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On Saturday April 30th, the Ole Miss Office of Sustainability sponsored a field trip to Strawberry Plains for about 20 students. When we arrived at the center, we were greeted by Mitchell who was to be our guide for the day. The weather was drizzly and overcast but not too troublesome for us. Mitchell took us on a small tour of the property, showing us the area where the hummingbird festival is held and pointing out a huge tree that had just fallen two days previous. We saw the structures that have been built for CHIMNEY SWIFTS to roost and nest in and Mitchell explained the importance of these structures for these birds that are not able to perch as most birds do. We walked through an open building that was once used for buying and selling cotton and learned about how Strawberry Plains was founded. The property was left in Audubon's care by the owner after her husband's death. We were able to go inside the antebellum home on the property which is now available to be rented for events. Afterwards, we visited the vernal pools on the property which are small pools that will dry up after the rainy season. Here, Mitchell used a net to try to scoop up small critters from the water. We were mainly interested in salamanders but we found CRAWFISH, DRAGONFLY LARVAE, and other water insects. We finally managed to capture a few juvenile SPOTTED SALAMANDERS. We followed this by a very delicious lunch provided by Living Foods and a presentation with a more in depth look at the history of Strawberry Plains. As we were on our way out, Mitchell took us a short way into the woods to show us a tree with very clear BLACK BEAR claw marks all over it which was very cool to see. It was a really fun and educational trip and now I am very interested in going out to volunteer at Strawberry Plains as they are always in need of helping hands!
Here is the e-bird checklist for the trip:
It had been a pleasant day with nearly cloudless skies and a slight breeze to compliment the restless waves within Sardis. Over a dozen CHIMNEY SWIFT were overhead nearly all day going back and forth from tree to tree. I was with both my mother and step-sister outside of our cabin overlooking the lake, which was busy with the college semester coming to an end and mother's day. The property itself had experienced considerable reconstruction efforts after a house fire and with over a year of work a new house stood where an old cinder block cabin had been. But with reconstruction for all practical purposes being completed, life had gradually returned to the property. A lone RED EYED VIREO sang in the distance towards the northern woods which was eventually drowned out by a small congregation of FISHER CROW gathering on a nearby tree adjacent to the property. With such beautiful weather, the lake was sure to be busy and sure enough with such a large expanse of water there was something on the hunt along the shallows. An OSPREY made quick pass by the front of the property facing the water but soon was out of sight and likely looking for intently for some kind of meal. Several fishing boats and pontoon boats were out and even a lone sail boat with a crisp white sail had made it to the center of the lake with the breeze pushing it along. Eventually the forest surrounding the cabin and the trees leading to the lake broke into a harmony of various calls and shrills. The sharp upward trill of the NORTHERN PARULA, the rapid chip of the CHIPPING SPARROW, the bbzzzttt's of the fluttering BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER. All of it rang together into the background as is expected with such beautiful weather and that would likely continue into the summer. As we all sat quietly soaking up sunlight and fighting off the occasional mosquito, a bright red blur flew past us all and landed quietly in a low hanging branch of a nearby tree. Apon closer inspection the blur was a SUMMER TANAGER fresh with a new coat of feathers all vibrantly red. Eventually the singing of the birds began to slow and listening to the woods surrounding us the call of two EASTERN WOODPEEWEES going back and forth became apparent and listening even closer the call of the WHITE EYED VIERO became pronounced and began to come closer as we listened. For quite some time the calls of the vireo dominated everything else so we started to look closely for anything that may have escaped our notice. Sure enough next door a pair of NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS were in the neighbors yard searching for food. A lone mockingbird flew past them with an angry call and then disappeared. As we began to tire we gathered our drinks and sunglasses and then began to retire inside to escape the sun and have a late lunch. As we began to walk back inside a small group of TURKEY VULTURE glided lazily above us and just as quickly disappeared into the tree line. Overall the birding was peaceful and made for a beautiful Mother's day that will always stay in memory.
In a previous post last year I described the repertoire of a White-eyed Vireo individual who sang continuously for me for 45 minutes one morning at Rowan Oak. In that singing session he displayed 10 distinct song types. In response to that post a fellow birder commented, somewhat offhand, that when he moved to Mississippi from Florida he thought the White-eyed Vireos here all sounded strange. When I asked him to elaborate, he said that the vireos here seemed to all use these "gargly notes" that were absent among the Florida birds.
"Gargly notes"? Hmmm.
After some additional conversation I had a guess for what notes he was referring to. Listen for the laughing/chattering/stuttering sound in the middle of this White-eyed Vireo song, just before the "whine". LISTEN HERE
Hear it? It's sort of a rapid tut-tut-tut. That is apparently the sound my friend was referring to. First, kudos to my friend for noticing the qualitative difference these notes add to WEVI songs around here. But, why wouldn't WEVIs in Florida sing these notes too? Well, to begin with, not all WEVI songs incorporate these notes. So, maybe he is just mistaking the coincidence of his noticing it for the first time in MS for the absence of these notes in FL. That is a distinct possibility.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, though, what else could be the explanation? Well, it's a lesser known fact that White-eyed Vireos are mimics. In fact, their songs are chock full of mimicry. Hadn't you noticed? You can be forgiven for not noticing. Unlike the Northern Mockingbird (and many other mimics) WEVIs don't mimic the songs of other species. Instead they collect call notes from other species and weave them into the distinctive song that we associate with the White-eyed Vireo, full of ticks, whines, stutters, and all manner of rather unmusical phrases imbued with a very definite rhythm.
So, supposing that this is a mimicked sound, the first thing to do would be to see what species that sound belongs to. Some of you who pay more attention to the calls of our resident breeding birds may recognize this call already, even if you can't quite put a name to it. It's one of the calls of the Wood Thrush. Here's the call given by it's "rightful owner": LISTEN HERE.
At this point I have determined that the "gargly notes" are a Wood Thrush call that has been appropriated by White-eyed Vireos. I have also noted that my friend recognizes this sound as distinctive of Mississippi vireos relative to his central Florida White-eyed Vireos.
This is where the story gets more interesting. Wood Thrushes don't breed on the Florida peninsula. They are neotropical migrants, spending our winter in southern Mexico and Central America. They migrate north to breed across much of the United States, excluding coastal Louisiana and the peninsula of Florida. I checked the WEVI songs posted on Xeno-Canto from Florida and indeed could not find one with the thrush call included in the songs (as of my perusal last year). This doesn't seal the deal by any means, but it suggests that perhaps my friend is right that the Florida birds lack these Wood Thrush notes. It's plausible if young WEVI learn the mimicked phrases of their songs primarily within their breeding range. If so, the birds hatched in Florida would be unlikely to pick up Wood Thrush song elements. I'm not sure anyone has investigated this.
So, a little mystery (potentially) solved.
On May 1st just after lunch, my friends and I decided to venture out to the realms of Wall Doxey State Park with hopes that the dissipating rain clouds and the bluing of the sky would make for a memorable hike around the lake--and that, it was. From the start of the hike around the lake, the birds were noticeably more active than in the past couple of days. Common birds were immediately heard by their calls, including TUFTED TITMOUSE, NORTHERN PARULA, RED-EYED VIREO, NORTHERN CARDINAL, and BLUE-GREY GNATCATCHERS. Just around the lake's edge when walking around clockwise from the parking lot, one could distinctly hear a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, which is the same location where I had first seen it rather than just hear its call. As we made our way into the wooded area, we found an assortment of fungi that we could not identify (but took pictures to ask Dr. H later), salamanders under logs, frogs and toads hopping from puddles, a mothering beaver, and even a pair of turtles in the bout of a courtship ritual. After all of these great finds, we continued onward with our birding, where we came across a couple SUMMER TANAGERS, a hammering RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER, followed by its family member--PILEATED WOODPECKER. It was a great day enjoying nature's pleasantry before the busy weeks ahead near the end of school. From this trip, I do want to emphasize to everybody to heed the dangers of ticks because I was bitten by a tick that transmitted the symptomatic rash of a Lyme-like disease.
Other species seen:
-EASTERN WOOD PEEWEE
Photos of the trip can be seen with the following links:
Meghan McNeill & Adam Smith
April 30, 2016
Early Saturday morning a few of us from Dr. Hoeksema’s ornithology course had the pleasure of birding with David Sibley. Mr. Sibley is one of the most prestigious ornithologists as well as artists in the United States. He is known for his phenomenal birding field guides. My fellow classmate Adam Smith and myself were in the 8:30 group to bird at Rowan Oak for an hour. Fortunately, we were able to avoid the rain for the majority of the trip, but the birding was slow due to the inclement weather making way.
Although the birding was slow, Mr. Sibley’s plethora of knowledge was exciting. He was informative on bird psychology, and educated us on some new birding facts that we had never heard before. For example, he was able to begin to form a possible explanation for the “confused” AMERICAN ROBIN who resides in the Rowan Oak area that has a half AMERICAN ROBIN-half- CAROLINA WREN song. Mr. Sibley said it is possible the Robin had learned the call during its juvenile years in the nest, if the nest was nearby a CAROLINA WREN’s nest.
It was a pleasure to bird with fellow Mississippi birders from around the state in our home stomping grounds. Other notable birds we observed were SUMMER TANAGERS, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, and many CEDAR WAXWINGS. If you would like to view our list of birds identified by sight and sound, you can follow our link to the eBird checklist.
Saturday morning, April 30, I went out to the Clear Creek Recreation area at Sardis to go on a short birding expedition. To my surprise I immediately observed five WILLET's congregated on the shore at the boat launch. WILLET's are not common in Lafayette county, but can be observed on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. To be honest with you, I was unable to identify the exact species and had to be assisted by bird expert, Dr. Hoeksema, my Ornithology professor. Luckily, I was able to snap a few (poor quality) pictures of the shorebirds before they flew off.
Other than the shorebirds, I also observed PURPLE MARTIN's in the provided bird houses at the boat launch, and of course some CHIMNEY SWIFTs gliding overhead. While driving, I observed a few other bird species, which among those already mentioned, you can check out on my eBird link provided below. http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S29301704
This morning Dr. Hoeksema escorted fifteen members of our Ornithology class to Rowan Oak for a birding walk. We arrived at Rowan Oak around 7:45 am and departed around 10:15 am. It was a sunny pleasant morning. We began in the west lawn which was brimming with birds. Here we saw several ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS and SUMMER TANAGERS. We were lucky enough to have a BROAD-WINGED HAWK fly in and perch in a leafless tree nearby, surveying the area and doing some preening. She hung around for quite a while so we were able to get an excellent look.
We also got a good look and listen at a few GRAY CATBIRDS hanging about. As we ventured around the property, we noticed a baby rabbit sitting in the leaves under a tree only about five feet away from us. She seemed very calm and allowed us to get close for a good look at her adorableness. Soon after, we came across a turtle on the lawn who was not very excited about being picked up and examined. She zoomed away at top turtle speed as soon as we set her down. We continued our walk into Bailey’s Woods to search for warblers which were fairly plentiful. There were many birds moving about high up in the canopies so it was a little tricky to get a bird in the binoculars. We had a decent look at a few AMERICAN REDSTARTS and further into the woods we heard and got glimpses of BLACK & WHITE WARBLER, BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, TENNESSEE WARBLER, and CHESNUT-SIDED WARBLER. We also noticed two COOPER’S HAWKS some distance away. As we were crossing the bridge by the creek, we got a great look at a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO hopping around in a tree. Overall, it was a successful trip with great looks at grosbeaks, tanagers, catbirds, and a cuckoo and a truly incredible look at the broad-winged hawk.
Here is the e-Bird checklist for this morning:
Once a week our ornithology class visits Rowan Oak and Bailey’s Woods, a small patch of forest in the center of Oxford. On Thursday, April 21, the weather was dreary, but we all loaded up into the vans for the short drive across town, hoping that the blanket of clouds might dissipate rather than darken. When we arrived at Rowan Oak, the class stood around the vans listening for what birds were most immediately identifiable. There were RED-EYED VIREOS and BLUE-GRAY GNATCHERS, some CHIMNEY SWIFTS twittering overhead, NORTHERN CARDINALS and BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDS.
As everyone keyed in on the most common calls, we set out walking around the property. The lighting was poor, which made it challenging to identify birds in the tops of trees, against the backdrop of white sky. So we practiced listening and scanning for birds against the green of dense foliage along the forest edge and in its understory. One of our classmates was awarded a prize for identifying a species that the class had not before seen: an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER perched among a messy tangle of vines.
After having all gotten a look at a male SCARLET TANAGER, a WOOD THRUSH, and a small group of TENNESSEE WARBLERS, we began our walk into the woods from the open lawn. Pausing atop a gully’s edge we listened for a BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER, but we never sited the bird. However, in searching for the warbler, we came very near a male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK foraging in a slender tree.
The highlight of the trip, however, was on the latter portion of the trail. From our place on top of a high ridge, the class got a great (though brief) look at a BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER. Then, it was mostly more of the same species we see and hear each week: the CAROLINA WREN, the LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, etc.
As it began raining, we started back toward the trail’s entrance, but not before Dr. H pointed out a large orange fungus twenty feet from the path. PALE CHICKEN OF THE WOODS is what he called it. As he picked a handful, he told the class that this was one of the several local species of edible fungi, best served fried. Several of us took his word and picked our own pocketfuls to try.
The walk back was far less eventful than the walk in, likely because we were all eager to get out of the rain. Once we reached the trail’s entrance, Dr. H suggested breakfast at Bottletree Bakery, so we ended our morning of birding with pastries and hot coffee.
Here is the eBird checklist for that morning: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S29097972