Tag Archives: Unicoi County

Unicoi County’s Summer Bird Count finds 110 species

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A trio of Northern Rough-winged Swallows perch on a branch. A total of 39 of these swallows were found on the seventh annual Unicoi County Summer Bird Count.

For the past seven summers, the members of the Elizabethton Bird Club have conducted a Summer Bird Count for Unicoi County.

The seventh annual survey of Unicoi County’s bird life was made more memorable due to the fact it was conducted during a global pandemic with counters practicing social distancing protocols. The Unicoi County Summer Count was held on Saturday, June 6, with 26 observers in 10 parties. The weather was favorable with a temperature range between 62 and 82, mostly to partly cloudy skies, and little wind.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Song Sparrow brings a beakful of caterpillars back to the nest to feed young.

 Counters tallied 110 species, which is near the six-year average of 109. Total species for this count has ranged from 104 to 112 species. Participants included Joe McGuiness, Vern Maddux, Kim Stroud, Dave Gardner, Don Holt, Dianne Draper, Debi and J.G. Campbell, Bryan Stevens, Brookie and Jean Potter, Eric Middlemas, Ken Rea, Roy Knispel, Jerry Bevins, Michele Sparks, Tammy Griffey, Jim Anderson, Pete Range, Harry Lee Farthing, Tom McNeil, Cathy McNeil, Fred Alsop, Catherine Cummins, Larry McDaniel and long-time count compiler Rick Knight. 

The bird found in most abundance was the European Starling with 536 individuals counted. Other common birds included Red-eyed Vireo (226) and Song Sparrow (245). A few birds went undetected, including Great Horned Owl.

This annual count covers territory such as Unaka Mountain, the Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park, Limestone Cove, the Erwin Linear Trail, and much more. Unicoi County offers many natural treasures, not the least of which being the varied and interesting birds that reside within its borders.

 The List:

 Canada Goose, 54; Wood Duck, 23; Mallard, 42; Ruffed Grouse, 3; Wild Turkey, 5; Great Blue Heron, 5; and Green Heron, 4.

Black Vulture, 6; Turkey Vulture, 45; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 2; Cooper’s Hawk, 1; Broad-winged Hawk, 6; and Red-tailed Hawk, 9.

Photo by Skeeze/Pixabay.com • The Cooper’s hawk, like this individual, is a larger relative of the sharp-shinned hawk. It’s larger size allows this raptor to prey on larger birds, such as mourning doves.

Killdeer, 14; Rock Pigeon, 111; Mourning Dove, 152; Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 6; Eastern Screech-Owl, 3; Barred Owl, 1; Chuck-will’s-widow, 5; and Eastern Whip-poor-will, 9.

Chimney Swift, 45; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 8; Belted Kingfisher, 2; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 33; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 14; Hairy Woodpecker, 2; Northern Flicker, 13; and Pileated Woodpecker, 26.

American Kestrel,1; Eastern Wood-Pewee, 13; Acadian Flycatcher, 56; Least Flycatcher, 6; Eastern Phoebe, 81; Great Crested Flycatcher, 2; and Eastern Kingbird, 11.

White-eyed Vireo, 2; Yellow-throated Vireo, 1; Blue-headed Vireo, 35; Warbling Vireo, 3; Red-eyed Vireo, 226; Blue Jay, 108; American Crow, 122; and Common Raven, 8.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 39; Purple Martin, 30; Tree Swallow, 65; Barn Swallow, 79; and Cliff Swallow, 106.

Carolina Chickadee, 102; Tufted Titmouse; 100; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 3; White-breasted Nuthatch, 17; Brown Creeper, 4; House Wren, 54; Winter Wren, 1; Carolina Wren, 146; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 15; and Golden-crowned Kinglet, 12.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The male Eastern Bluebird is beloved by many bird enthusiasts.

Eastern Bluebird, 94; Veery, 15; Hermit Thrush, 3; Wood Thrush, 57; American Robin, 397; Gray Catbird, 27; Brown Thrasher, 24; Northern Mockingbird, 48; European Starling, 536; and Cedar Waxwing, 48.

Ovenbird, 63; Worm-eating Warbler, 40; Louisiana Waterthrush, 14; Black-and-white Warbler, 34; Swainson’s Warbler, 3; Common Yellowthroat, 3; Hooded Warbler, 64; American Redstart, 8; Northern Parula, 39; Magnolia Warbler, 1; Blackburnian Warbler, 3; Yellow Warbler, 9; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 32; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 29; Pine Warbler, 5; Yellow-throated Warbler, 30; Prairie Warbler, 4; Black-throated Green Warbler, 52; Canada Warbler, 6; and Yellow-breasted Chat, 2.

Eastern Towhee, 80; Chipping Sparrow, 68; Field Sparrow,  21; Song Sparrow, 245; Dark-eyed Junco,  33; Scarlet Tanager, 33; Northern Cardinal, 163; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 6; Blue Grosbeak, 4; and Indigo Bunting, 131.

Red-winged Blackbird, 71; Eastern Meadowlark, 15; Common Grackle, 156; Brown-headed Cowbird, 23; Orchard Oriole, 6; Baltimore Oriole, 2; House Finch, 70; Red Crossbill, 1; American Goldfinch, 110; and House Sparrow,  33.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • An American goldfinch visits a feeder for a meal of thistle seeds.

Making the acquaintance of a special ruffed grouse with lots of personality

Although I’ve seen many birds over the years, it’s not often that I’m introduced on a first-name basis with one. So, I’m happy to report that I’ve now made the acquaintance of Rufous, a resident of the woodlands around Flag Pond, a small community in Unicoi County, Tennessee.


Rufuous-Two (1)

Photo by Bryan Stevens                               Rufous the ruffed grouse has been visiting the farm of Leon and Janice Rhodes for the past couple of years, apparently showing little fear of his human neighbors.

Rufous is a ruffed grouse that has been a fascinating and funny neighbor to Leon and Janice Rhodes for the past couple of years. I met Rufous on Saturday, June 25, at the Rhodes family farm. Brayden Paulk, a grandson of the couple, invited me to visit and attempt to meet Rufous.


This particular grouse is apparently a creature of habit, and Brayden suggested that a morning visit might be more conducive to my chances of getting to know Rufous.
I arrived around 9 a.m. and met Brayden and his grandfather. We went to a nearby barn, which apparently serves as a familiar meeting spot for Rufous and those people lucky enough to have gotten to know him over the past couple of years.
Rufous is only one member of a family of ruffed grouse in residence on the Rhodes property. In an email to me, Brayden told me that the mountain farm is a good place to see ruffed grouse. The 17-year-old doesn’t live in Tennessee, but he is a frequent visitor, spending time with his grandparents as often as possible. He and his family live in Oxford, Alabama. He also told me that his grandparents send him every one of my bird columns in the mail.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                Inside his grandfather’s barn, Brayden Paulk spends a moment with Rufous, a ruffed grouse with an abundance of charisma.

“I do happen to live in a great place for birds,” he informed me in an email. His home is located close to the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge, which Brayden said is known for breeding blue-headed vireos, red-headed woodpeckers, and Swainson’s warblers.
“It has a lot of longleaf [pine] habitat, so I hope soon that red-cockaded woodpeckers might be reintroduced there, and establish a colony,” he added. The red-cockaded woodpecker is classified as an endangered species across much of the southeastern United States.
Brayden is a volunteer working in the Talladega National Forest in the foothills of the Appalachians on a study focused on the effects of controlled burns on cavity-nesting birds, such as red-cockaded woodpeckers.
He is an enthusiastic and, as I learned after meeting him, quite an accomplished birder. Warblers are his favorite family of birds, followed by ducks and sparrows.
“I enjoy where I live because I get to enjoy species such as the black-throated green warbler, blue-headed vireo and even red crossbill in the summer,” he said.
We have also exchanged emails in a discussion about why some of these birds, which are usually found in the boreal forests much farther north, stay much farther south along the spine of the Southern Appalachians.
His future plans are to major in Conservation Biology. “I hope to get a masters in ornithology from Cornell,” Brayden shared.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                               Leon Rhodes uses his cap to challenge Rufous to a friendly duel.

Of course, during our recent meeting, his focus was on arranging a meeting with Rufous, a bird with “a lot of personality.” Both Brayden and his grandfather cautioned that Rufous doesn’t follow a schedule. In other words, the meeting would take place only if Rufous was so inclined.

Although he has a very tame nature, Rufous is most definitely a wild bird.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long. Brayden was the first to detect the soft clucks as Rufous made his way cautiously toward the old barn. He emerged from the surrounding woodlands and walked into the barn where I was seated and waiting with Brayden and his grandfather.
Rufous immediately noticed my presence, identifying me as a stranger in the midst of some more familiar friends. He kept a wary eye turned on me during his visit. After a few moments of watching Rufous strut around the barn like he owned it — and perhaps he does in his own mind — I removed my camera from my pocket. I made sure that my actions didn’t alarm Rufous. When he didn’t object, I proceeded to take photos and videos of this very personable ruffed grouse.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                              Rufous would have started out life much like this ruffed grouse chick, which was photographed on Holston Mountain in Carter County, Tennessee.

One of his favorite activities during these visits is to duel with a red baseball cap worn by Leon Rhodes. Whenever Brayden’s grandfather removed the cap and waved it in front of Rufous, the grouse became very focused. He channeled his attention almost exclusively on the cap until, with a startlingly swift attack. The entire sequence reminded me of a bull attacking a matador’s red cape.
For probably a half hour, Rufous put on quite a show, and I think Brayden and his grandfather were thrilled that the grouse proved so cooperative during my visit.


Early American naturalist and painter John James Audubon painted these ruffed grouse as a familym unit.

After my visit with Rufous, I took Brayden for a brief birding trip to Rock Creek Recreation Area near Erwin, Tennessee. I was hopeful we might get to see a black-throated blue warbler, which has been an elusive warbler for Brayden. We did get some good birds at Rock Creek, including hooded warbler, Northern parula, blue-headed vireo, red-eyed vireo, black-throated green warbler and blue-gray gnatcatcher.
We didn’t, however, find a black-throated blue warbler. We didn’t give up, though, and proceeded to the Cherokee National Forest on Unaka Mountain. We made one very productive stop, finding a singing veery, a scarlet tanager and a dark-eyed junco. We also found more warblers, including black-and-white warbler, worm-eating warbler and black-throated green warbler. I’m happy to report we also found a male black-throated blue warbler. So, the productive morning resulted in my meeting with a grouse with a lot of personality and Brayden getting a new species for his life list of birds.
I don’t have any theory to explain Rufous and his acceptance of his human neighbors. I do believe birds, like humans, are individuals. Some of them have quirks that set them apart from others. Although he acts tame, Rufous is still a wild bird. Most ruffed grouse are extremely wary birds that go out of their way to avoid humans. Meeting a grouse that took humans in stride was a fascinating experience.

Grouse 2

Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter                          This photo shows the ruff of feathers that gives this grouse its common name.

The ruffed grouse is named for the male’s neck ruff. These feathers around the neck can be erected in mating displays, creating an impressive “collar.”  The ruffed grouse has served since 1931 as the state bird of Pennsylvania.

Many years ago, a ruffed grouse boldly walked into my front yard and then ventured onto the front porch. Only my timely intervention rescued the visiting grouse from a cat that belonged to my parents.
The unusual behavior of Rufous has persisted for two years. That, in my book, makes him a very unique grouse. I’ll always remember the day that I made his acquaintance.


Photo by Bryan Stevens       Rufous proved to be a grouse with a unique personality.


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.

First-ever Unicoi County Summer Bird Count tallies 111 species

Members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society conducted the first-ever Unicoi County Summer Bird Count on Saturday, June 14.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A young Eastern Bluebird slowly gains independence after leaving the nest.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A young Eastern Bluebird slowly gains independence after leaving the nest.

Rick Knight, a long-time compiler for the chapter’s seasonal bird counts, organized and launched the count as a means to collect valuable information about the local distribution of birds in an often overlooked county in the region.

Nineteen observers in five parties logged 53 party hours, plus three nocturnal party hours, searching for birds from Flag Pond to Limestone Cove within Unicoi County.

 A total of 111 species were tallied during the count by the following observers: Jim Anderson, Rob Armistead, Harry Lee Farthing, Don Holt, Rick Knight, Roy Knispel, Richard Lewis, Vern Maddux, Joe McGuiness, Tom McNeil, Charles Moore, Cathy Myers, Kathy Noblet, Brookie and Jean Potter, Bryan Stevens, Kim Stroud, Gary Wallace and John Whinery.

 Species found during the count included:

Canada Goose, 76; Wood Duck, 17; Mallard, 31; Ruffed Grouse,1; Wild Turkey, 29; Great Blue Heron, 12; and Green Heron, 6.

Black Vulture, 3; Turkey Vulture, 28; Bald Eagle, 3 ; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1; Cooper’s Hawk, 1; Red-shouldered Hawk, 1; Broad-winged Hawk, 3; Red-tailed Hawk, 5; American Kestrel, 2; and Peregrine Falcon, 3.

Killdeer,17; Rock Pigeon,  75; Mourning Dove, 77; Yellow-billed Cuckoo,  3; Eastern Screech-Owl,  2; Great Horned Owl, 1; Chuck-will’s-widow, 6; Eastern Whip-poor-will,  3; Chimney Swift,  44; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 17; and Belted Kingfisher,  4.

Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter The Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers found during the count indicate that this species is nesting at high-elevation locations in Unicoi County.

Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter
The Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers found during the count indicate that this species is nesting at high-elevation locations in Unicoi County.

Red-bellied Woodpecker,  20; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  3; Downy Woodpecker  15; Hairy Woodpecker  5; Northern Flicker,  12; Pileated Woodpecker, 16;  Eastern Wood-Pewee  8; Acadian Flycatcher  29; Least Flycatcher  5; Eastern Phoebe,  44; Great Crested Flycatcher,  2; and Eastern Kingbird,  13.

White-eyed Vireo,  1; Yellow-throated Vireo,  1; Blue-headed Vireo,  29; Warbling Vireo,  1; Red-eyed Vireo,  157; Blue Jay, 59; American Crow, 139; Common Raven, 8; Purple Martin, 36; Tree Swallow, 94; Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 68; Cliff Swallow, 64; and Barn Swallow, 139.

Carolina Chickadee,  63; Tufted Titmouse,  47; Red-breasted Nuthatch,  3; White-breasted Nuthatch,  20; Brown Creeper, 1; Carolina Wren, 80; House Wren,  31; Winter Wren,  2; and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 27.

Eastern Bluebird, 46; Veery, 35; Wood Thrush, 37; American Robin, 435; Gray Catbird, 37; Northern Mockingbird, 37; Brown Thrasher, 14; European Starling, 464; and Cedar Waxwing,  71.

Ovenbird, 56; Worm-eating Warbler, 9; Louisiana Waterthrush, 5; Golden-winged Warbler, 1; Black-and-white Warbler, 19; Swainson’s Warbler, 6; Kentucky Warbler, 1; Common Yellowthroat,  2; Hooded Warbler, 78; American Redstart,  8; Northern Parula, 13; Magnolia Warbler, 1; Blackburnian Warbler, 2; Yellow Warbler, 1; Chestnut-sided Warbler,  23; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 20; Yellow-throated Warbler, 4; Prairie Warbler, 7; Black-throated Green Warbler,  30; Canada Warbler, 9; and Yellow-breasted Chat, 5.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A young Chipping Sparrow perches on a barbed wire fence at the Bell Cemetery in Limestone Cove.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A young Chipping Sparrow perches on a barbed wire fence at the Bell Cemetery in Limestone Cove.

Eastern Towhee,  70; Chipping Sparrow,  60; Field Sparrow,  12; Song Sparrow,  214; Dark-eyed Junco,  28; Scarlet Tanager,  20; Northern Cardinal,  138; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 2; Blue Grosbeak, 1; and Indigo Bunting, 197.

Red-winged Blackbird,  101; Eastern Meadowlark,  13; Common Grackle,  94; Brown-headed Cowbird,  34; Orchard Oriole,  1; Baltimore Oriole,  1; House Finch,  8; American Goldfinch,  84; and House Sparrow,  64.

Knight noted that all 111 species found during the count are known or suspected to nest in Unicoi County. For instance, the three Bald Eagles found on the count included an adult bird and two recently fledged young. Eagles have been documented nesting near the Devil’s Looking Glass above the Nolichucky River for the past couple of years.


During the count, I stayed close to home with the territory of Limestone Cove and the portion of Sciota Road located within Unicoi County. Gary Wallace and John Whinery joined me for several hours of productive birding.

We found some birds I would never have expected to find so close to home, including singing Prairie Warblers and a noisy, scolding Yellow-breasted Chat. On Bean Creek Road near the state line with North Carolina, we also found a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker while walking a section of the Appalachian Trail. This was my first summer sighting of what is normally a winter bird in the region. In recent years, however, a few sapsuckers have started nesting in some of the local mountains.

We also missed some target birds. We checked out every pond we could view in our territory and failed to find a Green Heron.

Summer is also an extremely busy time of year for birds as they go about the business of bringing up a new generation of birds. Most birds have completed spring migration and have settled into locations they will call home for the next few months. During the recent Summer Bird Count in Unicoi County, we saw numerous young birds, ranging from Chipping Sparrows and Eastern Bluebirds to American Robins and Barn Swallows.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A young Barn Swallow perched on a utility line at the Bell Cemetery in Limestone Cove awaits a delivery of food from its parents.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A young Barn Swallow perched on a utility line at the Bell Cemetery in Limestone Cove awaits a delivery of food from its parents.


To ask a question, make a comment or share an observation, email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or leave a remark here at “Our Fine Feathered Friends.”