Monthly Archives: May 2021

Original group of Tuesday birders now down to one

Photo by Mark Edwards/Pixabay • Birds, such as this great horned owl, can stir powerful emotions.

It’s never a good feeling to realize one is the last man standing.

Larry McDaniel made a Facebook post on Saturday, April 10, to share with friends the news of his father-in-law’s death.

“Janet’s dad, Gil, passed away late this afternoon. He had been very ill, and we knew it was coming but it’s still hard,” Larry wrote in his post.

“I had to go home to put up the chickens this evening,” Larry added. “When I got there, there was a beautiful rainbow followed by a beautiful sunset. Then I saw a great horned owl perched in the top of a nearby tree. It dropped and flew right over my truck and toward the barn.

“I thought, ‘see you Gil,’” he wrote at the post’s conclusion.

I know many of Gil’s other birding friends were really touched by Larry’s sweet post.

I got acquainted with Gil Derouen, Larry’s father-in-law, back in the late 1990s. I realize now, trying to think back, that I cannot even remember the origins of a weekly birding group that went out almost every Tuesday afternoon to look for birds.

I do know that the group’s founders consisted of myself, Gil and two other good friends: Howard P. Langridge and Reece Jamerson.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • From left, Gil Derouen, Howard Langridge, David Thometz and Reece Jamerson are pictured while birding Holston Mountain in 2004.

Birders often prefer to get started with field trips in the mornings. The afternoon timing of the weekly excursion was a kind concession to my work schedule that made Tuesday afternoons my one opportunity to bird with Gil and our fellow birders, Howard and Reece.

We visited various hotspots around the area looking for birds every Tuesday. We would visit Rock Creek Park in Erwin; Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, Holston Mountain and Wilbur Lake in Elizabethton; Winged Deer Park, as well as the fields and shoreline at Austin Springs, in Johnson City near Boone Lake; Musick’s Campground and Osceola Island Recreation Area in Bristol near South Holston Lake; and Shady Valley’s Orchard and Quarry Bogs in Johnson County.

These were only a few favorite places. We saw some fantastic birds over the years. We were like the four musketeers of our birding group.

Howard passed away on Nov. 14, 2004, at age 81, during an already difficult time in my life. The unexpected loss of this great birder with tons of birding tales who also loved to play tennis and crack jokes really affected me deeply.

I remember a birding trip I made with Howard a couple of months before his death to Holston Lake. We timed the trip to coincide with the passage of Hurricane Frances. Sometimes such ventures are rewarded, and this was one of those times. I added a life bird and Howard increased his list of birds seen in Tennessee when the storm blew in a sooty tern, a bird more often found in the Caribbean.

Then as we prepared to depart for home, we discovered Howard’s car had gotten stuck in the mud. With me pushing, we got the car out of the mud. I ruined a pair of jeans in the process. Northeast Tennessee clay does not come out of denim.

Weekly birding trips continued after Howard’s passing, but my work schedule became less flexible as the years progressed and I eventually had to drop out. I did make some sporadic attempts to join some of the weekly rambles, which almost always drew the participation of Gil and Reece.

Reece died at age 83 on Aug. 1, 2017. Again, I had some memories of some wonderful years to reflect on.

One bird-related memory of Reece involved us standing on the bridge that spans Wilbur Lake when an unexpected gust of air blew his fisherman’s hat off his head. I made an unsuccessful grab for the hat, which fluttered down onto the water’s surface and was swiftly carried off by a current that I didn’t even realize existed in what looks deceptively like a placid little mountain lake.

The next week Reece had a new hat and was ready for another birding adventure.

Gilbert Derouen was 90 years old when he passed away last month. I didn’t realize he’d reached that milestone. I do know that he lived a good life and had a great family. He and his wife, Marinel, moved to Northeast Tennessee from Louisiana. Gil often entertained us while we were driving between birding spots with tales of his life in Louisiana.

He surprised me once when during a rambling discussion of television shows he informed us he was a fan of “The Big Bang Theory.” The long-running CBS comedy about a group of highly-educated nerds was one of my favorites. Even with a generation’s difference in our ages, we had that much in common. Gil even laughed while admitting that he, too, liked to follow the antics of Sheldon Cooper and his friends.

Gil and his wife also hosted the annual Christmas party for the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. They had a wonderful home with a cozy basement perfect for hosting small parties. They were impeccable hosts, and I’ll always cherish the memories of those parties. We always compiled the results of the chapter’s two Christmas Bird Counts after everyone finished snacking and socializing.

At some point, the baton got passed. There’s still a weekly birding excursion every Tuesday afternoon. Another great birder, Roy Knispel, is the organizing force behind this weekly excursion. I’ve joined them on a few occasions, but as I’ve mentioned, my work schedule hasn’t allowed me to do that too often.

I saw Gil last at a meeting of the Herndon Chapter on the campus of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. I think it was in the fall of 2019. Again, my memory’s a bit hazy.

Now, thanks to Larry’s post, which is such a fantastic tribute to his father-in-law, I’ll think of Gil every time I hear a great horned owl breaking the stillness of a dark night with its loud hoots.

I have great horned owls as well as Eastern screech-owls living in the woodlands around my home. My yard and the surrounding woods are my favorite birding locations, but I still enjoy getting “out in the field” when an opportunity arises. It’s been more than a year since I’ve really traveled anywhere to bird. I hope that changes sooner rather than later.

I’ve become more solitary in my birding, but that’s all right, too. I enjoyed the time I got to spend with Howard, Reece and Gil every Tuesday afternoon while it lasted.

Nothing lasts forever. On the other hand, nothing can take away fun memories.

I’ll focus more on the birds next week.


Ruby-throated hummingbirds return to region

The ruby-throated hummingbirds are back, and I hope everyone joins me in the utmost appreciation of these tiny birds.

Every hummingbird that visits your feeders or sips from flowers in your garden has endured an arduous migratory journey from its tropical wintering grounds to return to spend the summer months, whether in the mountains near Flag Pond or down in the valleys of Unicoi and Erwin.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male ruby-throated hummingbird perches attentively. These tiny birds began returning to the region in early April.

According to the website for, a retailer  of bird feeders, ruby-throated hummingbirds spend the winter months in Central America and southern Mexico. When the weather begins to turn warm, they will start to make their northern trip up to the United States. As the website points out, this can be a grueling journey for such a tiny creature, as many of them choose to fly over the Gulf of Mexico. This flight alone, the website points out, can take 18 to 22 hours of non-stop flight before reaching land on the other side of the gulf.

Simply crossing the Gulf of Mexico is only the first stage. Most of the hummingbirds must still travel hundreds of miles to reach locations where they will spend the summer. Males, after some time courting females, will not do much more than sip nectar and duel with other male hummers during the summer.

It’s the female hummingbirds that will work diligently all summer long as she constructs a nest, incubates eggs and feeds hungry young, all without any assistance from her erstwhile mate.

Knowing a little more about this tiny treasure of a bird, I hope you’ll look on them with increased admiration.

Below are the readers who shared with me the dates of their first spring hummingbird sightings for 2021:

Susie Parks in North Cove in McDowell County, North Carolina, had the earliest date of any of the sightings reported to me this year.

“We saw our first hummingbird of the season at 9:30 this morning, April 1,” Susie wrote in an email to me. “I assure you this is not an April Fool’s joke. We are indeed thrilled to have seen this amazing little creature on such a chilly morning.”

Patricia Faye Wagers, Kingsport, posted on Facebook that she saw her first hummingbird of spring on April 6. Her one word comment about how she felt welcoming back hummingbirds: “Happy!”

Amanda Austwick shared on Facebook that she saw her first spring hummingbird at her Flag Pond home on April 6.

Wanda Scalf Daniels reported her first spring hummingbird at her home in Bob White, West Virginia, on April 7. She informed me of her observation via Facebook.

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

Janee Townsend of Dysartsville, North Carolina, notified me by email that she enjoys my column in the McDowell News in Marion, North Carolina. “I saw my first hummingbird on Tuesday, April 8, at noon,” she wrote. “I had put a new feeder out on Monday.  I was glad it was there.”

Pat Stakely Cook wrote in a post to my Facebook page that she saw her first spring hummingbird – a male – on April 9 at her home in Marion, North Carolina. The next day she made an additional post to report that a female arrived. “She fed at our feeder for a long time about 6 p.m.

April Kerns Fain saw her first spring hummingbird at 1 p.m. on  April 11. “We saw our first hummingbird today in Unicoi,” she wrote in a Facebook post on my page. “It was a male.”

Donna Barnes Kilday shared on my Facebook page that she saw her first spring hummer in Erwin on the morning of April 9.

Paula Elam Booher, Bristol, Tennessee, saw her first hummingbird of the season at 5:15 p.m. on April 10. Two days later, she saw her second hummingbird of spring at 11:45 a.m.

Larry McDaniel, Jonesborough, saw his first spring hummingbird on Saturday, April 10. “It visited the feeder briefly before dark,” he wrote. He didn’t see it the following day, but he noted he wasn’t home much that day.

Don Holt and Dianne Draper, Jonesborough, posted on Facebook about seeing their first spring ruby-throated Hummingbird at their feeder on April 10.

Darlene Kerns also shared her first spring sighting on my Facebook page. “Just saw our first hummingbird of the season here in Unicoi,” she wrote. The bird arrived at 8:30 on Sunday, April 11. Darlene said that the first hummingbird also arrived on April 11 in 2020.

Dot and Wayne Ballard, Marion, North Carolina, saw their first spring hummingbirds (yes, they saw two at the same time) on Sunday, April 11, at 2 p.m. The little birds lingered and were also seen feeding early on the morning of Monday, April 12. The Ballards sent me an email about their sighting.

Philip Laws of Limestone Cove used Facebook Messenger to report his first spring sighting took place April 11 about 12:15 p.m. The next day more hummingbird arrived. “Two disputed ownership of a tube feeder,” Philip noted in his message.

Charles and Karen O’Cain emailed me to report their first sighting. “We saw our first humming bird of 2021 on Monday, April 12, at 10 a.m. at our home on top of Coal Pit Mountain in the southern tip of McDowell County,” they wrote. “We have seen a hummingbird every day since.”

Nellene Woodby called to report that she saw her first hummingbird of spring in Limestone Cove on April 12.

Brookie and Jean Potter, who reside at Wilbur Lake near Elizabethton, reported in a phone call that they saw their first hummingbird of the season on April 12.

Karen and Bobby Andis in Kingsport contacted me in Facebook Messenger to report they saw their first ruby-throated hummingbird at 5:56 p.m. on April 13.

Glen Eller emailed me to report that he and his daughter, Lia, had their first ruby-throated hummingbird show up at their home in Fall Branch on April 14. In  followup email, Glen reported another impressive observation. “We had two adult bald eagles show up the next afternoon,” he wrote. “Life is good.”

Anne Rolfe sent me an email to report that thanks to husband Peter’s watchful eyes, she saw the first visit of “our” male ruby-throated hummingbird, Jimmy, on April 14 at about 11 am.  “We are hoping he brings lots of friends,” she added. The Rolfes lives at Lake James in Nebo, North Carolina.

Felicia Mitchell notified me through my Facebook page that the first hummingbird arrived at the feeder at her home in Washington County, Virginia, at 12:24 p.m. on April 14.

Gina Kinney and her mom, Ginger Brackins, both Erwin residents, saw their first hummingbird of spring at 11:25 a.m. on April 14.

Helen Whited posted on my Facebook page that she saw her first hummingbird of 2021 at 1 p.m. on April 15 at her home in Richlands, Virginia.

Judi Sawyer in Roan Mountain also took to Facebook to report that she saw her first hummingbird of spring at about 8 p.m. on April 15.

Carolyn Grubb, Bristol, Virginia, reported on Facebook about the arrival of her first spring hummingbird on April 15.

Pattie Rowland, Erwin, also posted on Facebook about seeing her first hummingbird of 2021 on April 15.

Leslie and Kathie Storie notified me on Facebook that they saw their first hummingbird of 2021 at their home on Heaton Creek in Roan Mountain on April 25.

Peggy Stevens on Simerly Creek in Hampton saw her first spring hummingbird at 9:34 a.m. on April 16.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Despite a perceived disadvantage of size, ruby-throated hummingbirds are quite capable of thriving in a giant world.

Barbara Jean Boyd, Bristol, Tennessee, saw her first spring hummingbird on April 16. She reported the sighting on Facebook.

Amy Wallin Tipton, Erwin, made a Facebook post about her first spring sighting. “We saw our first hummingbird today (April 16) around 6 p.m.,” she wrote in the post.

Fredna Ollis, Erwin, had a single hummingbird show up Saturday, April 17, around lunch time. “I got pictures when I saw it again around 6,” Fredna shared in an email. “It was back on Sunday afternoon.”

Donna Rea, who is an Erwin resident and a retired Erwin Record employee, reported on Facebook that she saw her first hummingbird on April 17. The following day she got photos of the visiting hummingbird.

John Whinery, Fall Branch, gave notice in an email of the arrival of the first spring ruby-throated hummingbird at his feeder at 7 p.m. on April 17.

Gayle Riddervold and Becky Kinder of Hampton saw their first hummingbird of spring on April 18. Gayle reported the sighting through Facebook Messenger.

Phyllis Moore notified me on my Facebook page that she saw her first hummingbird at her home in Bristol, Virginia, at 10:53 a.m. on April 18.

Karen Lioce, who lives in Harrogate, Tennessee, sent me an email about tree swallows, but also reported a hummer sighting. “You mentioned that you wanted to know when we sight a hummingbird,” she wrote. “I saw my first one today (April 18).”

Julie Lee emailed me to inform me her first spring hummingbird showed up on a very windy day on April 21 at her home at Lake James in North Carolina.


In case you’re wondering, I saw my first ruby-throated hummingbird of spring 2021 at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 22. A somewhat hesitant little male hummingbird flitted to each of my feeders before finally taking a long sip of sugar water. As I watched him on a rather brisk evening, it felt good to welcome him back.

To share sightings, make a comment or ask questions, email me at or call 423-743-4112.

Photo by TheSOARnet / • Male ruby-throated hummingbirds usually migrate ahead of females. These tiny birds must cross the Gulf of Mexico, without stopping, to reach their nesting grounds in the eastern United States. The journey across the Gulf can take them 18 to 22 hours, dependent on weather conditions.