that are good AND good for you.

I have written several times about spinach.  I think it is the top of the list as a super food.  I know kale gets the better press, but spinach is much more versatile and honestly tastes better, at least to me.  I enjoy kale, but it takes more effort to make kale taste like I want it, while spinach seems to pair well with so many things.  Cooked or raw spinach is a great healthy food.

I am a huge fan of hot spinach and artichoke dip, really love it, and I tend to order it as an appetizer when eating out. Plus, I love to make it at home.  This is one of those recipes that can be adapted as a low fat version.  So, here is my healthy take on a spinach and artichoke dip.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip – A Healthier Version

1 Tablespoon olive oil 1 cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves minced garlic Bag of fresh baby spinach

1 (8oz.) can water chestnuts, drained & chopped 1 (14oz.) can artichoke hearts (NOT packed in

1 (8oz.) block of 1/3 less fat cream cheese oil, but packed in water)

1 (8oz) container of light sour cream 1 cup grated reduced fat cheddar cheese, divided

1 teaspoon hot sauce Salt and pepper to taste

These are the basic ingredients I use and, as you can see, I use light or reduced fat items.  If you choose to go with “no fat” sour cream or cream cheese, the dip will be a little runnier and, let’s be honest, no fat cheese doesn’t melt.  This is where I caution people:  when fat is completely taken out of a product, it has to be replaced with “something” and usually it is not a healthy alternative.  Read the ingredients please and look for the organic versions of low fat items.

Preheat oven to 350.

Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and garlic and sauté 5 minutes or until tender.  Add spinach, water chestnuts and artichokes; sauté 3 – 4 minutes or until spinach really begins to wilt.  Add cream cheese, sour cream ½ cup cheddar cheese, and next 3 ingredients.  Spoon into an 11 x 7 baking dish that has been coated with olive oil flavored cooking spray.  Bake for 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Now what to dip in this – could be celery or carrots, but you know you want a chip.  Make your own!

Cut whole wheat, low fat tortillas into wedges and bake at 400⁰ until crispy. Or, cut pita bread into wedges and do the same. For a very interesting alternative, buy wonton wrappers and cut them into triangles. Then, sprinkle with salt, pepper, or any dried herb mixture and bake until crisp.

It is summer, so everyone is grilling.  This is a healthy alternative with a few rules to follow for success.  Don’t char your food, it is bad for you and, honestly, tastes bitter.  So, with this simple recipe, be careful because sugar can burn and char quickly.

Honey-Hoisin Pork Tenderloin

2 tablespoons sliced green onions 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce (Asian section)

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce 2 tablespoons sage or clover honey

1 tablespoon hot water 2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon salt

1 (1 lb.) pork tenderloin

½ teaspoon sesame seeds

Combine first 7 ingredients in a small bowl (through garlic).  Pour ¼ cup of this honey mixture into a large zip-top plastic bag, reserving the remaining honey mixture.  Add pork to bag and seal.  Marinade in refrigerator 8 hours.

Heat grill until very hot.  Remove pork from marinade and place on hot grill. If possible, turn the side of the grill with the meat on it to the lowest setting and leave the other side on high. If you are not able to do this, then reduce heat to low after placing pork on the grill.

Turn frequently to avoid burning and to ensure even browning.  Close the lid once pork is browned and allow to cook for 15 minutes.  Open grill and brush pork with reserved honey mixture, again – turning often.  After 5 – 10 minutes, depending on thickness of pork, check temperature with a meat thermometer (an essential tool for grilling). Meat should register 160⁰.  Brush one last time with honey and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Remove from grill and let meat rest 5 – 10 minutes.  Slice thin and drizzle with remaining honey mixture and sprinkle with green onions.

Birds of SGG

Posted on: May 19th, 2014 by Smith-Gilbert Gardens 1 Comment
House Wren Photo courtesy of Cornell Labs

House Wren
Photo courtesy of Cornell Labs

As I got out of my car around 9am on Wednesday, May 14, at SGG, I was crossing my fingers that I would find a new bird to write about. I am into my third year of writing about the birds of SGG, so it is getting more difficult to find a bird I have not seen before in the gardens.

Mother Nature responded favorably to my crossed fingers as I immediately heard a bird I had not written about before. I followed the bubbly little song until I spotted the bird sitting atop the bare branches of the Eastern Red Cedar located by the rose garden.
I love those bare branches. I have spotted so many different birds, especially singing males, using those branches as their courting stage. They are the center of attention in that spot, not only for prospective mates but also for us. For those of you who have French manicured-garden sensibilities and would like to prune those dead branches, I hope you will think of them not as an eyesore but as a perch for a beautiful tree ornament—a bird.

I sat down on the lovely garden bench on the west side of the trail to watch and listen to the lively little House Wren. North Georgia is the southernmost breeding area for House Wrens. During non-breeding times, House Wrens like to stay low where they can quickly dart into tangled brush to escape predators, but love is a powerful motivator.

I witnessed this motivation to find a mate later in my walk when I heard another House Wren, or perhaps the same male I had seen earlier, singing high in the oak tree above the gazebo by the koi pond. What I marveled at was this male Wren did not stop singing even when a Red-shouldered Hawk landed in the same oak! Hawks eat songbirds. If that act of bravado didn’t win that feisty Wren a mate, then move over Scarlet O’Hara.

Feisty is a very appropriate adjective for the House Wren. This little bird is only 4.75” long and weighs about 0.39 oz., but he is disturbingly territorial. Once he has established his territory, he will not tolerate any other cavity nesters, like bluebirds, building their nests in his territory. He will lay sticks in other birds’ nests to disturb them and will even go so far as to poke holes in other birds’ eggs.
I did not see any bluebirds at the gardens, so hopefully no one will have to witness any avian infanticide. If you have a bluebird box in your yard and are having difficulty attracting bluebirds, you may want to look around or listen for the presence of a House Wren.
I heard and saw a House Wren on the fence in my backyard a couple of weeks ago. I have a bluebird box, but Chickadees moved into it. I have not seen any activity lately, so I’m anticipating the worst when I open the box. Such is the nature of Nature—not good or bad—just life.

You can help out the birds who come to your feeder, especially if you maintain a very orderly lawn and garden. Your feeder is a great temptation for birds looking for easy pickings. They risk being out in the open in order to feed, and we enjoy being able to see them out in the open. However, they need someplace to hide if a predator approaches your feeder. When you prune your bushes and trees, save some of the cuttings for a brush pile. This is a perfect hiding place for birds. I was very pleased to see that Callaway Gardens had an igloo-shaped brush pile near their feeders.

As a final note, you should learn the difference between the House Wren and the Carolina Wren so you will not worry about your bluebirds if you see a Carolina Wren. The Carolina Wren is more common in this area and will not harm the eggs of other birds. The Carolina Wren is larger than the House Wren and has a bold white eyebrow.

You might also like to compare the songs of these two Wrens:

Carolina Wren Photo courtesy of Cornell Labs

Carolina Wren
Photo courtesy of Cornell Labs

House Wren:
Carolina Wren:

Happy Birding!