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/

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, or by mail at 522 Dear Haven Road, in Unicoi.

Feathered Friends – Sighting points out weakness in relying on field guide range maps

The double-crested cormorant is a water bird designed for preying on fish. (Photo by Rodney Krey/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

By Bryan Stevens

For those interested in learning to identify the birds they see during trips or that show up in their gardens or yards, a good field guide is an indispensable tool. But for whatever the reason, I’ve got to add a slight caveat to my recommendation to obtain a field guide for bird identification help: The range maps in many of our field guides are in need of a good update.

As a case in point, I recently received an email from reader Beth Webb, who had a question about an observation she made recently.

“While at South Holston Lake this weekend, I saw about 12 or 18 birds in a tree,” Beth wrote. “I could not identify them.”

She noted that her binoculars were not the best and the boat was rocking. Nevertheless, she had an idea on the identity of the perched birds.

“They had the silhouette of a cormorant,” Beth wrote. “My field guide is older and it does not place cormorants in this area, but I am wondering if they have been sighted here.”

Beth added that several years ago she saw a cormorant at South Holston Lake and was able to watch it dive in one spot and come up several seconds later in another.

I emailed Beth back an answer to her query, telling her that double-crested cormorants have not always been a common bird in our region. For the past couple of decades, their numbers have been increasing nationwide, not just in our region.

The fact that she saw so many of them in a single tree makes me think she probably came close to a nesting rookery. Cormorants often nest near wading birds like great blue herons, which are also known to nest at South Holston Lake.

So, even with a rocking boat, Beth did a great job identifying the cormorants. Beth’s observation points out a weakness in some field guides. Birds are not static creatures. They have the power of flight and are constantly using that ability to expand into new places, Publishers of bird identification field guides are often challenged to keep pace.

For instance, the region’s birders birding in the 1970s would have considered the now ubiquitous Canada goose a rare bird. Before the 1980s, the tree swallow hardly ever nested in the region. Another swallow – the cliff swallow – has abandoned the faces of cliffs to nest beneath concrete bridges and has gone from being a rare swallow in the region to one of the most common summer nesting birds in the entire region in just the last couple of decades. Species ranging from cattle egret to Eurasian collared dove may not appear on the range maps in your guide books, but they can be found in the region.

Most bird identification guides follow a simple format: illustrations (photographs or paintings) that are accompanied by brief, precise text and maps showing a particular bird’s expected range, sometimes delineated by season. Many birds may be absent in summer but present in winter, for instance, so a color-coded range map designating year-round, summer and winter residency is highly desirable.

A good field guide should also be small enough to be easily carried and consulted in the field. One that slides into a pocket is ideal. Many tech-savvy people are relying on their smartphones as an alternative to a field guide, but the printed page is hard to beat in remote areas where a phone experiences difficulty finding enough signal bars.

Hopefully future field guides will include updates to the range maps that show cormorants do indeed reach Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Two of the field guides that I recommend for beginning birders are the Golden Guide to Birds of North America by Chandler S. Robbins and the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America by Roger Tory Peterson.

The cormorants are certainly a bird worth knowing. The double-crested cormorant belongs to a family of 40 birds consisting of species referred to as both cormorants and shags. Some of the world’s other cormorants include the flightless cormorant, black-faced cormorant, white-breasted cormorant, crowned cormorant, little cormorant, pygmy cormorant and the imperial shag, which is also known as the blue-eyed shag.

Besides the double-crested cormorant, North America is home to five other species. The great cormorant lives along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean from Canada down to southern Florida. The pelagic cormorant and the Brandt’s cormorant can be seen along North America’s Pacific coastline. The red-faced cormorant lives in the southern regions of Alaska out into the Aleutian Islands. The most southern of these North American cormorants is the Neotropic cormorant, which is found along the southeast areas of Texas down into Mexico.

All cormorants primarily fish for their meals. They have strong legs to propel them through the water when they dive for fish. They also have a serrated bill with a hooked tip that is excellent for grasping slippery fish.

On the recent Spring Bird Count for Northeast Tennessee conducted by the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, a total of 82 double-crested cormorants were found on area waterways. Those birds provide a good indication that cormorants are now an established species in the region.

Library Happenings – Harry Potter celebration continues in August

By Angie Georgeff

Our month-long celebration of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books continues with a wand-making workshop that will be held today from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Drop in whenever it is convenient for you and craft a wand to suit your personality, whether it is plain or fancy.

In “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” Mr. Ollivander tells Harry, “The wand chooses the wizard.” In this case, each individual gets to choose the wand along with all of its adornments and eccentricities. Use your imagination and exercise your skills to make your wand as unique as you are.

On Tuesday, Aug. 13, we will test your knowledge of the books with Harry Potter trivia at 6 p.m. This event may appeal to the entire family, and I am curious to see whether a child or adult will know the most about Harry and his world. “Potions class” will be meeting Wednesday, Aug. 14, from 3:30-5 p.m. Fortunately, Professor Snape will not be teaching this lesson, so “butterbeer-flavored” lip balm will be the product of all the measuring and mixing instead of Polyjuice Potion.

If you have not already done so, be sure to pick up a schedule of events and a listing of the local businesses where items in the scavenger hunt can be located. We have events scheduled every Wednesday during August, but not all will be held at the same time. In an effort to accommodate a variety of schedules, other events will be offered on Friday or Saturday. Be sure to check your schedule or our Unicoi County Public Library Kids and Teens Facebook page for more information.

Spotlight Book

The labyrinth of Greek mythology was an especially intricate maze built near Knossos in Crete to house the monstrous Minotaur. The creature was the offspring of the Cretan Queen Pasiphae and the Cretan Bull, and was born to punish King Minos for disobeying the Greek sea god Poseidon. Its appetite for human flesh confined it to the labyrinth, which conveniently made escape (almost) impossible for the unfortunate youths and maidens who were chosen to be sacrificed to it.

Catherine Coulter’s new FBI thriller “Labyrinth” appears to be well named, with enough twists, turns, shocks and deceptions to satisfy any fan. When Lacey Sherlock becomes the victim of an apparent traffic accident in downtown Washington, she loses consciousness, but not before seeing a man hit her windshield. In the hospital, she is told the man ran away from the scene of the accident. DNA analysis reveals that the man is a CIA analyst, and he is missing. Meanwhile, Dillon Savich is called in to assist Special Agent Griffin Hammersmith, who has been arrested along with a woman whom he rescued from a kidnapper. The charges may arise from the fact that the kidnapper is the sheriff’s nephew.

Feathered Friends – Wading birds make summer appearances

A great egret perches on a branch extending over a small fish pond. These elegant wading birds, which are often found near coastal areas, wander widely in the summer months. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

North America’s stately wading birds — egrets, herons, bitterns, ibises and their kin — are well-known wanderers in late summer. As with all birds capable of flight, a pair of strong wings cannot be underestimated. Birds can show up in the most unlikely places.

Take for instance the first confirmed sighting of an American flamingo in Tennessee. This particular flamingo — an almost unthinkable bird for the Volunteer State — showed up along Highway 78 in Lake County on July 13.

Ruben Stoll and Alan Troyer found the flamingo, backing up their discovery with photographs of the large pink bird associating with great egrets and other wading birds. The flamingo created considerable buzz on rare bird alerts in several nearby states. Many birders rushed to add this exceptional visitor to their state and life lists.

In summers past, other exciting wading birds ranging from little blue herons to wood storks have excited the region’s birders. I recently celebrated my own sighting of one of these wanderers that made a stop at my fish pond on July 10.

I had stepped outside my house and let the door slam a little too loudly behind me, causing a stately great egret near my fish pond to take flight and fly over the roof of my house. I regretted instantly not having a camera with me.

Two days later, I got another chance. The great egret made another appearance. Unfortunately for the tall bird, he attracted the ire of the resident red-winged blackbirds. In a most inhospitable manner, the blackbirds attacked and dived at the egret, which made some awkward attempts to evade the angry blackbirds. Blackbirds are protective of their territory and have swooped at me several times when I’ve ventured too close to their favored cattails.

More prepared on this occasion, I had my camera with me and managed to get a few photographs of the egret. Oddly enough, the bird is actually the second great egret to visit my fish pond. The first one made an unseasonable stop several years ago on a snowy December afternoon — hardly a time of year I might have expected a visit from an egret in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee.

The next day, only a few miles from my home, Lauri Sneyd Vance took a photograph of a great egret that stopped at her home in Limestone Cove in Unicoi County, Tennessee. Having seen my Facebook post, she notified me that she had also received a visit from an egret. Was it the same bird? Perhaps.

The great egret stands 3.3 feet tall. With an all-white plumage, a long yellow bill and dark legs, this egret is often described as graceful and elegant. Its likeness was incorporated into the logo for the National Audubon Society, an organization formed to protect egrets and other wading birds from a wanton slaughter in the late 1800s when millions of the birds were killed so their feathers could be used in women’s fashions.

During the breeding season, adult great egrets sprout long plumes on their back. These frilly feathers are known as aigrettes, which are used to attract the attention of prospective mates in elaborate mating displays.

According to the All About Birds website, great egrets feed mostly on fish, but they also eat amphibians, reptiles, rodents, songbirds, and crustaceans. On visits to the South Carolina coast, I’ve observed great egrets dining on frogs and small fish. In prime habitat, flocks of great egrets will gather to forage together in wetlands or around ponds. More sociable than some herons, great egret also nest and roost communally.

The other North American egrets include snowy egret, reddish egret and cattle egret. Other egrets found around the world include the intermediate egret, little egret, slaty egret, dimorphic egret and Chinese egret.

As summer advances, keep your eye on area rivers, lakes and ponds. It’s the best time of year to see egrets, herons and other long-legged wading birds. In the case of the American flamingo, I realize that lightning rarely strikes twice. If you do happen to see a gangly pink bird, let me know.

Addiction Connection Service to offer resources, support

From left, Art Gibson, Larry Pate, Debbie Tittle and Christy Smith are working together to host an Addiction Connection Service on July 31. Those struggling with addiction, their family members and friends are encouraged to attend. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

A group of caring citizens is attempting to create a network to support those who are battling the disease of addiction in Unicoi County.

“My biggest goal overall is to have a recovery group meeting in Unicoi County every night,” Unicoi County Prevention Coalition Director Christy Smith said. “We are working on a resource book for Unicoi County. The more options we have the more people we can reach.”

According to Smith, Unicoi County Prevention Coalition works with several programs in the community.

“We currently work with Clinchfield Drug, Roller Pharmacy, Neighborhood Service Center, CHIPS, McKinney Insurance, Frontier Health and Urgent Care to educate the public about medication security through the Count It, Lock It, Drop It program,” Smith said.

The prevention coalition also works with Unicoi County Schools to educate students on everything from substance abuse to treating anxiety and depression.

Unicoi County Prevention Coalition Government Liason Debbie Tittle sees working with area churches as a valuable resource for the organization.

“I love reaching out to the area churches for support because I know that the true cure for addiction is through God,” Tittle said. “We are hoping doors are going to open, and people can feel comfortable to seek help.”

Tittle and Smith are working with Larry Pate of The Landmarks and Fishery Community Church minister Art Gibson to host an Addiction Connection Service.

The first Addiction Connection Service Meeting is open to the public and will take place Wednesday, July 31, at 6:30 p.m. at Fishery Community Church Fellowship Hall. Addicts, family members and friends are encouraged to attend. There will be food, fellowship and resources. “This event is come as you are; it’s very informal,” Tittle said.”There is a huge parking lot, and a good meal with desserts; it’s a good way to initiate great relationships.”

During the July 31 event, there will be testimonies from Megan Millenbach Bryant and Art Gibson. Music will be provided by Pate of The Landmarks.

For those who do not have transportation, there will be free transportation provided by calling 361-4579.

If you are interested in volunteering or seeking help, please contact the Unicoi County Prevention Coalition.

The coalition, which is located at the corner of Rock Creek Road and North Main Avenue, offers a Drug Addicts Anonymous (DAA) support group that meets Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.

For more information, including updates to upcoming events, please follow Unicoi County Prevention Coalition on Facebook. To keep up with Fishery Community Church, including its drive-in service, follow them on Facebook.

If you are interested in helping the coalition, Amazon Smile provides an opportunity to shop online with proceeds going to the Unicoi County Prevention Coalition. Simply sign in to Amazon Smile, shop and enter Unicoi County Prevention Coalition as the selected charity at checkout.

Feathered Friends – Hummingbird questions

A female ruby-throated hummingbird visits a feeder for a sip of sugar water. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

I recently enjoyed watching three female ruby-throated hummingbirds engage in minor skirmishes around the sugar water feeders hanging on my front porch. Female hummingbirds are only slightly less militant than their male counterparts at dueling for precedence at feeders. As I watched, two of the more assertive hummingbirds kept a jealous watch, forcing the third female to make some sneaky flights to the feeders when the two other watchful females let their attention lapse.

Both male and female hummingbirds are pugnacious and intolerant of other hummingbirds, but males have always impressed me as much more aggressive. Indeed, some definite excitement got injected into my hummingbird watching when a male sporting the namesake bright ruby-red throat patch zipped into view and couldn’t decide whether to court or contest the females. He ultimately decided to scatter the female hummers into the branches of some nearby shrubs. So much for chivalry among hummers.

Hummingbirds have also been the subject of some recent queries from readers. Paul Burnette asked in his email if I have noticed decreased activities of hummingbirds in East Tennessee this year. 

“We have a couple feeders out yearly,” Paul wrote. “The last several years had a lot of activity. We enjoy them from our back patio.”

Paul explained that this summer has offered disappointing hummingbird watching. “With the same feeders available to the hummingbirds, we’ve only seen two or three sporadically over the past month and none prior to that.”

Paul asked if ruby-throated hummingbird migration patterns or population have changed.

I replied to Paul’s email with my own personal hummer observations. The season did begin a little later than usual, at least at my home. I noticed a boom in hummer numbers in late April and early May, then they all but vanished until early June. At that time, the three females and a male became daily visitors. Now, even those visitors have become less frequent.

There are several reasons to explain these fluctuations in hummingbird numbers. For instance, here are several types of flowers — bee balm, crocosmia and gladiola  — starting to bloom at my home, and that is probably true elsewhere. As wildflowers and garden flowers of summer come into bloom in the wild, hummers become less dependent on our feeders. Including blooming plants in your landscape encourages hummingbird visits at your home.

As I’ve already indicated, hummingbird numbers fluctuate from year to year. Having an abundance of them one year does not guarantee the same in future years. I expect a spike in numbers soon, which will be caused by the gradual start of fall migration for hummingbirds. Almost every year, hummer numbers rise dramatically in late July and early August and will continue to climb through the end of September. The reason for this spike is simple. Fall migration begins and birds that journeyed farther north in the spring start making their way south again, but at a slower pace than in spring. In addition, this year’s generation of new hummingbirds will have left their nests and added to the population. So, I advised patience and told Paul that he should start seeing more hummers in a few more weeks.

Karen Andis also sent me an email about a visitor other than a hummingbird at her sugar water feeders.

“Today for the first time, a butterfly has been feeding on our feeders,” Karen wrote in her email. “It goes from one to the other as though it has different flavors.”

Along with her report on the observation, she had a question. “Would this cause any type of contamination that might harm the hummers?”   

Karen’s question was interesting, but I doubt a butterfly would cause any problems by stealing sips of sugar water. Butterflies and hummingbirds visit the same flowers all the time, so they are used to sharing the same nectar sources. Hummingbirds must also contend with other nectar-loving insects, including bees, moths and ants.

In my own experience, feeding hummingbirds can even have the added bonus of attracting other sugar water-sippers, including downy woodpeckers, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice and even Baltimore orioles.

Cause for Paws – Time to adopt cats

By Linda Mathes

If you have ever considered bringing a new cat or kitten into your home, now is the perfect time.  The Unicoi County Animal Shelter has a special promotion through Aug. 16 which offers reduced adoption fees on our feline population. All cats and kittens, with approved applications, are available for $40. Each cat or kitten has been neutered or spayed, vaccinated and microchipped.

Whether you are interested in a kitten or adult cat the shelter has some wonderful animals to chose from. Come by the shelter during our open hours and meet your new animal friend.

The shelter has two fundraising events scheduled for First Friday on Aug. 2 in downtown Erwin.  Union Street Taproom is sponsoring “Pints for Pups” and the shelter will be selling T-shirts and other pet items at Erwin Outdoor Supply, also on Union Street.

Don’t forget out monthly fundraiser at Chili’s Restaurant located at 3040 Franklin Terrace in Johnson City. This month’s event is scheduled for Wednesday, July 31, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Don’t forget to tell your server you are supporting the Unicoi County Animal Shelter.

As always the shelter is asking for donations of kitty litter, bleach and cleaning supplies.

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

Library Happenings – Promising new books soon coming to library

By Angie Georgeff

Many of the books written by my favorite authors tend to be published in either September or October. Looking ahead, I took a few minutes last week to check the website of the company from which we buy most of our books. I was happy to find several promising new books coming soon to a library near you.

If you have wondered for years what fate might have awaited Offred at the conclusion of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Testaments” is the sequel for you. If you were a fan of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout’s “Olive Kitteredge,” her sequel “Olive, Again” will answer your questions. Ruth Ware’s thriller “The Turn of the Key” is coming in August; Alice Hoffman’s novel “The World That We Knew” is expected in September.

As you can see, I am a planner, focused on the future much of the time. Nevertheless, I do realize that July, of all the months, is the time for living in the present. The long sunny days, cocooning warmth, fresh food and summer vacations should be savored and not pushed aside in our rush to get back to work and school. I think Shakespeare phrased it well in his “Sonnet 18” way back in 1609, “… summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

Well, we still have one full week of July remaining. Take a good book out onto the porch and sit a spell with a tall, icy glass of sweet tea. And if you fall asleep, congratulations! Naps happen.  Either way, I know it will do you a world of good.

Spotlight Book

Good fiction transcends the “audience” categories we use when classifying library books. Many classics originally written with adults in mind are now found on the shelves alongside contemporary books aimed at teens. Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” are just two examples. This apparent drift toward a younger audience, however, is not a one-way street. Robert Beatty’s fourth installment in his bestselling Serafina series is one of the most highly anticipated books of the summer. “Serafina and the Seven Stars” is classified as juvenile fiction, but much of the demand is driven by adults who are as thoroughly charmed by the books as their children.

As the Guardian of Biltmore Estate, Serafina has prevailed against the dark forces that threaten the majestic home. A period of peace has succeeded the struggle, but Serafina – ever vigilant – is uneasy. Her friend Braeden Vanderbilt has left the estate to attend a boarding school in New York, but a strange occurrence has her pondering whether Braeden might have returned home for a single night before he vanished. Guests have arrived to participate in the estate’s annual hunt, and Serafina is poised to cope with danger.

July Jubilee Fundraiser to benefit local museums

The group, The Brothers Plus One, will perform during the July Jubilee Fundraiser on July 27. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

An eventful summer will continue for the Unicoi County Heritage Museum and Clinchfield Railroad Museum.

According to Curator Martha Erwin, a unique fundraiser called the “July Jubilee Fundraiser” is scheduled for Saturday, July 27. Sponsored by Farm Bureau, the event will be a day of food and live music.

“It’s going to be a good time,” Erwin said.

Erwin also said that food will be provided by Whistle Stop Deli of Unicoi. The music will be provided by Greenville alderman and former vice mayor Keith Paxton.  Paxton is up for reelection and has served on the Greenville BMA since 2009.

“I am aldermen first ward Greeneville and I serve on many boards,” Paxton said. “I currently serve on the Historic Zoning, EMS, and many other boards.”

Paxton, was an interim music leader for a local church when he met Erwin and her family. “Martha and others are the heart and soul of the two museums and she is very active in tourism and cares so much for Unicoi County and Clinchfield Railroad history,” Paxton said.

According to Paxton, the museums needed help with emergency funding, A/C, and other major buildings items that weren’t covered by any funds.

“I was asked if I could sing at the fundraiser and gave a huge yes,” Paxton said. “We began the singing and a meal fundraiser event at the museums and achieved a huge turnout of contributions.”

Paxton performed at the 2015 season opening of the Clinchfield Railroad and Unicoi County Heritage Museums.

Paxton has kept up with friends in Unicoi County since then.

“When Martha asked me to sing at the July Jubilee, I once again gave a huge yes; it truly is an honor,” Paxton said.

Paxton performs with his brother, Charles, and Neil Holt.

“We are the sons of a family of nine children,” Paxton said. “Our father (the late Sonny Lee Paxton) sang and witnessed weekly in homes and churches for years. He, and our mom Charlotte Paxton, were the owners of The Little Top Drive Thru on Main Street in Greeneville.” According to Paxton, besides witnessing, his family has been selling food for 100 years, and this year marks the 70th anniversary of the families trademarked “Chipburger.”

According to Paxton, he and Charles have sung in choirs and groups since birth. Holt was an original member of “One Accord.” Paxton said that the trio has performed at churches, nursing homes, jails and just about any other event.

Paxton and his bandmates are excited to perform in Unicoi County again.

“We are so excited to visit the city of Erwin and spend time at the museums and to fellowship with all the great folks there,” Paxton said. “Unicoi County is so blessed to have the Unicoi County Heritage and Clinchfield Railroad Museums and such events like the Apple Festival.”

According to Paxton, his band, “The Brothers Plus One,” are thankful to be a part of the July Jubilee Fundraiser.

“We want to thank Martha Erwin and all the ones working to bring this event together,” Paxton said. “We want to give a special mention to all the ones involved with the history of Unicoi County who recently passed.”

Paxton also said that anyone planning to attend the July Jubilee Fundraiser, is in for a good time.

“Our music is lots of times church songs with a message,” Paxton said. “This event we are asked to bring out railroad songs and even a few political songs such as, ‘The Long Black Train,’ ‘’You Are My Sunshine,’ along with a mix of some gospel and country music and if the crowd likes a song we might even play it again.”

The July Jubilee Fundraiser will take place Saturday, July 27, from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. at Erwin Town Hall. Tickets are $10 dollars per person and can be bought at the Unicoi County Heritage Museum during normal business hours. The museums’ normal business hours are Monday through Friday from 1-5 p.m.

• • •

The Clinchfield Railroad Museum recent added a large elephant statue named “Mary” to the collection. The statue is roughly 5 feet tall and around 4 feet long and is on display to visitors.

Feathered Friends – Area bird club records 107 species

Birds that nest at some high elevations, such as this red-breasted nuthatch, thrive at different locations in Unicoi County. (Photo by JudaM/

By Bryan Stevens

The Elizabethton Bird Club holds two summer bird counts to supplement other population monitoring efforts on the birdlife of Tennessee. Six years ago, the club launched an annual survey of summer bird populations in Unicoi County.

The sixth annual Unicoi County Summer Count was held Saturday, June 15, with 16 observers in five parties. A total of 107 species was found, which is slightly below the average of 109 species. Unicoi County offers several high elevation species of birds not easily found in the region, according to long-time count compiler Rick Knight.

Knight noted that highlights for the count include sharp-shinned hawk, bald eagle, yellow-bellied sapsucker, least flycatcher, warbling vireo, common raven, red-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, golden-crowned kinglet and hermit thrush. The count also found 18 species of warblers, including Swainson’s, Kentucky, magnolia and prairie.

The most common birds found in the count included American robin (241), European starling (224) indigo bunting (147) and song sparrow (146).

Some expected birds could not be found on the day of the count, including ruffed grouse, great horned owl, winter wren, Blackburnian warbler and pine warbler.

I counted with Dave and Connie Irick, Brookie and Jean Potter and Brenda Richards in the Limestone Cove community of Unicoi County. Some of our best birds included yellow-breasted chat, yellow-bellied sapsucker, rose-breasted grosbeak and Swainson’s warbler.

The total for this year’s Unicoi Bird Count follows:

Canada goose, 90; wood duck, 27; mallard, 33; wild turkey, 5; great blue heron, 2; and green heron, 3.

Black vulture, 7; turkey vulture, 33; sharp-shinned hawk, 1; Cooper’s hawk, 1; bald eagle, 1; broad-winged hawk, 9; red-tailed hawk, 7; and American kestrel, 3.

Killdeer, 9; rock pigeon, 78; mourning dove, 70; yellow-billed cuckoo, 7; Eastern screech-owl, 1; and barred owl, 3.

Chuck-will’s widow, 3; Eastern whip-poor-will, 9; chimney swift, 37; ruby-throated hummingbird, 14; and belted kingfisher, 2.

Red-bellied woodpecker, 8; yellow-bellied sapsucker, 8; downy woodpecker, 17; hairy woodpecker, 1; Northern flicker, 8; and pileated woodpecker, 11.

Eastern wood-pewee, 4; Acadian flycatcher, 26; least flycatcher, 1; Eastern phoebe, 41; great crested flycatcher, 2; and Eastern kingbird, 8.

White-eyed vireo, 3; yellow-throated vireo, 1; blue-headed vireo, 23; warbling vireo, 2; and red-eyed vireo, 105.

Blue jay, 66; American crow, 84; common raven, 8; Northern rough-winged swallow, 53; purple martin, 40; tree swallow, 106; barn swallow, 152; and cliff swallow, 128.

Carolina chickadee, 69; tufted titmouse, 55; red-breasted nuthatch, 6; white-breasted nuthatch, 15; brown creeper, 3; house wren, 22; and Carolina wren, 60.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher, 20; golden-crowned kinglet, 4; Eastern bluebird, 62, veery, 11; hermit thrush, 3; wood thrush, 41; and American robin, 241.

Gray catbird, 25; brown thrasher, 11; Northern mockingbird, 27; European starling, 224; and cedar waxwing, 34.

Ovenbird, 36; worm-eating warbler, 17; Louisiana waterthrush, 10, black-and-white warbler, 15; Swainson’s warbler, 8; Kentucky warbler, 1; common yellowthroat, 10; hooded warbler, 75; American redstart, 2; Northern parula, 20; magnolia warbler, 1; yellow warbler, 6; chestnut-sided warbler, 9; black-throated blue warbler, 19; yellow-throated warbler, 15; prairie warbler, 1; black-throated green warbler, 17; Canada warbler, 8; and yellow-breasted chat, 2.

Eastern towhee, 46; chipping sparrow, 55; field sparrow, 7; song sparrow, 146; and dark-eyed junco, 17.

Scarlet tanager, 30; Northern cardinal, 64; rose-breasted grosbeak, 5; blue grosbeak, 3; and indigo bunting, 147.

Red-winged blackbird, 70; Eastern meadowlark, 9; common grackle, 71; brown-headed cowbird, 14; orchard oriole, 3; Baltimore oriole, 1; house finch, 19; American goldfinch, 92; and house sparrow, 18.

Unicoi County offers some great habitat for finding birds. In addition to the new state park, the county also offers Erwin Fishery Park and adjacent walking trails, as well as Unaka Mountain. The diversity of birds found on the summer count is a testament to the value of these habitats for birds and other wildlife.

Cause for Paws – Foster homes needed for kittens

By Linda Mathes

The Unicoi County Animal Shelter is reaching out to the community for volunteers to join our foster program. Due to the large number of kittens in our shelter, we are asking for volunteers to foster kittens between six and nine weeks old.

Kittens this young have not built up a strong immune system and are susceptible to contracting various illnesses, the most common is an upper respiratory infection. By living in a foster home for several weeks they can remain healthy and build up their immunity. When the kittens come back to the shelter at approximately 12 weeks of age they will be spayed or neutered and ready for adoption.

If you are interested in this foster program please call the shelter for further information. If you can’t join the foster program but want to help we are in need of cat litter. Due to the high volume of cats and kittens in our shelter, we are using more than 200 pounds of litter a week, donations of both clumping and non-clumping litter will be greatly appreciated.

And don’t forget the low-cost spay-neuter program sponsored by the shelter. This month’s clinic is scheduled for Thursday, July 25, and you must register your animal at the shelter by Saturday, July 20. 

The cost for all dogs is $55; male cats – $35; and female cats – $50. Fees include surgery, rabies vaccination and supplemental pain medications. Just spaying/neutering one animal can make a difference.

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

Blue Ridge Pottery Club gathers for July meeting

Lou Thornberry and Hazel Darby gave a presentation about pottery houses during the July meeting of the Blue Ridge Pottery Club. (Contributed photo)

By Carol Riggs

The Blue Ridge Pottery Club meeting was held at the Clinchfield Senior Center on July 1 at 6 p.m. in Erwin with 30 members and guests attending.

Tina, Hannah, and Danielle Jones served as our hostesses for the meeting with Neal Jones cooking the hamburgers and hot dogs.

Their theme was Red, White, and Blue for July 4th celebration.

The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America started the meeting and then Richard Riggs asked the blessing. Gina Clark, our president, announced that it was time to get in line for the buffet table.

In addition to Neal’s burgers and dogs the members brought:  cowboy baked beans, chili, slaw, and broccoli slaw, mac and cheese, pasta salad, chips, cupcakes, lemon chess pie, red velvet cake, lemon cake, chocolate covered pretzels, cookies, and topping for the burgers and dogs like pickles, mayo, mustard, onions, relish, tomatoes and lettuce. We had one special Red, White and Blue delicious cake made by Larna Smith. What a wonderful holiday picnic. During our meal, we were entertained by Greg Forbes who sang several beautiful songs.

Clark opened the meeting after distributing today’s agenda. She introduced our speakers Lou Thornberry and Hazel Darby – they discussed the Pottery Houses that still exist today on Ohio, Holston Place and Love streets. They each gave us a brochure with the history of the pottery houses. Thornberry carefully went over all of the details in his brochure so we could understand the history of these homes. They had plenty of photos of the existing houses today. The homes and community were designed by Grosvenor Atterbury from New York who was a leader in the new field of community planning. The gems are located on Holston Place that looks like a horseshoe street off of Ohio and include a green area park in the middle.

Clark went over our agenda which included the show in October, catering the vendor dinner, same venue as last year, rack cards prepared by Jay Parker, our 40th Annual Show and Sale.  Bill Smith provided all members with the 2019 budget and discussed several parts of it. The door prize was won by Phil Edney.

The hosts and hostesses in August will be the Duncans and the Edneys. It will be a NASCAR theme. Our program will be presented by the Unicoi County Hospital Junior Board Members. They will be sharing information about the time capsule which included Blue Ridge Pottery. Don’t forget to check out our website at

Feathered Friends – Titmouse drawn to kitchen window

The tufted titmouse is one of our few crested birds, along with such species as cedar waxwing, blue jay and Northern cardinal. (Photo by Skeeze/

By Bryan Stevens

I received a recent email from Mary Jackson about a troublesome titmouse that has taken a liking to one of her kitchen windows.

“For the past week or so, I have had a tufted titmouse fly up to my kitchen window several times a day,” Mary wrote. She said the titmouse then proceeds to peck, flap its wings and make a three-syllable call that sounds like “chee, chee, chee.”

The bird’s behavior has understandably left Mary baffled. “Do you have any clues as to why it keeps doing this, and how I can stop it?” Mary inquired. “I thought it might be telling me to refill my feeder, so I did that, but the pecking and flapping continues.”

I replied to Mary’s email and informed her that her titmouse is exhibiting classic behavior of a bird that has discovered its reflection. It’s nesting season, and the bird is seeing its reflection but perceiving what it is seeing to be an intruding titmouse into its jealously guarded territory.

The fact that it is making the “chee chee chee” call means it is a male titmouse, so he thinks he is guarding both his territory and his mate from a dangerous intruder. The behavior is hardwired into the titmouse brain, so it is difficult to divert the bird’s attention from the window. I suggested that Mary cover that section of the window to banish the reflection. Otherwise, the behavior should clear up in a few weeks once the nesting season has ended.

The tufted titmouse is a mousy-gray bird with a dingy white belly and some rusty flanking on its sides. A coal-black eye and a crest completes the bird’s overall appearance. While not particularly showy birds, tufted titmice possess outsized personalities and provide great entertainment at our feeders. Their usual habit is to fly to a feeder, grab a single seed and carry the seed to a nearby perch where it is hulled and consumed before the bird repeats the process.

The United States is home to four other species of titmice, including the bridled titmouse, oak titmouse, juniper titmouse and black-crested titmouse.

The problem of birds fighting with their reflections isn’t confined to the occasional tufted titmouse. American robins are often reported as getting involved in kerfuffles with their reflections. I’ve experienced a similar situation myself with a female Northern cardinal. In her case, she had located her nest near a window at the back of my house. When she would catch sight of her reflection, she assumed another female had encroached into her nesting territory.

I’ve also seen Eastern bluebirds and dark-eyed juncos attack the exterior mirrors on parked vehicles. The junco was attacking the mirrors of several cars parked in a lot at Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee. No sooner would the bird grow weary of attacking one mirror than it would catch sight of its reflection in another mirror. The small bird seemed quite tireless in its determination to rid the vicinity of all rival juncos.

The case with the bluebird involved cars in a workplace parking lot. The cars’ mirrors were getting quite messy, but the cause remained a mystery until a co-worker caught a male bluebird in the act of vandalizing the mirrors on one of the parked cars. The male bluebird and his mate were actually raising young in a nearby nest box. 

In these cases, the birds are responding exactly as their brains are wired to respond. They don’t have the means to differentiate their own reflections from actual rival birds. So, their behavior is likely to continue until their hormones begin to wane near the conclusion of the nesting season.

So, in some respects, the term “bird brain” truly applies to some of our feathered friends. Their instincts and hardwired programming, however, allow them to function perfectly well until an unexpected reflection complicates matters.

(Readers with questions are welcome to email me at I also love to receive comments and hear about bird observations.)

Library Happenings – Phase two of Summer Reading Programs in works

By Angie Georgeff

The first half of our Summer Reading Programs for kids and teens has ended, but summer is far from over and so too are our programs. For the next three weeks, our staff will be recuperating from phase one and resetting for phase two.

Meanwhile, the adult program continues unabated.  Remember to fill out an entry form and deposit it in the tote near the front door for each book you read, audiobook you listen to, DVD you watch or activity sheet you complete. Entries will be accepted until close of business on Saturday, July 27. Winners will be notified beginning Monday, July 29. Good luck!

Author Emilie Buchwald said, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” Reading is the foundation on which all education is built, and when parents and children share the love of books, wonderful things can happen.

The examples of grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins play a role, as well. So far this year, we have offered separate Summer Reading Programs for children, teens and adults. We hope that phase two will bring together the entire family for activities that everyone in the community will enjoy.

The back-to-school phase of our Summer Reading Programs will be inspired by the “Harry Potter” books of J. K. Rowling. Weekly programs will encourage families to read together, beginning with a celebration of Harry’s birthday on July 31. This year the month of August will be special for more than just new shoes and school supplies. Several libraries and library systems in the OWL consortium will be participating and the complete schedule of events will be announced later this month.

Board Meeting

The Board of Trustees of the Unicoi County Public Library will meet in the library lobby at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 18.

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

Spotlight Book

Danielle Steel’s “Lost and Found” begins with an accident and an argument. Hobbled by a broken ankle and self-doubt, photographer Madison Allen takes stock of her life and wonders what might have happened if she had put her own happiness before that of her children. 

Forced to put her work on hold while she recuperates, Maddie sets out on a cross-country road trip to reconnect with the three men with whom she contemplated marriage during her long widowhood. 

Was her painful decision to leave each relationship ever the wrong choice? She travels from New York to Boston to Chicago to Wyoming in search of the answers.

UCHS students win national SADD video contest

SRO Kjell Michelsen, center, is pictured with UCHS students, pictured from left, Nick Farnor, Aaron Fregoso, Emalee Benard and Bridget Michelsen. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

Students from the Unicoi County High School SADD chapter in Erwin have won the $2,500 top prize in #DrivingSkills101 – Pass on Passengers, a nationwide contest sponsored by Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and The National Road Safety Foundation (NRSF).

The #DrivingSkills101 contest challenged teens in SADD chapters to create a safe driving campaign about the risks to teen drivers of having too many passengers in the car, with the goals of gaining school involvement, local media engagement and community interaction. Many states have GDL (graduated driver licensing) laws prohibiting teens from driving with other teens in the car, acknowledging the risk of distraction.

The UCHS SADD Chapter, with advisor Kjell Michelsen, proposed a video that shows a teen getting into her car, followed by several others dressed as clowns making noise, fooling with the radio and even one blowing a trumpet. The driver is obviously distracted.

The scene winds back to show the safe way teens should behave by having only one passenger in the car.

Students in the winning SADD chapter worked with an Emmy Award-winning TV director who came to their school to help them produce their video, which will debut at the SADD National Conference in Phoenix. It will also be featured on the syndicated show “Teen Kids News,” which airs on more than 160 TV stations nationwide.

According to Michelsen, students participating in the video created at UCHS were Mariana Graybeal, Nick Farnor, Emma Jones, Katie Gardner, Aaron Fregoso, Bridget Michelsen and Emalee Benard. Jones and Brandolyn Thomas attended the conference.

“Young drivers are involved in fatal crashes at three times the rate of more experienced drivers, and because of their inexperience, driving with other teens adds the risk of distraction,” said Rick Birt, President and CEO of SADD. “With support and encouragement from our partners at The National Road Safety Foundation, the contest helps motivate our student leaders to spread the safety message to their peers and their communities.”

“Traffic crashes continue to be a leading killer of teens,” said Michelle Anderson of The National Road Safety Foundation. “Distraction caused by other teens in the car is a factor in many crashes, and we think the message created by the students in Tennessee helps address this issue in a memorable way.”

The following nine SADD chapters were selected as finalists and will each receive $250: Dothan High School, Dothan, Alabama; McClellan High School, Antelope, California; Alameda High School, Alameda, California; Montrose School, Medfield, Massachusetts; Farmingdale Senior High School, Farmingdale, New York; Conestoga Valley High School, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Berkeley Springs High School, Berkeley Springs, West Virginia; and Wheeling Park High School, Wheeling, West Virginia.

About SADD: For almost 40 years, SADD, the nation’s premier youth health & safety organization has worked to empower teens, engage parents, mobilize communities, and change lives around the issues of traffic safety, substance abuse, and personal health and safety. Through a national network of peer-led chapters in middle schools, high schools and colleges, SADD equips our students with the resources they need to advocate for change on their campuses and in their communities. Join the movement by visiting, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

About The National Road Safety Foundation: For more than 55 years, The National Road Safety Foundation (NRSF), a non-profit organization, has created driver education programs for free distribution to teachers, police, traffic safety agencies, youth advocacy groups and others. NRSF has programs on distracted driving, speed and aggression, impaired driving, drowsy driving and other traffic safety issues. NRSF also sponsors national contests for teens in partnership with SADD, NOYS and Scholastic and regional contests partnering with auto shows in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. To view free programs and for more information, visit or

Feathered Friends – Eastern phoebe member of flycatcher family

An Eastern phoebe perches on a garden shepherd’s hook. Phoebes, a member of the extensive New World flycatcher family, are adept at capturing flying insect prey by utilizing elevated perches. (Photo by leoleobobeo/

By Bryan Stevens

Jill Henderson, who resides in Saltville, Virginia, emailed me recently with a question about a bird nesting atop a column on her back porch.

Jill provided me with four photographs attached to her email that greatly assisted in identifying the nesting birds on her back porch.

“It seems to enjoy the water in my pool,” she added. Indeed, a couple of the photos showed the bird perched poolside on one of her lawn chairs.

The nesting birds turned out to be Eastern phoebes, which are a member of the extensive family of birds known as “tyrant flycatchers.” The information about the pool assisted with the identification. Phoebes show an affinity for water, whether the source is a creek, pond or even a residential swimming pool.

Considering the bright finery worn by some of the more colorful spring arrivals, it’s understandable if the return of Eastern phoebes escape immediate notice each year. In comparison with vibrant birds like rose-breasted grosbeak, ruby-throated hummingbird, scarlet tanager and yellow warbler, the Eastern phoebe is downright drab with its gray-black and dingy white plumage. Nevertheless, this member of the flycatcher clan has earned itself a favorite spot in the hearts of many a birdwatcher. It’s one of those birds that even beginning birders find surprisingly easy to recognize and identify after a bit of study. While it may not have a dramatic plumage pattern to hint at its identity, the Eastern phoebe is quite at home around human dwellings and comes into close contact with people going about their daily routines. Rather tame — or at least not too bothered by close proximity with humans — the Eastern phoebe has one behavior that sets it apart from all the other similar flycatchers. When this bird lands on a perch, it cannot resist a vigorous bobbing of its tail. Every time a phoebe lands on a perch, it will produce this easily recognized tail dip and rise. It’s a behavior that makes this bird almost instantly recognizable among birders with a knowledge of the trait.

The Eastern phoebe is also an enthusiastic springtime singer, and the song it chooses to sing is an oft-repeated two-syllable call “FEE-bee” that provides the inspiration for this bird’s common name. The Eastern phoebe, known by the scientific name of Sayornis phoebe, has two relatives in the genus Sayornis. The genus is named after Thomas Say, an American naturalist. The Eastern phoebe’s close relatives include the black phoebe and Say’s phoebe. The black phoebe ranges throughout Oregon, Washington and California and as far south as Central and South America. As its name suggests, this bird has mostly black feathers instead of the gray plumage of its relatives. The Say’s phoebe, also named for the man who gave the genus its name, is the western counterpart to the Eastern phoebe.

The phoebes belong to the world’s largest family of birds, which is known collectively as the “tyrant flycatchers.” With more than 400 species, this family of birds consists of species known as tyrannulets, elaenias, pygmy tyrants, tody-flycatchers, spadebills, flatbills, attilas, kingbirds and kiskadees.

Since they belong to the vast family of New World flycatchers, it’s probably no surprise that these phoebes feed largely on insects. The birds will often perch patiently until an insect’s flight brings it within easy range. A quick flight from its perch usually allows the skillful bird to return with a morsel snatched on the wing. In the winter months, the Eastern phoebe also eats berries and other small fruit. Phoebes can even feed on poison ivy berries without risk of ill effects.

Phoebes are fond of nesting on human structures, including culverts, bridges and houses. With the latter, they were once known for their habit of placing their nests under sheltering eaves. At my home, a pair of Eastern phoebes often chooses to nest on the wooden rafters in my family’s garage.  Although the species is migratory, a few hardy individuals will usually try to tough out winters in the region. The others that depart in the autumn will migrate to the southern United States and as far south as Central America. On some rare occasions, Eastern phoebes have flown far off their usual course and ended up in western Europe. I can usually count on Eastern phoebes returning to my home in early March, making them one of the first migrants to return each year. Their arrival rarely goes unnoticed since the males tend to start singing persistently as soon as they arrive.

John James Audubon, an early naturalist and famed painter of North America’s birds, conducted an experiment with some young phoebes that represents the first-ever bird banding in the United States of America. His novel experiment, which he carried out in 1803, involved tying some silver thread to the legs of the phoebes he captured near his home in Pennsylvania. He wanted to answer a question he had about whether birds are faithful to home locations from year to year. The following year, Audubon again captured two phoebes and found the silver thread had remained attached to their legs. Today, ornithologists still conduct bird banding to gather information on birds and the mystery of their migrations. So, that pair of phoebes that returned to your backyard this spring — they just might be the same ones that have spent past summer seasons providing you with an enlightening glimpse into their lives.

Jill reminded me that she had written to me a few years back and had mentioned difficulty with hummingbird feeders and bears. “I am happy to report that so far this summer, there have been no incidents,” she wrote.

Her email also reminded me of a recent surprise. I awoke recently to the sound of a disturbance outside my bedroom window. I figured rambunctious squirrels were raiding my feeders. I raised the blind and surprised myself and a young black bear. Standing on his hind legs, the bear had managed to hook its paws on one of my feeders that hangs about four feet off the ground. The bear, probably a yearling based on its size, fled the scene, which probably spared my feeder.

If you have a question, wish to comment on a column or share an observation, email me at If you want help with identification, photographs definitely help.