22 April-1 May 2011
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NOTE: The current installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" is a trio of announcements covering the "Three B's"--a book, bluebirds, and a baby. All three topics are exciting and one is quite personal, so we hope you'll indulge us as we offer this week's revelations.

Announcement #1:

Back in the 1980s, Terry Plumb--editor of The Herald daily newspaper in Rock Hill SC--asked if we'd be interested in writing and taking photos for a weekly column about natural history happenings at Hilton Pond and across the Carolina Piedmont. Ever eager to spread the world about wonders of nature in our neck of the woods, we quickly agreed and settled on "The Piedmont Naturalist" as a column title. We were pleased the series developed an avid following--so much so that we decided to compile the first year's worth of columns (Volume 1-1986) in book form, which we self-published using our trusty Apple IIe computer to format the pages. Amazingly, the volume got a small press award for content and style--even though the pages were generated on an Apple ImageWriter dot matrix printer! A local shop printed and bound (on recycled paper, of course) about 5,000 copies we peddled mostly at book signings or at workshops and presentations around the country, and when we finally ran out of stock decided not to print any more. We still get an inquiry or two each month asking if the book is in print and in recent years could only steer folks toward used copies on eBay or AbeBooks--where they sometimes go for as much as $30, i.e., more than three times the original price of the book!

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The print version of our book was illustrated with simple line drawings we rendered from our library of nature slides. Russell E. Rogers Jr.--one of our dedicated biology students from Fort Mill High School teaching days--did a nice pen-and-ink drawing of a hummingbird on a nest for the front cover. South Carolina naturalist Rudy Mancke, internationally known for his low-key but informative ETV series "NatureScene," was kind enough to pen the foreword, and we personalized the volume with acknowledgements and an author's preface that explained how we got into the "nature business." The back cover (below) depicts a then-much-younger author with an in-the-hand Blue-headed Vireo.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

During the past several years there's been a major shift in how the written word is distributed to readers, with many newspapers, magazines, and booksellers seeing the World Wide Web and digital outlets as the future of publishing. And, as might be expected with such a paradigm shift, computer software quickly made it possible for individuals to e-publish on their own. Kindle, Nook, Amazon, Apple iBooks, and others all saw the benefits of allowing independent authors to offer their works electronically and almost instantaneously--without the expense and resource-wasting need of putting things into hard copy. Thus, shortly after we got back from this past winter's hummingbird expeditions to Central America, we decided to re-release The Piedmont Naturalist, Vol. 1--1986 as an e-book available on-line, with all proceeds going to support education, research, and conservation efforts of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.

As of this week, a lightly revised edition of Volume 1 of The Piedmont Naturalist is available as a download for $9.99 for Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble NookBook, and it should be coming up within a few days from the Google eBookstore and the Apple iBookstore via iPhone, iPod, or iPad. We made a few corrections and very minor editorial changes to the text and also added a color photo for each of the 38 installments. The book looks a little different on each of the various platforms--color won't show in Kindle or the original Nook, for example--but if you download any version it should also be viewable using appropriate software on your desktop computer.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Included in the eBook are 38 photo essays as diverse as "Bess Beetles: Masters of Decomposition" (above) and "A Lesson in Persistence"--the story of a brood of Carolina Wrens that somehow fledged and survived (below) despite being driven many miles after hatching in a nest built behind the grill of our old Ford van.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

There are instructions on "How to Build a Better Bird Feeder," an ode to the oft-maligned Goldenrod flower, a description of the slow-motion reproductive behavior of the "Red-eyed Turtle," and--of course--a couple of photo essays about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Bats, Blackberries and Blue Jays . . . Mosquitofish and Migrant Warblers . . . Piedmont Phenology and puckery Persimmons (right) are all covered in our newly offered eBook. And don't forget our short story about "The Big Boy's Christmas Tree," in which a fourth-grader reveals the magic of a natural Christmas.

Sometime in the next few months we hope to make Volume 2 available for the first time in any format, but in the meantime we hope you'll support Hilton Pond Center and Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project by downloading your own copy of The Piedmont Naturalist, Vol. 1--1986; more important, we hope you'll enjoy reading (or re-reading) and learning from these nature musings from days gone by.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Announcement #2:

On 27 April, our first two Eastern Bluebird chicks of 2011 (above) hatched in one of our oldest, most dilapidated nest boxes at Hilton Pond Center. This box (left) has a grossly oversized hole--thanks to gnawing by Eastern Gray Squirrels, and due to the vagaries of weather it now has a roof portion missing. Nonetheless, every year this decrepit old structure attracts some cavity-nester--either bluebird, Carolina Chickadee, or Eastern Tufted Titmouse. Sometimes it even gets used more tha once a season by different species. We suppose we could do a little carpentry work on the box, but it seems the birds like it just like it is. After all, what's pleasing to the eyes of humans might not matter a whit to the brain of a nesting bird.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Announcement #3:

On 1 May 2011 we were packing gear at Hilton Pond Center for a trip north when a long-awaited phone call came from son Billy Hilton III in Hickory NC. His pregnant wife, Amanda, had passed her 9-month due date on 27 April and every day after that seemed an eternity. Finally, Amanda's water broke in wee hours of the morning on May Day and the excited couple was off to the local hospital for what turned out to be a relatively short and easy labor. At 3:29 p.m. McKinley Ballard Hilton entered the world as our first grandbaby (below)--with a denser head of hair and more cherubic face than any newborn we'd ever seen.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

At 8 lbs 4 oz and 22 inches she was average in size for Hilton babies in recent years; let's just say we grow 'em big in utero. We were quite pleased we got to see McKinley on her natal date--albeit for only an hour or so--before driving north to lecture and band birds for a week at the New River Birding & Nature Festival in Fayette County, West Virginia. After that visit we can report without bias this little Hilton girl is perfect in every way.

We promise NOT to include photos of our new granddaughter in all future installments of "This Week at Hilton Pond," but we couldn't resist this one-time opportunity to share such exciting personal news with our readership. That said, we DO promise to take McKinley outdoors every chance we get in the hope she'll come to cherish and appreciate nature as we do--and that she and others in her generation will become part of a much-needed movement toward "No Child Left Inside."

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written & photographed by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.

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22 April-1 May 2011

Northern Parula--1 *
American Goldfinch--19
Pine Siskin--15
Carolina Chickadee--1
Northern Cardinal--3
White-throated Sparrow--2
House Finch--1

* = New species for 2011

7 species
42 individuals

18 species
1,383 individuals

(since 28 June 1982, during which time 170 species have been observed on or over the property)
125 species (30-yr avg = 66.7)
56,260 individuals
(30-yr avg = 1,875)

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Carolina Chickadee (1)
07/08/10--2nd year unknown

Northern Cardinal (3)
10/30/09--2nd year female
05/27/10--2nd year male
09/01/10--2nd year female

Eastern Tufted Titmouse (4)
06/01/09--3rd year male
05/26/10--2nd year male
07/13/10--2nd year female
07/15/10--2nd year male

Carolina Wren (1)
07/30/09--3rd year female

House Finch (1)
06/30/10--2nd year male

Eastern Towhee (1)
03/01/07--6th year male

Operation RubyThroat has teamed with EarthTrek so citizen scientists--like YOU--can contribute observations about hummingbird migration and nesting behavior. Membership is free for this great new opportunity to help increase scientific understanding of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Data entry forms for 2010-11 are on-line, so please register today at EarthTrek.

NOW is the time to report your 2010 RTHU fall departure dates for the U.S. & Canada, and fall arrival dates for Mexico & Central America.
Please participate.

--On 27 Apr we welcomed our eighth member of Hilton Pond Center's "2,000 Club" with the capture and banding of a White-throated Sparrow. Earlier members--with current numbers of banded individuals--are House Finch (8,440), American Goldfinch (8,294), Purple Finch (7,909), Ruby-throated Hummingbird (4,289), Pine Siskin (2,401), Northern Cardinal (2,312) & Yellow-rumped Warbler (2,079). Our only other species with more than 1,000 bandings is Chipping Sparrow (1,742).

--Also on 27 Apr we noticed an interesting statistic: As of that day, 48.07% of all 56,260 birds banded at the Center since 1982 had been from just four species--House Finch, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch & Pine Siskin. This is the closest we've been to having nearly half our banded birds being "winter finches" since 'way back on 12 Apr 1993 when they comprised 48.53% of all birds banded. (Incidentally, the remaining half of our bandings are spread over another 121 species!)

--At high noon on 30 Apr we watched a probable immature Barred Owl wade into the water at Hilton Pond and drink. This normally crepuscular/nocturnal species has been very vocal here lately; the resident adult pair and this year's fledglings are communicating--often making sounds reminiscent of a troop of agitated monkeys in some tropical jungle.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research, conservation & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka "The Piedmont Naturalist," it is parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Web site contents--including text and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To request permission for use or for further assistance, please contact Webmaster.

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