Monday, February 25, 2008

Back to the birds...

Enough about electoral politics for now. On the bird front...

February was a good month, overall. The TOS winter meeting at the Paris Landing/Pace Point area early in the month was a good time. The weather held up better than forecasts suggested it would, and most of the usual suspects (avian, that is) were present. The highlights for me were a spectacular look at an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull (first of that plumage in Tennessee for me), and a distant but otherwise cooperative Golden Eagle that gave everyone leisurely looks through scopes multiple times as it soared to the east. A few days later, I had a yard first with a flock of Sandhill Cranes high overhead. And in spite of large numbers of visiting family members, I managed to get in a count for the Great Backyard Bird Count each day, including five American Woodcock calling and displaying around and over our house one evening.

But perhaps the high point of the month was the continuing mini-saga of a sighting from New Year's Eve. On that date, a couple traveling through in their RV on the Natchez Trace Parkway reported that they had seen and photographed a Golden Eagle in eastern Lewis County over the Fall Hollow Village campground along the Trace. I didn't get to see the photos, and over the following weeks when they never arrived by e-mail I began to doubt I ever would. Initially I was dubious, not thinking we really had suitable habitat in the area and having seen several young Bald Eagles in our vicinity over the years. But in January while I was doing my scouting for our prospective CBC, I began to think otherwise. Not far from the area of the sighting are thousands of acres of State and paper company land that consist of high plateaus and steep hills with a mosaic of forest, pine plantation, clearcuts, and pasture land. At several spots where there were expansive views out over the hollows, I could very easily envision a Golden Eagle circling lazily over this landscape, looking right at home. I didn't actually see one, but I have been on special alert ever since and have let no distant "turkey vulture" pass without close scrutiny. To add to the intrigue, my Mom's handyman said that the day after the tornado he had seen a Golden Eagle rising from one of the very large pasture/clearcut areas right along the Tornado track. I've learned that local boys may spend a lot of time hunting and fishing, but if it isn't about deer or turkeys they don't actually know very much about local wildlife or how to identify it. Still, it did raise my eyebrows since it was only 3 miles from my house, and again in the midst of many thousands of acres of thinly populated paper company land and that same mosaic of ridges, hollers, forest, clearcuts, and large pastures.

Then, just a couple of days later, I got a phone call from one of the owners of the local newspaper, who is also one of the few other birders in the county. The photos from the New Years Eve sighting had arrived in his e-mail; the couple had not had internet access until then. He wasn't sure what to make of them, being inexperienced with Golden Eagles, so he forwarded them on to me. When my slow-ass dialup connection finally finished downloading them, I opened the e-mail and was instantly presented with a series of somewhat blurry but unmistakable images of a Golden Eagle, probably a second winter bird. The golden hackles were even visible in one shot. If I get permission to post the photos online I'll put them up here. So NOW I will remain on even higher alert! It would be nifty if it turned out we regularly had a wintering Golden or two around here, and even more nifty if I could nail down some overlook or other vantage point where there was some reasonable possibility of spotting the bird. Golden Eagles are extremely scarce in Tennessee, and the only quasi-reliable spot I know of is the Pace Point/Britton Ford area of the Big Sandy unit of the Tennessee NWR.

Sure would be grand to have a Golden Eagle on the yard list, and really fun to get one on our as-yet-still-in-the-planning-stages local CBC!


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