By Frances Figart, Creative Services Director
One of the first interviewees for our new podcast Smoky Mountain Air is naturalist and birding expert Stephen Lyn Bales. Bales wrote a story about the Winter Wren for Smokies Life magazine in one of our missing issues, Volume 9, #1. These missing issues are no longer in print but, during Covid-19 isolation, we made them available to view online at SmokiesInformation.org/MissingIssues.
Bales is the former senior naturalist at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville and the author of three books published by UT Press. A native of Gatlinburg, he is the great-grandson of Jim Bales whose home site is preserved on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
I asked Bales about his experience doing the podcast interview. “I enjoyed it more than expected,” he says. “I was nervous, but I have been teaching classes about birds and other natural history topics for over 20 years. As an educator, you feed off the energy of the class, and in this case, I fed off the smiles and energy of my two interviewers: Valerie and Karen. They asked me about some of my favorite mnemonics to remember bird songs. I regretted later not thinking to add the ‘Sweet, sweet, sweet, I'm so sweet’ of the Yellow Warbler, and the ‘Pleased, pleased, pleased to meet'cha’ of the Chestnut-sided Warbler.
Bales says he has winter wrens that do indeed spend their winters around his house in the woods. “I always keep large brush piles for them to hide in,” he says. “They love that. I wrote the article in September 2014, so I was in essence looking forward to their arrival in November.”
As it has for many of us, the Covid-19 quarantine has for Bales been both a challenge and an opportunity.
“I have had time to sit and have morning coffee and eat my meals watching bird behavior,” he says. “I have seen a lot of courtship and parenting I might have otherwise missed. I now call my ‘breakfast nook’ my ‘bird nook’ and get to spend quite a bit of time watching ‘my birds.’
“I currently can see seven feeders from that nook,” Bales continues. “At the beginning of the quarantine, I had male and female migrating Rose-breasted Grosbeaks daily, and I love watching the shy Towhees hop across the deck looking for the safflower I toss out for them. The Hummingbirds zip in and zip out, and I have finally realized just how absolutely beautiful Blue Jays are. They dominate the scene when they stop by for a snack, but not by bullying. It's their commanding, regal presence. Of course, they are corvids. So, they are smart too.”
Read books by Bales:
Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker
Ephemeral by Nature: Exploring the Exceptional with a Tennessee Naturalist
Natural Histories: Stories from the Tennessee Valley
Check out more information on birding on Bales’ blog, Nature Calling.