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.
Pictures courtesy of Cornell Labs.
Check your yard for these wonderful winter birds!
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
by Pat Pepper
Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
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:
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!
(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, http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/BBL/homepage/btypes.cfm 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.
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:
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.
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)
SGG’s Summer Birds:
Chimney Swift (Flying)
Eastern Wood Pewee
SGG’s Winter Birds:
SGG’s Spring & Fall Regulars:
Sandhill Crane (Flying)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (At the Feeders)
As you can see, the longest list is the year-round one, so go birding anytime at SGG!
Pat Pepper mailto:email@example.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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! Pat Pepper mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org