Tag Archives: Migrants

Hummingbird numbers spike as summer season advances toward autumn

 

From the shade of my front porch, I watched about a half dozen ruby-throated hummingbirds cavort among the blooms of a large mimosa tree on a recent evening. The tree apparently holds an extraordinary attraction for the hummingbirds, as well as the pipevine swallowtail butterflies and other pollinating insects. I enjoyed watching the greenish hummingbirds zip among the profusion of pink mimosa blossoms, which have always reminded me of the thin fiber-optic filaments popular on some artificial Christmas trees and other decorations during the holidays. To draw so many different insects, as well as hummingbirds, the mimosa blooms must provide a rich source of nectar.

While I have almost wilted from the recent extended heat wave, the ruby-throated hummingbirds at my home appear to have downright thrived during these sunny, hot days of mid-summer. Once again, these tiny birds must have enjoyed a successful nesting season, based on the numbers of young hummers visiting both my feeders and flowers. The uptick in the presence of hummingbirds took place without much fanfare, but after a couple of months of “hummer doldrums,” it was impossible for any observer to miss the way these tiny birds have become much more prevalent in recent weeks.

Coinciding with this resurgence of the hummingbirds at my home, I received a post on Facebook from Philip Laws, a resident of Limestone Cove. Apparently, Philip, too, has noticed that hummingbird numbers are on the rise.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male ruby-throated hummingbird perches near a feeder that he is ready to defend from all comers.

“Seemed like a slow hummingbird summer,” he wrote. “But two days ago the babies started hitting the feeders and everything looks much brighter!”

I also enjoyed a recent phone conversation with Erwin resident Don Dutton, who wanted to know why hummingbirds have been scarce around his home this summer. I’ve noticed fewer hummers at my own home this summer, but it’s natural for numbers to fluctuate from year to year. I anticipate that numbers will rise as hummingbirds begin migrating south again in the coming weeks. At that time, the adult hummers will be joined by the young birds from this season’s successful nesting attempts.
Don shared that when he lived out west, he often visited Mount Charleston near Las Vegas, Nevada, where he saw swarms of hummingbirds comprised of various different species. In the eastern United States, the only nesting species is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

For readers who have felt slighted by hummers so far this season, perhaps it’s time to try your luck again at attracting them. The surest method is to keep a sugar water feeder available to attract them on their way south later this summer and into the fall. A visit to a plant nursery can also provide an abundance of blooms to use to lure hummers to your gardens. Some late-blooming summer flowers attractive to hummingbirds include canna, cardinal flower, gladiola and crocosmia. While the widely held belief is that hummingbirds prefer red blooms, they will gladly visit any flower that rewards them with a sip of nectar.501-7006-blk

Late summer and early fall, even more so than spring, are usually the best times to enjoy hummingbirds, when they are usually at their most common. There are a couple of reasons for this annual increase. First, nesting female hummingbirds have reared their young, which then begin visiting feeders and gardens to compete with their elders at flower blossoms and sugar water feeders. Second, adult males and females that migrated farther north usually begin swinging southward again in late July and early August.

According to the website hummingbirds.net, mature male hummingbirds usually follow an earlier departure date than adult females and immature birds. The organizers of the website theorize that by leaving early in the fall, the adult male hummingbirds free up resources for their developing offspring. After all, it’s the least they can do since adult male hummingbirds play absolutely no role in helping females with the process of nesting and rearing young. All young hummingbirds are, in effect, raised by single mothers.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male ruby-throated hummingbird perches at a feeder for a sip of sugar water.

Despite their tiny size, hummingbirds are tough birds. One species, the rufous hummingbird, ranges as far north as Alaska. Several tropical species have adapted to the frigid conditions that occur at the higher elevations of the Andes Mountains.

As I have done in years past, I advise a patient but proactive approach for attracting hummingbirds. Keep feeders readily available. If possible, offer flowers, too. Don’t keep your landscape too tidy. A perfectly manicured lawn is like a desert for hummingbirds. Provide some shrubs and trees to provide cover and perching branches. Water features, particularly waterfalls and fountains, are also a reliable means of attracting hummingbirds, as well as other birds.

If you have felt slighted by hummers so far this year, keep a sugar water feeder available to attract them on their way south later this summer and into the fall. To share a sighting, make a comment, or ask a question, send email to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

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Bryan Stevens has been writing about birds since 1995. To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Keep a look out for wandering waders during late summer season

Summer heat and humidity make the summer season my least favorite one for birding, but every season brings birding surprises. I was reminded of this fact when Larry and Amelia Tipton sent me a recent email asking for help with the identification of some birds near their home.

Attaching a photo with their email, the Tiptons wrote, “These birds showed up a few days ago and we cannot identify them. We would like to know what they are.”

When I opened the photo, I realized that the birds captured in the image would not be considered out of place if the Tiptons lived near the coast of the Carolinas, Georgia or Florida. The birds in the photo, however, were somewhat unexpected in the foothills of western North Carolina near their home in the town of Old Fort.

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Photo Courtesy of  Larry and Amelia Tipton • Immature white ibises in a field near the Catawba River in North Carolina.

“We live on a farm near the Catawba River but have mostly woodland and fields,” the couple added. “We do not have a pond on our property but have a branch and a larger creek nearby.”

I wrote back and told the Tiptons that the birds they photographed were young white ibises. I informed the Tiptons that the two young ibises are likely testing their wings, so to speak, after leaving the care of their parents. If they like the area, and it sounds like they do, they may decide that the branch and creek are just what they need.

I received a followup email. “We sort of knew these were water birds but were surprised to find them so far away from marsh or wetlands or the ocean,” the Tiptons wrote. “We thought maybe a storm blew them off course during flight.”

While a diverting storm can’t be ruled out, it’s normal behavior for young wading birds to disperse far and wide after leaving the nest. North American waders, or wading birds, include such long-legged species as herons, egrets, bitterns, ibises, storks and spoonbills. Most species are associated with wetlands or coastal areas.

Late summer birding is usually a period of doldrums as heat and humidity can discourage birders as well as diminish bird activity. However, it’s also the time of year when birders can make some unexpected surprises as wandering waders, such as the ibises discovered by the Tiptons, explore uncharted territory.

Other waders this season showing up in unexpected location have included a wood stork found by Linda Walker in Polk County, Tennessee. Likes the ibises in North Carolina, the stork was confining its activities to a small branch bordered by heavy vegetation. These branches are a far cry from the usual wetland haunts of these two species.

Overall, the white ibis and wood stork have some superficial similarities. They are both long-legged white birds with black wing tips and unusual down-turned bills that they use to probe for food, which largely consists of fish and other aquatic prey.

The latter is North America’s only native stork. According to the National Audubon Society, Florida once provided a stronghold for the wood stork in the United States. Unfortunately, the population crashed in the 1990s, decreasing from around 150,000 birds to fewer than 10,000. In recent years, numbers have increased and wood storks have expanded their breeding range into South Carolina. Wood storks are nearly four feet tall, making them one of the tallest of the waders. Wood storks have a dark, featherless heads, giving them a resemblance to vultures. For the most part, they’re rather grotesque birds when observed at close quarters. Soaring overhead on thermal updrafts, wood storks look quite graceful and even majestic thanks to their white plumage and black accents. A wingspan of 65 inches gives them the means to soar easily.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens 
Worldwide there are 19 species of storks, but the wood stork (pictured) is the only native stork   found in the United States.

The Audubon Society identifies the white ibis as one of the most numerous wading birds in Florida, but the bird is common also in other parts of the southeast with appropriate wetland habitat. Like the wood stork, the ibis has declined in Florida in recent decades largely as a result of human encroachment. The white ibis looks like a bird that could have been invented by Dr. Seuss. The all-white plumage is contrasted by pinkish-orange legs, a reddish-pink bill and bright blue eyes. In flight, the white ibis shows black feathers on the edges of its wings.

The affinity for water and wetlands relates to the diet of most waders, which consists of fish and other aquatic prey such as amphibians, crustaceans and even insects. For the remainder of July and into August and September, birders should monitor ponds, small lakes, rivers and even branches and creeks for any wandering waders. For instance, I once made a trip to a park in Greeneville, Tennessee, to observe a pink-hued roseate spoonbill that had made a rare stopover in the region. While that observation took place nearly 20 years ago, I remember vividly finding the pale pink bird playing odd man out among a flock of several dozen Canada geese as a soft rain drizzled from an overcast sky. Although many of the waders cling to coastal habitats, they have wings like other birds and know how to use them. Other waders have been known to show up in unlikely locations, including birds such as tri-colored heron, limpkin and snowy egret.

Of course, I hope to hear from any readers lucky enough to glimpse one of these unanticipated finds. Enjoy your birding.

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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.

Spring Bird Count participants deal with unseasonal cold snap

The 74th annual Elizabethton Spring Bird Count was held on Saturday, May 6. A total of 43 observers in nine parties took part in the annual survey, which consists Carter County and parts of adjacent Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties. In addition to Elizabethton, the count includes territory in such cities as Elizabethton, Erwin, Kingsport, Bristol and Johnson City.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male gobbler seeks the attention of hens, as all these Wild Turkeys add to the number of this species found during the count.

The most unusual aspect of this year’s count involved rather cold conditions, according to long-time count compiler Rick Knight. Although held nearly a week into May, this was one of the coldest days ever experienced on a spring count. The temperature range was 36 to 54 degrees. Light rain fell before sunrise; the morning was partly cloudy to cloudy, then the afternoon saw light rain, with light snow showers at the higher elevations and a half-inch accumulation of snow on Roan Mountain.

Knight noted that previous cold spring counts included: 32 to 55 degrees in 1979, 44 to 52 degrees in 1987, and 27 to 54 degrees in 1992. Despite the weather, participants managed to find 148 species, which is exactly the average over the last 30 years, but below the average over the last decade, which stands at 154 species.

The most common species on this year’s Spring Bird Count was the Cliff Swallow with 1,046 individuals — a new record for this species — found this year. Other common species include European Starling (704), American Robin (693) and Tree Swallow (526).

A Stilt Sandpiper found in Washington County represented only the third time this species has been observed during the Elizabethton Spring Bird Count. As always, Knight said there were a few notable misses, such as Northern Bobwhite, Ruffed Grouse, Pied-billed Grebe, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Swamp Sparrow and Pine Siskin. In addition, no gulls were found on any of the area lakes.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Purple Martins, like this male, were sluggish on the day of the count thanks to cold temperatures and steady rainfall.

In addition, several species of warblers that nest in the region showed rather low numbers. Some of the low numbers for some species may be attributable to the weather. Nevertheless, the count produced observations of 28 different warbler species.

The total is listed below:
Canada Goose, 390; Wood Duck, 27; Mallard, 93; Blue-winged Teal, 5; and Hooded Merganser, 2.
Wild Turkey, 54; Common Loon, 2; Double-crested Cormorant, 42; Great Blue Heron, 115; Great Egret, 1; Green Heron, 13; Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, 8; and Black-crowned Night-heron, 1.
Black Vulture, 74; Turkey Vulture, 108; Osprey, 10; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1; Cooper’s Hawk, 5; Bald Eagle, 13; Broad-winged Hawk, 5; Red-winged Hawk, 25; and American Kestrel, 11.
Virginia Rail, 4; Killdeer, 35; Spotted Sandpiper, 27; Solitary Sandpiper, 19; Greater Yellowlegs, 1; Lesser Yellowlegs, 1; Stilt Sandpiper, 1; and Least Sandpiper, 6.
Forster’s Tern, 1; Rock Pigeon, 155; Eurasian Collared-Dove, 3; Mourning Dove, 224; Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 4; Black-billed Cuckoo, 1; Eastern Screech-owl, 6; Great Horned Owl, 1; Barred Owl, 2; Common Nighthawk, 1; Chuck-will’s-widow, 2; Whip-poor-will, 10.
Chimney Swift, 66; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 23; Belted Kingfisher, 23; Red-headed Woodpecker, 5; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 54; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 3; Downy Woodpecker, 23; Hairy Woodpecker, 5; Northern Flicker, 30; and Pileated Woodpecker, 34.

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Several species of herons, including this Yellow-crowned Night Heron, were found for this year’s Spring Bird Count.

Eastern Wood-pewee, 1; Acadian Flycatcher, 5; Willow Flycatcher, 1; Least Flycatcher, 6; Eastern Phoebe, 42; Great Crested Flycatcher, 13; Eastern Kingbird, 43; and Loggerhead Shrike, 1.
White-eyed Vireo, 5; Yellow-throated Vireo, 10; Blue-headed Vireo, 41; Warbling Vireo, 9; Red-eyed Vireo, 122; Blue Jay, 138; American Crow, 301; Fish Crow, 2; and Common Raven, 22.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 345; Purple Martin, 36; Tree Swallow, 526; Barn Swallow, 259; and Cliff Swallow, 1,046.
Carolina Chickadee, 82; Tufted Titmouse, 140; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 3; White-breasted Nuthatch, 13; House Wren, 30; Marsh Wren, 1; Carolina Wren, 99; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 39; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 11; and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 2.
Eastern Bluebird, 136; Veery, 44; Swainson’s Thrush, 5; Hermit Thrush, 1; Wood Thrush, 82; American Robin, 693; Gray Catbird, 35; Brown Thrasher, 51; Northern Mockingbird, 95; European Starling, 704; and Cedar Waxwing, 272.
Ovenbird, 117; Worm-eating Warbler, 19; Louisiana Waterthrush, 18, Northern Waterthrush, 1; Golden-winged Warbler, 3; Black-and-White Warbler, 47; Swainson’s Warbler, 2; Tennessee Warbler, 1; Kentucky Warbler, 1; Common Yellowthroat, 17; Hooded Warbler, 95; American Redstart, 6; Cape May Warbler, 7; Northern Parula, 25; Bay-breasted Warbler, 4; Blackburnian Warbler, 1; Yellow Warbler, 3; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 9; Blackpoll Warbler, 1; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 25; Palm Warbler, 1; Pine Warbler, 15; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 18; Yellow-throated Warbler, 20; Prairie Warbler, 4; Black-throated Green Warbler, 53; Canada Warbler, 1; and Yellow-breasted Chat, 11.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Migrating shorebirds, such as this Solitary Sandpiper, added diversity to this year’s Spring Bird Count in Northeast Tennessee.

Eastern Towhee, 132; Chipping Sparrow, 67; Field Sparrow, 35; Savannah Sparrow, 4; Grasshopper Sparrow, 1; Song Sparrow, 166; White-throated Sparrow, 4; White-crowned Sparrow, 2; Dark-eyed Junco, 28; Summer Tanager, 2; Scarlet Tanager, 60; Northern Cardinal, 212; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 19; Blue Grosbeak, 5; Indigo Bunting, 79; Bobolink, 22; Red-winged Blackbird, 271; Eastern Meadowlark, 89; Common Grackle, 327; Brown-headed Cowbird, 97; Orchard Oriole, 21; Baltimore Oriole, 16; House Finch, 64; American Goldfinch, 228; and House Sparrow, 52.

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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.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Newly-returned neotropical migrants, such as this Indigo Bunting, increased the total number of species for the annual spring count.

Readers share arrival stories about spring’s hummingbirds

Ruby-throated hummingbirds have returned. The annual first sighting of a hummingbird is one of my most cherished spring moments. Invariably, the first hummingbird to show up in my yard is a male with the gorget — or throat patch — of red, iridescent feathers that gives his species its common name.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds swarm to a feeder filled with a sugar water mixture.

As I indicated in a recent column, the ruby-throated hummingbird is one of more than 300 species of hummingbirds. All hummingbirds are found in the New World and are absent from the Old World. Male ruby-throated hummingbirds launch their spring migration about 10 days prior to female hummingbirds.

Based on the number of people who shared hummingbird sightings with me, these tiny birds have a lot of big fans. If you would like to host your own hummingbirds, here are some crucial tips.

• Make your yard a zone that’s free of insecticides and pesticides. Residues of these chemicals can remain on blossoms, which then run the risk of sickening a hummingbird. In addition, hummingbirds subsist on more than nectar. They consume many tiny insects and spiders. Eating bugs that have been contaminated with dangerous chemicals can also sicken or kill hummingbirds.

• Provide shrubs and trees to your landscape to make your yard more inviting. Hummingbirds claim favorite posts and perches, where they will rest when they are not visiting our gardens or feeders. Shrubs and trees can also provide locations for concealing nests built by female hummingbirds.

• Cultivate plants that offer nectar-producing blooms. While hummingbirds are known to favor the color red, these nectar-sipping birds will also visit blooms of other colors. Some favorite spring blooms include the flowers of red buckeye, wild columbine, crossvine and native varieties of azaleas. As spring advances into summer, the diversity of flowers available to lure hummingbirds into your garden will increase dramatically.

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Photo by Bill Buchanan/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service • Hummingbirds visit flowers for nectar, so be sure your garden offers a variety of blooms.

 

Thursday, April 6

Eddie and Delores Phipps of Bluff City, Tennessee, reported seeing their first hummingbird.

“We were excited to see our first hummingbird at the feeder on the morning of April 6,” the couple wrote in an email.  “It was the earliest we have ever seen one. He has been back every day since!”

Eddie and Delores provided me with the report of the earliest arriving hummingbird. Soon after the couple reported their hummingbird, I began to receive more sightings from throughout northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia.

Sunday, April 9

Monica Black, a resident of Unicoi, Tennessee, saw her first hummingbird of the season about 5 p.m.

“Near the chairs in the back garden there is a spillway created from the koi pond down to the frog pond,” Monica said in the email she sent me. “The hummers like to drink and bathe in it.”

The visiting hummingbird also treated her to a viewing of the first bathing hummingbird of the season.

“The male is the only hummer spotted so far,” she added.

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Facebook friend Phyllis Moore informed me that her friend, Janie Compton, saw her first hummingbird at 6:34 p.m. on Sunday, April 9, in Chesterfield, Virginia.

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Nata Jackson, a resident of Greene County, Tennessee, shared details about her first sighting of spring. In her email, she said she had just put up her feeder when the bird arrived.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Only the male Ruby-throated Hummingbird has the brilliant red throat patch, or gorget, that gives the species its common name.

Tuesday, April 11

Nancy and Walt Vernon, of Bristol, Tennessee, emailed details of their first sighting. “We saw it about 12:30 while having lunch,” Nancy wrote in her email. “We have three feeders which we keep filled all summer.”

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Jeanie Campbell, who lives on Mendota Road in Abingdon, Virginia, also sent me an email. Her first spring hummer — a tiny female — wasn’t very active at first. “Then she began drinking away,” Jeanie wrote.

A few days later on April 15, a male — or “Mr. Red Throat” as Jeanie described him — appeared. “He buzzed around all day,” she said.

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Glen Eller, a fellow member of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, posted on Bristol-Birds — a mailing list archive for area bird sightings — that his daughter, Lia, saw her first hummingbird at 6:55 a.m. Glen’s daughter lives in Fall Branch, Tennessee.

“It’s seemingly a little bit late in this warm spring,” Glen wrote in his post.

Wednesday, April 12

Philip Laws saw his first hummingbird of spring at 4:15 p.m. in the Limestone Cove community in Unicoi County. In his Facebook post to my page, Philip said the arrival served as a reminder that he had meant to put his feeders out a few days earlier, but had failed to do so. He quickly got out feeders to welcome the birds.

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Amy Wallin Tipton, in Erwin, posted on her Facebook page about the return of her hummingbirds.

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Kristy Dunn, who lives in Johnson City, sent me an email to share her first hummingbird sighting of spring.

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Bill and Judith Beckman sent me an email to report their first hummingbird of the season. The hummer arrived around 4 p.m. at their home on Spivey Mountain in Unicoi County.

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Preston Bowers emailed to let me know he saw his first hummingbird at about 5:30 p.m.

“I have lived in Blountville since 1970,” he wrote. “Oddly enough, I never noticed hummingbirds on this property until about three years ago.”

A creek in front of his house has an abundance of jewelweed, which the ruby-throat seems to like quite well.

“So I installed a hummingbird feeder at the corner of my porch where I sit in the porch swing and play ukulele,” he added. “What a joy to watch these amazing birds as they fly by at lightning speeds or hover ever so gracefully.” Preston noted that some of their antics seem like an aerial battle. “I hear sounds that are so similar to the sound of a World War II fighter plane in tactical operations,” he wrote.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird perches on the tip of a garden post.

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Sandra Loving sent an email notifying me that she got her first sighting of a spring hummer at her feeders at her home on South Holston Lake at 7:50 p.m.

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Sharon Foster, who lives on Friendship Drive at South Holston Lake, emailed me about the date of her first hummer’s arrival. “We’ve had hummingbirds at our feeders all week,” she added.

Friday, April 14

Lynne Reinhard saw her first hummingbird at 8:15 a.m. near the upper end of South Holston Lake in Bristol. She posted the news of her sighting on my Facebook page.

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Jill Henderson, who lives on Poor Valley Road in Saltville, Virginia, emailed about her first hummer sighting: “Just wanted to let you know that I saw my first hummingbird of the spring season at approximately 9:15 a.m. at my home.”

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Beverly Puerckhauer in the Graystone area of Bristol, Tennessee,

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A Ruby-throated Hummingbird must share a feeder with hungry honeybees.

saw her first hummingbird and shared news of the arrival in a comment on my Facebook page.

Saturday, April 15

Linda Quinn Cauley posted on my Facebook page that she saw her first hummingbird at 9:30 a.m. Linda lives off Sciota Road near Unicoi, Tennessee.

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Karen Fouts, of Marion, Virginia, saw her first hummingbird of spring — a male — and posted a comment on my Facebook page. Karen said she refers to these early arrival hummingbirds as the “advance scouts.”

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Mary Beierle, a resident of the Stoney Creek community in Elizabethton, Tennessee, sent me an email telling me she saw her first hummingbird around 3 p.m. “Only one so far, but we’re excited,” she added.

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Don and Shirley Cook, who reside on the upper end of South Holston Lake in Washington County, Virginia, sent me an email to notify me that they saw their first hummer at 3 p.m.

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Glenna Kiser, who lives near Lebanon, Virginia, informed me in an email of her first hummingbird this spring at 1 p.m.

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Several readers enjoyed their first spring sightings of hummingbirds on Easter Sunday.

Sunday, April 16

Nancy Estes emailed me just after she saw her first hummingbird of the season.

“I didn’t get a close look since I was inside my house, but I am assuming it is a ruby-throated hummingbird,” Nancy wrote. “I live in Bristol’s Middlebrook subdivision.”

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Reva Russell, who lives in the Lynnwood Hills subdivision in Bristol, Virginia, notified me in an email that she saw her first hummingbird of the season at 2 p.m.

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Terry Fletcher, who lives at First Colony Condominiums near the Bristol Country Club, sent an email about the first hummingbird of spring. Terry also photographed the hummingbird through a screen door and shared the photo in an email.

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Debbie Oliver, who resides in Bristol, Tennessee, emailed me about her first sighting.

“It wasn’t a visit from the Easter Bunny but a delightful visit from a ruby-throated hummingbird at our deck feeders around 2:30 in the afternoon,” she wrote in her email.

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Cheryl Jones in Damascus, Virginia, saw her first hummingbird of spring at 5:02 p.m. In her email, she said she was beginning to wonder what was keeping them.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have officially returned to the region as of the first week of April.

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The first hummingbird of spring showed up at at the home of Ken Croghan on Walden Road east of Abingdon, Virginia, while he was sitting on the front deck having dinner. He shared news of the arrival in an email.

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Lynn Heller and her husband were having dinner at their home in Holston Hills in Bristol, Tennessee, when they looked out the window at their hummingbird feeder. “I was telling my husband about your article and that you asked readers to share sightings of their first hummingbird,” she wrote in her email.  “About five minutes later, there he was — a ruby throated hummingbird at 6:31 p.m. on Easter Sunday. What a treat!”

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Donald Elliott Rice of Elizabethton, Tennessee, filled up his feeders on Easter Sunday. “Within a half hour, they showed up,” he posted on Facebook.

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Julie Carter Grason saw her first hummingbird at her home in the Clear Creek community of Bristol, Virginia. She shared the news in a comment on my Facebook page.

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Shirley Jenkins of Bluff City, Tennessee, saw her first ruby-throated hummingbird this spring and shared details in an email. “My family and I were sitting on the back porch about 3:30 when out of nowhere, a ruby red throat came zooming by,” she wrote in her email.

Shirley added that the bird checked out a wind chime hanging on the porch before he went on his way.

“I was thrilled to see it, since I love those adorable little creatures,” she noted. “I will definitely be putting my feeder out pronto.”

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I saw my own first ruby-throated hummingbird — a male — on Saturday, April 15. Although he acted somewhat tentative at first, he became more at ease with me as I watched him at the feeders during repeated visits throughout the day. In 2016, the first hummingbird arrived on April 12, so the arrival date was slightly later this year.

Annual Fall Bird Count tallies 128 species for Northeast Tennessee

Photo by Bryan Stevens A male Common Yellowthroat was one of 24 species of warblers found on this year's Fall Bird Count.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A male Common Yellowthroat was one of 24 species of warblers found on this year’s Fall Bird Count.

 
The 45th consecutive Fall Bird Count was held on Saturday, Sept. 27 with 32 observers in eight parties covering Carter County and parts of adjacent counties, including Unicoi, Washington, Sullivan and Johnson.
The 45th consecutive Fall Bird Count was held on Saturday, Sept. 27 with 32 observers in eight parties covering Carter County and parts of adjacent counties, including Unicoi, Washington, Sullivan and Johnson.
The annual count is conducted by members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, also known as the Elizabethton Bird Club.
 Rick Knight, long-time compiler for the count, reported a total of 128 species was found, slightly above the average of 125 species over the last 30 years. He noted that the all-time high on this count was 137 species in 1993.
The total included 23 species of warblers, compared to an average of 22 warbler species for the last 20 years. The number of warbler species on this count has ranged from a low of 16 species to a high of 27 over the years.
Several finds reported from Unicoi County were considered quite exceptional, including Northern Saw-whet Owls on Unaka Mountain and a Double-crested Cormorant on one of the ponds along the linear walking trail near McDonalds in Erwin. 

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Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service                                                    A Red-necked Phalarope was a big surprise for this year’s fall count.

New for a fall count were Common Merganser, Red-necked Phalarope and Eastern Whip-poor-will, with one individual of each of these species being found.  The Red-necked Phalarope represented only the seventh record for  the five-county area of northeast Tennessee.   This bird, found at Paddlecreek Pond in Sullivan County, was found thanks to a timely report from participants on a Bristol Bird Club field trips.
 New high counts were tallied for Osprey (22) and Eastern Phoebe (76). Other notable sightings included: Bald Eagle, American Woodcock, Caspian Tern, Northern Saw-whet Owl – 2   (which has been found eight of the last 10 years), Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Philadelphia Vireo, Common Raven, Marsh Wren, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Summer Tanager and Bobolink.
I counted in Elizabethton and on Holston Mountain with Gary Wallace and Brookie and Jean Potter. During the morning hours, while birding with Jean Potter along the Watauga River, we ran into some other birders – Nick Lorch, Bambi Fincher and Sherry Quillen – and invited them to spend some time birding with us.
Later, Jean and I met Gary and Brookie for lunch at the Watauga Lake Overlook. Afterwards, we spent most of the afternoon on Holston Mountain. Finding birds during some of the hottest hours of the day on Holston Mountain proved a challenge. When birds got too scarce, we enjoyed looking at fall wildflowers, such as Bottled Gentian.
Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service The European Starling ranked as the most common species on the count.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The European Starling ranked as the most common species on the count.

Some birds were found in large numbers, including European Starling, the most common bird on the count with 2,109 individuals tallied. Other common birds included Canada Goose (868), Chimney Swift (654), American Robin (554), American Crow (530),  Tree Swallow (428), Blue Jay (353) and American Goldfinch (293).
The count found a total of 128 species. The tally follows:
Canada Goose, 868; Wood Duck, 36; Mallard, 290; Blue-winged Teal, 12; and Common Merganser, 1.
Wild Turkey, 97; Pied-billed Grebe, 4; Double-crested Cormorant, 15; Great Blue Heron, 41; Great Egret, 1; Green Heron, 4; Black Vulture, 40; and Turkey Vulture, 148.
Osprey, 22; Bald Eagle, 4; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 4; Cooper’s Hawk, 9; Red-tailed Hawk, 21; American Kestrel, 6; Merlin, 2; and Peregrine Falcon, 1.
Killdeer, 63; Spotted Sandpiper, 1; Solitary Sandpiper, 1; Red-necked Phalarope, 1; American Woodcock, 1; and Caspian Tern, 6.
Rock Pigeon, 233; Eurasian Collared-Dove, 1; Mourning Dove, 255; Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 1; Eastern Screech-Owl, 26; Great Horned Owl, 10; Barred Owl, 6; and Northern Saw-whet Owl, 2.
Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Nothern Saw-whet Owl appeared on this year's count, as the species has done for eight of the past 10 years.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Nothern Saw-whet Owl appeared on this year’s count, as the species has done for eight of the past 10 years.

Common Nighthawk, 3; Eastern Whip-poor-will, 1; Chimney Swift, 654; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 21; and Belted Kingfisher, 32.
Red-headed Woodpecker, 2; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 65; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 9; Downy Woodpecker, 43; Hairy Woodpecker, 9; Northern Flicker, 56; and Pileated Woodpecker, 27.
Eastern Wood-Pewee, 17; Acadian Flycatcher, 1; Eastern Phoebe, 76; Great Crested Flycatcher, 2; and unidentified Empidonax species, 2.
White-eyed Vireo, 5; Yellow-throated Vireo, 5; Blue-headed Vireo, 25; Philadelphia Vireo, 4; Red-eyed Vireo, 6; Blue Jay, 353; American Crow, 530; and Common Raven, 28.
Tree Swallow, 428; Carolina Chickadee, 162; Tufted Titmouse, 89; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 2; and White-breasted Nuthatch, 46.
Carolina Wren, 191; House Wren, 10; Winter Wren, 2; Marsh Wren, 3; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 1; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 7; and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 2.
Eastern Bluebird, 122; Veery, 2; Gray-cheeked Thrush, 6; Swainson’s Thrush, 29; Hermit Thrush, 2; Wood Thrush, 11; and American Robin, 554.
Gray Catbird, 59; Northern Mockingbird, 67; Brown Thrasher, 18; European Starling, 2,109; and Cedar Waxwing, 157.

 

Yellow-throatedWarbler

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                    The Yellow-throated Warbler was one of 24 warbler species that made this year’s fall count.

Ovenbird, 5; Worm-eating Warbler, 1; Northern Waterthrush, 1; Black-and-white Warbler, 8; Tennessee Warbler, 47; Orange-crowned Warbler, 1; Common Yellowthroat, 25; Hooded Warbler, 9; American Redstart, 21; Cape May Warbler, 10; Northern Parula, 4; Magnolia Warbler, 29; Bay-breasted Warbler, 4; Blackburnian Warbler, 2; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 3; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 10; Palm Warbler, 56; Pine Warbler, 6; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 1; Yellow-throated Warbler, 2; Prairie Warbler, 2; Black-throated Green Warbler, 10; and Canada Warbler, 1.

Eastern Towhee, 66; Chipping Sparrow, 19; Field Sparrow, 32; Savannah Sparrow, 5; Song Sparrow, 197; Lincoln’s Sparrow, 3; Swamp Sparrow, 2; and Dark-eyed Junco, 57.

Summer Tanager, 1; Scarlet Tanager, 6; Northern Cardinal, 165; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 67; and Indigo Bunting, 14.
Bobolink, 1; Red-winged Blackbird, 9; Eastern Meadowlark, 22; Common Grackle, 4; Brown-headed Cowbird, 2; House Finch, 68; American Goldfinch, 293; and House Sparrow, 54.
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I have been making a habit of strolling the linear trail in Erwin, especially the section of the trail located near McDonald’s. It’s always a good place to find birds such as Great Blue Herons and Belted Kingfishers. During migration, it has also been a good place to find birds such as Northern Waterthrush and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
During the month of October, readers are also invited to meet me every Saturday at 8 a.m. in the parking lot at the visitors center at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton for a bird walk along the park’s trails. The adjacent Watauga River also provides an opportunity to look for waterfowl and other birds affiliated with water.

BWteal-Flock

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                  Some of the 104 Blue-winged Teal found Oct. 4 during the first of this year’s October Bird Walks at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.

The first of the walks, held on Oct. 4, was attended by nine participants. A total of 33 species was tallied during the two-hour walk along the park’s trails.
Some highlights included a raft of 104 Blue-winged Teal on the Watauga River. Other waterfowl included Pied-billed Grebes, Wood Ducks and Mallards.
Two warblers — Common Yellowthroat and Magnolia Warbler — were also observed, as well as Swainson’s Thrush, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting.
Three more walks are scheduled for Oct. 11, Oct. 18 and Oct. 25.
IMG_2448

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                                                                         Attend one of this year’s Saturday Bird Walks at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton to look for migrating birds, as well as year-round residents like this female Northern Cardinal.

Taste of tropics arrives with Scarlet Tanagers

In late April and early May, once the oaks, the maples, the poplars begin spreading out new green leaves to create a concealing woodland canopy, a familiar song can be heard from the treetops. Upon first hearing it, listeners might mistake the hidden singer for an American Robin. Listen a little closer, however, and the song sounds as if it is being delivered by a hoarse robin with a sore throat.

The producer of the hoarse but melodic song is a Scarlet Tanager, one of the most showy birds of Eastern woodlands from April to early October. Like the warblers, vireos, flycatchers and other songbirds, the Scarlet Tanager is migratory. They spend the winter months in the tropical forests of Central and South America. The Scarlet Tanager is better attired than most birds to provide us a glimpse of what life must be like in the tropical rain forests, which are a riot of color and sound.

A print of Scarlet Tanagers by early North American naturalist and painter John James Audubon.

A print of Scarlet Tanagers by early North American naturalist and painter John James Audubon.

It takes only one sighting to sear the vision of these vibrant birds into our retinas, as well as into our memories. The Scarlet Tanager boasts a brilliant plumage of crimson red paired with black wings and tail. Of course, this is the male. The female Scarlet Tanager makes no real claim to the common name with her comparatively drab greenish plumage. However, the scientific name, Piranga olivacea, gives a nod to the olive-green plumage of females, young males and even adult males when molting their feathers.

Although once nominated as a candidate for state bird by the school children of Minnesota, the Scarlet Tanager ultimately failed to gain the designation. Instead, as perhaps is fitting for the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” the Common Loon represents Minnesota as official state bird.

The related Summer Tanager is less widespread in Northeast Tennessee, but males of this species are no less dramatic in appearance than the Scarlet Tanager. Male Summer Tanagers are a rosy-red over all their body. Females, with a dull greenish plumage, are relegated to the background. She can be distinguished from her counterpart, the Scarlet Tanager, because of their darker wings and larger bills.

Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter The Summer Tanager is the only all-red bird in North America. It is less common in Northeast Tennessee than the related Scarlet Tanager.

Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter
The Summer Tanager is the only all-red bird in North America. It is less common in Northeast Tennessee than the related Scarlet Tanager.

The Summer Tanager holds the distinction of being the only all-red bird in North America. Birds like Northern Cardinals and Scarlet Tanagers also have some black in their plumage.

I’ve seen Summer Tanagers at Steele Creek Park in Bristol and Willow Springs Park in Johnson City. Sadly, over the years my sightings of this attractive songbird have been few and far between. My best sighting of a male Summer Tanager took place during a spring visit to Fripp Island, S.C., many years ago. Most of the Summer Tanagers I have observed in Northeast Tennessee have been females.

On the other hand, I usually have a few Scarlet Tanagers in residence around my home during the summer months. If the woodlands at my home fail to attract this bird, I can usually make a visit to higher elevations on Roan Mountain and Holston Mountain to gain an exciting glimpse of this beautiful bird.

Worldwide, there have traditionally been about 240 species of tanagers. Experts have changed some of the ways they classify tanagers, so that figure is no longer set in stone. Tanagers are a New World family of birds, concentrated mainly in the tropics.

In the western United States, the Scarlet and Summer Tanagers are replaced by Western Tanagers and Hepatic Tanagers. During a visit to Salt Lake City in Utah in 2006 I saw several Western Tanagers.

Some of the world’s other tanagers are known by extremely descriptive names, including Flame-colored Tanager, Green-headed Tanager, Golden-chevroned Tanager, Azure-shouldered Tanager, Fawn-breasted Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Metallic-green Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager and Diademed Tanager.

Scientists, who have to occupy themselves, have recently given fresh consideration to the relationship of many tanagers to the other birds of the world. As a result, many of the North American tanagers are now closely allied with such birds as Northern Cardinals and more remote from tropical tanagers.

The Scarlet Tanager is not typically a feeder visitor, but you can lure these birds with orange slices placed in special feeders or simply spiked onto the branches of backyard trees. As an added bonus, orange slices can also attract birds such as Baltimore Orioles and Gray Catbirds.

Fond of fruit, the Scarlet Tanager incorporates various berries into its diet. Landscape around your home with fruit-bearing trees such as mulberry, serviceberry and wild cherry to make your yard more inviting to these elusive bird.

Yes, the Scarlet Tanager is more often heard than seen, but it is a bird worth seeking out. A sighting of one will amaze you.

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I love to hear from readers. Just post comments on my blog at ourfinefeatheredfriends.wordpress.com. You can also reach me on Facebook or send email to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. Please share the link to the blog with others who might be interested in the topic of birds and birding in Northeast Tennessee.