Off the Porch with Judy and Don Self
The 12th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count, our 4-day mid-winter avian scavenger hunt was great fun. At last count, our species total was 70 for Gallion. The weather was great as usual and the birds were for the most part cooperative. Blue-headed vireos, loggerhead shrikes, and hermit thrushes were plentiful, but we had to work for greater yellowlegs and fox and white-crowned sparrows. Bald eagles, hooded mergansers and our sharp-shinned hawk, which regularly terrorizes our feeders, chose to take a 4-day sabbatical and avoided our count (obnoxious birds!).Check the results for your hometown at www.birdsource.org/gbbc and make plans to join us next February.
The local fish-wrapper proclaimed it to be the first day of spring! It’s early for most of our spring migrants, but with clear blue sky, gentle east breeze, and temperature at about 50°F, it seemed to appropriate to get off the porch and go birding.
Chickasaw State Park (Stop 12 on the Alabama Black Belt Nature and Heritage Trail) is located between Linden and Demopolis in central Marengo County and only a 5-minute drive from Almosta Farm, so off we went.
The park’s 520 acres is divided by US Highway 43. The picnic area, playground, restrooms, and nature trail are all located in the ±30 acres east of the highway. The remainder of the park lies west of the highway and is dedicated to a handicapped-accessible state-operated hunting area, so access by the public is restricted.
We chose to bird the nature trail and the margins of the playground/picnic area. The nature trail has received minimal attention over the last few years, but the Boy Scouts of America recently volunteered to take on the project of restoring the trail!
Yellow jessamine and red buckeye were in full bloom and many of the oaks were covered with catkins. Showers of bits of flowers and pollen dislodged by the overhead activities of squirrels and birds required frequent cleaning of our binoculars. A slow walk along the trail revealed that most of our wintering birds were still present. Eastern phoebes, blue-headed vireos, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, ruby-crowned kinglets, and flocks of yellow-rumped warblers and chipping sparrows quietly foraged along the forest edge. Only the phoebes were vocalizing, but they did so incessantly.
Our resident birds were well into spring and courtship and nesting. Female downy, hairy, and pileated woodpeckers filled the park with gentle tapping while a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers consummated their courtship. Tufted titmice carried mustaches of nesting material. A pair of wood ducks put on an aerobatic display as they chased through the hardwoods. Northern cardinals, pine warblers, and Carolina wrens engaged in vocal dueling as they established territories and pairs of Carolina chickadees and brown-headed nuthatches worked their way through the trees, And there were the usual flyovers by black and turkey vultures, a red-tailed hawk, pairs of American crows, a brown-headed cowbird, and even a great blue heron. The only spring migrants were a pair of blue-gray gnatcatchers. Still in all, one great morning!