Chaetura Canyon Sanctuary News By Georgean and Paul Kyle

The beneficial rains that fell during the first part of the year came to a screeching halt in June, and we recorded less than 1” of precipitation during June and July. Despite the faucet being shut off, the ephemeral creek in the bottom of the Canyon continued to flow through June and July. Several sizable watering holes remained for the wildlife even with temperatures hovering around 100 degrees for most of July.

The first Chimney Swift fledglings were out and about by the Fourth of July weekend. Youngsters are easily distinguished from the adults this time of year. While the adults are molting and look rather gray and ragged, the new birds are sleek and black. Both the June and July Second Saturday Swift Watches were full to the brim, and visitors were able to observe this phenomenon.


Juvenile Carolina Wrens in the Canyon, all photos by Georgean Kyle.

Many other avian species are having a successful breeding season as well with fledgling Northern Cardinals, Bewick’s Wrens, Carolina Wrens, Canyon Wrens, Black-crested Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, White-eyed Vireos, House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, and Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers all visiting the woods around the residence to take advantage of the thriving habitat, water features and supplemental feeding.

The Golden-fronted woodpeckers constantly shuttled peanut butter/cornmeal mix from the feeder logs to their nesting cavities and hungry young. Soon the thin-necked, “whirring” youngsters began to arrive with their parents. This year we were able to determine that two separate families were taking advantage: one pair departed to the west, while the other went east toward the Little Beaver Hill property. A huge dead sycamore snag measuring ~ 40 feet in height was home to the east family. We have often observed Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers on this old icon—especially during early morning monthly Point Counts.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker in the dead Sycamore tree.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker in the dead Sycamore tree.

On the July Point count, while making our way to “Point 3,” we noticed something missing: the old sycamore snag was gone. We walked up the road to investigate and found that it had fallen across the county road. Maintenance crews had cut the old giant and pushed the parts off to the sides of the road. Just two days previous we had taken the camera over to gets some photos of the woodpeckers at their cavities. Fortunately, by the time the tree fell, the young had already fledged. And fortunately as well, we were able to get some decent photos.


Armadillo trail crew.

We went back later with a chain saw and retrieved some large chunks of the pithy wood. We have plans to fashion a woodpecker nest box around the old pith and mount it on one of the corner fence posts. Woodpecker nest boxes are typically packed with sawdust for the birds to “excavate”. Our thought is that if they actually have old, soft wood to excavate, it may seem more natural to them. We will see!

The resident mammals are also having a productive year and some are adding to our already long list of maintenance projects. Every morning the trails are full of Armadillo divots from the most recent brood of armored rooters. Apparently the mulch cultivates a healthy crop of tasty grubs. The water features seem to be a fun place for them to spend some time as well and the bog area has turned into a Hoover Hog Wallow.

Mischievous Raccoons roust the water features and bird feeders as well, so all feeders now come inside before dark. Cute but pesky Rock Squirrels and Fox Squirrels are also in abundance, and the Coyotes and Grey Foxes can be heard patrolling the lower canyon.

Paul Kyle happily installs fencing.

Paul Kyle happily installs fencing.

Installing fencing around newly acquired property is a project that always makes us happy, and we have been very happy lately. All of the stabilizer posts and T-posts are now installed on the Little Beaver Hill property, and we have begun to run the actual fencing. This is a particularly delightful project because all of the materials are being salvaged from the cross-fencing that separated “The Notch” from the rest of the canyon—The Notch being the most recent addition to the sanctuary. We expect to have the entire Little Beaver Hill property completely protected from deer browsing by summer’s end.

We hope to see you in the Canyon soon!