Tag Archives: Spring Festivals

April brings flurry of spring migrants to region

Louisiana Waterthrush

Photo by Adobe Stock • Subtle plumage differences, as well as habitat, behavior and seasonal presence, are factors in distinguishing the Louisiana waterthrush, pictured, from the closely related Northern waterthrush. The Louisiana waterthrush nests along fast-moving streams in the area while the Northern waterthrush does not breed in the region.

I’m always happy for the arrival of April because I know the month hails the arrival of some of my favorite birds. The roughly 50 species of New World warblers that occur in the Eastern United States have captivated me from the time I first picked up a pair of binoculars. The warblers offer color, energy, complex songs and much more for the bird enthusiast to enjoy.

The month started out with my first sighting of a purple finch for the year. The finch must have been a harbinger of birds to come because in quick succession I observed many early migrants, including brown thrasher, blue-headed vireo, blue-gray gnatcatcher and chipping sparrow, as well as several warblers.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A study of the facial pattern of a female purple finch helps contrast her from similar female house finches. Again, the notched tail is also a good indication of the bird’s identity.

The first warbler to arrive in the woods around my home this year was a singing male black-throated green warbler. Three others — black-and-white warbler, yellow-throated warbler and Louisiana waterthrush — followed quickly after my sighting of the black-throated green warbler.

The Louisiana waterthrush stood out among these early observations. This warbler is a specialist of creeks and streams, and my sighting took place near a roaring creek swollen by a rainy spring. This water-loving warbler also has a loud, ringing song that can still be hard to hear because of the fact the bird is usually near the background noise of rushing water.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A black-and-white warbler creeps over the bark of a pine in search of insect prey.


While many warblers have shown signs of decline in recent years, the Louisiana waterthrush appears to have bucked that trend. According to the website, “All About Birds,” Louisiana waterthrush populations were stable between 1966 and 2015, based on statistics from the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight, a network of organizations engaged in all aspects of avian conservation, estimates a global breeding population of 360,000, with almost all of those individuals spending at least part of the year in the United States. About a quarter of the population retreats into Mexico during the winter season. The rest winter in Florida and some of the Gulf Coast states, as well as the islands of the Caribbean.

While most songbirds are fortunate to survive two or three years in the wild, at least one Louisiana waterthrush lived to the age of at least 11 years and 11 months. The bird, a male, was seen in New Jersey in the wild and identified by a band on one of his legs. He had been banded in the same state, according to the website, “All About Birds.”

The waterthrushes are the only two species in the genus Parkesia, so named to honor American ornithologist Kenneth C. Parkes, who was for many years curator of birds at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The common name of the Louisiana waterthrush is not a very apt one, as this bird does not have any special affinity for the state of Louisiana. Someone collected some of the early specimens of the Louisiana waterthrush in its namesake location, and the name has stuck through the years.

The only other warbler in the genus Parkesia is the Northern waterthrush which, unlike its relative, likes to live near quiet, sedate pools, ponds and bogs, not rushing streams.

Hummingbirds getting closer to region

Tommy and Virginia Curtis of Smithville, Tennessee, reported their first ruby-throated hummingbirds of the spring on the email group, “TN-Birds.” The hummingbird arrived on April 7.

“We had two male ruby-throated hummingbirds arrive late Sunday afternoon,” they wrote in their email. “That is a little later than the April 1 arrival times in the past.”

The two visitors had apparently agreed to co-exist.

“So far they are eating peacefully, and neither is attacking or dominating the one feeder,” the couple reported. “We keep wondering when the white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos plan to leave, as we have had many of them all winter.”

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Photo by Skeeze/Pixabay • A white-throated sparrow perches on a branch to sing its easily recognizable song. Many Americans translate the sparrow’s song as “Ol’ Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.”

The couple also shared that they have been hosting a small flock of purple finches. “They normally don’t show up at our feeders unless there is snow on the ground, but we have enjoyed seeing them daily,” they wrote in their email.

Of course, the Curtises live in DeKalb County in Middle Tennessee. As of press time, I still haven’t received any reports of hummingbirds arriving in East Tennessee or Southwest Virginia. I’m confident these tiny winged gems will arrive soon. I hope to update on hummingbird arrivals in next week’s column.

Remember to share your hummingbird sighting by emailing me the date and time of the sighting to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. I’m also on Facebook should anyone want to contact me through that social media platform.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male ruby-throated hummingbird perches near a feeder that he is ready to defend from all comers.


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 virginiastateparks.gov under the Events tab for Hungry Mother State Park. For more information, call (276) 781-7400.