Sunday, February 18, 2007


I recently was able to get some close-up pictures of 3 of our common local woodpeckers. The beautiful bird in this picture is a Hairy Woodpecker. We see these less frequently than the others pictured below. They look almost exactly like a Downy Woodpecker but they are bigger (about 9" versus 6") and they have a much longer bill than the Downys.
This bird and the others below are all on the new suet logs that I made. The logs are hanging right off of my deck and they have attracted so far, 3 kinds of woodpeckers, nuthatches, and bluebirds. There is usually very few 15 minute intervals during the day when one of these birds is not on the suet log.

Now here, on the left, is a little female Downy Woodpecker. These are the most common woodpeckers that we see around here. They are somewhere in the backyard or in the woods visible from the house almost all day long. There is one out the window eating suet right now as I am typing this. The Downys and the Bluebirds are often both on the same feeder at the same time. Downys are the smallest woodpecker and they have a short little bill for a woodpecker.

This one is a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. You may be asking, like my neighbor Ed, where is the red belly. Well, it is often very hard to spot. But you can sometimes see the faint red if they are sitting just right. You can't see it in this picture. Red-Bellied woodpeckers are about the same size as the Hairy Woodpeckers...about 9".

There are 2 other kinds of woodpeckers that we see quite often (once a week or so) but that I haven't been able to get a close picture yet. One is the Red-Headed Woodpecker whose whole head is red. The other is the Pileated Woodpecker. The Pileated is the giant woodpecker about 18" high, or double the size of any of the others.
This guy on the wooden suet feeder to the left is a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker. Although we supposedly have them around here, I haven't seen one yet. This picture was taken by our friend and famous wildlife photographer, Joe Burkett of Pottsboro Texas. The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is about 8" tall, bigger than a Downy but smaller than a Hairy or Red-Bellied.

Put a suet log or suet feeder out your back window and you too will soon have woodpeckers visiting your yard.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cumberland Trail

Looks like just a ribbon on a tree, right? Well what you are looking at is a future section of the Cumberland Trail that when finished will traverse Tennessee from Kentucky to Georgia.

On Saturday I was fortunate to get to go with 4 other folks responsible for the completion of the Cumberland Trail. The trail will eventually be about 300 miles long. Currently it is about half finished.

Most of the actual work on the trail is by volunteers. In March several hundred college students will give up their Panama spring break (or wherever they go these days) to volunteer for manual labor on the Cumberland Trail.

Cumberland Trail Program Coordinator Tony Hook led the 4 of us to the Royal Blue Wildlife Management area to flag about 1 1/2 miles of trail. Flagging involves figuring out exactly where the trail will be built and marking the trees with ribbons. Sometimes the decision is easy. Sometimes it involves walking and re-walking an area to try to determine the best route for the trail to follow. We had to take into consideration steepness, erosion potential, possible wet areas after rain, switchback locations, ease of construction, etc., etc.
In the picture to the left are my 4 companions for the day....Tony Hook, Gary Ruetenik, Carolyn Miller and Jim McCullough.

Tony is the expert. He is responsible for the trail from Kentucky to Georgia, but Gary, Carolyn and Jim know quite a bit about trail work also. I was the rookie.

The ribbons that we put on the trees will be followed by the volunteers in March with picks, shovels, McClouds, (a trail building tool) and chain saws to build the trail. Nancy and I plan to volunteer the week of March 12 to work on the trail on Black Mountain, a little closer to home.

If you go to the web site for the Cumberland Trail you can learn more, as well as see a previous photo (near the bottom of the page) that I took when the Fairfield Glade hiking club worked on Black Mountain. Nancy is in the middle of the photo with the white name badge and a McCloud in each hand.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Suet Log

My little article in the Fairfield Glade Vista newspaper generated several email comments. Several people had specific questions about bluebirds ... some of their questions I knew the answer to, and some I had to research before responding.

Two comments were especially helpful. The first was from someone who said in addition to mealworms, raisins and cranberries, that their bluebirds regularly came to a suet log that they made. They took a piece of a tree branch a couple of feet long and drilled 1 inch holes in it which they then filled with suet. I tried it and the bluebirds were on it within an hour. The picture above shows a male bluebird on my suet log with a goldfinch looking on. The goldfinch doesn't eat from the suet feeder, it is just visiting. I think that it is important to use a branch with some type of rough bark so the birds can get a good grip. Maple or beech might be too smooth to work.

Another suggestion came from a woman who said that she makes her own suet rather than buying the commercial kind and the bluebirds seem to like it better. Well, we tried her recipe and she is right. The bluebirds preferred the home made suet. Here is the recipe in case you want to try it.
All season suet recipe.
1 cup regular or crunchy peanut butter.
2 cups of quick cook oatmeal.
2 cups of cornmeal.
1 cup of lard (no substitutes here).
1 cup of white flour.
1/3 cup of sugar.

Melt peanut butter and lard together. (use very low heat).
Stir remaining ingredients together very well.
Then mix thoroughly with peanut butter and lard.
Pour into freezer containers and refrigerate until solid.

Woodpeckers come to these suet logs also. Above is a picture of a cute little Downy Woodpecker. He had just stepped off of the suet log to sit on the deck railing for a few seconds.

The cost of a piece of tree branch - zero
The cost of a screw-in eye-hook to hang the feeder - 33 cents
The fun of watching birds 3 feet outside your window - priceless.