Feathered Friends – Migrating raptors abound on recent count

A migrating osprey posed for observers taking part in a bird walk recently at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton, Tennessee. Ospreys and broad-winged hawks have been common among migrating birds this fall. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

I took part in the annual Fall Bird Count organized each year by the Elizabethton Bird Club. This year’s Fall Bird Count — the 49th consecutive count conducted by the EBC — was held Saturday, Sept. 29, with 50 observers in 13 parties covering parts of five adjacent counties in Northeast Tennessee. The count is the only fall survey of birds conducted in the entire region.

The total of 127 species tallied (plus Empidonax species) represented a slightly higher total than the average of the last 30 years, which stands at 125. The all-time high of 137 species was established in 1993. Compiler Rick Knight noted that two very rare species were found this year: a purple gallinule at Meadowview Golf Course in Kingsport, Tennessee, and a black-legged kittiwake on South Holston Lake in Bristol. The kittiwake was first found on Sept. 27 and lingered long enough to be observed during the count.

Shorebird habitat was scarce due to high water levels at most sites, thus only one species was found other than killdeer. Warblers were generally found in low numbers, although 23 species were seen. No migrant sparrows had arrived yet. Blackbirds, too, were scarce. Some regular species were tallied in record high numbers, likely due to the above-average number of field parties. Broad-winged hawks were numerous, part of a notable late flight likely due to unfavorable weather conditions preceding count day.

My party included retired Milligan College biology professor Gary Wallace as well as Brookie and Jean Potter. We counted birds in the Elizabethton area around Wilbur Lake, along the Watauga River and on Holston Mountain. We observed two large kettles of migrating raptors during our time on Holston Mountain. The term “kettle” is a collective one for a group of migrating raptors. In more general terms, a kettle can refer to any flock of birds of prey. The term is used only in describing raptors that are soaring or flying. Although a few black vultures and turkey vultures drifted on the warm thermals rising off the slopes of Holston, the majority of the raptors in the two kettles we observed were broad-winged hawks. We ended the day with a total of 41 broad-winged hawks on our list. Later we learned that count participants found an amazing total of 321 individual broad-winged hawks, which represents a new high count for the Fall Bird Count for this species.

Southwest Virginia is home to the Mendota Fire Tower Hawk Watch, which has been ongoing for decades on Clinch Mountain. The annual autumn survey is currently supervised by Ron Harrington, a long-time member of the Bristol Bird Club. This has been an exceptional year for this particular hawk’s migration. In a post to the list-serve Bristol-Birds, Mike Sanders of Bristol, Virginia, reported that while talking with Harrington on Sept. 29 at Sugar Hollow Park, they happened to glance skyward and noticed a large flock of hawks passing overhead. One kettle contained an estimated 75 broad-winged hawks. “Just goes to show they can be anywhere migrating, not just up on a mountain top,” Sanders wrote in his email.

The broad-winged hawk is known by the scientific name Buteo platypterus. The genus, buteo, includes about two dozen large raptors that are often dominant avian predators in their respective habitats. The species is known for migrating in large flocks every autumn to return to wintering grounds far to the south as far as Mexico and Brazil.

The broad-winged hawk’s counterpart in the western United States is Swainson’s hawk, which shares the broad-winged hawk’s inclination for migrating in large flocks. Swainson’s hawk is named for William John Swainson, the famous 19th century English naturalist I mentioned in last week’s column in connection with Swainson’s thrush. “Each autumn, nearly the entire breeding population of the Swainson’s Hawk migrates from the temperate zone of North America to wintering areas in South America,” according to a profile posted at the website Birds of North America. The website notes that those Swainson hawks that migrate out of the prairie region of Canada must undertake a flight of more than 6,200 miles to reach their wintering habitat. They will repeat this long-distance feat again in the spring. This distance places Swainson’s hawk second among raptors only to that of the Arctic Peregrine Falcon.

Other raptors in the region include Cooper’s hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, red-tailed hawk and red-shouldered hawk. These raptors feed on everything from rodents and reptiles to various insects, amphibians and songbirds. There’s one hawk, however, that turns to another source of prey.

Ospreys, which are also known as fish hawks, have also been prevalent this autumn. I enjoyed watching an osprey perched in a tree along the Watauga River while leading the first of the Saturday October bird walks at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton, Tennessee. The osprey put on a great show, stretching its wings and posing for photographs taken by several walk participants.

Ospreys migrate through the region in spring and fall, making sightings more likely along lakes and larger rivers. I see them even more often when I travel to South Carolina, where these medium-sized raptors are common along the coast and in wetlands.

Actually, any body of water, from river or lake to pond or marsh, can provide adequate habitat for an osprey’s needs. The osprey is the only raptor in North America that feeds almost exclusively on fish. These hawks only rarely turn to other prey, such as rodents, reptiles and amphibians. Ospreys are a conservation success story. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, osprey populations grew by 2.5 percent per year from 1966 to 2015. As a result, this large brown and white hawk is common from coast to coast and all points in between. The 27 ospreys detected on the recent Fall Bird Count also set a new record for this species on this particular survey.

There are still plenty of ospreys and other birds to see before this fall migration season ends. The remaining Saturday walks at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park are scheduled for Oct. 20 and Oct. 27. Participants should meet at 8 a.m. in the parking lot in front of the park’s Visitors Center. There is no charge, and the public is welcome. Bring binoculars to increase viewing enjoyment.

Library Happenings – Halloween parties for children, teens planned

By Angie Georgeff

With fright night only two weeks away, we want to let you know that our teen Halloween party will be held Friday, Oct. 19, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. and our children’s Halloween party will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 31, from 6-7 p.m.

Check our Unicoi County Public Library Kids and Teens Facebook page for further details. If you would like to donate a bag of individually wrapped candies for the children’s party Halloween night, we will be happy to accept. We look forward to seeing everybody’s creative costumes.

In case you think we adults are being left out, remember that we’ll show the second movie in our Halloween Film Festival on Thursday, Oct. 18, at 6 p.m.

These movies were chosen with adults in mind and would not be recommended for young children. That said, these films are part of my personal collection and consequently are not ones I consider likely to give me nightmares.

Spotlight Book

Okay, I admit it: I am a sucker for a well-designed dust jacket. I may not end up buying the book, but I will pick it up and give it my attention for at least a minute to find out whether the plot is as promising as the artwork. Of all the volumes in our last order, the hands-down winner in the book-by-its-cover department was Rena Rossner’s “The Sisters of the Winter Wood.” The art reminds me of a gilded Black Forest woodcarving set off to perfection by a background of dark chocolate. The composition is grounded by a swan and a bear and surmounted by a rustic crown, so readers of fantasies are already alert to the possibilities.

In the vast reaches of the Russian empire, sisters Liba and Laya have been reared in a secluded village surrounded by forests. It is the kind of place where mothers urge their daughters to be wary of strangers, but there may be more to Mami’s warning than just ordinary caution. After all, the cover promises “Every family has a secret…” and the girls do not yet know theirs.

Sisters in fairy tales are often quite different, like Snow-White and Rose-Red. Liba and Laya are no exception. The differences between the sisters are underscored by the alternating chapters of the book. Liba’s are written in prose and Laya’s in blank verse. Although the girls are devoted to one another and their parents, their heritage may prove to be their greatest challenge.

If you like fairy tales or have enjoyed Katherine Arden’s “Winternight Trilogy,” this book is likely to appeal to you. And in case you’re wondering, “The Winter of the Witch,” the third book in Arden’s series, is due to be released on Jan. 8. How timely!

Feathered Friends – Thrushes epitomize spirit of fall migration

A gray-cheeked thrush sits tightly on its nest on Kodiak Island in Alaska. More than other members of the thrush family, the gray-cheeked thrush nests in remote regions and only passes through Tennessee and Virginia during a limited period every spring and fall. (Photo by Dave Menke/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

By Bryan Stevens

While many migrant birds take wing in the autumn, a recent event reminded me that, in many respects, fall is the season of the thrush.

Taking part in the recent Fall Bird Count conducted by members of the Elizabethton Bird Club afforded me the opportunity to see some amazing birds, including large flocks of migrating broad-winged hawks, playful pileated woodpeckers and some often hard-to-see thrushes.

I usually feel lucky to be able to find one thrush in a single day of birding. On Saturday, Sept. 29, migration must have brought these birds out in full force, because I saw three different species — wood, gray-cheeked and Swainson’s — in the span of a few hours.

I found the Swainson’s thrush during the morning while walking the trails at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park along the Watauga River in Elizabethton, Tennessee. I flushed the bird from cover and got a good look at the bird. The Swainson’s thrush is a model of subtle beauty with a plumage that consists of warm olives and browns and a beige wash across the upper half of an otherwise white breast dotted with faint brown spots. The beige wash extends into a prominent eye-ring.

I usually see more Swainson’s thrushes in autumn than spring. Named for William John Swainson, the thrush doesn’t spend the summer months in the region, but is a fairly common spring and fall migrant. The thrushes that do nest during the summer in the region include wood thrush and veery, as well as the hermit thrush, which is also a winter resident.

The namesake of the Swainson’s thrush was a famous English naturalist living in the 19th century. Swainson, who grew up in London but spent much of his adult life in New Zealand, excelled as an English ornithologist, malacologist, conchologist, entomologist and artist. Besides the thrush, eight other species of birds are named in his honor.

Two of the other birds — Swainson’s warbler and Swainson’s hawk — are resident in the United States for at least the spring and summer months.

The other six species include Swainson’s francolin, Swainson’s sparrow, Swainson’s antcatcher, Swainson’s fire-eye, Swainson’s flycatcher and Swainson’s toucan.

Swainson never visited the United States of America, but in 1806 he accompanied the English explorer Henry Koster to Brazil in South America. Swainson and his family emigrated to New Zealand in 1841. Swainson settled near the New Zealand city of Wellington only to have earthquakes in 1848 and 1855 devastate the shoreline near his estate, which he called Hawkshead. He found the pioneer life in New Zealand difficult, especially when a native Maori chief pushed his own claims to Swainson’s estate. Swainson died of bronchitis on Dec. 6, 1855, at the age of 66.

The recent Fall Bird Count also offered me an opportunity to see a gray-cheeked thrush for the first time in almost 18 years. The species is aptly named. The gray-cheeked thrush lacks an eye ring, and its most prominent feature is the grayish plumage around the bird’s face. No evidence of brown or buff coloration intrude into the face region.

Gray-cheeked thrushes nest far from Tennessee and Virginia. In fact, they nest almost to the very edge of the tundra region in the far north. Because of this tendency to nest in remote regions, experts have had difficulty determining population trends for this species.

I know that I hadn’t seen one of these thrushes since back in 2000. I didn’t get a very good look during my recent encounter. I saw a bird fly from a tree branch into thicker cover. I relied on other members of the count party who got a better look to make the identification. The gray-cheeked thrush is not a common migrant in the region, but they do make some sporadic appearances. It’s possible they are also overlooked. Their migration actually takes place at night. The daytime observations of this bird involve individuals that have stopped for a brief respite to refuel and rest.

A shy personality contributes to the ease with which the bird can be missed even by a sharp-eyed observer. Like some of its relatives, but perhaps even more so, the gray-cheeked thrush would rather slip into concealing cover than reveal itself on an exposed perch to human observers. Both the gray-cheeked thrush and Swainson’s thrush belong to the genus Catharus, a term derived from Ancient Greek that can be described as “pure” or “clean” in reference to the plumage of some of the members of the genus.

The other two Catharus thrushes in North America include the veery, Bicknell’s thrush and hermit thrush. Some members of this genus are colorful birds with descriptive names, including the orange-billed nightingale-thrush, black-headed nightingale-thrush and slaty-backed nightingale-thrush. The incorporation of the name “nightingale” is no accident. Like the famous nightingale of folklore and fairytales, many members of the genus are remarkable singers capable of producing ethereal and flute-like songs.

In the final days of September and early days of October, wood thrushes returned to prominence in the woodlands around my home. I have wood thrushes nesting in the woods around my home every spring, but it is still always a treat to see the largest of the brown thrushes that call North America home during at least half of the year.

The wood thrush is not a member of the Catharus genus of thrushes, but instead is the sole representative of the genus Hylocichla. While not exactly an official state bird, the District of Columbia has made the wood thrush its official bird. The popularity of the wood thrush is probably helped by its own beautiful song, which has often been described as one of the most beautiful of all North America’s birds. Widespread in the United States and Canada during the summer nesting season, wood thrushes withdraw in winter to spend the cold season in southern Mexico through to Panama in Central America.

Right now, migration of thrushes is proceeding at a somewhat leisurely pace. Soon, though, most of this family of talented singers will depart the borders of the United States until next spring. When they get ready to leave, most thrushes will make a remarkable non-stop journey that will take them to the region where they will wait out the cold winter months. Enjoy them before they depart.

Library Happenings – Annual Halloween Film Festival begins Oct. 11

By Angie Georgeff

The start of the fall season has been unseasonably warm this year. It was good news for the Apple Festival, but now I’m more than ready for crisp mornings, autumn color and falling leaves.  Our annual Halloween Film Festival should help me get in the mood for the coming chill.

If you like movies about monsters without all of that excessive blood and gore, join us at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11, for a classic movie suitable to the season. The festival will continue at the same time on Thursday, Oct. 18, and Thursday, Oct. 25.

The site license that permits us to show movies within the library prohibits us from advertising them by title or studio outside our facility. This is the eighth year of our Halloween Film Festival.  As usual, we chose movies that we haven’t shown before. A listing of the movies is posted inside the library, or you can enjoy the surprise. We will be serving Halloween candy and popcorn. Just bring your own soft drink or water in a spill-proof plastic container.

What I can say about our first movie is that it is listed by the National Film Registry as a film worthy of preservation. It also is one of the most highly rated films of the horror genre on IMDb, the Internet Movie Database. Unlike the classic Frankenstein, Wolf Man and Dracula movies, it’s one that most people haven’t seen. When I was young, my mother, younger brothers and I used to watch the “Friday Night Fright” flicks every weekend while my father slept. Even though I watched a lot of horror classics back then, I never saw this one until 13 years ago. If you are curious, join us tomorrow night and see for yourself. I would be interested to hear your opinion of it.

Spotlight Book

Kiersten White’s “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” retells Mary Shelley’s classic from the point of view of Dr. Frankenstein’s wife Elizabeth. An orphan who was abused by her caregiver, Elizabeth Lavenza is taken into the Frankenstein home as a companion to Victor, a brilliant but volatile child. 

Victor soon becomes attached to her and she learns to manage his violent outbursts. As she makes herself indispensable to the family’s comfort, she is given the best of everything.

After Victor leaves to study at the university in Ingolstadt, he stops writing home. Knowing that her position in the family depends on her usefulness to them, Elizabeth and a friend seek him out and discover what he has been doing with his talents.

The publication of this book has been timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s original gothic masterpiece.

Feathered Friends – Tennessee warbler visits Volunteer State only few weeks each year

The Tennessee warbler, while named for the Volunteer State, spends very little time within Tennessee. These warblers migrate through the region each spring and fall but nest much farther north in the boreal forests. (Photo by Paul Spark/Adobe Stock)

By Bryan Stevens

This fall has been a good time to see warblers. Some of the more common ones I have noticed in the yard so far have included American redstart, chestnut-sided warbler and black-throated green warbler. Of course, these two species nest in the region during the summer.

One of fall’s first true migrants showed up on Sept. 17 when a rambunctious Tennessee warbler made its debut by chasing a male Northern cardinal from the blue spruce near the creek.

The pioneering American ornithologist Alexander Wilson gave the Tennessee warbler its name, which, unfortunately, is not an accurate moniker.

Here’s some trivia for you should you ever find yourself competing on the game show “Jeopardy” and the category is “Warblers.” Four of our warblers — Kentucky Warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, Connecticut warbler and Tennessee warbler — bear common names that honor states. The Kentucky warbler and Tennessee warbler are named for the states where they were first found and described by Wilson in 1811. Neither the Tennessee warbler or Kentucky warbler are particularly affiliated with the states for which they were named. In fact, the Tennessee warbler passes through the Volunteer State only for a few weeks each year during spring and fall migration. Its closest breeding range is in the boreal forests of Michigan, and these warblers spend the winter in Mexico or farther south. Wilson got lucky and found his Tennessee warbler along the Cumberland River during migration.

Don’t blame Wilson too harshly for the mistake. Even after he “discovered” the first Tennessee warblers back in 1811, it would be almost another century before scientists finally located the bird’s nesting grounds in Canada in 1901. The remote and inaccessible nature of the region helped prolong this mystery about the Tennessee warbler’s life cycle.

In almost 25 years of birding, I’ve never seen a Tennessee warbler during spring migration. I see many of these birds every autumn as they stage their fall migration through the Volunteer State to reach destinations farther south. The appearance of the Tennessee warbler varies greatly depending on the season. In autumn, most Tennessee warblers are greenish-yellow birds with whitish-gray underparts. In the spring, the basic green and white pattern remains evident, but both males and females sport a gray head and a black line that runs through the eye and along the side of the bird’s face. The plumage — at least in illustrations and photographs — is shown as more crisp and distinct with spring birds.

Some experts have floated the opinion that the Tennessee warbler should be named “coffee warbler,” since wintering individuals are attracted to coffee plantations in Central America. According to the website, “Birds of North America,” recent studies demonstrate the importance of shade coffee plantations for Tennessee warblers during their time spent outside North America every winter. Other warblers, such as the black-throated blue warbler, are also closely associated with coffee plantations during the wintering season.

Some years find Tennessee warblers in great abundance, probably thanks to a feast of caterpillars infesting the spruce trees in the boreal forests where these warblers nest during the summer months. In years of famine when the caterpillars are less rampant in the forests the Tennessee warbler calls home, the birds raise fewer young, and the population grows less dramatically.

The Tennessee warbler is not strictly an eater of caterpillars and insects. This warbler has a bit of a sweet tooth — or should that be sweet beak? They visit flowers to partake of nectar; however, the Tennessee warbler is not a good example of an avian pollinator.

Tennessee warblers cheat by poking holes in the flower with their bills to steal the nectar without having to let the flower’s pollen accumulate on their bills and heads. The Tennessee warbler will also come to sugar water feeders put out on their wintering grounds to attract hummingbirds. The Tennessee warbler also supplements its diet with fruit and berries.

Here’s something that might also come in handy in a test of your knowledge of trivia some day: Not only is the Tennessee warbler named for the state, but the capital city of Nashville also has its name linked another member — the Nashville warbler — of the warbler clan. Once again, Wilson provided a rather inaccurate name, as the bird in question is only a visitor to Nashville during a limited window of time each year.

While the briefly visiting Tennessee Warbler already pays tribute to our state with its common name, the Northern mockingbird was selected in 1933 as the official bird for Tennessee. This relative of the brown thrasher and gray catbird also serves as the state bird for Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi and Texas.

At my home, Northern mockingbirds are usually evident only during the winter months. I haven’t seen one at home so far this year. Gray catbirds were scarce this summer, but a pair of brown thrashers provided much entertainment as they raised young in my yard and gardens.

For now, I think Tennesseans will probably stick with the mockingbird, rather than the Tennessee warbler, when it comes to offering one of our feathered friends the accolade of official state bird. That’s not to say we can’t enjoy observations of this warbler during its brief forays through the state. Don’t wait too long, though. The window of opportunity usually closes by mid-October.


I will be conducting morning bird walks at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton every Saturday in October. Walks begin at 8 a.m. from the parking lot at the park’s visitors center. The walks are free and open to the public.

Bring a pair of binoculars to increase viewing enjoyment as participants scan for warblers and other migrants visiting the park. Email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com for more information.

Library Happenings – Library will be open during Apple Festival

By Angie Georgeff

I have been a good girl for the past year, considering each calorie and counting every carb, but I am ready for an Apple Festival splurge. Bring on the fried apple pies! Don’t forget the apple butter, and if there’s an apple cake baking somewhere out there, put my name on it. The Unicoi County Apple Festival means a little extra work for residents, but a lot of extra fun.

As we usually are, the library will be open on both days of the Apple Festival. Although several of the everyday access streets will be blocked by vendors, your library will still be available.  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.

Park and Shop 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. Festival parking will begin at 8 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

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. Our basement book sale will be open during our regular business hours on Friday and Saturday. We have thousands of used books for you to browse, so most book lovers are bound to come across one or two diamonds in the rough. Or ten, if you are anything like me!

Columbus Day

The library will be closed on Monday, Oct. 8, in observance of the Columbus Day holiday. No items will be due on that date. Books may be deposited in our book drops whenever we are closed.  They are located at the library in Erwin and at Town Hall in Unicoi.

Film Festival

Our annual Halloween Film Festival will begin Thursday, Oct. 11, with a classic movie chosen to send a shiver up your spine. Just bring a bottle of your favorite soft drink and join us at 6 p.m. for popcorn, candy and a movie. Please call the library at 743-6533 if you would like more information about any of our programs.

Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission: Beware flood-related vehicle scams

From Staff Reports

In the wake of flooding from Hurricane Florence, consumers shopping for a vehicle should be aware that flood-damaged cars and trucks from the Carolinas will eventually surface in Tennessee. To raise awareness, the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission, which is part of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s (TDCI) Regulatory Boards division, is warning consumers to be on alert for scammers who might disguise severely water-damaged vehicles as being perfectly good.

“Operating a flooded vehicle that received non-repairable damage in a storm is dangerous for both the driver and other commuters,” said TDCI Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “We want Tennesseans to be aware of unscrupulous car dealers who aim to make money by selling you a defective vehicle.”

The Motor Vehicle Anti-Theft Act of 1996 makes a clear distinction between a “freshwater flood” vehicle (which can be rebuilt) and a “saltwater damaged” vehicle (which cannot be rebuilt). Tennessee titling laws, administered by the Tennessee Department of Revenue, distinguish between “non-repairable” and “salvage” vehicles by the type and extent of the damage. The determination about the type and extent of damage is made by the insurance company.

Many of the vehicles damaged by Hurricane Florence’s torrential flooding will be categorized as saltwater damage due to the presence of “brackish water,” a mixture of salt and fresh water that is generally the result of the backwash of saltwater into bayou areas. Saltwater damage continues to corrode and eat away at a vehicle’s body and operating components, even after it is cleaned up and repaired. With the computer system of today’s motor vehicles commonly located in the lower quadrant of the car, even low water levels of water damage can cause damage to a vehicle’s electrical system.

A vehicle that has been declared a total loss due to saltwater damage is deemed “nonrepairable” and may never be titled again in the state of Tennessee. Saltwater damaged vehicles can only be dismantled and used for parts.

Scammers will take advantage of the fact that no national standard or law pertaining to various title brands exists. They will move water-damaged vehicles to a state with different laws or standards, giving them a “clean title.” Typically, there is an influx of water or saltwater damaged vehicles seen at parking lots and on social media sites following an occurrence such as a hurricane or flood.

Scammers typically attempt to sell flooded vehicles quickly after a disaster, hoping to stay ahead of computer system updates so that title check systems don’t have time to detect the car’s history. By the time a consumer discovers the vehicle’s history, the seller will be long gone.

To help consumers avoid these flood-related car scams, the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission provides the following guidelines:

  • Prior to the sale of the vehicle, any person selling a flood vehicle is required by law to disclose such history to the purchaser. Further, once titling that vehicle, the purchaser will receive a branded vehicle title indicating the vehicle’s salvage history. Having such a title will substantially impact the value of that vehicle for further resale.
  • Anyone attempting to purchase a vehicle in the near future should be on the lookout for indicators of a flood vehicle, such as a musty smell, damp carpets, or mud/silt under the seats, and should attempt to find the vehicle history prior to purchasing.
  • Use a reputable title check service, such as the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, to check the vehicle history. If you find that it was last titled in a flood-damaged area, you should ask a lot of questions before making a decision. Keep in mind that title check companies are only as good as the information that they collect from other sources. Some of the sources that they collect data from may be delayed in pushing their data to the system.
  • Remember that a vehicle’s flood history may take up to 30 days or longer to post on traditional consumer reporting sites. As such, the Commission recommends that individuals purchase motor vehicles from a licensed motor vehicle dealer, which they can verify at http://verify.tn.gov/.
  • Because the vehicle could appear to be in very good shape, even if it has significant electrical and corrosion issues, it’s important to always have a trusted mechanic inspect a vehicle before purchasing it.
  • Be aware that there will be many recreational and powersport-type vehicles that have been damaged as a result of the recent storms as well. Look for the signs of flooding and saltwater damage before purchasing these units, too.
  • Keep in mind that there are lawful ways of reselling previously damaged vehicles. “Salvaged vehicles” can be repaired and sold as “Rebuilt vehicles” so long as they comply with the applicable laws. The Motor Vehicle Commission requires that licensed dealers provide a disclosure of the vehicle’s history as previously been a “Salvaged vehicle” on a Commission approved form.
  • “Saltwater damaged” vehicles are non-repairable but can be dismantled and the parts can be sold lawfully through a licensed dismantler/recycler.
  • If you suspect a licensed dealer* has sold you a vehicle with a salvage history and failed to disclose it, you may file a complaint here.
  • The Commission is not responsible for collecting or enforcing any refunds from unscrupulous sales but may take disciplinary action resulting in potential civil penalties or suspension or revocation of a dealer’s license.

Visit the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission online or by calling 615-741-2711.

*Please note that the Commission does not have authority over vehicle sales transactions between individuals. In those matters, consumers will need to contact their personal attorney for possible remedies.

About the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance: TDCI is charged with protecting the interests of consumers while providing fair, efficient oversight and a level field of competition for a broad array of industries and professionals doing business in Tennessee. Our divisions include the Athletic Commission, Consumer Affairs, Tennessee Corrections Institute, Emergency Communications Board, Fire Prevention, Insurance, Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy, Peace Officers Standards and Training, Regulatory Boards, Securities, and TennCare Oversight.

To check a license of a professional regulated by the Department, go to http://verify.tn.gov/.

Sheriff issues phone scam warning

From Staff Reports

On Friday, Sept. 28, the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department issued a scam warning to citizens.

According to the press release, a group of individuals is calling Unicoi County citizens in an attempt to scam money from them. Recently this group was able to acquire $8,000 from a senior citizen living in the county.

Sheriff Mike Hensley reports that this group will call on the phone and say that someone known by you is in jail or in trouble out of town. They will represent themselves to be law enforcement or a lawyer. This group will give instructions on how to send money to get this loved one out of jail. This could include various gift cards, credit cards or cash advance checks or Western Union transactions.

“The bottom line is: Do not send money to anyone,” Hensley said. “Law enforcement will not contact you soliciting money, period.”

If someone calls on the phone requesting that money be sent, you should automatically assume it is a scam.

“More and more increasingly we are getting reports of different scams taking place,” Hensley said. “Once this money is sent out of the country, it cannot be recaptured.”

The sheriff also advised that anyone who receives one of these calls and feels compelled to send money should contact his office first.

“We will assist anyone to verify if a loved one or acquaintance is incarcerated anywhere in the country,” Hensley said.

Feathered Friends – Nighthawks part of migration spectacle

By Bryan Stevens

With Sept

A common nighthawk perches on a metal railing. These birds, which often roost in the daytime and get active after dark, form flocks for impressive migration flights every autumn. (Photo by Jean Potter)

ember advancing on the calendar, I have been keeping an eye on the skies. For the most part, I focus on the upper branches of trees and feeders during the migration season, but I don’t forget the need to look skyward from time to time.

The reason? Well, that’s the best way to detect soaring raptors or flocks of migrating common nighthawks. The autumn sky is also a popular flyway for other birds, including chimney swifts and swallows.

So, what is a common nighthawk? First, this bird, despite what is implied by its name, is not a hawk. It’s also not strictly nocturnal. Particularly in the fall, nighthawks are active during daylight hours when engaged in catching winged insects. Outside of fall migration, these birds can often be observed over large parking lots or well-lit streets, snatching up insects swarming around the light poles.

The common nighthawk is one of three members of the nightjar family found in the region during the summer months. The other two nightjars are the whip-poor-will and chuck-will’s-widow, birds that produce their namesake vocalizations in the nocturnal hours. Both of these species migrate, but they don’t take the dramatic approach employed by nighthawks. Each fall, common nighthawks form large flocks, ranging in size from dozens to hundreds or even thousands of individuals, as they migrate south for the winter.

The whip-poor-will, after the common nighthawk, is the second most widespread member of its family to spend its breeding season in North America. The whip-poor-will ranges from southern Canada to the Gulf states. This bird also occurs in Arizona, New Mexico and southwestern Texas. The whip-poor-will favors habitat consisting of deciduous woodlands and the edges of forests.

All members of the nightjar family feed exclusively on insects that are caught on the wing. In this respect, the nightjars can be considered the nocturnal counterparts of the swallows. The nightjars have comparatively large, gaping mouths they use to scoop up flying insects. They also have large eyes, an adaptation to their nocturnal lifestyle.

Whip-poor-will numbers have been declining in the past few decades. These nocturnal birds frequent woodland edges, but they seem to be rather particular about such habitats. A forest that is too mature seems to hold little interest for them. Disturbed habitats, such as those created by logging, are acceptable to the birds once secondary growth begins. As this new growth matures, however, the whip-poor-will apparently abandons such territory. Because of these requirements, whip-poor-wills can be somewhat localized in their distribution and sometimes difficult to locate.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite summer activities was sitting on the front porch of my grandparents’ home and listening to the whip-poor-wills call after dark. I remember how the plaintive call would be repeated for long intervals before a passing automobile’s headlights might frighten the bird into silence. Then, after a brief pause, the “whip-poor-will” calls would, tentatively at first, begin again and continue throughout the night.

Today, I’m living in my grandparents’ old home, and the whip-poor-wills no longer call. I heard a single individual that called for a single evening back in May of 1997, but that was apparently a migrating bird that did not remain in the surrounding woodlands. The only member of the nightjar family that I dependably encounter at home these days is the common nighthawk, and then only during that narrow window of late summer and early autumn.

Unlike whips and chucks, the common nighthawk isn’t active only after dark, which makes it much easier to observe these birds. They look somewhat like swifts and swallows but are much larger. They are brownish-gray birds with pointed wings and forked tails. They are easily identified by distinctive white patches on the underside of their wings.

The nightjar, or Caprimulgidae, family of birds is also sometimes known as “goatsuckers.” There are almost 80 species of nightjars in the world. Less than 10 occur in North America. The common nighthawk, whip-poor-will and the chuck-will’s widow are neotropical migrants. While they breed in a wide range of territory in North America, they spend their winters in Central and South America. Like all nightjars, nighthawks feed almost exclusively on insects, which they catch on the wing.

Many of the common nighthawk’s relatives have been given descriptive names, such as long-trained nightjar, collared nightjar, spot-tailed nightjar, red-necked nightjar, golden nightjar, fiery-necked nightjar, swamp nightjar, pennant-winged nightjar, lyre-tailed nightjar, little nightjar, sickle-winged nightjar, rufous-bellied nighthawk, short-tailed nighthawk, sand-coloured nighthawk and least nighthawk.

So, keep looking skyward. The next flock of migrating common nighthawks may fly over your home. These flocks are usually on the move throughout September although they begin to appear as early as late August. They can also appear almost magically, as if out of thin air.

First, observers may see one of two birds, then several, followed quickly by dozens or sometimes hundreds as they wheel and cavort in the skies overhead with impressive grace and agility. I’ve seen flocks that would easily number more than 500 birds in locations throughout the region, although flocks often number only a couple of dozen birds. The two flocks I’ve observed so far this migration season numbered about 30 and 50 birds, respectively.

Unicoi County High School authors to speak at library about new book

A group of Unicoi County High School students and their Creative Writing Club sponsors have combined their works into a new book, the cover of which is pictured above. The students will be at the Unicoi County Public Library on Saturday, Sept. 29, beginning at 1 p.m. (Contributed image)

From Staff Reports

There will be an author meet-and-greet and signing event at the Unicoi County Public Library on Saturday, Sept. 29, at 1 p.m., featuring authors from the Unicoi County High School Creative Writing Club.

The club formed last school year and published its debut anthology, a collection of short stories titled “OUT OF THE BLUE,” on Sept. 4.

The anthology features contemporary stories “Eulogy” by Devon P. Hubbard, “The Beekeeper’s Son” by Kate Hollenbeck, and “No Substitute” by Katlyn Higgins.

Speculative fiction tales in the anthology include “Sans Fin” by Katye Beard, “Last Words” by Bryce S. Calain, and “Full Moon Nights” by Charmayne L. King.

Ashley Nichole Edwards and Laura Birchfield contributed two essays to the project – “Auschwitz: Unknown to Us” and “Pretty Hurts,” respectively.

Club sponsors Amy N. Edwards and Dustin Street also have stories published in the collection. Edwards’s “Screaming” is a paranormal historical fiction piece, and Street’s allegorical “Kimatí” is a speculative tale.

The authors will present a panel and Q&A session at the event, and will also read excerpts from their stories. Attendees will have a chance to purchase a copy at the library, and may have their books signed and personalized by the authors in attendance.

The club will also accept donations toward a field trip they plan to take in November to see best-selling author Courtney Stevens (“Faking Normal”; “Dress Codes for Small Towns”). Stevens has also agreed to come to the high school and present workshops for the club later in the year.

“OUT OF THE BLUE” is available in paperback and e-book versions on Amazon. All proceeds on the sale of the book will benefit the UCHS Creative Writing Club as it endeavors to teach new club members the ins and outs of writing and publishing in today’s marketplace.

For more information, please visit www.uchsonline.com/write, or contact Edwards or Street at 743-1632.

Library Happenings – Romance author pens first mystery novel

By Angie Georgeff

Although some authors of novels are not known for a particular genre, most veteran writers eventually become associated with thrillers, romance, historical fiction, fantasy or some other category of fiction in which they specialize. If we who catalog and categorize novels for our patrons become complacent, we could make mistakes. After writing 43 New York Times bestselling novels, romance author Jude Deveraux has penned her first mystery, “A Willing Murder.” The title, thank goodness, alerted us to verify the genre. Murder simply isn’t romantic.

Like the writer who created her, Deveraux’s protagonist Sara Medlar is a romance author.  Retired after selling millions of books, Sara moves back to her hometown of Lachlan, Florida, and takes on the stately home she admired as a child. The venerable mansion is in desperate need of remodeling and much too big for Sara alone. When her niece Kate is offered a job in Lachlan, she asks Sara if she can stay there with her until she gets on her feet. Sara agrees, so Kate moves in, suddenly to discover that she is not Sara’s only houseguest. Kate has to admit that Jackson Wyatt is handsome – even charming – but she finds him almost unbearably irritating.

It looks as though Jack’s presence may prove too high a “rent” for Kate to pay, until two skeletons are unearthed and the trio find themselves working together to solve the mystery. I wonder whether the flaming red flowers of the royal poinciana tree on the book’s dust jacket have anything to do with the mystery. Since the dust jacket states that the book is “A Medlar Mystery,” I presume more are to come. Of course I may be wrong, but I do suspect the mystery will be leavened with at least a dash of romance.

Computer Class

That showy poinciana commanded my notice and piqued my curiosity. I didn’t know what it was, so I simply googled “Florida tree red flowers” and had my answer, with photographs and a list of vendors offering the plants for sale. They are akin to our mimosas, but less tolerant of cold weather. I love the Internet! I no longer sit around wondering about things: I look them up, several times each day. You can, too, and if you don’t already know how, we can teach you.  It’s not only easy, it’s fun!

We are offering a free “Computer Skills for Beginners” class on Thursday, Sept. 27. Join us here at the library at 6 p.m. to learn what you can do and how you can do it. The session is scheduled to last for about 90 minutes. Since the number of computers we have available is limited, please call the library at 743-6533 to reserve your place in the class.

Feathered Friends – It’s a big, bag world for tiny hummingbirds

A praying mantis rests on a bird feeder. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

Many years ago I read an account of a scarlet tanager making a snack of a ruby-throated hummingbird. Memory being what it is, I am no longer sure if that account was corroborated or one of those urban legends of birding.

A few pertinent facts should be considered. Male scarlet tanagers look striking in their red and black plumage. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are attracted to the color red. In the details I recall of the story about the predatory tanager, the hummingbird kept flying close to the tanager as if attracted to the red plumage. If so, it was a case of curiosity kills the cat or, in this case, the hummingbird. The tanager seized the hummingbird in its bill and, for good measure and to “tenderize” its prey, beat the hummingbird against the side of a branch. All of this took place before a crowd of birders who observed the incident through their binoculars. I don’t recall anyone taking a photo of the hummingbird’s tragic demise.

An email from Gene Counts reminded me of the tale of the tanager and the hummingbird. Gene, who lives in Haysi, Virginia, sent me a photograph and a short note about a praying mantis that stalks hummingbirds as they visit his feeders for a sip of sugar water.

Gene told me of his excitement upon capturing the large insect’s behavior in a photograph.

“I just had to share this picture with you,” Gene wrote. “After all, my wife, Judy, was more excited today than the day we married in Chicago 54 years ago.”

He certainly hooked my attention with that introduction.

“A praying mantis is using our feeder as his own private hunting preserve,” Gene continued in his email. “The mantis follows and stalks the hummingbirds all the way around 360 degrees.”

So far, the stalking has only resulted in “several near misses,” but Gene declared that he is ready to pounce in case the mantis gets lucky.

“It has been four hours and he has lowered his goal,” Gene wrote of the patient mantis. “He is now clinging to the bottom (of the feeder) waiting for an insect. Now I can expel my breath as he no longer an avian threat.”

While Gene’s mantis may not be an immediate threat to hummingbirds visiting his yard in Haysi, does that mean we can be complacent when these large insects share our yards and gardens with hummingbirds?

Documented evidence exists to identify large praying mantises as predators on ruby-throated hummingbirds. A brief foray online found numerous instances of hummers falling victims to these large carnivorous insects.

There are two species of mantises in the region — the European, or praying mantis, and the Chinese mantis — capable of capturing hummingbirds. Both species were introduced in the 1800s to act as a predator of insect pests detrimental to crops and gardens. The Chinese mantis can reach a length of 4.3 inches, while the European mantis achieves a length of about 3.5 inches. A third species — Carolina mantis — reaches only a length of 2.5 inches and should not pose a threat to ruby-throated hummingbirds, which are about 3.5 inches long.

Although introduced from Europe, the European mantis (Mantis religiosa) has earned recognition as the official state insect of Connecticut. The native Carolina mantis is the official state insect for South Carolina.

In Central and South America, where the world’s more than 300 species of hummingbirds reach their greatest diversity, there are also more species of predatory mantises. Some of these tropical insects prey on the tropical counterparts to the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Consider the way the mantis makes a perfect predator. Its spiky forelimbs are spiky and serrated, making them perfect for seizing and grasping. This insect’s triangular head can turn their heads 180 degrees to scan its surroundings with two large compound eyes. A mantis also has three other simple eyes to increase its keen vision. Brutal mouthparts can easily tear apart and devour any prey the mantis manages to catch with its ambush hunting style.

Hummingbirds, regardless of species, are in a tough spot in the food chain. A bird not much bigger than many large insects is going to be a target for opportunistic predators like a mantis that will attempt to kill and consume anything small enough for them to make the effort.

To make matters worse for ruby-throated hummingbirds, some large spiders and the bigger dragonflies have also been documented as hummingbird predators. When ruby-throated hummingbirds retreat to Central America for the winter months, they also face threats from lizards and snakes.

The list of predators that have been known to eat ruby-throated hummingbirds extends to bullfrogs, as well as many raptors, including kestrels, merlins and sharp-shinned hawks. Blue jays and other birds will raid hummingbird nests for eggs or young. Squirrels and chipmunks are also nest predators.

Despite all these perils, some ruby-throated hummingbirds have achieved a “long” life. The oldest on record was a ruby-throated hummingbird banded at the age of nine years and one month. Most elder hummingbirds are females. Few male hummingbirds, perhaps because of the energy they expend dueling with each other, reach their fifth birthday.

It’s definitely not easy being as tiny as a hummingbird in a world of fearsome giants, but birders who have seen a hummingbird hover boldly in front of their faces know how these tiny birds take life in stride. They may have a disadvantage in size, but that doesn’t keep them from living life as if they were as big as an eagle.

Feathered Friends – Fall migration offers birding opportunities

Shorebirds are a diverse avian group. There are 49 species of shorebirds that are common in North America. Many of them, like the bar-tailed godwit, make long-distance migration flights every spring and fall. Migration for the godwit, for example, is a grueling 6,000-mile journey. (Photo by Tim Bowman)

By Bryan Stevens

For many birds, fall migration is well underway. The first hints of fall migration are being reported by area birders who have reported sightings of everything from egrets and terns to warblers and shorebirds. I got my first indication of migration on Aug. 27 when I observed an American redstart, black-throated green warbler and black-and-white warbler in my yard.

The yearly rush to return to the tropics is a true natural phenomenon among birds such as the broad-winged hawk. Hundreds if not thousands of these raptors will pass through the region at points like the abandoned fire tower on Clinch Mountain near Mendota, Virginia. Records on migrating raptors have been kept at this location since 1958. The broad-winged hawk, a raptor found in the region during the summer, makes a  migration flight back to South America every fall that astonishes human onlookers who gather along mountain peaks to witness the spectacle. The hawks form large flocks, also called kettles, that can number in the thousands.

The broad-winged hawk belongs to the genus Buteo, which includes such related raptors as the red-shouldered hawk, rough-legged hawk and red-tailed hawk. In Europe, members of this genus of hawks are often called “buzzards,” a term that came over with early settlers in North America. To this day, many people still refer to any large, soaring bird as a buzzard.

Many birds migrate out of the tropics each spring to avoid competition from numerous relatives. Others find North America a land of abundant, albeit temporary, resources. This land of plenty offers a wealth of insects, seeds, fruit and other nourishing, nutritious food to help parent birds keep their strength while they work to ensure their young thrive.

The phenomenon of migration isn’t exclusive to the neotropical migrants of the New World. Birds in other parts of the world migrate, too. Migration isn’t even exclusive to our fine feathered friends. Many creatures, from wildebeest and caribou to dragonflies and butterflies, impress humans with their endurance as they stage seasonal migrations.

The Arctic tern takes the practice of migration to extremes. This small seabird travels each year from its Arctic nesting grounds to the Antarctic region, where it spends the winter months. Put into terms of mileage, the Arctic tern can travel about 50,000 miles in a single year. For a bird with a body length of about 15 inches and a wingspan of about 28 inches, this incredible migration is an astonishing feat.

While its migration does not normally bring Arctic terns close to the region, some of this bird’s relatives do offer viewing opportunities for area birders during fall migration. Black terns have been making stops at ponds, rivers and lakes in the region for the past few weeks. This small terns nests on large bodies of fresh water in the interior of the United States and Canada. During the summer nesting season, adult black terns have a black head and body, but the wings are dark gray. By autumn, these terns show an almost entirely white plumage with some darker accents making them similar to other small terns such as Forster’s tern and common tern.

The ruby-throated hummingbird, a favorite of many bird enthusiasts living in the eastern United States, makes an impressive migration each year. Just to reach the United States, these tiny birds undertake a strenuous journey. They leave their wintering grounds in Central America to return to the United States and Canada for the nesting season. Most of these tiny birds, which are barely four inches long, make a non-stop flight of more than 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico. The journey can take almost an entire day!

However, the ruby-throated hummingbird is not the champion of long-distance migration among hummingbirds. That accolade goes to the rufous hummingbird, which spends the nesting season in western North America, ranging from southern Mexico to as far north as Alaska and Canada. Its migration journey of almost 4,000 miles is made in stages over the course of a few months. Like ruby-throated hummingbirds in the eastern half of North America, rufous hummingbirds require extra energy to successfully complete such a lengthy migration. They pig out on flower nectar, sugar water mixtures at feeders, and tiny insects to ensure they have the reserves to reach their destinations.

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 parts of Scandinavia, northern Asia and Alaska. Some of these godwits make a nine-day, non-stop migratory flight that takes them from New Zealand to the Yellow Sea of China, a distance of almost 6,000 miles. Needless to say, since the godwits make no stops along the way, they must also go without food for the duration of their journey.

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 on 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.

Even birds that cannot fly undertake migrations. For instance, the Adélie penguins of the Ross Sea in the Antarctic travel about 8,000-10,900 miles annually to their breeding colonies. Of course, they migrate by swimming, not flying, these long distances. The Australian emu, a smaller relative of the ostrich, makes seasonal migrations on foot to ensure access to abundant food supplies at all seasons.

Most of our favorite summer birds — scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles, ruby-throated hummingbirds, gray catbirds — will make an exodus in the coming weeks. Even as some of our beloved favorites depart, we can take some cheer in the knowledge they will be replaced by some welcome winter residents, including dark-eyed juncos, white-crowned sparrows, brown creepers and yellow-rumped warblers. Fall is indeed a time of departure for many birds, but it’s also a time to make new friends with the other birds that should soon start arriving in our yards and gardens by mid-October.

Keep alert to the changing of the guard. The mix of bird species in your yard will change dramatically from day to day for the next couple of months. It’s a time bound to yield some surprises.

Library Happenings – Study says reading can add years to your life

By Angie Georgeff

Almost everyone wants to live a longer and healthier life. We already know that we should give up bad habits, get a good night’s sleep, exercise regularly and eat our veggies, but to that list we can add reading a book for at least 30 minutes a day. A 2016 study by the Yale School of Public Health determined that adopting this simple habit can add nearly two years to a person’s life span. I happen to enjoy eating vegetables, but reading is even more fun than a big steaming bowl of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.

Exercising your neurons by reading can also reduce symptoms of depression and even help to ward off dementia. A part of the brain called the default-mode network deteriorates in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have discovered that reading a novel stimulates that network as we imagine what it would be like to walk a mile in another person’s stilettos, hoop skirt or suit of armor.

Once upon a time many academics looked down their noses at fiction the same way a health nut glares at a cupcake. Now the long-maligned novels – and particularly literary fiction – are proving to be a healthy choice. Life would be perfect if scientists could just discover nutritional value in a doughnut, especially the ones iced with chocolate!

Literary Fiction

I enjoy reading non-fiction, particularly history and biographies, but almost all of my favorite books are literary fiction. Some titles that I can recommend are Geraldine Brooks’s “Year of Wonders,” Peter Carey’s “Parrot and Olivier in America,” Alice Hoffman’s “The Marriage of Opposites,” Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall,” David Mitchell’s “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” and Dominic Smith’s “The Last Painting of Sara de Vos.”

And then there are the classic novels of the Bronte sisters, Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen. Do your brain a favor and spend half an hour reading today simply for the pleasure of it. It just makes Sense…and Sensibility.

Book News

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and I don’t mean the kids going back to school. State funds for books and other library materials have just been released! Many of the books that you have placed on our wish list will not be published for weeks or months, but those which are currently availabIe for shipment have already been ordered.

Please let us know if there is anything you want to add. Our “new book” shelves will soon be bulging. If you have requested a book that we are able to order, we will call you when it is barcoded, cataloged, stamped and covered. Don’t worry: It usually doesn’t take nearly as long as it sounds it would. Happy reading!

Feathered Friends – Rally to offer sneak peak at migration

A Wilson’s warbler pauses on a branch during a migratory stopover. The upcoming Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally offers a good opportunity to look for migrating warblers and other songbirds. (Photo by Peter Pearsall/USFWS)

By Bryan Stevens

The 56th Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally will draw nature enthusiasts from far and wide to this jewel of the Southern Appalachians on the first weekend after Labor Day with programs, nature walks, catered meals, and much more.

The annual Fall Naturalists Rally is always a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and, for birders, get a sneak peek at fall migration with any of the walks and programs focusing on our fine feathered friends. The best naturalists in the region volunteer their time and energy to make this a landmark event for people of all ages.

This year’s rally, which is scheduled for Friday-Sunday, Sept. 7-9,  will feature guest speakers, Gabrielle Zeiger and Dr. Joey Shaw, for the main programs on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Zeiger’s Friday program, “Zen and the Art of Mushroom Hunting,” will get underway at 7:30 p.m. following a catered dinner at 6:30. Zeiger has been studying mushrooms in the region for 23 years. She considers herself more of a mushroom enthusiast than an expert. She is a member of the North American Mycological Association and attends their national forays. She is involved in the association’s annual Wildacres foray in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Mount Mitchell in North Carolina.

Her program will focus on the two basic approaches —  looking for good edibles and scientific study — to mushroom hunting. Her talk will touch on both approaches and include basic information on common mushrooms found in the area, species diversity and poisonous versus edible mushrooms. The program will include various types of fungi from gilled mushrooms, boletes, corals, stinkhorns and polypores, as well as the roles that they play in the environment such as decomposition and forest ecology. She will also talk about what mycologists do at forays. Findings will be included regarding 20 years of record keeping at Roan Mountain and scientific information on studies at Mount Mitchell regarding the amount of rainfall and diversity of fruiting.

Saturday’s program on “Digitizing Tennessee’s One Million Herbarium Specimens,” will also start at 7:30 p.m. followed by a catered meal at 6:30. Dr. Joey Shaw received a bachelor’s of science in biology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 1998, and that same year began his graduate education in the Department of Botany at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. In 2001, he received his master’s in botany for a floristic investigation of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Tennessee and Kentucky. In 2005 he received his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, for his work on the phylogeny and phylogeography of the North American plums and molecular evolution of different genetic regions of the chloroplast genome.

Shaw is currently serving the Association of Southeastern Biologists as Past President and will rotate off this Executive Committee in April 2019, after having served for over ten years and in all ranks of that committee. He is also serving as Chair of the Wildflower Pilgrimage Organizing Committee, and in this capacity he organizes this annual event that brings together more than 120 professional biologists with 850 members of the public to participate in more than 150 different events over four days every spring in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Evening and lunch programs will take place in Roan Mountain State Park’s Conference Center and unless other noted, field trips will leave from the field on the left before the cabins in the park.

In addition to the programs, morning and afternoon walks will be held Saturday and Sunday on a vast array of subjects, including birds, salamanders, butterflies, spiders, snakes, geology, mosses and liverworts. A “moth party” will be held after the Friday and Saturday programs. Larry McDaniel will host this party taking a look at these winged nocturnal insects outside the Conference Center.

Consider joining the Friends of Roan Mountain, if you are not a member. Members get free admission to all Naturalists Rally events and the newsletter, “Friends of Roan Mountain.”

The rally offers catered evening meals by City Market of Elizabethton, as well as brown bag lunches on Saturday. All meals must be pre-paid in advance.

Registration and payment for meals and other activities can be made at the website for Friends of Roan Mountain at friendsofroanmtn.org. The website can also provide a brochure for download that offers a complete schedule and details all the available activities at this year’s rally. Whatever your interest, the Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally is sure to have an activity available. For local birders, it’s often the kick-off to the fall migration season as warblers, vireos, thrushes, tanagers, birds of prey and many other species pass through the region on their way to their wintering grounds.

Library Happenings – Tennessee READS recognizes ‘Potter’ anniversary

By Angie Georgeff

It hardly seems possible, but we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Harry, Ron, Hermione, Professor Dumbledore and even Severus Snape feel like old friends because we’ve known them for so long. Those of us who have read the books or seen the movies feel as though we long endured danger and finally defeated evil right alongside them. Now a second generation is getting to experience the tragedy and triumph of the wizarding world. The elder of my two grandsons is a huge fan. His brother and sister will probably follow suit.

To mark the occasion, from now through Sept. 10 Tennessee READS is offering unlimited access to the ebook edition of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” All of our library patrons will be able to borrow the book simultaneously and our normal loan period will apply regardless of when the ebook is checked out. All you need is your library card and a compatible device, such as a computer, tablet or smartphone. Go to https://reads.overdrive.com/ to get started and click on “Help.”

Holiday Closure

The library will be closed on Monday, Sept. 3 in observance of Labor Day. No items will be due on that date.

As always, books may be returned to either of our drop boxes, which are located in front of the library in Erwin and at Town Hall in Unicoi. DVDs, however, should not be placed in the book returns since they may be damaged if a heavy book falls on them. We wish you all a Happy Labor Day!

Spotlight Book

Shari Lapena is known for her plot twists, and it seems likely her latest thriller “An Unwanted Guest” will keep them coming. I know from experience that blizzards are not much fun, but if a storm is brewing, Mitchell’s Inn deep in the Catskills would be the perfect place to be snowbound.

The rooms are luxurious but cozy, with each one focused on a huge wood-burning fireplace. The staff is attentive, the food delicious and the bar well-stocked.  During a weekend getaway, do we really need electricity and the Internet?

Under such mollifying circumstances, the guests can just shrug off the forecast and enjoy the pristine beauty and the solitude. They do, until a guest dies in what seems to be a tragic accident.

Then a second death sends them all into panic mode. This time there is no doubt:  the victim was murdered. The guests who are trapped by the snow are sitting ducks and it appears a hunter is picking them off.

Feathered Friends – No cowbird ever knows its biological parents

The male brown-headed cowbird gets its name from the brown head atop a glossy black body. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

While many birds are excellent parents, others lack any maternal or paternal instincts altogether. The common cuckoo, a nesting bird in Europe and Asia, is a well-known brood parasite that would rather slip its eggs into the nest of other bird than raise its own young. In scientific terms, “brood parasite” refers to creatures that rely on others to raise their young. In addition to some birds, this tactic is also employed by some species of insects and fish.

The strategy is effective, if, in the human way of thinking, rather heartless. In biological terms, however, this “foster parenting” allows brood parasites to ensure a new generation without expending much energy on the part of the actual parents. Some recent contacts with readers have reminded me that not all of our feathered friends would qualify for “parent of the year.”

Mike Dickenson of Bristol, Tennessee, contacted me on Facebook about a discovery he made in a nest built under the steps of his house.

“I noticed two blue eggs,” he said. “I checked a few days later and noticed two gray eggs also. Did another bird sneak her eggs into the nest?” Mike also informed me that some of the eggs hatched shortly after he discovered them.

James Rowland of Erwin, Tennessee, sent me a message on Facebook asking me to identify a bird in a photograph he had taken. “What is this bird?” James asked. “It’s larger than a sparrow.”

He added that he observed and photographed the bird near the Covered Bridge in Elizabethton, Tennessee. A study of the bird in the photo revealed a very nondescript bird in largely gray plumage. Few of our birds are this plain and gray with almost no standout characteristics.

In both cases, one of North America’s most successful brood parasites was involved. I responded to Mike and told him that it was entirely possible that a female brown-headed cowbird slipped some eggs into the nest beneath his steps. I likewise informed James that the bird in his photo looked like a brown-headed cowbird. I added that the bird was either a female or a young bird, since a male would have the brown head that gives the species its common name.

In North America, one of the best-known feathered brood parasites is the brown-headed cowbird. While many brood parasites are specialists, with females slipping their eggs into the nest of a specific species of host bird, the brown-headed cowbird approaches brood parasitism in a less discriminating manner. Female cowbirds have been known to lay their eggs in the nests of at least 221 different species of birds. No baby brown-headed cowbird ever knows its biological parents.

How did the brown-headed cowbird turn to a life of foisting eggs onto unsuspecting foster parents? The answer is connected with the American bison, also known as buffalo. When the bison roamed the Great Plains of the United States by the millions, flocks of brown-headed cowbirds followed the great herds, feeding on the insects flushed by the hooves of millions of bison. As the herds stayed on the move constantly, the cowbirds also developed a nomadic lifestyle. After the bison herd diminished, the cowbirds survived a potential crisis by simply transferring their bovine affinity from bison to domesticated cattle.

At times, this random and undiscriminating approach to reproduction fails. Some finches feed their young a diet that consists of a great deal of vegetable matter. Young cowbirds fed this protein deficient diet fail to thrive and ultimately perish.

Other birds blissfully bring a rich assortment of protein snacks — insects, spiders and other small invertebrates — that permits the young foster bird to thrive, at times at the expense of the host bird’s own young. About 20 years ago I observed a willow flycatcher bringing food to a young brown-headed cowbird at least twice the size of the “parent” trying to feed it. I’ve also seen song sparrows, dwarfed by a cowbird changeling, trying to keep their enormous baby bird well fed.

Cowbirds are members of the blackbird family, which includes such relations as orioles, meadowlarks and grackles. All cowbirds are confined to the New World and include species such as the screaming cowbird of Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil, as well as the bronzed cowbird of Central America and the southern United States, especially the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. Other cowbird family members include giant cowbird and the shiny cowbird.

Library Happenings – New novel leads to historical review

By Angie Georgeff

In addition to all of my administrative duties, I catalog a lot of books during the course of a month. I simply don’t have the time to familiarize myself with each one as it crosses my desk, but today one did catch my eye. On the back cover of Christian author Ann H. Gabhart’s new novel “River to Redemption,” I spied a brief reference to the cholera epidemic of 1833.

When I was conducting genealogical research on my Skelton forebears, I read that some of them died during a cholera epidemic in Hawkins County in 1830. A brief article in a Knoxville newspaper still survives, reporting the deaths by an unspecified illness. When I dug deeper into the matter, however, I discovered that the cause was undoubtedly one of the many malarial fevers that were common in the riverside settlements of Northeast Tennessee at that time.

The outbreak was newsworthy, but it wasn’t cholera. Somebody in the present day had jumped to a conclusion without considering all of the facts. Still, I can’t complain, since I learned more by investigating that mistake than I would have gathered from correct information. The cholera pandemic was raging in Asia and Russia during 1830, but it didn’t reach the United States until 1832. By 1833, the disease had made its way into Kentucky and Tennessee.

Adria Starr, the main character of Gabhart’s novel, was orphaned by the pandemic at the age of seven. A slave named Louis, who had given up his opportunity to escape bondage in order to tend the sick and the dead, found her and took her to Aunt Ruth, a newly widowed schoolteacher. Twelve years later, Louis’s owners have decided to sell him, and Adria is determined to purchase his freedom.

Spotlight Book

In the 16th century, Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli, author of “The Prince,” opined “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”

Machiavelli is often quoted, but was he right? Lisa Scottoline’s new thriller “Feared” reiterates the question “Is it better to be loved or feared?” Attorney Nick Machiavelli is suing the Rosato and DiNunzio law firm on behalf of three individuals who claim they were not hired because they are men. As if on cue, the firm’s one male employee decides to resign, suggesting that the reverse sex discrimination suit has some merit.

Machiavelli previously lost a case to Mary Rosato and he seems bent on revenge. In his mind, that means the annihilation of his opponent and all that she and Bennie have built. True to his Renaissance namesake, Nick Machiavelli will let nothing stand in his way: “If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.” Can Mary and Bennie’s firm withstand such a relentless and venomous attack?

Feathered Friends – Egrets, kin wander widely in late summer

This tricolored heron spent a few days at Paddle Creek Pond in late July. This large farm pond is managed by Crumley Farms Inc. and the Bristol Bird Club to provide habitat for migrating shorebirds and other birds. (Photo courtesy of Adrianna Nelson)

By Bryan Stevens

Late summer has a sort of lazy feel of anticipation to it. Most birds are finishing up their nesting season. Hungry fledglings appear at feeders in the company of adults. In recent weeks, I’ve noticed an explosion in the number of hummingbirds visiting my feeders and garden flowers. I’ve also noticed the vanguard of migrant birds that are starting to make appearances as fall migration approaches. It’s not just songbirds, however, that are on the move. Some large and rather conspicuous birds have been attracting attention in recent weeks, including a variety of wading birds.

Sightings this summer of long-legged wading birds in Tennessee and Virginia that are far outside of their usual range have included cattle egret, white ibis and roseate spoonbill. In addition, Susan Hubley reported on Facebook about a tricolored heron at John Sevier Lake in Rogersville, Tennessee, on July 25.

This heron is not usually found this far inland from the coast. Another tricolored heron showed up at Paddle Creek Pond in Bristol, Tennessee, on July 30. Adrianna Nelson reported the sighting on Bristol-Birds, an email network for sharing unusual bird sightings in the region. She also shared some photographs of the bird.

“This is the first time I have seen a tricolored heron in Tennessee,” she wrote in a response to an email I sent her. “It is a long way off from its usual range. I have seen them before on Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina.”

She described the refuge as an excellent place to see waders, painted buntings, and many other birds. “I get the chance to go almost every year since it is so close to where we vacation in Hilton Head,” Adrianna wrote.

She also commented on her unexpected observation.

“It is exciting to see something where it doesn’t usually belong,” Adrianna wrote. “I was definitely surprised to see the heron. That’s part of the fun of birding — you never know what to expect!”

She was also excited to share the sighting on Bristol-Birds. “It’s fun to share sightings with the birding community so they can also enjoy rare or unusual birds in our region,” she wrote.

Adrianna noted that she has been birding since age nine. “It all started when I saw a little gray bird hopping around in our yard,” she recalled. “I noticed it was only at our house around the winter months, and I started to wonder what the bird was.”

After some searching online, she successfully identified the bird as a dark-eyed junco.

“During my search, I was surprised by the wide variety of birds, and I wanted to find as many as possible,” Adrianna wrote. “Since then, I was hooked!

While diverting storms can’t be ruled out for causing some of these birds to detour into the region, it’s also normal behavior for young wading birds to disperse far and wide after leaving the nest. North American waders, or wading birds, include such long-legged species as herons, egrets, bitterns, ibises, storks and spoonbills. Most species are associated with wetlands or coastal areas.

Late summer birding is usually a period of doldrums as heat and humidity can discourage birders as well as diminish bird activity. However, it’s also the time of year when birders can make some unexpected surprises as wandering waders explore uncharted territory. Some other recent emails have reminded me of that fact.

James Elliott sent me an email describing a bird that is most likely a great egret. “For the second time in 30 years, I saw a magnificent, all-white heron yesterday on the South Houston River,” James wrote.

“I live at the very terminus of Riverside, Bullock Hollow, and Paddle Creek roads,” he wrote. “Big Springs Road is opposite across the river.”

When the bird departed, he said it flew east. He described the bird as “totally white” and “beautiful in flight.” He expressed regret that he was unable to get photographs.

Susan Schreiner, however, did get photographs of a great egret she observed near her home along the South Holston River in Bristol.

“We had a nice visitor today along the South Holston River,” Susan wrote in the email she sent. “When we first spotted it, it was in our tree and then flew down to the water.”

She said the egret has associated with some great blue herons in the vicinity. “It’s quite distinctive,” she wrote of the stately wading bird.

The diversity of the region’s bird life has impressed her. “Coming from Illinois, this is all pretty amazing for me,” she wrote.

The egret is not the only exceptional bird that Susan has observed. “I occasionally see a bald eagle fly down the river that is just breathtaking,” she wrote in her email.

Through email, James and I discussed whether the bird he saw was a great white heron or a great egret. Since he saw the bird and I did not, I am inclined to go with his identification of a great white heron. Although rare outside of Florida, this type of heron — simply a great blue heron in an alternative plumage — has over the years been spotted a handful of times in and around Bristol. Whether an egret or heron, his sighting is more evidence of the tendency of wading birds to wander widely in late summer.

The great egret became a motivational symbol for conservation with the foundation of the National Audubon Society in 1905. Today, the organization has nearly 500 local chapters, each of which is an independent non-profit organization voluntarily affiliated with the National Audubon Society.

These chapters often organize birdwatching field trips and conservation-related activities. The National Audubon Society spearheaded efforts to end the mass slaughter of various bird species. Some birds were killed for food, but millions were also killed for their showy feathers that were destined to decorate stylish attire worn as a symbol of high fashion. As early as 1910, some states began passing legislation to abolish trade in bird plumes. The federal government also came to the assistance of birds with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which was a law first enacted in 1916 to implement measures to protect and conserve migratory birds.

In 1953, a great egret in flight was chosen as the symbol for the official logo of the National Audubon Society, which was formed in part to prevent the killing of birds for their feathers. Birds like great egrets, snowy egrets, roseate spoonbills and other long-legged waders had been decimated before people responded to the wanton destruction being visited upon these beautiful and awe-inspiring creatures.

The great egret belongs to the genus Ardea, which includes various egrets and herons. Other members of this genus include Goliath heron, black-headed heron, purple heron and pied heron.

The tricolored heron belongs to the genus Egretta, which consists of various herons and egrets that mostly breed in warmer climates. In North America, other members of this genus include snowy egret, reddish egret and little blue heron. Older birding field guides may refer to the tricolored heron as the Louisiana heron, which was an older popular name for the species.

Although many herons and egrets are tall and stately, there are some pint-sized members of this group of birds. In North America, the smallest is the least bittern. The largest of the world’s herons is the aptly named Goliath heron, which is also known as the giant heron. This wading bird can stand five feet tall and weigh 11 pounds. The Goliath heron is native to sub-Saharan Africa but also ranges into southwest and south Asia. The world’s largest heron feeds almost exclusively on fish.

Other descriptive names for some of the world’s herons include boat-billed heron, white-crested tiger heron, zigzag heron, rufous-bellied heron, whistling heron and white-necked heron.

To try your own luck at observing herons and egrets, scout bodies of water such as ponds, rivers, lakes and streams to increase the odds of getting your own binoculars on one of these elegant waders.

Library Happenings – Donations of pool noodles needed for program

By Angie Georgeff

The kids are back in school and summer is over. Just kidding: Summer is not over by a long shot! Retailers tend to rush each season into place, but the autumnal equinox will not arrive until Sept. 22.

Summer weather is likely to reign for at least one more month, and we can hope for two. Even so, as days grow shorter and pools grow colder, those long pool noodles are likely to look less and less appealing. If you want to avoid storing them over the winter, we will be happy to take them off your hands.

Miss Dawn, who manages our programs for children, has great plans for pool noodles. If you have had a chance to observe her displays in our children’s room, you will have seen that she has a fertile imagination and the ability to transform inexpensive objects into objets d’art.  (Doesn’t everything just sound more elegant in French?)

That said, donations of pool noodles in every color will be gratefully accepted, and you will have the satisfaction of seeing them transform our children’s room into an underwater wonderland.

In fact, the metamorphosis has already begun, so that it will be completed before Labor Day and the resumption of our full schedule of youth programs. If you would like further information about our children’s and teen programs, call the library at 743-6533.

Spotlight Book

A contest for possession of a padlocked box lies at the center of Sandra Brown’s “Tailspin.” One side consists of “freight dog” Rye Mallett and Dr. Brynn O’Neal. Mallett, having cheated death as a fighter pilot in Afghanistan, is willing to undertake any delivery, at any time, in any weather, regardless of the risk.

Neither is he choosy about the cargo he is willing to transport. When Mallett is temporarily blinded by a laser beam one foggy night, he crashes but isn’t seriously injured. Brynn tries to claim the box, but she is not the doctor that he was supposed to meet and he won’t give it up.

A life is at stake if the box is not delivered within 48 hours, but Brynn is tight-lipped regarding its contents. It soon becomes apparent that both law enforcement and vicious thugs are eager to snatch the prize from the pair. Under the circumstances, Mallett needs to know the contents of the box. His interest, however, is equally piqued by the attractive doctor who is determined to protect it.

If you prefer reading romances with a heaping helping of suspense, then Tailspin is the perfect choice for August, which just happens to be National Read a Romance Novel Month. Happy reading!