Category Archives: Hermit thrush

County’s Summer Bird Count finds 104 species

Members and friends of the Lee & Lois Herndon Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society enjoyed a busy June, conducting its two annual summer bird counts last month. To the satisfaction of everyone involved, these counts encountered normal temperature after a spring count this past May that actually saw some snowfall when it was held on May 6.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Nesting Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers can be found at higher elevations in Unicoi County. This woodpecker is usually considered a winter bird in the region, but a few nest in the mountains.

According to long-time compiler Rick Knight, the chapter holds these summer counts in the counties of Carter and Unicoi to provide a set of baseline data on the diversity and numbers of breeding birds in these two local counties. This supplements other summertime data collection projects, such as the long-running Breeding Bird Survey (one route in Carter County) and the Nightjar Survey (three local routes).

The Carter County Summer Bird Count was initiated shortly after the conclusion of the Tennessee Breeding Bird Atlas project. The Unicoi County Summer Bird Count’s origins are more recent, with this survey making its debut in June of 2014. The fourth consecutive Unicoi County Summer Count was held June 17 with 21 observers in five parties looking for birds on Unaka Mountain, as well as such locations as Erwin, Limestone Cove and Flag Pond. Morning weather was favorable, but scattered rain in the afternoon hindered some efforts. A total of 104 species were tallied, down slightly from the three-year average of 111 species. Highlights included a Bald Eagle, Merlin and six Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, including a nest with young. A total of 20 species of warblers were tallied, including Swainson’s Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler and Prairie Warbler. Other notable birds include Hermit Thrush and Blue Grosbeak.

I took part on the count, looking for birds in the Limestone Cove area of the county with Brookie and Jean Potter, Charles Moore, and David and Connie Irick. Beyond bird, we saw other wildlife, including skunks, white-tailed deer, rabbits, groundhogs and various butterflies.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A young Red-winged Blackbird begs food from its attentive mother.

A highlight of our count took place near the Appalachian Trail along Highway 107 at Iron Mountain Gap where we found a pair of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers delivering food to young inside a nesting cavity in a tree easily viewed from the roadside. In addition, a singing Chestnut-sided Warbler put on quite a show for a group of admiring birders enchanted with this bird’s dazzling plumage and energetic antics.

The total for the count follows:

Canada Goose, 73; Wood Duck, 22; Mallard; Wild Turkey, 19; Great Blue Heron, 13; and Green Heron, 3.
Black Vulture, 300; Turkey Vulture, 28; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 2; Cooper’s Hawk, 1; Bald Eagle, 1; Broad-winged Hawk, 7; Red-tailed Hawk, 4; American Kestrel, 2; and Merlin, 1.
Rock Pigeon, 67; Mourning Dove, 87; Great Horned Owl, 1; Barred Owl, 2; Chuck-will’s-Widow, 4; Whip-poor-will, 9; and Chimney Swift, 61.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 15; Belted Kingfisher, 4; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 13; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 6; Downy Woodpecker, 10; Hairy Woodpecker, 3; Northern Flicker, 7; and Pileated Woodpecker, 8.
Eastern Wood-Pewee, 7; Acadian Flycatcher, 24; Eastern Phoebe, 30; Great Crested Flycatcher, 3; and Eastern Kingbird, 14.
White-eyed Vireo, 4; Yellow-throated Vireo, 1; Blue-headed Vireo, 26; Red-eyed Vireo, 95; Blue Jay, 53; American Crow, 88; Fish Crow, 7; and Common Raven, 7.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 36; Purple Martin, 14; Tree Swallow, 70; Barn Swallow, 77; and Cliff Swallow, 149.
Carolina Chickadee, 51; Tufted Titmouse, 43; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 1; White-breasted Nuthatch, 18; Brown Creeper, 3; House Wren, 14; Carolina Wren, 42.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Most swallows, like this Barn Swallow, have fledged and will join their parents in migrating south in the coming weeks of late summer.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 5; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 7; Eastern Bluebird, 33; Veery, 25; Hermit Thrush, 4; Wood Thrush, 37; American Robin, 281; Gray Catbird, 31; Brown Thrasher, 12; Northern Mockingbird, 24; European Starling, 534; and Cedar Waxwing, 49.
Ovenbird, 29; Worm-eating Warbler, 2; Louisiana Waterthrush, 4; Black-and-white Warbler, 12; Swainson’s Warbler, 6; Common Yellowthroat, 2; Hooded Warbler, 37; American Redstart, 4; Northern Parula, 19; Magnolia Warbler, 3; Blackburnian Warbler, 2; Yellow Warbler, 1; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 15; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 29; Pine Warbler, 1; Yellow-throated Warbler, 3; Prairie Warbler, 3; Black-throated Green Warbler, 16; Canada Warbler, 9; and Yellow-breasted Chat, 2.
Eastern Towhee, 55; Chipping Sparrow, 49; Field Sparrow, 8; Song Sparrow, 120; Dark-eyed Junco, 37; Scarlet Tanager, 27; Northern Cardinal, 83; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 4; Blue Grosbeak, 2; and Indigo Bunting, 82.
Red-winged Blackbird, 84; Common Grackle, 58; Eastern Meadowlark, 9; Brown-headed Cowbird, 29; and Orchard Oriole, 1.
House Finch, 33; American Goldfinch, 96; and House Sparrow, 17.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Young birds, like this Northern Cardinal, point to a successful nesting season for most of the region’s birds.

Next week, I’ll post results from the Elizabethton Summer Bird Count.

 

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To ask a question, make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or friend Stevens on Facebook.

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Family of brown thrushes excels at birdsong

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Photo by Jean Potter                                                        A wood thrush perches in the upper branches of a tree. This thrush’s flute-like notes produce a haunting song from shaded woodlands.

Kathy Shearer, who resides in Emory, Virginia, sent me a recent email asking for help with bird identification.
“My husband and I hear this lovely bird song in the evenings and early morning close to our house, which is in the woods at Emory,” she explained in her email. She also attached an audio recording of the mystery singer and asked me to listen to the file.

 

I did so, and from the very first of the flute-like notes, I recognized the singing bird as a wood thrush, one of the most talented avian songsters in North America.I’ve been hearing singing wood thrushes in the woods near my home during the evenings, often in the wake of some energetic but short-lived July thunderstorms.

 

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Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service                  The wood thrush is a shy, retiring bird that prefers to sing its melodic song from dense cover.

The wood thrush has a well-developed organ called a syrinx, which is the human equivalent of a larynx or voice box. For many songbirds, such as the thrushes, this specialized organ is more like a double voice box that permits the birds to produce two notes simultaneously while singing its song.

 
The wood thrush is one of the larger brown thrushes, which also includes such related birds as Swainson’s thrush, veery, gray-cheeked thrush and hermit thrush. Other less closely related members of the thrush family include the American robin, Eastern bluebird and Townsend’s solitaire.

 
The wood thrush is a fairly common bird in the region from April to October. Wood thrushes migrate south in the fall, dispersing to Mexico and Central America for the winter months.

 
The shy wood thrush does not usually venture too far from its preferred woodland habitat, but freshly disturbed soil in a garden will attract these birds as they seek out earthworms and insect larvae. Wood thrushes also feed on various fruits and berries, which means they can be attracted by plantings of suitable trees and shrubs.

 

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The poet Walt Whitman incorporated the hermit thrush and its melancholic song in his elegy to the assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

The wood thrush, like many of its relatives, sings mainly in the early morning and again in the evening hours. Listening to the song of this bird from a comfortable seat on a deck or porch is a great way to conclude the day.

 
Naturalists often point to one of the wood thrush’s close kin — the hermit thrush — as the most gifted singer in this clan of gifted songsters. For discerning listeners, the hermit thrush’s flute-like notes are somewhat more melancholy, haunting and ethereal than even the enchanting notes of the wood thrush’s song.

 
The poet Walt Whitman employed a thrush as a symbol in his poem, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” a moving pastoral elegy in honor of the assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

 
Whitman evidently knew his birds, and it’s not difficult to identify that he referred to the hermit thrush when he wove this songbird as a symbol into his stanzas honoring Lincoln.

 
“Sing on there in the swamp,” Whitman wrote in his poem. “O singer bashful and tender, I hear your notes, I hear your call. I hear, I come presently, I understand you…”

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Photo by Bryan Stevens The hermit thrush, pictured, and wood thrush are rivals for title of best singer among North America’s songbirds.

Whitman and many other Americans have been made fans of this gifted songbird. In fact, the citizens of Vermont even proclaimed the hermit thrush as their official state bird.
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Bryan Stevens lives near Roan Mountain, Tennessee. To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.