Tag Archives: Pine Siskin

Even during winter season, activity on the Roan doesn’t slow much


Photo by Bryan Stevens • The setting sun casts a pink glow to the winter sky near the village of Roan Mountain. The 11th annual Roan Mountain Winter Naturalists Rally is set for Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Roan Mountain State Park Conference Center.

Activities last month and planned events for February are just some of the evidence that, no matter the season, things are always happening on Roan Mountain.

For instance, the 65th Roan Mountain Christmas Bird Count was held Sunday, Dec. 17, with nine observers in two parties. Up to four inches of snow blanketed most of the area, but the roads were clear. These weather conditions highlight the fact that over the years a couple of Roan Mountain CBCs had to be cancelled due to weather conditions.

Participants included Fred Alsop, Jim Anderson, Rick Blanton, Kevin Brooks, compiler Rick Knight, Roy Knispel, Guy McGrane, Amber Stanley, and Charles Warden. A total of 44 species were tallied, near the 30 year average of 46. The all-time high of 55 species was established back in 1987.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A total of 50 Dark-eyed Juncos made the tally during the Roan Mountain Christmas Bird Count held Dec. 17, 2017.

A list of the species follows:

Canada Goose, 24; Pied-billed Grebe, 1; Great Blue Heron, 3; Cooper’s Hawk, 1; Red-shouldered Hawk, 1; and Red-tailed Hawk, 6.

Rock Pigeon, 19; Mourning Dove, 58; Eastern Screech-Owl, 2; Barred Owl, 1; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 3; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 2; Downy Woodpecker, 10; Hairy Woodpecker, 2; Northern Flicker, 1; and Pileated Woodpecker, 7.

American Kestrel, 1; Eastern Phoebe, 6; Blue Jay, 23; American Crow, 82; and Common Raven, 11.

Carolina Chickadee, 25; Tufted Titmouse, 20; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 5; White-breasted Nuthatch, 15; Brown Creeper, 2; Winter Wren, 2; Carolina Wren, 15; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 13; Eastern Bluebird, 30; American Robin, 12; Northern Mockingbird, 6; European Starling, 65; and Cedar Waxwing, 2.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A total of 15 Northern Cardinals were found the day of the Roan Mountain Christmas Bird Count last month.

Eastern Towhee, 9; Field Sparrow, 11; Song Sparrow, 80; Swamp Sparrow, 2; White-throated Sparrow, 11; Dark-eyed Junco, 50; Northern Cardinal, 15; House Finch, 3; American Goldfinch, 46; and House Sparrow, 41.

Some interesting incidents on this count included finding an Eastern Phoebe at an elevation of 4,450 feet surrounded by snow. The most abundant birds included Common Crow with 83 individuals found and European Starling with 65 individuals counted.


The focus will be on botany for the upcoming Roan Mountain Winter Naturalists Rally, scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 11.


Lisa Huff

According to Richard Broadwell, director for the winter rally, the event has drawn hardy nature enthusiasts from far and wide to Roan Mountain for the past 11 winter seasons. Top naturalists volunteer their time and energy to make the event both enjoyable and educational for people of all ages. Parents are encouraged to bring the kids.

Broadwell noted that the 2018 Winter Rally continues this celebration of the natural world by providing top speakers on topics concerning the environs of the Roan Highlands. Speakers for morning programs will be Ben Jarrett, Southern Regional Science Coordinator, for The American Chestnut Foundation; Lisa Huff, Stewardship Ecologist with the Tennessee State Natural Areas Program; and Dwayne Estes, professor of biology at Austin Peay State University.

Jarrett will speak about the historical significance of the American chestnut in a program tilted “Restoration of American Chestnut: A Marriage of Breeding and Biotechnology.” He will take a look at the American chestnut and its economic, ecological and social importance). He will also educate about the chestnut blight and subsequent downfall of the species, as well as the ongoing restoration efforts through backcross breeding and genetic engineering.


Ben Jarrett

Huff will present a history of the shortleaf pine and bluestem vegetation community in Tennessee in a program titled “The Mystery of the Missing Shortleaf Pine.” She started working for the Tennessee State Natural Areas Program in 2000. She is tasked with the daily operations and management of over 42,000 acres in 21 natural areas in East Tennessee.

Estes will speak about southeastern United States grasslands, such as savannas, prairies, glades, barrens, bald, bogs, fens, and meadows, all of which are imminently threatened. He will also educate about the work of the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative in Clarksville, which aims to focus grassland conservation efforts across a 21-state region. SGI will use a multi-faceted approach combining restoration, preservation, recreation, research, rescue, seed banking, education and market-driven strategies. SGI is currently working with and seeking support from private philanthropic foundations, corporations, non-profit conservation organizations and government agencies. His program is titled “The Southeastern Grasslands Initiative: Charting a New Course for Conservation in the 21st Century.”


Dwayne Estes

All programs will be held at the Roan Mountain State Park Conference Center. Jarrett will speak at 9:30 a.m. followed by Huff at 10:30 a.m. The program by Estes at 11:40 a.m. will conclude the slate of presentations. Lunch, which requires a pre-paid reservation, will be served at 12:30 p.m. Sarah Sanford, candidate for Master’s of Environmental Management at Duke University, will present a lunchtime program on “Grassy Balds Management in the Roan Highlands.”

Four different hikes are planned for the afternoon, starting at 1:30 p.m. Hike options include:

• Lisa Huff will lead a hike in the Hampton Creek Cove Natural Area. Binoculars are recommended. The moderately strenuous hike should not take more than three hours.

• Jamey Donaldson, ETSU John C. Warden Herbarium Adjunct Curator, will lead a hike to the alder balds on the ridgeline of Roan Mountain. Dress warmly for this strenuous hike.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A Pine Siskin in a spruce at Carver’s Gap on Roan Mountain.

• Marty Silver, Ranger with Warriors Path State Park, will lead a wildlife tracking and animal signs hike down near the Doe River in Roan Mountain State Park. This is a moderately strenuous and kid-friendly activity.

• Dr. Frosty Levy, Professor Emeritus of Biology at East Tennessee State University, will lead an easy winter tree identification hike in Roan Mountain State Park.

For more information and a downloadable brochure, visit http://friendsofroanmtn.org/2018%20Winter%20Rally%20Brochure.pdf or email Broadwell at rbroadwell@gmail.com. The event is free to members of Friends of Roan Mountain and children. Adults who are not members of FORM can register for all activities for $10.

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.





Wintering hummingbirds are not exclusive to United States


Photo Courtesy of Faye Guinn                  The Rufous Hummingbird is shown visiting a feeder at the Guinn home.

The hummingbird that had been at the home of Howard and Faye Guinn since October departed on Dec. 23. Faye informed me of the bird’s departure in an email.

“I got to have a winter hummingbird for two days of winter,” she wrote. “He surely decided to spend the holidays in Mexico. I hope he finds flowers in bloom there. Hummingbirds and flowers just go together.”


I had written about wintering hummingbirds in previous blog posts, including the one visiting the Guinn home near Jonesborough, Tennessee. After reading one of my recent blog posts on wintering hummingbirds, I received an email from Oscar, a resident of Vancouver, Canada, and a self-proclaimed “bird-lover.”

He also informed me that wintering hummingbirds are not a phenomenon exclusive to the United States. Some of these tiny birds also spend time north of the border during the winter months.

“We are delighted  to have these beautiful little birds visiting our feeder at our window every day,” Oscar wrote. “Every 10 minutes he drinks and goes back to the same tree branch.”

While Vancouver is a rather temperate city, Oscar said the temperature can get cool on some days.

“He doesn’t  go away for long periods,” Oscar reported. “It seems to look like he is afraid to lose his food to another bird, when his partner tries to feed he chases him away like he is very upset and not sharing his food, no matter what. Is this  behavior common among these birds?”

In my reply, I did note that hummingbirds are usually quite territorial. Any readers who hosts more than one hummingbird at a time is probably familiar with the chasing antics Oscar described in his email.


Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service                        An Anna’s Hummingbird perches on a branch.

“Watching this is so entertaining , like a gift from God,” Oscar shared. “We can’t have enough of it.”

I did some research, which informed me that Oscar’s visiting hummingbirds are likely Anna’s hummingbirds.

A species native to western North America, the Anna’s

hummingbird is a year-round resident of the Pacific Coast. It ranges from northern Baja to points as far north as Vancouver and southern British Columbia.

Annas_Hummingbird (1)

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service              A male Anna’s Hummingbird spreads it wings while settling onto a perch.

René Primevère Lesson, a French ornithologist and author of a manual for ornithology, gave the Anna’s Hummingbird its name.

This bird was named after Anna Masséna, Duchess of Rivoli. She served as an attendant for  Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III and the last Empress consort of the French.

Another hummingbird — the Magnificent Hummingbird — was also named by Lesson to honor François Victor Masséna, the Duke of Rivoli and husband of the Duchess Anna. Until the 1980s this large hummingbird was known as Rivoli’s Hummingbird.

In the early 20th century, Anna’s hummingbird bred only in northern Baja California and southern California. Modern landscaping techniques, including the planting of exotic shrubs and flowers, has helped this hummingbird expand its range north, especially in urban and suburban areas.


Early naturalist John James Audubon created this painting of Anna’s Hummingbirds.

I’ve seen several of the western species of hummingbirds, but I haven’t had the opportunity to observe an Anna’s Hummingbird. I suppose that species remains near the top of my “bird bucket list.”


Until the recent cold snap, it has been a relatively mild winter. Even the Arctic blast produced mostly cold and very little in the way of snow.

The frigid conditions did, not surprisingly, result in increased traffic at my feeders.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                     A Tufted Titmouse and Downy Woodpecker visit a suet feeder.

I haven’t hosted any birds as exotic as an Anna’s Hummingbird this winter, but the flocks of Pine Siskins and Purple Finches continue to grow. The arrival of January has seen as many as 25 Pine Siskins and about a dozen Purple Finches at my feeders.

I always offer suet cakes as well as seeds, an offering that seems much appreciated by birds as diverse as Carolina Chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers to Carolina Wrens and Blue Jays. I usually buy commercially prepared suet/peanut butter cakes, which disappear quickly once the birds find them. The occasional squirrel also helps with making short work of them.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                              A mixed flock of American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins scour the ground beneath a feeder.

Greater White-fronted Goose a surprise visitor at Elizabethton pond

Following up on a report of a Greater White-fronted Goose in Elizabethton, I visited the Great Lakes pond on the campus of Northeast State Community College. I found the goose on Saturday, Dec. 13, among a flock of about 250 Canada Geese.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Greater White-fronted Goose grazes in the company of Canada Geese at an Elizabethton pond.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Greater White-fronted Goose grazes in the company of Canada Geese at an Elizabethton pond.

The Greater White-fronted Goose is considerably smaller than a Canada Goose. The bird is named for the distinctive white band found at the base of bill. This white band also helps distinguish this goose from similar domestic geese. The sexes are similar in appearance, but females are usually smaller than males. The head, neck and upper back of white-fronted geese are grayish-brown. The lower back and rump are dark brown, and the tail is dark brown and edged with white. The chest and breast are grayish with dark brown to black blotches and bars on the breast, giving this goose the nickname “specklebelly.” The bill is pinkish and the legs and feet are orange.

Early American naturalist John James Audubon painted this pair of Greater White-fronted Geese.

Early American naturalist John James Audubon painted this pair of Greater White-fronted Geese.

The Greater White-fronted Goose breeds in both North America and Europe and Asia, and birds spend the winter throughout the United States and even Japan. Most nesting in North America takes place on the North Slope of Alaska and across the western and central Canadian Arctic. Wintering habitats include coastal marshes, wet fields and and freshwater wetlands.

The large pond on the NSCC campus has attracted other visits from Greater White-fronted Geese in recent years. The pond has also attracted Ross’ Goose, Snow Goose and a variety of waterfowl.

Photo by Bryan Stevens The Greater White-fronted Goose is much smaller than the typical Canada Goose.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The Greater White-fronted Goose is much smaller than the typical Canada Goose.


I received a fun email from Judy and Bill Beckman recently.

“Today we were blessed with a wonderful sighting of a flock of some 20-plus bluebirds, mostly males, with a few cedar waxwings in the mix, swooping through our yard and feeding on the winterberries and whatever else they could find.,” they wrote. “What a beautiful Christmas gift.”

Photo by Bryan Stevens Eastern Bluebirds are year-round residents in Northeast Tennessee.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
Eastern Bluebirds are year-round residents in Northeast Tennessee.

I always love hearing from the Beckmans, who reside on Spivey Mountain in Unicoi County. They’re always seeing interesting birds.

I haven’t seen many bluebirds or waxwings so far this winter, but I will be taking part in the annual Christmas Bird Count conducted by the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society. Perhaps I will see some of those birds during the count.


Matt Cahill posted on bristol-birds about some birding he recently enjoyed in Unicoi County. Bristol-birds is a list-serve that allows birders to share bird sightings with others on the network.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                    A Ring-necked Duck swims on a pond in Erwin.

While at Erwin Fishery Park on Dec. 7, he saw a Ring-necked Duck, four Killdeer and a single Red-breasted Nuthatch. In addition, he found a large flock of about 70 Pine Siskins in the park.

The pond at Erwin Fishery Park is a good place to look for visiting waterfowl. So far this winter, I’ve observed Bufflehead, American Wigeon, Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, American Black Duck and Gadwall at this pond.


I’ve also been seeing Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, House Finches and American Goldfinches at my feeders at home. I’ve also seen White-breasted Nuthatches, but I haven’t seen any Red-breasted Nuthatches so far this winter.

Photo by Jean Potter A Pine Siskin visits a feeder.

Photo by Jean Potter
A Pine Siskin visits a feeder.


Friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. 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 ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.