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


Birds of SGG

Posted on: November 5th, 2014 by shaerynck No Comments

By Pat Pepper
As I walked around the gardens on Wednesday, Oct. 15, I found myself in the middle of male bird tomfoolery. I was standing near the picnic area on the west side of the gardens when male cardinals, mockingbirds, and towhees chased each other all about me like aerial stunt jets. I think they were enjoying having the gardens to themselves again as most of the Neotropical migrants have moved farther south.

I did encounter two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds still hanging around, but they also will be gone soon. If you would like to try to attract a Rufous Hummingbird this winter, leave your nectar feeder up. While Rufous Hummingbirds are difficult to find, you could get lucky.

Near the Bonsai Garden I spotted a Red-shouldered Hawk and two Northern Flickers. I hear and often see Flickers almost every time I go to the gardens. Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers were abundant. American Crows and Blue Jays pierced the quiet skies with their discordant caws and jaaays.

Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice flew in and out of the trees, and White-breasted Nuthatches walked up and down the branches of oak trees while their cousins, the Brown-headed Nuthatches, did the same in the pines. Carolina Wrens scolded me whenever I got near to their hiding places, and American Robins shared the pathways with me.

Gray Catbirds did their best feline interpretations while a lone Song Sparrow scratched in the gravel on the road in front of the Hiram-Butler House. Except for the Ruby-throats, all of the above-mentioned birds will be with us all year. While we have enjoyed all the beautiful migrants passing through, we can now welcome our winter visitors. Birders in North Georgia are already reporting seeing these wonderful old friends.

The following are winter birds that are arriving here daily: Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, and Hermit Thrush. Study the pictures below, then see if you can spot any of them in your yard.

winter wren

Winter Wren

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

White-throated sparrow

White-throated sparrow

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Pictures courtesy of Cornell Labs.

Check your yard for these wonderful winter birds!

Happy Birding!

Pat Pepper

Pat Pepper

  Pat Pepper 

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.