Members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society conducted the first-ever Unicoi County Summer Bird Count on Saturday, June 14.
Rick Knight, a long-time compiler for the chapter’s seasonal bird counts, organized and launched the count as a means to collect valuable information about the local distribution of birds in an often overlooked county in the region.
Nineteen observers in five parties logged 53 party hours, plus three nocturnal party hours, searching for birds from Flag Pond to Limestone Cove within Unicoi County.
A total of 111 species were tallied during the count by the following observers: Jim Anderson, Rob Armistead, Harry Lee Farthing, Don Holt, Rick Knight, Roy Knispel, Richard Lewis, Vern Maddux, Joe McGuiness, Tom McNeil, Charles Moore, Cathy Myers, Kathy Noblet, Brookie and Jean Potter, Bryan Stevens, Kim Stroud, Gary Wallace and John Whinery.
Species found during the count included:
Canada Goose, 76; Wood Duck, 17; Mallard, 31; Ruffed Grouse,1; Wild Turkey, 29; Great Blue Heron, 12; and Green Heron, 6.
Black Vulture, 3; Turkey Vulture, 28; Bald Eagle, 3 ; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1; Cooper’s Hawk, 1; Red-shouldered Hawk, 1; Broad-winged Hawk, 3; Red-tailed Hawk, 5; American Kestrel, 2; and Peregrine Falcon, 3.
Killdeer,17; Rock Pigeon, 75; Mourning Dove, 77; Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 3; Eastern Screech-Owl, 2; Great Horned Owl, 1; Chuck-will’s-widow, 6; Eastern Whip-poor-will, 3; Chimney Swift, 44; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 17; and Belted Kingfisher, 4.
Red-bellied Woodpecker, 20; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3; Downy Woodpecker 15; Hairy Woodpecker 5; Northern Flicker, 12; Pileated Woodpecker, 16; Eastern Wood-Pewee 8; Acadian Flycatcher 29; Least Flycatcher 5; Eastern Phoebe, 44; Great Crested Flycatcher, 2; and Eastern Kingbird, 13.
White-eyed Vireo, 1; Yellow-throated Vireo, 1; Blue-headed Vireo, 29; Warbling Vireo, 1; Red-eyed Vireo, 157; Blue Jay, 59; American Crow, 139; Common Raven, 8; Purple Martin, 36; Tree Swallow, 94; Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 68; Cliff Swallow, 64; and Barn Swallow, 139.
Carolina Chickadee, 63; Tufted Titmouse, 47; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 3; White-breasted Nuthatch, 20; Brown Creeper, 1; Carolina Wren, 80; House Wren, 31; Winter Wren, 2; and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 27.
Eastern Bluebird, 46; Veery, 35; Wood Thrush, 37; American Robin, 435; Gray Catbird, 37; Northern Mockingbird, 37; Brown Thrasher, 14; European Starling, 464; and Cedar Waxwing, 71.
Ovenbird, 56; Worm-eating Warbler, 9; Louisiana Waterthrush, 5; Golden-winged Warbler, 1; Black-and-white Warbler, 19; Swainson’s Warbler, 6; Kentucky Warbler, 1; Common Yellowthroat, 2; Hooded Warbler, 78; American Redstart, 8; Northern Parula, 13; Magnolia Warbler, 1; Blackburnian Warbler, 2; Yellow Warbler, 1; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 23; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 20; Yellow-throated Warbler, 4; Prairie Warbler, 7; Black-throated Green Warbler, 30; Canada Warbler, 9; and Yellow-breasted Chat, 5.
Eastern Towhee, 70; Chipping Sparrow, 60; Field Sparrow, 12; Song Sparrow, 214; Dark-eyed Junco, 28; Scarlet Tanager, 20; Northern Cardinal, 138; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 2; Blue Grosbeak, 1; and Indigo Bunting, 197.
Red-winged Blackbird, 101; Eastern Meadowlark, 13; Common Grackle, 94; Brown-headed Cowbird, 34; Orchard Oriole, 1; Baltimore Oriole, 1; House Finch, 8; American Goldfinch, 84; and House Sparrow, 64.
Knight noted that all 111 species found during the count are known or suspected to nest in Unicoi County. For instance, the three Bald Eagles found on the count included an adult bird and two recently fledged young. Eagles have been documented nesting near the Devil’s Looking Glass above the Nolichucky River for the past couple of years.
During the count, I stayed close to home with the territory of Limestone Cove and the portion of Sciota Road located within Unicoi County. Gary Wallace and John Whinery joined me for several hours of productive birding.
We found some birds I would never have expected to find so close to home, including singing Prairie Warblers and a noisy, scolding Yellow-breasted Chat. On Bean Creek Road near the state line with North Carolina, we also found a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker while walking a section of the Appalachian Trail. This was my first summer sighting of what is normally a winter bird in the region. In recent years, however, a few sapsuckers have started nesting in some of the local mountains.
We also missed some target birds. We checked out every pond we could view in our territory and failed to find a Green Heron.
Summer is also an extremely busy time of year for birds as they go about the business of bringing up a new generation of birds. Most birds have completed spring migration and have settled into locations they will call home for the next few months. During the recent Summer Bird Count in Unicoi County, we saw numerous young birds, ranging from Chipping Sparrows and Eastern Bluebirds to American Robins and Barn Swallows.
To ask a question, make a comment or share an observation, email me at email@example.com or leave a remark here at “Our Fine Feathered Friends.”
I took part in the two Summer Bird Counts conducted recently by the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society in Carter County and Unicoi County on consecutive June Saturdays.
One thing I enjoy about participating in Summer Bird Counts is the prevalence of young birds. It’s only to be expected since the summer season is the time when most local birds build nest, lay eggs and rear young. Some birds got started with the business of raising young back in April and are already attempting second nestings.
This year’s counts reported a variety of young birds among the totals, including numerous Wild Turkey poults, as well as species as diverse as Ruffed Grouse and Chipping Sparrow to Northern Cardinal and Barn Swallow.
I counted birds on Holston Mountain in Elizabethton with Chris Soto and Robert Armistead during the Carter County survey. For the Unicoi County, I teamed with Gary Wallace and John Whinery to count birds in the community of Limestone Cove.
The Carter County and Unicoi County Summer Bird Counts are the only surveys conducted during the summer in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Christmas Bird Counts are more common and include the long-running Bristol CBC and more recent surveys such as the Glade Spring CBC and Shady Valley CBC.
In next week’s post, I will explore the results of the counts in more detail. You might very well be surprised what birds can be found in the region. I know I always am!
I’m taking a hiatus from the birds for one week to bring you some other things with wings in the form of a pictorial essay of dragonflies and damselflies, otherwise known as “odes,” or members of the insect order of Odonata.
I hope you enjoy this diversion. I know I’ve had much fun this spring photographing the odes at the fish pond at my home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton. I’ve also visited some other locations to find and photograph them, including Erwin Fishery Park in Unicoi County.
Like birds, some species of dragonflies migrate. They may also form swarms — the equivalent of a flock of birds — as they stage their migratory flights.
For more information on dragonflies in the Volunteer State, please visit http://www.pbase.com/rconnorsnaturephoto/tennessee_odonata to learn more.
Bluebirds make good neighbors. A pair of Eastern Bluebirds in your yard or garden will have no trouble with minor intrusions into their lives as they go about their daily routine, and the payoff for you is hours of free entertainment.
I’m pleased to report that the first of the season’s young Eastern Bluebirds have left the security of their nest box in our yard – the only home they’ve known since hatching – for the wider world of field and woodland.
As has usually been the case, I didn’t witness their departure. In the days after the fledglings departed the wooden nest box, I’ve observed them perched and waiting, impatiently usually, for their parents to arrive with caterpillars, moths or other morsels of food.
The Eastern Bluebird is one of North America’s best-known cavity-nesting birds. About 85 species of North American birds use cavities in trees for nesting purposes. Cavity-nesters include ducks, such as Buffleheads and Wood Ducks, as well as birds of prey such as Eastern Screech-owls and American Kestrels.
Some of these species, such as woodpeckers and nuthatches, can excavate their own cavity in a dead or decaying tree. Others, such as the bluebirds, must find a cavity already in existence. Such cavities are scarce real estate and can be subject to some intense competition. The Eastern Bluebird is at a disadvantage when forced to compete with non-native introduced birds such as aggressive European Starlings and the House Sparrows.
Last month, I found bluebirds nesting in a cavity in a wooden fence post that was part of an enclosure for a field. The fence post nest reinforced how changing landscapes have also affected these birds. Instead of wooden fence posts, many farmers now use metal ones. Dead or dying trees – a much sought-after resource for cavity-nesting birds — are often removed from woodlands.
Fortunately for bluebirds, this species will also accept lodging in a nest box, or birdhouse, provided for them by human landlords. Because of their trusting nature when it comes to their human neighbors, the Eastern Bluebird is one of our most beloved birds. In fact, bluebirds are such popular birds that interest in them and their well-being has inspired the foundation of such organizations as the North American Bluebird Society. The Eastern Bluebird has also been designated the official state bird for New York and Missouri.
There are two other species of bluebirds found in North America.
The Western Bluebird is found throughout the year in California, the southern Rocky Mountains, Arizona and New Mexico, as wells part of Mexico. The species ranges in the summer as far north as the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and Montana.
The Mountain Bluebird nests in open country in the western United States as far north as Alaska. They are short-distance migrants, retreating as far south as Mexico during the winter season.
Except for a whitish-grayish belly, the male Mountain Bluebird is a brilliant sky blue above with paler blue on his underparts. The female looks similar if duller in her coloration.
Some people in the region mistakenly assume that Eastern Bluebirds are “mountain” bluebirds because they will reside in higher elevation open areas. The simplest way to tell the two species apart — although not necessary since the range of the Mountain Bluebirds is hundreds of miles to the west — is the reddish undersides of both sexes of the Eastern Bluebird.
The states of Nevada and Idaho have selected the Mountain Bluebird as their official state bird. I saw this species in 2006 during a trip that took me to Utah and Idaho.
Bluebirds are members of the extended family of thrushes, making them relatives of such birds as American Robin, Wood Thrush and Veery. The relationship of the Eastern Bluebird to the American Robin can be seen in the red breast sported by both species. In addition, young robins and bluebirds both have spotted breasts, providing more evidence of their affinity with many of the thrushes. The thrush family numbers more than 100 species worldwide and extends into Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as various islands.
Inviting the Eastern Bluebird into your yard and gardens is not usually too difficult. It helps if you live in an open, spacious habitat bordered with small trees. Providing a nesting box constructed to the specifications for this bird is another way to attract them. With natural cavities in trees and fence posts a rare commodity, this bird will readily accept boxes. It’s not a sure-fire means of bring bluebirds closer. Plenty of other native birds, including Carolina Chickadees, Tree Swallows and House Wrens, will also make use of a box designated for bluebirds.
The NABS recommends a box that is well ventilated, watertight and equipped with drainage holes. The box should also be easy to open, monitor and clean.
For more specific and very valuable information about becoming a landlord for bluebirds, please visit http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/PDF/FAQ/NABS%20factsheet%20-%20Getting%20Started%20-%2024May12%20DRAFT.pdf to access an informative fact sheet.
Starlings and House Sparrows are not native species and are not protected by law. When present, these two introduced species will probably be your biggest challenge to successfully hosting Eastern Bluebirds. On its website, NABS encourages the control of starlings and House Sparrows. The website – http://www.sialis.org – also provides beneficial information for would-be bluebird landlords.
Tree Swallows and House Wrens, both native birds, will probably be the biggest rivals for nesting boxes intended for Eastern Bluebirds. If you should find that a pair of Tree Swallows or House Wrens has claimed a box, consider yourself fortunate and benefit from the opportunity to view the habits of these two interesting species for a few weeks.
In addition to housing, food and water can be used to lure Eastern Bluebirds closer. This bird doesn’t eat seeds, but it can be attracted with an offering of mealworms — live or freeze-dried – or commercially prepared peanut butter nuggets. A water feature in a yard is also a magnet for bluebirds and a host of other bird species.
If your home doesn’t provide suitable bluebird habitat, it’s still easy to enjoy these beautiful birds. An afternoon or evening drive into open country, such as agricultural farmland, is likely to yield sightings of this bird on fences and utility lines. Golf courses, some of which go the extra mile to accommodate bluebirds, also provide habitat for these lovely birds.
The Eastern Bluebird is present in the region in any season and is one of our more common birds. If you’re already an experienced landlord and host for these birds, you probably already know they joys they can bring. If not, why not try to attract them closer to you? Most bluebirds in the region have already completed the first nesting of the season, but these birds are known to nest two or even three times in a single season. There’s still time to place a nest box or two on your property to get their attention.
Landscaping with fruit-bearing trees and shrubs can also pay dividends when its comes to the Eastern Bluebird. Although this bird feeds heavily on insects, almost a third of its diet consists of fruits, including blackberry, mulberry and pokeberry.
Inviting bluebirds to become a part of your life isn’t difficult, and you’ll be delighted to have them. Trust someone who has lived with bluebirds in his yard and gardens for more than 20 years.
To ask a question, make a comment or share a bird observation, reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.