Where does a beginning birder look for help getting started in the engaging pastime of birding?
In my own case, I turned to local birding organizations in Elizabethton and Bristol in Northeast Tennessee.
Today, those two organizations that helped nurture my interest in birding are known as the Lee & Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, also known as Elizabethton Bird Club, and the J. Wallace Coffey Chapter of TOS, also known as the Bristol Bird Club.
I didn’t know the namesakes for the Elizabethton club, but I knew J. Wallace Coffey from the late 1990s until his death in 2016. Coffey and many other individuals helped guide and polish my birding skills with helpful advice, suggestions and, above all else, friendship. Any novice birder needs to extend some feelers to local birding groups. No online resources, smart phone apps or printed field guides can match the reservoir of experience that veteran birders have to offer.
Today the Bristol Bird Club is headed by President Larry McDaniel.
He echoed my advice to new birders.
“Becoming a part of a local bird club such as the Bristol Bird Club is a great way for new and beginning birders to be around experienced birders who love to help you learn about birding,” McDaniel said.
“You can quickly learn where to find birds in the area, how to know the birds you see in your own yard and many ways of learning how to identify different species,” he added.
McDaniel noted that joining a birding group is also a great way to meet new friends who share a common interest.
“We offer many outings where you will get to be in the field with other birders,” he said. “All of our outings are suitable for all levels including kids.”
McDaniel noted that many of those outing will focus on some of the region’s birding hot spots.
“Some of our favorite places to bird include South Holston Lake, Osceola Island (Recreation Area) below South Holston Dam, Paddle Creek Pond, Steele Creek Park, Holston Mountain, Shady Valley, Jacob’s Nature Park in Johnson City, Roan Mountain, Whitetop Mountain and Burke’s Garden,” he said. “There are many other spots that we like to frequent.”
Later this fall, a seasonally popular spot will come into play.
“Another favorite destination is the Mendota Hawk Watch where Ron Harrington and others have been conducting hawk counts in September for many years,” McDaniel said. “There are days when we can observe thousands of broad-winged hawks fly over as they make their way south.”
In addition, the Mendota Hawk Watch is a great way to look for other migrating raptors, including ospreys, bald eagles and occasionally golden eagles.
“The club has a master bird bander,” McDaniel added. “Richard Lewis bands birds at his property and does an annual public demonstration during Wildlife Weekend at Steele Creek Park.”
McDaniel also shared some of the club’s rich history.
“The Bristol Bird Club has a long history,” he noted. “The club has been active since 1950. We are the J. Wallace Coffey chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society and an affiliate club of the Virginia Society of Ornithology.
“Wallace was a major force in leading the club for over 50 years,” McDaniel added. “When he passed away a few years ago, members decided to rename the club in his honor.”
McDaniel said that the club has also worked with local landowners over the years to establish some of the most important birding hotspots in the area.
“We also sponsor several Christmas Bird Counts,” he said.
McDaniel said that the club meets at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month in the Expedition Room of The Summit Building located at 1227 Volunteer Parkway in Bristol, Tennessee.
“The meetings can also be joined on Zoom,” McDaniel said. “Zoom meeting invitations are sent to the BBC email group and posted on our Facebook group. To join the email group, send a request to BristolBirdClub2022@gmail.com. You can also find us and join our Facebook group to get more information and current news about the club. We also sponsor an email list serve called Bristol-Birds that you may join to receive information on recent sightings.”
He pointed out that the club does not have regular meetings during the months when the group hosts a club picnic and yearly banquet.
“These dates are announced well ahead of time,” he said.
“There is no regular meeting in December, but we do usually have a BBC Christmas party some time in December.”
The club will also participate in the 25th anniversary of the annual Wildlife Weekend at Steele Creek Park on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 7-8.
McDaniel will lead a walk starting at 9 a.m. on Oct. 8 to the bird banding station operated by banders Richard Lewis and Rack Cross. “Plants and Pollinators” will provide the theme for this year’s Wildlife Weekend. Guest speaker for the Oct. 7 evening program will be Gerardo Arceo-Gomez, an associate professor in the biology department at East Tennessee State University.
Members of the Bristol Bird Club are also automatically members of the Tennessee Ornithological Society.
“Membership with the Virginia Society of Ornithology requires individuals to join VOS on their own,” he noted.
Current BBC membership rates, including TOS membership, are family, $32; individual, $28; and student (K-12), $15.
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Bryan Stevens has been writing weekly about birds since November of 1995.