Ken Hare's Natural Alabama: Small Phoebe draws birders to Autaug - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Special

Ken Hare's Natural Alabama: Small Phoebe draws birders to Autauga County

ADVERTISEMENT
Bookmark and Share
(Source: Ken Hare) (Source: Ken Hare)
(Source: Ken Hare) (Source: Ken Hare)

The Say's Phoebe is a fairly common bird, one that is not particularly striking or dramatically different from other phoebe species. But it is one that has had Alabama birders atwitter in recent weeks after one was sighted in Southeastern Autauga County on private property not far from Henry Lock and Dam.

So why the fuss? While the Say's Phoebe is common in the west from Alaska to Mexico, it is decidedly uncommon in Alabama.

So when Montgomery ace birder Larry Gardella posted a photo and information on the bird online, I decided to try to find it -- despite the fact that it was the day when an ice storm was scheduled to hit Central Alabama at any minute.

As soon as I arrived at the site, I saw two birds in the distance across a farm pond that could be phoebes. Through my binoculars, both looked like possibilities. And they behaved like phoebes -- sitting on snags in or near the pond, flitting off to hunt insects, then returning to the same perch or a similar one nearby.

But I could not be sure, because I had made a rookie mistake. In my haste to rush out to beat the weather, I had forgotten my spotting scope. What was hard to identify even with 10-power binoculars might have been easy with a 60-power scope, but with mine 40 miles away in Montgomery all I could do was hope the birds flew close enough for a better view.

Just as I was about to give up, a white pickup pulled up, the driver rolled down his window and asked, "Looking for the Say's?" It was Barry Fleming of Auburn, whom I knew only by his reputation as an excellent birder. And Barry did remember to bring a scope.

With it, we were able to make out the Say's orangish buff belly and black tail. The belly color was best seen when the bird flew, or just as it would alight. The other bird was an Eastern Phoebe, which was handy for comparison. (I have yet to get a decent photo of the Say's Phoebe, but I am posting one of my photos of an Eastern Phoebe.)

It was great meeting Barry, even though it's hard to get acquainted when you're standing outside in weather that is 32 degrees, windy and drizzling rain. I owe him a big thank you for sharing his scope, and one to Larry Gardella for posting about it.

I went back again the following day to try for a decent photo, but again the light was terrible. But at least it wasn't raining. And the Say's was more elusive this time.

While I was scanning the lake from my car, birders Eric Soehren, John Trent and Ashley Peters from the Conservation Department arrived also in search of the Say's. No luck for a while, so I drove down to Henry Lock and Dam for a check of what was there (gulls, cormorants and a Northern Harrier -- see photo) and I think John and Ashley left, too. Then Eric spotted it, contacted John by phone and chased me down, but by the time we got back it was gone again. But another half hour scanning the lake with binoculars and scopes finally produced results.

Again, the longer black tail and orangish buff belly was clear in the scopes. It was a life bird for Ashley (as it was for me) and a first in Alabama bird for John and Eric.

So how unusual is a Say's Phoebe in Alabama? E-bird shows only five locations and a dozen or so sightings in Alabama for the Say's Phoebe since 2009, and nothing prior to that.

One of the great things about birding is the serendipity of meeting other birders while you're in the field. I have met Eric before, but Barry, John and Ashley were new acquaintances. Such chance encounters in the field with both old friends and new acquaintances are a happy byproduct of birding and one of the many things that make it a rewarding hobby.

Another uncommon bird in Alabama (although much more common that a Say's Phoebe) is the Ross's Goose, a much smaller goose than a Canada Goose but one that is sometimes seen in their company. The Ross's Goose breeds on the tundra of Northern Canada.

Facebook was alive with postings in recent days about a Ross's Goose in Birmingham's Avondale Park, but the Montgomery area had its own Ross's Goose -- at The Waters in Pike Road. (See photos.) The Ross's Goose is often seen around Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in North Alabama, but often in the company of large groups of Snow Geese, which are similar in appearance. The difficulty is picking out a Ross's Goose from the Snows.

But at Avondale Park and The Waters, the almost all-white Ross's stood out among the Canada Geese.

NATURE NOTES

-- An update on the Berry College, Ga., Eagle Cams. I just watched the eagles trade out nesting duty and was able to clearly see two eggs. See it at: http://www.berry.edu/eaglecam/

-- The Alabama Ornithological Society will hold its winter meeting at the Guntersville State Park Lodge Jan. 27-29. Field trips will visit Guntersville State Park, the Guntersville waterfront, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, and the Guntersville Dam area. The Friday workshop leader and Saturday night keynote speaker will be Marshall Iliff, a Cornell Lab of Ornithology eBird project leader.  Details at: http://www.aosbirds.org/documents/WinterMeeting2017.pdf

-- The Birmingham Audubon Society has a wide-ranging slate of programs and field trips on tap, including  a field trip to James D. Martin Wildlife Park in Gadsden on Saturday, Feb. 4, from 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. The Wildlife Park, behind the Gadsden Mall, is a stop on the Appalachian Highlands section of the Alabama Birding Trail.

In addition, the society's Audubon Teaches Nature programs are ongoing at Oak Mountain State Park. These are wonderful educational programs on a variety of nature issues, from birds of prey to alligators and other reptiles to geology and paleontology. The next scheduled program will be Birds of Prey: Masters of the Skies on Sunday, Jan. 22, at the Alabama Wildlife Center. There are showings at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The programs are free, but there is the usual fee for entering the park.

 For details, go to: birminghamaudubon.org

-- Fins, Feathers and Flowers, a weekend waterfowl and wildlife program, will be Feb. 24-26 at Lakepoint Lodge at Lakepoint State Park near Eufaula. There will be field trips each day to the state park and to Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge, including pontoon boat trips on Lake Eufaula. Speakers will include Carrie Threadgill, nongame wildlife biologist with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, who will discuss colonial wading birds in Alabama, and the Alabama Wildlife Center will present its live raptor program.

For details, go to: www.alapark.com/Lakepoint-Fins-Feathers-Flowers

---

Ken Hare is a retired newspaper editor and writer who now writes for wsfa.com. Feedback appreciated at khare@wsfa.com.

  • Trending StoriesTrending StoriesMore>>

  • 'Home Alone' dad John Heard dies at 72

    'Home Alone' dad John Heard dies at 72

    Saturday, July 22 2017 10:26 AM EDT2017-07-22 14:26:16 GMT
    Saturday, July 22 2017 11:22 AM EDT2017-07-22 15:22:00 GMT

    John Heard appeared in numerous movies and television shows throughout a lengthy acting career, but it was his role as the father of Macauley Culkin's character in two "Home Alone" films that gained him notoriety.

    More >>

    John Heard appeared in numerous movies and television shows throughout a lengthy acting career, but it was his role as the father of Macauley Culkin's character in two "Home Alone" films that gained him notoriety.

    More >>
  • GRAPHIC VIDEO: Teens mock drowning man

    GRAPHIC VIDEO: Teens mock drowning man

    Thursday, July 20 2017 9:14 PM EDT2017-07-21 01:14:47 GMT
    Thursday, July 20 2017 9:39 PM EDT2017-07-21 01:39:28 GMT

    Police say no laws were violated by five teens who made a video of a drowning man and posted it to social media. 

    More >>

    Police say no laws were violated by five teens who made a video of a drowning man and posted it to social media. 

    More >>
  • Firefighters from five counties battle huge fire in Granite Falls

    Firefighters from five counties battle huge fire in Granite Falls

    Saturday, July 22 2017 12:08 PM EDT2017-07-22 16:08:40 GMT

    The fire broke out at the Old Shuford Mill on Falls Avenue in Granite Falls, right across the street from the Granite Falls Police Department.

    More >>

    The fire broke out at the Old Shuford Mill on Falls Avenue in Granite Falls, right across the street from the Granite Falls Police Department.

    More >>
  • THE GREAT OUTDOORSKen Hare's Natural AlabamaMore>>

  • Ken Hare's Natural Alabama: Stunning Painted Bunting almost seems unreal

    Ken Hare's Natural Alabama: Stunning Painted Bunting almost seems unreal

    Friday, July 21 2017 10:41 PM EDT2017-07-22 02:41:06 GMT
    Painted Bunting on Dauphin Island (Photo by Ken Hare)(1) jpgPainted Bunting on Dauphin Island (Photo by Ken Hare)(1) jpg

    When I've shown the handful of photographs I have of male Painted Buntings to friends and family members who aren't into birding, a common question is, "Is that real?" It's a natural response: The mix of bright blue, red, green and yellow on the male Painted Bunting looks more like how my granddaughter would color a bird in her coloring book than real life.

    More >>

    When I've shown the handful of photographs I have of male Painted Buntings to friends and family members who aren't into birding, a common question is, "Is that real?" It's a natural response: The mix of bright blue, red, green and yellow on the male Painted Bunting looks more like how my granddaughter would color a bird in her coloring book than real life.

    More >>
  • Feature

    Ken Hare's Natural Alabama: Birders should buy federal Duck Stamps

    Ken Hare's Natural Alabama: Birders should buy federal Duck Stamps

    Saturday, July 15 2017 10:51 PM EDT2017-07-16 02:51:12 GMT
    Current federal Duck Stamp, three Canada Geese (Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)Current federal Duck Stamp, three Canada Geese (Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

    Birders are not required to buy Federal Duck Stamps, but duck hunters have to do so if they want to legally hunt waterfowl. But there are many reasons that bird watchers or anyone interested in protecting natural habitats should strongly consider buying a duck stamp, too.

    More >>

    Birders are not required to buy Federal Duck Stamps, but duck hunters have to do so if they want to legally hunt waterfowl. But there are many reasons that bird watchers or anyone interested in protecting natural habitats should strongly consider buying a duck stamp, too.

    More >>
  • Ken Hare's Natural Alabama

    Birmingham Audubon field trips great way to learn

    Birmingham Audubon field trips great way to learn

    Monday, July 3 2017 5:54 AM EDT2017-07-03 09:54:30 GMT
    A Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher pursues an insect. (Photo Ken Hare).jpgA Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher pursues an insect. (Photo Ken Hare).jpg

    For those interested in learning about birds and birding, there is no better way than to join field trips led by knowledgeable birders. I took part in one last week that was sponsored by the Birmingham Audubon Society, and the birds we saw were phenomenal.

    More >>

    For those interested in learning about birds and birding, there is no better way than to join field trips led by knowledgeable birders. I took part in one last week that was sponsored by the Birmingham Audubon Society, and the birds we saw were phenomenal.

    More >>
Powered by Frankly