Old Coots, Crazy Old Coots, and Monkeys

Travel Monkey

You may have heard the term, “Old Coot,” or “Crazy Old Coot.”  How did coots get such a bad rep anyway?  A coot is a common water bird that often migrates with ducks.  It’s not tasty.  Hunters don’t like them.  It’s rather awkward in the water and has a beady red eye. It doesn’t fly much but when it does decide to get airborne it runs across the water making a lot of noise before finally taking off.  So how this rather harmless bird became cross-threaded with an euphemism for a tottering, eccentric, old man is a mystery to Kongo.  

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Birds at Lettuce Lake Park

Travel Monkey

Kongo is visiting Tampa this week to spend some quality time with family. About a mile from the home of the monkey’s youngest is a wonderful place called Lettuce Lake Park. It’s part of a network of regional parks in the Tampa Bay area that highlight nature and Florida’s fragile ecosystems in the middle of a big city.

lettucelake-5 White Ibis

Kongo has been to this park once before but this time he brought a proper camera lens to capture some of the many water birds that live here.  The park is located along the Hillsborough River in Tampa and adjacent wetlands. Boardwalks allow visitors to walk out over the wetlands and really get close to the wildlife.

lettucelake-16 Limkin

Kongo spotted a couple of night herons, lots of Ibis birds, a wood stork, an elusive anhinga, and a wading limkin.  There were egrets and owls around as well but not close…

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American Dipper ate a salmon egg

益言堂

This American Dipper was diving in into Stone Creek at Burnaby. And it found a pink Salmon egg. What a delicious meal!

American Dipper @ Stone Creek, Burnaby, B.C., Canada

From Wikipedia:

“The American dipper (Cinclus mexicanus), also known as a water ouzel, is a stocky dark grey bird with a head sometimes tinged with brown, and white feathers on the eyelids that cause the eyes to flash white as the bird blinks. “

”  It inhabits the mountainous regions of Central America and western North America from Panama to Alaska. “

” This species, like other dippers, is equipped with an extra eyelid called a “nictitating membrane” that allows it to see underwater, and scales that close its nostrils when submerged. Dippers also produce more oil than most birds, which may help keep them warmer when seeking food underwater. “

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‘Science’ article warns that people need to focus on the needs of disappearing birds

Our Fine Feathered Friends

Photo by Pixabay.com • Birds are disappearing. Some populations have seen a dangerous decline. Loggerhead shrikes are declining across the continent, and the reasons are complicated but can ultimately be traced to human activity.

Imagine the sky growing dark and, looking up, you notice that the cause is not approaching storm clouds but a passage of birds — millions of individual birds, their wings darkening the skies as they pass overhead.

The early American naturalist and painter John James Audubon once described the passage of enormous flocks of passenger pigeons that blotted out the light “as by an eclipse” and described the noise of the multitude of wings “like thunder.” His observation of these flocks took place in 1813. A century later, the world’s last passenger pigeon, a species that had ranked as one of the continent’s most numerous birds, died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Photo by Bryan…

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Water a magnet for waxwings, other birds

Our Fine Feathered Friends

Photo by Patrice_Audet/Pixabay.com • Cedar waxwings feed extensively on various fruits and insects, forming large nomadic flocks that can quickly deplete local resources.

The extended spell of dry, hot weather we’ve experienced for the past several weeks threatens to spoil fall colors, but if you’re a person who can offer a water feature or bird bath, this might be the perfect time to observe thirsty flocks of birds. In particular, cedar waxwings, which often travel in large flocks, embrace water with an exceptional avian enthusiasm.

I still remember my first look at a cedar waxwing. Sleek as silk, wearing a mask like a bandit, with a jaunty crest atop its head, this fairly common bird commands attention when making an appearance in a yard or garden. Of course, it’s usually not alone, more often traveling as a member of a larger flock that can number as high as dozens or…

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Palm warbler’s name an unfortunate misnomer that has stuck

Our Fine Feathered Friends

Photo by Jean Potter The palm warbler’s name is a mistaken assumption that this warbler held special affinity for palm trees. It doesn’t.

The warbler parade that begins each autumn with such brightly colored migrants as Blackburnian warbler, black-throated blue warbler and magnolia warbler usually ends with some of the less vibrant members of this family of New World birds.

On a recent bird walk at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton, Tennessee, I helped locate a flock of 13 palm warblers and a single yellow-rumped warbler. These two warblers, which look rather brownish and nondescript in the fall, pass through the region later than most other migrating warblers. In fact, the yellow-rumped warbler is one of the few warblers that routinely spends the winter months in the region.

The yellow-rumped warbler has a most suitable name thanks to the yellow patch of feathers on the bird’s rump. The…

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Mysterious owl retains a low profile even during Halloween season

Our Fine Feathered Friends

Photo by jeanvdmeulen/Pixabay.com • The barn owl’s heart-shaped face helps this bird, which is also known by such names as death owl, ghost owl, and hobgoblin owl, stand out from the other owls that share the domain of night.

With common names such as cave owl, death owl, ghost owl, night owl and hobgoblin owl, the nocturnal hunter more widely known as the barn owl provides a fitting focus for exploration as the calendar counts down toward Halloween.

Barn owls lurk in the shadows of night, but most people would never know it unless they happen to hear some of the spine-tingling vocalizations produced by this poorly known predatory bird. Shiver-inducing shrieks and screams quite capable of piercing the veil of darkness are often produced by the barn owl. This owl doesn’t utter loud hoots like the great horned owl. Instead, the call of the barn owl is not likely…

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Despite its dark and misunderstood reputation, American crow one of nation’s success stories

Our Fine Feathered Friends

Photo by Peter Pearsall/USFWS • American crows — large, intelligent, all-black birds with hoarse, cawing voices — are familiar over much of the continent. Crows are common sights in treetops, fields and roadsides and in habitats ranging from open woods and empty beaches to town centers.

While seeking birds far afield, I have occasionally spotted some innovative scarecrows standing sentry in gardens and agricultural fields. I’m not sure if anyone still erects these human effigies for their original purpose of warding off crows and other feathered agricultural pests. These days, scarecrows likely serve an ornamental purpose and are often part of a yard’s whimsical Halloween or autumn decorations.

Regardless of the intention behind them, scarecrows have never been effective at driving crows away from human fields and crops. To put it simply, crows are too smart to get spooked by the human invention of the scarecrow. The bird with one of…

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Winter’s dark-eyed junco provided inspiration for first column

Our Fine Feathered Friends

Photo by Skeeze/Pixabay.com • The dark-eyed junco is a fairly common winter resident in the region. Rather widespread, different races of the dark-eyed junco are found throughout the North American continent.

I wrote my first bird column on Sunday, Nov. 5, 1995, which means this weekly column will mark its 24th anniversary this week. This column has appeared over the last 20 years in a total of six different newspapers, which I regard as a personal achievement as well as an accomplishment for our feathered friends. It’s on their behalf that I pen these weekly efforts to promote conservation and good will toward all birds. “For the Birds” has appeared in the Bristol Herald Courier since June of 2014.

Photo by Bryan Stevens •  Dark-eyed Juncos often delay their winter arrivals to the first snows of the season.

I’ve played detective, helping people identify everything from “rain crows,” or cuckoos…

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Fall bird count celebrates 50 consecutive years, finds 118 species

Our Fine Feathered Friends

Photo by Bryan Stevens  • Chipping sparrows, such as this individual, showed up for the Fall Bird Count in good numbers.

The 50th consecutive Elizabethton Fall Bird Count was held on Saturday, Oct. 5, with 29 observers in eight parties. Participants tallied 118 species, which is below the recent 30-year average of 125 species. Windy conditions throughout the day and dense fog on the higher mountain tops contributed to the reduced variety. The all-time high on this count was 137 species in 1993.

The yearly survey is not limited to Carter County and Elizabethton. The long-running count includes parts of the adjacent counties of Unicoi, as well as Johnson Sullivan and Washington.

The total follows:

Canada Goose, 635; Wood Duck, 97; Mallard,173; Blue-winged Teal, 30; and Green-winged Teal, 3;

Ruffed Grouse, 3; Wild Turkey, 56; Common Loon, 1; Pied-billed Grebe, 7; Double-crested Cormorant, 10; and Great Blue Heron, 35.

Black…

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