Saturday, April 3, 2010

North Alabama Birding Society Outing

The view from Monte Sano Mountain, Huntsville

Eve and I have attended several North Alabama Birding Society outings, and were looking forward to another scheduled a week ago on Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville led by John Ehinger, retired editor of The Huntsville Times. John is an excellent and long-time birder who makes his home atop Monte Sano and now writes about birding and preservation issues in his blog titled "Bird Droppings."

About 20, give or take, hardy souls met at the top of the mountain in a parking lot close to the Japanese Garden. Monte Sano Mountain rims the east side of the City of Huntsville in North Alabama and makes up part of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The name means "Mountain of Health" for its obvious benefit of fresh, clean air high above. Monte Sano Mountain is home to Monte Sano State Park, which has recently undergone many upgrades and improvements.

Some sort of woodpecker

What I've yet to report is just how cold it was this early, early morning. So far, each and every birding expedition Eve and I have shared with the Society have been in frigid conditions. One wouldn't normally expect "frigid" in March in Alabama. My hope was that the forest would shield us from the biting winds, but alas. Sadly, the only thing stirring at the beginning of our trek was ... us. The birds, perhaps smarter than us that particular morning, were staying in their warm nests and hidey holes.

We looped around a trail that took us through the Japanese Garden, which houses a lovely Japanese Tea House. Several ornamentals were beginning to bud out - this calls for a return trip, and soon. The trail banked off into deeper woods, then cut down into a low area with running stream. John gave us a list of usual bird sightings along this gorgeous little stream, but there were no birds today. Occasionally a birder would stop and point, which meant we would all stop and strain our eyes to see something - anything - binoculars and cameras at the ready.

John decided to take us to an overlook on the other side of the mountain in hopes of avoiding the strong, cold winds. The overlook was wonderful, affording us all delicious views to the valley far below. The first shot in this post was taken there.

I've decided I'm a terrible birder. Bird calls are beyond me and unless it's an obvious bird my form if identification means taking its photo then coming home to look it up. REAL birders, such as the ones surrounding me that day, knew every twitter and could ID a bird in a flash. That we were desperate to see a bird - ANY BIRD - was evident by all the Mockingbird, Cardinal and Robin sightings, which were announced with glee. At one point a gaggle of birders just KNEW they had spied a Ruby Crowned Kinglet. A tiny bird the same coloration as its surroundings, I've never, ever seen one. The pointing was frantic, and all manner of lenses were seeking this elusive bird. "It's just RIGHT THERE!" "NO!...A LITTLE TO THE LEFT OF THAT BRANCH!" "NO...THE GREEN BRANCH, NOT THE BROWN BRANCH!" (.....we were in a thick many green and brown branches ARE there???) You get the idea. By this time frostbite was setting in so John decided to try the Land Trust parking lot in another area of the mountain. (...btw, I never saw the kinglet - I think they were simply desperate...)

Eve spotting this huge tree fungus high, high overhead. THIS I could see and ID!

Handsome Mr. Cardinal

Pulling into the Land Trust of Huntsville & North Alabama's parking lot on the west side of Monte Sano Mountain, we stumbled out of our cars to gale force winds. Freezing, frigid, unkind gale force winds. John just laughed and threw up his hands, admitting defeat to the elements. Still, he suggested we walk down to a nearby clearing "just in case" as we were at least hearing more birds at this location. Maybe they were only now beginning to thaw out. Tears streaming, zipping our jackets tightly, we walked the short distance to the clearing.

Eve heard it first. "John, is that a Piliated I hear?" Yes! John agrees and we all look around. I am excited for the first time as I've never seen a Piliated Woodpecker!

Piliated Woodpecker

There he is! "Males have red whisker (malar) and forehead." (Thanks, Cornell Lab of Ornithology - if you click on the Cornell link you'll see a nice shot of a ruby crowned kinget, LOL!) I'm in awe - this one sighting is worth everything this day! I walk down to get a better look and hopefully one decent shot. It's hard with all the branches in the way, but I get a few oky doky shots.

Piliated Woodpecker fleeing the scene

The Land Trust of Huntsville and North Alabama on Monte Sano Mountain.

The morning sunshine has been kind to us, offering all manner of beautiful lighting. Later, the day will be much warmer but for now we're all frozen and ready to head home to hot coffee or tea, or even hot anything! The sunrise turns the the understory brush into glowing chartreuse fronds - a lovely thing to behold.

Oh, look! It's a Golden Crowned Aves Seeker!

Sorry...couldn't resist showing Eve doing "her thang!" I can't wait to see her photos from our NABS outing! However, you must know we've had two days of absolutely GLORIOUS weather and our tow-headed friend has been out on her new "hog" instead of indoors processing photos. Smart girl! Hope you enjoyed our Spring Outing, Part 2. Have a fantastic Easter weekend with family and friends.


Eve said...

This was such fun to read Debi and was spot on with all the details! I'll post my NABS trip next...with the picture I was taking as you snuck this sneaky shot!!! Loved this post...if you wernt there you now know just what it was like! And what memories of the many times you would hear..."not that green tree....the other green tree right next to that green tree!!!"
hahahahaha! Thanks Debi!!!!

The Garden Ms. S said...

Hi Debi, Great shot of the Pileated woodpecker fleeing :-)

They are quite common in the woods adjacent to my house and I often hear them when walking the trails. Definitely one of my favourites!

A fantastic Easter to you!!

jodi (bloomingwriter) said...

Yay for you, seeing a pileated woodpecker, Debi. There are plenty of them in Nova Scotia, and we get them occasionally in our yard, on the older trees, rarely at the suet. They're so raucous when they vocalize. The mountain photograph is wonderful too.
Happy spring, happy Easter to you and yours...

debsgarden said...

I have spent the last few minutes catching up on your postings. I'm glad I did. Your blog is such a delight. I loved reading about your birding experience. I felt i was there with you, except here I sit in a nice warm house. Thanks for the vicarious thrill; I was so happy about the piliated woodpecker.

Happy Easter!

Bird Girl said...

Your description of a bird outing with those that are 'in the know' is so funny - and true! Those that have the trained ears are amazing - and you'll get better and better each time you try, honest :-) Loved your pileated pictures - that flight shot is really tough to get in the woods like that!
Happy Easter,Debi!

The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Thank you all for your sweet comments! I confess my Piliated Woodpecker "fleeing" shot is a heavily cropped shot AND I was simply holding the shutter button down snapping in a frenzy the entire time in HOPES I would get a decent shot! Sometimes The Force is with you, ya know? LOL! Happy Easter, everyone! (Eve...we'll try again in warmer weather, but not HOT weather!)

Anonymous said...

Hi Debi,
I do like the image of the "Golden Crowned Aves Seeker", that is definitely a very rare and beautiful Bird. {:)

kendalee said...

That red on both the woodpecker and the cardinal... so amazing and vibrant - just beautiful!!!

I see very few birds in my daily rounds (apart from pigeons, ducks and some geese) so I always especially enjoy yours :)

Mary said...

I'm glad I read this. I thought I was the only "terrible birder" who doesn't know bird songs and has to see the bird on the computer to know what I took a photo of! LOL! Now I know that I'm not alone. Great shots and glad you got to see a lifer. Love that shot of Eve...funny!

Bo Macksion said...

Love the story of the "I'm not a birder!" Ha ha!

Gorgeous cardinal--don;t you love that scarlet red flashing in all that green?

And that first photo with the layers of lines - precious stuff, Debi!


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