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Brief-Form Post #34: Late April Birding Exploration at Madison, Alabama’s Creekwood Park and Indian Creek Greenway!

I am pleased to add the 34th of my GBH Brief Form Posts (Less than five minutes to read!) to my website. I tend to get a bit wordy with my routine Posts. I don’t want my enthusiasm for thoroughness and detail to discourage readers. So I will publish these brief Posts regularly.

 

I am a wanna-be birder, a lifelong Nature enthusiast with a Forestry BS and a PhD in Applied Ecology, and a woodland wanderer wherever my life and travels have taken me. I’ve lived in Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, New Hampshire, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Alaska. I’ve journeyed to and through every state except Hawaii. International travels included Canada, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Kazakhstan, China, Japan, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Yugoslavia. I’ve heard and seen birds everywhere and wished to know their identity and story.

Finally, five years into retirement, I stepped toward learning more about the avian world. I enrolled in a University of Alabama in Huntsville OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) North Alabama Birding course taught by Alabama A&M Professor Emeritus of Ornithology, Dr. Ken Ward. Our capstone field lab on April 25, 2024, took us to Madison Alabama’s Creekwood Park and adjacent Indian Creek Greenway, an area Ken described as a spring migration hotspot.

And so right he was! We (he) tallied 68 bird species seen, both seen and heard, or heard. You can review his comprehensive list at the end of this Post. I admit to deferring to his lifetime-trained ears for identifying species by call. He also spotted and identified fleeting images of treetop and brush inhabitants. I have a long way to go to become even an amateur birder. My knowledge and skills can go only in one direction. Ken and my classmates opened me to better ways of looking, hearing, and seeing.

I knew coming into the course that diverse habitats enrich species diversity, whether plants or all manner of living creatures. The Park and Greenway offered such diversity. Open meadows, mowed grass, woods edge, forest, stream, bog, and swamp comprised the areas we observed.

 

Our spirits soared on a perfect weather morning. Smiles and enthusiasm prevailed, along with a sense of wonder and awe for the avian variety we encountered.

 

Indian Creek had overflowed its banks more than once over the winter and spring. The forest below retained flood water not yet absorbed or drained, just one of the diverse habitats.

 

Indian Creek provided fresh flowing water. A mallard drake paddled contentedly at right.

 

I recorded this 60-second video of the stream at Creekwood Park

 

A willow thicket at the Park attracted throngs of cedar waxwings foraging willow seeds.

 

A small feeder freshet surged past butterweed blooms before emptying into Indian Creek.

 

I recorded this 30-second video of Indian Creek along the Greenway.

 

Beavers keep the wetland and swamp habitat intact south of the park along the Greenway.

 

The forester and tree enthusiast within me could not resist this park eastern red cedar, its roots tracing a comprehensive highway map.

 

I accept the challenge of distilling these Brief-Form Posts into a single distinct reflection, a task far more elusive than assembling a dozen pithy statements. Today, I borrow the words of John James Audubon:

  • If only the bird with the loveliest song sang, the forest would be a lonely place. Never give up listening to the sounds of birds.

 

NOTE: I place 3-5 short videos (15 seconds to three minutes) on my Steve Jones Great Blue Heron YouTube channel weekly. All relate to Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I encourage you to SUBSCRIBE! It’s FREE. Having more subscribers helps me spread my message of Informed and Responsible Earth Stewardship…locally and globally!

 

Appendix

Ken Ward’s tally for our excursion to Creekwood Park and Indian Creek Greenway, Madison, Alabama, US Apr 25, 2024 7:07 AM – 11:37 AM

Protocol: Traveling

4.5 mile(s)

68 species

 

Canada Goose  10 (species followed by number of individuals observed)

Mallard  6

Mourning Dove  8

Chimney Swift  4

Solitary Sandpiper  2

Great Egret  1

Great Blue Heron  5

Turkey Vulture  1

Bald Eagle  1

Red-shouldered Hawk  2

Belted Kingfisher  3

Red-bellied Woodpecker  14

Downy Woodpecker  10

Pileated Woodpecker  2

Northern Flicker  3

Eastern Wood-Pewee  4

Eastern Phoebe  5

Great Crested Flycatcher  1

Eastern Kingbird  2

White-eyed Vireo  8

Yellow-throated Vireo  1

Red-eyed Vireo  2

Blue Jay  10

American Crow  5

Carolina Chickadee  2

Tufted Titmouse  14

Northern Rough-winged Swallow  4

Barn Swallow  8

White-breasted Nuthatch  2

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  5

House Wren  1

Carolina Wren  20

European Starling  10

Gray Catbird  4

Brown Thrasher  1

Northern Mockingbird  6

Eastern Bluebird  6

Wood Thrush  2

American Robin  30

Cedar Waxwing  35

House Finch  6

American Goldfinch  14

Chipping Sparrow  2

Field Sparrow  6

Song Sparrow  4

Eastern Towhee  1

Yellow-breasted Chat  1

Eastern Meadowlark  1

Orchard Oriole  1

Baltimore Oriole  1

Red-winged Blackbird  15

Brown-headed Cowbird  14

Common Grackle  27

Northern Waterthrush  2

Prothonotary Warbler  2

Tennessee Warbler  12

Nashville Warbler  1

Common Yellowthroat  2

Northern Parula  4

Yellow Warbler  2

Palm Warbler  1

Yellow-rumped Warbler  16

Yellow-throated Warbler  1

Summer Tanager  8

Scarlet Tanager  1

Northern Cardinal  25

Rose-breasted Grosbeak  1

Indigo Bunting  14

 

Autumn Fungi, Dead Snags, and Trophy Oak Burl at Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary!

Left Knee Replacement Recovery Update

 

I’m adding this single-paragraph prolog on Leap-Day, February 29, 2024. I’m reaching back to content I gathered four months ago. You might ask, why the long lag period? During the autumn months, I was dealing with deteriorating knees, with total left knee replacement anticipated in mid-January, a date not yet confirmed. I was scheduled initially for June of 2023, but my unanticipated June 19, 2023, triple bypass delayed knee surgery. Knowing bad knees and then recovery would limit my woods-wandering for an extended period, I banked photographs, reflections, and observations for several months. Thus, now 37 days since knee surgery, I am writing this prolog, still uncertain when I can resume my woodland forays.

 

Mid-November Sanctuary Wandering

 

I visited Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary on November 14, 2023, with Dr. Marian Moore Lewis, author of Southern Sanctuary. We trekked through the western side of the Sanctuary, observing and reflecting upon all manner of seasonal life we encountered from Hidden Spring to Jobala Pond to the wetland mitigation project underway in the mid-property meadows and fields. I focus this Post on the autumn fungi, dead snags, and a trophy oak burl we encountered.

This Ganoderma lobatum is a hardwood decay fungus, one of 80 Ganaderma species. Its genus name means shiny or lustrous skin, apparent below left. Note the grass growing through the specimen below right.

 

The mushroom (same species) below right is a prolific spore producer, coating surfaces near it with a thick beige dusting.

 

The oak below harbors oak bracket decay fungi. More than a foot across, the two fresh mushrooms have sprouted from one of the tree’s fluted trunk toes. The tree is living despite evidence of heavy infection. Like so much in Nature the decay infection and living tree are in a tenuous balance. The fungus consumes wood; the tree adds new wood. Eventually, gravity and other physical forces will prevail. That the tree will topple is inevitable. Decay is a crucial variable in the equation of life, death, and renewal.

 

I recall plant (tree) pathology courses in undergraduate forestry studies. Educated from a timber management orientation, I viewed forest pathology and specific fungal agents as elements of the dark side, negatively affecting tree vigor and wood quality and value. Retired and long removed from that timber value orientation, I view fungi through an entirely different lens…an ecosystem perspective. I often find relevant wisdom in John Muir’s words:

When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

The oak bracket fungus is oblivious to the relative timber value of oaks. It knows only that its sole function is to achieve life-vigor sufficient to produce viable reproductive spores to ensure successive generations, its contribution to the health and viability of life within that one great dewdrop. Responsibility for managing the forest for timber production, income generation, wildlife habitat, water yield, or sundry other objectives rests with the forester. The disease agent (the fungus) is one of the factors in the forester’s zone of influence and control.

Another nearby large oak bracket mushroom is exuding resinous beads.

 

Marian has located yet another oak bracket, exposing its polyporus underside (below right)

 

A nearby elm snag has seen its final summer. Decay fungi and marauding birds, squirrels, and other critters have weakened the snag. I can’t imagine the remnants resisting the pull of gravity through routine winter weather sure to bring soaking rains, strong winds, and maybe even snow and freezing rain.

 

 

This willow snag stands within the upstream end of Jobala Pond, where the Hidden Spring wetland emerges into the pond.

 

Fungi and snags go hand in hand, the snag is the final standing relic of decay fungi that likely began its decomposition decades earlier.

 

Trophy Water Oak Burl

 

Burls are not caused by decay organisms. I describe burls as benign tumors, triggered by some unknown biological agent (virus, bacterium, or fungus. Burls are often beautifully textured solid wood, treasured by wood-turning enthusiasts.

 

Because the oak grows at the Jobala Pond outlet, I visit it every time I enter the Sanctuary from the Taylor Road entrance.

 

Its growth is quite evident. I snapped this image June 20, 2020. That’s then 12-year-old grandson Jack’s hand.

 

I try to visit the Sanctuary every 2-3 months, monitoring change and discovering what Nature reveals,

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nothing in Nature is static.
  • When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty. (John Muir)
  • Fungi and snags go hand in hand, the snag is the final standing relic of decay fungi that likely began its decomposition decades earlier.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

A reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied by untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and understand their Earth home more clearly.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

 

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grandkids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

 

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship with the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.

 

 

Brief-Form Post #20: Aerial Tour of Blackwell Swamp at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge!

I am pleased to offer the 20th GBH Brief Form Posts to my website (Less than three minutes to read!). I tend to get a bit long-winded with my routine Posts. I don’t want my enthusiasm for thoroughness and detail to discourage readers. So I will publish these brief Posts regularly.

 

Brief-Form Post on my August 20, 2023, Aerial Overflight of Blackwell Swamp within the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge!

 

On August 20, 2023, a friend took me aloft in his Cessna 182. We departed Pryor Regional Airfield, Decatur, Alabama at 7:00 AM under cloud-free but hazy skies. Our flight plan encompassed exploring the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and cruising the Tennessee River from Guntersville Dam downstream to Wheeler Dam (and Joe Wheeler State Park). I focus this Brief-Form Post on our aerial exploration of one of my favorite on-the-ground destinations: Blackwell Swamp within the Refuge.

I snapped this photo at 7:59 AM over the north end of the Swamp looking south deeper into the Refuge and the Tennessee River (Wheeler Lake). The Swamp stretches roughly three miles from end to end.

Blackwell

 

 

I recorded this 0:22 video as we circuited the southern end of Blackwell.

 

The view below to the northwest reaches across County Line Road (running diagonally from lower left to upper right) separating Limestone County (left) from Madison. The Huntsville Airport appears north of the Swamp at center right.

 

The summer (left) and winter views from the SW corner of the Swamp signal no indication that we are anywhere but in the wild interior of the 35,000 acre Refuge. No sign of the nearby agricultural fields, the landing and takeoff patterns for the airport, or recreational boats and commercial tugs and barges plying Lake Wheeler. I am sure that a Native American plucked from the 15th Century and placed on the Blackwell shore would have heard, smelled, and felt the presence of strange and peculiar forces. I am grateful that I can still sense the wildness of the refuge.

 

Summer’s peace and tranquility often include egrets, herons, owls, ducks, geese, an occasional eagle, ospreys, songbirds, frogs, manifold insects, and other teeming wildlife. Nature doesn’t seem to notice a dearth of wildness.

Jolly B

 

Spring is a season of special joy for me. I appreciate the eternal spring of youth, epitomized here by grandson Sam.

 

I accept the challenge of distilling these Brief-Form Posts into a single distinct reflection, a task far more elusive than assembling a dozen pithy statements. Today, I borrow a distinct reflection from Aldo Leopold, one of the great minds of conservation, wildlife ecology, and environmental antiquity:

  • A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

 

NOTE: I place 3-5 short videos (15 seconds to three minutes) on my Steve Jones Great Blue Heron YouTube channel weekly. All relate to Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I encourage you to SUBSCRIBE! It’s FREE. Having more subscribers helps me spread my message of Informed and Responsible Earth Stewardship…locally and globally!