Category Archives: Hungry Mother State Park

Winter’s dark-eyed junco provided inspiration for first column

Photo by Skeeze/ • The dark-eyed junco is a fairly common winter resident in the region. Rather widespread, different races of the dark-eyed junco are found throughout the North American continent.

I wrote my first bird column on Sunday, Nov. 5, 1995, which means this weekly column will mark its 24th anniversary this week. This column has appeared over the last 20 years in a total of six different newspapers, which I regard as a personal achievement as well as an accomplishment for our feathered friends. It’s on their behalf that I pen these weekly efforts to promote conservation and good will toward all birds. “For the Birds” has appeared in the Bristol Herald Courier since June of 2014.

Photo by Bryan Stevens •  Dark-eyed Juncos often delay their winter arrivals to the first snows of the season.

I’ve played detective, helping people identify everything from “rain crows,” or cuckoos, to Muscovy ducks and double-crested cormorants. I’ve observed unusual birds, including white pelican, brant and roseate spoonbill, in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia and spotlighted them in these columns. I still take delight in the kaleidoscopic parade of colorful warblers that pass through the region each spring and fall as well as the fast-paced duel of ruby-throated hummingbirds. I also offers to sunflower seed and other supplemental food for the resident birds like Carolina chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Known as “snowbirds,” Dark-eyed Juncos are hardy birds even in the winter season.

My first column focused on a common visitor to yards and feeders during the winter months. In fact, dark-eyed juncos should be returning to the region any day. Here, with some revisions I have made through the years, is that first column.


Of all the birds associated with winter weather, few are as symbolic as the dark-eyed junco, or “snow bird.” The junco occurs in several geographic variations.

John V. Dennis, author of “A Complete Guide to Bird Feeding,” captures the essence of the junco in the following description: “Driving winds and swirling snow do not daunt this plucky bird. The coldest winter days see the junco as lively as ever and with a joie de vivre that bolsters our sagging spirits.” The dark-eyed junco’s scientific name, hyemalis, is New Latin for “wintry,” an apt description of this bird.

Most people look forward to the spring return of some of our brilliant birds — warblers, tanagers and orioles — and I must admit that I also enjoy the arrival of these birds. The junco, in comparison to some of these species, is not in the same league. Nevertheless, the junco is handsome in its slate gray and white plumage, giving rise to the old saying “dark skies above, snow below.”

Just as neotropical migrants make long distance journeys twice a year, the junco is also a migrating species. But in Appalachia, the junco is a special type of migrant. Most people think of birds as “going south for the winter.” In a basic sense this is true. But some juncos do not undertake a long horizontal (the scientific term) migration from north to south. Instead, these birds merely move from high elevations, such as the spruce fir peaks, to the lower elevations. This type of migration is known as vertical migration. Other juncos, such as those that spend their breeding season in northern locales, do make a southern migration and, at times, even mix with the vertical migrants.

During the summer months, a visit to higher elevations in southwest Virginia such as Whitetop Mountain or Mount Rogers is almost sure to produce sightings of dark-eyed juncos. Juncos may nest as many three times in a season. A female junco usually lays three to six eggs for each nest, which she constructs without any assistance from her mate.

Photo by Ken Thomas •  Dark-eyed Juncos are also known as “snow birds” because of their tendency to flock to feeders ahead of a bout of snowy weather.

Juncos are usually in residence around my home by early November. Once they make themselves at home I can expect to play host to them until at least late April or early May of the following year. So, for at least six months, the snow bird is one of the most common and delightful feeder visitors a bird enthusiast could want.

Juncos flock to feeders where they are rather mild-mannered — except among themselves. There are definite pecking orders in a junco flock, and females are usually on the lower tiers of the hierarchy. Females can sometimes be distinguished from males because of their paler gray or even brown upper plumage.

Since juncos are primarily ground feeders they tend to shun hanging feeders. But one winter I observed a junco that had mastered perching on a hanging “pine cone” feeder to enjoy a suet and peanut butter mixture.

Dark-eyed juncos often are content to glean the scraps other birds knock to the ground. Juncos are widespread. They visit feeders across North America. The junco is the most common species of bird to visit feeding stations. They will sample a variety of fare, but prefer such seeds as millet, cracked corn or black oil sunflower.

There’s something about winter that makes a junco’s dark and light garb an appropriate and even striking choice, particularly against a backdrop of newly fallen snow.

Of course, the real entertainment from juncos come from their frequent visits to our backyard feeders. When these birds flock to a feeder and began a furious period of eating, I don’t even have to glance skyward or tune in the television weather forecast. I know what they know. Bad weather is on the way!


If you’d like to share your first sighting of dark-eyed juncos as the temperatures get colder, email me at

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Although more comfortable on the ground, juncos will come to hanging feeders for sunflower seed.

Unusual ducks pick Bristol’s Middlebrook Lake for brief visit


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A black-bellied whistling duck rests inside an aviary located at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina. In the wild, this species of duck has been expanding its range in the southern United States.


Joanne Campbell notified me via Facebook of a visit of an unusual waterfowl on Saturday, May 18, at her home near Middlebrook Lake in Bristol, Tennessee.

I needed a moment to look past the obvious Canada goose in the photograph before my eyes registered the four small ducks on the grassy bank. I recognized them instantly as black-bellied whistling ducks.

Black-bellied whistling ducks are members of a group of ducks known as “tree ducks” and “whistling ducks.” There is some debate about whether they are more closely related to ducks or geese.


Photo courtesy of Joanne Campbell • The four visiting black-bellied whistling ducks line up along the edge of Middlebrook Lake as a Canada goose swims past.

Joanne’s recent sighting near her home culminates a series of sightings throughout the region over the past month or so. For whatever reason, these ducks have popped up in various locations throughout the region in recent weeks.

Birder and photographer Adam Campbell found 11 black-bellied whistling ducks at a new retention pond off Exit 14 along Interstate 81 in Abington, Virginia, on Sunday, May 12.

A month earlier, birder Graham Gerdeman, a resident of Nashville, Tennessee, found a black-bellied whistling duck at the Harpeth/Morton Mills Greenway in Nashville on Friday, April 12.

On Friday, April 19, another lone black-bellied whistling duck was spotted in a grocery store parking lot in Fairview near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, by birder Kathy Malone.

Birders Ronald Hoff and Dollyann Myers observed a black-bellied whistling duck on Friday, May 17, on a small lake on Highway 411 south of Maryville, Tennessee, on the line between Blount and Loudon counties.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • Although widely kept in aviaries, black-bellied whistling ducks are becoming increasingly frequent wild visitors in the Volunteer State. East Tennessee saw a spike of sightings this spring of this duck.

In West Tennessee, closer to the Mississippi River waterfowl migration flyway, the black-bellied whistling duck is a more common bird. The ducks, which are typically found in Central and South America, range into the United States typically only in southern Texas and Arizona, as well as occasionally in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Florida. Some field guides indicate that these ducks are not long-distance migrants, but birders in western Tennessee would disagree with that assessment.

In appearance, males and females are similar with long necks, red bills and long, pinkish-red legs. The plumage is mostly chestnut with a black belly and a readily visible white wing patch.

These ducks are often described as being somewhat similar to geese and are not considered true ducks. They are classified by biologists in the genus Dendrocygna. Species in the genus include the West Indian whistling duck, wandering whistling duck, fulvous whistling duck, plumed whistling duck, spotted whistling duck, lesser whistling duck and white-faced whistling duck. Only the fulvous whistling duck joins the black-bellied whistling duck in ranging into the United States in such locations as Florida, Louisiana, Texas and California.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A black-bellied whistling duck (foreground) and a fulvous whistling duck (background) share space within an aviary at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina.

Black-bellied whistling ducks will nest both in natural cavities or on the ground in areas with thick vegetation. If nesting boxes are available, these ducks will gladly nest in them. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, black-bellied whistling-ducks have been expanding their range in the southern United States. These ducks have experienced strong population growth, estimated at more than 6 percent per year from 1966 to 2014. The world population is estimated at 1,100,000 to 2,000,000 birds and increasing, which could explain why appearances are becoming somewhat more commonplace in states like Tennessee, as well as Virginia and the Carolinas.

Formerly called the black-bellied tree duck, this waterfowl has also been given common names such as “whistling duck” and “Mexican squealer.” As indicated by these different names, these are highly vocal birds with a clear, piercing whistled call.

The black-bellied whistling ducks at Middlebrook Lake lingered for several hours, which allowed many birders in the region to make the drive to the lake to observe such an interesting visitor to the region.

Joanne later posted on Facebook about the excitement generated by the ducks. “I couldn’t get any work done for watching them,” she wrote in her post.

The ducks are not the first rare bird that Joanne has alerted me to at Middlebrook. Back in November of 2015, she notified me of an American white pelican that spent a couple of days on the lake. I’m grateful to her for notifying me about both the black-bellied whistling ducks and the pelican.

I always enjoy hearing from readers with observations to share. To make a comment, ask a question, or share a sighting, email me at


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A black-bellied whistling duck enjoys a vigorous bath within its enclosure in an aviary at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina. This duck is often kept in captivity. The wild population has expanded its range in recent years from Central America into the southern United States.

Virginia woman hosting wintering ruby-throated hummingbird


Photo by Mariedy/ • The ruby-throated hummingbird is the expected hummingbird in the eastern United States spring through fall. These birds are rare winter visitors, however, which makes the one living in a yard in Fall Church, Virginia.

I have been corresponding by email with Ellen Haberlein since around Thanksgiving of last year about a hummingbird that is wintering at her home in Fall Church, Virginia, which is located only a few miles from Washington, D.C.

The hummingbird’s presence has brightened the winter season for the Haberlein family since it showed up in late October of 2018.

Through the years, I have seen several of these seemingly out-of-place hummingbirds. Some of them remain at their host’s feeders for a brief stay of a few days or a couple of weeks, but some of these hummingbirds have extended their stay for several months, lingering throughout the winter months before eventually departing in February or March.


Photo by Larry Golfer • This male ruby-throated hummingbird has resided at the home of Ellen Haberlein since around Thanksgiving of last year. Haberlein lives in Fall Church, Virginia, which is located only a few miles from Washington, D.C.

The big question is: are these hummingbirds truly lost and out of place? The answer, based on everything I have managed to learn, is that these hummingbirds are precisely where they want to be. For still unknown reasons, some of these western hummingbirds make a migration swing through the eastern United States.

Many of the visiting winter hummingbirds turn out to be rufous hummingbirds, which is a species native to the western United States. The bird visiting Ellen’s feeder, however, is a ruby-throated hummingbird. In the summer months, the ruby-throated is the expected species of hummingbird in the eastern United States. In the winter months — not so much. However, in some regions in Virginia, as well as along the Gulf Coast, a few ruby-throated hummingbirds are attempting to overwinter.

The rufous hummingbird has basically become an expected winter visitor with a few reports being received each winter. I have observed Rufous Hummingbirds in many different locations, including Bristol, Blountville, Flag Pond, Elizabethton and Hampton. I have also observed Allen’s hummingbirds in Mountain City and Johnson City. I know of records of these small birds from Erwin, Roan Mountain, Johnson City and many other locations throughout the region. Winter hummingbirds are a delightful surprise for their hosts, but their presence no longer shock long-time birders.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • Rufous hummingbirds have been extensively documented as wintering throughout the southeastern United States. This male rufous hummingbird was documented in Hampton, Tennessee, a couple of years ago.

“Hosting a hummingbird in winter is a first for us, so we enjoy having him here,” Ellen wrote. “I feel that I am responsible to keep the little guy alive through the cold months.”

Doing so has meant staying atop some challenges.

“I monitor the feeder to make sure it doesn’t freeze,” Ellen wrote. “I have read the nectar doesn’t need to be replaced as often in winter, but I still change it every 2-3 days.”

She’s taking no chance with the health of her tiny visitor. “I think he needs to have fresh to stay in good health,” Ellen wrote. “I have two feeders, so when I remove one, I immediately replace it with another. That way his food source is not disrupted.”

Ellen noted that the hummingbird seems to be able to stand the cold nights. “I take in the feeder at night, and he looks for it just at dawn in the morning,” she wrote.

She contacted Bruce Peterjohn at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Her visiting ruby-throated hummingbird is the first he has heard of in Virginia for the winter season this year, although Peterjohn informed Ellen that some ruby-throated hummingbirds usually overwinter close to the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia.

Bruce Peterjohn

Bruce Peterjohn

Peterjohn, the chief of the US Bird Banding Laboratory for USGS, is the person responsible for administering the national bird banding program and the data management system for bird banding and band encounter datasets. His personal banding activities are focused on banding hummingbirds in the mid-Atlantic region, especially hummingbirds that appear during late autumn and winter.

With the dawning of the new year, Ellen’s visiting hummingbird remained present. “I am happy to help this little bird get through the winter,” Ellen said.

I checked back with Ellen on Jan. 29 to see if the hummingbird remains in residence.

“He made it through the last storm with wind chills at zero or below,” she replied to my email. “Now we have more cold coming and I am hoping for the best.”

I imagine Ellen is a good host for many birds, not just the unseasonable hummingbird, that visit her yard and gardens.

In our correspondence, she shared some sightings of warblers, which is my favorite family of birds.

“By the way, I have not seen a hooded warbler,” Ellen wrote. “I see warblers pass through during spring, like Tennessee warblers and black-and-white warblers.”

I’m hopeful that she will spy a migrating hooded warbler, perhaps this spring. In the meantime, she’s hosting a wintering hummingbird. “I am happy to help this little bird get through the winter,” Ellen wrote.


Photo by Jean Potter • A male hooded warbler flits through the foliage of a rhododendron thicket.

HMSP plans Great Backyard Bird Count events

Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, Virginia, plans some bird walks on Saturday, Feb. 16, to coincide with the Great Backyard Bird Count.

The GBBC is a free, fun and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world.


Photo by Ted Schroeder/Great Backyard Bird Count • Evening grosbeaks may be more common on this year’s GBBC, according to early reports on the movements of these large, colorful finches.

Each checklist submitted during the GBBC helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment we share. Last year, more than 160,000 participants submitted their bird observations online, creating the largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded.

To help participants become better citizen scientists, some field guides and binoculars will be provided during the activities at Hungry Mother State Park. Supplies of these items, however, are limited.

The walk will commence at 8 a.m. Either Master Naturalist Randy Smith or Hungry Mother volunteer Mike Evans will conduct the walk. Participants are also welcome to bird solo or with a few friends to cover more territory.

At 9 a.m., participants will return to parking lot five for “Breakfast in a Bag” with the Holston Rivers Master Naturalists. While enjoying breakfast, attendees will be invited to wander over to the park’s restaurant to check out various hands-on birding activities.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • Hungry Mother State Park near Marion, Virginia, has long offered a variety of birding and nature activities and programs, such as the ones planned around the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count scheduled for Feb. 15-18.

The special event will wrap up when Smith teaches participants a little more about backyard birding with an informative session at 10:30 a.m. at the restaurant.

All ages and skill levels are welcome. Attendees are encouraged to dress warmly as the event will be held rain or shine.

For more information, call HMSP at (276) 781-7400. The park is located at 2854 Park Blvd., Marion, Virginia. Details are also available by calling 1-800-933-7275 or visit

The 21st annual GBBC will be held Friday, Feb.15, through Monday, Feb. 18. Please visit the official website at for more information.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • Participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count and help document populations of birds, including great blue herons.

Carolina chickadees are easy birds to befriend and bring into your daily life


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A Carolina chickadee perches on a branch.

In last week’s post, I pointed out that Eastern bluebirds have already started seeking nesting locations for the upcoming spring nesting season. They’re hardly the only cavity-nesting birds already checking out every nook and cranny for the perfect place to raise a family of young.

I’ve been hearing the familiar “fee-bee-fee-bo” song of the Carolina chickadee from the woodlands around my home. With the recent turn in the weather, the male chickadees are persistent singers, making the woods ring with their attempts to woo a mate.

The Carolina chickadee is at home in mixed or deciduous woods in the United States from New Jersey west to southern Kansas and south to Florida and Texas. The Carolina chickadee also ranges along the Appalachian Mountains, but on some of the higher peaks they are replaced by their cousin, the black-capped chickadee. In Tennessee, birders need to visit some of the higher peaks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to find black-capped chickadees.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A Carolina chickadee visits a feeder for sunflower seeds.

Once a pair of chickadees settles down into domestic bliss, they almost at once start work upon constructing a nest. These little songbirds, looking quite smart in their handsome black, white and gray feathers, build an exquisite nest. The primary nesting material is green moss, which they stuff into a natural cavity or bird box in great quantities. The female chickadee fashions a depression in the collection of moss. She lines this shallow basin with plant fibers as well as strands of fur or hair to provide soft cushioning for her eggs.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A Carolina chickadee endures a cold winter’s day.

A female chickadee can lay a large number of eggs, with the clutch size ranging between three and ten eggs. Once the young hatch, both parents are kept busy delivering food to a large brood of hungry, noisy chicks. The young grow quickly, but they take advantage of the safety of their cavity nest and don’t depart for the wider world until 20 days after their hatching.

Energetic chickadees, birds of the most engaging antics, make wonderful feeder visitors. With their tame and trusting natures, chickadees are one of the birds I welcome to my feeders. Chickadees are daily visitors to my feeders in the winter season as well as other times of the year. I love to watch a chickadee land on a feeder, snatch a single sunflower seed and fly to a perch close at hand to hack open the seed’s shell and devour the kernel before they repeat the entire process again.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A Carolina chickadee makes a food delivery to nestlings.

North America’s other chickadees include the aforementioned black-capped chickadee, as well as boreal chickadee, chestnut-backed chickadee, grey-headed chickadee, Mexican chickadee, and mountain chickadee. On a trip to Utah in 2003 and 2006, I saw both black-capped chickadee and mountain chickadee.

In other parts of the world, chickadees are known as “tits,” which is from an Old English word denoting small size. Worldwide, there are about 60 species of chickadees and tits, which are classified collectively under the scientific family name, Paridae. Other members of this family range into Europe, Asia and Africa, including species with colorful names like fire-capped tit, yellow-bellied tit, azure tit, green-backed tit and cinnamon-breasted tit.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • Caroline chickadee waits for a chance to visit a crowded feeder.

It’s easy to attract chickadees to your yard. Shrubs and small trees, feeders stocked with sunflower seeds and perhaps a mesh cage offering a suet cake are sure to make these small birds feel welcome. If you want to witness the family life of chickadees, build or buy a box suitable for wrens and other smaller birds. Chickadees will happily take up residence. These birds often comprise the nucleus of mixed flocks of various species, so they will also bring other birds into your yard and within easy viewing range.


If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A Carolina chickadee grasps a branch near a feeder.


Diversity of birds a plus for Hungry Mother State Park’s launch of birding festival


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                 A singing male Orchard Oriole entertained festival attendees during a Saturday morning bird walk.

I’m just back from attending the first-ever Birding Festival at Hungry Mother State Park. It was a wonderful weekend filled with exciting observations of birds such as Baltimore Oriole, Orchard’s Oriole, Great Egret, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Red-breasted Mergansers and even a pair of nesting Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                      “I think we’re safe,” said one Northern Rough-winged Swallow to the other. “Swallows don’t have arms.”

The park is located in Smyth County near the town of Marion, Virginia, and is accessible just off of Route 16 near interstate 81. The park offers visitors more than 2,000 acres of wooded mountainous terrain, a large lake, several miles of trails for hiking and biking, a conference center, camping, picnicking, a lakeside beach for swimming, and a discovery center to learn about the area.

The festival, which was held Friday-Sunday, May 1-3, meshed nicely with other recreational opportunities offered at HMSP. Tanya Hall, the Chief Ranger of Visitor Experience, noted that  Hungry Mother is one of the more popular parks in Virginia.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                   A kayaker glides across Hungry Mother Lake.

“We have 18 miles of trails that you can either hike or bike and we have a 108-acre lake that has various species of fish available to catch,” Hall noted.

Sport fish in the lake including largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, as well as crappie, channel catfish, carp, sunfish, rock bass, muskellunge, and walleye.

The lake is also a favorite destination for swimmers, canoeists, kayakers and paddleboarders, which were all in evidence during this weekend’s events.

Hall said the park is also fortunate to have an “awesome interpretation department” that hosts numerous programs each day that are offered not only to camping and cabin guests, but also to the public.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                  The Hungry Mother State Park Restaurant, which offers lunch, dinner and a Sunday brunch.

Hall said the park also has one of the most unique names of all Virginia’s state parks. There’s also a unique legend tied to the name, which is associated with Molly’s Knob, the highest point in the park.


Photo by David Thometz                             Beginning my pictorial program, “Season to Season,” for the Friday evening audience at the Hungry Mother State Park Birding Festival.

According to local legend,  Indians destroyed several settlements on the New River south of the park, resulting in Molly Marley and her small child being taken to the raiders’ base north of the park. Molly and her child eventually escaped and wandered through the wilderness, surviving by eating berries. Molly finally collapsed and her child wandered down a creek until she found help. The only words she could impart to rescuers were “Hungry Mother.” Unfortunately, by the time a rescue party arrived at the foot of the mountain where she had collapsed, they found Molly dead. Today, the mountain is called Molly’s Knob and the stream is known as Hungry Mother Creek. So, when the park was developed in the 1930s, a dam was constructed to block the creek and form Hungry Mother Lake. The legend also provided the name for this very unique park.


Photo by David Thometz                                                    Looking for Virginia Rails at the wetlands at Saltville.

I presented a program on birds and nature through all four of the seasons. I got to meet many people that I have corresponded with through Facebook and email. I also got to meet some interesting new people.

The festival also featured Richard Moncrief, who is the Birding and Nature Observation Market Manager for Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Montcrief presented two programs on “Binocular Know How” and a very informative and entertaining “Birding Basics.” Some local Master Naturalists, including Melanie Smith and Randy Smith, gave programs on “Birding by Ear” and “Backyard Birding.”

Another highlight of the festival included an excursion to nearby Saltville to bird the wetlands in that historic southwest Virginia town.

I overheard plenty of discussion that the festival should become an annual event, and I certainly concur with that sentiment. I know I’d like to visit again next May.


Photo by David Thometz                                                                                                                      Trying to get that perfect angle for a photo.


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


Photo by David Thometz                                                                                                                                  If you look in the right corner of this outdoor fireplace, you’ll find a Mallard hen that has chosen an unusual nesting location.


Photo by Bryan Stevens              Red-winged Blackbird


Orchard Oriole




Great Egret


Eastern Kingbird


Sign promoting activities during the Birding Festival.







Looking forward to upcoming Birding Festival at Hungry Mother State Park


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                  This fledgling American Robin was photographed last spring during a visit to Hungry Mother State Park.

If you’re as eager as I am to see some new arrivals among our “Feathered Friends” this spring, join me Friday-Sunday, May 1-3, at one of Southwest Virginia’s most popular parks for a full weekend of bird and nature-related events.

Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, Virginia, plans to spotlight many of those opportunities in a brand-new nature festival that organizers have dubbed the Hungry Mother State Park Birding Festival. I will also be taking part in the festival by giving a program on the region’s birds during the festival’s evening program on Friday, May 1, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.


Photo by Bryan Stevens Canoes await visitors to Hungry Mother State Park, which will hold its first-ever Birding Festival from May 1 to May 3.

The timing for the festival couldn’t be better. Many of our favorite birds have been returning to the region after spending the winter months in warmer climes as far afield as the Caribbean and Central and South America. If you’ve always wanted to learn more about such birds as warblers and tanagers or hummingbirds and vireos, plan to come out to this wonderful new event at one of the region’s most popular parks.

I discussed the upcoming festival with Tanya Hall, who works as the Chief Ranger of Visitor Experience, at HMSP. She informed me that the seed for the festival was planted when Hall and other park personnel heard about the possibility of obtaining grant funding to support the festival.

“Once we heard about the grant being offered, we approached the Friends of Hungry Mother State Park to see if they would want to apply for it, and of course they did,” Hall said.

She praised the work of the Friends group in supporting HMSP.

“We have a wonderfully supportive Friends group here,” she said. “They assist us in many activities with hands on projects throughout the park and they sponsor various events throughout the year.”


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                              Woodpeckers, such as this Red-bellied Woodpecker, will be among the birds participants will likely see during the three-day Birding Festival at Hungry Mother State Park.

She gave much of the credit for launching this year’s festival to Glenn Moorer, a Friend of HMSP, as well as a park retiree, who headed up the committee on writing the grant.

“He has a love for birds,” Hall explained.

A festival focused on birds seemed a natural fit. Hall, as well as Education Support Specialist Rachel Toward and dedicated HMSP volunteer Randy Smith all share a passion for birds.

“So, with all of us here with our affinity towards birds, birding was a shoe-in for one of the programs sponsored by this Public Lands Every Day Grant and Toyota,” Hall said. “We want to share our passion so others in the community have an opportunity to see just how special birds are.”

The planning for the festival has occupied several months.

“We have a weekend full of fun-filled bird activities,” Hall said. “We will be starting Friday with school field trips to the park.”


Photo Courtesy of Hungry Mother State Park Beautiful scenery will also be in the spotlight during the Birding Festival at Hungry Mother State Park.

Some of Friday’s school-related events will feature Dr. Steven Hopp with Emory and Henry College, who will be discussing and demonstrating the banding of birds. In addition, the Blue Ridge Discovery Center will be providing two field trips on Avian Adventures.

“On Saturday we will have hikes geared toward more experienced birders and also beginners,” Hall said. “We have kayaking bird tours and a Saltville Marsh Hike planned also.”

Throughout Saturday, various booths will be set up to distribute information on birds, as well as other activities and agencies, in the area. There will also be a children’s activity tent.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                            Lingering Purple Finches could still be present by the time of Hungry Mother State Park’s Birding Festival.

Another event that Hall is certain many individuals will enjoy will be the live bird presentation, “Wings to Soar,” on Sunday afternoon.

“We have activities throughout the weekend geared to advanced birders and beginners,” Hall said. “By incorporating all ages and degrees of experience, we hope to instill a love of birds in beginners and offer a chance to advanced birders to share their skills with the rest of us and hopefully have the chance to network and meet new people in a hobby they love.”
The festival meshes nicely with other recreational opportunities offered at HMSP.

“Hungry Mother is one of the more popular parks in Virginia,” Hall said. “We have 18 miles of trails that you can either hike or bike and we have a 108-acre lake that has various species of fish available to catch. The lake is also a favorite destination for swimmers, canoeists, kayakers and paddleboarders.”

Hall said the park is also fortunate to have an “awesome interpretation department” that hosts numerous programs each day that are offered not only to camping and cabin guests, but also to the public.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                      A male Mallard enjoys a spring swim.

“You don’t have to be staying at Hungry Mother State Park to enjoy the activities we offer,” Hall noted. “We probably have the most unique name of all Virginia State parks, and we have a unique legend behind the name which is tied to Molly’s Knob, the highest point in the park.”

Several months ago, Hall also invited me to take part in the debut of the festival. I plan to present a PowerPoint presentation on birds, and perhaps a few other examples of nature’s diverse life, in a program that will spotlight birds throughout all four of the seasons.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                When dealing with birds, surprises, such as a visit from a migrating Great Egret, are never off the table.

“Many of us know you through the articles you write for the Bristol Herald Courier,” she said. “We look forward to your articles each week, and we are looking forward to hearing your presentation and to seeing some of nature’s finest animals.”

I’m looking forward to sharing my program with attendees at the first-ever Hungry Mother State Park Birding Festival. It gives me a unique opportunity to meet some of the readers of my weekly column. If you attend, be sure to introduce yourself at some point.

The festival will also feature Richard Moncrief, who is the Birding and Nature Observation Market Manager for Carl Zeiss Sports Optics.

“He will be presenting two programs on Birding Basics and on Binocular Know How,” Hall said. “I know I am always wondering what the differences are between binoculars and which would be the best to buy for what I use them for.”

Some local Master Naturalists, including Melanie Smith and Randy Smith, will be giving programs on Birding by Ear and Backyard Birding.

“All in all, I believe there will be a little something for everyone to enjoy,” Hall said. “We are all so excited about this weekend and hope that everyone will come out and enjoy at least one program, because once you come, you’ll want to stay for another!”

Although she has been employed only a couple of years at HMSP, Hall loves her job and her new home.

“I started in this position as Chief Ranger of Visitor Experience this past November,” she said. “I was hired as the Education Support Specialist or the Interpreter in July of 2013. As an interpreter, we hope to forge a bond with the visitors and our natural resources we have here at Hungry Mother State Park.”

This is accomplished, Hall explained, by “interpreting” the natural, historical and cultural world for park visitors.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                      A Song Sparrow poses for a quick photograph at the water’s edge.

“I have worked in various other jobs; preschool teacher, recreation supervisor for the Blue Ridge Job Corps, and federal Park Ranger for the U.S Army Corps of Engineers,” she said. “I love working here at Hungry Mother with our Friends group, with all the guests that visit our park, and with a staff that truly cares about you and making your stay at a Virginia State Park the very best. I truly enjoy my job.”

All the festival’s programming is free and open to the public. The only fees associated with the festival will be the parking fee at the gate, which will be $3 on Friday and $4 on Saturday and Sunday.

A full schedule of activities can be found on under the Events tab for Hungry Mother State Park. For more information, call (276) 781-7400.