Tag Archives: Spring Bird Count

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.

Count-Gobbler

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.

Count-MaleMartin

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.

Count-NightHeron

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.

SolitarySandpiper-One

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.

Count-IndigoBunting

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

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Arrival of tree swallows one of season’s firsts among spring’s returning birds

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Tree swallows are among the different species of birds returning to the region after spending the winter months farther south. These birds will be looking for nesting boxes or natural cavities in the coming weeks.

Waiting for spring? Join the club. Between alternating bouts of unseasonably warm temperatures and frigid blasts, the weather cannot seem to decide if winter’s hanging in there a little longer or if it’s time to proceed with spring’s arrival.

You might think that would translate into a messy arrival timetable for some of our returning birds, but so far my own personal observations indicate a different story. For instance, a pair of tree swallows arrived at my home on March 8. Curious, I explored my Facebook newsfeed and discovered that the first tree swallows returned in 2016 on the very same date! These punctual arrivals never cease to amaze me. It’s almost like clockwork for some of the birds that I have observed for many years at my home.

When John James Audubon painted these tree swallows, he knew them as “white-bellied swallows.”

When I posted about the arrival of the swallows on Facebook, some other people shared their own arrival stories. Paul Elmore in Bristol, Tennessee, mentioned the arrival of the first brown-headed cowbirds at his home. “Their sounds got my attention first,” he noted in his reply to my post, describing the sound as similar to “a marble being dropped into a pail of water.”

In addition to tree swallows and brown-headed cowbirds, other recent returns have included red-winged blackbirds and American robins, which have both been hailed as traditional harbingers of spring. Over the next few weeks, I look for the pace to pick up as returning birds like chipping sparrows, brown thrashers, blue-gray gnatcatchers and yellow-throated warblers mingle with lingering winter birds such as dark-eyed juncos, purple finches and yellow-rumped warblers.

The pair of swallows that returned on March 8 probably regretted the timing. Arriving during a warm spell that saw temperatures climb into the high 70s, the swallows were soon enduring a chilly blast that saw the mercury in outdoor thermometers dipping into the 20s. The swallows are insect-eating birds, so extended cold spells often force them to retreat to the area’s lakes and larger rivers, where they can swoop over the water and have an easier time plucking cold-numbed flying insects out of the air.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Tree swallows usually return to the region in late February and early March. Look for other birds, such as brown thrashers and chipping sparrows, to return in the coming weeks.

Once milder spring temperatures prevail, the flocks of swallows forced into these necessary habitats will disperse as pairs begin seeking nesting sites. Tree swallows are cavity-nesting birds, which often puts them into competition with Eastern bluebirds. The two species usually manage to work out a truce and settle down to nest in close proximity to each other.

The iridescent blue-green male tree swallow, complete with white underparts and a forked tail, is a handsome bird and a welcome addition to the bird population in any yard or garden. Tree swallows enjoy water, so a nearby pond or creek is a boon for attracting these birds.

Tree swallows nesting in southwest Virginia are a relatively recent happening. According to Tony Decker’s The Birds of Smyth County, Virginia, tree swallows have only been common summer residents since about 1975. Some of the early records of these birds nesting in the region took place at locations like the ponds in Saltville, Virginia, and Laurel Bed Lake in Russell County, Virginia.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A female Eastern bluebird stakes claim to a box to ward off inquisitive tree swallows. The two cavity-nesting species are often competitors for prime nesting real estate.

A decade later, tree swallows began nesting in northeast Tennessee. The first nesting record took place at Austin Springs on Boone Lake in Washington County, Tennessee, according to The Birds of Northeast Tennessee by Rick Knight. Tree swallows soon became regular nesting birds every summer in all five counties that comprise Northeast Tennessee.

It’s usually not too difficult to find five of the six species of swallows that are known to make Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia their home from spring to fall. In addition to tree swallows, other swallows such as barn swallows, purple martins, cliff swallows and northern rough-winged swallows are fairly common summer birds in the region. The barn swallow and tree swallow are the two members of the family that are probably best known to people. They have adapted to life in both suburban and rural areas, which brings them into frequent contact with people.

The golden swallow, which today exists only on the island of Hispaniola.

While only a few swallows range into the United States and Canada, a total of 83 species of swallows can be found worldwide. Some of the common names for these different swallows (also called martins in other parts of the world) are quite descriptive. A sampling includes white-eyed river martin, grey-rumped swallow, white-backed swallow, banded martin, blue swallow, violet-green swallow, golden swallow, brown-throated martin, brown-bellied swallow, pale-footed swallow, white-bibbed swallow, pearl-breasted swallow, red-breasted swallow, mosque swallow, fairy martin and streak-throated swallow.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male tree swallow perches on a utility wire extending over a fish pond.

While many swallows and martins have proven highly adaptive when faced with human disturbances to their habitat, a few species have experienced declines. One species — the white-eyed river martin — was last seen in Thailand in the 1980s and very well may be extinct. Closer to home, the golden swallow is now found only on the island of Hispaniola after disappearing from Jamaica in the 1980s. The Bahama swallow, which nests on only four islands in the Bahamas, is also vulnerable. Incidentally, both these swallows are closely related to the tree swallow, with all of them belonging to the genus Golden Swallow. Translated from Greek, the genus name means “fast mover,” a quite accurate description of these graceful and agile flyers.

With their enthusiastic twittering to each other, tree swallows make for friendly neighbors. It’s also a pleasant diversion to watch them swoop over fields and ponds. To increase your chances of hosting your own tree swallows, offer a bird box placed in an open area. Right now is the time to attract their attention with some prime real estate.

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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.

Regional spring bird count sets several new records

IndigoBunt

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.

 

Rose-breastedGrosbeak

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.

Heron-CandlerMurphy

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.

Sora-Jean

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:

Cardinal_CloseCrop

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.

RedeyedVireo-Jean

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.

Hairy_Male

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.
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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.

New bird arrivals signal spring’s imminent approach

Ring-neckedDuck

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                        A Ring-necked Duck visits a pond at Erwin Fishery Park.

The recent extremely warm weather — well, warm for the month of March — may have finally broken the back of winter. Signs of spring are becoming easier to detect, especially among our feathered friends. The pond at Erwin Fishery Park had been a great location to view migrating waterfowl for the past few weeks, but most of the visiting ducks — redheads, ring-necked ducks and American wigeon — appear to have concluded their late-winter visit.

Redheads-Erwin

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                        A raft of Redheads floats on the surface of the pond at Erwin Fishery Park in Unicoi County, Tennessee.

Signs of spring are becoming easier to detect, especially among our feathered friends. I’ve heard from numerous readers about flocks of American robins making welcome visits. While not the only harbinger of spring among our birds, robins are probably foremost among the birds we like to associate with the arrival of spring weather. The numerous large flocks of robins I observed during the last couple of weeks of February and early March, however, consisted mostly of birds coping with heavy snowfalls.

AmericanRobin

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                American robins are a familiar sight on lawns in spring. While the robin is widely believed to be a harbinger of spring, many other birds can also lay claim to this distinction.

The month of March is usually a time of transition, with many winter birds making ready to depart as some of our summer favorites return from their more southern wintering grounds. At home, I have noted the spring arrivals of Eastern phoebes and belted kingfishers. On March 6, a wary pair of wood ducks made a brief visit to the fish pond on my property. A couple of other bird species will probably make their appearance at some point in March. At my home, brown thrashers, tree swallows and red-winged blackbirds have returned and are already making themselves comfortable. These species and a handful of others are usually in the vanguard of spring arrivals. Let me know what you’re seeing as spring advances. I always enjoy hearing from readers.

Among the readers who have written to me recently was Shelly Jones, a resident of north Abingdon, Virginia.

LookinAmirror

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                    Song Sparrows are already making efforts to attract mates for the first spring nesting attempts.

“I have many bird feeders, with all kinds of seeds and suet cakes to attract as many different bird species that I can,” Shelly wrote in an email. “Like you, I have had all the common woodpeckers come to my feeders.”

Shelly commiserated with my never having been fortunate enough to get a visit from a red-headed woodpeckers at my home. She added that not only has she never been visited by a red-headed woodpecker at home, she has never seen one of these woodpeckers at all.

“I have seen the great pileated woodpecker flying through the tree tops,” she noted.

TreesWallows

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                   Tree Swallows perch on a wire over a pond in Hampton, Tennessee.

Her luck changed shortly after I ran the last installment on a series focused on the members of the woodpecker family.

“Today, when looking out at my feeders, there it was!” Shelly reported. It turned out to be a red-headed woodpecker. “My husband saw it, too,” she wrote. “I tried to get a photo, but it flew away before I could capture it. I’ll keep trying.”

Shelly and her husband live on five acres, mostly pasture for their two horses, but they are surrounded by woods on three sides, with many oak trees thriving in the woods. The habitat she described sounded imminently suitable for attracting red-headed woodpeckers.

I wrote an email back to Shelly congratulating her on the home visit from this woodpecker and joked that I was a little envious of her good fortune.

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BeckyGale-Eagle

Photo Courtesy of Gayle Riddervold      This photo of an adult Bald Eagle was taken this past winter along Simerly Creek Road.

Gayle Riddervold and Rebecca Kinder recently shared a photo of an adult Bald Eagle that they had taken along Simerly Creek Road in Hampton. They had been leaving for a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, when they saw the eagle and stopped to get a photo.  Bald Eagles are often seen along lakes and rivers in Carter County during the winter, but finding an eagle at higher elevations is somewhat unusual.

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Other readers have been sharing bird sightings that, if we’re fortunate, offer a signal of the changing seasons as winter wanes and spring nears.

Adelaide Moss in Abingdon, Virginia, wrote with a question about vultures. Vultures, by the way, are considered a harbinger of spring in some sections of the country. The two species — turkey vulture and black vulture — are year-round residents in our region.

“I am very curious about the vultures that hang out in trees in winter,” Adelaide wrote. “What on earth do they all eat? There are so many of them I can’t imagine there is enough roadkill to feed them all.

She added that she never sees vultures eating except occasionally on roads where they are eating roadkill.

“I would love to know more about them,” she wrote.

Bryan-Vulture

Photo by Bryan Stevens                    Turkey Vultures, unlike most birds, have a well-developed sense of smell.

I’ll focus on the turkey vulture, which benefits from a sense of smell that is absent in most other birds, the related black vulture included. With its finely-tuned olfactory senses, the turkey vulture can detect roadkill and other carrion from a distance of a mile.

These birds can also use their large wings to soar for hours. Soaring is much more energy-efficient than the flapping of wings. Experts who have studied turkey vultures estimate the birds may travel 200 miles or more in a single day in foraging for a meal such as a deer’s carcass or even an opossum squashed on the side of the road. Like many a scavenger, the turkey vulture’s not finicky and will eat almost anything. Pairing excellent eyesight with a good sense of smell means very little edible roadkill goes unnoticed by these birds.

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I recently received an email from Tom and Helen Stetler in Elizabethton, Tennessee.

They reported seeing several “early birds” in their yard recently, including a total of six Red-winged Blackbirds. “One even went up on the bird feeder,” they wrote.

Stetler-Blackbirds

Photo courtesy of Tom and Helen Stetler     Red-winged Blackbirds, such as this bird, began returning to the region in February.

The couple noted that Red-winged Blackbirds are usually harbingers of spring, but they arrived with some of the last of the winter weather in February.

“Oh well, better days are coming, Lord willing,” the Stetlers wrote. They also added they have seen Song Sparrows and an Eastern Towhee at their feeder in recent days.

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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.

Late-season Spring Bird Count finds 150 species

BG-Gnat-April25

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                      Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, nesting birds during the summer season, showed up in good numbers for the Spring Bird Count.

The 72nd consecutive Elizabethton Spring Bird Count was conducted on Saturday, May 9, by members and friends of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society.

This year’s count was held about two weeks later than usual, thus altering the occurrence or numbers of some species. Rick Knight, the long-time compiler for the count, noted that there were fewer wintering ducks and sparrows, but more of the late-arriving migrants, such as cuckoos, Empidonax flycatchers, orioles and certain warblers.

ScarTanager-Count

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                 A male Scarlet Tanager engaged in a mating display in trees growing on the slopes of Holston Mountain.

A total of 43 observers in 10 parties covered Carter County and parts of adjacent Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties. A total of 150 species was tallied, slightly above the average of 147 over the last 30 years. The all-time high count was 161 species in 2005. A total of 150 species or more has been reached 10 of last 12 years.

I began the morning by leading a bird walk at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton, adding the birds seen during the walk to the count total for my group. During the afternoon, my group visited Holston Mountain. I enjoyed seeing several Scarlet Tanagers, American Redstarts, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Chestnut-sided Warblers while on the mountain.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                      A male Baltimore Oriole sings from the top of a tree.

Nevertheless, there were some notable misses, including Osprey, which was absent for only the second time since 1964, as well as the third miss for Ruby-crowned Kinglet since 1981. Savannah Sparrow was missed for the first time since 1970 while Swamp Sparrow was missed for the fourth time since 1965.
The numbers found of some species set new records. For instance, the 87 Great Blue Herons found on the count was the most ever tallied for a spring count, as were the 77 Black Vultures. Other birds setting new high-count numbers included Chuck-will’s-widow (16), Acadian Flycatcher (48), Great Crested Flycatcher (23), Warbling Vireo (18), Orchard Oriole (42) and Baltimore Oriole (28).
Semipalmated Plover made it onto this year’s count for the first time since 1994. A Black Tern represented only the third occurrence of this species on this annual account.
Some new trends are also becoming evident thanks to data from the annual counts. The local population of Cliff Swallows has exploded in recent years with 1,016 individuals tallied this year. Eurasian Collared-Dove has been found for nine consecutive years. Bald Eagles are nesting more frequently in the area. A total of 12 eagles, including nestlings, were found during the count.

 

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                            Three dozen House Finches, such as this male, were found during the Spring Bird Count.

The total list of species and numbers found follows:
Canada Goose, 322; Wood Duck, 51; American Wigeon, 3; Mallard, 128; Blue-winged Teal, 4; Bufflehead, 3; Ruffed Grouse, 3; Wild Turkey, 27; Common Loon, 2; Double-crested Cormorant, 97; Great Blue Heron, 87; Green Heron, 17; and Yellow-crowned Night-heron, 6.
American Kestrel, 7; Black Vulture, 77; Turkey Vulture, 109; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1; Cooper’s Hawk, 1; Bald Eagle, 12; Broad-winged Hawk, 17; and Red-tailed Hawk, 18.

Virginia Rail, 1; Sora, 2; American Coot, 1; Semipalmated Plover, 2; Killdeer, 41; Spotted Sandpiper, 55; Solitary Sandpiper, 17; and Least Sandpiper, 5.
Ring-billed Gull, 3; Black Tern, 1; Rock Pigeon, 88; Eurasian Collared-Dove, 3; Mourning Dove, 221; Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 12; and Black-billed Cuckoo, 1.
Barn Owl, 1; Eastern Screech-Owl, 9; Great Horned Owl, 2; Barred Owl, 4; Northern Saw-whet Owl, 1; Common Nighthawk, 2; Chuck-will’s-widow, 16; and Eastern Whip-poor-will, 32.

 

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Photo by Bryan Stevens              A male Eastern Bluebird perches on a fence post.

Chimney Swift, 179; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 22; Belted Kingfisher, 10; Red-headed Woodpecker, 2; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 69; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 5; Downy Woodpecker, 22; Hairy Woodpecker, 15; Northern Flicker, 18; and Pileated Woodpecker, 29.
Eastern Wood-Pewee, 36; Acadian Flycatcher, 48; Willow Flycatcher, 5; Least Flycatcher, 6; Eastern Phoebe, 54; Great Crested Flycatcher, 23; and Eastern Kingbird, 72.
Loggerhead Shrike, 2; White-eyed Vireo, 10; Yellow-throated Vireo, 12; Blue-headed Vireo, 45; Warbling Vireo, 18; and Red-eyed Vireo, 168.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                      A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak sings from the branches of a tall tree.

Blue Jay, 134; American Crow, 307; Common Raven, 12; Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 84; Purple Martin, 49; Tree Swallow, 174; Barn Swallow, 141; and Cliff Swallow, 1,016.
Carolina Chickadee, 81; Tufted Titmouse, 103; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 5; White-breasted Nuthatch, 21; Brown Creeper, 7; House Wren, 42; Winter Wren, 2; and Carolina Wren, 92.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 69; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 9; Eastern Bluebird, 112; Veery, 22; Gray-cheeked Thrush, 1; Swainson’s Thrush, 2; Hermit Thrush, 2; Wood Thrush, 102; American Robin, 688; Gray Catbird, 65; Northern Mockingbird, 100; and Brown Thrasher, 49.
European Starling, 774; American Pipit, 1; and Cedar Waxwing, 302.
Ovenbird, 135; Worm-eating Warbler, 31; Louisiana Waterthrush, 16; Northern Waterthrush, 2; Golden-winged Warbler, 3; Black-and-white Warbler, 63; Swainson’s Warbler, 6; Kentucky Warbler, 2; Common Yellowthroat, 31; Hooded Warbler, 100; American Redstart, 13; Cape May Warbler, 3; Northern Parula, 29; Magnolia Warbler, 4; Blackburnian Warbler, 5; Yellow Warbler, 14; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 41; Blackpoll Warbler, 2; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 59; Palm Warbler, 1; Pine Warbler, 8; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 3; Yellow-throated Warbler, 31; Prairie Warbler, 5; Black-throated Green Warbler, 54; Canada Warbler, 48; and Yellow-breasted Chat, 7.

 

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                      Year-round resident birds, such as this nesting Red-bellied Woodpecker, were part of the Spring Bird Count.

Eastern Towhee, 169; Chipping Sparrow, 96; Field Sparrow, 50; Grasshopper Sparrow, 3; Song Sparrow, 220; White-throated Sparrow, 1; White-crowned Sparrow, 2; and Dark-eyed Junco, 51.
Summer Tanager, 1; Scarlet Tanager, 71; Northern Cardinal, 203; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 15; Blue Grosbeak, 7; Indigo Bunting, 174; Dickcissel, 1; Red-winged Blackbird, 269; Eastern Meadowlark, 120; Common Grackle, 233; Brown-headed Cowbird, 81; Orchard Oriole, 42; and Baltimore Oriole, 28.
House Finch, 36; Pine Siskin, 14; American Goldfinch, 155; and House Sparrow, 61.

Northeast Tennessee Spring Bird Count finds 157 species

Members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society held the annual Spring Bird Count on Saturday, May 3. The count has now been held for several decades and is conducted in the five-county area of Northeast Tennessee that includes the counties of Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens The American Robin ranked as the most abundant bird on this year’s Spring Bird Count for Northeast Tennessee.

A total of 40 individuals in nine parties looked for birds on a beautiful May day, which in itself was a slight change from the way the count has been conducted in the past. The count has traditionally been conducted the last weekend in April but was moved back this year so as not to compete with the Roan Mountain Spring Naturalists Rally, which was held a week earlier than its usual date.

Those taking part in the count were Fred and JoAnn Alsop, Jim Anderson, Paul and Emily Bayes, Jerry Bevins, Rob Biller, Kevin and Dallas Brooks, Ron Carrico, Harry Lee Farthing, Paul Haynes, Don Holt, Heather Jones, Caitlyn King, David Kirschke, Rick Knight (compiler), Roy Knispel, Tom Laughlin, Richard Lewis, Vern Maddux, Larry McDaniel, Joe McGuiness, Tom McNeil, Charles Moore, Cathy Myers, Kathy Noblet, Brookie and Jean Potter, Amy and Scott Reys, Chris Soto, Bryan Stevens, Kim Stroud, Byron Tucker, Gary and Brenda Wallace, Mary Anna Wheat, John Whinery and Rex Whitfield.

I know I am always enthusiastic on the day of a spring count, and I suspect the same holds true for other participants. You never know what unexpected bird might make an appearance for this annual survey. Some of my own good finds this year included Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Orchard Oriole.

A total of 157 species found fell somewhat short of the all-time record of 161 species, which was established back in 2005. The average number of species for this count is 147.

My friend, Byron Tucker, who was visiting from Atlanta, Ga., got to take part and also make his first visit to Holston Mountain in Carter County. He said he enjoyed the outing. We counted with Elizabethton residents Gary and Brenda Wallace.

My favorite warbler – Hooded Warbler – tied with Ovenbird as the most abundant warbler tallied for this year’s spring count with 173 individuals counted for both these species. A total of 27 warbler species made the count, as well as one Brewster’s Warbler, which is a hybrid between a Blue-winged Warbler and Golden-winged Warbler.

I’m thrilled to report that the most abundant bird on the count wasn’t the European Starling. That honor went to the American Robin with 960 individuals reported by counters. The European Starling came in second with 865 individuals.

Other common species included Cliff Swallow (806), Canada Goose (580), Red-winged Blackbird (469), Common Grackle (401) and American Crow (341).

A Canvasback found on a pond in Washington County established a new late date for this duck in Northeast Tennessee. Other species of interest making the count included Western Sandpiper, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler and Sora.

The total number of species follows:

Canada Goose, 580; Wood Duck, 53; Mallard, 183; Blue-winged Teal, 11; Canvasback, 1; Lesser Scaup, 1; Hooded Merganser, 1; Ruffed Grouse, 4; Wild Turkey, 40; Common Loon, 11; Horned Grebe, 1; and Double-crested Cormorant, 53.

Great Blue Heron, 79; Green Heron, 11; Black-crowned Night-heron, 1; Yellow-crowned Night-heron, 1; Black Vulture, 62; and Turkey Vulture, 214.

Osprey, 11; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 3; Cooper’s Hawk, 10; Bald Eagle, 11; Red-shouldered Hawk, 3; Broad-winged Hawk, 10; Red-tailed Hawk, 41; American Kestrel, 11; and Merlin, 2.

Virginia Rail, 1; Sora, 1; American Coot, 1; Killdeer, 32; Spotted Sandpiper, 68; Solitary Sandpiper, 43; Greater Yellowlegs, 1; Lesser Yellowlegs, 2; Western Sandpiper, 1; Least Sandpiper, 21; White-rumped Sandpiper, 4; and Wilson’s Snipe, 4.

Bonaparte’s Gull, 3; Ring-billed Gull, 54; Rock Pigeon, 182; Eurasian Collared-Dove, 1; Mourning Dove, 204; and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 2.

Eastern Screech-Owl, 8; Great Horned Owl, 6; Barred Owl, 10; Northern Saw-whet Owl, 2; Common Nighthawk, 4; Chuck-Will’s-Widow, 8; and Whip-Poor-Will, 31.

Chimney Swift, 238; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 28; Belted Kingfisher, 19; Red-headed Woodpecker, 2; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 82; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 5; Downy Woodpecker, 20; Hairy Woodpecker, 10; Northern Flicker, 41; and Pileated Woodpecker, 42.

Eastern Wood-Pewee, 11; Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, 1; Acadian Flycatcher, 27; Willow Flycatcher, 3; Least Flycatcher, 7; Eastern Phoebe, 54; Great Crested Flycatcher, 11; and Eastern Kingbird, 82.

White-eyed Vireo, 17; Yellow-throated Vireo, 10; Blue-headed Vireo, 63; Warbling Vireo, 6; Red-eyed Vireo, 151; Blue Jay, 225; American Crow, 341; and Common Raven, 16.

Horned Lark, 2; Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 223; Purple Martin, 61; Tree Swallow, 271; Barn Swallow, 284; and Cliff Swallow, 806.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens
The Northern Rough-winged Swallow was represented on the spring count by 223 individuals.

Carolina Chickadee, 147; Tufted Titmouse, 165; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 7; White-breasted Nuthatch, 25; and Brown Creeper, 7.
House Wren, 45; Winter Wren, 5; Carolina Wren, 134; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 84; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 2; and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 8.

Eastern Bluebird, 151; Veery, 12; Gray-cheeked Thrush, 1; Wood Thrush, 67; American Robin, 960; Gray Catbird, 37; Northern Mockingbird, 128; Brown Thrasher, 43; European Starling, 865; and Cedar Waxwing, 59.

Ovenbird, 173; Worm-eating Warbler, 25; Louisiana Waterthrush, 19; Northern Waterthrush, 2; Golden-winged Warbler, 1; Black-and-white Warbler, 53; Swainson’s Warbler, 6; Kentucky Warbler, 4; Common Yellowthroat, 22; Hooded Warbler, 173; American Redstart, 10; Cape May Warbler, 2; Northern Parula, 28; Magnolia Warbler, 2; Blackburnian Warbler, 12; Yellow Warbler, 10; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 25; Blackpoll Warbler, 1; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 61; Palm Warbler, 3; Pine Warbler, 9; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 42; Yellow-throated Warbler, 34; Prairie Warbler, 3; Black-throated Green Warbler, 97; Canada Warbler, 30; Yellow-breasted Chat, 19; and Brewster’s Warbler, a hybrid of Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers, 1.

Eastern Towhee, 179; Chipping Sparrow, 166; Field Sparrow, 55; Savannah Sparrow, 3; Song Sparrow, 259; Swamp Sparrow, 2; White-throated Sparrow, 11; White-crowned Sparrow, 24; and Dark-eyed Junco, 56.

Summer Tanager, 4; Scarlet Tanager, 78; Northern Cardinal, 212; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 40; and Indigo Bunting, 69.

Bobolink, 1; Red-winged Blackbird, 469; Eastern Meadowlakrk, 100; Common Grackle, 401; Brown-headed Cowbird, 88; Orchard Oriole, 27; and Baltimore Oriole, 27.

House Finch, 38; Pine Siskin, 1; American Goldfinch, 301; and House Sparrow, 93.