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Van Harris - The Commercial Appeal -
The Shelby Farms Greenline has generated a lot of attention for its benefits to the community's health.
I'm not a walker or bike rider, so I didn't pay much attention to it at first.
But since I am usually called upon to lead at least one of the weekday expeditions for the Memphis chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society, I thought it might be beneficial to search out a birding site that was close to more of our members and not the usual location. I thought of the Greenline.
A short scout on a Sunday morning revealed some difficulties. The access points at Tillman, Highland and Graham provided little or no parking. At the Podesta Street access, parking was limited but available and probably would be more so on a weekday. The Podesta access was also closest to the Wolf River and the adjoining bottomland forest. A field trip was scheduled for Sept. 21, gathering there at 7:30 a.m.
The morning dawned chill and very damp with a dense fog advisory. Nevertheless, five intrepid birders besides myself met at the Podesta Street access. We decided to to go east toward Shelby Farms.
The first 200 meters were quite sterile and uninteresting. A house finch, a couple of mockingbirds and some house sparrows sat glumly on telephone wires in the fog. Looming above the trail was the I-240 flyover, which produced a cacophony of noise as a massive traffic jam stalled all movement.
A large flock of street pigeons eyed us from the supports of the roadway above. But at length we reached the forest of the Wolf River bottom.
Dick Preston had arrived early to see what might be stirring. He reported that a yellow-throated warbler had been gleaning insects from the many spider webs that stretched between the rails along the track and the surrounding trees. He also reported a couple of female summer tanagers foraging in the undergrowth.
Carolina wrens sang and flitted about at the forest edge. The Wolf River ran swift and muddy as we passed over. Numerous webs of several spider species were anchored to the deck rails, producing interesting patterns as the fog condensed.
The Greenline trail runs along an abandoned railroad right-of-way. In some places, it cuts through hillsides, but crossing the Wolf River and running through its bottomland, it is supported by old trestles and fill.
Not far past the river, we came upon a small flock of yellow-billed cuckoos. These normally solitary birds sometimes form small foraging flocks as they prepare for southward migration.
About midway, a small flock of foraging migrant warblers caught our attention. There were American redstarts, magnolia warblers and even a Canada warbler. This species is a very rare migrant in West Tennessee and only the second that I had ever seen, the first at least 30 years ago.
The forest eventually thinned out at a cypress swamp, where turtles basked in the sun as the fog dissipated. A white-breasted nuthatch gave its nasal "yink-yink" call. Beyond the swamp was a power line right-of-way overgrown with wildflowers and weeds and overgrown ditches beside the trail. We remarked that it would be a great spot to return to look for sparrows in the winter.
The sun was now full out and quite warm. We turned to return to the trailhead pleased with what we had seen. While it was not a spectacular day, we had tallied 27 species in 21/2 hours, including some most unusual sightings.
Bird watchers are a slow-moving bunch. We move with our eyes on the tree canopy and our ears tuned to the sounds of the birds. I fear that this is not always compatible with the "regular" traffic on the Greenline. Cyclists, runners and walkers sometimes had to work their way around us, but courtesy was extended by all to all.
The Shelby Farms Greenline provides some excellent birding combined with easy walking that is very accessible to most Memphians. I am satisfied that when local birders become more familiar with it, the Greenline will become a most popular birding destination.
Van Harris is a former president of the Memphis chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. He is a member of the Mississippi Ornithology Society and the Mississippi chapter of the National Audubon Society. Address questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.