Unicoi County Bird Count finds 109 species, couple share tales of a remarkable catbird

Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter
A male scarlet tanager brightens shadowy woodlands with a flash of tropical colors yet remains mostly inconspicuous in the forest canopy.

I wrote last week about how gray catbirds are often quite the characters when they take up residence in our homes and gardens. I received some confirmation about the unique personalities of some of these birds when I received an email from Doreen Lancaster from Abingdon, Virginia.

“We have an awesome catbird that we’ve made a friendship with over the last month,” Doreen wrote. “His name is Claude, aka Claudie Bells.”

Claudie sounds remarkably tame, according to Doreen’s email.

“Up until a few days ago, he fed from our hands all day long and would come to us when we called him,” she added. “He even walked into our house when we called him.”

Recently, however, she noted that Claudie seems distracted with making sure his babies are doing all right on their own.

“Now his focus seems to be finding a mate as he’s been singing a lot but ignoring us,” she wrote. “He’s such a special little guy who has stolen our hearts! I hope he sticks around all summer.”

The acquaintance with Claudie has given Doreen an opportunity to also acquire a lot of cool video footage of her visiting catbird. She shared several of the videos with me. They made for entertaining viewing. Some of the videos showed Claudie coming for treats, such as blueberries and raisins.

Claudie could get impatient when treats were not immediately forthcoming.

“My husband had a cool experience on the deck,” Doreen said. “He was on a business call and Claude came up to him wanting a treat. My husband ignored him and Claude came up to his bare feet and started pecking him until my husband acknowledged him and fed him!”

Claudie is a perfect example of what I meant when I suggested that some individual catbirds have rather distinctive  personalities and inquiring minds.


On a recent summer bird count conducted in Unicoi County, a total of 26 gray catbirds were found. This is not too surprising since the catbird’s a relatively common summer visitor in the region.

That particular survey – the eighth consecutive Unicoi County Summer Bird Count – was held Saturday, June 5. Nineteen observers in seven parties found 109 species. According to Rick Knight, the compiler for the count, the total is right on the average of the previous seven years. The range since the start of this yearly count has been between 104 to 112 species.

Participants included  Glen Eller, Dianne Draper, Dave Gardner, Tammy Griffey, Don Holt, David Kirschke, Rick Knight, Roy Knispel, Richard Lewis, Tom and Cathy McNeil, Brookie and Jean Potter, Pete Range, Brenda Richards, Michele Sparks, Bryan Stevens, Kim Stroud and John Whinery.

The weather was good with a temperature span of 53 to 88 degrees, clear to partly cloudy skies and little to no wind.

I’ve participated on seven of the eight counts. I missed one of the counts due to a vacation in coastal South Carolina that conflicted with the date. Since the onset of this annual survey in 2014, I’ve counted in the Limestone Cove area of Unicoi County. I was accompanied this year by Brookie and Jean Potter of Elizabethton and Brenda Richards of Bluff City. Some of our best birds included yellow-bellied sapsucker, Eastern kingbird, fish crow and scarlet tanager.

The cumulative species found included:

Canada goose,  35; wood duck. 7; mallard, 24; ruffed grouse, 4; wild turkey, 7; great blue heron, 4; and green heron, 3

Black vulture, 2; turkey vulture, 32; sharp-shinned hawk, 1; Cooper’s hawk, 1; bald eagle, 1; red-shouldered hawk, 2; broad-winged hawk, 8; and red-tailed hawk, 5.

Killdeer, 17; rock pigeon,  52; mourning dove, 55; yellow-billed cuckoo,  2; Eastern screech-owl, 2; great horned owl, 1; barred owl, 2; chuck-will’s widow, 4; and whip-poor-will, 6.

Chimney swift, 31; ruby-throated hummingbird, 6; belted kingfisher, 2; red-bellied woodpecker, 13; yellow-bellied sapsucker, 2; downy woodpecker, 9; hairy woodpecker, 5; Northern flicker, 10; pileated woodpecker, 22; and American kestrel, 1.

Eastern wood-pewee, 15; Acadian flycatcher, 29;  least flycatcher,  5; Eastern phoebe,  69;  Great crested flycatcher, 4; Eastern kingbird , 1.

White-eyed vireo  2; blue-headed vireo  57; warbling vireo  2; red-eyed vireo  157; blue jay  62; American crow  97; fish crow, 1; common raven  9

Purple martin, 9; Northern rough-winged swallow, 10; tree swallow, 39; barn swallow, 48; and cliff swallow, 65.

Carolina chickadee, 47; tufted titmouse, 88; red-breasted nuthatch, 7; white-breasted nuthatch, 5; brown creeper, 2; house wren, 36; winter wren, 4; Carolina wren, 95; and blue-gray gnatcatcher, 20.

Golden-crowned kinglet, 7; Eastern bluebird, 67; veery, 16; wood thrush, 37; American robin,  285; gray catbird, 26; brown thrasher, 7; Northern mockingbird, 18, European starling, 225; and cedar waxwing, 38.

Ovenbird, 47; worm-eating warbler, 15; Louisiana waterthrush, 14; black-and-white warbler, 28; Swainson’s warbler, 9; Kentucky warbler, 2;  common yellowthroat, 3; hooded warbler, 57; American redstart, 6; Northern parula, 36; magnolia warbler, 3; Blackburnian warbler, 2; yellow warbler, 1; chestnut-sided warbler, 10; black-throated blue warbler, 20; yellow-throated warbler, 6; black-throated green warbler, 36; Canada warbler, 7; and yellow-breasted chat, 2.

Eastern towhee, 73; chipping sparrow, 72; field sparrow, 11; song sparrow. 187; dark-eyed junco, 30; scarlet tanager, 31; Northern cardinal, 102; rose-breasted grosbeak, 4; blue grosbeak, 2; and indigo bunting, 104.

Red-winged blackbird, 61; Eastern meadowlark, 8; common grackle, 53; brown-headed cowbird, 19; orchard oriole, 4; house finch, 18; American goldfinch, 31; and house sparrow, 12.

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