UCHS band wins competition

UCHS Blue Devil Band members Emily Tapp, Aaron Fregoso, Makayla Clouse, Cynthia Mendoza, Ethan Erwin, Savanna Williams and Kate Hollenbeck celebrate victories at the 67th Annual Apple Festival Competition in Chilhowie, Virginia. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County High School Blue Devil Marching Band continues to build a winning tradition.

According to UCHS band director Evangeline Hurter, the band competed on Sept. 28 in the 67th Annual Apple Festival Competition in Chilhowie, Virginia.

“In class 5A-1 the band received first place in the following categories: music, marching and general effect, thus winning our class,” Hurter told The Erwin Record. “The band won the Upper Division Grand Championship, outscoring the bands competing in class 4A-1 through class 6A –  that’s 10 bands in all and the band also won the Band of the Day Award for having the highest scores out of all the bands.”

This year’s event featured more than 20 regional bands.

“There were 22 bands that competed from Upper Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia,” Hurter said.

According to Hurter, the marching band has put in the work to achieve these awards.

“The kids in this program are extremely dedicated, willing to work long hours to make every performance opportunity something both they and our community can be proud of,” Hurter said. “It takes a special kind of kid to do what they do and do it well. They are an amazing group and I am proud to be their director.”

Hurter acknowledged that the community has really rallied behind the band programs.

“This program has grown largely due to the blossoming middle school program. Hayley Goad is a tremendous asset to the entire band program,” Hurter said. “It also takes a great staff to be successful in the competitive marching band world and we are very blessed in that area; however, none of this would be possible without the hard work of the band boosters who provide support and financial means to make it all happen.”

The UCHS Blue Devil Marching Band looks to keep their winning streak going as they encounter future competitions.

“Our next competition dates are: Oct. 19 at the Hilltopper Invitational held at Science Hill High School; Oct. 26 at the Appalachian Classic held at Sullivan Central High School; and Nov. 2 at Tennessee Division 2 State Marching Band Competition held in Smyrna, Tennessee,” Hurter said. “The theme of this year’s show is Lost At Sea and will be continuously changing until our final competition as we add different musical and visual details.”

For more information about upcoming contests and ways to help sponsor the UCHS Blue Devil Marching Band, please follow Unicoi County High School Band Boosters on Facebook.

Feathered Friends – Water a magnet for waxwings, other birds

Cedar waxwings feed extensively on various fruits and insects, forming large nomadic flocks that can quickly deplete local resources. (Photo by Patrice_Audet/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

The extended spell of dry, hot weather we’ve experienced for the past several weeks threatens to spoil fall colors, but if you’re a person who can offer a water feature or birdbath, this might be the perfect time to observe thirsty flocks of birds. In particular, cedar waxwings, which often travel in large flocks, embrace water with an exceptional avian enthusiasm.

I still remember my first look at a cedar waxwing. Sleek as silk, wearing a mask like a bandit, with a jaunty crest atop its head, this fairly common bird commands attention when making an appearance in a yard or garden. Of course, it’s usually not alone, more often traveling as a member of a larger flock that can number as high as dozens or even hundreds of individuals.

Flocks of these sociable birds win fans almost anywhere they go. Chances of luring these birds to your home and property can increase by offering some essential requirements. Tall trees, especially those that bear fruit, are attractive to these sociable birds. It’s more often water, not food, however, that will bring a flock of these birds close. They love a good splash in a bath, whether the source is a shallow stream or an ornamental pool set into the landscape.

As noted, they travel in often sizable flocks, usually in search of new food sources. The many members comprising a flock can deplete resources in a remarkably short time. During the winter season, I’ve watched a flock of waxwings make short work of a harvest of berries from a holly tree. Their nomadic lifestyles make it nearly impossible to predict where cedar waxwings might make an appearance.

In most years, the wild cherry trees scattered around the edges of my yard are fully laden with berries. As they ripen in late August and into September, waxwings appear and commence harvesting the fruit. Once again, they arrived at just the right time last month to catch the wild cherries at their peak.

As much as the waxwing has a fondness for fruit, it’s also a bird that would have made an excellent flycatcher. Flocks of these birds will often congregate in trees near the edge of a pond, garden or yard — anywhere winged insects might be found in good numbers — in order to hawk insects on the wing. A waxwing will sally forth from a branch, snatch its prey in mid-air, and return to its perch for a quick snack.

Perhaps because of the late-summer abundance of bugs and berries, cedar waxwings are known for nesting late into the summer. They’re certainly not among the birds impatient to begin nesting as soon as temperatures turn mild in the spring. Some fellow birders recently reported seeing cedar waxwings feeding fledgling just out of the nest as the calendar flipped from September of October.

Why is the term “waxwing” applied to this bird? According to the website All About Birds, the name comes from the waxy red secretions found on the tips of wing feathers. The site also notes that the precise function of these waxy tips is not known. There’s speculation among some experts that the bright red tips on the feathers could play a role in helping waxwings attract mates.

The cedar waxwing has few relatives. Worldwide, there are only two other species: the Bohemian waxwing, of the northern forests of Eurasia and North America; and the Japanese waxwing, found in such northeast Asian countries as Japan, Korea and China.

Although it’s classified as a songbird, the cedar waxwing doesn’t truly produce a vocalization that anyone would contend qualifies as a song. They are, however, very vocal birds, producing shrill, high-pitched notes as they pass through the upper branches of tall trees. The excitable commotion of an active flock of these sleek and elegant birds is always a welcome sound at my home.

Library Happenings – Annual Halloween Film Festival begins this week

By Angie Georgeff

In Alice Hoffman’s newest novel “The World That We Knew,” Jewish mother Hanni and her daughter Lea live in Berlin in 1941. Keenly aware of the danger that threatens them, Hanni turns to Ettie, the teenaged daughter of a rabbi, for help. Together, they create a golem, a creature of superhuman strength modeled of clay and animated by kabbalistic magic. They shape the golem so that it appears to be a woman and call it Ava. Ava has no soul, but she does have a purpose, and her mission is to keep Lea safe and to love and protect her as a mother would.

Ettie and her younger sister accompany Ava and Lea as they escape Berlin on a train to Paris.  Once they arrive in France, Lea and her “cousin” Ava seek sanctuary with distant relatives, while Ettie goes on to join the French Resistance. As you might imagine, evil and danger continue to pursue Ava and Lea and those with whom they find shelter, but Lea has a dedicated and powerful protector in Ava.

My own copy of “The World That We Knew” is now at the top of my to-be-read stack at home, along with a box of tissues. Thinking about golems – which, frankly, I don’t do very often – has reminded me of Helene Wecker’s popular 2013 novel “The Golem and the Jinni.” If you are curious, a sequel called “The Iron Season” is planned, but apparently a publishing date has not yet been set.

Film Festival

Driven by autumn winds, dry leaves are skittering along the empty streets and twigs are scraping across window panes like phantom fingernails. It’s time. Our annual Halloween Film Festival begins tomorrow night. Due to the limitations of our site license, I can’t publish the title of the movie that we will be showing in this column. Since the subject has already come up, I can tell you that it’s not “The Golem.” That would be perfect for Halloween, of course, but it’s not covered by our site license. Join us at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10, for popcorn, candy and another movie just as suitable for the season. Please feel free to bring a bottle of water or the soft drink of your choice.

Holiday Closing

Columbus Day may be the Rodney Dangerfield of U. S. holidays, but I’m always happy to have an opportunity to sleep late. The library will be closed on Monday, Oct. 14, in observance of Columbus Day. No items will be due on that date, but you may deposit books in either of our book returns at any time. They are located in front of the library in Erwin and at Town Hall in Unicoi.

Since DVDs may be damaged if heavy books fall on them, please return DVDs to the library when we’re open. We appreciate your help keeping our videos safe. Thank you!

Lingerfelt announces retirement from CFCU, Banks named new CEO

Amy Banks (Contributed photo)

Sandy Lingerfelt (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

After a 43 year career of serving members at Clinchfield Federal Credit Union (CFCU), CEO Sandy Lingerfelt will be retiring at the end of the year. 

Lingerfelt began her career at CFCU in 1977 and was promoted to CEO in 1985. Holding many leadership positions, which include chairman of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Credit Union League and chairman of the Audit Committee of CUNA, she was also the second person to be inducted into the Tennessee Credit Union Hall of Fame. She has been a strong voice in the credit union industry and will certainly be missed.

Lingerfelt is widely known as the lady who makes the bread; her bread has opened many doors and helped to develop friendships and contacts all over the country. Lingerfelt’s dedication to CFCU has created an atmosphere of loyalty, professionalism and financial stability for Unicoi County. 

“I feel very blessed to have enjoyed a 43-year career at CFCU and even more blessed knowing Amy Banks and our caring staff will continue taking care of our members the way they deserve to be taken care of,” Lingerfelt said.

Amy Banks, currently the senior vice president of operations at the credit union, has been named by the Board of Directors to assume the role of CEO effective Jan. 1, 2020. Banks started her career at the credit union as a part-time teller and has moved up the ranks in her 29 years of experience there.   

Banks is involved in numerous community activities, an active member of Evergreen Freewill Baptist Church, and obtained her Certified Credit Union Executive designation from the Credit Union National Association.

“I am honored to be named as the new CEO of Clinchfield Federal Credit Union, and I am excited about the opportunity to continue building on our history of success,” Banks said. “It is important to me to remain a strong supporter of our community and to provide the best member service to our members.”

“Banks is a great fit for the culture that Lingerfelt has set at Clinchfield Federal Credit Union,” said Wade Tilson, chairman of the CFCU Board of Directors. “It is with much respect and appreciation for both ladies to honor one’s retirement while welcoming another’s new leadership. The legacy that Sandy Lingerfelt has built will continue and CFCU will most definitely grow and prosper under the new leadership from Banks as well.”

Feathered Friends – ‘Science’ article warns that people need to focus on needs of birds

A loggerhead shrike, a songbird that aspires to be a raptor, is one of many birds that has decreased dramatically in numbers in the past 50 years. (Photo by PublicDomainImages/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

Imagine the sky growing dark and, looking up, you notice that the cause is not approaching storm clouds but a passage of birds  — millions of individual birds, their wings darkening the skies as they pass overhead.

The early American naturalist and painter John James Audubon once described the passage of enormous flocks of passenger pigeons that blotted out the light “as by an eclipse” and described the noise of the multitude of wings “like thunder.” His observation of these flocks took place in 1813. A century later, the world’s last passenger pigeon, a species that had ranked as one of the continent’s most numerous birds, died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.

The passenger pigeon was the avian equivalent of the American bison, albeit with a more tragic outcome. Bison, also commonly called buffalo, still survive. As with the bison, we’ve had avian rescue success stories — whooping cranes, Kirtland’s warblers, bald eagles — with efforts to bring some birds back from the brink of extinction. At the same time, we’ve lost others, including the ivory-billed woodpecker, the eskimo curlew and Bachman’s warbler. Now a new study indicates that our birds may be under assault as never before.

The journal Science dropped a bombshell article recently about declining bird numbers in North America. The article’s claim that nearly 3 billion — that’s billion with a “b” — fewer wild birds exist on the continent than in 1970 is a shocking figure, but the sad fact is that the article probably doesn’t come as a complete surprise to birders or even backyard bird enthusiasts. The evidence of our own eyes and ears confirms the details of the comprehensive study reported in the pages of Science. There are fewer birds, which has been becoming painfully clear over the past few decades.

I first got into birding in 1993. Now, 26 years later, I have noticed some of the declines in just the past quarter of a century. Every autumn, the variety and numbers of migrating warblers that visit my yard has gone down.

The new study in Science focuses on the drop in sheer numbers of birds. According to most experts, the bird population in the United States and Canada was probably around 10.1 billion individual birds nearly half a century ago. That number has fallen 29 percent to about 7.2 billion birds, an alarming loss of nearly 3 billion birds just in North America.

I have personally noticed signs of this dramatic loss. Let me share some personal anecdotes. These stories don’t serve as definitive proof, but they add to my unease about the state of our feathered friends.

For one thing, I no longer host large flocks of birds at my feeders during the winter. One would expect birds to mass in sizable flocks in the vicinity of feeders during a season when resources can be scarce. In the 1990s, I hosted flocks of pine siskins and evening grosbeaks that numbered in the hundreds and dozens, respectively. At times, large flocks of American goldfinches, purple finches and house finches flocked to my feeders, too. I haven’t seen an evening grosbeak since 2001. Pine siskins still visit, but I consider myself fortunate to host a flock that numbers a dozen or more.

The sights and sounds of summer have changed, too. Two of the most dependable summer songsters used to be Northern bobwhite by day and Eastern whip-poor-will after dark. I haven’t heard a whip-poor-will at home in more than 20 years. The last time I heard a Northern bobwhite was about a decade ago. I live in a rural area that used to be fairly agricultural. The disappearances of bobwhite quail and whip-poor-wills is reported throughout the ranges of these two species.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Some birds have grown even more common in recent decades. Regionally, look at birds like great blue herons, double-crested cormorants, and cliff swallows, which have also shown an increased presence.

What killed the passenger pigeon? People did. What’s caused the precipitous drop in bird numbers since the 1970s in North America? Once again, people must shoulder most of the blame. We have destroyed or altered habitats essential for birds to thrive. We’ve paid little attention to the signals from some of these kin of the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” that something’s wrong in nature.

Yet “hope is the thing with feathers,” as the poet Emily Dickinson phrased it, and the losses are a signal to pay attention, not to panic. Birds are amazingly resilient. Birds need only the same things as humans — food, shelter, water. Well, perhaps they need one more thing. Birds require a safe and welcoming space in which to unfurl their wings and fly.

The great flocks of passenger pigeons may be no more, but there’s no reason to think our remaining birds can’t continue to soar, so long as we provide them with their essential needs and offer them a degree of protection and compassion.

Library Happenings – Library will be open during Apple Festival

By Angie Georgeff

October has arrived with the same flurry of fun and excitement it brings us each year. On Friday, Oct. 4 and Saturday, Oct. 5, the Unicoi County Apple Festival will be held right on our doorstep.  The festival is expected to bring more than 100,000 visitors to Erwin, and a fair number will visit the library. A couple living in Hawkins County recently brought a houseguest visiting from Australia over here just to see our library. We were flattered to be one of the can’t-miss sights of Northeast Tennessee.

As usual, we will be open on Friday and Saturday. Although several streets will be blocked by vendors, your library will still be accessible. Just take Elm Avenue south past Love Street and Erwin Utilities to Iona Street. Turn right at Iona and cross over Main Avenue to Nolichucky Avenue. Turn right at Nolichucky. The Unicoi County Public Library will be on your left in our beautiful and historic old depot building. If you have friends or family visiting during the festival, be sure to put a stop at the library on your itinerary. Story the library cat loves visitors!

Park at the Library!

The parking spaces in front of our main door will be reserved for those patrons who are using the library. There is no charge for parking while you are using our facility or shopping at our book sale. For those who want to attend the festival, convenient parking will be available in the library parking lot on Friday or Saturday for a donation of $5. All funds raised will help support library programs. Our parking lot will open at 8 a.m. each day of Apple Festival. Business hours will be the same as usual. The library will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Book Sale!!

While you’re enjoying the Apple Festival, be sure to visit our book sale in the basement. The sale will be open during our regular business hours. Our shelves are filled to overflowing with a variety of books and DVDs that should appeal to virtually every age and taste, so come discover a hidden treasure at a price even Scrooge would think more than fair. No humbug!

Film Festival

Our annual Halloween Film Festival will begin here at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10. Join us for popcorn, candy and a movie that may elicit a pleasant thrill of horror, but which shouldn’t give you nightmares. The terms of our site license prohibit us from disclosing the titles in this column, but this year all of the movies we have chosen have been adapted from novels. Call us at 743-6533 for more information.

Feathered Friends – Birds not only migrants in skies

Cape May warblers are just one bird species migrating through the region this fall. (Photo by insitedesigns/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

Rhonda Eller of Chilhowie, Virginia, posted a question on my Facebook page about some dragonflies that appeared in her yard on Sept. 10.

“We have had a sudden breakout of dragonflies in our yard,” Rhonda explained. “We seldom see more than one or two at a time.”

Rhonda wondered if the dragonflies might have been drawn to her yard in pursuit of some sort of favorite insect prey. She also speculated that the recent dry conditions might have attracted the dragonflies.

I responded to her query by explaining that birds are not the only migrant in the skies at this time of year. Some dragonflies, just like birds, migrate. A species known as green darner is one that migrates. These darners are rather large, for a dragonfly, and travel in swarms. A couple of years ago I observed thousands of these dragonflies swarming over a municipal swimming pool and a nearby fish pond at a park in Erwin, Tennessee.

The WSLS Channel 10 television station out of Roanoke, Virginia, reported on swarms of dragonflies so large that they got picked up by local radar. Rhonda shared a link to the station’s story on my Facebook page.

Of course, swarms of migrating insects are bound to get the attention of predatory birds. The same day that Rhonda experienced the influx of migrating dragonflies, I witnessed dozens of common nighthawks and chimney swifts swooping through the skies over my home. With a little more attention to detail, I also noticed the dragonflies sharing the skies with these birds.

I suspect that the nighthawks were feeding on the large darners while the swifts, which are much smaller birds, focused their foraging efforts on smaller winged insects. Tom McNeil, a neighbor and fellow member of the Elizabethton Bird Club, reported seeing nighthawks and swifts, too. Tom lives on the other side of a mountain ridge that separates our homes.

Tim Morris, a Facebook friend from Australia, noted in a comment on my post about the nighthawks that his country is home to a bird known as the tawny frogmouth, a relative of the common nighthawk. Tim noted that frogmouths are big birds with camouflage markings that allow them to pretend to be dead tree boughs by day. “They feed not only on insects but mice and lizards, too,” he added.

Evidence of fall migration continued the next day when I detected a small wave of warblers foraging in trees at the edge of my yard. I saw five different species — American redstart, worm-eating warbler, Cape May warbler, Blackburnian warbler and Tennessee warbler — in the space of half an hour. Of the warblers in the flock, the Blackburnian and Cape May are some of the more vibrant ones.

The Blackburnian warbler’s common name commemorates Anna Blackburne, an English naturalist who lived from 1726 to 1793. Her brother, Ashton, had immigrated to the United States, which made it possible for him to send his sister many specimens, especially birds. Their father, a salt merchant by trade, was also a well-respected amateur naturalist. In addition to the warbler that bears her name, Anna Blackburne also had a species of beetle named in her honor.

Both the Cape May and Tennessee warblers are named for the locations from which they were first collected. Neither of these small songbirds are closely affiliated with Cape May, New Jersey, or the Volunteer State. The Cape May warbler is also known as the “tiger warbler” for the dramatic black striping across its bright yellow breast. A green back and chestnut cheek patch make the Cape May warbler quite unlike any of its close kin. Even its scientific name — Setophaga tigrina — pays homage to the striped big cat. The term “setophaga” translates to “moth eater” and is a reference to this warbler’s intense fondness for the caterpillars known as spruce budworms that occasionally produce outbreaks in the northern spruce forests that serve as the nesting range for the Cape May warbler.

According to the website, “All About Birds,” Cape May warblers have unusually shaped tongues that allow them to sip nectar from tropical flowers during the winter months spent in Central America and the Caribbean. Their unique tongues also make it possible for them to enjoy sips of sugar water from hummingbird feeders.

Whether its dragonflies, nighthawks, warblers or hummingbirds, plenty of birds and other flying creatures will be moving through the region for the next few weeks. Now’s the time to get outdoors and look for some of these migrants.

Library Happenings – Large shipment of books arrives at library

By Angie Georgeff

Good news: The harvest has begun! We recently received a large shipment of books aimed at children, teens and adults. Since it was impossible to choose only one book to highlight from all that bounty, I chose three.

Spotlight Books

Emma Donoghue’s “Akin” introduces us to Noah Selvaggio. Approaching his 80th birthday and recently retired, the former professor decides to visit his native hometown of Nice. Noah had been separated from his mother during World War II when he was sent to live with his father in America and his mother stayed behind in France to care for her father. He hopes to learn more about his mother’s family and the role she may have played in rescuing children from the Nazis.

His plans are jeopardized when he learns that he is the only available relative of his nephew’s 11-year-old son, Michael. With his father dead and his mother in prison, Michael has nothing in common with Noah except a portion of his DNA. However, unwilling either to give up the trip or to abandon Michael, Noah takes him along to the French Riviera. There the two use photographs that had belonged to Noah’s mother to piece together the puzzle of the life she led in Vichy France.

In William Kent Krueger’s “This Tender Land,” Odysseus “Odie” O’Banion reminisces about his childhood during the Great Depression. Consigned to the brutal Lincoln Indian Training School after their father is murdered, 8-year-old Odie and his older brother Albert endure four years of inadequate provisions and harsh treatment before they escape the institution along with a Sioux teenager and a precocious little girl. The four friends begin their travels in a canoe with St. Louis as their destination, but their journey proves to be just as convoluted as that of Odie’s namesake Odysseus and the characters they encounter just as strange and varied.

“This Tender Land” is being compared to Delia Owens’s “Where the Crawdads Sing,” and it has quickly landed on the bestseller lists. Although it was published with an adult audience in mind, it may have crossover appeal to some teenagers. Similarly, Dahlia Adler’s anthology “His Hideous Heart” was published with a teen audience in mind but may have crossover appeal to adults, especially those who enjoy the macabre.

In “His Hideous Heart,” 13 young adult authors reimagine some of Edgar Allan Poe’s most beloved tales of horror and mystery in order to make them more accessible to a new generation.  Oct. 7 will mark the 170th anniversary of Poe’s death, and late October is always a good time to curl up with one of his tales, so the timing of this release is perfect.

Feather Friends – Vireos are ‘Plain Janes’ of songbirds

A red-eyed vireo grasps a tree branch, a common pose for this bird that spends time concealed in the woodland canopy. The red eye can be difficult to detect unless lighting conditions are optimal for observers. (Photo by FotoRequest/Adobe Stock)

By Bryan Stevens

The start of migration appears to be more of a crawl than a sprint this fall, but I have picked up a few signs. For instance, I’ve been hearing the scolding sounds of red-eyed vireos from woodland edges for the past few weeks. A dedicated singer at most times, this vireo seems more likely to produce a harsh, scolding cry at this time of the year. Other hints of the steady advance of fall migration include flocks of common nighthawks and chimney swifts congregating in the skies over my home and the unmistakable croaking of common ravens from nearby ridges.

So far, I’ve seen only a few warblers, including black-throated blue warbler and hooded warbler. At a glance, vireos would appear related to the wood warblers. Research into DNA, however, has led many experts to contend that vireos are more closely related to crows and shrikes. Like the flycatcher and hummingbird families, the vireo family is exclusive to the New World. With a mere 50 species, vireos and their kin are vastly outnumbered by flycatchers and hummingbirds. The majority of vireos resides in the tropics, but about a dozen species nest in the United States.

In East Tennessee Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina, vireos resident during the summer months include red-eyed vireo, white-eyed vireo, blue-headed vireo, yellow-throated vireo and warbling vireo. Most people are likely unaware of vireos. Although not uncommon, these birds are more frequently heard than seen. They spend much of their time in the forest canopy or in dense brush. When singing, they can remain at a perch, unmoving, for long periods of time.

The loud scolding calls of red-eyed vireos often heard this time of year are given apparently when the vireo is alarmed or irritated. This scolding vocalization is quite unlike the usual ones produced by this bird. First and foremost, the call is louder than one would think could be produced by a bird that is only about six inches long. During the summer season, the red-eyed vireo is also one of the most persistent of singing songbirds. Another common name for the red-eyed vireo is “preacher bird,” so called because of its tendency to unceasingly deliver its song.

The red-eyed vireo is still considered one of eastern North America’s most common summer breeding birds. At one time, the red-eyed vireo was probably the most common breeding bird in eastern woodlands. That, sadly, is no longer the case. Red-eyed vireos are olive-green above and clean white below. These birds show a distinctive head pattern consisting of a gray crown and white eyebrow stripe bordered above and below by black lines. Adults also have the red eyes that give this particular vireo its common name. The term “vireo,” originating in Latin, can be translated into English as “green bird.” It’s an apt description, as many of these small birds are primarily dull green in coloration. Consider the vireos the “Plain Janes” of songbirds.

Other vireos that can be found in the United States, for at least part of the year, include Philadelphia vireo, plumbeous vireo and Cassin’s vireo. A specialty of Florida is the black-whiskered vireo, while the black-capped vireo is an endangered species found in Texas. Two others, Bell’s vireo and gray vireo, are identified as species of concern on the Audubon Watchlist.

Many species of vireo are also found in the islands of the Caribbean, including Jamaican vireo, Cuban vireo and Puerto Rican Vireo. The thick-billed vireo can be found in the Bahamas, which were recently pulverized by Hurricane Dorian. The thick-billed vireo is very similar to the white-eyed vireo, which is a summer resident in our region.

My only birding outside of the United States took place in the Bahamas 20 years ago. My highlights included two hummingbirds — Bahama woodstar and Cuban emerald — as well as bananaquits, black-faced grassquit, Western spindalis, Cuban pewee and other interesting species. I didn’t see a thick-billed vireo, but I did get my first-ever look at a Cape May warbler. I was visiting the Bahamas in January of 1999, which proved a fortunate time since many warblers migrate to these islands for the cold months. I’m hopeful that both people and birds on the islands Abaco and Grand Bahama and smaller islands most affected by the monster storm are able to recover soon.

Some of the more colorful common names for vireos include the dwarf vireo, golden vireo and yellow-winged vireo.  In Central and South America, the vireo family expands to include many birds with common names such as shrike-vireo, greenlet and peppershrike. Some of the varied species include lemon-chested greenlet, green shrike-vireo and the black-bellied peppershrike.

I still focus most of my birding efforts on warblers in the autumn, but vireos are always a pleasant diversion when the colorful warblers make themselves scarce.

Library Happenings – New Knitting Hour begins Friday, Sept. 27

By Angie Georgeff

With the autumnal equinox less than a week away, my thoughts are turning to cozy scarves and sweaters. I know: I’m almost always cold and you are not, but it takes time to knit or crochet something warm and comforting.

You are going to want it before the snow flies. Choose your pattern, needles and yarn and join us from 6-7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27, for our new Knitting Hour.

I have never knitted or purled (although I am willing to try), but we will have someone here who can help you get started or learn to knit even better. Join us! I’m sure Story will be eager to help. You know how cats love yarn!

Board Meeting

The Board of Trustees of the Unicoi County Public Library will meet in the library lobby at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 19. The public is welcome to attend. If you require any special accommodations in order to attend the meeting, please call 743-6533 and ask for Angie.

Book Orders

Good news! We recently placed two substantial orders for books aimed at children, teens and adults. If you have added a request to our Wish List, you may soon get a call to pick it up.

If there is a book, audiobook or DVD you want us to add to our collection, give us a call or let us know the next time you come to the library.

We genuinely do appreciate book suggestions.  If you want to read something, somebody else will, too. We will be happy to get it for you if we can.

Spotlight Book

Stephen King has been terrifying and enchanting readers since 1974, when his debut novel “Carrie” rocketed to the top of the charts.

Forty-five years have passed, but he hasn’t lost his touch. “The Institute” begins with the murder of a husband and wife and the kidnapping of their gifted 12-year-old son, Luke.

Luke wakes to find himself in a room that appears identical to his bedroom at home, but which is located in a facility called the Institute. His room, along with those of four other children with extraordinary abilities, is located in the Front Half.

The kids housed there are promised that they will be returned to their parents after they have been tested and visit the Back Half.

Luke, however, soon learns that other kids have graduated to the Back Half, but that no child has ever left the Institute.

When Luke discovers that the common denominator among his fellow captives is psychic abilities, he befriends a member of the housekeeping staff in order to make his escape and expose the abuse.

Feathered Friends – Hooded warbler brings tropical splash

A male hooded warbler forages in a rhododendron thicket. This warbler spends much of its time in the thick understory of woodland habitats. (Photo by Jean Potter)

By Bryan Stevens

I came away from a recent program on bird migration given by Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman learning a few new nuggets of information about warblers, which are one of my favorite bird families. The Kaufmans, well-known birders and activists on the behalf of birds, spoke Saturday, Aug. 31, on the topic of bird migration during the evening program at the Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally. They confirmed some things I have always suspected to be true about fall migration in the region. For instance, warbler migration in the Southern Appalachians is indeed often more productive in the fall than in the spring. The Kaufmans also noted that fall migration takes place at a more leisurely pace for most of the migrating warblers. They even pointed out that some of the warblers, such as magnolia warbler and Tennessee warbler, which are uncommon fall migrants at their home in Ohio, are actually quite common in East Tennessee.

Hooded warblers nest in the woodlands around my home. So, from the time my favorite warbler returns in April until the last individual departs in October, I enjoy regular glimpses of this colorful and interesting bird. Like all warblers, the hooded warbler is quite energetic, dashing after tiny insects in the branches of shrubs and trees. Hooded warblers often forage close to the ground, which makes observing them easier.

Every time I behold a hooded warbler, I marvel at the bird’s exquisite appearance. The gold and green feathers seem to glow brightly in the dim light of the shadowy thickets of rhododendron they prefer to inhabit. The black hood and bib surrounding the male’s yellow face stands out by virtue of its stark contrast from the brighter feathers. Large coal-black eyes complete the effect. The appearance of the male bird provides this species with its common name. The female has an identical yellow-green coloration as the male, although she is slightly more drab. She lacks the black hood and bib, although older females may acquire some dark plumage on the head and around the face. Both sexes also show white tail feathers that they constantly fan and flick as they move about in thick vegetation and shrubbery.

I know that every migrant passing through my yard at this time of year is making its way southward, and it will likely be another five to six months before I again see any of my favorite songbirds. The hooded warbler will make itself at home in the forests of Mexico, as well as in Belize, Costa Rica and other Central American nations, throughout the winter season. Most hooded warblers begin returning to their winter haunts as early as mid-September, but lingering individuals continue to entertain birders in the United States throughout October.

Like many of the ruby-throated hummingbirds that make their home in the United States for the summer, the hooded warbler’s fall migration takes it across the vast open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, crossing to the Yucatan and then dispersing from there to various points in Central America. That birds as small as hummingbirds and warblers make this incredible migration twice yearly is one of nature’s most phenomenal feats of endurance. In their presentation, the Kaufmans explained that these tiny birds put on incredible fat reserves to help fuel their efforts.

The warblers, also known as wood-warblers, are an exclusively New World family of birds, numbering approximately 116 species. About 50 of these species of warblers make their home in the eastern United States and Canada for the spring and summer, departing in the fall and returning to tropical wintering grounds. Some of them are extremely bright and colorful birds. The hooded warbler would have to be included among the more brightly colored warblers.

Other colorful warblers that share similar tastes in range and habitat with the hooded warbler include the American redstart, black-throated blue warbler and black-throated green warbler.

While some of the neotropical migrants that venture into North America boast even brighter kin in the tropics, we need not feel cheated with the warblers that make their home in the United States for half of the year. Some of their relatives are beautiful birds, including the white-faced whitestart, golden-bellied warbler, three-striped warbler and rose-breasted chat, but few can really hold a candle to their relatives that venture north and brighten our lives.

The warblers are, in short, an incredible family of birds. I’ve seen all but a handful of the species that reside for part of the year in the eastern United States. I still want to see a Connecticut warbler and cerulean warbler, as well as the endangered Kirtland’s warbler of Michigan and the golden-cheeked warbler of Texas. I’ll miss the warblers once fall migration has run its course. For those months they are here, the warblers belong to us. They seem like “our” birds. They’re only on loan, though. Our winter birds will offer some compensation in their absence, but I’ll be impatiently awaiting that flash of gold from the recesses of a rhododendron thicket next April.

Library Happenings – September is Library Card Sign-up Month

By Angie Georgeff

According to brownielocks.com, where they “do not make these up,” the month of September has been set aside for a large number of observances. Among them are Baby Safety Month, Children’s Good Manners Month, National Cheese Month and International Square Dancing Month. 

Story, who is our library cat, customer relations specialist and superintendent of pest control, evidently believes that every month should be Happy Cat Month, but she does seem to expect an especially generous allotment of treats during September. Woe betide our circulation staff if we run out of her favorites! My boundless affection for Story notwithstanding, I prefer to think of September as Library Card Sign-up Month.

A library card is your free ticket to the world of information and recreation.  The Unicoi County Public Library houses more than 30,000 physical items which may be checked out, while our patrons enjoy access to another 170,000 items that can be accessed online.  In addition, through the statewide courier system, we may borrow items from other libraries located across the state. With the help of our Regional Library, we may request items from libraries around the country. All this is available to you free of charge with your Unicoi County Public Library patron ID card!

Residents of Unicoi County and the surrounding counties who are 18 years of age or older may apply for a library card with a government-issued photo ID card that shows their current address.  If their ID shows another address, then additional proof of residence will be required.  A local utility bill is commonly used for this purpose. There is no charge for a library card unless the original card is lost. In that case, a replacement card will cost $1.

A parent or guardian may apply for library cards for children under the age of 18 as long as the responsible adult already has a card or applies for one at the same time. Since no minimum age has been prescribed, we rely on parents to determine when their children are ready to assume that privilege. It’s so much fun to watch their little faces beam when they are given their first library card! In order to celebrate libraries and encourage participation, each person who gets a new library card during September will be entered into a drawing for a $25 gift card from Walmart. Good luck!

Board Meeting

The Board of Trustees of the Unicoi County Public Library will meet in the library lobby at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 19. The public is welcome to attend. If you require any special accommodations in order to attend the meeting, please call 743-6533 and ask for Angie.

Feathered Friends – Gray catbirds require gentle coaxing to give up shy habits

Gray catbirds are shy by nature but will acclimate to people if given some encouragement. (Photo by MonetsCat/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

The gray catbird is a baffling bird with a personality that runs the gamut from introverted to extroverted, sometimes depending on the season and at other times seemingly just on a whim. With some gentle persuasion, however, people can gain a catbird’s trust and develop a fun friendship with these clever songbirds.

One summer, all I needed to do to win over the catbirds was to offer some less-than-perfect strawberries and blueberries. A few blemishes on the fruit didn’t bother the resident catbirds at all, and they soon became accustomed to receiving such treats.

Your first introduction to the catbird is likely going to occur when you hear what sounds like an irritable feline hiding in a hedge, thicket or dense shrub. Upon closer examination, you may get a glimpse of a charcoal gray bird roughly the shape of a Northern mockingbird but smaller. A black cap and a patch of rusty-red feathers under the tail are the only exceptions to this bird’s overall gray plumage.

Catbirds are experts at concealing themselves from prying eyes. The gray plumage blends into the shadowy sections of the tangles and thickets where the bird likes to hide itself. However, even when gray catbirds are reluctant to be seen, they’re almost eager to be heard. The catbird is extremely vocal, with several calls and songs in its repertoire, including the rather faithful rendering of a fussy cat’s meow that provides this bird its common name.

They’re part of a family related to thrushes that are known as “mimic thrushes.” Besides its surprisingly accurate rendition of a feline, the catbird has several other common vocalizations. Despite their shy nature, they’re extremely curious. Imitating their calls or simply producing a squeaky sound will usually persuade the bird to move out of cover and search for the source of the noise.

Catbirds are part of the parade of returning birds each spring that includes species like rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles and indigo buntings, but because they lack the brilliant plumages of these other birds their arrival would probably go unnoticed if not for the fact they are extremely noisy for the first few weeks they are back. Then they go silent again and remain quieter as they take up the serious business of raising young.

However, in a mood that appears to swing with the seasons, gray catbirds emerge again in late summer and early fall when they feast on such fruit as elderberries and wild cherries while making their whiny cacophony of calls from any tangle or thicket where they happen to be.

The catbird belongs to the genus Dumetella. The name is based upon the Latin term dūmus, which roughly translated means “thorny thicket.” Dumetella, in turn, means “dweller in the thornbushes” or “small bird of the thornbushes.” It’s a rather apt description for a bird fond of habitats often dominated by thorny vegetation. Older common names for the gray catbird included cat thrush and slate-colored mockingbird.

They are related to thrashers and mockingbirds, but scientists find them just different enough to warrant placing the gray catbird in its own genus. A relative known as the black catbird, which ranges throughout the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, as well as northern Guatemala and northern Belize, also belongs to a genus of its own. Both catbirds are classified as “mimic thrushes,” or Mimidae, of which there are about 30 species in the New World. There is a totally unrelated family of catbirds that ranges through Australia, Asia and parts of Africa.

The gray catbird is not as an accomplished mimic as some of its relatives, such as the Northern mockingbird. Males have motivation to constantly expand their repertoire, however, as doing so increases the likelihood of attracting a mate. They imitate other birds, but some have been recorded imitating frogs and other non-avian singers.

While not generally considered a bird to visit feeders, people have succeeded in attracting catbirds to feeders designed to offer grape jelly or orange slices. Planting fruit-bearing shrubs and trees is the best means of attracting these fascinating birds to your yard and garden.

Library Happenings – Programs for children, teens return this month

By Angie Georgeff

Cheer up! Summer vacations may be coming to an end, but that just means our slate of regularly scheduled programs for children and teens are starting up again.

They will begin this Friday, Sept. 6, with our contribution to Erwin’s popular First Friday fun. We will show a family-friendly movie, starting at 6 p.m. The terms of our site license prevent us from announcing the title or the studio in the newspaper, but pop into the library and we will be happy to spill the beans.

The first meeting of our popular American Girl Club for this school year will take place from 6-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 17. Get your doll ready for fall! We will help with a fall-themed craft. Check our Unicoi County Public Library Kids and Teens Facebook page for more information.

Reading Buddies and our newly rechristened StoryTots (formerly called Little Tykes Story Time) will resume their weekly time slots on Wednesday, Sept. 18. In case you’ve forgotten, StoryTots will meet from 10:30-11:30 a.m. Reading Buddies will meet from 3:30-4:30 p.m.

Aarrgh you ready, Matey? Teen meetings will recommence at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 19, which is also known as “Talk Like A Pirate Day.” Feel free to dress the part if you want to.

Spotlight Book

After collecting accolades for her bestselling debut novel “The Tiger’s Wife,” Tea Obreht turns her storyteller’s focus from war-torn Yugoslavia to the American Southwest for her sophomore novel “Inland.”

When I was young, my paternal grandfather lived in Arizona for the sake of his health. For two years running we visited him there in July. I found the unrelenting heat and aridity unbearable. Now imagine that it is 1893, you are living in the Arizona Territory and there has been a prolonged drought. There are no pools, air conditioning, or even grocery stores.

That’s what is facing Nora Lark. Her husband is searching the desert for their long-overdue water delivery, her two older sons are managing their father’s newspaper in his absence, and Nora is left to run the ranch and take care of her frail mother-in-law with her youngest son and her husband’s teenage cousin. Nora may be a strong woman, but it’s no wonder she talks to her dead daughter.

Fleeing a murder charge, fugitive Lurie Mattie is wandering the same desert as Nora’s husband Emmett. He had been born in the Balkans, but after making his way to the west for four decades, he shows up at Nora’s ranch riding on a camel. Here at the end of the novel two storylines converge, thanks to a beast that is a stranger in a strange land. This is a western, but not the kind most are used to.

Feathered Friends – Some birds stand out from the flock with their amazing migratory feats

The bobolink is also known as the “rice bird” for its tendency to feed on cultivate grains such as rice. Even the bird’s scientific name, oryzivorus, means “rice eating” and refers to this bird’s appetite for many of the same grains consumed by humans. This small songbird also undertakes yearly migration flights equalling more than 12,400 miles. (Photo by jasonjdking/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

The peak of fall migration is approaching. Birds of all species are winging their way southward ahead of the months of cold and scarcity. September and October are months of flux and transition. Like a bear fattening for hibernation, I gorge on sightings of warblers, hummingbirds, tanagers and other favorites, knowing that I won’t be seeing many of these birds again until next spring. Their memories will sustain me, as will my feeders, which will still bring plenty of colorful and entertaining birds into my yard even in times of snow and ice.

Bird migration at any season is a spectacle. Many of the birds that nested in mountain hollows or vegetation-choked wetlands will winter in Central and South America, the Caribbean or other distant but warmer destinations. The following snapshots of fall’s bird migration capture the phenomenon’s drama.


The bobolink is a small bird in the family of blackbirds, which includes grackles, orioles and cowbirds. Nesting across North America during the summer, bobolinks retreat to South America for the winter. These small birds undertake amazing migrations, making a round-trip of about 12,400 miles to regions south of the equator in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina each fall. Come spring, they make the trip again, but in a northerly direction.

According to the website All About Birds, migrating bobolinks orient themselves with the earth’s magnetic field. These small birds are able to accomplish this feat due to iron oxide in bristles of its nasal cavity and in tissues around the olfactory bulb and nerve. Bobolinks also use the stars scattered across the night sky to guide their migratory flights. Capable of living as long as nine years, a long-lived bobolink will rack up some serious miles simply migrating to its nesting grounds and back to its wintering habitat each year.

Bar-tailed godwit

Shorebirds, which in North America can consist of birds ranging from turnstones and sandpipers to willets and avocets, are champion migrants. For instance, the bar-tailed godwit makes an impressive non-stop migratory flight. This shorebird nests in the United States only in parts of remote Alaska, but this godwit also ranges into Scandinavia and northern Asia. Some of these godwits make a nine-day, non-stop migratory flight that takes them from New Zealand to the Yellow Sea of China and beyond, a distance of almost 6,000 miles each way.

Needless to say, since the godwits make no stops along the way, they must also go without food for the duration of their journey. The female godwit is larger than the male, but she still weighs only 12 ounces. The long-billed, long-legged bird is about 17 inches in length from the tip of the bill to its tail. That a creature so small can make such a distant, arduous trip and be the none the worse for wear is truly inspiring.

Broad-winged hawk

Many North American raptors migrate, but the broad-winged hawk dislikes the lonely aspects of solitary travel. Instead, these hawks form large flocks during migration, and in autumn the majority of these raptors travel past human-staffed hawk migration observation points, which are dubbed “hawk watches,” during a brief and concentrated period of only a few weeks. Observing the phenomenon locally is possible at the Mendota Fire Tower Hawk Watch site atop Clinch Mountain at an abandoned fire tower near Mendota, Virginia.

Broad-winged hawks are part of the family Accipitridae, which includes 224 species of hawks, eagles, vultures and other birds of prey. Broad-winged hawks are truly long-distance migrants. Many hawks passing over Mendota may end their migration as far south as Brazil. These hawks travel in flocks that can consist of hundreds or thousands of individuals. The birds conserve energy by soaring on thermals and mountain updrafts.

Blackpoll warbler

Most of the warblers that nest in North America retreat to Central and South America during the winter months. Few warblers, however, make as great a journey as the blackpoll warbler. Instead of migrating over land, this five-inch-long warbler undertakes a two-stage migration. The first half of the migration is a non-stop flight of about 1,500 miles. Every fall, these tiny birds fly over the ocean during this part of their migration, departing from Canada or the northern United States and not stopping until they reach various locations in the Caribbean. There they will spend some time recovering from the exhausting first half of their journey before they continue their way to such South American countries as Colombia and Venezuela. Once again, during the time they spend flying over open ocean, these tiny warblers do not feed.

• • •

Program will focus on egrets, herons

I’ll be presenting a program on herons, egrets and other wading birds at the September meeting of the Elizabethton Bird Club. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, at the Elizabethton campus of Northeast State Community College, 386 Highway 91. The meeting will be held on the second floor in Room 208. The free program is open to the public and will follow a brief business meeting.

Readers with questions are welcome to email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or send a friend request on Facebook at facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. I also love to receive comments and hear about bird observations.

USA Raft hosting second annual music festival

This is an aerial shot of USA Raft during the Sol Slam Mountain Jam in 2018. The music festival will be held at USA Raft again this Labor Day weekend. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Labor Day might be the unofficial end of summer, but for East Tennessee the day represents the start of festival season.

USA Raft will be hosting a unique music festival that is entering its second year and was created out of an accident. Sol Slam Mountain Jam all started when Charleston, South Carolina, band Sol Driven Train played USA Raft on Labor Day of 2017.

“Sol Driven Train had a show that was cancelled in Asheville due to some busted pipes at the venue and they were looking for a place to play, so we brought them out,” USA Raft CEO and President Matt Moses said. “After they played on the porch at Crockett Cabin, we saw the enthusiasm of the crowd and we knew we had something special.”

The following year the First Annual Sol Slam Mountain Jam took place on the main stage at USA Raft over a two-day period during Labor Day weekend in 2018. Following the inaugural Sol Slam Mountain Jam, Moses and members of Sol Driven Train decided that the event was ready to expand.

“Following the first one, we had people booking lodging for this year,” Moses said.

According to Moses, the event continues to grow and attract visitors to Erwin from all over the region.

“It’s our goal to fill every campground and hotel in Unicoi County, then all the way into Johnson City,” Moses said. “We are already preparing for the growth; we are working on a way to bus the crowd in.”

Moses said he is excited for the potential economic impact events like Sol Slam Mountain Jam can have on both local and regional businesses. “While they are here for the music, we give our guests directions to eateries in town, places to shop, things to do for entertainment,” Moses said. “We also encourage our visitors to enjoy the natural beauty this area has to offer.”

Sol Slam Mountain Jam will remain a family- and pet-friendly event in 2019.

“We want families to come out and enjoy the music and all the river has to offer,” Moses said. “On Sunday, Sol Driven Train plays a special children’s show, and we have a family floating parade to conclude the day.”

According to USA Raft General Manager Jamie Morrell, this year’s lineup is the largest in the history of the festival.

“We are excited at all the vendors and the numerous bands that are coming,” Morrell said.

Here is the full schedule of bands:

• Friday, Aug. 30: 5:30-6:30 p.m. – Shake it Like a Caveman; 7 p.m. – The Danberrys;  9 p.m. – The Reckoning.

• Saturday, Aug. 31: 11:30 a.m. – Yoga; 1 p.m. – Big Like the Ocean; 3 p.m. – Sunflowers & Sin; 5 p.m. – Dangermuffin; 7 p.m. – Sol Driven Train; 9 p.m. – Yarn.

• Sunday, Sept. 1: Noon –  Sol Driven Train kids show/floating parade; 1 p.m – Lyric; 3 p.m. – Reggie Sullivan Band; 5 p.m. – Sol Driven Train.

According to Moses, Sol Slam Mountain Jam has become a Labor Day tradition.

“Our mission is to be the best end of summer music festival in the region while celebrating music and life in an intimate, naturally stunning environment, Moses said. “Ticket quantities will be limited to promote the highest quality event experience.”

If you are interested in purchasing tickets, listening to samples from the bands, or finding out more please follow USA Raft on Facebook. You can also check Moses and USA Raft on Amazon Prime’s hit Outdoor series Air, Water, Or Land (AWOL).

Feathered Friends – Farm ponds offer habitat for wood ducks

A wood duck hen tends her brood of ducklings. Also known as the “summer duck” or “Carolina duck,” the wood duck is one of the few species of waterfowl to nest in the southeastern United States. (Photo by Skeeze/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

A wood duck hen and her six ducklings have made my fish pond their home since early July. Although it’s a small pond, the hen and ducklings are skilled at hiding themselves among cattails and lily pads. It’s slightly late in the season, so I suspect this could be a second brood of ducklings for this particular female wood duck.

I’ve enjoyed my infrequent peeks into the lives of the mother and her lively brood. I’ve caught them resting on the bank of the pond on a few occasions. They always dive into the pond with considerable squeaks and squeals, but then they immediately get themselves into a single file formation with mom bringing up the rear as they slowly and without panic glide among the cattails and lily pads until they find hiding places away from my prying eyes and my camera.

Waterfowl, however, are usually scarce in the summer months aside from the ubiquitous Canada geese and mallards found at ponds, local parks, golf courses and other locations. Waterfowl aren’t entirely absent, of course, especially when you add the variety of domesticated waterfowl that are often found with the aforementioned geese and ducks.

The small wood duck is a species of waterfowl that can be found, in suitable habitat, during the nesting season. In many parts of their range, wood ducks are known as the “summer duck” since they are the only wild native nesting duck present during the season. Another common name for this species is the Carolina duck, which refers to the southern stronghold of this species of waterfowl. Wood ducks are year-round residents across much of the southeastern United States, especially in suitable habitat such as small lakes, flooded woodlands, swamps and marshes.

Like a handful of other North American waterfowl, the wood duck is a cavity-nesting bird. These ducks often occupy former nesting cavities created by woodpeckers, but they will also readily accept nesting boxes of suitable dimensions provided by human landlords. Because of their devotion to nesting in cavities, wood ducks have at least something in common with songbirds like Eastern bluebirds, tree swallows and house wrens, as well as larger birds such as American kestrels and Eastern screech-owls.

Wood ducks aren’t the only waterfowl that nest in cavities. Buffleheads, hooded mergansers and common goldeneyes are also cavity-nesting ducks. None of those ducks, however, nest in the southeastern United States. I don’t have any duck boxes on my property, so I believe the hen probably built her nest in a natural cavity in a tree in the nearby woods.

The wood duck belongs to the genus Aix. The only other species in the genus — the Mandarin duck —is native to East Asia. The two are classified as “perching ducks” by biologists. The males of both these species are among the most ornate ducks in the world. The male wood duck has red eyes and a dark-tipped red bill. The colors in a male’s plumage includes glossy, iridescent greens, purples and browns in dramatic patterns. The male also has a distinctive head crest. Female wood ducks also have crests, but their plumage is overall gray and brown with a teardrop-shaped white patch around the eyes, as well as a white chin and throat.

In his book, “Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh,” author John Eastman noted that the wood duck was the most abundant of North American ducks during the 19th century. In the late 19th century, pressures from hunting and habitat destruction combined to dramatically lower the numbers of this exclusively North American duck. Eastman noted that the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 is largely credited with saving the wood duck from possible extinction. From 1918 to 1941, it was illegal to hunt wood ducks. Thanks to this temporary hunting ban and other conservation measures, the wood duck population recovered in dramatic fashion. Recent surveys all point to a species on the rebound with numbers of wood ducks rising for the past several decades.

The creek and the fish pond at my home have proven dependable magnets over the years for attracting visiting wood ducks; however, this is the first year that a wood duck hen has raised her ducklings on the pond. Most wood ducks in the southeastern United States do not migrate. Those that live farther north during the summer will migrate to areas as far south as Mexico in the fall. Fortunately, our region is home to wood ducks year-round.

Program to focus

on wading birds

I’ll be presenting a program on herons and other wading birds at the September meeting of the Elizabethton Bird Club. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, at the Elizabethton campus of Northeast State Community College, 386 Highway 91. The meeting will be held on the second floor in Room 208. The free program is open to the public and will follow a brief business meeting.

Library Happenings – Harry Potter celebration ending with costume contest

By Angie Georgeff

Our celebration of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books continues today with a doubleheader.  Join us from 3:30 p.m. until 5 p.m. for a class in the “Care of Magical Creatures,” followed immediately by a class in “Transfiguration.” First, we will craft miniature versions of “The Monster Book of Monsters” (minus the claws, teeth and bad attitude of the original, of course).  We then will morph from Magical Creatures into Transfiguration and transform a washcloth into an owl.

Looking ahead, we will be showing a movie at 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 23. “Charms” class will be in session from 3:30 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 28, with opportunities to create House journals and “Mad-Eye” Moody picture frames. The grand finale will be our “Harry Potter Costume Contest.” This colorful event will take place from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 31, so start planning your costume now. As usual, check our Unicoi County Kids and Teens Facebook page for further details.

Spotlight Book

When Henry James wrote “The Turn of the Screw” 121 years ago, he threw down a gauntlet and set a high standard for suspense. With “The Turn of the Key,” Ruth Ware has accepted his challenge. James’s gothic elements are still there, but they have been overlaid with a sinister veil of modern technology gone awry.

Rowan Caine should have known better: The salary she was offered for what appeared to be a dream job was too high. Rowan, however, was fed up with her job and her roommate, so she jumped at the chance to live in a luxurious, modern mansion in the Scottish highlands. The interview went well. The four young girls for whom she was to care were charming, until their parents left home and Rowan was left alone with them and the inscrutable handyman, Jack Grant.

She probably could, and should, have managed the girls, but there was no controlling the house. There are rumors circulating that Heatherbrae House is haunted, but there is no doubt that the technology which controls every system within the house is subject to malfunctions that make living there a nightmare. Taking a stroll in the walled garden to clear her mind is certainly not an option, because the plants there are poisonous.  What’s more, there is a locked door in Rowan’s bedroom. Eventually, the unnerving sounds she had noticed coming from the attic seem to be emanating from the other side of that door.

When one of the children dies, Rowan is charged with killing her. From prison, she writes letters to her attorney in an attempt to explain things she doesn’t understand herself.

Feathered Friends – Cardinals don’t always look their best

This female Northern cardinal, with a head devoid of feathers, appeared at a home in Cincinnati, Ohio. Although these strange looking cardinals often surprise people, they are not all that uncommon in late summer. (Photo Courtesy of Gina Fannin)

By Bryan Stevens

Gina Fannin wrote about an unusual observation of a follicly challenged Northern cardinal at her home in Cincinnati, Ohio. The bird in question, a female cardinal, had lost most of the feathers on her head. Gina took a photo of the bird, which she sent with her email, in which she asked if I have ever encountered a cardinal with such a problem.

Gina said that she has seen male cardinals suffering from baldness, but never a female. “I’ve lived here 24 years, and this is the first time I’ve seen a bald female,” she wrote in her email.

I replied to Gina by informing her that I’ve heard of these strange instances for many years. Bald-headed cardinals seem to be a summer occurrence. I usually get some emails or calls this time of year about people surprised by visits from “weird bald-headed” cardinals. I first began to get calls and email from readers in the late 1990s about this unusual phenomenon that seems to usually afflict cardinals, although I have also seen blue jays suffering from this same ailment.

I have studied the opinions of various bird experts, but there doesn’t seem to be a consensus about the cause. Some believe the “baldness” is caused by an infestation of mites, which are small relatives of spiders and other arachnids. Others believe that the loss of feathers around the head is a part of a normal molting process. This theory is supported by the fact that cardinals do undergo molting in late summer, usually after the conclusion of the nesting season.

The process of molting removes old feathers, which simply drop from the body as new feathers emerge to take their place. For some reason, some cardinals and jays lose all their head feathers at one time before new feathers are ready to take their place. That’s why the condition is typically observed in the summer months. Both male and female cardinals can be afflicted with “bald” heads. It’s strange that the condition primarily affects these two birds, cardinals and jays, both of which have feather crests. On the other hand, cedar waxwings are also crested birds, but I have never observed or received a report on a “bald-headed” cedar waxwing.

Whatever the cause, a “bald-headed” cardinal is an ugly bird. Without feathers, a cardinal is transformed from a showy favorite among bird enthusiasts to a rather grotesque oddity that could aptly be described as resembling a scavenging vulture. Birds like vultures, however, have heads devoid of feathers for a very important reason: As scavengers, a feathered head would become quickly fouled as the bird reaches into the carcasses of dead animals to feed.

The cardinals I have seen with “bald” heads have been visiting feeders stocked with sunflower seeds or perhaps a holder offering a suet cake. So, the absence of feathers is not a hygienic adaptation on the part of cardinals and jays similar to the hygienic necessity of bald heads among vultures.

The good news is that the condition is temporary. The normal molt for a Northern cardinal takes two or three months. The feathers on the head do emerge eventually, which is probably very fortunate for the afflicted birds. Feathers serve as insulation during cold weather. A “bald-headed” cardinal would probably have difficulty surviving winter cold spells.

We’re all accustomed to seeing cardinals at our feeders, but people who feed birds would probably be surprised by how much food cardinals and other feeder visitors obtain away from our well-stocked offerings. During the summer months, cardinals eat a variety of wild seeds, fruit and insects. Some of the fruit consumed by cardinals include elderberry, dogwood, blackberry and wild grapes. Young cardinals still in the nest (and fledglings for some time after leaving the nest) are fed mostly insects, including crickets, spiders, moths and flies.

To make cardinals comfortable in every season, offer plenty of thick vegetation, such as a hedge or row of shrubs, and consider planting some of the fruit trees and shrubs that will help these beautiful birds supplement their diet.

Wainwright leads mission project to support people of Honduras

Jeremy Wainwright stands on a hill overlooking a part of Honduras. He hopes to raise funds to begin a shrimp farm there to produce food for the people in its area, as well as provide funds for them. (Contributed photo)

Jeremy Wainwright, left, and Agustin Garcia are planning a sustainable way to help the citizens of Honduras. Funds are needed to support the project. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Jeremy Wainwright has done mission work in Honduras and what he has seen is a group of people who want to make life better.

“There’s a misconception about these groups of people,” Wainwright told The Erwin Record. “These people don’t want to leave; they love their countries. They have no other choice; they want to stay home, but just don’t have the means.”

Wainwright, a member of Northridge Community Church in Erwin, went to Honduras in October 2018. While in Honduras, Wainwright met a man named Agustin Garcia, who worked construction there for years, before helping the missionaries as a translator.

“Agustin started out as a translator, and quickly was trained to hold eye clinics in Honduras,” Wainwright said. “(Garcia) received basic training and equipment from Dr. Pat Reardon of Florida.”

When Wainwright came back home he began planning for a long-term solution to what he saw in Honduras.

“While in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, you could see that a lot of people in the mountainous terrain needed help,” Wainwright said. “You could see the poverty and makeshift housing all through the hills.”

According to Wainwright, he began researching what it would take to start a tilapia farm and he knew exactly who to contact in Honduras.

“I knew that Agustin was the person to contact with this, Wainwright said. “He cares so much about helping the people there and is so passionate about it.”

After speaking with Garcia, the pair decided that a shrimp farm would be more feasible than a tilapia farm. Wainwright and Garcia asked for and received estimates for what it would cost to start a self-sustaining shrimp farm that cannot only produce food for the poverty-stricken area of Honduras, but would also generate money to help with resources to help relieve those stuck in the cycle of poverty.

“We have found land that has two saltwater ponds,” Wainwright said. “The lease would be $1,234 for four months. For 200,000 shrimp larvae that would fill the two ponds, it would cost $825. The food for the shrimp would cost $500. This would give us four months, which happens to be the same time it takes to raise the shrimp.”

Wainwright acknowledged that there would be a few more startup costs.

“To run the operation, we would need to hire three full-time workers that are currently unemployed. To pay them more than minimum wage would cost roughly $3,456 for the full four months,” Wainwright said. “That comes down to less than $300 a month for each employee. If nothing else this gives three people employment and impacts their lives in a tremendous way.”

Wainwright and his network are attempting to raise $7,482 to cover the total expenses to get the project up and going. According to Wainwright’s calculations, the return on investment should yield $14,000 to help the people of Honduras.

According to Wainwright, the $14,000 would be used for reinvestment and other various projects.

“We plan to use money generated from the shrimp farm to build homes for the homeless, dig wells for clean water or find ways to filter water effectively, feed the hungry, and there are many other possibilities,” Wainwright said. “It costs approximately $2,000 to build a home, so the shrimp farm has the potential to build many homes in the future.”

According to Sarah Kohnle, managing Editor at Missouri State Teachers Association, Wainwright has already reached $1,600 toward his goal of $7,482. One giver wasn’t even a regular attendee at his church, but she had an incredible story to share.

“One woman walked up to me shaking and told me her story,” Wainwright said. “She said that the day before she had paid forward for a woman that could not afford her shrimp cocktail at Red Lobster. A gentleman next to her noticed her generosity and gave her $100. She insisted that she didn’t need the money; however, he told her to keep it and pay forward for something else. As he walked away, he looked at her and said, ‘shrimp matters.’ After hearing my story about shrimp farming and asking for $100 she was completely blown away about how specific God was speaking to her. She gave me the $100 that she was given the day before.”

If you are interested in contributing or to find out more about the sustainable shrimp farm project and how you can help, please contact Jeremy Wainwright at 388-9356, gjkwainwright@outlook.com or by mail at 522 Dear Haven Road, in Unicoi.