Birds of SGG
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.
(bird pics from Cornell Labs & Kousa pic from firstways.com)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pat Pepper mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org