Beyond the BackyardCallaway Gardens

Callaway Gardens Vacation: Part 3 – Birds!

My favorite place at Callaway Gardens is Mr. Cason’s Vegetable Garden.  On our first visit, Rich wanted to check out the veges, and I thought I’d be totally bored.  But it was quite the opposite.  There are tons of birds in the garden.  In fact, it is a certified Backyard Habitat.  It’s not just vegetables, either.  They plant flowers in the garden, too, including a Trial Garden for new varieties of plants.  On this trip, the large patches of zinnias were particularly attractive to the butterflies, goldfinches, and hummingbirds.

Our first night there was the only night that the vegetable garden was open for sunset.  Each night after that, the gates were locked long before the golden light hour.  We were very disappointed.  Mornings are just not the same, with the staff working in the garden and mowing and pruning and startling the birds.  (I know the birds are used to having people around, but they pose a lot better when the garden is quiet!)  Also disappointing was the presence of this Red-Tailed Hawk in the garden on the one evening that we were able to photograph there.  Although I’d never seen a Red-Tailed Hawk before, and I enjoyed the opportunity to photograph him up close, he kept all the little birds in hiding for the whole evening. :-p

Look at the sharp claws on this guy!  I approached him carefully, expecting him to fly at any moment.  First I made some full-bird portraits.  Then I inched closer and closer.  He didn’t care.  He stayed on the same pole for over two hours!  I tried to get good head shots, but the evening was cloudy and the light was low.  I overdid it with the flash and didn’t like the results.  But I did like the shot of his feet.  If I were a little bird, I wouldn’t want to get close to this guy…

One of the fun parts of visiting Georgia is the opportunity to see birds who only visit Florida during the winter.  One of my favorite birds is the American Goldfinch, with his sweet call that sounds like “potato chip!”  He lives in Georgia year-round, and in August he still wears his bright yellow colors.  By the time he comes to our yard in November, he’ll have molted into his drab yellow.  But his calls are still cheerful, no matter his color!

The vege garden is full of corn this season.  As you enter the garden, there are corn patches on both sides of the path.  Additional patches can be found throughout the garden.  Callaway Gardens sells the food raised in the garden in their Farmer’s Market, and I think they also donate some of it to local food banks.  But the birds steal their share, and the flocks of Red-Winged Blackbirds descended upon the corn each time the patches became free of people.

If you just walk into the garden and glance around, it might appear that there are few birds.  However, if you stand there for a few minutes, little birds will begin to hop out from under the cover of the plants and begin foraging in the dirt.  I’m not too great with my sparrow identifications, but I think this is a Chipping Sparrow.  There were lots of these guys running around the garden, especially in the evening.

On our first morning in the garden, we saw a flock of Canada Geese flying overhead.  They honked a greeting as they passed by.  These geese are rare migrants to Central Florida, and I haven’t had many opportunities to photograph them.  So when I spotted a flock of them in the grasses outside the Robin Lake beach on the way to the vegetable garden, I asked Rich to pull over.  I was shooting into the rising sun, and the birds started to move away as soon as they saw me approach.  But I did get one shot of a goose looking at me!

Cardinals were everywhere this trip.  We heard lots of babies, and saw males, females, and juveniles all over the place.  I had hoped to photograph them on the sunflowers left to seed in the vegetable garden, but they didn’t cooperate with me.  So I had to settle for this image of a scruffy molting male perched on a sunflower leaf by the Victory Garden cottage fence.  He seemed more curious about me with my camera than about his dinner.

Muscadine grapes are one of the signature foods at Callaway Gardens.  At every Callaway restaurant, southern-style biscuits are served with muscadine preserves for each meal.  I think they are really good, and so do the birds.  The vegetable garden features muscadine grape vines, and this was the first time we’ve seen grapes ripening on the vines.  The cardinals like the grapes as much as I do, and they help themselves to the grapes that fall on the ground.

I really wish the garden had been open in the evening for the whole trip.  It was the Beast’s first trip to Callaway, and he was looking forward to seeing some of the more unusual birds that I’ve photographed there previously.  Hopefully Callaway will reconsider their early closure policy before our next visit.