Feathered Friends – Fatherhood runs the gamut among birds

A male satin bowerbird has collected blue objects to decorate his “bower,” which provides a stage for performing elaborate mating displays designed to attract interested female bowerbirds. (Photo by picman2/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

Since we honored fathers this week with a special day in their honor, I thought it might be a good time to look to the bird world for some examples of what fatherhood means among our fine feathered friends.

Among many of the raptors, which includes hawks, falcons and eagles, females are significantly larger than males. Unsurprisingly, much of the job of protecting the nest and young falls to the larger and stronger females. Male raptors, for the most part, are good parents and hunt prey and deliver food to the nest. Sometimes, though, there can be trouble in paradise. For example, researchers are giving a new look at the dynamics between mated bald eagles. The prevailing theory once supposed that bald eagles mate for life.

In an article published Nov. 9, 2012, on the website of William and Mary College, researchers announced that they have begun to notice that eagles on occasion undertake the avian equivalent of “divorce.”

Bryan Watts, the director of the Center for Conservation Biology, was interviewed for the article. Watts noted that both males and female eagles will cheat. Getting away with cheating, however, favors the female. Watts explained that the male may be absent fishing when another male eagle visits the nest site and proceeds to mate with the female. Consequently, the unsuspecting mate returns and could end up raising eaglets that were fathered by the intruder instead of himself.

There are some male birds who are more steadfast once they mate. For instance, swans, cranes and albatrosses are known for sticking with a chosen mate over a lifetime. Two endangered species — the California condor and the whooping crane — are known to mate for life. Cranes typically choose a mate when they reach the age of two or three; condors, on the other hand, usually don’t mate until they are at least six to eight years old. Of course, both these birds live long lives. Whooping cranes may live to the age of 25 while condors can live for as long as six decades.

According to the Audubon website, we can look to a family of shorebirds for some examples that go against usual gender norms. Phalaropes reverse the usual sex roles in birds, with the females being larger and more colorful than males, In addition, females take the lead in courtship, while males are left to incubate the eggs and care for the young once the business of mating is done. Three species of phalaropes inhabit North America: Wilson’s phalarope, red-necked phalarope and red phalarope.

Many male birds lend a hand in building nests or raising young. There are some examples of “deadbeat dads,” however, with one of the most glaring being the beloved ruby-throated hummingbird. A male hummingbird is unlikely to ever lay eyes on his offspring. Once mating has been concluded, the female is left to build a nest on her own. She also incubates the eggs without any help from her mate, who has probably already skipped out and started to court other female hummingbirds in the vicinity. Once the two eggs hatch, the female hummingbird is solely responsible for feeding the hungry offspring. It’s the primary reason hummingbirds always lay two eggs. With her high metabolism, a female hummingbird would be hard pressed to feed herself and any more than two young.

Some male birds, like their human counterparts, approach romance by initiating courtship by bringing some shiny bling to the relationship. Bowerbirds, which are found mainly in New Guinea and Australia, are renowned for their unique courtship behavior.  A male bowerbird will build a structure — the bower — and decorate it with sticks, flowers, shells or other brightly colored objects in an attempt to attract a mate. Alas, once he has won a mate with these “bribes,” he’s no better than male hummingbirds. The females are left to build the nest and raise the young without any assistance from the males.

Satin bowerbird males often decorate with blue, yellow or shiny objects, including berries, flowers or even plastic items such as ink pens, drinking straws and clothes pegs. As the males mature they use more blue objects than other colors. The decorated bower becomes a stage from which males carry out intense behavioral displays called dances to attract their mates.

The world’s largest flightless birds – ostriches, emus, rhea, cassowaries and a few others – would make good “father of the year” candidates. For instance, male ostriches share incubation duties with females. Once the eggs hatch, male ostriches are active in leading young to suitable foraging habitat and protecting them from predators. Some male ostriches can stand nine feet tall and weigh 320 pounds, so dad is an imposing obstacle for many predators. In the event of an attack, the male will try to draw off the predator while the chicks run for cover with their mother.

Fatherhood often means a dedicated effort on the part of some birds, while other basically make their genetic contribution to ensuring the survival of the species and are done with the concept. There’s a surprising variety to behold once one starts looking at the different avian approaches to fatherhood.

Library Happenings – Bays Mountain bringing program to Erwin

By Angie Georgeff

Like most Americans, I love movies. I also adore “cinema,” the more artistic films that are not always commercially successful. Blockbusters, animation, foreign films, silent movies: I enjoy them all. Dominic Smith’s new novel “The Electric Hotel” looks back at the earliest days of motion pictures through the eyes of pioneering filmmaker Claude Ballard.

I was mesmerized by Smith’s previous novel “The Last Painting of Sara de Vos,” so when I learned about this book, I immediately preordered a copy for myself.  When I read the reviews, I promptly ordered one for the library, as well.

In 1962, Martin Embry is a doctoral candidate in the field of film history. His diplomacy and persistence finally pay off in a series of interviews with the reclusive Ballard. His masterpiece “The Electric Hotel” has long been considered lost, but Ballard has a rapidly decaying copy in his possession.

The old cellulose nitrate film is highly flammable and it can emit harmful gases.  One of Embry’s friends is working to save endangered films and he undertakes restoration of the precious masterwork.

With their relationship firmly cemented, Claude opens up to Martin. The story of how Claude, a French actress, an Australian stuntman and a Brooklyn entrepreneur created a silent masterpiece on the banks of the Hudson begins to unfold. By the way, the part of the villain is played by the inventor Thomas Edison, a brilliant but ruthless man who never hesitated to throw around his weight.

Friday Family Fun Day

Other than space itself, where can you learn more about our amazing universe than a planetarium? This Friday, Bays Mountain Planetarium will bring the universe to Unicoi County.  Join us at Erwin’s Town Hall at 11 a.m. to learn about the beauty of the night sky and the endless wonders that lie beyond the reach of the human eye. All ages are welcome at these events, so bring your entire family.

SRP 2019

Our Summer Reading Programs for children, teens and adults have gotten off to a rousing start.  Walking down the hall that leads from the library lobby to the Children’s Room is like voyaging through our solar system toward the depths of space, complete with twinkling stars. It is a treat for me to take a break from my neverending paperwork and travel through “space” to see the varied projects the kids are working on.

I just returned to my desk with my fingers spangled with paint and glitter from admiring the “galaxy jars” that some of the preteens were making. They are having fun exercising their creativity and individuality, and expanding their knowledge of the universe at the same time. Win, win!

Feathered Friends – Indigo buntings common summer bird

The coloration of a male indigo bunting originates not with pigment but with the diffraction of light around the structure of the bird’s feathers. In good lighting conditions, the bird looks bright blue. In poor light, however, they can look almost black. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

The recent five-county Spring Bird Count, conducted Saturday, May 4, by the Elizabethton Bird Club, found 145 species in the five Northeast Tennessee counties of Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington. The count included such cities as Bristol, Johnson City, Jonesborough, Kingsport, Erwin, and Mountain City. A total of 57 participants in 11 parties counted during the annual survey of avian populations in the region. The long-running count is the only spring census of birds conducted in the area.

Not surprisingly, some of the most abundant birds included Canada goose, European starling, American crow, red-winged blackbird and common grackle. Some of the more common songbirds included red-eyed vireo, Northern cardinal, American robin, hooded warbler, American goldfinch and Indigo bunting.

The indigo bunting is one of the reasons spring is such a wonderful time of the year to watch the visitors to feeders. This small songbird likes to reside in the boundary region where forests and woodlands meet fields and pastures. Personally, the indigo bunting has always been a bird that is suggestive of the long, hot days of summer. One of my earliest and still quite vivid birding memories is a recollection of a shockingly blue bird atop a blue spruce tree in my yard. Several decades later, the tree is no longer standing, but these beautiful birds — I now know these summer visitors were indigo buntings — still return each year to my yard and gardens.

These birds usually arrive in the region in late April, and I’ve seen them linger until late October, although most indigo buntings have left the region by late September. Upon arrival, male indigo buntings become tenacious singers, repeating their jumbled notes even during the hottest hours of summer afternoons. The preference of this small songbird is to sing from the tops of tall trees, where they are often concealed by the green leaves. When I do get a glimpse of the obscured songster, often all I see is a dark shape silhouetted against the bright sky. Sometimes, if he plunges from the upper branches into the woodland understory, I get that telltale glimpse of blue feathers.

The indigo bunting is the only solid blue bird in the eastern United States, but it’s all an illusion — literally a trick of the light. The indigo bunting’s feathers are not really blue; the male’s brilliant azure plumage is caused by the process of diffraction of light around the structure of the bird’s feathers. This process scatters all but the blue light, and the resulting color shifts from black to blue to turquoise as the angle of reflected light changes. In bright light, it can even look unnaturally vivid blue. In poor light, however, an indigo bunting male can appear black. Fortunately, indigo buntings have both a characteristic body shape and song, so even if the birds are not seen at their best, they can still be recognized.

Soon after returning to the eastern United States each spring, female buntings begin to gather materials to construct a well-crafted, cup-shaped nest. The male usually stays close to her, but he offers no assistance with nest building. She usually lays a clutch of three to four eggs, but she may nest another two times in a single season.

She will incubate the eggs for almost two weeks, but the young remain in the nest another two weeks after being hatched as featherless, blind and helpless young completely dependent on the care of attentive parents. The task of raising so many broods in the space of only a few months requires the participation of both the female and her mate, who must work hard to bring enough insects to the nest to keep the young fed.

Like many species of songbirds, the male is by far the most colorful. In this instance, the male is also responsible for the species’ name. Indigo is a blue dye that was once an important crop in the South. The drab female may boast some blue highlights in her plumage. Juvenile birds just out of the nest also resemble the female. Pay close attention to any indigo buntings you observe as summer progresses. Juvenile birds will look mostly brown with just a hint of blue in the wings and the tail. These will be the young buntings that were hatched this spring and early summer. They will often accompany their parents to feeders.

Indigo buntings are particularly fun birds to observe in late summer. Although some books indicate that males are not very active in rearing young, I have on numerous occasions witnessed male buntings feeding fledglings at feeders. Indigo bunting juveniles, like the young of many other birds, beg for tidbits from parents by “bowing,” spreading their wings and shivering. These actions usually prompt a parent to pop some morsel into an impatient youngster’s open bill. Indigo buntings are relatively easy to view. They frequent weedy fields and roadside brush. During the breeding season, males can also be seen singing from prominent perches. The song, a distinctive jumble of notes, can help observers find these dedicated singers.

The male indigo bunting is one of the most colorful birds to visit feeders in the region. This species is also extremely fond of millet seed. I like to have some feeders stocked with millet when the buntings begin to return each spring. They will also feed on thistle and sunflower seeds. Away from our feeders, they also devour plenty of seeds from various noxious weeds. Because of the indigo bunting’s appetite for the seeds of destructive weeds, it is considered a beneficial bird.

One of the most attractive summer scenes is to observe American goldfinches and indigo buntings feeding together on the nodding heads of summer sunflowers. The goldfinch males, resplendent in their bright yellow and black plumage, compete with the blue indigo bunting males for the fresh sunflower seeds. When bright red male Northern cardinals join in, observers have a complete artists’s palette for summer viewing.

The indigo bunting will usually respond to human squeaks that imitate a bird’s call. When a flock or family group of buntings are disturbed by a human observer, they usually begin a chorus of alarmed “chipping.”

As I indicated earlier, indigo buntings remain in the region until late September. Although this bird typically winters in Mexico, Panama and the Caribbean, in recent decades some indigo buntings have only gone as far south as Florida to spend the winter. There in the Sunshine State, the indigo buntings may mingle with a close relative, the splendidly multi-colored painted bunting. I usually see these vibrant songbirds whenever I visit coastal South Carolina in spring or summer. Male painted buntings are probably one of the most colorful birds in the United States with hues of red, green, purple and blue in their feathers.

Other North American buntings include the snow bunting, the lazuli bunting and the lark bunting, which is also the official state bird for Colorado. Some of the common but descriptive names for some of the world’s other buntings include rose-bellied bunting, orange-breasted bunting, cinereous bunting, white-capped bunting, lark-like bunting, ochre-rumped bunting, golden-breasted bunting, chestnut-bunting, red-headed bunting, yellow bunting, blue bunting, little bunting, brown-rumped bunting, meadow bunting, corn bunting and crested bunting.

Keep your feeders stocked with millet and sunflower seeds if you want to increase your chances of seeing indigo buntings, as well as other handsome summer songbirds such as American goldfinch, chipping sparrow and Eastern towhee.

Cause for Paws – Remember to spay, neuter pets

This graphic displays how cat and dog populations can grow exponentially. The Unicoi County Animal Shelter says spaying and neutering pets is vital to controlling the pet population. (Image contributed by the Unicoi County Animal Shelter)

By Linda Mathes

A reminder from the Unicoi County Animal Shelter on the importance of spaying or neutering your cat or kitten.

Our prolific kitty chart (pictured) details that in the first year a cat can have 12 offspring and by the fourth year could be responsible for 20,736 offspring.

Many of the offspring do not survive due to illness, neglect and abuse, but even with a minimum of offspring surviving they add to the overpopulation of kittens and cats.

The shelter encourages Unicoi County residents to take advantage of the ongoing monthly lowcost spay/neuter program in partnership with the Margaret B. Mitchell Spay & Neuter Clinic and the Unicoi County Humane Society.

Male cats are $35, female cats are $50 and all dogs are $55. These fees include surgery, rabies vaccination and supplemental pain medications.  The next date for the clinic is Thursday, June 27, and all pets must be registered at the shelter by Saturday, June 21.

Just spaying or neutering one cat can make a difference.

In addition to the spay/neuter program the shelter is sponsoring the “Katherine Save The Kitty Program” name after Katherine, a young cat brought to the shelter and within minutes of arriving gave birth to 10 kittens. Unfortunately, the kittens did not survive, but when Katherine was healthy she was spayed and later adopted into her forever home.

The save the kitten program is an opportunity to help the shelter by sponsoring the adoption of a kitten for a donation of $80.

Your donation covers the spay/neuter surgery, necessary vaccines, rabies vaccination and microchip and the sponsor is welcome to come to the shelter and choose the kitten they want to sponsor.

At the present time the shelter has approximately 40 kittens in our care, some of them were born here and others were brought to the shelter by concerned citizens.

For further information on these programs please call the shelter at 743-3071 or come by the shelter during open hours Tuesday-Saturday from 1-5:30 p.m. The shelter is located at 185 N. Industrial Drive, Erwin.

Library Happenings – Results listed for best, worst books poll

By Angie Georgeff

The votes have been tabulated in our best book/worst book poll. We asked, “Which is the best book you ever read?” The book that garnered the most votes was J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” which turned out to be the only book named more than once. The most votes went to books like “The Hobbit” that we tend to read as children and teens and which we continue to love. Among the other nominees were Johann David Wyss’s “The Swiss Family Robinson,” Wilson Rawls’s “Where the Red Fern Grows” and Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.”

The other trend appeared to be novels that were written in series. Janet Evanovich’s “Stephanie Plum” series, Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” saga and J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series numbered among the favorites.

One vote that surprised me was “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking” by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young and Maxime Bilet. It is a 2,438-page, six-volume encyclopedic cookbook geared toward the professional chef, “curious home cook” and art lover. The photography is spectacular. The only thing that stops me from buying a copy is the price tag. It is too steep for me, our library or (it seems) any other library in the OWL consortium, since none of them have this resource in their collection!

On the flip side of the winning book is the losing author, Stephen King. There was no second for a specific title, but the vote for “anything by Stephen King” just tipped the scales when added to one vote for “The Shining.” Ironically, Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series received a vote for best book. Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say horror is not Unicoi County’s favorite genre.

Generally speaking, neither horror nor science fiction fared very well. Judging from other votes, books that are “too long” or which have “sad endings” are not looked on with favor. The comment that I enjoyed most accompanied the thumbs down for James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans”: “*Mark Twain hated it, too!”

Friday Family Fun Day

One of “Mr. Bond’s Science Guys” will be appearing at Erwin’s Town Hall at 3 p.m. this Friday for the second Friday Family Fun Day of Summer Reading 2019. The demonstrations and experiments will follow 2019’s space theme so kids and parents will learn about science as they enjoy the show. All ages are welcome at these events, so bring the entire family.

This week’s age-group programs at the library will feature “Constellations in the Stars.” Next week will be the moon! Be sure to pick up a schedule at the library or check our Unicoi County Kids and Teens Facebook page for details. We have “A Universe of Stories” to share!

Feathered Friends – Spring Bird Count finds 154 species

A female common merganser rests on a fallen log along the Watauga River in Elizabethton. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

The recent five-county Spring Bird Count conducted Saturday, May 4, by the Elizabethton Bird Club found 145 species in the five Northeast Tennessee counties of Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington. The count included such cities as Erwin, Bristol, Johnson City, Jonesborough, Kingsport and Mountain City. A total of 57 participants in 11 parties counted during the annual survey of avian populations in the region. The long-running count is the only spring census of birds conducted in Northeast Tennessee.

This year marked the 76th consecutive year that the Elizabethton Spring Bird Count has been conducted. The weather was mostly favorable, except for a late afternoon band of thunderstorms that passed through rather quickly.

A total of 154 species were tallied, which is slightly above the recent 30-year average of 149 species. The all-time high was 166 species found in 2016.

Long-time compiler Rick Knight noted some highlights:

• Lingering gadwall and buffleheads.

• Four common merganser hens were found at sites on the Watauga River. These birds make up part of a regional breeding population.

• An American bittern.

• Both night-heron species.

• Bald eagles.

• Three sora rails.

• Three Forster’s Terns.

• Six Black-billed cuckoos.

• Two Northern Saw-whet owls.

* Four yellow-bellied sapsuckers, which are part of a regional breeding population.

• A single willow flycatcher.

• A pair of loggerhead shrike at a new site for the species.

• A single hermit thrush singing on territory at Roan Mountain.

• A single dickcissel.

• Two purple finches lingering later than usual.

• Nine pine siskins.

• A total of 29 warbler species, including golden-winged, Swainson’s, cerulean and Canada.

Canada goose, 454; wood duck, 60; gadwall, 1; mallard, 151; bufflehead, 3; and common merganser, 4.

Ruffed grouse, 1; wild turkey, 38; pied-billed grebe, 1; double-crested cormorant, 82; American bittern, 1; great blue heron, 115; green heron, 15; black-crowned night-heron, 5; and yellow-crowned night-heron, 4.

American kestrel, 9; black vulture, 117; turkey vulture, 99; osprey, 10, sharp-shinned hawk, 1; Cooper’s hawk, 6; bald eagle, 5; red-shouldered hawk, 1; broad-winged hawk, 2; and red-tailed hawk, 18.

Sora, 3; killdeer, 29; spotted sandpiper, 27; solitary sandpiper, 16; lesser yellowlegs, 2; least sandpiper, 5; Wilson’s snipe, 1; and Forster’s tern, 3.

Rock pigeon, 179; Eurasian collared dove, 2; mourning dove, 263; Eastern screech-owl, 4; great horned owl, 1; barred owl, 7; Northern saw-whet owl, 2; common nighthawk, 1; chuck-will’s widow, 8; and Eastern whip-poor-will, 28.

Chimney swift, 112; ruby-throated hummingbird, 25; belted kingfisher, 13; red-headed woodpecker, 2; red-bellied woodpecker, 92; yellow-bellied sapsucker, 4; downy woodpecker, 21; hairy woodpecker, 1; and pileated woodpecker, 41.

Eastern wood-pewee, 18; Acadian flycatcher, 8; willow flycatcher, 1; least flycatcher, 5; Eastern phoebe, 103; great crested flycatcher, 21; and Eastern kingbird, 77.

Loggerhead shrike, 2; white-eyed vireo, 16; yellow-throated vireo, 2; blue-headed vireo, 60; warbling vireo, 5; red-eyed vireo, 261; blue jay, 194; American crow, 246; and common raven, 14.

Northern rough-winged swallow, 134; purple martin, 33; tree swallow, 240; barn swallow, 188; and cliff swallow, 584.

Carolina chickadee, 106; tufted titmouse, 142; red-breasted nuthatch, 10; white-breasted nuthatch, 17; brown creeper, 3; house wren, 63; winter wren, 7; and Carolina wren, 153.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher, 66; golden-crowned kinglet, 10; Eastern bluebird, 129; veery, 27; Swainson’s thrush, 3; hermit thrush, 1; wood thrush, 91; American robin, 581; gray catbird, 76; brown thrasher, 65; Northern mockingbird, 88; European starling, 654; and cedar waxwing, 39.

Ovenbird, 127; worm-eating warbler, 28; Louisiana waterthrush, 27; Northern waterthrush, 1; golden-winged warbler, 3; black-and-white warbler, 96; Swainson’s warbler, 8; Tennessee warbler, 1; Nashville warbler, 1; common yellowthroat, 23; hooded warbler, 157; American redstart, 14; Cape May warbler, 6; cerulean warbler, 1; Northern parula, 44; magnolia warbler, 4; bay-breasted warbler, 2; Blackburnian warbler, 10; yellow warbler, 11; chestnut-sided warbler, 30; blackpoll warbler, 1; black-throated blue warbler, 71; palm warbler, 1; pine warbler, 8; yellow-rumped warbler, 5; yellow-throated warbler, 20; prairie warbler, 5; black-throated green warbler, 75; Canada warbler, 40; and yellow-breasted warbler, 8.

Eastern towhee, 153; chipping sparrow, 128; field sparrow, 68; Savannah sparrow, 3; grasshopper sparrow, 5; song sparrow, 303; white-throated sparrow, 2; white-crowned sparrow, 1; dark-eyed junco; 54; summer tanager, 2; scarlet tanager, 86; Northern cardinal, 248; rose-breasted grosbeak, 15; blue grosbeak, 7; indigo bunting, 145; and dickcissel, 1.

Red-winged blackbird, 381; Eastern meadowlark, 95; common grackle, 371; brown-headed cowbird, 110; orchard oriole, 34; Baltimore oriole, 46; house finch, 68; purple finch, 2; pine siskin, 9; American goldfinch, 166; and house sparrow, 59.

Cause for Paws – Vaccines vital for pet health

By Linda Mathes

A recent parvovirus outbreak in this area has resulted in the closure of one shelter and several cases of parvo in other shelters.

This is a reminder of how important it is to vaccinate your pets. Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious and deadly disease that usually spreads in warm weather so spring is a prime time for parvo. Dogs who are not vaccinated, and contact the disease, have a 5-10 percent survival rate.

The Unicoi County Animal Shelter encourages all pet owners to follow a vaccination schedule to ensure their pets do not contact a preventable disease. Puppies need vaccinations early, as the antibodies they receive from their mother start to decrease around 6-8 weeks of age. It is during this time puppies start building their own immunity through vaccinations.

Recommended vaccinations are:

• 6-8 weeks – Distemper, Parainfluenza;

• 10-12 weeks – DHPP (vaccines for distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza and parvovirus);

• 12-24 weeks – Rabies (as required by law);

• 14-16 weeks – DHPP booster;

• 12-16 months – Rabies, DHPP booster;

• 1-2 years – DHPP booster;

• 1-3 years – Rabies.

Following this recommended schedule will help ensure that your pet has a healthy and long life.

As always, the shelter needs donations of clumping and non-clumping cat litter, laundry detergent and cleaning supplies and, if anyone has a pet carrier they are not using please, think about donating it to the shelter.

Don’t forget about our low-cost spay/neuter program through the shelter. The next date for the clinic is June 27.

For further information contact the shelter at 743-3071 or come by the shelter during open hours Tuesday-Saturday from 1-5:30 p.m. The shelter is located at 185 N. Industrial Drive, Erwin.

Library Happenings – Summer Reading Programs in full swing

By Angie Georgeff

Our Summer Reading Programs for all ages are in full swing and our first Friday Family Fun Day is two days away. Please join us at Erwin’s Town Hall at 11 a.m. on Friday, June 7, to hear Dr. Lori Meier tell us the latest news from NASA. Dr. Meier is an Associate Professor at ETSU in Johnson City and a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador. She also is a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. When I heard her present a similar program last year, she managed to captivate an audience of children and adults. Not only will you learn a lot, you’ll enjoy it!

Spotlight Book

Early June: Time for beach reads! With her new release “Queen Bee,” Dorothea Benton Frank is doing her part to make sure beachgoers and beach dreamers alike have a good book with which to while away the sultry hours. Despite the chilling presence of her overbearing and hypochondriac mother, beekeeper Holly McNee Jensen clings to the place she loves, tending her hives and working at the small library on Sullivans Island, South Carolina. Her sister Leslie had married to escape the island and her mother, but after the collapse of her marriage, she returns home to lick her wounds.

The sisters have little in common except their outrageous mother and a mutual interest in the family living next door, a widower with two adorable little boys who appears poised to marry a woman who makes them shudder.  A hint of mystery, a dollop of humor, a spoonful of honey and a spray of salt make this beach read the perfect ending for a summer’s day.

Christmas in June?

Also arriving right on schedule is Janet Dailey’s Memorial Day Christmas novel “It’s a Christmas Thing.” No kidding! Dailey’s Christmas novels have been released at the end of May for at least the last three years. When J. T. Rushford’s wife divorced him for another man, she revealed that their daughter Claire had been fathered by her lover. The child Rush had adored for four years was no longer considered to be his offspring, and Christmas would not be Christmas without her.

After terminating Rush’s parental rights, Claire’s father and mother decide to take an extended European vacation. They offer to let Rush babysit Claire during the holidays, while they are away. Grieving for his lost child, Rush agrees to take her.

They will spend Christmas in Branding Iron, Texas, where Rush’s mobile veterinary practice is currently located. For Rush, the holiday will be bittersweet, because it could be the last time he is able to spend time with Claire. Will Christmas be a time of heartbreak for Rush, or can a lady judge with a penchant for animals save the day?

Feathered Friends – Unusual ducks pick Middlebrook Lake for visit

A black-bellied whistling duck enjoys a vigorous bath within its enclosure in an aviary at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina. This duck is often kept in captivity. The wild population has expanded its range in recent years from Central America into the southern United States. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

Joanne Campbell notified me via Facebook of a visit of an unusual waterfowl on Saturday, May 18, at her home near Middlebrook Lake in Bristol, Tennessee.

I needed a moment to look past the obvious Canada goose in the photograph before my eyes registered the four small ducks on the grassy bank. I recognized them instantly as black-bellied whistling ducks.

Black-bellied whistling ducks are members of a group of ducks known as “tree ducks” and “whistling ducks.” There is some debate about whether they are more closely related to ducks or geese.

Joanne’s recent sighting near her home culminates a series of sightings throughout the region over the past month or so. For whatever reason, these ducks have popped up in various locations throughout the region in recent weeks.

Birder and photographer Adam Campbell found 11 black-bellied whistling ducks at a new retention pond off Exit 14 along Interstate 81 in Abington, Virginia, on Sunday, May 12.

A month earlier, birder Graham Gerdeman, a resident of Nashville, Tennessee, found a black-bellied whistling duck at the Harpeth/Morton Mills Greenway in Nashville on Friday, April 12.

On Friday, April 19, another lone black-bellied whistling duck was spotted in a grocery store parking lot in Fairview near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, by birder Kathy Malone.

Birders Ronald Hoff and Dollyann Myers observed a black-bellied whistling duck on Friday, May 17, on a small lake on Highway 411 south of Maryville, Tennessee, on the line between Blount and Loudon counties.

In West Tennessee, closer to the Mississippi River waterfowl migration flyway, the black-bellied whistling duck is a more common bird. The ducks, which are typically found in Central and South America, range into the United States typically only in southern Texas and Arizona, as well as occasionally in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Florida. Some field guides indicate that these ducks are not long-distance migrants, but birders in western Tennessee would disagree with that assessment.

In appearance, males and females are similar with long necks, red bills and long, pinkish-red legs. The plumage is mostly chestnut with a black belly and a readily visible white wing patch.

These ducks are often described as being somewhat similar to geese and are not considered true ducks. They are classified by biologists in the genus Dendrocygna. Species in the genus include the West Indian whistling duck, wandering whistling duck, fulvous whistling duck, plumed whistling duck, spotted whistling duck, lesser whistling duck and white-faced whistling duck. Only the fulvous whistling duck joins the black-bellied whistling duck in ranging into the United States in such locations as Florida, Louisiana, Texas and California.

Black-bellied whistling ducks will nest both in natural cavities or on the ground in areas with thick vegetation. If nesting boxes are available, these ducks will gladly nest in them. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, black-bellied whistling-ducks have been expanding their range in the southern United States. These ducks have experienced strong population growth, estimated at more than 6 percent per year from 1966 to 2014. The world population is estimated at 1,100,000 to 2,000,000 birds and increasing, which could explain why appearances are becoming somewhat more commonplace in states like Tennessee, as well as Virginia and the Carolinas.

Formerly called the black-bellied tree duck, this waterfowl has also been given common names such as “whistling duck” and “Mexican squealer.” As indicated by these different names, these are highly vocal birds with a clear, piercing whistled call.

The black-bellied whistling ducks at Middlebrook Lake lingered for several hours, which allowed many birders in the region to make the drive to the lake to observe such an interesting visitor to the region.

Joanne later posted on Facebook about the excitement generated by the ducks.  “I couldn’t get any work done for watching them,” she wrote in her post.

The ducks are not the first rare bird that Joanne has alerted me to at Middlebrook. Back in November of 2015, she notified me of an American white pelican that spent a couple of days on the lake. I’m grateful to her for notifying me about both the black-bellied whistling ducks and the pelican.

I always enjoy hearing from readers with observations to share. To make a comment, ask a question, or share a sighting, email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Library Happenings – Summer Reading Program for adults begins June 3

By Angie Georgeff

Memorial Day is past and summer is on our doorstep. Get ready to read! Our Summer Reading Program for adults will begin on Monday, June 3. When you check out books, audiobooks or DVDs at the circulation desk, be sure to pick up several entry forms for the prize drawing while you are here. The three prize baskets will be displayed on top of the Spanish-language bookcases near the front door.

Since space is our theme for Summer Reading 2019, the Starry, Starry Night Basket has binoculars, Sunoculars for safely viewing the sun, a moon map, constellation finder, telescope observer’s guide and red LED minilight. If you are interested in observing the stars, moon, sunspots and other astronomical phenomena and celestial events, then this basket is perfect for you.  Remember, another total solar eclipse is coming up in 2024.

Our Starry Night at the Movies Basket is a decorative popcorn bowl filled with microwave popcorn, movie theater candy and four DVDs chosen to celebrate our space theme.  Whether the weather is rain or meteor showers, almost everyone enjoys a night at the movies.  Two enthusiastic thumbs up!

The third of our prize baskets will encourage its winner to take a picnic out in the wild “Where the Crawdads Sing.” It consists of an insulated picnic “basket” with plates, wine glasses, napkins and utensils for two, a star-spangled picnic blanket and Delia Owen’s bestselling book “Where the Crawdads Sing.”

Spotlight Book

When I opened Sarah Blake’s “The Guest Book” this afternoon, and read the first two sentences, I was immediately hooked. “‘It’s the usual story,’ the man at the tiller reflected, regarding the beautiful derelict on the hill. ‘At the end of old money there is real estate.’” A house, a family, a history and a little philosophy: I was itching to settle in for a cozy read.

In 1935, socialite Kitty Milton is the wife of a New York investment banker and the mother of three children. Her life appears to be charmed until her son Neddy dies in an accident. To soothe his wife’s pain, Ogden Milton buys Crockett’s Island off the coast of Maine and builds a grand estate which becomes the family’s summer retreat. Life goes on, but the world is changing, and the title guest book reflects its evolution.

Moss and Joan, Kitty and Ogden’s surviving children, are a new generation. By 1959, not all the names in the guest book are white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. Secrecy, however, remains a family trait, and the family’s third generation will unearth a trove as they decide what to do with their legacy.

Feathered Friends – Nutcracker impressed leaders of Lewis and Clark expedition

A Clark’s nutcracker surveys its surroundings from a rocky outcrop. Both William Clark and Meriwether Lewis made detailed notes about their observations of this bird in what would become the western states of Idaho and Montana. (Photo by Mike Goad/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

The United States and the world observed the 215th anniversary of the launch of the historic Lewis and Clark Expedition on May 14. Retrospectively, I cannot even begin to imagine what it would have been for a birder to have been a member of that expedition. Although Meriwether Lewis and William Clark would not have considered themselves birders in the modern sense, the entries in their journals testify that they had a thorough grasp of the avian life that surrounded them as they explored the American west.

Last week’s column focused on Lewis’s woodpecker, a bird named for Lewis. In addition to the woodpecker, a genus of plants known as Lewisia honors the charismatic Lewis. One member of the genus is bitterroot, or Lewisia redivava, which is the official state flower of Montana, one of the western states explored by Lewis and Clark. Finally, a subspecies of cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi) honors both the explorers with its scientific name.

This week’s column will turn to William Clark and an enterprising bird named for the renowned explorer. After the culmination of the famed expedition, President Thomas Jefferson made Clark a brigadier general in the militia of the Louisiana Territory and appointed him the nation’s agent for Indian Affairs. While Lewis died only three years after the conclusion of the expedition at the age of 35, Clark lived to the ripe old age of 68, dying in 1838. His management of Indian Affairs from his headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, meant that his reputation has forever been sullied by his participation in the numerous Indian removal schemes of the first decades of the 1800s. He eventually became governor of the Missouri Territory and, from 1822 until his death in 1838, he served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

At the same time, the man who served as a guardian to Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau, professed to have the interests of Native Americans at heart. Perhaps his time on the expedition with Sacagawea, who served as a guide, a translator, and a symbol of the expedition’s peaceful nature, helped Clark see the worth of Native Americans, but he failed to overcome his devotion to the concept of Manifest Destiny.

The Lewis and Clark expedition officially extended from May 14, 1804, to Sept. 23, 1806. As they explored the American west, the members of the expedition saw wonders, including the feathered variety, never before beheld by people outside of various Native American tribes. One of those birds still honors Clark’s name. Clark’s nutcracker, also known as Clark’s crow or Clark’s woodpecker crow, is a member of the family Corvidae, which gives it kinship with birds such as ravens, magpies, jays and crows.

Clark’s nutcracker populations appear to have experienced declines between 1966 and 2015, most notably in the state of Washington, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Because this bird lives in specialized habitats found near the tops of mountains, it is likely to be particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Clark’s nutcracker usually dwells in high-elevation pine forests. They can be found on peaks ranging in height from 3,000 to 12,900 feet. The website All About Birds describes Clark’s nutcracker as a famed cacher of seeds. The birds have excellent memories and can relocate buried seeds more than nine months after caching them. Clark’s nutcracker uses its bill to crack open unripe, closed pine cones and remove seeds from the cone scales. It shells seeds by cracking them in its bill or by holding them in its feet and hammering them. It’s little wonder early naturalists could not quite determine whether the bird was a woodpecker or a crow. In their native west, Clark’s nutcrackers visit feeders where they eat seeds, peanuts and suet.

Clark wrote about the nutcracker on Aug. 22, 1805, while trying to navigate the canyon of the Salmon River, despite warnings from Native Americans in the region that it couldn’t be done. During his struggle to maneuver the canyon’s rapids, he noticed a bird that he described “of the woodpecker kind” and noted that it fed on pine burs.

Later, during the same encampment when Lewis also acquired specimens of the woodpecker named for him, Lewis also took several specimens of the bird described by Clark and almost immediately noticed that the bird wasn’t a woodpecker but a member of the corvid family.

Lewis also wrote his own notes about the bird. “This bird feeds on the seed of the pine and also on insects,” Lewis wrote in May of 1806. “It resides in the Rocky Mountains at all seasons of the year, and in many parts is the only bird to be found.”

The early naturalist Alexander Wilson mistakenly believed that Clark’s nutcracker probably fed on fish. He based his assumption on the fact that the Lewis and Clark Expedition found the bird near rivers and seashores. He also felt the bird’s claws looked too strong and fierce to belong to an eater of seeds. He was wrong on both counts.

The famous naturalist and painter John James Audubon also disagreed with his friend, Wilson, who had placed the bird among the species in the Corvus genus. Although it is definitely related to corvids, Audubon gave the bird its unique scientific name of Nucifraga columbiana, which means “Nut Cracker of the Columbia River.”

Clark’s nutcracker has only two close relatives: the spotted nutcracker of Europe and Asia and the large-spotted nutcracker, also known as the Kashmir nutcracker, which is indigenous to the western Himalayan mountains.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife website, Clark’s nutcracker has evolved a mutually dependent relationship with whitebark pine, a western conifer in serious decline. “The tree’s seeds are dispersed almost exclusively by Clark’s nutcrackers,” according to the website. “Consequently, Clark’s nutcrackers facilitate the regeneration of whitebark pine and influence its distribution and population structure through their seed caching activities. The website points out that a single nutcracker can cache up to an estimated 98,000 seeds during a good seed crop year.

Despite its close association with the whitebark pine, Clark’s nutcracker is famed for its adaptability, as well as a rather tame forwardness. Even from its first encounters with humans, the nutcracker apparently learned it could obtain supplemental food from them, earning it the nickname of “camp robber.” They might now be more aptly named “picnic robbers,” hanging around picnicking areas and parking lots to nab morsels provided deliberately or accidentally by humans.

I’ve birded in the west — Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming — on two occasions, and I’ve always been struck by how much tamer some of the birds seem in comparison to birds in the eastern United States. I wanted to see a Clark’s nutcracker during my two visits, but I really didn’t make it to the appropriate elevation for seeing one of these birds. Like Lewis’s woodpecker, the nutcracker will have to wait for future visits.

Library Happenings – Excitement building for summer programs

By Angie Georgeff

It’s hard to believe, but our Summer Reading Programs will start in less than three weeks.  Excitement is building and not just among children and teens. Our Summer Reading Program for adults will commence on June 3 and end on July 27. The start date is the same as it is for the youth programs, but please note that the finish date is not the same. The adult program will last longer since a major reset is not required for its materials before the Harry Potter Back-to-School Extravaganza begins on July 31.

The format is similar to that we followed last year. Participants 18 years of age and older will earn one entry for each book read, each audiobook heard, each DVD watched and each activity sheet completed. The drawing will be held after close of business on Saturday, July 27, and winners will be notified by phone or email on the following Monday. The grand prize winner will be able to choose any one of the three gift baskets we will have on display beginning June 3.  The second place winner chooses next and the third place winner will receive the remaining basket.

Library Senior Services Train patrons are also eligible to participate. Entry forms and activity sheets will be delivered along with their books and audiobooks. We hope everyone in Unicoi County will have fun reading and learning this summer! The theme this year is space and that will color some of the prizes and activities we offer, but readers are free to read any books or watch any DVDs that suit their taste.

Kids’ Books!

Hooray! A new shipment of books for children and teens just arrived. They currently are being cataloged and processed and will soon be available for checkout. Many of the books are about space, of course, but there are other new titles that have been requested by our patrons. Be sure to check the “new book” shelves in the children’s and teen rooms the next time you come to the library. You may discover a new favorite.

Best Books

Which is the best book you have ever read and which is the worst? You have until the close of business on May 31 to cast your votes. The ballot boxes are located on top of the bookcase where our Spanish-language books are shelved, on your right as you come through the front door of the library. As I write, the box containing votes for the best book holds significantly more ballots than the box containing votes for the worst book. I guess my Mama was not the only parent who used to say “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Feathered Friends – Woodpecker still bears name of expedition’s charismatic leader

Lewis’s woodpecker is found primarily in the west. It eats insects, mostly caught in the air, as well as fruits and nuts. The woodpecker also shells and stores acorns in the bark of trees. (Photo by Dave Menke/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

By Bryan Stevens

The 215th anniversary of the launch of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition will be observed May 14. Also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, the enterprise became the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States and explore the recently acquired lands known collectively as the Louisiana Purchase. The Lewis and Clark expedition officially extended from May 14, 1804, to Sept. 23, 1806. As they drove deep into the American west, the members of the expedition saw wonders, including the feathered variety, never before beheld by people outside of various Native American tribes.

In authorizing the expedition, President Thomas Jefferson wanted to establish a reliable route for travel through the western half of the nation and to fend off any attempts by European nations to gain a foothold beyond the nation’s frontier. Jefferson also hoped Meriwether Lewis and William Clark would make some important discoveries about the nation’s native fauna and flora. Jefferson gave instructions for Lewis and Clark to collect bones they found during their journeys. He also asked them to keep alert for large animals that would be new to science. In particular, Jefferson hoped that the men he chose to head the expedition would help prove that the American mastodon still roamed the American west.

Mastodon bones had been found in the eastern half of the United States early in the nation’s history. Jefferson, accepting the widely held view of his time that God would not let animals go extinct, entertained the optimistic belief that large herbivores such as the bison of the American West roamed portions of the newly-acquired Louisiana Purchase along with American mastodons. The expedition failed to find great herds of American mastodons trumpeting their way across the vast prairies and grasslands of the Western United States. As any student of history knows, however, the expedition made many important biological discoveries ranging from unique animals as the pronghorn antelope and grizzly bear to various fish, reptiles and plants.

The expedition also described nearly half a dozen species of birds that, at the time, had never been discovered and detailed by European Americans. These birds included the common poorwill and the greater sage-grouse. One of the birds — Lewis’s woodpecker — even memorializes the name of Meriwether Lewis and his important contributions to the success of the venture.

Lewis described the woodpecker that now bears his name as a bird “new to science” in one of his journal entries dated May 27, 1806. He made his observations of the bird while the expedition camped on the Clearwater River in what is now known as Kamiah, Idaho. He had mentioned the “black woodpecker” in earlier accounts in his journal, but during his time in the Idaho camp he managed to shoot and preserve several of the birds. In his account, he described the bird’s behavior as similar to the red-headed woodpecker of the Atlantic states back in the eastern United States.

As it turns out, both Lewis’s woodpecker and the red-headed woodpecker belong to the Melanerpes genus of woodpeckers, which also includes about two dozen species ranging North and South America, as well as the islands of the Caribbean. The other members of the genus found in the United States include acorn woodpecker, gila woodpecker and red-bellied woodpecker. The term Melanerpes comes from ancient Greek words for black (melas) and creeper (herpes), which roughly translates as “black creeper.” Lewis’s woodpecker, one of the largest of its kind found in the United States, can reach a length of 10 to 11 inches. In 1811, the famous naturalist Alexander Wilson composed the first description of the bird for science and named it Melanerpes lewis after Meriwether Lewis. In addition, the bird’s common name has always identified it as Lewis’s woodpecker.

These woodpeckers nest in open ponderosa pine forests and burned forests with a high density of standing dead trees. They also breed in woodlands near streams, oak woodlands, orchards, and pinyon-juniper woodlands. In appearance, Lewis’s woodpecker stands out from other American woodpeckers. Its unique appearance includes a pink belly, gray collar and dark green back, quite unlike any other member of its family. In behavior, it also differs from other woodpeckers. This woodpecker is fond of flycatching, perching on bare branches or poles and then making flight sallies to capture winged insect prey. It has also been described as flying more like a crow than a woodpecker.

We haven’t been good stewards of the woodpecker that the famous Expedition brought to our notice. According to the organization Partners in Flight, Lewis’s Woodpeckers are uncommon and declining. Their populations declined by 72 percent between 1970 and 2014. Lewis’s Woodpeckers are threatened by changing forest conditions as a result of fire suppression, grazing and logging. These factors often leave pines of a uniform age in the woodpecker’s favored habitat and fewer of the dead and decaying pines crucial for the bird’s nesting success. Humans could help Lewis’s woodpecker thrive by not removing dead or dying trees from western forests.

After the Lewis and Clark Expedition returned to the eastern United States and reported back to Jefferson, he was awarded 1,600 acres of land. He meant to work on publishing the journals he kept during the Expedition, but kept finding himself distracted. In 1807, Jefferson appointed Lewis governor over the Louisiana Territory that Lewis and Clark had so famously explored. He governed the territory from the Missouri city of St. Louis, which became known as the “Gateway to the West” as more Americans expanded into the territory they had learned about thanks to the famous Expedition.

Lewis spent two troubled years trying to administrate the new territory, but he became entangled in political squabbles and financial difficulties. Things got so difficult for him that Lewis decided he needed to travel to the nation’s capital in person to clear up the mess. On his way to Washington, D.C., he stopped at an inn along the Natchez Trace about seventy miles southwest of Nashville. He died of gunshot wounds on Oct. 11, 1809, and historians have debated ever since whether his death resulted from suicide or murder. Regardless of the nature of his demise, he earned a place in the history books. He’s also remembered every time a birder lays eyes on the woodpecker that bears his name. When the bird is researched in a field guide or on a web page, the more curious individuals are sure to dig a little deeper to learn who provided the Lewis in the woodpecker’s name. His name will continue to be recalled as long as this unusual western woodpecker continues to fly in its beloved pine forests.

I’ve never seen a Lewis’s woodpecker, although I have visited Utah twice to make the attempt. Lewis’s woodpecker is listed as an uncommon permanent resident on the state checklist, so perhaps I will need to be more diligent the next time I visit its home range. I see the red-bellied woodpecker, a smaller relative of Lewis’s woodpecker, on a regular basis. This common bird more closely resembles what most people expect a woodpecker to look like, and it will visit feeders for such fare as sunflower seeds, peanuts and suet.

In next week’s column, I’ll continue my anniversary tribute to the Lewis and Clark Expedition with a discussion of the bird that honors William Clark, the other partner in the famous westward expedition of discovery.

Readers continue to share hummingbird tales

Garry Cole sent me an email recently to share a hummingbird story.

“I have been following the progress of hummingbird sightings as the birds moved closer to East Tennessee,” Garry wrote. “I read with envy how neighbors all around me had seen these jewels, but none had visited my home here in Hickory Tree near Bluff City.”

Then, on April 23, as Garry sat in the yard, a male ruby-throated hummingbird stopped and hovered less than a foot in front of his face.

“He looked me squarely in the eye as if to say, ‘Well, I’m here. When are you going to feed me?’”

Garry noted that the bird arrived at about 8:15 p.m. “I immediately went inside and prepared my feeder,” he said. “Now, I have at least four that visit my feeder every day. There may be more, but I have only seen four at one time.”

His hummingbirds drink about eight ounces of sugar mix every two or three days and seem to feed more frequently between 5 and 7 p.m.

Tom Brake shared via Facebook that hummingbirds have also returned to his home on Peaceful Valley Road in Abingdon, Virginia. In his posting to my Facebook page, he informed me that he had his first hummingbird sighting of spring on April 28.

Library Happenings – 2019 Summer Reading programs begin soon

By Angie Georgeff

The countdown to Summer Reading 2019 has begun. We currently stand at t-minus three weeks and counting. Why am I using NASA terminology? Because this year’s theme is space and the slogan is “A Universe of Stories.” T-minus zero will arrive at 10:30 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, June 5, when children who will be entering Kindergarten and younger are invited to spend an hour at the library learning about the planets in our solar system. And yes, Pluto, even though you were demoted to dwarf planet status in 2006, kids will still learn about you! Our staff still holds you in high regard despite your lower profile.

Children in Grades 1 through 3 will meet on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. Grades 4 through 6 will lift off Thursdays at 11 a.m., and teens in Grades 7 through 12 will splash down each Thursday at 2 p.m. Our Friday Family Fun Day events will bring the whole family together each Friday from June 7 through July 5. The first is scheduled for Erwin’s Town Hall at 11 a.m. on Friday, June 7.  Although times and venues may vary, each of these programs will be held on a Friday.

Our inaugural program will be presented by Dr. Lori Meier, who is an Associate Professor at ETSU and a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador. She will share with us a brief overview of what is currently going on at NASA. This will include information about the SLS (Space Launch System) rocket that is scheduled to debut next year, the Orion crew capsule that will aid our quest to return to the Moon, the Curiosity rover and the InSight Mars lander. I was fortunate enough to see Dr. Meier present a similar program to an audience of children and adults late last year. She captivated everyone in the room, even the young kids!

Convenient schedules for all of our Summer Reading Programs for youth are available now at the circulation desk. Be sure to pick one up the next time you come in the library and keep it handy. Up-to-date information about all of our youth programs is also posted on our Unicoi County Kids and Teens Facebook page.

In addition, we have ordered a number of new children’s books about space that should be hitting the shelves any day now. The title that piqued my curiosity is Claire Freedman’s Aliens Love Underpants. I imagine a child you love would giggle to know, in rhyme and pictures, why she says that is so.

Board Meeting

The Board of Trustees of the Unicoi County Public Library will meet in the library lobby at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 16.

The public is welcome to attend. If you should require any special accommodations in order to attend the meeting, please call the library at 743-6533 for assistance.

Feathered Friends – Birds inspire poets to greater heights

A Eurasian skylark perches on a wire. This bird once inspired the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley to write his famous poem “To a Skylark.” (Photo by Kathy2408/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

With May’s arrival, other migrating birds have made stops in my yard, providing some excitement to the daily routine. It’s easy to wax poetic about the birds around us. Indeed, poets have been incorporating birds into some of their best-known work for centuries.

The Bard himself penned a poem titled “The Phoenix and the Turtle.” While the phoenix is a mythical bird and not one actually found in nature, the “turtle” in the poem’s title refers to the well-known European turtledove. Even before Shakespeare glorified the turtledove in his poetry, this small dove had already been entangled with myth and legend stretching back to Ancient Greece and Rome. For instance, the turtledove was considered by the Greeks as sacred to Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. Romans adopted the turtledove as an emblem of their goddess Fides, who reigned over the attributes of trust and faith. Perhaps, even more famously, the turtledove is still known today in the lyrics of the enduring Christmas carol, “The 12 Days of Christmas,” as the gift given on the second day of Christmas.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge gave us his gloomy “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in 1798. The longest of his poems, it tells of a sailor who brings ill fortune upon himself by shooting an albatross, which is family of sea-going birds consisting of about two dozen species. The poem also inspired the phrase “having an albatross around one’s neck” as a metaphor for bad luck.

Albatrosses are large birds with wingspans larger than most other birds, making them capable of spending almost their entire lives at sea except for the times they come ashore for the purpose of nesting. The entire family has been besieged by a variety of problems, many of which are caused by humans. Three albatross species are critically endangered, five species are endangered, seven species are near threatened and seven species are considered vulnerable.

One of America’s most famous poets often looked to the natural world, especially its feathered inhabitants, for inspiration for some of her most famous poetry. “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” by Emily Dickinson is arguably one of the finest metaphors in American poetry, with the abstract concept of hope being equated with a bird Dickinson likely observed in her gardens in Amherst, Massachusetts.

I’ve always enjoyed Dickinson’s “A Bird Came Down the Walk,” which transforms an ordinary encounter between a bird and a woman tossing it a crumb into an inspiring message of perseverance. One cannot help but feel that Dickinson, a famously reclusive woman, also envied the bird its power of flight and the freedom its wings gave it.

A near contemporary of Dickinson, and one famous for his moody, rhythmical works, Edgar Allan Poe published his masterpiece “The Raven” in 1845. While the poem won him many fans, he received a paltry $9 from the magazine “The American Review” for the work. Perhaps because of the insulting matter of compensation, Poe first allowed the work to be published under a pseudonym. The New York Evening Mirror became the first outlet to publish the poem with Poe’s name attached to it.

The young poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a classic poem titled “To a Skylark” in 1820. Shelley, one of the English Romantic poets, has been overshadowed in some ways by his wife, the novelist Mary Shelley, who provided the world with the enduring novel Frankenstein. Shelley apparently wrote his poem after he and his wife encountered one of these birds during a stroll in the countryside during a trip to Italy.

As is the case with good literature, Shelley’s poem inspired other authors. Reportedly, the English playwright Noël Coward and the American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald received inspiration from lines in the poem to create titles for their respective works, “Blithe Spirit” and “Tender is the Night.” American playwright Tennessee Williams titled his first play “Not About Nightingales,” apparently as a reaction to Shelley’s ode.

The Eurasian skylark is a widespread species found across Europe and Asia. This bird has also been introduced in various locations around the world. In North America, introduced populations of skylarks are found on southern Vancouver Island in British Columbia and San Juan Island in the state of Washington.

The only native lark in North America is the horned lark, also known by its scientific name of Alauda alpestris, which translated means “lark of the mountains.” The horned lark is a common, widespread bird of open country, such as prairies, deserts, and agricultural lands. Although horned larks also sing in flight like their relative, only the Eurasian skylark seems to be famous enough for its song to inspire poets to write tributes. The Eastern meadowlark, a fairly common bird in the region, is not an actual lark but a member of the blackbird family.

Based on the opening lines to Shelley’s poem, it can be safely argued that Shelley was particularly impressed by the skylark’s song.

“Hail to thee, blithe spirit!

Bird thou never wert,

That from heaven, or near it,

Pourest thy full heart

In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.”

Birds are continually inspiring us, much like a singing skylark once served as an avian muse for one of Shelley’s most famous poems. Whether it is their song, their beauty, or their free spirits, birds are certainly worthy of a poem or two.

Upcoming walk celebrates Migratory Bird Day

In conjunction with International Migratory Bird Day, I will help conduct a bird walk at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, Elizabethton, Tennessee, at 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 11. The walk is free and open to the public.

Participants will meet in the parking lot in front of the park’s Visitors Center. Bring binoculars to increase viewing opportunities. Participants will be looking for a variety of migrating birds, including warblers, tanagers, sparrows and many more.

Since 1993, International Migratory Bird Day has been celebrated during the second weekend in May in the Western Hemisphere, coordinated by  Environment for the Americas and sponsored by dozens of organizations, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, that are dedicated to birds and bird conservation.

In 2018, Environment for the Americas joined the  Convention on Migratory Species and the  Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds to create a single, global bird conservation education campaign.  World Migratory Bird Day celebrates and brings attention to one of the most important and spectacular events in the Americas – bird migration.

Come out and experience migration for yourself. For more information, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

UCHS drama presents ‘Grease’

UCHS drama students rehearse for their upcoming production of “Grease: School Version.” (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County High School drama department will bring a one-of-a-kind production of “Grease: School Version” to the stage beginning May 2.

According to UCHS drama department teacher Lori Ann Wright, the production takes the audience back to 1959 when Rydell High School’s senior class is ready to rock the stage. The too-cool for school “Burger Palace Boys” and the incomparable “Pink Ladies” are back at Rydell for one more year (and one more dance contest). 

The school version of “Grease” is an abridged version of the popular story with content suitable for families and younger audiences. The musical focuses on the romance between street-smart Danny Zuko and the new girl, sweet Sandy Dumbrowski. Danny and Sandy had a beach romance over the summer, but now they are back at school where peer-pressure and cliques make their lives a little difficult.

The whole gang sings and dances around Danny and Sandy’s romance, performing favorite songs as “Greased Lightnin’,” “We Go Together” and “Summer Nights.”

“It was exciting to see the band and drama students working together on this production,” UCHS band director Evangeline Hurter said. “It is a wonderful chance for the students to see  similarities between the two different areas of performing arts.”

Wright acknowledged that the crew has been hard at work.

“It has been a busy few months on the UCHS stage as the cast and crew of ‘Grease: School Version’ rehearsed scene after scene to create the production running May 2 through May 4,” Wright said. “Time in rehearsal is the largest part of the production process and the most important.”

Despite the long hours, the cast has enjoyed the experience.

“We’ve worked countless hours for this show, but none of it feels like work, because we love each other and the show so much,” UCHS junior Kate Hollenbeck, who plays Frenchy and serves as the show’s dance choreographer, said.

According to Wright, “Grease: School Version” has been a difficult but rewarding project.

“After the show is selected, licensed, and auditions are over, the real work starts – and that work is done in rehearsals,” Wright said. “From doing the initial table read of the script, to blocking rehearsals where actors learn how to move throughout a scene, to working on line delivery and characterization, to memorizing and practicing the dances, songs and script, the time spent in rehearsal is what makes a show ready for opening night.”

Wright said that her department was not afraid to tackle such an enormous production. 

“A larger production, such as a musical like this one, requires specialized practices with additional help from a choreographer or a music director,” Wright said. “Vocalists, dancers and musicians have separate rehearsals added to their already busy schedules.”

According to Wright, the students made many sacrifices to present this production.

“Our students spend at least three days a week including every Saturday morning working on the show,” Wright said. “This is in addition to the class work and class productions they create such as the recently performed ‘And Then They Came for Me’ and the upcoming Beginning Theatre Arts I One-Act Night and ‘Charlotte’s Web’ also coming to the UCHS stage later in May.”

According to Wright, the students performing “Grease: School Version” are at a stage in rehearsals where the performances are starting to really come together.

“We are now entering the special part of the rehearsal period when all the theatrical elements such as set, props, tech, makeup, costumes and the orchestra are brought together with the cast and crew to do final run-throughs of the show,” Wright said. “The final rehearsal combines every element of a great show and runs just like the first performance.”

The students connect with the story of “Grease: School Version.”

“My favorite scene is where all of the Pink Ladies and Burger Palace Boys are in a circle singing,” UCHS senior Katelyn Reece, who plays Marty, said. “It’s such a surreal moment of these seniors experiencing their moments in high school just like it’s my last few moments in high school.”

Wright said that the UCHS drama department is thankful for all the support that they have received.

“The UCHS ‘Grease’ cast and crew would like to give a special thank you to the following organizations for their support of this production: Erwin Outdoor Supply, H&H Auto Sales Unicoi, LLC, Blountville Auto Salvage, and Omar Canvas and Awning,” Wright said. “The students would also like to thank the administration, faculty and staff of UCHS and Mr. (John) English and the Unicoi County Board of Education for supporting the performing arts in our schools.”

Tickets for the show are on sale now at the UCHS main office and at Erwin Outdoor Supply for advance purchase or can be bought 30 minutes before each performance. Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for students and $3 for children under 12. 

“Grease: School Version” is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc. “Grease: School Version” book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.

“The students have worked so hard and I am extremely proud of the show they have created, and I love it when students can work together and bring out their very best on the stage,” Wright said. “This is a truly entertaining show and the audience will enjoy the antics of the characters on the stage, and it will be a good time for the audience, for sure.”

Feathered Friends – Take steps to keep hummingbirds healthy

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are model guests, but keeping them healthy and safe does take some work on the part of the people hosting them. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

Bristol residents Don and Donna Morrell saw their first hummingbird of spring at 10:19 a.m. on Monday, April 15. “My wife put the feeder up last week,” wrote Don in an email to me. “We live behind South Houston Dam.”

Gordon Aiton, who lives on Elm Street in Erwin, Tennessee, saw his first hummingbird of spring at 7:04 p.m. on Friday, April 19.

Phyllis Moore saw her first hummingbird — a male — at 7:50 p.m. on Friday, April 19, at her home in Bristol, Virginia.

Lynda Carter emailed me to report her first spring sighting of a male ruby-throated hummingbird at her feeder after lunch on Monday, April 15, and a second male appeared on Friday, April 19, a little after 1 p.m. Lynda said she lives at the end of Embreeville mountain in the Lamar community near Jonesborough, Tennessee.

Susan Okrasinski, a resident of Kingsport, Tennessee, saw her first hummingbird of spring on Easter Sunday, April 21.

“On my way into the kitchen I just saw (be still my heart) the first hummer of the season — whoo hoo!” Susan wrote in a post on her Facebook page. “It was a female, which is unusual as the males come up first and the females follow.  What a nice Easter surprise!”

Joanne Campbell, who lives at Middlebrook Lake in Bristol, Tennessee, posted on my Facebook page about her first spring hummer. “Had our first hummingbird sweep into our courtyard on Tuesday, April 23,” she wrote in her post.

Every hummingbird’s arrival at our homes after an absence of nearly six months is nothing short of an epic achievement on the part of this tiny bird. According to the website, hummingbird.net, most ruby-throated hummingbirds make a daring journey across the Gulf of Mexico to return to their summer homes in the United States and Canada. They typically depart at dusk for their nonstop Gulf flight of up to 500 miles, which takes 18 to 22 hours, depending on the weather.

Now that we’ve welcomed them back into our yards and gardens after such a harrowing journey, it’s important as good hosts to make sure these tiny wonders are kept safe.

Some ways of ensuring that our hummingbird guests are kept healthy and secure are simply common sense. For instance, don’t use pesticides, herbicides or any other sort of toxin anywhere close to the vicinity of a sugar water feeder or a flower garden. Hummingbirds are such tiny creatures with such intense metabolisms that it only takes a minute amount of any harmful substance to sicken or kill one of these little flying gems.

Feeding hummingbirds is easy, but many people try to complicate the process. Only common, pure cane sugar, mixed to a ratio of four parts water to one part sugar, is a safe choice for these birds.

For emphasis, I’ll repeat again that only common, pure cane sugar is safe for hummingbirds. There are no safe substitutes. Do not use organic, raw or brown sugar. Confectioner’s sugar, which contains an anti-caking substance (often corn starch, silicates or stearate salts), is also hazardous to hummingbirds.

There’s also a type of sugar known as turbinado sugar, which is named for the process of spinning the sugar in turbines to crystallize it. The crystals are rich in vitamins and mineral valuable for human health, but they are lethal for hummingbirds. Iron is one of the minerals contained in turbinado sugar. Hummingbird metabolism has a low tolerance for iron, which is present in the molasses added to brown sugar and in agave nectar. These are natural substances, but that doesn’t make them safe for hummingbirds.

The ratio of four parts water to one part sugar utilizing pure cane sugar most closely duplicates the nectar that hummingbirds obtain from some of their favorite flowers. Why try to mess with nature’s perfection?

I cannot imagine why anyone would supplement sugar water for hummingbirds with such human beverages as a sports drink or Kool-aid, but there have been reports of people doing so. Be aware that such additives will only risk the health of these tiny birds.

Honey is another substance, although perfectly natural in its origins, that should be avoided. Honey encourages the growth of fungus, which can quickly incapacitate or kill a hummingbird. A packet of artificial sweetener might taste great in your iced tea, but do not add such substances to the solution in your hummingbird feeder. These artificial sugar substitutes offer nothing of nutritional value for a bird with an extreme metabolism with excessive energy demands. In theory, a hummingbird mistakenly feeding on nothing but an artificial sweetener would soon starve to death.

It’s also important to change out your feeders and clean them as often as every one to three days. In extremely hot weather reaching more than 90 degrees, the sugar solution may need to be changed and the feeder cleaned on a daily basis. That’s not as difficult as it sounds. I prepare sugar water and store it in plastic juice containers. Refrigerated, the solution will last longer and can be doled out on a daily basis until a new supply is needed.

Don’t use any type of soap or detergent to clean the feeders. The best advice I’ve read is to stick to hot water and vinegar, which will not leave behind a residue that could potentially harm the hummingbirds.

Do not put any sort of red dye or coloring into the sugar water, and do not purchase commercial solutions that incorporate red dyes. Some scientific studies suggest that red dye is a recipe for disaster with hummingbird. Such dyes are thought to lead to kidney failure and certain death for the hummingbird. There’s also plenty of evidence to suggest that banning red dye is an exaggeration of the peril. Taking that into consideration, I still err on the side of caution. Perhaps the red dye will eventually be proven harmless. Until that time, I prefer not to risk the health of my resident hummingbirds.

I’m often asked if the sugar water feeder itself should be red. There is ample evidence that hummingbirds are attracted to red. According to information from the National Audubon Society website, current thinking is that the red dye, as just mentioned, may not be good for them, nor is it necessary to attract hummingbirds. The color on a feeder is enough to attract them. Most feeders incorporate some red parts into their construction. People can mix their own nectar using 1/4 cup sugar to every 1 cup of water.

It’s a lot of work to attract hummingbirds and keep them safe and healthy. I’d like to think the rewards we get from these small birds make the effort worthwhile.

Library Happenings – Events planned for Star Wars Day on May 4

By Angie Georgeff

May the Fourth be with you! Our Summer Reading Programs for children, teens and adults will be starting in about a month. Preparations are well underway and excitement is building.  Since the theme for the first five weeks is space and May 4 falls on Saturday this year, we want to give everyone a preview of Summer Reading fun by celebrating Star Wars Day. Your entire family is invited to join us on Saturday, May 4, from noon until 2 p.m. for games, crafts and snacks celebrating the Star Wars phenomenon.

Costumes are not required, but if you happen to have an outfit that makes you look like a “big walking carpet” (i.e., Chewbacca) or a “stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder” (Han Solo), this would be the perfect time to wear it. You know, you might not have many chances to wear an outfit like that. We also welcome droids, but please leave your bantha or tauntaun tethered in the parking lot. The library is simply not big enough to hold them.

Since we are speaking of costumes, the second half of our Summer Reading Programs will be inspired by the Harry Potter books and movies. Like our May the Fourth celebration, they will be events for the entire family. We hope to encourage families to read together, so that children see role models in their parents, grandparents and siblings.

Costumes are never required to attend our programs, but if you enjoy cosplay, you may want to start thinking about an outfit inspired by one of the Harry Potter characters. I already have mine.

New Books!

We placed a sizeable order for adult fiction and non-fiction last week, and it is expected to arrive any day. Ordering books for children and teens is next on our agenda, so be sure to let us know if there is a special book you want to see added to our collection and get your name on the hold list. 

Senior Services

Did you know that we offer home deliveries of books and audiobooks for homebound senior citizens and nursing home residents? Items are chosen by our Senior Services Coordinator with the needs and preferences of each individual in mind. Deliveries are made biweekly, and fines do not accrue to these accounts, so you don’t have to worry about returning something late.

Our Library Senior Services Train patrons are also given the opportunity to participate in our Summer Reading Program for adults. If you or someone you know might be interested in this program, please call the library at 743-6533 on Wednesdays or Thursdays for more information.  Connie will be happy to get you started.

Feathered Friends – Readers share hummingbird arrival tales

Male ruby-throated hummingbird show the namesake red throat. The feathers on a male’s throat are iridescent, which means the refracted color can change when seen from different angles. In poor light, the ruby-red throat can look almost black. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

Bob Cheers, a resident of Plantation Road in Bristol, Virginia, sent an email to announce the arrival of his first hummingbird of spring at 6:20 p.m. on Wednesday, April 10.

“I put the feeder out April 2, which is earlier than previous years, after reading your article,” Bob wrote. “It brought to mind the one year that I failed to get the feeder out early and spotted a hummingbird hovering outside of my family room window, in the exact location my feeder has hung for the last 30 plus years. That little guy had to have been a repeat customer.”

Bob wrote that he’s intrigued by the fact that this year’s arrival date falls within the spread that ranges from April 9 to April 14 that he has established since he started recording the returns in 2009. “What triggers their departure from Central America and their guidance system, considering the variable winds encountered, that sends them back to my feeder within a five-day period each year?” Bob asked in his email.

I had to do some digging to find an answer to Bob’s question. According to the website, Hummingbird.net, the phenomenon of migration among hummingbirds is not well understood.

“Most ruby-throated hummingbirds winter between southern Mexico and northern Panama,” the website reveals. “Since hummingbirds lead solitary lives and neither live nor migrate in flocks, an individual bird may spend the winter anywhere in this range where the habitat is favorable, but probably returns to the same location each winter.”

The time they spend on this wintering range is remarkably brief. “Ruby-throats begin moving north as early as January, and by the end of February, they are at the northern coast of Yucatan, gorging on insects and spiders to add a thick layer of fat in preparation for flying to the United States,” the website notes.

According to the website, some hummingbirds skirt the Gulf of Mexico and follow the Texas coast north, while most apparently cross the Gulf, typically leaving at dusk for a nonstop flight of up to 500 miles, which takes 18 to 22 hours depending on the weather.

The force that compels hundreds of thousands of individual hummingbirds to all migrate at the same time remains mysterious. The reason these birds migrate is simpler. In the eastern half of the United States and Canada, ruby-throated hummingbirds face no competition from their own kind. If they remained in Central America, they would have to compete with dozens of species of hummingbirds during the nesting season. From the standpoint of the ruby-throated hummingbird, why not take a trip and claim a monopoly over some resource-rich terrain? It’s worked for these tiny flying jewels so far.

So, Bob became the first person to report a hummingbird arrival to me this year, but plenty of other people lined up to share their sightings, too.

Amy Wallin Tipton in Erwin, Tennessee, sent a message via Facebook to report her first hummingbird arrival for the spring. “Just saw my first hummer,” she wrote. Amy reported that the hummer, a male, arrived at 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday, April 10. “I’m so glad they are back,” she shared.

Ginger Brackins also reported that she saw her first ruby-throated hummingbird of spring on Wednesday, April 10, at her home in Erwin, Tennessee. She noted that it was a week earlier than last year. Ginger notes the arrival dates each year on her calendar. Ginger’s message about her sighting arrived thanks to her daughter, Gina McKinney, who emailed me on her mother’s behalf.

Joneen Sargent reported that her first hummingbird put in an appearance at 10 a.m. on Thursday, April 11, at her home in Bristol, Tennessee. In her email, she also asked if I had heard of downy woodpeckers drinking from sugar water feeders.

I answered her question by informing her that I’ve noticed downy woodpeckers, as well as Carolina chickadees, taking sips from my feeders. The chickadees can get quite acrobatic in their efforts to indulge their taste for sweets.

“We had our first male hummer at the feeder on Thursday, April 11, here in Bristol, Tennessee,” reported Tom and Sue Faucette in an email. “He came back on April 12-13.”

Lynne Reinhard reported that she saw her first hummingbirds of spring on Friday, April 12. “They are back!” Lynne proclaimed in a Facebook message. She wrote that the first hummingbird of the season arrived at 3 p.m. at her home on the upper end of South Holston Lake.

Snad Garrett saw her first hummingbird of spring on Stoney Creek in Elizabethton, Tennessee, on the evening of Friday, April 12.

Merry Jennings in Abingdon, Virginia, saw her first hummingbird on Friday, April  12, around 6 p.m., but hasn’t seen it since. “I put out the feeder on Thursday, April 11,” she noted in the email she sent me.

Lisa Brewer, who lives near Boone Lake in Piney Flats, Tennessee, reported that her first hummer arrived around 3 p.m. on Friday, April 12.

“I put my hummingbird feeders out last Sunday and had been watching every day for the first hummer to arrive,” she wrote in her email. “I was really excited to see a male ruby-throated hummingbird, and I saw what appeared to be the same one on Saturday and Sunday.”

Lisa added that this is the first year she has been able to get her feeders out in time for the first hummingbirds arriving in this area. “So I wanted to be sure to let you know when I saw my first one,” Lisa wrote.

Glen Eller saw his first hummingbird for the spring season on Friday, April 12, at 5:55 p.m. at his home in Fall Branch, Tennessee. “it was a male,” Glen reported in an email.

Karen Fouts posted on Facebook that she saw her first hummingbird of 2019 on Friday, April 12, at her home in Marion, Virginia. She also reported rose-breasted grosbeaks at her feeders.

Lois Cox and Wilma Boy reported their first male ruby-throat hummingbird on Saturday, April 13, at 2:30 p.m. at home in Bluff City, Tennessee. In her email, Lois noted that they needed to get out their feeders for the visiting bird. “It was a male,” Lois wrote in the email. “Hope it comes back.”

Deb Clark sent me an email on behalf of her mother and her sighting of a spring hummingbird. “My mother, Louise Tilson, has asked that I send you a message sharing her good news that she’s having hummingbirds at her backdoor feeder,” Deb wrote in the email.

Deb added that her mom lives in the Riverside community near Chilhowie, Virginia, on the banks of the South Fork of the Holston River. “She put out her feeder about a week ago,” Deb wrote. “The first little fellow showed up Friday, April 12, at about three-thirty in the afternoon.”

Deb relayed that her mother said the hummer came and perched on the feeder, drinking like he was starving.

Louise reported multiple visits by solitary male hummingbirds several times through Friday afternoon, but she wasn’t sure whether it was one bird making several trips or different birds.

Lane and Phyllis Duncan, who reside in the Rich Valley community in Smyth, Virginia, sent me an email to report their first hummer of spring on Friday, April 12, at 3:30 p.m.

Karen Shaffer sent me an email to announce the arrival of a hummingbird at her home. “I’m so excited to report we saw our first hummer on Saturday, April 13, at 11 a.m. at our home on Rich Valley Road, Bristol, near the Benhams and Nordyke communities.”

Karen said she heard the bird before she saw it. “It was visiting our blooming yellow holly bush,” she wrote. “Such a tiny thing — but vivid in color at the throat, so a male, I guess. Yay!”

Gloria Walter Blevins reported in a Facebook message that she saw her first hummingbird this spring on Friday, April 12, at her home in Damascus Virginia. The hummingbird — or another one — returned the following morning. Gloria also noted that she has bluebirds building a nest at her home.

Priscilla Gutierrez, Limestone Cove community in Unicoi County, Tennessee, reported on my Facebook page that she saw the first spring hummingbird Friday, April 12, at 6:45 p.m. “They have been coming ever since,” she noted.

April Kerns Fain in Erwin, Tennessee, posted about her hummingbird sightings on Saturday, April 13, on Facebook. “The hummingbirds are back,” she wrote. “I’ve seen a male at my feeders several times today.”

Jane P. Arnold sent me an email to notify me of her mother’s hummingbird sighting. Her mother, Betty Poole, who lives in Abingdon, Virginia, saw her first hummingbird — a male — on Saturday, April 13. The following day, a female ruby-throated hummingbird also showed up at the feeder. Jane added that she’s still waiting to see her own first hummingbird for the spring.

Helen Whited of Richlands, Virginia, reported her first spring hummingbird arrived on Saturday, April 13. “I just saw my first hummingbird of the season,” she wrote in her email. “Just one male so far. I have had my feeders out and waiting for a couple days. I thought this warm spring weather might bring in a few. So exciting!”

Sharee Bowman wrote a post on her Facebook page to announce her first spring hummer sighting on Saturday, April 13. “Hummingbird came yesterday to my feeder and, yes, it is the first one I have seen this year,” she wrote.

Felicia Mitchell saw her first spring hummingbird on Saturday, April 13. “He is happy to be home,” she reported in a comment on my Facebook page.

Brenda Hickman Dishner posted on my Facebook page about hummingbird arrivals. “They arrived at our house in Bristol, Tennessee, near Holston Dam on Highway 421, on Saturday, April 13, about 10:30 a.m.,” she wrote in her posting.

Vivian C. Tester sent me a Facebook message to report that she saw her first spring hummer at her home in Bristol, Tennessee, on Sunday, April 14.

Linda Kessinger Rhodes saw her first spring hummingbird visiting her feeders at her home in Tennessee Hills by the Walmart on the Parkway in Bristol, Tennessee. She posted her sighting on my Facebook page.

Rhonda Eller saw her first hummingbird on Sunday, April 14, at 1:20 p.m. In her post on my Facebook page, she noted that she hung the feeder out last Wednesday before heading to Louisville to visit family. “I am always pleasantly surprised for the first spotting of one here on Horseshoe Bend in Chilhowie, Virginia,” she added. “Oh, the bluebirds are here, too, and have a nest with three eggs.”

Cheri Miller posted on my Facebook page about her sighting. “I saw one Sunday, April 14, in the Brown’s Branch community in Hampton, Tennessee, eyeing an orchid blooming in the window,” she wrote in her post.

Ron Bartlett reported by email that a single male showed up at his feeder on Sunday, April 14. “I live in McDowell County, North Carolina,” Ron shared. “This is about a week later than normal. Perhaps he was held up trying to cross the border.”

Donna Barnes Kilday of Erwin, Tennessee, posted to my Facebook page that she saw her first hummingbird of spring on the morning of Monday, April 15.

Janie Compton, a resident of Chesterfield, Virginia, saw her first hummingbird on Monday, April 15. Her friend, Phyllis Moore, posted news of Janie’s sighting on my Facebook page.

Emily Rogers, from Jonesborough, Tennessee, reported on my Facebook page that she had her first hummingbird of spring in Tennessee’s oldest town on Monday, April 15.

Philip Laws, a resident of Limestone Cove in Unicoi County, Tennessee, saw his first hummingbird on Tuesday, April 16, at 4:20 p.m.

Tom and Cathy McNeil, who reside in the Piney Grove community of Hampton, Tennessee, reported their first spring hummingbird on Facebook on Tuesday, April 16.

I saw my first hummingbird this spring when a male visited several of my feeders around 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16. I enjoyed welcoming him home.

Readers are welcome to continue sharing their hummingbird sightings. Plenty of other colorful birds are also making spring migration stops, and I love to hear what everyone is seeing in their own yards. Email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com with questions, comments or observations.

Library Happenings – Voting open for favorite, least favorite novels

By Angie Georgeff

“It was the best of books; it was the worst of books.” Even though my bookcases at home are filled to capacity, not every novel I have read has been a keeper. Some of the books I had to read in high school were downright awful, while others are still favorites that I have enjoyed a dozen times or more.

I apologize to Charles Dickens and “A Tale of Two Cities” for the liberties I took with his famous first line, but I’m curious: Which novels do our patrons consider the best – and worst – they have ever read? Well, let’s find out. Starting today and continuing throughout the month of May, vote for the novels you like most and least whenever you come into the library. Both the winner and the loser will be announced in June when we have tabulated all the votes.

The ballots, boxes and pens are located on top of the bookcases where our Spanish-language books are shelved, to the right of our main entrance. You may vote once in each category every time you come into the library, since a new book could supplant a best-loved or least-liked choice at any time.

Spotlight Book

I recently finished reading Diane Setterfield’s “Once upon a River” (thumbs-up!), so now I’m moving on to the next novel in my teetering home library stack of books-to-be-read.

Delia Owens’s “Where the Crawdads Sing” is now in the batter’s box. The title alone was enough to attract my attention, but seeing that title on top of the bestseller list week after week has compelled me to move it to the top of the stack.

Our library’s copy has already checked out twenty times and every copy in the OWL consortium is currently checked out.

Kya Clark was abandoned by her mother when she was only six. Her older siblings moved out of the home soon thereafter. When her alcoholic father left, too, Kya grew up on her own in the marshes outside the coastal community of Barkley Cove, North Carolina.

Having forsaken school because she didn’t fit in and surviving in isolation, Kya is christened the “Marsh Girl” by the town’s residents. Tate Walker, the son of a local shrimper, is one of few people who befriend Kya. He teaches her how to read, but the wild coastal marshes are her true teacher, as well as her home and classroom.

When Tate goes away to college, Kya meets ladies’ man Chase Andrews and they commence a stormy relationship.

In 1969, the young man falls from a fire tower and dies. Foul play is suspected and the murder investigation soon focuses on Kya, but is she guilty?