May’s journal focuses on activity in and around backyard feeders one afternoon on the north end of the neighborhood. We were invited over to see Rose-breasted Grosbeaks who had been showing up to recharge on good food in a wonderful wooded setting before continuing on their migration. For one hour we sat quietly with our friends and watched. This is some of what we saw.
Last July our post Here’s Looking At You was about Barred Owls in Sandy Springs with two great photos taken by our friend Cindy Mayer. She has a piece of wooded property with pines and thought it would make great habitat for the owls. We offered to make an owl nestbox for her in return for more photos if it were used by the owls.
She and her husband paid a tree service to put the nest box way up in a pine. And she was right about the location! Today she sent us photos of a young owlet in the box. It’s a great story, as told in her own words.
“After we moved into our house about 3 years ago, we spotted two adult barred owls in our backyard & neighbors indicated they’d unsuccessfully nested in a tree stump across the street the previous year. That was enough to set me on a mission! I researched owl nest boxes including where & when they should be placed with hopes of enticing the owls to raise a family in our yard. We live in a forested neighborhood near the Chattahoochee river.
There’s a clean stream a couple of properties away & our property consists mostly of mature trees such as loblolly pines, tulip poplars, sweetgum trees & southern magnolias with a few maples, redbud, dogwood & oaks.”
“The nest box sits about 35 feet high in a tree in the central rear of our backyard, which abuts an elementary school. There are more trees on the other side of the fence & a little-used gravel pathway for walkers.”
“I’ve been watching & listening for any evidence of an owlet for the past few weeks since I saw activity in the in the nest box. This afternoon I saw what looked like an owl’s tail sticking out of the doorway of the nest box, so I ran downstairs to grab the camera & headed outside. And when I got there, I saw two big eyes & a ball of fluff sitting in the doorway, & talons, too — silently staring at me! How exciting!! ”
“I only saw one owlet, although there may be more inside the box. And he was much bigger than I expected! So I guess the family was further along than I realized when I first saw the action in the nest a few weeks ago. But I am thrilled there is at least one little one. And by the way, every “serious” birder I share the story with tells me that it is very unusual for owls to accept a nest box so soon after being installed.”
Thanks for the story and photos Cindy and for all the great things you do for wildlife. Such an inspiration–what we do in our own yards matters!
After more than half a century, Lenox Square announced that it will discontinue its 4th of July fireworks show.  Since it’s about as close as we get to tradition, we will miss it. Goodbye Lenox Square – it’s been fun.
So now what are you going to do on the 4th?
A suggestion is to enjoy a free light show in your own back yard without all the noise and pyrotechnics. Beginning in late May through the end of July fireflies (lightning bugs) will visit your yard if the conditions are right. Turn out the yard lights, sit quietly and watch. It’s quite a show. There have been nights in mid June where our trees, shrubbery and lawn were flashing with hundreds of them.
You know this – you used to collect them in a glass jar with air holes poked in the lid and a bit of moist paper towel in the bottom to keep them safe until you released them. It’s much more fun than a bazillion dollar fireworks show and it lasts a lot longer than 15 minutes.
Georgia has more firefly species (56!) than any other state, each having its own distinct flash. Males flash while flying; wingless females sit on vegetation and emit their own light signals, which the males cue on.  They prefer warm, fairly wet weather, and in this part of the country they tend to appear in May, June or July. 
Fireflies hibernate in winter during the larval stage, some species for several years. Some do this by burrowing underground, while others find places on or under the bark of trees. They emerge in the spring. Help keep them safe: no pesticides on your lawn and please don’t spray for mosquitoes.
Learn a little more about fireflies including synchronous fireflies (hundreds flash in unison) by checking out the links below.
Mysterious and little known organisms lie within walking distance of where you sit. Splendor awaits in minute proportions. – E. O. Wilson
References and Additional Information
 Silent Sparks – The Wonderous World of Fireflies – Sarah Lewis, Princeton University Press
 Fireflies, Glow-worms, and Lightning Bugs – Lynn Frierson Faust, UGA Press
 Georgia DNR – Out My Back Door: Fireflies Create Sparkling Backyard Wonderlands
 National Park Service: Synchronous Fireflies
 The Smokey Mountain Hiking Blog: The Synchronous Fireflies of Elkmont
 AJC – Charles Seabrook: Blinking fireflies are icons of Georgia summer nights
 Firefly.org Fifty Questions
 Smithsonian Magazine: 14 Fun Facts About Fireflies
 [Boston] Museum of Science: Firefly Watch
 Wikipedia: Firefly
 Wikipedia: Elkmont, Tennessee
 AJC – May 3, 2017
 National Park Service – Congaree National Park: Synchronized Fireflies at Congaree
April was a busy month with much nesting activity all over the neighborhood. Three of the four bird houses on the Nature Trail have occupants. Two neighbors on Darlington Commons had nests in shrubbery right outside their front door, and we counted at least four nests in our yard, including a Brown Thrasher pair who nested in the Carolina Jessamine vine on the side of the house.
Most trees have leafed out now. American Basswood, Pignut Hickory, Georgia Hackberry and Southern Sugar Maple along with eight other species were identified on the Nature Trail and will be marked. Hummers are here for sure, and flowering plants like Crossvine and Native Honeysuckle are in bloom for them.
And it looks like the Wild Turkey hen has moved on. We hope she’s safe and well.
We’ve had a special guest staying with us the last few days: Dr. Joan Maloof, author and Professor Emeritus at Salisbury University in Maryland, founded the Old-Growth Forest Network to preserve, protect and promote the country’s few remaining stands of old-growth forest.
She’s been in Atlanta to induct 13 tracts of land in and near Atlanta into OGF Network (see the list below). This is a remarkable number of additions and underscores what we already knew: Atlanta truly is a City in The Forest.
These forests have been identified and protected by many dedicated individuals who see their value and importance now and for future generations. There are many heroes in this story, but one who stands out is Kathryn Kolb, director of Eco-Addendum (Eco-A).
Eco-A is an organization whose stated mission is “is to raise awareness about Georgia’s rich natural environment, and through education, to reconnect people with the natural world”. Sign up for one of Eco-A’s “Walk About Down Yonder” hikes; they’re great and you’ll learn a lot about Atlanta and our forests.
Eco-Addendum organized and produced last night’s event, “Discovering Atlanta’s Original Forests”, on the Emory campus with over 200 people in attendance. The program included a panel discussion about Atlanta’s trees moderated by Maria Saporta, writer and frequent contributor to the AJC and the Atlanta Business Chronicle, and founder and editor of news website SaportaReport.com, and tree champion.
While Peachtree Park doesn’t qualify as an Old Growth Forest, it is a very valuable urban forest with many old, valuable trees. We asked Joan to walk the Nature Trail with us yesterday and identify some of the trees. She spent over 2 hours with us and helped us realize just how special this land is. She also identified over a dozen species of trees which will be marked with information signs.
Then we asked her to identify the pine tree in our back yard. It’s a Loblolly, but the real news is that she estimates it to be over 130 years old! We were stunned! And we learned that Loblollies can live to be 200 – 300 years old. We’ve lived beside this tree in our back yard for over 30 years and all the while had no idea it was that old. There are many trees like this in Peachtree Park: old-growth trees that sustain wildlife and make this neighborhood a wonderful place to live.
Old-Growth Forest Inductions – April 25, 2017
- Briarlake Forest and Hidden Acres Nature Preserve – DeKalb County
- Cascade Springs Nature Preserve – City of Atlanta
- Cumberlander – City of Atlanta
- D’Agnese tract – City of Atlanta
- Daniel Johnson Nature Preserve / Herbert Taylor Park – City of Atlanta
- Deepdene Park – DeKalb County
- Fernbank Forest – DeKalb County
- Herbert Greene Park – City of Atlanta
- Lionel Hampton-Beecher Hills Nature Preserve – City of Atlanta
- Lullwater Conservation Garden – City of Atlanta
- Osborne Park, City of Brookhaven – DeKalb County
- Outdoor Activity Center – City of Atlanta
and these two private forests:
- McConaughey Nature Preserve and Historic Site – DeKalb County
- Mosman Forest – City of Atlanta, Fulton Country
Hope not, because we had a chance to see the turkey hen up close; probably the same one reported in last week’s post: Pretty Wild. Perhaps you might like a follow up.
This beautiful bird was roosting on a limb only a few feet from the back door. She was not at all bothered by us standing only 25 feet away and stayed on her perch for several hours. There are a few wooded acres in back of the houses which probably makes good habitat. And the next door neighbor reported seeing her on their driveway and front walk.
“Just this morning there was another post on GABO (Georgia Birders Online) titled Turkey Hen stops traffic in East Cobb County: “I was traveling East on Shallowford Road near Sandy Plains about 8:30am. Suddenly – lots of unexpected brake lights. Something big and dark sauntered across to the other side of 5 lanes. First thought it was a goose… but no ! A turkey hen !”
Maybe our turkey will hang around. We hope so!
Plants are waking up and everybody’s nesting. The dawn chorus is especially loud and full of courtship and the claiming of territory. Frogs are beginning to call at night. Native bees are busy and there’s plenty in bloom to provide nectar and pollen. On warmer days the honey bees in the hive on the Nature Trail are active. No hummingbirds have been seen here yet, although there are reports of sightings close by, and butterflies are still scarce. This will change soon.