Friday, January 29, 2010


Knoxville area radio personality Dave Foulk recently went on Facebook seeking to identify a waterfowl he had seen. The request reminded me of an incident that happened to me back in 1987.

When Cheryl and I bought a house in Powell in 1986, near I-75 and Emory Road, it was still a rural area. On the northeast side, at the foot of the small mountain where we moved in, there is a man-made pond where ducks often gather.

One afternoon Cheryl came in from work and asked, “What kind of bird stands in the water on one leg? Whatever it is, I just saw it in the pond at the bottom of the hill.” I told her I didn’t know because I hadn’t been around waterfowl very much.

At the time, I was running a beat in the area where I lived for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office so I made a point of driving by the pond when I had time. I never saw the big bird that stood on one leg, but Cheryl saw it often.

After a while, whenever Cheryl mentioned the big bird, I would respond with, “Did the bird say anything to you?” It became a running joke I enjoyed more than she did. It might have remained that way had I not stretched out on a lawn chair on my back deck one afternoon.

I was about half asleep when I first heard the loud flapping noise approaching from above. Looking up, I saw a creature that in my semi-waking state, I first irrationally took to be a pterodactyl bearing down on me.

Of course, I had never seen a pterodactyl -- except in artist renderings -- the species having been extinct for millions of years, but I had never seen the creature flying above me either. It had a long neck and pointed head, long legs trailing behind and a wingspan that looked like a small aircraft from where I was.

After the creature had passed, I realized it was a bird. In fact, it was the bird Cheryl had seen standing on one leg in the pond. A little research told me it was a Great Blue Heron, taking off from the bottom of the ridge and struggling to gain altitude as it passed over me.

I had seen pictures of the Great Blue Heron from a distance, but I had never looked up at one close-up as it passed over my head. That evening, I told Cheryl I had identified her bird, but I left out the part about mistaking it for a pterodactyl.

Monday, October 12, 2009


On Sept. 29, hummingbirds were battling over the feeder on our back deck. They would come face to face, rise 20 or 30 feet in the air, while bumping each other. Though it wasn’t obvious to me how a winner was decided, one of the birds would fly away and the other would claim the feeder – only to be challenged by a fresh adversary. It went on for hours.

The next morning, Sept. 30, there was not a hummingbird in sight and I have not seen one at the feeder since. I knew it was migration season and the tiny birds would soon be heading to the Gulf of Mexico for a nonstop flight to their winter home in South America, but I had no idea that birds traveling alone were on such a standard schedule. Did anyone else notice such an abrupt departure?

Monday, September 21, 2009


I saw a hummingbird catch a flying insect today. I think it was a male Asian Woolly Aphid (females don't fly.), but I’m not certain. They look like bits of lint floating through the air rather than flying insects. (See the picture.) It’s because they are so tiny all you see is the light hitting gossamer wings.

That hummingbirds eat enough insects to make up 40 percent of their diet, I already knew. Every creature needs protein, especially those with hearts that beat a thousand times a minute. But I never seen a humming bird in its active role as a predator.

One of the Ruby-throated hummingbirds was hovering at our feeder, sipping the sugar water, when the tiny insect leisurely floated by. The bird rose and hovered, watched the whitefly a moment as it moved away, then zipped over and snatched it from the air.

As Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”