Early March is a wonderful time of the year in Central Georgia. Many forms of flora and fauna are awakening and the year’s first flowers make their appearance after a short winter nap. We have experienced a frighteningly mild winter and some flowers are a little ahead of their normal emergence…….some even a couple of weeks early. Some of the first flowers to paint the forest with a splash of yellow are the trout lilies. I hiked the Panther Creek trail in mid-February and found trout lilies in flower. The trout lily is a lovely, small species that in some areas may completely blanket the ground. One has to be in the right place at the right time to observe and / or photograph these flowers as they flower in late winter and they are not long lasting flowers. By mid spring, the flowers are gone and they do not re-appear until the following year. Another favorite flower of mine is “Bloodroot”. The leaves of bloodroot are quite interesting as they are very erect and palmate in shape. The flowers are white and most often may be the only flower visible in areas where bloodroot grows. Bloodroot has been flowering for a couple of weeks and depending upon location, can be observed well into March. In addition, Virginia Bluebells are beginning to flower and over the next month, lots of wild Spring flowers will erupt in a riot of color. Trilliums, celedine poppy, may apple and foam flower just to name a few. Lastly, many ferns have their fiddle-heads up and my cinnamon ferns are up about 10 inches. They are also a very nice reminder of approaching spring.
Bloodroot Cinnamon Fern Fiddleheads
On March 4th, Dr. Gary Ludi and I drove south of Atlanta to an area where a couple of LeConte’s sparrows had been observed. The LeConte’s is a very uncommon species in Georgia and the locality was provided by a friend who works for Ga. D.N.R. It is always nice to get the “inside scoop” on uncommon or rare species and this is true for all animals including reptiles, amphibians and especially birds. Gary and I left my house at 6 am and arrived at the location in about 2 ½ hours. The habitat is a disturbed area (power line cut) through a sand hill community. Within the power line cut, there were tall grasses which are ideal for sparrow species and soon after arrival we had already found a number of sparrows….just not the target species. In walking the area, we had to be a little cautious as there is a type of cactus there that has extremely long spines that can penetrate boots so besides trying to concentrate on birds flushing up, we also had to watch our footing. We walked down one side of the power line and back the other side and during our walk we observed: White-throated sparrows, Song sparrows, Chipping sparrows, Field sparrows, Savannah sparrows and 1 Vesper sparrow. We also observed what “may have been” a Henslow’s sparrow. The bird’s behavior was just that of a Henslow’s and the bird was quite large and dark. Typical of Henslow’s, the bird flew up from our feet, only flew about 10 meters, and then dropped back into the grass. We walked to the precise place the bird went down and try as we may, we could not relocate the bird. Henslow’s have an uncanny ability of just disappearing and that is what this bird did. As Gary and I walked along an area adjacent to some young pines, a very small, short tailed, light colored sparrow erupted from the grass and quickly settled back into the grass. We knew this had to be a LeConte’s so we slowly walked over and the bird once again flushed before we could observe it. This time the bird flew into some grass within the pine area, which was much more open. Again, we could not locate the bird until it flushed up. However, luck would be with us and the bird landed on a pine limb, only 4 feet above the ground. We had a wonderful study of the gorgeous little sparrow and I was able to take a number of images using a 400 mm lens on my camera. The LeConte’s was a new species for Gary and although I had seen this species a number of times over 40 years of birding, it is always a special treat to observe one and especially nice to find one that was cooperative in perching in the open. This again was another glorious moment in watching wildlife.
Le Conte’s Sparrow
As a reminder, many beautiful neo-tropical migrant birds will begin arriving in Georgia over the next few weeks. Last year, in Marietta, I observed my first ruby-throated hummer on April 1st. So keep your binoculars and field guides handy. Some species may be nothing more than a fleeting glimpse while others may present themselves for long observation periods and those can indeed be very special moments.