Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Season of the Big White Bird

This seems to be what we have entered in the last week.

Last Monday I glanced at a borrow pit alongside the freeway I was driving down, and spotted two Big White Birds. Swans. Something about the scene just said "Trumpeters;" maybe a flashback to my summers in Yellowstone where the sight of a pair of these birds on a pond was one of the classic naturescapes. I pulled onto the shoulder, pulled out the binoculars, and sure enough, they were a pair of Trumpeters. The smaller had a yellow collar bearing the code "00Y." Some after-the-fact investigations suggests that this collar is most likely from Michigan, from a reintroduced population that is well-established and now considered "wild and countable." If the Michigan origin pans out, and the Tennessee records committee decides to honor Michigan's decision, this would be the first accepted record of "wild" Trumpeter Swans in Tennessee since the 19th Century. I didn't get a decent photo, but Mike Todd got some great ones later that afternoon (click for larger image and his gallery):

Then, last night I got a phone call from an Alabama friend wanting to know if I was near the computer. Seems a friend of his had just spotted a Snowy Owl in Spring Hill, right near the (former) Saturn plant and just 60 miles from me. So I posted an alert on the TN-birds list, got up at 5:00 this morning, and was in the Cracker Barrel parking lot before dawn (the sorts of places these birds choose when they wander down here!). Sure enough, at 6:40 the Big White Owl appeared perched atop a highway sign in the middle of the highway interchange. Within an hour or two about a dozen birders had gathered, crawling all over the highway, getting leisurely views and taking many photos. Here's a good shot by Richard Connors (click for his gallery of all three shots):

And here is a short video snippet that I shot this morning. Not so sharp as the photos, but gives a better sense of how this bird is hanging out right in the middle of a highway interchange:

This is the first Snowy in Tennessee in many years; he's been quite a hit! It's also the first Snowy I have seen in 17 years; the last (and first) was a very memorable lifer in the sun atop a sand dune at Plum Island on my only visit there. Even the non-birding locals have noticed him over the last week or so; they were quite happy to have some knowledgeable people show up and tell them the stories. People always like tales that involve lemmings, it seems.

So what's next? A white-phase Gyrfalcon??


At 5:10 PM, Blogger cyberthrush said...

Congrats on the Snowy! -- one of my absolute fave birds. Anyone who could gaze upon those 3 photos by Connors and not immediately want to take up birding has a brain that I don't comprehend!


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