published Friday, April 1st, 2011

Birds, blooms focus of upcoming programs

Two local bird watchers are giving area residents a reason to rise and shine the next seven Saturdays.

Chattanooga Nature Center naturalist Kyle Waggener and Tennessee Ornithological Society member Clyde Blum are teaming up for Wake Up With the Birds, a series of walks to see which feathered friends are out and about at daybreak.

The outings are timed to early morning when songbirds are concluding the dawn chorus. This wake-up call, which scientists don’t fully understand, Waggener said, marks a flutter of activity for songbirds.

“A lot of avian predators, like hawks, don’t start being active until 10 [a.m.] or so,” Waggener explained. “They ride thermals, so they have to wait on the ground to heat up and create the thermals.

Because of this, “you’ll notice a slowing of [songbird] activity [as the morning progresses], but it never stops. We try to get out when it’s reasonable for us and still a good level of activity for the birds.”

According to Waggener’s records, 50 to 75 species may be seen in a typical outing.

“The record for a walk is 85 species several years ago,” he said.

The numbers typically peak in late April to early May. The two May dates for Wake Up With the Birds coincide with BioBlitz, a 24-hour species count of wildlife in the area, and International Migratory Bird Day, a worldwide count of migratory birds.

Binoculars are recommended for the outings, which send participants strolling along the Nature Center’s boardwalk and through the adjacent grounds of Reflection Riding.

On the first walks, Waggener said, participants can expect to see birds that spend the winter here, such as ruby-crowned kinglets and yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Then species that winter in the Gulf and Atlantic coasts will move through, heading toward breeding grounds. These usually include blue-gray gnatcatchers and black-throated green warblers.

Later species might include yellow-billed cuckoos, Canada warblers and blackpoll warblers, which use Chattanooga as a pit stop on their way North, Waggener said.

One year, eight Baltimore orioles were spotted in the same tree. Another time, a baby barred owl was seen trying out a branch.

Participants don’t always have to look up to see the birds, though, as the property is full of wild turkeys.

“It’s nothing to [Nature Center staff] because we see them all the time,” Waggener said. “But a lot of people on the bird walks get excited to see the turkeys.”

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.

about Lisa Denton...

Lisa Denton is deputy features editor and content editor of Current. She previously was a lifestyle, entertainment and region reporter/pod leader for The Chattanooga Times, which she joined in 1983. Lisa is from Sale Creek and holds an associate’s degree in journalism from Chattanooga State Community College. Contact Lisa at 423-757-6281 or ldenton@timesfreepress.com.

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