Tag Archives: Great Blue Heron

Egrets and their kin wander widely in late summer

Late summer has a sort of lazy feel of anticipation to it. Most birds are finishing up their nesting season. Hungry fledglings appear at feeders in the company of adults. In recent weeks, I’ve noticed an explosion in the number of hummingbirds visiting my feeders and garden flowers. I’ve also noticed the vanguard of migrant birds that are starting to make appearances as fall migration approaches. It’s not just songbirds, however, that are on the move. Some large and rather conspicuous birds have been attracting attention in recent weeks, including a variety of wading birds.




Sightings this summer of long-legged wading birds in Tennessee and Virginia that are far outside of their usual range have included cattle egret, white ibis and roseate spoonbill. In addition, Susan Hubley reported on Facebook about a tricolored heron at John Sevier Lake in Rogersville, Tennessee, on July 25.

This heron is not usually found this far inland from the coast. Another tricolored heron showed up at Paddle Creek Pond in Bristol, Tennessee, on July 30. Adrianna Nelson reported the sighting on Bristol-Birds, an email network for sharing unusual bird sightings in the region. She also shared some photographs of the bird.


Photo courtesy of Adrianna Nelson • This tricolored heron spent a few days at Paddle Creek Pond in late July and early August. This large farm pond is managed by Crumley Farms Inc. and the Bristol Bird Club to provide habitat for migrating shorebirds and other birds.

“This is the first time I have seen a tricolored heron in Tennessee,” she wrote in a response to an email I sent her. “It is a long way off from its usual range. I have seen them before on Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina.”

She described the refuge as an excellent place to see waders, painted buntings, and many other birds. “I get the chance to go almost every year, since it is so close to where we vacation in Hilton Head,” Adrianna wrote.

She also commented on her unexpected observation.


Photo courtesy of Adrianna Nelson • This tricolored heron spent a few days at Paddle Creek Pond in late July and early August.

“It is exciting to see something where it doesn’t usually belong,” Adrianna wrote. “I was definitely surprised to see the heron. That’s part of the fun of birding — you never know what to expect!”

She was also excited to share the sighting on Bristol-Birds. “It’s fun to share sightings with the birding community so they can also enjoy rare or unusual birds in our region,” she wrote.

Adrianna noted that she has been birding since age nine. “It all started when I saw a little gray bird hopping around in our yard,” she recalled. “I noticed it was only at our house around the winter months, and I stared to wonder what the bird was.”

After some searching online, she successfully identified the bird as a dark-eyed junco.

“During my search, I was surprised by the wide variety of birds, and I wanted to find as many as possible,” Adrianna wrote. “Since then, I was hooked!


Photo by Bryan Stevens • This sign marks the importance of Paddle Creek Pond to migrating shorebirds and wading birds.

While diverting storms can’t be ruled out for causing some of these birds to detour into the region, it’s also normal behavior for young wading birds to disperse far and wide after leaving the nest. North American waders, or wading birds, include such long-legged species as herons, egrets, bitterns, ibises, storks and spoonbills. Most species are associated with wetlands or coastal areas.

Late summer birding is usually a period of doldrums as heat and humidity can discourage birders as well as diminish bird activity. However, it’s also the time of year when birders can make some unexpected surprises as wandering waders explore uncharted territory. Some other recent emails have reminded me of that fact.

James Elliott sent me an email describing a bird that is most likely a great egret. “For the second time in 30 years, I saw a magnificent, all-white heron yesterday on the South Houston River,” James wrote.

“I live at the very terminus of Riverside, Bullock Hollow, and Paddle Creek roads,” he wrote. “Big Springs Road is opposite across the river.”

When the bird departed, he said it flew east. He described the bird as “totally white” and “beautiful in flight.” He expressed regret that he was unable to get photographs.


Photo courtesy of Susan Schreiner • This visiting great egret spent some time along the South Holston River in late July. Egrets, herons and other wading birds often wander into some unexpected locations in late summer.

Susan Schreiner, however, did get photographs of a great egret she observed near her home along the South Holston River in Bristol.

“We had a nice visitor today along the South Holston River,” Susan wrote in the email she sent. “When we first spotted it, it was in our tree and then flew down to the water.”

She said the egret has associated with some great blue herons in the vicinity. “It’s quite distinctive,” she wrote of the stately wading bird.

The diversity of the region’s bird life has impressed her. “Coming from Illinois, this is all pretty amazing for me,” she wrote.

Egret_SUSAN 2

Photo courtesy of Susan Schreiner •Egrets and herons, such as this great egret, wander into some unexpected locations in late summer.

The egret is not the only exceptional bird that Susan has observed. “I occasionally see a bald eagle fly down the river that is just breathtaking,” she wrote in her email.

Through email, James and I discussed whether the bird he saw was a great white heron or a great egret. Since he saw the bird and I did not, I am inclined to go with his identification of great white heron. Although rare outside of Florida, this type of heron — simply a great blue heron in an alternative plumage — has over the years been spotted a handful of times in and around Bristol. Whether an egret or heron, his sighting is more evidence of the tendency of wading birds to wander widely in late summer.

The great egret became a motivational symbol for conservation with the foundation of the National Audubon Society in 1905. Today, the organization has nearly 500 local chapters, each of which is an independent non-profit organization voluntarily affiliated with the National Audubon Society. These chapters often organize birdwatching field trips and conservation-related activities. The National Audubon Society spearheaded efforts to end the mass slaughter of various bird species. Some birds were killed for food, but millions were also killed for their showy feathers that were destined to decorate stylish attire worn as a symbol of high fashion. As early as 1910, some states began passing legislation to abolish trade in bird plumes. The federal government also came to the assistance of birds with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which was a law first enacted in 1916 to implement measures to protect and conserve migratory birds.220px-National_Audubon_Society_logo

In 1953, a great egret in flight was chosen as the symbol for the official logo of the National Audubon Society, which was formed in part to prevent the killing of birds for their feathers. Birds like great egrets, snowy egrets, roseate spoonbills and other long-legged waders had been decimated before people responded to the wanton destruction being visited upon these beautiful and awe-inspiring creatures.

The great egret belongs to the genus Ardea, which includes various egrets and herons. Other members of this genus include Goliath heron, black-headed heron, purple heron and pied heron.

The tricolored heron belongs to the genus Egretta, which consists of various herons and egrets that mostly breed in warmer climates. In North America, other members of this genus include snowy egret, reddish egret and little blue heron. Older birding field guides may refer to the tricolored heron as the Louisiana heron, which was an older popular name for the species.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A great blue heron and a great egret patrol a tidal creek in South Carolina.

Although many herons and egrets are tall and stately, there are some pint-sized members of this group of birds. In North America, the smallest is the least bittern. The largest of the world’s herons if the aptly named Goliath heron, which is also known as the giant heron. This wading bird can stand five feet tall and weigh 11 pounds. The Goliath heron is native to sub-Saharan Africa but also ranges into southwest and south Asia. The world’s largest heron feeds almost exclusively on fish.

Other descriptive names for some of the world’s herons include boat-billed heron, white-crested tiger heron, zigzag heron, rufous-bellied heron, whistling heron and white-necked heron.

To try your own luck at observing herons and egrets, scout bodies of water such as ponds, rivers, lakes and streams to increase the odds of getting your own binoculars on one of these elegant waders.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A snowy egret and a great egret forage for prey on a South Carolina tidal creek.

Great white heron pays unexpected area visit to Steele Creek Park

I wrote a few weeks ago about the tendency of long-legged wading birds to wander far afield from their usual coastal haunts in late summer. In the ensuing weeks, numerous sightings of some unexpected waders have been reported throughout the region and beyond. 
Jeremy Stout, the manager of the Nature Center at Steele Creek Park in Bristol, reported that a great white heron generated some birding excitement among park visitors. Stout noted that the heron was first reported by Sherry Willinger on Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 7-8, and then found again by Ruth and Mary Clark on Friday, Aug. 11. Stout also managed to get a photograph of the heron, which has been seen just outside the park grounds between Ralph Harr Bridge and Highway 126. Steele Creek Park Naturalist Don Holt saw the heron again on Aug. 15. He invited others who see the heron to share their sightings by calling the park’s Nature Center at (423) 989-5616. Reports will help the park staff document the duration of the rare visitor’s stay and keep interested birders informed of its presence. 

Photo by Jeremy Stout
This great white heron was photographed near Steele Creek Park in Bristol. Currently considered the same species as the great blue heron, there is debate among experts about granting the great white heron status as a species in its own right. 

In early August, Cheryl Livingston reported a great white heron and a great egret at Watauga Lake in Hampton. While only a handful of records exist for the great white heron in this region, these observations will not help boost the lists of any area birders. The great white heron and the great blue heron, scientifically speaking, are the same species — at least for the moment.
According to the website for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this large wading bird, originally thought to be just a white color morph of the great blue heron, might actually deserve consideration as its own species. The website’s profile of the great white heron notes that recent research about the great white suggests that it is at least a subspecies of the great blue heron. Some preliminary unpublished data suggests that the bird may even be a completely separate species. That would be exciting news for many birders, who would be able to quickly add an unexpected bird to their life lists. 
The majestic great white heron usually ranges throughout south Florida and the Florida Keys, but individuals wander far from those parts of the Sunshine State after the nesting season. 
lcp_160728_1061_1024x1024 (1) 2

Painting by John James Audubon of the iconic Great White Heron of Florida.

The great white heron — as its name suggests — differs dramatically in appearance from a great blue heron, mostly in having all-white plumage. In addition, the great white heron has a yellow bill, which is heavier and more solid than the slender bill of the smaller great egret, for which it could be confused at a casual glance. The great blue heron, known by the scientific named of Ardea herodias, can stand 54 inches tall and weigh close to eight pounds. 
Waders other than great white herons have been wandering this summer. Farther afield, Michael Sledjeski has been reporting little blue herons and great egrets at Rankin Bottoms, which is a birding hot spot at Douglas Lake in East Tennessee. The location is well known among birders as a magnet for shorebirds and wading birds. Sightings of wood storks have been somewhat widespread in Tennessee and Virginia this summer. 
In addition, other waders are showing up far from their usual ranges. For instance, a roseate spoonbill — a large, pink wading bird — has shown up as far north as Pennsylvania, marking the first time the species has been sighted in the Keystone State since 1968.  

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Identifying white herons and egrets can be a tricky business. This immature Little Blue Heron is just starting to get the          blue feathers of adulthood. 

I’ve not seen anything as exciting as a wood stork or roseate spoonbill at home, but on several occasions in the past couple of weeks my fish pond has been visited by great blue herons. A couple of these visitors were young birds, which are probably wandering widely during their first summer out of the nest. I’ve also seen green herons at the pond and in the creeks along the linear trail in Erwin. 
If the great white heron eventually gains recognition as a separate species, I will already have the bird on my Tennessee bird list thanks to a sighting of one several years ago at Musick’s Campground on Holston Lake in Bristol. Ironically, I’ll not have this bird on my Florida list, as I’ve not seen it in its southern stronghold. 
To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler.  If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Look for herons along edges of local ponds, rivers

I enjoyed a recent trip to Atlanta, Ga. The extended weekend visited gave me the opportunity to see some birds I don’t see often at home in Northeast Tennessee, including Brown-headed Nuthatch and Pine Warbler.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Great Egret resting on a spit of land in a lake at Murphy Candler Park in Brookhaven, Ga.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Great Egret resting on a spit of land in a lake at Murphy Candler Park in Brookhaven, Ga.

I observed a Great Egret at Murphey Candler Park in Brookhaven, Georgia. Hiking trails around a small lake at this park offer some convenient locations for scanning the lake for wading birds and waterfowl. The egret was the first Great Egret I’ve observed in the Atlanta area.

I had visited this park hoping to find dragonflies, but for the most part struck out on finding these winged insects. I was compensated not only with the egret, but with observations of Double-crested Cormorants, Canada Geese, Mallards, Belted Kingfishers, Cedar Waxwings and Song Sparrows.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Great Blue Heron moves stealthily through a wetland.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Great Blue Heron moves stealthily through a wetland.

Egrets are members of a family of birds known as Ardeidae, which includes herons, bitterns and egrets. The Great Egret is a very stately, graceful bird with white plumage, long legs and a sharp, yellow bill. It is smaller than the Great Blue Heron. The Great Egret stands 3.3 feet tall and has a wingspan of 52 to 67 inches. On average, however, they weigh only about 2.2 pounds.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A large flock of Great Egrets flies over the Watauga River in Elizabethton.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A large flock of Great Egrets flies over the Watauga River in Elizabethton.

These egrets nest in large colonies. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the colonial nesting habits of these birds made them particularly vulnerable to humans who slaughtered the birds in the millions to harvest their feathers for use in the fashion industry. The Great Egret and other wading birds were almost decimated in order to decorate fashionable hats for women.

The National Audubon Society was founded in 1905, largely as an effort to combat the unregulated slaughter of birds like Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills. Now, more than a century later, the Great Egret still serves as the official logo for the National Audubon Society. In addition, the Great Egret has rebounded from those dark years. In fact, this bird now ranges as far north as southern Canada in appropriate wetland habitats. During spring and fall migration, Great Egrets also pass through northeast Tennessee. Look for them along rivers, lakes and on small farm ponds.

During visits to favorite birding locations in Elizabethton and Erwin, I have also observed Green Herons and Great Blue Herons.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A young Green Heron rests at the edge of a pond.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A young Green Heron rests at the edge of a pond.

The Green Heron can easily be overlooked as it lurks near a stream’s banks or the edges of a pond. This heron is not tall and stately like the Great Egret or Great Blue Heron. The bird is a patient ambush predator capable of remaining motionless for extended periods as it waits for prey to move within reach of its sharp, pointed bill. I’m always flushing these herons from cover before I even realize they are present.

I do get fortunate on occasion, however, and manage to approach a Green Heron without panicking the bird into a hasty flight. If you stand very still and don’t make sudden movements, you can manage to observe this bird from a respectful distance.

Such was the case of a Green Heron that I found stalking the edges of the pond at Erwin Fishery Park. I had my camera, so I snapped some photographs as I watched the heron’s slow, deliberate steps along the pond’s edge. Then, with a lightning-quick motion, the bird lunged its bill into the water and snatched a large tadpole. The heron required a brief time to get the wiggling tadpole positioned. After that technicality was resolved, the heron swallowed the plump tadpole quickly and almost immediately resumed search for more prey.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Green Heron finesses a captured tadpole in its bill.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Green Heron finesses a captured tadpole in its bill.

The unfortunate tadpole had developed hind legs, which did not prove an obstacle for the bird swallowing it, but still had a tail. Although it was very close to achieving frog-hood, this particular tadpole instead became part of the varied diet of a Green Heron, which can also include fish, crustaceans, insects and even mice. At this same Erwin pond, I once watched another Green Heron patiently stalking and successfully snatching dragonflies that perched on pond vegetation within reach of the bird’s bill.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Green Heron elevates a shaggy crest of feathers, a behavior often initiated when the bird feels alarmed.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Green Heron elevates a shaggy crest of feathers, a behavior often initiated when the bird feels alarmed.

The Green Heron is usually present in Northeast Tennessee from April to October. The bird migrates to Central America for the winter months. A few other herons, including the Great Blue Heron and the Black-crowned Night-Heron, live year-round in the region.

Sora observation spring surprise as pace of migration increases

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Sora forages for food in an Erwin wetland along the linear walking trail.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Sora forages for food in an Erwin wetland along the linear walking trail.

The hummingbirds, as I reported last week, are back. I’m hearing from readers across the region about the arrival of these tiny flying gems.

• Nata Jackson, who lives in Greene County, sent me an email to let me know that she saw her first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of spring on April 14. She had put up her feeders at about 2 p.m. Five hours later, she walked by the window and saw a male hummingbird at one of the feeders.

• April Kerns Fain of Erwin reported on Facebook that her hummingbirds returned on April 16, which was a very chilly day. “My hummingbirds are back and I had to thaw their sugar water for them,” she wrote. “Yuk!”

• Patricia Faye Wagers, who lives in Kingsport, saw her first hummingbird — a male — of spring on April 16, as well.

However, after I saw my first hummingbird of spring on Friday, April 11, I haven’t seen one since. Maybe the cold snap persuaded them to keep journeying north, or maybe they turned back south for a few days. I’m hopeful a few hummingbirds, as they usually do, will take up residence in the yard for the rest of the summer.


I spent the morning of Friday, April 11, birding with Margaret Roy along the linear walking trail in Erwin. She wanted to get an introduction to a guided birding experience in advance of a planned fall birding tour that we plan to offer through Mountain Inn & Suites of Erwin, where Margaret is the general manager.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Solitary Sandpiper seeks food at the water's edge in a wetland at Erwin Fishery Park.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Solitary Sandpiper seeks food at the water’s edge in a wetland at Erwin Fishery Park.

We had a fantastic morning, highlighted by a lengthy observation of a Sora from the wetland boardwalk near the industrial park. The Sora is a member of the rail family, which includes such species as Clapper Rail, Virginia Rail, King Rail, Yellow Rail and Black Rail.

We also saw a Greater Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Coots, Pied-billed Grebes, Brown Thrasher, Song Sparrows, Mallards, Canada Geese, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, American Robins, Downy Woodpeckers and a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers excavating a nesting cavity in a sycamore tree.

Several of the birds – Greater Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper and Yellow Warbler represented my first spring sightings.

Our observation of the Sora, however, provided the most excitement of the morning. This is a bird that is only infrequently encountered, especially in this region. Rails, the Sora included, are shy, elusive and designed with the primary purpose of avoiding notice.

Worldwide, there are more than 130 species of rails. Many members of the family are called rails or crakes, but the family Rallidae also includes coots, moorhens, swamp-hens and gallinules.

Many species of rails have evolved into flightless species of birds. All the species encountered in North America, however, are capable of flight and long-distance migrations. Many of the world’s flightless rails have gone extinct in the past few centuries. Many are considered endangered, including Lord Howe Woodhen, the Takahē and the Guam Rail.

The Sora is a small bird that’s not much bigger than an American Robin. While many rails are plain-looking birds, the Sora is fairly distinctive in its appearance with a slaty gray body, a short, yellow bill, long legs and a short tail, often held upright showing white underneath. Soras also have a black face and throat.

As we watched the Sora foraging among cattails and other vegetation beneath the boardwalk spanning the wetland along the linear trail, the bird moved deliberately and alertly. As we watched, the Sora flipped over leaves and other debris with its bill, often snatching small prey organisms. This bird enjoys a varied diet that can include seeds, insects, crustaceans and snails.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Sora finds a meal in a wetland spanned by a boardwalk along the Erwin linear walking trail.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Sora finds a meal in a wetland spanned by a boardwalk along the Erwin linear walking trail.

At the end of our observation, the Sora turned and simply walked into the cattails, fading from view almost instantly. The sudden disappearance of a bird so capable of navigating effortlessly between reeds and cattails reminded me of the phrase, “as thin as a rail,” which seems particularly apt for the Sora.

This normally secretive bird makes its home in freshwater marshes throughout Canada and the central United States. The Sora is the most common and widely distributed rail in North America. The Sora also ranges into Central and South America. Like many rails, it is quite vocal with a distinctive descending whinny call can be easily heard from marsh vegetation, but actually seeing a Sora is often a fluke of being in the right place at the right time.

The sighting recently in Erwin is the best I’ve ever had of a Sora in Northeast Tennessee. Another memorable observation of a Sora took place years ago on Fripp Island, S.C., when my mother and I watched a bird wading at the edge of a waterway on one of the island’s many golf courses.

In addition, during a field trip many years ago with members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, I saw a Sora wading in a flooded ditch in a pasture at Austin Springs on Boone Lake.

Many of my encounters with this species have been represented only by hearing them call from wetlands in Bowmantown and Shady Valley.

The book, “The Birds of Northeast Tennessee” by Rick Knight, classifies the Sora as a transient bird in the region that is occasional to uncommon in spring and fall.

Photo by Bryan Stevens The Sora is an elusive member of the rail family that is more often heard than seen.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The Sora is an elusive member of the rail family that is more often heard than seen.


Two days after Margaret and I saw the Sora in Erwin, Elizabethton residents Cathy Myers and Tom McNeil found a Sora and a Common Yellowthroat at Henderson Marsh, which is located in on Crestview Road in Bowmantown in Washington County.

Of course, Soras are only one of many species migrating through the region. Vireos, warblers, shorebirds and flycatchers are among those arriving with every passing day.


Many birds are already nesting. A female Northern Cardinal is sitting on a nest in a yew tree at my home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton.

I also visited the Great Blue Heron nesting colony along Blevins Road on the Watauga River in Elizabethton. I found several more nests have been added since my last visit a couple of weeks ago.


I would love to hear from readers. You can also reach me on Facebook or send email to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. Please share a link to the column with others who might be interested in the topic of birds and birding in Northeast Tennessee.


Birds provide visible evidence of transition of seasons

We are midway through March, and the birds are on the move. We’ve been fortunate to enjoy some beautiful spring weather and all the accompanying flowers in the last couple of weeks. The next month or so will feature a lot of transition as our winter resident birds prepare to depart and some of our beloved summer residents return to spend the next few months with us.

For instance, the Buffleheads that congregate on Wilbur Lake in Carter County are already dispersing to local rivers and ponds. After spending some time on these other waterways, they will be flying farther north. Buffleheads are cavity-nesting birds, so they will look for wooded lakes and seek out a tree with a large cavity or cranny. There, the female will lay her eggs and renew the cycle of life before the adults and a new generation return to winter in the region in several months.

These little two-toned ducks with a dark and light plumage pattern have long been a favorite of mine. Patsy Schang sent me a photo of a pair of Buffleheads that visited a pond at her neighbor’s Roan Mountain home. As you can see from the accompanying photograph, the two Buffleheads look quite at home.

“I was so excited to see these ducks on our neighbor’s pond,” Patsy wrote in her email. “I think they are Buffleheads – my first!”


Photo courtesy of Patsy Schang
These Buffleheads visited a Roan Mountain pond earlier this month.

Patsy had no trouble identifying the ducks, and I congratulated her on her first sighting of Buffleheads, It’s always fun to see a new bird, especially so close to home.

According to the Ducks Unlimited website, Buffleheads breed from southern Alaska through the forested areas of western Canada, central Ontario and eastern Quebec.

The website notes that 90 percent of the population is believed to breed from Manitoba westward. So, these little ducks travel a long way to spend the winter on Wilbur Lake, Ripshin Lake and other locations in Northeast Tennessee.


Karla Smith sent me an email about a nesting colony of Great Blue Herons in Elizabethton.


Photo by Bryan Stevens
This colony of nesting Great Blue Herons is located behind the Elizabethton Municipal Airport.

“I didn’t know if you had heard about the herons that are nesting in the tops of two trees behind the airport in Elizabethton,” Karla wrote in her email. “I believe they are herons. I am not an avid bird watcher, but do enjoy them and sighted these a few weeks ago. There are six nests total in the two trees and it is quite a sight to see.”

I went the next day and found the nests and several herons exactly where Karla informed me they would be. This is only the second time I have observed nesting Great Blue Herons in Carter County.

I counted six nests and seven herons during my brief visit to the location. The two trees are on a steep hillside at the back of a field behind the Elizabethton Municipal Airport. From this location, the adult herons can spread out along the nearby Watauga River to find plenty of food once the young are born.

In addition to the herons near the airport, there are at least two active Great Blue Heron nests along Blevins Road on the other side of Elizabethton. This location also served as a nesting place last year for Yellow-crowned Night-Herons.

I posted about the heron nesting colony at the airport on my Facebook page and several friends shared interesting stories.


Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Great Blue Heron stands in a nest built in a tree over the Watauga River along Blevins Road in Elizabethton.

Sandra “Snad” Garrett said she plans to check out the colony, which is not far from the Stoney Creek home she shares with her husband.

“We used to enjoy watching a huge rookery on the Mississippi River in North Minneapolis when we lived there,” she wrote. “I had no idea there was a rookery so close to us here.”

Seeing the post reminded Elizabethton resident Rita F. Schuettler of a previous close encounter with a Great Blue Heron.

“I was fishing on the Watauga River when I saw my first Great Blue Heron,” she said. “It was close by and staring at me. Scared me to death, but I was thrilled to see it.”

In a follow-up moment, I congratulated Rita, telling her that it’s difficult to sneak up on a Great Blue Heron and that it sounded like they both got surprised.

“I was sitting there motionless fishing and he was standing there motionless fishing,” Rita wrote in another post. “I don’t know who was there first. It might have scared him also, because he flew away!”


I saw my first Barn Swallow of the spring on March 19 at Anderson Marsh on the old Johnson City Highway near the Okolona exit. There was also a Great Blue Heron in the creek at the same location.

The previous day, it was all about the raptors, as I found a Sharp-shinned Hawk on Simerly Creek Road, an American Kestrel in Unicoi and a Red-tailed Hawk and a Cooper’s Hawk both soaring in the same vicinity in Johnson City. Once I tossed in both Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures, it capped off what amounted to a pretty good raptor day.

On March 17, the only wild waterfowl lingering at the pond at Erwin Fishery Park turned out to be a pair of American Wigeon. On land, I also enjoyed watching a large mixed flock that consisted of Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds and European Starlings. They were feeding on shelled corn that some good-hearted person had probably left for the domestic ducks and geese that make their home at the pond.

All this activity is proof that the seasons are changing, and with them the makeup of the birds that share our yards and gardens.



Photo by Bryan Stevens
A male Eastern Towhee feeds on the ground beneath a feeder hanging in a tree.

Elizabethton resident Dee Obrien contacted me on Facebook with a question about a bird she saw recently at her home.

“I have an unusual bird in the yard,” she wrote in her message. “He’s about the size of a robin or mockingbird. Is black on top with white bars on his wings. Rust color on outer sides of his belly, but is off white in the middle of his belly. He is a ground feeder.”

I was glad Dee included the information on the bird’s behavior. Details like that are just as important as size and coloration. From her detailed description, including the information about its ground-feeding habits, I was able to figure out that she had seen an Eastern Towhee. Later, she notified me that she had consulted a field guide and agreed with my identification.


It’s great to hear from so many fellow bird enthusiasts. That’s been one of my goals with this blog. I hope to continue to receive communications from readers. Otherwise, it’s just me writing about the birds I have seen. I’d much rather have this blog become more engaging and interactive where people can share their enthusiasm for our fine feathered friends.

It’s easy to post comments on my new blog at ourfinefeatheredfriends.wordpress.com. You can also reach me on Facebook or send email to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. Please share the link to the blog with others who might be interested in the topic of birds and birding in Northeast Tennessee.


There’s a new poll this week. Here’s the answer to last week’s poll. Which of the red-necked birds in the list specified in the poll isn’t a real bird? Well, the answer is Red-necked Goose. I hope everyone got the correct answer.