Monday, January 14, 2013

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

Me at Wheeler Dam. Photo by Vickie Henderson.
This past weekend, I went on a birdwatching trip with 18 members of the Knoxville branch of the Tennessee Ornithological Society down to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Huntsville, Alabama. It was a good weekend, despite the rainy weather. It had been quite a while since I had gone on an overnight birding trip, and I was reminded of the wonderful camaraderie and also the exhausting pleasure of birding from dawn until dusk.

The rain wasn't nearly bad as predicted, which I was grateful for. The weather was unseasonably warm, setting record highs. The trouble with unseasonable weather is that the birds behave unpredictably. In this case, many of the ordinary waterfowl just weren't there, or weren't present in the numbers we had been promised. I had expected to see thousands of ducks in one place. Still, I can't complain too much-- I saw 86 species total and got 5 lifebirds: Greater White-fronted Goose, Lesser Scaup, American White Pelican, Lapland Longspur, and Rusty Blackbird.

One of my favorite sightings was at the lower level of Wheeler Dam, when two Great Scaup and one Lesser Scaup came in close enough for us to study the distinctions between these two very similar species. The lesser has a narrower bill with a smaller nail, and its head comes to more of a point. I improved my duck identification skills in general, especially since most of the birds were at a distance. I saw American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Redhead, about a thousand Ring-necked Ducks, Bufflead, Common Goldeneye, and Ruddy Duck, among others.

I only had my iPhone with me, so I didn't get any good pictures of the birds. I did get a shot of a gravel path we traveled between two lanes of I-65:
Under I-65, north of TN River
I greatly enjoyed the novelty of being in a such a place. Plus, there were ducks in the wetland on either side.

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