Tag Archives: Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park

October Saturday Bird Walks at Sycamore Shoals producing interesting sightings

Yellowthroated

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                    A female Common Yellowthroat entertained bird walk attendees as she foraged among Joe-Pye Weed in the butterfly garden at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.

It’s funny how you can go most of the year without seeing a certain bird. Then, the drought ends and you enjoy a spike in the numbers of sighting within a short amount of time.

A female Common Yellowthroat became a highlight of the first of this year’s October bird walks at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, which was well attended with nine participants. The bird was foraging in the flower heads of Joe-Pye Weed in the butterfly garden at the park.

The Elizabethton Bird Club has offered these hikes for more than a decade at the park. Prior to conducting the walks at Sycamore Shoals, the club also led October hikes at Winged Deer Park in Johnson City and along the linear walking trail in Erwin.

BWteal-Flock

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                 A portion of the flock of 104 Blue-winged Teal found on the first of this year’s October Saturday Bird Walks.

Tess Cumbie, a former resident of Buladean, N.C., came up with the idea for the walks back in the late 1990s.

The first of this year’s walks at Sycamore Shoals took place on Saturday, Oct. 4. A raft of 104 Blue-winged Teal on the Watauga River ranked as another highlight of that morning’s bird walk. Pied-billed Grebes, Mallards, Wood Ducks and Canada Geese were also present on the river.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                     A Maple Spanworm Moth warms itself during the chilly morning bird walk.

Other birds found included  Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Chimney Swift, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Swainson’s Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird,  European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Magnolia Warbler,  Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Meadowlark, House Finch and American Goldfinch.

When not looking at birds, participants enjoyed diversions such as the Maple Spanworm Moth blending with the fallen leaves on the gravel walking trails. I had never seen this particular moth, which spent some time warming itself on one of my fingers.

Although well attended by participants from as far as Abingdon, Va., the weather that greeted us was quite frigid. The cold appeared to bother us more than it affected the birds.

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A male Wood Duck landed, briefly, on the fish pond on the morning of Oct. 5. If I hadn’t been outdoors at the time, he might have stayed longer. When I moved, he flew. It’s the first visit here at home from a Wood Duck in several years. Coincidentally, the last visit also took place in early October.

Flower-bed

Photo by Bryan Stevens              This densely-planted flower bed on the ETSU campus provided cover for a migrating Common Yellowthroat.

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I am beginning to find that the campus at East Tennessee State University can produce some fun bird sightings. After witnessing a Cooper’s Hawk nearly catch a squirrel from the top branches of a tall tree near Gilbreath Hall, I have been paying closer attention to those feathered friends that visit the campus.

During a Sunday evening stroll on Oct. 6, I found a Common Yellowthroat in a well-planted flower bed. So, I have added my first warbler to my ETSU list. I also saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker flying over the Culp Center during the same walk.

It also got me to thinking about how many Common Yellowthroats I have been seeing this fall.

When I posted about the sighting on Facebook, Cathy Myers commented and informed me that she had recently observed a Rose-breasted Grosbeak on the campus.

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Catbird

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                          Gray Catbirds, such as this one, have been found on the first of the Saturday Bird Walks this October at Sycamore Shoals.

At the second of the four Saturday Bird Walks scheduled this October, rain threatened to impede the stroll. Fortunately, the showers held off until after the walk on Oct. 11 concluded at about 9:30 a.m.

The second of the October Saturday Bird Walks produced several highlights, including a duel between an Osprey and an adult Bald Eagle over the Watauga River, as well as four species of warblers — Tennessee, Bay-breasted, Palm and Yellow-rumped — and other birds, including Chimney Swift, Mockingbird, Starling, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, Carolina Wren, Mourning Dove, Eastern Bluebird, Mallard, Carolina Chickadee, Canada Goose, Goldfinch, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Crow, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow and Downy Woodpecker.

Although we had fewer participants on this walk, we enjoyed better observations of the birds. One exciting moment involved the flock of irate Blue Jays gathered to scold a Red-tailed Hawk that had flown too close for comfort.

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Two more Saturday Bird Walks remain during October. They will be held on Oct. 18 and Oct. 25. The public is welcome to these free strolls along the walking trails at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park. Bring binoculars to increase your viewing enjoyment.

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Common_Yellowthroat (1)

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service                                                  A male Common Yellowthroat surveys his surroundings from a prominent perch.

The Common Yellowthroat is a warbler that is quite fond of weedy, damp habitats. Marshes and other wetlands are preferred habitat during the nesting season, although a few of these birds are also present in more dry habitats.

In migration, any weedy corner might attract one of these warblers. In fact, the one I found on the ETSU campus remained elusive in a raised concrete bed containing a thick planting of flowers and shrubs.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A male Common Yellowthroat visits an overgrown thicket during fall migration. Photo by Bryan Stevens A male Common Yellowthroat visits an overgrown thicket during fall migration.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A male Common Yellowthroat visits an overgrown thicket during fall migration.

The Common Yellowthroat belongs to the genus of warblers known as Geothlypis, which also includes the related Bahama Yellowthroat, Hooded Yellowthroat, Masked Yellowthroat, Black-polled Yellowthroat and Gray-crowned Yellowthroat. These other species are found in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean.

Recent classification of the Geothlypis warblers has led to the inclusion of three other warblers — MacGillivray’s, Mourning and Kentucky — being shuffled into this genus.

Although fond of skulking in deep vegetation, most Common Yellowthroats are curious birds and will allow brief glimpses. The males also betray their presence with a loud, easily recognized song that sounds very much like “Witchety, Witchety, Witchety, Witch.”

Yellowthroat-PyeWeeDForage

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                    The female Common Yellowthroat lacks the male’s black face mask.

Male and female yellowthroats show a bright, yellow throat. Males also sport a black mask bordered with a silvery-white line, and the male’s throat is usually a brighter yellow. Although males will sing in the open during the nesting season, these birds usually prefer to remain hidden from view as they go about their daily routines.

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To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, 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.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                            A flock of Canada Geese forage in a field near the Bell Cemetery in the Limestone Cove community of Unicoi County on a recent October afternoon.

Annual Fall Bird Count tallies 128 species for Northeast Tennessee

Photo by Bryan Stevens A male Common Yellowthroat was one of 24 species of warblers found on this year's Fall Bird Count.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A male Common Yellowthroat was one of 24 species of warblers found on this year’s Fall Bird Count.

 
The 45th consecutive Fall Bird Count was held on Saturday, Sept. 27 with 32 observers in eight parties covering Carter County and parts of adjacent counties, including Unicoi, Washington, Sullivan and Johnson.
The 45th consecutive Fall Bird Count was held on Saturday, Sept. 27 with 32 observers in eight parties covering Carter County and parts of adjacent counties, including Unicoi, Washington, Sullivan and Johnson.
The annual count is conducted by members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, also known as the Elizabethton Bird Club.
 Rick Knight, long-time compiler for the count, reported a total of 128 species was found, slightly above the average of 125 species over the last 30 years. He noted that the all-time high on this count was 137 species in 1993.
The total included 23 species of warblers, compared to an average of 22 warbler species for the last 20 years. The number of warbler species on this count has ranged from a low of 16 species to a high of 27 over the years.
Several finds reported from Unicoi County were considered quite exceptional, including Northern Saw-whet Owls on Unaka Mountain and a Double-crested Cormorant on one of the ponds along the linear walking trail near McDonalds in Erwin. 

Rednecked_Phalarope

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service                                                    A Red-necked Phalarope was a big surprise for this year’s fall count.

New for a fall count were Common Merganser, Red-necked Phalarope and Eastern Whip-poor-will, with one individual of each of these species being found.  The Red-necked Phalarope represented only the seventh record for  the five-county area of northeast Tennessee.   This bird, found at Paddlecreek Pond in Sullivan County, was found thanks to a timely report from participants on a Bristol Bird Club field trips.
 New high counts were tallied for Osprey (22) and Eastern Phoebe (76). Other notable sightings included: Bald Eagle, American Woodcock, Caspian Tern, Northern Saw-whet Owl – 2   (which has been found eight of the last 10 years), Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Philadelphia Vireo, Common Raven, Marsh Wren, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Summer Tanager and Bobolink.
I counted in Elizabethton and on Holston Mountain with Gary Wallace and Brookie and Jean Potter. During the morning hours, while birding with Jean Potter along the Watauga River, we ran into some other birders – Nick Lorch, Bambi Fincher and Sherry Quillen – and invited them to spend some time birding with us.
Later, Jean and I met Gary and Brookie for lunch at the Watauga Lake Overlook. Afterwards, we spent most of the afternoon on Holston Mountain. Finding birds during some of the hottest hours of the day on Holston Mountain proved a challenge. When birds got too scarce, we enjoyed looking at fall wildflowers, such as Bottled Gentian.
Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service The European Starling ranked as the most common species on the count.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The European Starling ranked as the most common species on the count.

Some birds were found in large numbers, including European Starling, the most common bird on the count with 2,109 individuals tallied. Other common birds included Canada Goose (868), Chimney Swift (654), American Robin (554), American Crow (530),  Tree Swallow (428), Blue Jay (353) and American Goldfinch (293).
The count found a total of 128 species. The tally follows:
Canada Goose, 868; Wood Duck, 36; Mallard, 290; Blue-winged Teal, 12; and Common Merganser, 1.
Wild Turkey, 97; Pied-billed Grebe, 4; Double-crested Cormorant, 15; Great Blue Heron, 41; Great Egret, 1; Green Heron, 4; Black Vulture, 40; and Turkey Vulture, 148.
Osprey, 22; Bald Eagle, 4; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 4; Cooper’s Hawk, 9; Red-tailed Hawk, 21; American Kestrel, 6; Merlin, 2; and Peregrine Falcon, 1.
Killdeer, 63; Spotted Sandpiper, 1; Solitary Sandpiper, 1; Red-necked Phalarope, 1; American Woodcock, 1; and Caspian Tern, 6.
Rock Pigeon, 233; Eurasian Collared-Dove, 1; Mourning Dove, 255; Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 1; Eastern Screech-Owl, 26; Great Horned Owl, 10; Barred Owl, 6; and Northern Saw-whet Owl, 2.
Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Nothern Saw-whet Owl appeared on this year's count, as the species has done for eight of the past 10 years.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Nothern Saw-whet Owl appeared on this year’s count, as the species has done for eight of the past 10 years.

Common Nighthawk, 3; Eastern Whip-poor-will, 1; Chimney Swift, 654; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 21; and Belted Kingfisher, 32.
Red-headed Woodpecker, 2; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 65; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 9; Downy Woodpecker, 43; Hairy Woodpecker, 9; Northern Flicker, 56; and Pileated Woodpecker, 27.
Eastern Wood-Pewee, 17; Acadian Flycatcher, 1; Eastern Phoebe, 76; Great Crested Flycatcher, 2; and unidentified Empidonax species, 2.
White-eyed Vireo, 5; Yellow-throated Vireo, 5; Blue-headed Vireo, 25; Philadelphia Vireo, 4; Red-eyed Vireo, 6; Blue Jay, 353; American Crow, 530; and Common Raven, 28.
Tree Swallow, 428; Carolina Chickadee, 162; Tufted Titmouse, 89; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 2; and White-breasted Nuthatch, 46.
Carolina Wren, 191; House Wren, 10; Winter Wren, 2; Marsh Wren, 3; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 1; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 7; and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 2.
Eastern Bluebird, 122; Veery, 2; Gray-cheeked Thrush, 6; Swainson’s Thrush, 29; Hermit Thrush, 2; Wood Thrush, 11; and American Robin, 554.
Gray Catbird, 59; Northern Mockingbird, 67; Brown Thrasher, 18; European Starling, 2,109; and Cedar Waxwing, 157.

 

Yellow-throatedWarbler

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                    The Yellow-throated Warbler was one of 24 warbler species that made this year’s fall count.

Ovenbird, 5; Worm-eating Warbler, 1; Northern Waterthrush, 1; Black-and-white Warbler, 8; Tennessee Warbler, 47; Orange-crowned Warbler, 1; Common Yellowthroat, 25; Hooded Warbler, 9; American Redstart, 21; Cape May Warbler, 10; Northern Parula, 4; Magnolia Warbler, 29; Bay-breasted Warbler, 4; Blackburnian Warbler, 2; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 3; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 10; Palm Warbler, 56; Pine Warbler, 6; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 1; Yellow-throated Warbler, 2; Prairie Warbler, 2; Black-throated Green Warbler, 10; and Canada Warbler, 1.

Eastern Towhee, 66; Chipping Sparrow, 19; Field Sparrow, 32; Savannah Sparrow, 5; Song Sparrow, 197; Lincoln’s Sparrow, 3; Swamp Sparrow, 2; and Dark-eyed Junco, 57.

Summer Tanager, 1; Scarlet Tanager, 6; Northern Cardinal, 165; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 67; and Indigo Bunting, 14.
Bobolink, 1; Red-winged Blackbird, 9; Eastern Meadowlark, 22; Common Grackle, 4; Brown-headed Cowbird, 2; House Finch, 68; American Goldfinch, 293; and House Sparrow, 54.
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I have been making a habit of strolling the linear trail in Erwin, especially the section of the trail located near McDonald’s. It’s always a good place to find birds such as Great Blue Herons and Belted Kingfishers. During migration, it has also been a good place to find birds such as Northern Waterthrush and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
During the month of October, readers are also invited to meet me every Saturday at 8 a.m. in the parking lot at the visitors center at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton for a bird walk along the park’s trails. The adjacent Watauga River also provides an opportunity to look for waterfowl and other birds affiliated with water.

BWteal-Flock

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                  Some of the 104 Blue-winged Teal found Oct. 4 during the first of this year’s October Bird Walks at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.

The first of the walks, held on Oct. 4, was attended by nine participants. A total of 33 species was tallied during the two-hour walk along the park’s trails.
Some highlights included a raft of 104 Blue-winged Teal on the Watauga River. Other waterfowl included Pied-billed Grebes, Wood Ducks and Mallards.
Two warblers — Common Yellowthroat and Magnolia Warbler — were also observed, as well as Swainson’s Thrush, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting.
Three more walks are scheduled for Oct. 11, Oct. 18 and Oct. 25.
IMG_2448

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                                                                         Attend one of this year’s Saturday Bird Walks at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton to look for migrating birds, as well as year-round residents like this female Northern Cardinal.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks provide splash of springtime excitement

 

Other than Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the one bird whose return in the spring is guaranteed to generate excitement is the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Every spring, I get phone calls and emails from people wanting to share the thrill of seeing these vibrant birds in their back yards.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Rose-breasted Grosbeak finds a meal of sunflower seeds at a feeder.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Rose-breasted Grosbeak finds a meal of sunflower seeds at a feeder.

The spring arrival of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks is a temporary visit. Finding the arrangements, which can consist of well-stocked feeders and perhaps a convenient water source, the migrating birds may linger for several days. These birds nest at higher elevations, however, and are usually impatient to continue the journey to where they will spend the summer months tending to their young.

This year, my first Rose-breasted Grosbeak arrived at my home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton around 3:30 p.m. on Friday, April 25. I saw a glimpse of black and white with a hint of red that lifted my spirits instantly. I had been hoping for about a week that migrating grosbeaks would visit as they often do in the spring. The lone male settled onto a small hanging feeder and began enjoying an offering of black-oil sunflower seeds. He made repeated trips throughout the afternoon and evening, allowing me to take several photos through a window.

Some of my posted photos drew enthusiastic comments from my Facebook friends. Dani Sue Thompson shared that the beautiful Rose-breasted Grosbeak is one of her favorite birds. Her mother, the late Donna Adams, was a huge fan of the related Blue Grosbeak, which is a less common visitor to Northeast Tennessee than the related Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Donna and I share many a grosbeak story over the years.

Byron Tucker, a friend from Atlanta, notified me on Facebook the day before the Rose-breasted Grosbeak arrived at my home that he was hosting them in Georgia. From a single bird to a flock of three males and three females, these visitors were a first for Byron. He was excited to host these colorful birds for several days at his feeders.

Photo Courtesy of Byron Tucker A Rose-breasted Grosbeak joins a Red-bellied Woodpecker at a feeder in Atlanta.

Photo Courtesy of Byron Tucker
A Rose-breasted Grosbeak joins a Red-bellied Woodpecker at a feeder in Atlanta.

Single birds are occasionally the first to arrive, but Rose-breasted Grosbeaks do form flocks when migrating. Even if a scout shows up alone at your feeders, he will often soon be joined by other grosbeaks. My recent visit by a single male led to two and then three males visiting the feeders. Eventually a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak also made an appearance.

Plenty of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks pass through Northeast Tennessee, and a few even decide to make mountains like Unaka, Holston and Roan their home for the summer. However, these birds spread out widely across the eastern half of the North American continent, ranging from northeastern British Columbia to Quebec and Nova Scotia in Canada. They also range south from New Jersey to Georgia. The Rose-breasted Grosbeak also reaches Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas.

For the most part, however, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak is replaced in the western United States by the closely related Black-headed Grosbeak.

As fall approaches, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak migrates south to a winter range that spans central Mexico, Central America and northern South America. As they depart, many of these migrating birds will make autumn visits to again partake of offerings of sunflower seeds at backyard feeders. So, if you don’t get to see these showy birds in the spring, you get another chance in September and October.

The male Rose-breasted Grosbeak gives this species it name. Males are the epitome of the birds that make their home for part of the year in the American tropics. The contrasting black and white plumage is emphasized by a triangular slash of rosy-red color on the breast. Put all those elements together and the male Rose-breasted Grosbeak is not a bird that would be mistaken for any other.

The female grosbeak, however, doesn’t quite stand out in the same way. She is much less colorful than the male. With her brown and white plumage, she is often mistaken for a large sparrow or finch.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak visits a feeder in September of 2013. Young males resemble females but show a splash of orange on the breast that will be replaced the following spring by the familiar rosy-red patch.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak visits a feeder in September of 2013. Young males resemble females but show a splash of orange on the breast that will be replaced the following spring by the familiar rosy-red patch.

Both sexes have a massive bill, which they use to hull sunflower seeds at feeders or glean insects from leaves and branches. It’s the heavy, blunt bill for which the term “grosbeak” is derived. “Gros” is a German term for large or big, so grosbeak simply means a large-beaked bird. People who band birds to further the study of them will tell you that Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have a wicked bite and are capable of delivering quite a nip. In Northeast Tennessee, bird banders frequently encounter Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in their mist nets — and bear the scars to prove it.

With some birds, males play only a minor role in the nesting process. That’s not the case with the Rose-breasted Grosbeak male. The males help with nest-building chores and share responsibility with the female for incubating the eggs.

The female lays three to five eggs in a cup-shaped nest. It’s not easy to locate the nests since the birds usually place them in trees at least 20 feet above the ground. Within two weeks, the eggs have hatched and the parents are kept extremely busy finding enough food to satisfy the voracious nestlings. Well fed by both parents, the young grow quickly and usually are ready to leave the nest within 12 days. Often, when a first brood of young departs the nest, the male will care for the rowdy group of fledglings as the female starts a second nest to capitalize on the long days of summer.

Away from our feeders, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks feed on insects, seeds, fruit and even some leaf buds and flowers. I’ve seen these birds satisfying a sweet tooth — or should that be sweet beak? — by feeding on jewelweed flowers and apple blossoms. If sugar’s good for hummingbirds, I am sure it is a valuable energy source for Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, too.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a cherished spring visitor that never fails to disappoint by bringing a hint of the tropics to the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. I’m hoping many readers are also enjoying their own opportunities for hosting this delightful songbird.

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The bird walk at Tipton-Haynes Historic Site on Saturday, April 26, yielded a good range of birds, including American Robin, House Wren, Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Carolina Chickadee, American Goldfinch, Tufted Titmouse, Crow, Canada Goose, Chimney Swift, Brown Thrasher, Barn Swallow, Eastern Towhee, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Mallard, Red-winged Blackbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Northern Flicker, Grackle, Gray Catbird, Blue Jay, Mourning Dove and Eastern Bluebird.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A pair of Brown Thrashers provided quite a show for attendees at a recent bird walk at Tipton-Haynes Historic Site.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A pair of Brown Thrashers provided quite a show for attendees at a recent bird walk at Tipton-Haynes Historic Site.

Attending the walk were Heather Jones, Charles Moore, David Thometz and myself. We enjoyed perfect spring weather and also admired the many wildflowers in the gardens and woodlands at the Johnson City historic site.

Members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society will also hold a bird walk at 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 10, at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton. This walk is held in honor of International Migratory Bird Day and should provide participants with an excellent opportunity for seeing some fine birds.

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I enjoy hearing from readers. Share a sighting, ask a question or make a comment by emailing me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or posting to my Facebook page.

Photo by Bryan Stevens The Rose-breasted Grosbeak never fails to impress.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak never fails to impress.