Category Archives: Big Year

Birds made news headlines in 2019

Photo by Public Domain Photos/ • California condors have gradually returned to parts of their range beyond California. A family of condors now resides in Zion National Park, marking a return of these birds to Utah.


Birds made headlines in 2019. Some species, having been presumed extinct, were rediscovered — some in the mostly unlikely of places. One of the major bird-related stories of the year involved a stark warning about a sharp decline in overall bird numbers. Below, in no particular order, are some of last year’s top stories about our fine feathered friends.

69 years old and a mother again

The Laysan albatross known as Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, became parents again in 2010. Wisdom is at least 69 years old and ranks as the world’s oldest known banded wild bird. Her mate’s name, by the way, translates as “lover of wisdom.” The chick hatched in February at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial. Wisdom has raised more than 30 chicks in her lifetime. While Laysan albatrosses are not considered endangered, some of their kin are threatened with extinction.

Photo by J. Klavitter/USFWS • Wisdom, one of Midway Atoll’s oldest residents, became a mother again in 2019. The female Laysan albatross is approaching her 70th birthday.

While walking to church

The year started with some good birding news when a bird thought extinct was rediscovered in a suburb of Medellín, Colombia, on Jan. 7, 2019. Rodolfo Correa Peña was headed to a church service when he spotted an odd bird in a garden. The bird turned out to be an Antioquia brushfinch, a bird known previously only from museum specimens. Peña, an engineering student with an interest in birding, knew the local brushfinches and recognized that the bird was different. He secured photos of the bird and stunned the scientific community with the rediscovery of a bird presumed extinct.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service • Endangered California condors receives some good news in 2019..

Condors soaring high

California condors continue to delight with their success stories, even extending their range beyond California. Estimates indicate that 300 condors exist in the wild with about 200 more birds in captivity for use with breeding programs. Evidence that the work to preserve the species is working was provided this year in Utah’s Zion National Park, which became home to a condor named “1K” because it is the 1,000th chick hatched as part of an extensive condor restoration program. The chick hatched in May and took a rather clumsy first flight in September. The chick represents the first condor born within Zion National Park in more than a century. In 1987, when the condor population totaled only 27 known condors, wildlife officials captured the surviving wild birds and made them part of an existing captive breeding program. In 1992, the condor recovery program started to release the birds back into the wild. There are now more condors flying free in the wild than are maintained in captivity.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A large flock of Great Egrets flies over the Watauga River in Elizabethton. There is mounting evidence that many bird populations are on the decline.

Fewer birds?

Bird enthusiasts were shaken by the publication in September of an article warning that the number of birds in the United States and Canada has fallen by 29 percent since 1970. The analysis, published in the journal “Science,” is an extensive attempt to determine what is happening to avian populations. The results shocked — there are 2.9 billion fewer birds taking wing now than there were 50 years ago.

A painting of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker by Mark Catesby, an English naturalist.


Yet, in words penned by poet Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” Birds are among the most resilient lifeforms on the planet. If humans can get out of the way and quit making life more difficult for the feathered inhabitants of the planet, birds are more than capable of rebounding. The federal government needs to maintain safeguards and regulations that are in place to protect birds while ordinary people must alter their ways by shunning pesticides, preserving a variety of habitats and simply giving more regard to the fellow creatures they share the Earth with. If we can do these things, the birds will be fine. Don’t take my word for it. Look at the examples of Wisdom the Laysan albatross and a California condor known as “1K.”

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Canada geese forage in a field in Unicoi County, Tennessee.

Chapter’s Roan Mountain Christmas Bird Count finds 52 species


An abundance of Pine Siskins on the slopes of Roan Mountain made this small finch the most numerous bird on the recent Roan Mountain CBC.

The 62nd Roan Mountain Christmas Bird Count was held Sunday, Dec 20, with nine observers in two parties. The yearly count is conducted by the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, otherwise known as the Elizabethton Bird Club.


A total of 52 species was tallied, which is is above the recent 30-year average of 45.4 species. The all-time high was 55 species in 1987.
Highlights included: Ruffed Grouse, 1; Peregrine Falcon, 1; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 24; Gray Catbird, 1; Chipping Sparrow, 4; Purple Finch, 2; and Pine Siskin, 282.
The most numerous bird on the count was Pine Siskin, with a total of 282 individuals found, followed by Dark-eyed Junco, 172; American Crow, 93; and European Starling, 57.



Usually a summer bird in the region, a single Gray Catbird was found during the recent Roan Mountain CBC.

Compared to the mild weather for most of December, cold temperatures moved in ahead of the counts for Elizabethton and Roan Mountain were held. As a result, near normal temperatures reigned on the days the counts were conducted. There was even about an inch of snow on top of Roan Mountain.


More common at low elevations, only a single Red-bellied Woodpecker was counted during the Roan Mountain CBC.

Species found on the Roan Mountain CBC follow:
Bufflehead, 11; Ruffed Grouse, 1, Wild Turkey, 1; Great Blue Heron, 1; Turkey Vulture, 1; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1; Cooper’s Hawk, 1; Red-shouldered Hawk, 2; Red-tailed Hawk, 7; American Kestrel, 1; and Peregrine Falcon, 1.
Rock Pigeon, 23; Mourning Dove, 13; Eastern Screech-Owl, 1; and Barred Owl, 1.
Belted Kingfisher, 3; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 1; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 7; Hairy Woodpecker, 2; and Pileated Woodpecker, 4.
Blue Jay 13; American Crow, 93; Common Raven, 15; Carolina Chickadee, 20, Tufted Titmouse, 13; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 24; White-breasted Nuthatch, 11; and Brown Creeper, 2.
Winter Wren, 6; Carolina Wren, 8; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 16; Eastern Bluebird, 5; American Robin, 19; Gray Catbird, 1; and Northern Mockingbird, 2.
European Starling, 57; Cedar Waxwing, 22; Eastern Towhee, 2; Chipping Sparrow, 4; Field Sparrow, 1; Song Sparrow, 43; Swamp Sparrow, 1; White-throated Sparrow, 6; and Dark-eyed Junco, 172.
Northern Cardinal, 15; House Finch, 2; Purple Finch, 2; Pine Siskin, 282; American Goldfinch, 14; and House Sparrow, 55.



A Hermit Thrush along Simerly Creek was the last bird found on my personal quest for 100 birds in my yard in 2015. This individual was photographed this past March in South Carolina.

My own personal Big Yard Year ended on Dec. 31, 2015. I found my last bird species of the year — Hermit Thrush — lurking in a tangle of rhododendrons on a slope overlooking Simerly Creek. The thrush was the 90th bird I found in my yard in 2015, which brought my quest to an end still shy 10 species of reaching my goal of 100 species in a calendar year.
The Hermit Thrush is the only brown thrush likely to remain in Northeast Tennessee during the winter months. Others, like the Wood Thrush and Veery, winter in the American tropics and return to the United States and Canada each spring for the summer nesting season.
The Hermit Thrush is well known for its song, which consists of a series of clear, musical notes, each on a different pitch, consisting of a piping introductory note and a reedy tremolo. The birds don’t usually sing in winter, but they do produce a call note when disturbed or alarmed that is described as a low “chuck.”
In the summer, the Hermit Thrush feeds on a variety of insects and spiders, but this bird switches to a diet of fruit and berries during the winter months.
The well-known American poet Walt Whitman used a Hermit Thrush as a powerful symbol in his famous poem, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” Whitman introduces the bird in his poem with the lines, “In the swamp in secluded recesses/A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song/Solitary the thrush/The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements/ Sings by himself a song.”



Many birds, such as Carolina Chickadees, are almost daily visitors to my yard.

Overall, I am quite pleased with finding the 90 species in my yard. After all, it broke my old record. I can’t help but think on those species that I missed. Winter species like Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Brown Creeper, which have been relatively rare in my yard, simply didn’t make an appearance in 2015. House Wren was one bird that I had really expected to find. For some reason, however, no House Wrens took up residence at my home in 2015. Other birds that occasionally make migration stops but didn’t visit last year included Vesper Sparrow, Blue-winged Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, and Canada Goose.
I saw most of my birds in January, ending the first month of the year with 26 species. I also saw 14 species in both April and September, which testified to the strength of my yard to attract migrant birds.


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Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service This Peregrine Falcon is a captive bird, unlike the one found during the Roan Mountain CBC.

I haven’t decided if I am setting any birding goals for 2016. I may simply enjoy birds without any specific aims. However, the year is still young. If I decide otherwise, I will announce it on my weekly blog.

Fall Bird Count finds above-average total of 129 species

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                   A flock of Canada Geese in a field near the Watauga River in Elizabethton on the day of the Fall Bird Count.

The 46th annual Elizabethton Fall Count was held on Saturday, Sept. 26.

A total of 37 observers in nine parties covered Carter County and parts of adjacent Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties in this yearly count conducted by the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, or the Elizabethton Bird Club. This year’s count included new territory around Kingsport that has not traditionally been a part of this annual fall survey.

A total of 129 species were found, which is slightly above the average of 125 over the last 30 years. The all-time high of 137 species was achieved in 1993.
The most numerous bird on the count was the European Starling (1,347) followed closely by Canada Goose (1,182) and American Crow (896).



Photo by Bryan Stevens                              Mourning Doves were one of the more abundant birds on this year’s Fall Bird Count.

Other numerous birds included Mourning Dove (529), Chimney Swift (490), Blue Jay (432) and Rock Pigeon (375).

Of course, some birds were represented by only one individual, such as Northern Harrier, Great Egret, American Wigeon, Ruffed Grouse, Peregrine Falcon, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Worm-eating Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Nashville Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                         A flock of Wild Turkeys near the Elizabethton Municipal Airport.

The total follows:
Canada Goose, 1,182; Wood Duck, 90; American Wigeon, 1; Mallard, 254; Blue-winged Teal, 13; Ruffed Grouse, 1; Wild Turkey, 161; Pied-billed Grebe, 9; and Double-crested Cormorant, 31.

Great Blue Heron, 39; Great Egret, 1; Green Heron, 7; Black-crowned Night-heron, 4; Black Vulture, 172; and Turkey Vulture, 189.
Osprey, 19; Northern Harrier, 1; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 5; Cooper’s Hawk, 10; Bald Eagle, 8; Red-shouldered Hawk, 3; and Red-tailed Hawk, 16.


Photo by Bryan Stevens A curious Gray Catbird peeks from dense cover. Attendees at the fall rally can look for catbirds and other species at any of the offered bird hikes.

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                        A curious Gray Catbird peeks from dense cover.

Sora, 4; American Coot, 2; Killdeer, 87; Spotted Sandpiper, 3; Solitary Sandpiper, 5; Willet, 1; Sanderling, 2; Least Sandpiper, 1; and American Woodcock, 1.

Ring-billed Gull, 4; Forster’s Tern, 1; Rock Pigeon, 375; Eurasian Collared-Dove, 5; Mourning Dove, 529; and Black-billed Cuckoo, 1.

Eastern Screech-owl, 27; Great Horned Owl, 3; Barred Owl, 1; Northern Saw-whet Owl, 1; Chimney Swift, 490; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 36; and Belted Kingfisher, 33.

Red-headed Woodpecker, 1; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 73; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 53; Hairy Woodpecker, 7; Northern Flicker, 54; and Pileated Woodpecker, 28.


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.

American Kestrel, 24; Merlin, 2; Peregrine Falcon, 1; Olive-sided Flycatcher, 1; Eastern Wood-Pewee, 14; Acadian Flycatcher, 2; Eastern Phoebe, 71; and Eastern Kingbird, 1.

White-eyed Vireo, 3; Yellow-throated Vireo, 1; Blue-headed Vireo, 6; Red-eyed Vireo, 4; Blue Jay, 432; American Crow, 896; and Common Raven, 8.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 1; Tree Swallow, 231; Cliff Swallow, 2; Carolina Chickadee, 128; Tufted Titmouse, 111; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 1; and White-breasted Nuthatch, 43.

House Wren, 6; Marsh Wren, 1; Carolina Wren, 152; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 2; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 2; and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 2.



Photo by Bryan Stevens                                A total of 21 species of warblers, such as this Northern Waterthrush, were counted during the Fall Bird Count.

Eastern Bluebird, 230; Veery, 1; Gray-cheeked Thrush, 1; Swainson’s Thrush, 23; Wood Thrush, 12; American Robin, 312; Gray Catbird, 60; Brown Thrasher, 19; Northern Mockingbird, 76; European Starling, 1,347; and Cedar Waxwing, 132.

Ovenbird, 2; Worm-eating Warbler, 1; Northern Waterthrush, 1; Black-and-white Warbler, 6; Tennessee Warbler, 12; Nashville Warbler, 1; Common Yellowthroat, 25; Hooded Warbler, 4; American Redstart, 51; Cape May Warbler, 8; Northern Parula, 2; Magnolia Warbler, 24; Bay-breasted Warbler, 8; Blackburnian Warbler, 7; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 7; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 2; Palm Warbler, 54; Pine Warbler, 2; Yellow-throated Warbler, 1; Black-throated Green Warbler, 4; and Yellow-breasted Chat, 1.



Photo by Bryan Stevens                                  Scarlet Tanagers were still present in good numbers for the Fall Bird Count on Sept. 26.

Eastern Towhee, 59; Chipping Sparrow, 37; Field Sparrow, 14; Song Sparrow, 99; Dark-eyed Junco, 31; Scarlet Tanager, 16; Northern Cardinal, 188; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 28; Blue Grosbeak, 1; and Indigo Bunting.


Red-winged Blackbird, 60; Eastern Meadowlark, 41; Common Grackle, 67; Brown-headed Cowbird, 15; Baltimore Oriole, 3; House Finch, 55; American Goldfinch, 188; and House Sparrow, 56.

September brings more lawn chair birding opportunities


Photos by Bryan Stevens                                                                        A Northern Waterthrush perches in a tree growing along Simerly Creek.

The following post represents my second compilation of Facebook posts about my annual lawn chair birding experiences. My mom and I have made lawn chair birding an annual tradition every fall. It’s a great way to enjoy the warblers and other migrants that stream through the yard in September and October. For the most part, you can even avoid the neck sprain that comes with long period of scanning the treetops for glimpses of energetic and evasive warblers.


A young American Goldfinch perches on a twig.

Sept. 9
Some clouds and drizzle made for a very productive evening of lawn chair birding, bring a bonanza of warblers and other migrants. I added four new birds, all warblers, to my 2015 yard list. Bird No. 73 for the year was a Golden-winged Warbler. This makes two consecutive falls I have seen this warbler at home. Bird No. 74 turned out to be a dazzling male Prairie Warbler, as opposed to the more drab female Black-throated Blue Warbler that became Bird No. 75 for the year.

A Pine Warbler also made the list as Bird No. 76. Other warblers included Tennessee, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Cape May, Hooded, Black-and-white and Black-throated Green. The rest of the migrant parade consisted of Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood-pewee, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Eastern Towhee, as well as the usual residents such as House Finch, American Goldfinch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, Northern Cardinal and lots of Tufted Titmice. Most of the warblers refused to stay in place long enough for photos, but at one point the Pine Warbler actually landed on the roof of the house and allowed a few photos which provided nice documentation for a fun evening that ended when the rain began to come down harder.


A Pine Warbler takes a break on the roof of the house.

Sept. 10
No new birds this evening during lawn chair birding with mom. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have some fun observations, including a baby Song Sparrow screaming his head off for a morsel from mom or dad. We also saw Indigo Buntings, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Towhee, Scarlet Tanager, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, as well as several warblers,including male Hooded, female American Redstart, young Chestnut-sided and a female Magnolia.


Cedar Waxwing at Erwin Fishery Park.

Sept. 11
Saw this Cedar Waxwing, part of a large flock, at Erwin Fishery Park on Friday afternoon.

Sept. 13
Warblers on Saturday evening included Black-throated Green, Tennessee and Magnolia, as well as an American Redstart. We also had a Broad-winged Hawk hanging around the fish pond. We startled him several times on Saturday. My mom and I extended birding to a visit to Limestone Cove and the Bell Cemetery, where we spotted a Red-tailed Hawk being mobbed by around 50 American Crows. No new yard birds, though.

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A noisy Carolina Wren scolds from a Blue Spruce.

Sept. 16
Had a good day of migrants in the yard, including a lot of male warblers — Black-throated Green, Hooded, American Redstart — and some other migrants. Some young or female warblers included Cape May, Chestnut-sided, Tennessee and Magnolia. There was also a family of noisy young American Goldfinches hanging around. No new species this evening, but I managed this photo of a Carolina Wren to stay in practice.


A Yellow-throated Vireo makes a migration stop along Simerly Creek.

Sept. 18
“Yellow throats” was the evening’s theme for lawn chair birding. I added two new species to the yard list for the year. First came the Yellow-throated Vireo as Bird No. 77. Next came the young Common Yellowthroat for Bird No. 78. The day has also included observations of Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Towhee, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Eastern Phoebe, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and noisy young American Goldfinches.


Ruby-throated Hummingbirds continue to compete for their claims to the sugar water feeders.

Sept. 20
No new birds in the yard this evening, but lawn chair birding produced lots of good looks at warbler like Magnolia, Northern Parula, Tennessee, Black-throated Green Warbler, Hooded, Chestnut-sided and a adult male Cape May in very vibrant plumage. Other observations included Wood Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and lots of the usual feeder birds. I managed a photo of the Eastern Wood-Pewee.


A Northern Waterthrush in the branches of a hawthorn tree along Simerly Creek.

Sept. 21
An overcast day brought plenty of migrants for the show during multiple sessions of lawn chair birding with my mom. The new species for the yard in 2015 included a Northern Waterthrush, pictured, and Bay-breasted Warblers. The waterthrush becomes Bird No. 79 and the Bay-breasted Warblers represent Bird No. 80, helping me move into another stretch in my Big Yard Year. We also saw Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbirds, Magnolia Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, American Redstart and Pine Warbler, as well as Yellow-throated Vireo and Red-eyed Vireo. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are also active at the feeders. The usual birds are visiting the feeders for sunflower seeds.

Sept. 22
Before leaving for work this morning, I heard a duet by Great Horned Owls from the surrounding woodlands. It was an extremely foggy morning, which might have made a difference since the owls were calling about an hour after sunrise.


A Scarlet Tanager without the red feathers that provide the birds its common name.


An Eastern Phoebe perches on top of a weed stalk.


A katydid perched atop a zinnia bloom.

Vireo sighting helps kick off fall migration

If pressed to give a date to the start of this year’s fall migration, I would choose Aug. 20. It’s the day I finally added a new bird to my 2015 yard list after being stuck at No. 59 since June 2 when I heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo calling from the woods behind my house. Needless to say, the months of June and July had not been very productive for adding new species to my list.

Yard Bird No. 60 turned out to be a White-eyed Vireo, which is not a summer nesting bird in my yard. Migrating White-eyed Vireos have often made visits in the past, so I was glad to welcome this species and add it to my list. 


Photo Courtesy of Roy Knispel                                   The White-eyed Vireo gets its name from the white iris of its eye.

On the same evening I observed the vireo, I also watched Ruby-throated Hummingbirds chase Blue-gray Gnatcatchers through the thin branches of a dead spruce tree. I also took delight in observing a family of Northern Cardinals — father, mother and two young birds — visit the feeders. 
Known by the scientific name, Vireo griseus, the White-eyed Vireo is a member of a family of songbirds with several species that make their home in the region. This vireo gets its common name from the fact that it does indeed have white eyes.
Unlike some of its treetop-dwelling relatives, the White-eyed Vireo prefers to stay close to the ground in thickets and dense shrubbery. I often find these birds in the same habitats favored by such birds as Yellow-breasted Chat and Brown Thrasher. Like these larger birds, the White-eyed Vireo is a very vocal bird. The security of thick, inaccessible brushy habitats must give these birds, which are only a little more than five inches long, the confidence to go about their lives in a brash, noisy manner. 
The term “vireo,” originating in Latin, can be translated into English as “green bird.” It’s an apt description, as many of these small birds are primarily dull green in coloration. The White-eyed Vireo adds some dull yellow, gray and white feathers to the mix in a distinctive pattern that should easily separate this bird from other vireos. 
White-eyed Vireos spend the summer nesting season in the eastern United States south of a line extending from eastern Nebraska across Indiana and New York. Each fall, they retreat to spend the winter in locales ranging from the extreme southeastern United States through Central America. Some of these vireos also winter on Caribbean islands such as Cuba.

There is an endangered vireo, the black-capped vireo, a bird with a limited breeding range in Texas. Black-capped vireos numbers have dwindled to perilous levels due to the loss of low growing woody cover these birds need for breeding purposes. The cause of the loss of habitat varies, but includes the clearance of land for livestock as well as overgrazing by livestock and deer. In the past, fires regularly opened up such habitats. Due to modern fire control practices, such fires are no longer a natural occurrence. Since this species is already endangered, brown-headed cowbirds have also contributed to the problem since the cowbirds slip their own eggs into the nests of black-capped vireos.

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When early naturalist John James Audubon painted the White-eyed Vireo, he knew it by the name “White-eyed Flycatcher.”

Two others, Bell’s vireo and gray vireo, are identified as species of concern on the Audubon Watchlist. This listing spotlights species that may bear intense scrutiny to make certain they don’t become endangered.
Other vireos that can be found in the United States, for at least part of the year, include Philadelphia vireo, plumbeous vireo and Cassin’s vireo. A specialty of Florida is the black-whiskered vireo. 
Many species of vireo are also found in the islands of the Caribbean, including Jamaican vireo, Cuban vireo and Puerto Rican vireo. Some of the more colorful common names for vireos include the yellow-green vireo, golden vireo and yellow-winged vireo. 
In Central and South America, the vireo family expands to include many birds with common names such as “Shrike-Vireo,” “Greenlet” and “Peppershrike.” Some of the varied species include the lemon-chested greenlet, green shrike-vireo and the black-bellied peppershrike.

Many vireos construct deep cup- or basket-shaped nests, often in the higher branches of tall trees. Male and female share incubation duties and work together to feed their young. 


Photo by Bryan Stevens                              Blue-gray Gnatcatcher have been abundant again, another sign of the approaching fall migration.

Most vireos feed on in­sects during their summer stay north of the border. However, during migration they often feed on berries and continue to do so on their wintering grounds. Experts have noted that the White-throated Vireo is particularly fond of gumbo-limbo seeds. This tropical tree can be found from southern Florida and Mexico, as well as throughout the Caribbean and in South America in Brazil and Venezuela.
To learn more about birds, birding and other topics from the natural world, be sure to friend Bryan Stevens on Facebook at 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 him at

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                              A dragonfly sighting that turned out to be a Ruby Meadowhawk is another sign that the fall migration season is at hand.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                       A Common Buckeye seeks nutrients in damp mud on a recent August afternoon.

More than halfway to my goal of 100 yard birds in 2015


I would love to add Yellow-crowned Night-Heron to my yard list. Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Green Herons and Great Egrets have visited the creek and fish pond at my home, but I’ve never had a visit from a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. I photographed this pair on a nest along the Watauga River on Blevins Road.

On April 19, a singing male Black-throated Green Warbler became the 50th bird species to make an appearance in my yard this year.

Back at the start of this year, I considered trying for another “big year” in the five-county area of Northeast Tennessee that consists of the counties of Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington.

However, such an undertaking requires a lot of travel and expense, as well as an immense dedication of time. After a 2014 marked by many personal upsets, I didn’t feel capable of making an attempt. Considering I last undertook a “big year” effort back in 2013, I felt it was too soon for me to try this again.


The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, an early bird among spring migrants, arrived on Easter Sunday, April 5, this year. It was Bird No. 42 on my yard list for 2015.

Instead, I’ve focused my attention on the birds that come calling to my yard, fish pond, the creek and the surrounding woodlands. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed some amazing visitors from a variety of feathered friends.

It was an amazing winter, with large flocks of Purple Finches and Pine Siskins at my feeders. In fact, these two species remain present even as the calendar moves closer to May. In fact, I saw a Pine Siskin at the feeders on Saturday, April 25.


My favorite warbler, the Hooded Warbler, returned this spring on April 13. The males are currently singing daily from rhododendron thickets in the woodlands around my home.

As is usually the case here at my Simerly Creek home in Hampton, spring migration is proceeding at a slow pace. For some reason, the fall migration is a more “birdy” time. So, any bird I miss seeing this spring, I will hope to pick up while I continue looking for yard birds this autumn.


A pair of Wood Ducks visited the pond on a recent rainy morning. Until a decade ago, Wood Ducks were regular spring visitors. For some reason, they have become much more sporadic in their visits over the past 10 years.

Of course, there have been a few spring surprises, including a pair of Wood Ducks that showed up at the fish pond on a rainy morning on Sunday, April 19. Several of the resident warblers have also arrived, including Hooded Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, Black-throated Green Warbler and Ovenbird.

As of the time of my sitting down to post this blog entry, I’ve found 52 species in my yard so far this year.

The most recent sightings have been a Wood Thrush (No. 52) and a Northern Parula (No. 53) on my list. These two species showed up on April 20 and April 21, respectively.


I have been birding for more than 20 years, but in that time I have only had one Eastern Kingbird visit my yard. Will the second kingbird pay a visit at some point in 2015?

So, wish me luck as I continue this more modest undertaking. Let’s call it a “Big Yard Year.” I am hopeful that I can find 100 species in my yard before Dec. 31. I’ll continue you update occasionally here on my weekly blog.