Friday, January 25, 2013

Homeschooling Mysteries: The Case of Bobby White

Remember this guy?

He really had us stumped. You would think the one bird which remained close to us for nearly an hour would be the easiest of all birds to identify. 
We did good investigative work. We took note of all his field marks and photographed him about 30 times in a variety of poses. We listened to his peeping noise over and over again.  We scanned every field guide we own, searched our electronic database, and compared him to about 100 pictures online. We even emailed his picture to other birding friends.
However, we just could not identify this guy, so I did what I should have done in the first place: emailed his picture to Skidaway Island State Park where we had seen him.
We initially thought he was a Bobwhite because of his obvious quail-like characteristics, and as far as we know, Bobwhite are the only quail present in Georgia. My husband "talked" to this bird, too. He called out, "Bob, Bob White," and each time birdie answered, "Bob."  (Yes, we talk to birds.) However, we second guessed ourselves because his head is so white-- not typical for a Bobwhite.
The naturalist at Skidaway returned my email with an answer.  Bobby White is indeed a Northern Bobwhite. 
Mystery solved.
You can all breathe a little easier now. ;) 
Happy...  breathing?!
p.s. I can't believe no one commented on my previous post. I made an epic "typo." (We'll call it that, okay?) I wrote that we drove to a farm 30 minutes EAST of Savannah. 
Um, no.
We did not drive into the Atlantic Ocean.
If you caught my mistake, I hope you had a good laugh. I sure did.
I once had a student who mistakenly stated that we live in the Atlantic Ocean when she had meant to say (obviously) that we live on North America. Consequently, my husband and I call any misspeak an "Atlantic Ocean Moment."  Boy, did I ever have an Atlantic Ocean Moment!
Laughing at myself....


Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Drive Home

Well, you are a bunch of nice readers because no one pointed out my "alma mater" mistake in the last post.  If you saw it, thank you.  ;)  I found it too late to edit before it went out to email subscribers.  TYPO!  lol!
Okay, so I can't tell you exactly where I live, but you have definitely figured out by now that I do live in Georgia, but not on the coast.  I will also state for the record that I DO NOT live in Atlanta.
WARNING: Run-on ahead.  Proceed with caution!
When you are from Georgia and travel outside of Georgia and someone asks you where you are from, you can tell them the real name of your hometown, but after minutes of giving detailed directions to help them mentally locate said hometown, they always remain befuddled and give you a quizzical look.  So, despite your best efforts, it always ends with, "yeah, I live in Atlanta."
But I don't live in Atlanta. :)
For those of you who are not familiar with the state of Georgia and do not know exactly where I live, I am about to further confuse you with the details of our drive home from the coast.  If it helps, you can pretend I live in Atlanta.  :)
For those of you who know exactly where I live, you are about to laugh your heads off or decide for sure that I AM a little off-in-the-head.  Let's just say we did not exactly take the direct route home but instead drove in a weird zig-zag pattern to allow us to find as many birds as possible before returning to our humble abode in Whatevertown (a.k.a. Notatlanta), Georgia.
Our first zigzag was off I-16, about 30 minutes east of Savannah and near the town of Statesboro.  We drove about 10 miles north of the interstate to a rural area listed in the Birding Georgia guide.  The farming families in this area maintain numerous feeders and bird houses, and along with a series of ponds and rivers, the farmlands themselves attract a variety of species.  We saw and heard several warblers and other song birds.  We added the Common Ground Dove to our life list, and we heard Bald Eagles.  Sadly, we heard the eagles in very wooded area and the tree tops were between us and them.  However, their song is unmistakable, and we heard it repeatedly.  The most fun happened when we reached the farms reserved for cattle.
Cattle Egret

I have always had a strange interest in cows. We used to visit
my great grandparents' farm in Missouri yearly, and as we would
drive there, I would snap pictures of every cow I saw. I would
seriously return home with entire rolls of film dedicated to bovine.

I guess that explains why these birds are one of my favorites.
Seeing those little white heads popping up above the
tall grasses and bobbing around beside a large animal cracks me up!
They are even funnier looking when their orange tufts come in.
They are beautiful, too.
Watching them soar above the farmland
and perch in the surrounding trees is a treat for the eyes.
There were so many cattle egret present that day!
After I took my requisite 100+ photos of the cows and egrets,
we returned to the interstate.
I love the purple flowers growing in the median of I-16.
It's like a purple runner between Macon and Savannah.

Once in Macon, we stopped at Ocmulgee National Monument.  Sadly, we did
not add any birds to our list and consequently we did not take any pictures.
Our bird total was at 124 when we left Ocmulgee.  Determined to identify at
least 125 birds while on our Birding Adventure, we jumped on I-75 and headed
north toward ATLANTA! One of our favorite birding spots is located in the
south-metro area.  We realized that the European Starling, a bird we see daily,
was not on our list.  We prayed the Lord would send one our way before we
made it to the birding hotspot, but alas, we saw nothing.
When we pulled into the water treatment facility,
we did not just see a European Starling.
We saw hundreds!
Actually, we added 3 more species to the list,
including the lesser yellowlegs
(very poorly) pictured above.
Our birding adventure had reached its end.  We zigzagged again to head to our real home.  Later, as I went through our photographs, I realized we had misidentified one bird, and I found pictures of six birds we could not identify on-the-spot.  With much work, we finally identified those and feel comfortable saying we identified 132 birds in all.  Even though our dedication to birding as a family may impress you, we are not experts, so that total probably includes a few mistakes.  However, we also try to photo-document as much as we can so we can check ourselves and learn. 

That total also does not include Bobby White.  We are still seeking help on identifying him, and if we ever make a positive ID, I will be sure to share it with you all.  I also have not had a chance to add the new life listers to the master list yet.  When I get everything in order, I will update my blog to let you know what the new total is.

I hope you enjoyed our birding adventure!  We sure did.  I encourage you to have an adventure of your own.  You don't have to travel far from home or drive most of your state like we did.  You can even start at home with a feeder in your backyard or at a local park. 

However, if you catch the bug like we have, get ready to travel!  We are saving our pennies toward a birding trek to the southwestern US which we hope to take in the near future- at least before our older son graduates high school.

If you would like help teaching your children how to identify birds, please check out my Birding 101 series.

Thanks for joining us on our adventure.  Come back soon!


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fort Pulaski

As we were leaving Tybee Island, we pulled into Fort Pulaski.  Our birding guide listed it as a prime spot.
As promised in the Birding Georgia guide,
we were greeted by Forester's Terns
when we drove over the bridge at the entrance.
These were new to our life list! 
However, the birding ended there.  We went to the spots detailed in the guide but were attacked by sand flees, saw birds already on our list, or saw nothing at all.  There is a L-O-N-G trail around the fort which would have likely yielded a few new birds, but we were beat.  We raised a little white flag to the birds and surrendered.  Before leaving the base, we toured the fort and took in a little history instead.
After the War of 1812, President Madison ordered the construction
of the "Third System" of coastal fortification.
Fort Pulaski is one of 30 forts built in the 1820s & 1830s to defend the American coast.
It is surrounded by a moat, and yes, there were GATORS
swimming around us.
Behind the draw bridge were a series of redoubts.
A final iron gate opens to lead into the fort itself.
Should you make it over the moat with alligators, past the
shooters behind the redoubts, and past the iron-gated entry,
a cannon will greet you.
This fort is an important part of Georgia's past and present.
You can read more about its history here,
its role in the Civil War here,
and its significance today here.
Wilbur made sure he had a turn at the cannon, too!
We left the fort at closing and drove to Perkins for dinner.  Michael and I had noticed the restaurant while driving to Skidaway the day before.  There was a Perkins close to our college alma mater's campus, and we ate there all.the.time.  When we saw the restaurant in Savannah, we raved about the muffins, bottomless pot of hot tea, and other goodies available.  Our story must have been good advertising because the boys begged to go!  We had tried to "rough it" and eat food we had packed and brought with us.  I have to admit I enjoyed a good sit-down (somewhere other than a picnic table or our Jeep) meal.  Turns out that is the only Perkins in the entire state of Georgia.  The boys want to return to Savannah to eat... not at Paula Dean's restaurant or other fine eatery, but at Perkins.  Lol!
The next morning we rose before the sun to head home.  Although our time on the coast had ended, we weren't quite finished birding....
Until next time...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fun at Tybee

We purposefully planned to arrive at Tybee at the hottest part of the day.  The boys were due a break from birding and some time to splash and play in the ocean.  We put our Birding Georgia guide aside and randomly picked a beach access.
The boys started digging in the sand right away!
They love to dig out a hole about 10 feet from the water's edge.
Then they dig a series of grooves which lead from the water to the hole.
They call this a "waterworks,"
and it is an Olive Plants' beach tradition.  :)
They also dug their feet as deeply into the sand as they could
before the waves returned.
As the water rushed over them,
their feet sank deeper and deeper into the sand.
As the boys relaxed in the water,
I sat on a nearby swing.

We had declared this a "birding-free" time.  We had our binocs and field guides, just in case, but we were going to save our active birding for later in the afternoon when things cooled down a bit.  I even pulled out my phone to check my email and facebook. 
Hey, don't judge me.  :)  I didn't have my swimsuit and didn't want to get all wet and sandy.  I wanted to enjoy the fresh air and see what was up with my friends at home, whom I was starting to miss. 
My SIL had been travelling from her southeast American home to Alberta, Canada and had posted that she had arrived in Edmonton safely.  Just as I was about to leave a comment about us being nearly on opposite "corners" of the continent, Michael yelled for me.
This bird, a Whimbrel, a NEW LIFE LISTER,
had just sauntered up beside the boys at play.
When I reached the water's edge to identify and photograph the Whimbrel,
I noticed there were several different terns flying back and forth.
I indentified four different types that day, two of which were
new to our life list.
The birds had decided we were not allowed to break!
Michael and I did the hard work of identifying
and allowed the boys to continue to play, though.
A couple hours later, we brushed the sand from our clothes,
hopped back in the car, and followed our guide book's directions
to the north part of Tybee.
There were hundreds of Black Skimmers,
another new bird for our life list.
They are the funniest looking bird while standing on the beach,
but in flight... amazing!
Two Skimmers in Flight
We had to scan the large groupings of hundreds of birds very carefully
because skimmers weren't the only ones present.
I LOVE the skimmers, though.
Aren't they cute?!
The boys were back to actively birding with us,
but they still had fun running along the beach
with hundreds of birds flying around them!

We had to pull ourselves away from this part of the beach, but we had one more stop planned before dinner: a site with historical significance as well as abundant birds.

Until next time....

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Savannah in South Carolina

This is the fifth stop in our Great Birding Adventure.  You can click the links to read about Jekyll, St. Simon's, Harris Neck, and Skidaway Island.
Savannah isn't in South Carolina, but Savannah National Wildlife Refuge is. 
We were up before sunrise again on this, our last day of coastal birding, having fallen soundly asleep before 8 p.m. again the night before!  We drove a few minutes, crossed the state line into South Carolina, and entered the refuge just as the sun was peaking over the horizon.
Although this picture is one of my favorites from the trip,
it does not do justice to the real thing.
The beauty of this sunrise brought to mind a favorite hymn.
Fair is the sunshine, Fairer still the moonlight,
Robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
Than all the angels heav’n can boast.

Fairest Lord Jesus
August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben and Ernst Richter
What do I love most about nature study?
The beauty of the creation causes me to reflect
on the beauty, power, and love of our
This is one of our favorite birds because of its unique
coloring and bill.

At first, we thought we had spotted another golden bird:
the Purple Galinule.
However, it is missing the defining white patch at the top of the bill.
Such a slight difference makes it a Common Moorhen.
Not a new bird that we are actively seeking,
but still golden.


The refuge consists mainly of a drivable path (5 miles long),
and we spent most of the morning driving v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y
along this path as we birded through the car windows.
We pulled over to the side of the path about 100 times
so we could step out to scan ponds, trees, and fields.
However, there is one designated parking area
within the refuge. There is a stone path
which winds through a beautiful crop of trees.
We saw and photographed many birds in these tree tops.
Our camera autofocused on the twigs in the foreground,
causing the Northern Flicker in the background to blur.
This is one of my faves, even though the bird isn't clear.


The trees in this area were filled with woodpeckers.
In fact, we saw every species that could be present.

We also saw several species of songbirds,
both along the stone path
and the driving path.
Even the birds we see almost daily at home,
like the Northern Cardinal pictured above,
seemed more beautiful in such gorgeous surroundings!
After lunch we headed to Tybee Island.  Its beaches draw oodles of tourists to Savannah during the summer, but in October, only locals and nature enthusiasts walk its sands.  Thus, the birds are out in droves!
I'll be back soon to take you to Tybee!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Adventures of Bobby White

Our next stop on the Great Birding Adventure was Skidaway Island State Park, near Savannah, Georgia.  We had camped here a few years back and really loved the spot.  Our tent was nestled into a clearing surrounded by live oaks and covered by a canopy of Spanish moss.  Our backdoor led to the saltmarshes of the intracoastal waterway.  Each morning we awoke to a symphony of bird songs.... dreamy.
This year, our schedule demanded a later arrival (and no camping).  We made it to the causeway around 3 p.m., the hotest part of the day.  It was still breezy and beautiful, though, and a stop near the saltmarshes proved profitable.
As we pulled into a parking area just before the bridge over the waterway,
we spotted this sharp-shinned hawk.
He remained perched in the same spot for more than 30 minutes.
I was able to stand within a few feet from the pole where he perched
and snap dozens of great shots.
He's a life-lister!
Anhniga were abundant, but this guy is memorable.
It was a rather blustery day,
and he remained perched on a wire with his wings
open as to catch the wind.
He kept blowing backwards, spining on the wire as he clung to it.
We thought at some point
he would do a complete 360. :)
I just love this area.  So beautiful!
Once in the state park, bird activity slowed.
However, we took a birding break
and let the boys enjoy the playground.
We also enjoyed a picnic dinner.
Afterward, we headed to the Interpretive Center.
This educational resource center has been closed
each time we have visited Skidaway
because we always visit on the weekend.
However, we have always had good fortune
birding at the feeders located behind the building.
That is where we first saw a painted bunting a few year ago.
We figured it was too late in the season to spot another pb,
but we decided to take a look, because you just never know....
That is when and where we "met" this guy.
We have not been able to make a positive ID yet.
At the time, we thought he might be a juvenile Bobwhite.
He walked round and round our feet, peeping at us.
His "call" sounded just like the "Bob"
part of the Bobwhite's song.
He NEVER left the boys' side.
As you can see in this photo,
he was not scared of us.
He even seemed to enjoy the attention....
...and photographs!
Once home, we looked at pictures of Bobwhites,
and they don't seem to match.
However, encountering him was the highlight of the trip.
Wilbur even had dreams about him that night!
I have contacted the naturalist at Skidaway
to ask for help identifying our new friend.

We love Skidaway Island!  Not only is it the place where we first saw a painted bunting, but it is the place we made our first true bird friend.  Wilbur wanted to bring him home as a pet, but we decided he might belong to the Interepretive Center... thus his docile nature.  Plus, we know better than to remove a bird from its natural habitat.  But the pictures and memories will always be special to us.

Next time, we will briefly leave Georgia.  We will travel 2 whole miles into South Carolina to visit Savannah Wildlife Refuge.  GORGEOUS!  Get ready for some seriously beautiful pictures.

Happy birding!