Bluebird in January?
We are finally launched on our trip to the Southwest after snow delayed us several days. Yesterday, Day 2, starting out in frigid Pennsylvania, we drove southward on I-81 and started to see birds. Hawks were starting to move about — it’s a little hard to ID them at 70 mph but I think most were Redtails with a couple rough-legged and one harrier thrown in. Saw our first turkey vulture in Virginia. After the last month of rather sterile winter birding in Vermont, it was exciting to see more and more activity.
Since we are moving with a winterized Airstream in below-freezing temperatures, we tend to overnight in Walmart parking lots. Well, last night we were in Athens, Tennessee, north of Chattanooga, and it was warmer (45 degrees) but still had snow from last week’s storm. Walking the dog just before dark, I was noticing how this massive superstore had been carved out of the fields and oak forests around it — and a little saddened by it — when I noticed a lot of bird activity down over the bank in the brushy fence line. I didn’t have my binoculars but could see that some of them where Northern Cardinals due to there shape and crests. I went back to the truck, got my binoculars, and spotted about a dozen mourning doves roosting along with the cardinals. I know I got some strange looks from the Tennessee pickup truck drivers wheeling in and out of Walmart on a Saturday night. From the squealing tires and speeds, it looked like they were NASCAR wannabees but far from it for me, with Vermont plates, to call them out on it.
After dark, I took Penny on one last walk around the massive perimeter of the parking lot. As I came around the back of the store, I saw a bird fly up to one of the spruce trees planted along the periphery. It sat there as I watched (as did the dog) but I could not identify it without binoculars. The strong lights made it look like daylight (which raised a whole set of questions about impact on birds who live here) so I returned once more to the truck and grabbed my binoculars. The bird, once I returned, flew to another tree and waited. I was amazed to see the brilliant blue of a male bluebird. It sat for a bit but wouldn’t turn so I never really saw the breast for a positive identification. I’m pretty sure it was not an Indigo Bunting. Looking at recent sightings in Tennessee on eBird, I saw that Eastern Bluebirds were seen in the last three weeks at several spots so that’s my call. In any case, it’s a great way to get juices flowing as we head to Mississippi. I’d like to wait around and check it out but we need to hit the road. Good birding.