Category Archives: Vireos

Moths, songbirds share top billing for programs at this year’s Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                       The Baltimore Snout Moth, or Baltimore Hypena, is a moth found in the Eastern part of the United States, west and south to Wisconsin, Missouri and Florida and Texas. The larvae feed on maple leaves, mainly red and silver maple.

For 54 years the annual Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally has brought nature enthusiasts from near and far to the slopes of Roan on the weekend after Labor Day. The tradition continues this year Friday-Sunday, Sept. 9-11, with two area naturalists presenting evening program on moths and songbird behavior.


For this year’s rally, the program spotlight will shine on local moths and songbirds. As always, a variety  of walks, hikes, strolls and workshops will also be offered on Saturday and Sunday. Top naturalists volunteer their time and energy to make the event both enjoyable and educational for people of all ages.


Larry McDaniel and some goats in residence at the farm he owns with his wife, Janet Brown.

This fall rally continues to celebrate the natural world by providing two top speakers for this year’s event. Larry McDaniel, a naturalist at Steele Creek Park in Bristol, Tennessee and a long-time member of the Friends of Roan Mountain, will deliver the program on “Moths of Roan Mountain and Northeast Tennessee.” Dr. Steven Hopp, naturalist and teacher at Emory and Henry College in Virginia, will present a program titled “Beyond Birding: A Look at the Life History of Local Songbirds.”



Steven Hopp teaches at Emory and Henry College in Virginia.

Because of the continued support of the Friends of Roan Mountain, the seasonal rallies have the resources they need to prosper and grow and the FORM provides support for research and restoration projects on the Roan, as well as support for Roan Mountain State Park. Consider joining the Friends of Roan Mountain, if you are not a member. Members get free admission to all Naturalists Rally events and the organization’s newsletter, “Friends of Roan Mountain.” Gary Barrigar, director for the fall rally, said many thanks are due to Roan Mountain State Park’s staff for long-time support of the rallies, as well as the speakers and the trip leaders who donate their time and expertise.



Clymene Moth

Evening and lunch programs will take place in Roan Mountain State Park’s Conference Center and field trips will leave from the field located on the left before the cabins in the park. A variety of morning and afternoon field trips are planned on topics ranging from butterflies and salamanders to birds and wildflowers.

McDaniel, the Friday evening speaker, grew up in College Park, Maryland, where he spent a great deal of time exploring in the woods. It was there that he developed a lifelong love for nature. He started birding while in high school and has been going at it ever since. He spent 15 years living and birding in Florida. It was during those years that he started traveling all over North America to see birds. He moved to Bristol, Tennessee, in 1993 and started attending the Roan Mountain Naturalists Rallies within weeks of having moved to the area. Legendary Bristol birder Wallace Coffey introduced him to the area and the birding community where he has met and spent time in the field with many outstanding birders and naturalists. While working as a letter carrier in Bristol he began volunteering to lead bird walks in the area.


Large Maple Spanworm Moth

Large Maple Spanworm Moth

He eventually became involved with the Bristol and Elizabethton bird clubs and served several years as the president of the Bristol club. Like many birders, during the 1990s he branched out and began studying butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies, reptiles and amphibians, wildflowers and a little of just about everything. Soon he began leading bird hikes for the Roan rallies and before long became a board member of the Friends of Roan Mountain. In 2006, having retired from the Postal Service, he started working as a naturalist at Steele Creek Park, where he has been for ten years. He increased his interest of insects during this time and in 2008 he started studying and photographing moths. Local naturalist Don Holt helped to get him started in that endeavor.



Hummingbird Moth

McDaniel, lives with his wife, Janet Brown, on a hobby farm near Johnson City, where they tend a menagerie of mini-farm animals. Larry and Janet met at a Roan Rally and in 2003 got married in Roan Mountain State Park.

His presentation will discuss many aspects of the natural history of moths and the growing trend of studying them. It will include many of his photographs of moths from Roan Mountain State Park and the Tri-Cities area. He has photographed about a thousand species of moths, but he promises he won’t include them all in the presentation.

Dr. Steven Hopp will be the feature Saturday evening speaker. Hopp is broadly trained in the life sciences, and received his Ph.D. in Animal Behavior from Indiana University. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1984 to teach at Emory and Henry College, and has been tied to this region ever since. He taught ornithology courses at the University of Arizona from 1994 to 2004, at which time he moved back to Virginia full time. He teaches courses in wildlife management and sustainable agriculture in the Environmental Studies program at Emory and Henry.



Blue-headed Vireo

Dr. Hopp has studied different species of vireos for over 25 years. His main interest is in their vocal behavior, but he has broadly studied their natural history including life history strategies, breeding ecology and behavior on their wintering grounds. More recently, he has become interested in Sustainable Agriculture, and is co-author of the national best-selling book, Animal Vegetable Miracle, with his wife, Barbara Kingsolver. The book is about local food systems and sustainable agriculture. He is founder and director of The Meadowview Farmers’ Guild, a community development project devoted to promoting local products, with an emphasis on agriculture. He serves on the board of Appalachian Sustainable Development. Hopp and his wife live in Meadowview, Virginia, on a mostly wooded farm with Icelandic Sheep and Dexter Cattle.

The evening programs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Prior to the programs, evening meals catered by City Market of Elizabethton, Tennessee, will also be served on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 9-10. Cost is $9.50 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. A bag lunch is also available on Saturday for field trip participants for $6. Advance reservations are required for the meals and bag lunch.


Eight-spotted Forester Moth

For a brochure with information on making reservations, write to: Treasurer Nancy Barrigar, 708 Allen Ave., Elizabethton, TN 37643, or visit the organization’s website at for a downloadable PDF of the brochure. For more information about the fall rally, call Gary Barrigar at 543-7576 or email him at


White-spotted Sable Moth



Regional spring bird count sets several new records


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                  Newly-arrived migrant birds such as Indigo Bunting were well represented on the 73rd annual Elizabethton Spring Bird Count.

The 73rd consecutive Elizabethton Spring Bird Count, which was held Saturday, April 30, set numerous records for this long-running survey of the region’s birds. The 59 observers in 13 parties (both representing record highs for participation) enjoyed favorable weather over the coverage area, which included Carter County and parts of adjacent Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington Counties.



Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter                              A total of 166 species of birds, including Rose-breasted Grosbeak, pictured, helped participants in the Elizabethton Spring Bird Count, establish a new record high for this annual survey. The old record of 161 species was set back in 2005.

Long-time count compiler Rick Knight announced that the annual count tallied 166 species, eclipsing the previous record of 161 set in 2005. By comparison, the average number over the last 30 years has been 147 species.

Highlights for this year’s Spring Bird Count included American Golden-Plover and Fish Crow, which were new to this annual survey of birds in the region.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                           The presence of several nesting colonies of Great Blue Herons could help explain a new record-high for this species on this year’s count.

Other notable find included Hooded Merganser (a hen with two young), a lingering pair of Common Mergansers, Virginia Rail, Black-billed Cuckoo, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Peregrine Falcon, Sedge Wren and Cerulean Warbler.

Amazingly, given the long history of this count, 21 species occurred in record high numbers this year. Knight said the increased number of observers and parties certainly contributed to this.


Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter                      Although the Sora is rarely found during this annual count, the four individuals found this year represented an all-time high for the species on this yearly survey.

The record highs were for the following species:  Canada Goose (653), Mallard (332), Wild Turkey (57), Great Blue Heron (107), Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (14), Black Vulture (152), Spotted Sandpiper (83), Barred Owl (12), Belted Kingfisher (30), Red-bellied Woodpecker (97), Warbling Vireo (20), Red-eyed Vireo (257), Ovenbird (244), Worm-eating Warbler (39), Yellow-throated Warbler (44), Eastern Towhee (222), Scarlet Tanager (82), and Baltimore Oriole (38). Three species — Orchard Oriole (42), Northern Saw-whet Owl (3) and Sora (4) — tied previous high counts.

Several of these good finds were made by observers counting in Unicoi County at such locations as Rock Creek Recreation Area and Unaka Mountain. The final total follows:


Photo by Bryan Stevens Common backyard birds, such as Northern Cardinal, were among the record-high 166 species found.

Canada Goose,  653; Wood Duck, 85; American Wigeon, 2; Mallard, 332; Blue-winged Teal, 6; Bufflehead, 5; Hooded Merganser, 3; and Common Merganser, 2.
Northern Bobwhite, 1; Ruffed Grouse, 1; Wild Turkey, 57; Common Loon, 1; Pied-billed Grebe, 5; Horned Grebe, 1; and Double-crested Cormorant, 65.
Great Blue Heron, 107; Green Heron, 16; Black-crowned Night-heron, 1; Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, 14; Black Vulture,  152; and Turkey Vulture,  212.
Osprey,  15; Bald Eagle, 10; Sharp-shinned Hawk,  2; Cooper’s Hawk, 7; Broad-winged Hawk, 16; and Red-tailed Hawk,  38.
Virginia Rail,  1; Sora , 4; American Coot, 3; American Golden-Plover, 1; Killdeer,  46; Spotted Sandpiper,  83; Solitary Sandpiper,  34; Greater Yellowlegs,  2; Lesser Yellowlegs , 2; Least Sandpiper, 5; and Pectoral Sandpiper, 2.
Bonaparte’s Gull, 1; Ring-billed Gull, 7; Forster’s Tern, 7; Rock Pigeon, 166; Eurasian Collared-Dove,  3; Mourning Dove,  254; Yellow-billed Cuckoo,  9; and Black-billed Cuckoo, 1.
Eastern Screech-Owl, 10; Great Horned Owl,  6; Barred Owl,  12; Northern Saw-whet Owl, 3; Common Nighthawk, 1; Chuck-will’s-widow, 10; Eastern Whip-poor-will, 32; Chimney Swift , 209; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 31; and Belted Kingfisher, 30.
Red-headed Woodpecker, 2; Red-bellied Woodpecker,  97; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 4; Downy Woodpecker,  37; Hairy Woodpecker, 10; Northern Flicker,  33; Pileated Woodpecker, 43; American Kestrel, 19; and Peregrine Falcon, 1.
Eastern Wood-Pewee,  7; Acadian Flycatcher, 12; Least Flycatcher, 6; Eastern Phoebe, 77; Great Crested Flycatcher, 15; and Eastern Kingbird, 57.
Loggerhead Shrike, 1; White-eyed Vireo, 12; Yellow-throated Vireo, 9; Blue-headed Vireo,  78; Warbling Vireo, 20; Red-eyed Vireo,  257; Blue Jay, 320; American Crow, 338; Fish Crow, 1; Common Raven,  and 14; Horned Lark,  2.
Purple Martin, 81; Tree Swallow, 426; Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 133; Barn Swallow, 217; and Cliff Swallow, 807.
Carolina Chickadee,  173; Tufted Titmouse, 166; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 16; White-breasted Nuthatch, 26; and Brown Creeper,  4.
House Wren,  45; Winter Wren, 4; Sedge Wren, 1; Carolina Wren,  129; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher,  97; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 5; and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 4.


Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter                        Vireos, such as this Red-eyed Vireo on a nest, were quite abundant. The numbers of Red-eyed Vireos and Warbling Vireos set all-time highs for the count.

Eastern Bluebird, 157; Veery, 13; Swainson’s Thrush,  2; Wood Thrush, 138; American Robin,  888; Gray Catbird, 55; Brown Thrasher, 45; Northern Mockingbird, 122; European Starling,  986; and Cedar Waxwing, 44.
Ovenbird, 244; Worm-eating Warbler, 39; Louisiana Waterthrush, 32; Golden-winged Warbler, 2; Black-and-white Warbler, 90; Swainson’s Warbler, 6; Nashville Warbler, 1; Kentucky Warbler, 5; Common Yellowthroat, 27; Hooded Warbler, 208; American Redstart, 21; Cape May Warbler, 4; Cerulean Warbler, 2; Northern Parula, 56; Magnolia Warbler, 3; Bay-breasted Warbler, 2; Blackburnian Warbler, 7; Yellow Warbler, 15; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 36; Blackpoll Warbler, 1; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 85; Palm Warbler, 8; Pine Warbler, 10; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 62; Yellow-throated Warbler, 44; Prairie Warbler, 5; Black-throated Green Warbler, 81; Canada Warbler, 44; and Yellow-breasted Chat, 8.
Eastern Towhee, 222; Chipping Sparrow, 126; Field Sparrow, 72; Savannah Sparrow, 1; Grasshopper Sparrow, 4; Song Sparrow, 276; Swamp Sparrow, 5; White-throated Sparrow, 13; White-crowned Sparrow, 11; and Dark-eyed Junco, 63.


Photo by Bryan Stevens While some species set record highs, only 10 Hairy Woodpeckers, like this male, were found by participants in the annual Elizabethton Spring Bird Count.

Summer Tanager, 1; Scarlet Tanager, 82; Northern Cardinal, 299; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 30; Blue Grosbeak, 6; and Indigo Bunting, 126.
Bobolink, 1; Red-winged Blackbird,  480; Eastern Meadowlark, 142; Rusty Blackbird, 2; Common Grackle, 477; Brown-headed Cowbird, 91; Orchard Oriole, 42; and Baltimore Oriole, 38.
House Finch, 56; Pine Siskin, 59; American Goldfinch, 354; and House Sparrow, 80.

To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at 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

September brings more lawn chair birding opportunities


Photos by Bryan Stevens                                                                        A Northern Waterthrush perches in a tree growing along Simerly Creek.

The following post represents my second compilation of Facebook posts about my annual lawn chair birding experiences. My mom and I have made lawn chair birding an annual tradition every fall. It’s a great way to enjoy the warblers and other migrants that stream through the yard in September and October. For the most part, you can even avoid the neck sprain that comes with long period of scanning the treetops for glimpses of energetic and evasive warblers.


A young American Goldfinch perches on a twig.

Sept. 9
Some clouds and drizzle made for a very productive evening of lawn chair birding, bring a bonanza of warblers and other migrants. I added four new birds, all warblers, to my 2015 yard list. Bird No. 73 for the year was a Golden-winged Warbler. This makes two consecutive falls I have seen this warbler at home. Bird No. 74 turned out to be a dazzling male Prairie Warbler, as opposed to the more drab female Black-throated Blue Warbler that became Bird No. 75 for the year.

A Pine Warbler also made the list as Bird No. 76. Other warblers included Tennessee, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Cape May, Hooded, Black-and-white and Black-throated Green. The rest of the migrant parade consisted of Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood-pewee, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Eastern Towhee, as well as the usual residents such as House Finch, American Goldfinch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, Northern Cardinal and lots of Tufted Titmice. Most of the warblers refused to stay in place long enough for photos, but at one point the Pine Warbler actually landed on the roof of the house and allowed a few photos which provided nice documentation for a fun evening that ended when the rain began to come down harder.


A Pine Warbler takes a break on the roof of the house.

Sept. 10
No new birds this evening during lawn chair birding with mom. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have some fun observations, including a baby Song Sparrow screaming his head off for a morsel from mom or dad. We also saw Indigo Buntings, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Towhee, Scarlet Tanager, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, as well as several warblers,including male Hooded, female American Redstart, young Chestnut-sided and a female Magnolia.


Cedar Waxwing at Erwin Fishery Park.

Sept. 11
Saw this Cedar Waxwing, part of a large flock, at Erwin Fishery Park on Friday afternoon.

Sept. 13
Warblers on Saturday evening included Black-throated Green, Tennessee and Magnolia, as well as an American Redstart. We also had a Broad-winged Hawk hanging around the fish pond. We startled him several times on Saturday. My mom and I extended birding to a visit to Limestone Cove and the Bell Cemetery, where we spotted a Red-tailed Hawk being mobbed by around 50 American Crows. No new yard birds, though.

Wrennie 2

A noisy Carolina Wren scolds from a Blue Spruce.

Sept. 16
Had a good day of migrants in the yard, including a lot of male warblers — Black-throated Green, Hooded, American Redstart — and some other migrants. Some young or female warblers included Cape May, Chestnut-sided, Tennessee and Magnolia. There was also a family of noisy young American Goldfinches hanging around. No new species this evening, but I managed this photo of a Carolina Wren to stay in practice.


A Yellow-throated Vireo makes a migration stop along Simerly Creek.

Sept. 18
“Yellow throats” was the evening’s theme for lawn chair birding. I added two new species to the yard list for the year. First came the Yellow-throated Vireo as Bird No. 77. Next came the young Common Yellowthroat for Bird No. 78. The day has also included observations of Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Towhee, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Eastern Phoebe, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and noisy young American Goldfinches.


Ruby-throated Hummingbirds continue to compete for their claims to the sugar water feeders.

Sept. 20
No new birds in the yard this evening, but lawn chair birding produced lots of good looks at warbler like Magnolia, Northern Parula, Tennessee, Black-throated Green Warbler, Hooded, Chestnut-sided and a adult male Cape May in very vibrant plumage. Other observations included Wood Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and lots of the usual feeder birds. I managed a photo of the Eastern Wood-Pewee.


A Northern Waterthrush in the branches of a hawthorn tree along Simerly Creek.

Sept. 21
An overcast day brought plenty of migrants for the show during multiple sessions of lawn chair birding with my mom. The new species for the yard in 2015 included a Northern Waterthrush, pictured, and Bay-breasted Warblers. The waterthrush becomes Bird No. 79 and the Bay-breasted Warblers represent Bird No. 80, helping me move into another stretch in my Big Yard Year. We also saw Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbirds, Magnolia Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, American Redstart and Pine Warbler, as well as Yellow-throated Vireo and Red-eyed Vireo. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are also active at the feeders. The usual birds are visiting the feeders for sunflower seeds.

Sept. 22
Before leaving for work this morning, I heard a duet by Great Horned Owls from the surrounding woodlands. It was an extremely foggy morning, which might have made a difference since the owls were calling about an hour after sunrise.


A Scarlet Tanager without the red feathers that provide the birds its common name.


An Eastern Phoebe perches on top of a weed stalk.


A katydid perched atop a zinnia bloom.


Vireo sighting helps kick off fall migration

If pressed to give a date to the start of this year’s fall migration, I would choose Aug. 20. It’s the day I finally added a new bird to my 2015 yard list after being stuck at No. 59 since June 2 when I heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo calling from the woods behind my house. Needless to say, the months of June and July had not been very productive for adding new species to my list.

Yard Bird No. 60 turned out to be a White-eyed Vireo, which is not a summer nesting bird in my yard. Migrating White-eyed Vireos have often made visits in the past, so I was glad to welcome this species and add it to my list. 


Photo Courtesy of Roy Knispel                                   The White-eyed Vireo gets its name from the white iris of its eye.

On the same evening I observed the vireo, I also watched Ruby-throated Hummingbirds chase Blue-gray Gnatcatchers through the thin branches of a dead spruce tree. I also took delight in observing a family of Northern Cardinals — father, mother and two young birds — visit the feeders. 
Known by the scientific name, Vireo griseus, the White-eyed Vireo is a member of a family of songbirds with several species that make their home in the region. This vireo gets its common name from the fact that it does indeed have white eyes.
Unlike some of its treetop-dwelling relatives, the White-eyed Vireo prefers to stay close to the ground in thickets and dense shrubbery. I often find these birds in the same habitats favored by such birds as Yellow-breasted Chat and Brown Thrasher. Like these larger birds, the White-eyed Vireo is a very vocal bird. The security of thick, inaccessible brushy habitats must give these birds, which are only a little more than five inches long, the confidence to go about their lives in a brash, noisy manner. 
The term “vireo,” originating in Latin, can be translated into English as “green bird.” It’s an apt description, as many of these small birds are primarily dull green in coloration. The White-eyed Vireo adds some dull yellow, gray and white feathers to the mix in a distinctive pattern that should easily separate this bird from other vireos. 
White-eyed Vireos spend the summer nesting season in the eastern United States south of a line extending from eastern Nebraska across Indiana and New York. Each fall, they retreat to spend the winter in locales ranging from the extreme southeastern United States through Central America. Some of these vireos also winter on Caribbean islands such as Cuba.

There is an endangered vireo, the black-capped vireo, a bird with a limited breeding range in Texas. Black-capped vireos numbers have dwindled to perilous levels due to the loss of low growing woody cover these birds need for breeding purposes. The cause of the loss of habitat varies, but includes the clearance of land for livestock as well as overgrazing by livestock and deer. In the past, fires regularly opened up such habitats. Due to modern fire control practices, such fires are no longer a natural occurrence. Since this species is already endangered, brown-headed cowbirds have also contributed to the problem since the cowbirds slip their own eggs into the nests of black-capped vireos.

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When early naturalist John James Audubon painted the White-eyed Vireo, he knew it by the name “White-eyed Flycatcher.”

Two others, Bell’s vireo and gray vireo, are identified as species of concern on the Audubon Watchlist. This listing spotlights species that may bear intense scrutiny to make certain they don’t become endangered.
Other vireos that can be found in the United States, for at least part of the year, include Philadelphia vireo, plumbeous vireo and Cassin’s vireo. A specialty of Florida is the black-whiskered vireo. 
Many species of vireo are also found in the islands of the Caribbean, including Jamaican vireo, Cuban vireo and Puerto Rican vireo. Some of the more colorful common names for vireos include the yellow-green vireo, golden vireo and yellow-winged vireo. 
In Central and South America, the vireo family expands to include many birds with common names such as “Shrike-Vireo,” “Greenlet” and “Peppershrike.” Some of the varied species include the lemon-chested greenlet, green shrike-vireo and the black-bellied peppershrike.

Many vireos construct deep cup- or basket-shaped nests, often in the higher branches of tall trees. Male and female share incubation duties and work together to feed their young. 


Photo by Bryan Stevens                              Blue-gray Gnatcatcher have been abundant again, another sign of the approaching fall migration.

Most vireos feed on in­sects during their summer stay north of the border. However, during migration they often feed on berries and continue to do so on their wintering grounds. Experts have noted that the White-throated Vireo is particularly fond of gumbo-limbo seeds. This tropical tree can be found from southern Florida and Mexico, as well as throughout the Caribbean and in South America in Brazil and Venezuela.
To learn more about birds, birding and other topics from the natural world, be sure to friend Bryan Stevens on Facebook at 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 him at

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                              A dragonfly sighting that turned out to be a Ruby Meadowhawk is another sign that the fall migration season is at hand.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                       A Common Buckeye seeks nutrients in damp mud on a recent August afternoon.