Feathered Friends – Family of pigeons, doves features famous member

The rock pigeon is one of the most successful members of the bird family Columbidae, which is comprised of some 310 species of doves and pigeons. One of the most famous representatives of the family is the dodo, an extinct relative of such common birds as the mourning dove and rock pigeon. (Photo by Jean Potter)

By Bryan Stevens

Vivian Tester of Bristol, Tennessee, sent me an email seeking help with a pigeon problem.

“I need your advice on trying to keep the pigeons off my bird feeders,” Vivian wrote. “They are chasing off the birds I want to feed and devouring all the seed. My neighbor says they are doves but whatever they are, they are annoying. I don’t know if the squirrel-proof feeder would work or not. I would appreciate any help.”

I recommended that Vivian offer only black oil sunflower seeds to see if that might discourage the unwanted guests. While pigeons will eat sunflower seeds, they much prefer smaller seeds like milo and millet often found in mixed seed packages. If their preferred food source dries up, they may be convinced to move elsewhere.

Stopping feeding for a trial period is another possibility. Remove food for a week and then slowly start offering seeds again. If the pigeons have moved to other feeding grounds, perhaps they will be slow to return.

It’s a tough problem to solve. Although some feeders can be designed to prevent a large bird like a pigeon or dove from perching, the birds are going to still make the attempt. In doing so, they knock seed to the ground below and will happily feed on the spillage. The best option for avoiding pigeons would be to use tube feeders designed for minimal spillage if jostled. Doves and pigeons prefer to feed on the ground, so scattering seeds there, intentionally or inadvertently, is an invitation for flocks to gather.

Nature, too, offers a solution. Several species of raptors prey readily on doves and pigeons. Peregrine falcons and Cooper’s hawks are two effective controls on such birds, but it is not easy to issue an invitation for one of these birds to take up residence in your yard.

The two most likely offenders in the region are the mourning dove and the rock pigeon. Mourning doves are an abundant native species at home in both rural areas and suburbs. The rock pigeon is not a native species but has thrived in the United States since it first arrived with early colonists from Europe. Rock pigeons are mostly a problem for people attempting to feed birds in urban and suburban areas.

Pigeons and doves constitute the animal family Columbidae, which is comprised of some 310 species. One of the most famous members of this family is the extinct bird known as the dodo. The well-known story of the dodo doesn’t often make reference to the relations this bird had to living doves and pigeons.

Early scientists did not know what to make of the dodo and theorized that the unusual flightless bird was everything from a small ostrich to flightless versions of an albatross or a vulture. Johannes Theodor Reinhardt, a zoologist from Denmark, hinted at the dodo’s relationship to the world’s pigeons and doves as early as 1842. At first his theory was ridiculed, but other biologists and zoologists eventually came to accept the fact that the dodo was indeed a large, flightless pigeon.

The dodo stood a few inches over three feet tall and could weigh close to 40 pounds. Most of what is known about the dodo comes from paintings and drawings of the bird made by early explorers in the 17th century. Some of the humans who observed the bird also left behind valuable written accounts. First discovered by Dutch sailors who visited the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius in 1598, the dodo became extinct only 64 years later. So about the same time the rock pigeon was establishing itself as an introduced species of bird in North America, around the world one of its cousins slid quietly into extinction.

The dodo has acquired a reputation in popular culture as slow-witted, lethargic, fat, clumsy and stupid, dooming the bird as a creature too ill-suited to exist. Today, most scientists believe that the dodo was adapted perfectly to its island habitat. Having evolved as a flightless bird, the arrival of humans in its paradise meant its doom. The reputation for stupidity is unfair. Having never encountered humans, dodos did not have an instinctive fear of them. This lack of fear made it easy for the early explorers of their island home to quickly render them extinct.

Modern science has even pinpointed the dodo’s closest living relative. Thanks to DNA analysis, the Nicobar pigeon of southeast Asia has been identified as the closest relation of the dodo. The Nicobar pigeon is much smaller (only 16 inches long) and, unlike its famous relative, is capable of flight. This pigeon feeds mostly on fruit and seed. When grain of any kind is available, it will also make use of such a food source.

Most contemporary sources reveal that the dodo enjoyed a diet rich in fruit, but modern biologists speculate the dodo probably also foraged for nuts, seeds and tubers. It’s ironic that the dodos were slaughtered to extinction to provide food for early explorers of their island. An English explorer by the name of Sir Thomas Herbert recognized the dodo’s exploitation as a food source, but disparaged the bird’s taste. “To the delicate they are offensive and of no nourishment,” Herbert wrote in his published work, “A Relation of Some Years Travel into Africa and the Greater Asia.”

Like the pigeons that have become a scourge on Vivian’s feeders, it’s very likely that, had they survived, dodos might visit feeders today on the island of Mauritius. For the most part, the world’s doves and pigeons are considered successful birds.

In the United States, some other native doves include the widespread mourning dove, as well as white-winged dove, common ground dove and Inca dove. The Eurasian collared-dove, introduced into the Bahamas and Florida, has now spread extensively into the United States and is known to have established populations through northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia.

Some descriptive names for some of the world’s doves include purple-winged ground dove, lemon dove, zebra dove, ochre-bellied dove, tambourine dove, white-faced cuckoo-dove, ring-necked dove, little cuckoo-dove and sapphire quail-dove. Pigeons have also been bestowed with such colorful names as snow pigeon, speckled pigeon, yellow-eyed pigeon, pale-capped pigeon, metallic pigeon, crested pigeon, pink pigeon and squatter pigeon.

We all like to attract as many birds as possible to our yards and gardens. A variety of food will help achieve that objective. Be aware, though, that such free buffets will also encourage messy birds like pigeons that make feathered pigs of themselves and almost always overstay their welcome. There’s also the option to admire pigeons and doves as survivors with a lineage worthy of some admiration. Hang some tube feeders accessible to smaller songbirds but toss some seeds into a corner of the yard for the ground-feeding pigeons and doves. They’re birds, too, after all.

Library Happenings – Library for Accessible Books & Media offers resources

By Angie Georgeff

When I visit larger libraries and find myself envying their extensive collections and expansive facilities, I take pride in the observation that our small library’s collection of large print materials is frequently more extensive than theirs. What’s more, our Library Senior Services Train delivers books, audiobooks and other library materials to homebound senior citizens and nursing home residents. Still, there are some citizens of Unicoi County who benefit from more specialized services that we cannot provide.

That’s when the Tennessee Library for Accessible Books and Media in Nashville steps in to supplement our efforts. They provide a free library of more than 150,000 recorded, large print and braille materials to Tennessee residents who are not able to use standard print materials due to a visual or physical disability. This service loans recorded, large print and braille books and magazines, music scores in large print and braille and special playback equipment, which they will repair and replace as needed.

The library’s 50,000-title book collection includes popular fiction and nonfiction, best sellers as well as classics, history, biographies, religious literature, children’s books and books in foreign languages. More than seventy magazine titles are also available, along with reference services and even a “virtual story time.” Further information and applications are available at https://sos.tn.gov/tsla/labm, or you may call us at 743-6533. We will be happy to help.

Spotlight Book

Lancelot Gobbo, Shylock’s unhappy servant, said it to his father in William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”:  “…truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man’s son may, but at the length truth will out.” Even incidents that occurred thousands or millions of years ago leave evidence in fossils, tombs, ice, peat bogs and amber. Given time, opportunity and the operation of a curious mind, the truth will out.

FBI agents Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock have just foiled the attempted late-night kidnapping—or worse– of their five-year-old son Sean. They naturally are shaken, comforting their son and each other, but the couple is also stirred to action.  Who was the masked man, armed with a gun and knife, and what did he want with Sean?

While sipping her coffee early on a misty July morning, Willicott Maryland Police Chief Ty Christie witnesses a murder from the dock of her lake house. The killer ignores her cry of indignation and melts into the fog. When the victim is dragged from the water, dozens of other bones are recovered, along with a distinctive belt buckle. An escaped psychopath is on the loose and he is obsessed with revenge in “Paradox,” Catherine Coulter’s 22nd FBI thriller.

Unicoi County School System announces back-to-school events

By Keeli Parkey

Ahead of the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, Unicoi County Schools have announced the following events.

Students and parents are invited to attend open house events at their respective schools next week. On Tuesday, Aug. 7, Unicoi County Middle School and Unicoi County High School will host their open house events from 5-7 p.m. Elementary schools open house events will be held on Thursday, Aug. 9, from 5-7 p.m. at each school.

Director of Schools John English also announces the following schedule to begin the 2018-19 school year:

Teachers will report to their respective schools on Monday, Aug. 6, at 8 a.m. Principals will meet with the teachers on that day and present the in-service schedule for Aug. 6-9.

All instructional assistants should report to their schools on Aug. 6 at 8 a.m. for in-service. Monday is the only day instructional assistants must report for the week.

Students will report for the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 13. High school and middle school students will begin that day at 7:45 a.m. and dismiss at 11:45 a.m. All elementary school students will begin that day at 8 a.m. and dismiss at noon. Breakfast and lunch will be served.

The first full day of school will be Tuesday, Aug. 14.

Feathered Friends – Indingo bunting one of summer’s songbirds

Male indigo buntings appear a bright azure blue under optimal lighting conditions. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

Two recent summer bird counts emphasized some of the more commonplace birds in the region. While American robins and European starlings were extremely abundant, these two birds are permanent residents and are present year-round. A few other summer songbirds also helped swell the ranks of some of the seasonally common birds. For instance, the Unicoi County Summer Bird Count found a total of 141 indigo buntings while the Elizabethton Summer Bird Count tallied 82 of these little blue beauties. Both of these Northeast Tennessee surveys are conducted by members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society.

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

These birds usually arrive in the region in late April and I’ve seen them in late October, although most indigo buntings have left the region by late September.

Male indigo buntings are persistent singers, and in the past couple of weeks one very enthusiastic male has been singing even during the hottest hours of recent July afternoons. The preference of this small songbird is to sing from the tops of tall trees. They are often concealed by the green leaves. When I do get a glimpse of the obscured songster, often all I see is a dark shape silhouetted against the bright sky. Sometimes, if he plunges from the upper branches into the woodland understory, I get that telltale glimpse of blue feathers.

The indigo bunting is the only solid blue bird in the eastern United States. It’s all an illusion, of course. The indigo bunting’s feathers are not really blue. The male’s brilliant azure plumage is caused by the process of refraction. This process absorbs all but blue light, which explains why the indigo bunting appears blue. In bright light, it can even look unnaturally vivid blue. In poor light, however, an indigo bunting male can appear black. Fortunately, indigo buntings have both a characteristic body shape and song, so even if the birds are not seen at their best, they can still be recognized.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep your feeders stocked with millet and sunflower seeds if you want to increase your chances of seeing indigo buntings. They will need some dependable places to re-fuel and rest during their upcoming fall migration.

Library Happenings – Audiobooks perfect for long trips, doing chores

By Angie Georgeff

August already! If you are scrambling to fit in one last trip before school starts again, be sure to stop by the library before you hit the road. Not only do we have books for all ages and interests, we have audiobooks to help you while away the miles on that upcoming road trip. If yours is a family vacation, we have a selection of books on compact disc that should appeal to a broad range of ages. J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and Ransom Riggs’s “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” are just three examples.

If you are traveling with younger children, Michael Bond’s “A Bear Called Paddington” or Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden” and “A Little Princess” might be good choices. Of course, if winged monkeys and other fantastic creatures are not too frightening for your tots, L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is considered a classic for very good reasons. Children may be surprised by the differences between the book and the 1939 movie and that could spark a conversation.

While audiobooks are great for long trips, they also can ease a commute or make household chores seem less tedious. Audiobooks check out for two weeks just like print books, so you’ll have time to get home before the item is due. If not, please call us at 743-6533 to extend your checkout. Happy listening!

Spotlight Book

Lauren Weisberger’s “When Life Gives You Lululemons” is a sequel to “The Devil Wears Prada,” featuring Emily Charlton, former assistant to the “devil” herself, Miranda Priestly.  Emily is now an image consultant in Hollywood. She has enjoyed great success on the Left Coast, but lately she has encountered some setbacks. Returning to New York, Emily seeks sympathy from her friend Miriam, a successful Manhattan attorney who is taking time off to spend with her children in the wealthy suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut.

As it turns out, Miriam’s friend and neighbor, former supermodel Karolina Hartwell, has need of an image consultant. A dubious charge of driving under the influence has her gorgeous face gazing out of all the tabloids. As if that were not enough, her husband, a senator with presidential aspirations, has been repeatedly photographed in the company of the glamorous daughter of the current president. A connection to the White House could be a boon to the future candidate. Even though the suburbs are not Emily’s milieu, she joins Miriam in an effort to salvage Karolina’s reputation.

Readers of “The Devil Wears Prada” will be happy to know that Emily is not the only character from Devil that reprises her role in “Lululemons.” Miranda Priestly also puts in an appearance, which should please fans of both novels.

Feathered Friends – Elizabethton summer count celebrates 25th year

A ruffed grouse standing in the Forest Service road on Holston Mountain in Elizabethton provided one of five grouse found on this year’s Elizabethton Summer Bird Count. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

The 25th Elizabethton Summer Bird Count was held Saturday, June 9. Participants produced a tally of 117 species of birds, including 20 species of warblers. The long-running seasonal count is conducted by members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society.

Last week, I discussed the results of the Unicoi County Summer Bird Count. This week I will shift the focus to the count conducted in neighboring Carter County. The most common birds for the count included Canada goose (264), European starling (224) and American robin (216). Some exceptional finds included American woodcock, grasshopper sparrow and yellow-rumped warbler.

The survey total follows:

Canada goose, 264; mallard, 75; ruffed grouse, 5; wild turkey, 13; and double-crested cormorant, 1.

Great blue heron, 16; yellow-crowned night-heron, 1; black vulture, 3; turkey vulture, 23; sharp-shinned hawk, 3; Cooper’s hawk, 1; bald eagle, 1; broad-winged hawk, 1; and red-tailed hawk, 10.

Killdeer, 10; American woodcock, 1; rock pigeon, 44; Eurasian collared dove, 3; and mourning dove, 74.

Yellow-billed cuckoo, 2; Eastern screech owl, 3; barred owl, 3; chuck-will’s-widow, 6; and whip-poor-will, 6.

Chimney swift, 83; ruby-throated hummingbird, 20; belted kingfisher, 5; red-headed woodpecker, 2; red-bellied woodpecker, 13; yellow-bellied sapsucker, 4; downy woodpecker, 7; hairy woodpecker, 4; Northern flicker, 9; and pileated woodpecker, 19.

Eastern wood-pewee, 12; Acadian flycatcher, 20; alder flycatcher, 2; least flycatcher, 5; Eastern phoebe, 45; great crested flycatcher, 5; and Eastern kingbird, 13.

White-eyed vireo, 4; yellow-throated vireo, 1; blue-headed vireo, 29; red-eyed vireo, 133; blue jay,27; American crow, 118; and common raven, 3.

Northern rough-winged swallow, 24; purple martin, 17; tree swallow, 78; barn swallow, 70; and cliff swallow, 188.

Carolina chickadee, 30; tufted titmouse, 39; red-breasted nuthatch, 7; white-breasted nuthatch, 10; brown creeper, 1; house wren, 51; winter wren, 6; and Carolina wren, 47.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher, 12; golden-crowned kinglet, 6; Eastern bluebird, 42; veery, 26; hermit thrush, 2; wood thrush, 39; American robin, 216; gray catbird, 46; brown thrasher, 23; Northern mockingbird, 31; European starling, 224; and cedar waxwing, 56.

Ovenbird, 58; worm-eating warbler, 4; Louisiana waterthrush, 4; golden-winged warbler, 1; black-and-white warbler, 18; Swainson’s warbler, 1; common yellowthroat, 13; hooded warbler, 56; American redstart, 10; Northern parula, 10; magnolia warbler, 1; Blackburnian warbler, 1; yellow warbler, 1; chestnut-sided warbler, 20; black-throated blue warbler, 3; pine warbler, 2; yellow-rumped warbler, 1; yellow-throated warbler, 5; black-throated green warbler, 20; and Canada warbler, 10.

Grasshopper sparrow, 1; chipping sparrow, 48; field sparrow, 51; dark-eyed junco, 50; vesper sparrow, 1; song sparrow, 114; and Eastern towhee, 82.

Yellow-breasted chat, 5; scarlet tanager, 10; Northern cardinal, 80; rose-breasted grosbeak, 11; blue grosbeak, 1; and indigo bunting, 82.

Eastern meadowlark, 11; orchard oriole, 3; Baltimore oriole, 2; red-winged blackbird, 48; brown-headed cowbird, 24; and common grackle, 107.

House finch, 30; red crossbill, 1; pine siskin, 2; American goldfinch, 59; and house sparrow, 11.

For more information about the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of TOS, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or visit the chapter’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Elizabethton-Bird-Club.

Library Happenings – Summer Reading Programs wrap up season

By Angie Georgeff

Our Summer Reading Programs for 2018 are done, but SRP 2019 is just 45 weeks away! Our staff is still recuperating after a monumental job well done, but ideas for next year are already percolating through our brains.

The theme for 2019 is space and the slogan is “A Universe of Stories.” Space promises to be an especially productive theme, running the gamut from astronomy to science fiction. I can already visualize a gathering of little green men – and women – carrying signs saying “Take me to your Reader.” In the meantime, we’re planning a menu of programs for children and teens that will resume on a regular schedule in September. Check out our Unicoi County Public Library Kids and Teens Facebook page for updates.

Thank you!

We want to thank everyone who helped us with our 2018 Summer Reading Programs for children and teens. We couldn’t have done it without the support of community organizations and individuals who contributed funds, time, talent and the recyclables that the children made into musical instruments. Thank you!

Spotlight Book

Every time I open a box of chocolates, I immediately go for the nuts. A couple of layers of chocolate – and maybe some caramel – set off those cashews or pecans to perfection. At the core of each nutty bonbon, however, there is that nugget of nutrition. Daniel Silva’s latest thriller builds on a nugget of history. Kim Philby, a high-ranking British intelligence officer, secretly worked for the KGB until he defected to the Soviet Union in 1963. His betrayal shocked the West then and it reverberates to this day. That infamous treason and its aftermath lie at the heart of “The Other Woman.”

The title character is a French journalist who retires to a village nestled in the mountains of Andalusia to write a memoir. The story she tells is one of love and loss, like many other tales, but this one holds the key to the identity of a mole the KGB planted in the West long ago. Now the old Soviet plot is about to bear fruit for Russia. Israeli art restorer cum spy Gabriel Allon and his team join with MI6 and the CIA to shed light on the mole and save the West.

If you read this novel and find yourself intrigued by the true story of Kim Philby, just let us know and we’ll help you read more about him. This offer also applies to the real Varina Howell Davis, the “First Lady of the Confederacy,” if you enjoyed Charles Frazier’s recent novel “Varina” or any number of other historical fiction novels. Truth may indeed be stranger than fiction, and sometimes it is even more entertaining.

Feathered Friends – Summer count finds 110 species in county

Northern cardinals, such as this male, were abundant on the Unicoi County Summer Bird Count, which tallied a total of 108 cardinals throughout the county. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

The Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society conducted the fifth annual Unicoi County Summer Bird Count on Saturday, June 16. Nineteen counters in five different parties found a total of 110 species.

I counted with Brenda Richards, as well as Brookie and Jean Potter, in the Limestone Cove community near the town of Unicoi. Our count area took us along Highway 107 all the way to the North Carolina state line.

Some of the exceptional birds on this year’s count included ruffed grouse, double-crested cormorant, bald eagle, hermit thrush, magnolia warbler and grasshopper sparrow. The most abundant birds included European starling (272), American robin (245), indigo bunting (141) and red-eyed vireo (136). A total of 18 species of warblers, presumably all nesting in the county, were found on this year’s summer count.

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

Canada goose, 86; wood duck, 5; mallard, 33; ruffed grouse, 2; and wild turkey, 16.

Double-crested cormorant, 1; great blue heron, 7; green heron, 1; black vulture, 1; and turkey vulture, 30.

Sharp-shinned hawk, 1; Cooper’s hawk, 3; bald eagle, 1; red-shouldered hawk, 1; broad-winged hawk, 7; red-tailed hawk, 5; and American kestrel, 1.

Killdeer, 9; rock pigeon, 46; mourning dove, 70; yellow-billed cuckoo, 2; Eastern screech-owl, 3; barred owl, 4; chuck-will’s-widow, 5; whip-poor-will, 11.

Chimney swift, 26; ruby-throated hummingbird, 16; belted kingfisher, 3; red-bellied woodpecker, 10; yellow-bellied sapsucker, 3; downy woodpecker, 9; hairy woodpecker, 5; Northern flicker, 4; and pileated woodpecker, 11.

Eastern wood-pewee, 11; Acadian flycatcher, 33; least flycatcher, 3; Eastern phoebe, 45; and Eastern kingbird, 4.

White-eyed vireo, 4; blue-headed vireo, 27; warbling vireo, 2; red-eyed vireo, 136; blue jay, 76; American crow, 136; and common raven, 5.

Northern rough-winged swallow, 36; purple martin, 41; tree swallow, 85; barn swallow, 115; and cliff swallow, 115.

Carolina chickadee, 56; tufted titmouse, 57; red-breasted nuthatch, 2; white-breasted nuthatch, 6; brown creeper, 2; house wren, 30; winter wren, 2; and Carolina wren, 74.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher, 15; golden-crowned kinglet, 12; Eastern bluebird, 49; veery, 25; hermit thrush, 4; wood thrush, 24; and American robin, 245.

Gray catbird, 20; brown thrasher, 22; Northern mockingbird, 25; European starling, 272; and cedar waxwing, 18.

Ovenbird, 57; worm-eating warbler, 14; Louisiana waterthrush, 8; black-and-white warbler, 19; Swainson’s warbler, 1; Kentucky warbler, 1; common yellowthroat, 4; hooded warbler, 65; American redstart, 11; Northern parula, 24; magnolia warbler, 1; Blackburnian warbler, 1; yellow warbler, 3; chestnut-sided warbler, 14; black-throated blue warbler, 23; yellow-throated warbler, 10; prairie warbler, 2; and black-throated green warbler, 45.

Grasshopper sparrow, 1; chipping sparrow, 63; field sparrow, 15; dark-eyed junco, 29; song sparrow, 161; and Eastern towhee, 49.

Yellow-breasted chat, 4; scarlet tanager, 36; Northern cardinal, 108, rose-breasted grosbeak, 1; and indigo bunting, 141.

Eastern meadowlark, 7; orchard oriole, 8; Baltimore oriole, 1; red-winged blackbird, 85; brown-headed cowbird, 10; and common grackle, 84.

House finch, 9; American goldfinch, 70; and house sparrow, 9.

The Herndon Chapter of TOS is the only birding organization in Northeast Tennessee to conduct bird counts in every season of the year. For more information, visit Elizabethton Bird Club on Facebook.

Library Happenings – Community book exchange set for July 21

By Angie Georgeff

What are you doing this Saturday, July 21? We will be getting up early for the Rise and Shine event here at your library.

Although we normally open at 11 a.m. on Saturdays, this event will start at 10 a.m. and end at noon. The centerpiece will be a community book exchange. If you have books that you’ve already loved, bring them down to the library and let someone else have a chance to enjoy them.

If you bring a book, you may take a book, and if you bring 10 books, you may take 10. All kinds of books are welcome, for adults or children, as long as they are in good condition. You will receive a ticket good for one book for each book you bring.

The book exchange will be held outside under the broad eaves of the library, but other fun activities will take place inside the building. Starting at 10 a.m., stories will be read every half hour and activity stations will be set up in the children’s room so kids can amuse themselves in between story times. We also will have coloring bookmarks available in the library lobby so the entire family can enjoy spending time together in air-conditioned comfort.

In our parking lot, the Unicoi County Aspire Book Bus will be on hand with snacks provided by Clinchfield Federal Credit Union. We are looking forward to a busy and book-filled morning, so come on down and join us!

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 19. 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.

Spotlight Book

At the Unicoi County Public Library, the books that most frequently generate hold requests are thrillers aimed at adult readers. That, however, isn’t always the case. Regional author Robert Beatty’s “Willa of the Wood” is our current champ. Willa and Beatty’s best-selling “Serafina” trilogy are written for middle school students, but many adults are equally as enthusiastic.

The Serafina series are fantasies set at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. That local connection appeals to folks around here, and Willa occupies the same world, if not quite the same edifice.

Willa is a night-spirit of the mountains. She is also a thief, taking from the homes of day-folk things they will not miss, but that her people need. Young Willa has the talent she needs for her work, but it is a dangerous occupation, and curiosity can prove fatal to more than just cats.

Feathered Friends – Mystery bird turns out to be Louisiana waterthrush

Subtle plumage differences, as well as habitat, behavior and seasonal presence, are factors in distinguishing the Louisiana waterthrush, pictured, from the closely related Northern waterthrush. The Louisiana waterthrush nests along fast-moving streams in the area while the Northern waterthrush does not breed in the region. (Photo by Adobe Stock)

By Bryan Stevens

On occasion, readers seek out my help with identifying birds they encounter. I am always glad to assist. Photographs, a recording of the bird’s song, or even a well-written description are often all that’s necessary to pinpoint the identities of mystery birds.

Lewis and Jeana Chapman, residents of Laurel Bloomery, Tennessee, notified me in an email that they have been enjoying some good birdwatching trips. They also wanted some help with the identity of a bird they observed last summer. 

“My wife and I love to go to the Creeper Trail in Virginia and enjoy the creek,” Lewis wrote in an email. “On these trips in the summer months, we have watched this bird run along the rocks of the shore feeding.”

He also mentioned that he had attached in his email some photos, which proved extremely helpful. “Our closest guess at what type of bird it is was a spotted sandpiper, but its beak/bill seems too short. Any help you can give us would be greatly appreciated.”

A quick scan of the photos the Chapmans sent with their email helped me narrow the options down to two related birds — a Louisiana waterthrush and a Northern waterthrush. I used three criteria — location, season and plumage — to identify the bird in their photos as a Louisiana waterthrush.

The Chapmans had good reason to suspect the bird might have been a spotted sandpiper, but for the true identity of the bird in question, it’s necessary to delve into the family of warblers, which includes species such as American redstart, ovenbird, common yellowthroat, Northern parula and black-throated blue warbler.

The two waterthrushes are very similar in appearance. Louisiana Waterthrushes has a heavier bill and a white eye line, while the Northern Waterthrush’s eye line is usually somewhat yellowish-beige. A Louisiana waterthrush typically also has a whiter belly and underparts.

Appearance wasn’t even the most important element of the criteria. Location and season more readily helped confirm the identity. The Louisiana waterthrush has a range concentrated on the southern part of the eastern half of the United States, mostly south of the states of New York, Michigan and Wisconsin. In this region, only the Louisiana waterthrush is known to nest. The Northern waterthrush is strictly a spring and fall migrant, electing to nest near bogs and slow streams in Canada and the northern tier of states in the United States.

The Louisiana waterthrush also attracts attention with its characteristic “teetering” gait. Much like the spotted sandpiper, this waterthrush bobs the rear half of its body up and down as it walks and forages by the sides of streams. In their behavior, this shorebird and this warbler are very much alike. The waterthrush will often turn over wet leaves or other stream debris to search for prey items, such as aquatic insect larvae, crustaceans, snails and even small fish. The Louisiana waterthrush was once known as the water wagtail, which makes reference to the aforementioned teetering gait.

Many warblers have shown signs of decline in recent years. The Louisiana waterthrush, however, appears to have bucked that trend. According to the website All About Birds, Louisiana waterthrush populations were stable between 1966 and 2015, based on statistics from the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 360,000, with almost all of those individuals spending at least part of the year in the United States. About a quarter of the population retreats into Mexico during the winter season. The rest winter in Florida and some of the Gulf Coast states, as well as the islands of the Caribbean.

While most songbirds are fortunate to survive two or three years in the wild, at least one Louisiana waterthrush lived to the age of at least 11 years and 11 months. The bird, a male, was seen in New Jersey in the wild and identified by a band on one of his legs. He had been banded in the same state, according to All About Birds.

The two waterthrushes are the only species in the genus Parkesia, so named to honor American ornithologist Kenneth C. Parkes, who was for many years Curator of Birds at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The common name of the Louisiana waterthrush is not a very apt one, as this bird does not have any special affinity for the state of Louisiana. Someone collected some of the early specimens of the Louisiana waterthrush in its namesake location, and the name has stuck through the years.

Not every bird mystery that comes my way via Facebook or in an email is so easily resolved. This identification, which happened to involve the New World warblers, my favorite family of birds, once again showed me the amazing diversity of this group of birds.

From the terrestrial Louisiana waterthrush to the treetop-dwelling cerulean warbler, it’s an amazing group of songbirds I’m always happy to introduce to bird enthusiasts.

Library Happenings – Summer programs come to end with pool parties

By Angie Georgeff

With back-to-school advertisements already impinging on summer delights, our Summer Reading Programs for children, teens and adults are approaching their grand finales at the end of this week. The deadline for entries in the adult SRP prize drawing is 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 14. Winners will be notified by phone or email on Monday, July 16. I wish all of you who have entered the drawing the best of luck.

The grand finale for our children’s Summer Reading Program will be a swim party at the Fishery pool on Thursday, July 12. The fun will begin at 6 p.m. and continue until 8:30 p.m., so come whenever it is convenient during that time span. Parents must remain with their children the entire time they are there. In addition, kids under the age of five must have an adult in the water with them and within arm’s reach at all times.

The teens, ages 13 through 17, will have their own pool party on Saturday, July 14, during the same hours. Come celebrate a summer of learning and fun! Please visit our Unicoi County Public Library Kids and Teens Facebook page for information and updates.

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 19. 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.

Spotlight Book

“Spymaster” is the latest Scot Harvath thriller from Brad Thor. The endpapers, which depict a map showing NATO membership in Europe, set the scene for this new novel. The dust jacket sets the tone. An aerial view of a frosty landscape in shades of blue and white that I would characterize as taiga is occupied by a lone human and surmounted by the silhouette of a black bomber, flying low. If I were strolling through that sparse northern forest, I would be sure to dress more warmly than this individual. On the bright side, however, the mere thought of it is a very effective antidote to July heat.

Snowclad pines, however, are not the only reason for us to shiver. War is being planned and covert operations are already underway. Under the guise of terrorism, a yet unknown enemy is attempting to sow discord among allies by targeting their diplomats. Harvath and his crack team are assigned to keep the United States and our NATO allies from being dragged into a war that we don’t want, but that someone else clearly does.

Feathered Friends – Majesty of bald eagle suitable for nation’s official bird

By Bryan Stevens

The bald eagle makes an appropriate and majestic symbol for the United States of America. (Photo by Karen Laubenstein/USFWS)

Happy Fourth of July to everyone. I thought this week’s column should focus some attention on our national bird, the American bald eagle, which officially became the national emblem in 1782 when the great seal of the United States was adopted.

Despite elevating this native bird to such lofty status, we have not always been kind to the bald eagle. We allowed habitat destruction and toxic pesticides to bring this eagle to the brink of extinction. With some protection, however, the bald eagle rebounded. In fact, the Department of Interior took the eagle off the endangered species list on June 28, 2007.

The bald eagle has been more frequently observed by birders in Northeast Tennessee in recent years. Some of the area lakes in the region are good places to look for Bald Eagles, particularly in the fall and winter. A few lakes even host nesting bald eagles. For instance, this eagle has been documented nesting at Holston Lake in recent years.

I’ve observed bald eagles in Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida and Virginia. My most unusual observation of a wild bald eagle took place on Labor Day many years ago when an adult eagle flew over my grandparents’ home in Limestone Cove in Unicoi County.

North America’s other eagle, the golden eagle, is a very rare visitor to northeast Tennessee. The golden eagle is primarily a bird of the western United States while the bald eagle ranges widely across the United States as well as into Canada and Mexico.

The eagles are incredibly majestic birds and important symbols of the value of natural places and creatures.

The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a member of a genus known as Haliaeetus, or sea eagles. There are seven other living species in the genus: the white-bellied sea eagle, Sanford’s sea eagle, African fish eagle, Madagascar fish eagle, Pallas’s fish eagle, white-tailed eagle and Steller’s sea eagle.

The bald eagle, however, is not considered closely related to eagles in the genus Aquila, or “true eagles,” in which the golden eagle is included.

Both male and female adult bald eagles have a blackish-brown back and breast; a white head, neck and tail; and yellow feet and bill. Juvenile bald eagles are a mixture of brown and white and reach full maturity in four to five years.

The female bald eagle is 35 to 37 inches in length, slightly larger than the male, with a wingspan that ranges from 72 to 90 inches. Bald eagles weigh from 10 to 14 pounds.

Despite these impressive characteristics, the bald eagle is dwarfed in comparison to one of its now-extinct relatives. The largest eagle ever to evolve was Haast’s eagle, which once thrived in New Zealand. This eagle was named for the German geologist Julius von Haast, who founded Canterbury Museum at Christchurch in New Zealand. Haast, who died in 1887, was one of the first scientists to study large flightless birds such as the moa family that once roamed New Zealand.

In fact, Haast’s eagle was considered a major predator on the population of New Zealand moas, some of which reached a height of 12 feet tall and a weight of more than 500 pounds. By contrast, female Haast eagles probably reached a weight of 22 to 33 pounds. Males, as is the case with most living eagles, are smaller than females and probably weighed between 20 to 26 pounds. This mega-sized eagle possessed a relatively short wingspan of roughly 8 to 10 feet wide. This wingspan compares to that recorded for large specimens of golden eagle and Steller’s sea eagle. Even the largest of today’s eagles, however, are about 40 percent smaller in body size than the size of Haast’s eagles. Despite their superior size, moas simply lacked any defense against the huge razor-like talons and sharp bill of the Haast’s Eagle.

Here are a few other eagle facts:

— Eagle bones are light because they are hollow. The beak, talons and feathers are made of keratin.

— The Madagascar fish eagle is the most rare eagle on earth, and one of the most rare birds. The current population is estimated at less than 400 individual birds, with perhaps around 120 breeding pairs.

— Bald eagles have 7,000 feathers.

— Wild bald eagles are long-lived birds and may live as long as 30 years. In captivity, however, the oldest documented Bald Eagle lived to be 47 years old.

— Bald eagles can lift as much as four pounds. They feed mainly on fish, but they will take advantage of carrion and scavenge for their meals. They will occasionally also take waterfowl as prey.

— The hunting area of bald eagles varies from 1,700 to 10,000 acres. Home ranges are smaller where food is present in great quantity.

— Bald eagles can fly to an altitude of 10,000 feet. During level flight, they can achieve speeds of about 30 to 35 miles per hour.

— All eagles are renowned for their excellent eyesight.

— Once paired, bald eagles remain together until one dies. Bald eagles lay from one to three eggs. The 35 days of incubation duties are shared by both male and female.

— Today, there are about 10,000 breeding pairs of bald eagles.

•••

I look forward to hearing from readers. Those who wish to ask a question, share an observation or make a comment may reach me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Library Happenings – Summer programs continue for children, teens, adults

By Angie Georgeff

Happy Fourth of July! Even though many years have passed since I last visited Daytona Beach, I often think about that resort this time of year. My family vacationed there almost every year during my childhood, and whenever we vacationed somewhere else, I wanted to be there instead. Back then, Daddy worked at Raytheon. Since the plant closed down for its summer vacation, we spent every Fourth of July out of town.

Mama, Daddy and the older of my two younger brothers would spend the day in the hot sun watching the Firecracker 400, while my youngest brother and I stayed at the motel with a family friend whose husband went to the race with the rest of my family. That way, we were able to enjoy the beach and the pool and everybody concerned was as happy as a clam in wet sand, especially Steve and me.

One year we found a small American flag stuck in a dune. I was young then and probably would not be able to date that discovery, except for the fact that the flag had 49 stars. Since Alaska was admitted to the union on January 3, 1959 and Hawaii on Aug. 21 of that same year, it was likely 1959.

We kept that flag as a souvenir for many years along with the motley treasures we gleaned from the strand during each low tide.

Even more so than my brothers, I was fascinated by the seashells we found cast up on the beach and rolling in the surf. Seeing my interest, my parents bought me a guidebook to help me identify them.

The basic information about taxonomy and binomial nomenclature I garnered from that little paperback stood me in good stead in later biology and marine biology classes. I also learned a lot about geography from looking up the habitats of especially attractive and rare mollusks.

Even though I wasn’t in school, I was still learning. It was my own personalized Summer Reading Program, at a time when such programs were not widely available. We still have 10 days left in our Summer Reading Programs for children, teens and adults, but even after that, we can help your child keep reading and learning until school starts. Every day of your life provides a wonderful opportunity to learn something. Just let us know what piques your child’s curiosity—or you own!

Family Fun Friday

Join us at 3 p.m. on Friday, July 6, to express your interests and creativity on stone. In honor of our “Libraries Rock” slogan, we will be painting rocks, and doing it at the library.

Please note:  This program will not take place at Erwin’s Town Hall. All ages are welcome at this event, so bring your entire family.

Feathered Friends – Eggs showcase genuine miracle when bird hatches

Some birds lay clutches with many eggs while others, like this flamingo, invest their energy and dedication to a single egg each time they nest. This Chilean flamingo at Zoo Atlanta is a relative of the American flamingo. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

The nesting season is in full swing for most of the bird species that breed in eastern North America. Although they may employ a variety of strategies to ensure nesting success, they all start off their attempts with a clutch of eggs.

It’s the egg that separates birds from most mammals while still linking them to their reptilian kin. Let’s leave the question of which came first, the prototypical chicken or the proverbial egg, to philosophers and instead take a look at the differences birds employ when it comes to the precious life-giving egg in its fragile yet protective shell.

A few birds devote an enormous investment of time to a single egg. For instance, the American flamingo lays only a single egg, which is incubated atop a nest made from a mound of mud for about a month. This flamingo breeds extensively through the islands of the Galápagos, coastal Colombia, Venezuela and nearby islands, Trinidad and Tobago, along the northern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Cuba, Hispaniola, the Bahamas, Virgin Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. While other flamingo species are common attractions at zoos, the American flamingo was considered extinct in the United States by 1900. However, recent research indicates that wild birds still make their way into southern Florida. As recently as 2014, a large flock of about 150 wild individuals spent time in the Sunshine State.

While there are more than 300 species of hummingbird distributed throughout the New World, the offspring of these tiny birds all emerge, just like all other birds, from an egg — albeit a very small one. Most hummingbirds are “twins,” hatched with a single sibling that will share their nest and the care of a dutiful mother. The female ruby-throated hummingbird lays two eggs. A female hummingbird gets no assistance from the male and has to find enough food to fuel her own body and help her young in the nest grow and thrive.

Most birds lay multiple eggs, although the number in a clutch may vary dramatically from species to species. A female American robin will usually lay three to five eggs in a nest that builds alone in the fork between tree branches. The size of her clutch of eggs is fairly typical for many songbirds.

Other songbirds are even more prolific. A female house wren, although a rather small bird, may lay as many as eight or nine eggs. Likewise, the golden-crowned kinglet is one of North America’s smallest songbirds, but the female kinglet may lay as many as 11 eggs in a small nest woven of moss, spider’s silk, lichens and strips of bark. By comparison, the female blue-gray gnatcatcher, while similar in size to a kinglet, attempts to lay no more than three to five eggs.

On the other hand, some birds adjust clutch size depending on the resources available to them. In years when their food — a type of caterpillar often injurious to spruce trees — is abundant, the Cape May warbler may lay as many as nine eggs. In years when the aforementioned spruce budworms are scarce, the female warbler may reduce her clutch size to a mere four eggs.

Eggs look fragile, but are actually surprisingly strong. Egg-shaped or “ovoid” objects are considered to be among the strongest shapes in nature. However, strength is no guarantee against a host of hungry predators. Many birds rely on camouflage to protect their eggs. For instance, the female ruffed grouse will usually lay 9 to 14 eggs in a no-fuss nest constructed of leaves in a basin on the forest floor. While incubating her eggs, the grouse hen’s mottled brown plumage makes her almost invisible.

In a similar fashion, the female Eastern whip-poor-will does not build a nest and invariably lays only a pair of eggs, which are placed directly on the forest floor. Her plumage helps her blend with her surroundings, making it extremely difficult to discover a whip-poor-will incubating her eggs.

Many species of ducks are prolific layers of eggs. The wood duck hen may lay as many as 16 eggs in her nest, which may be in a natural tree cavity or a human-made nesting box.

However, not all waterfowl lay a large clutch of eggs. The common loon usually lays only one or two eggs.

Once young loons hatch from their eggs, the parents are devoted caregivers, providing food and protection for the one-month period required for young loons to achieve a degree of independence.

Most of our common birds lay eggs that are significantly smaller than the egg of a chicken. Wild turkey hens lay eggs — as many as 17 eggs in some cases — that are noticeably larger than an average chicken egg.

Who takes the prize for largest egg? That distinction, not surprisingly, goes to the world’s largest bird. Africa’s common ostrich hen, which can weigh as much as 220 pounds, lays the largest known bird egg.

Furthermore, a female common ostrich will usually incubate about 20 of these large eggs, which can reach a diameter of six inches and weigh three pounds.

Whether a bird’s eggs are small or large, these fragile shells — when all goes well — break open to release some amazing miracles. I think anyone who enjoys the hummingbird hovering near a flowering basket on the porch or the flock of American goldfinches at thistle feeders in the backyard will readily agree.

Library Happenings – Readers encouraged to participate in next Big Library Read

By Angie Georgeff

“Everyone knows a rancher in possession of a large spread needs a wife.”

Jane Austen’s 1813 “Pride and Prejudice” is the literary equivalent of the Energizer bunny. It keeps on going and going and going. Even after two centuries, readers adore it so writers are eager to adapt it to their own time and place. A case in point is the book selected for the next Big Library Read – “Cowboy Pride.”

Christian author Lacy Williams introduces her reserved Janie and vibrant Liza Bennett to Wyoming ranchers Nathan Bingley and Rob Darcy at a town dance. Even though Rob’s attraction to Liza is instantaneous, he manages to offend her before the evening is out. Sound familiar? Nathan’s courtship of Janie, too, is nearly as rocky as the Tetons, but I am expecting a double-barreled happy ending nevertheless.

The Big Library Read is the first global eBook club. This installment will begin on July 9 and last for two weeks. The idea is for large numbers of people to be reading and discussing the same book at the same time, so Tennessee R.E.A.D.S will permit unlimited numbers of patrons to check out the featured book during this time. With your Unicoi County Public Library patron ID card and a computer, tablet or smartphone, you are welcome to participate. We have ordered a print copy of the book for our collection, as well, so those who don’t have a compatible device may read it, too – even if not all at the same time!

Excel Class

“Spreadsheets unending” are not listed among My Favorite Things in the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from The Sound of Music. There’s a good reason for that, but frankly, it could be worse.  Imagine columns of numbers that don’t add themselves!  If spreadsheets are a part of your life, make peace with them. Join us at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 28, to learn many of the things Microsoft Excel can do for you. Please call the library at 743-6533 for more information or to register for the class.

Family Fun Friday

In keeping with Summer Reading 2018’s music theme, North Carolina singer/songwriter Tom Fisch will present a kid-friendly program at Erwin’s Town Hall on Friday, June 29. The program will begin at 3:00 PM and last for about forty-five minutes. All ages are welcome at our Fun Friday programs, so bring the entire family.

Holiday Closing

It’s time to unfurl the flags! The library will be closed on Wednesday, July 4, in observance of Independence Day. I wish US All a Happy 242nd Birthday!

Feathered Friends – Readers wonder about change in hummingbird numbers

A ruby-throated hummingbird perches at a feeder filled with a solution of four parts water to one part sugar. Other additives, especially red dyes, should be avoided to protect the health of these tiny flying gems. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

Jane Arnold, a resident of Bristol, Tennessee, emailed me to ask a question about hummingbird numbers this spring.

In her email, Jane wrote, “My mom (Betty Poole of Bristol, Virginia) asked me to email you and ask if you have received any emails from fellow hummer enthusiasts about the number of hummers they are seeing this year.”

Jane went on to explain that her aunt, Alyce Pennington, Montcalm, West Virginia, and her cousin, Hal Pennington, Huntsville, Alabama, have also reported not seeing many of these tiny birds this spring. “When they arrived in April, they would see them off and on all day long,” Jane wrote. “But the last couple of weeks their presence has dropped off quite a bit.

In addition to Jane’s email, I also received a similar question in an email from Garland Depew of Bluff Hollow, Virginia.

“I’d like your opinion on my hummingbirds,” Garland wrote. “They always show up in mid-April, and by this time (early June) I usually have a dozen or so fighting for the feeders. It’s been that way for years.”

Garland noted that this year he had about eight hummingbirds show up by late April. “Then all of a sudden in the middle of May they just vanished,” he added. “I have just one or two now.”

In the past Garland said that he had “literally a cloud of birds at the feeders” and that “it’s hard to get an accurate count, but last year we had about 18 hummers, and similar numbers in the years before that.”

He noted that he has been using feeders to attract hummers for at least 10 years.

Garland also checked with a neighbor who lives about a quarter mile down the road from his home regarding the number of hummingbirds at their feeders. She informed him that she has seen six or seven hummingbirds, whereas she estimated she had as many as 20 last year.

“I can’t think of anything I might have done to cause this,” he said. “Any ideas?”

It’s unfortunate, but it is a fairly common and disappointing aspect of hummingbird lives that their numbers tend to decline after they burst back on the scene every April. Some of those spring ruby-throated hummingbirds in April are migrants that are going to keep pushing farther north. They stick around for a while at a place they like but will eventually keep moving on, which is why numbers stay fairly consistent in late April and early May.

In late May, however, those hummingbirds intending to spend the summer north of us have departed the region. We are left with the hummers that have liked our yards and gardens enough to stick around with us for the entire summer. It’s also true that numbers of hummingbirds in any one specific area will fluctuate from year to year. It’s just possible that, for a reason that may be nothing greater than a garden planted with their favorite flowers, hummingbirds have shifted where they live for a season.

I experienced similar aspects of this situation myself this spring. I had probably a dozen hummingbirds at my feeders in late April, but throughout May their numbers dwindled. We have arrived in June, and I probably have two or three males and possibly one or two females. That means that the two females are probably nesting nearby. It’s also a fact that local numbers of birds fluctuate from year to year. Attracting them one year is not a guarantee they will return every subsequent year.

By May, the spring hummingbird migration is basically finished for the region. A few of the female hummingbirds, finding our yards to their liking, will conclude their epic journey here and spend the next few months tending to a new generation of hummers. Female ruby-throated hummingbirds lay two eggs. There are some reasons why it’s always a pair of eggs. First, the nest is so small that there is barely room for two eggs, let alone more. Second, once the young hatch, the nest has just enough room to accommodate them as they grow, fed well by their mother. Third, feeding two hungry young hummingbirds is a demanding task. A female hummingbird has to find enough food to fuel her own body and help her young in the nest grow and thrive. It’s a full-time job during the daylight hours. She’s hard-pressed to succeed at raising two young. Attempting to rear more would most likely prove impossible.

The entire process — from building the nest to incubating eggs to tending hatchlings —  requires a commitment of more than two months. The female hummingbird builds her exquisite nest from lichen and various plant fibers, much of it held together by collected spider silk. Once that time-consuming task is completed, the female hummingbird lays her eggs. She will spend about the next 18 days incubating them. Once they hatch, the young will remain in the nest about 28 days (nearly a month) and depend on their mother to bring them regular meals. If that’s not enough, the ruby-throated hummingbird is known to nest twice in a season. It certainly must rank a female hummingbird as one of the busiest of our summer birds.

Of course, a few adult males will also put an end to their migration once they reach the region. The males, however, don’t assist with the rearing of their own young. For male hummingbirds, summer is mainly a time to thrive on the abundance of nectar-bearing blooms, as well as a profusion of tiny insects and spiders that also make up a good portion of their diet.

The good news is that hummingbird numbers will increase later this summer and in early fall. All those hummers that went farther north will migrate back through, and in the autumn they will be traveling with their kids. Be sure to keep feeders available when we hit August to offer places for hummers to rest and refuel as they migrate through again.

Only a single species — ruby-throated hummingbird — nests in the eastern United States, while several species nest in the western half of the nation, especially in the American southwest. Worldwide, the 300 some species of hummingbirds have been giving some incredibly descriptive names such as Andean blossomcrown, black inca, blue-chested hummingbird, buffy helmetcrest, bumblebee hummingbird, charming hummingbird, coppery emerald, gorgeted sunangel, great sapphirewing, green-breasted mountaingem, lesser violetear, long-tailed woodnymph, purple-bibbed whitetip, saw-billed hermit, spangled coquette and white-throated hummingbird. This sampling of the dazzling variety of names for these tiny birds is indicative of their long-standing popularity with people.

As I have done in years past, I advise a patient but proactive approach for attracting hummingbirds. Keep feeders readily available. Don’t add red dyes to your sugar water mixture, which is perfectly acceptable at a ratio of four parts water to one part sugar. If possible, offer flowers in addition to feeders. Don’t keep your landscape too tidy. A perfectly manicured lawn is like a desert for hummingbirds. Provide some shrubs and trees to provide cover and perching branches. Water features, particularly waterfalls and fountains, are also a reliable means of attracting hummingbirds, as well as other birds. These tips also help attract other sorts of birds, as well, so it’s a win-win situation for bird enthusiasts.

Library Happenings – Youth ice cream social planned for June 21

By Angie Georgeff

I’m writing this more than a week before you are reading it in The Erwin Record. Glancing out one of the panes of glass in my office, I notice the trees in the distance shimmering in the heat rising from the rail yard.

Of course some of the glass is 93 years old and through its lens everything always appears distorted, but this is a replacement pane. Summer has finally arrived and I am glad—at least until I get my electric bill. Come to your library to celebrate the season.

Teen SRP

Youth between the ages of 13 and 17 are invited to welcome summer with an Ice Cream Social at What’s the Scoop. Meet at the library at 2 p.m. on Thursday, June 21, to celebrate the solstice with a sweet treat to beat the heat.  Please note that the program will start at the library and then the assembled group will walk the short distance over to What’s the Scoop together.

Adult SRP

For those past their 18th birthday, our Summer Reading Program for adults is ongoing.  The grand prizes are themed gift baskets that are on display atop the “Spanish” bookcase which is located on the right as you enter the library. Any book, eBook, audiobook or DVD you enjoy during the six weeks of our Summer Reading Program entitles you to one entry in our prize drawing.

Entries also may be earned by participation in an adult activity such as a word search or a coloring bookmark.  Simply deposit your completed entry blanks in the tote located in front of the Spanish bookcase, which is where Spanish language books are shelved.  If you prefer the “How Does Your Garden Grow” basket over the other two– or vice versa–please note your preference on the form.  Entry blanks, activity sheets and information are available at the circulation desk.  Good luck!

Family Fun Friday!

The theme for Summer Reading 2018 is music and the slogan is “Libraries Rock!” I certainly won’t argue with that. I have no doubt the Library of Alexandria was the place that rocked the hardest in all of ancient Egypt (at least until it was destroyed), and this week’s Family Fun Friday carries on in that venerable tradition.

Bring your entire family and join us at 3 p.m. on Friday, June 22, for an all-ages dance party with Matti Tilson. We will be rocking Erwin’s Town Hall that afternoon since it allows us more space than the library, but our Monday through Thursday programs are still held in the Children’s Room at the library and they rock, too!

Feathered Friends – Great crested flycatcher – small bird with big name

Knoxville resident Rebecca Boyd captured this photograph of a great crested flycatcher after she heard the bird producing its unmistakable “wheep” call from some trees near her home. (Photo by Rebecca Boyd)

By Bryan Stevens

Knoxville resident Rebecca Boyd shared on Facebook on May 27 that she enjoyed seeing a new bird at her home. “Although the guidebooks say this is a common bird, this morning was the first time I’ve ever seen a great crested flycatcher,” she wrote on her post.

I congratulated her and asked if she heard the bird make its loud “wheep” call. Only one bird — the great crested flycatcher — produces that loud, whistled “wheep!” She reported that she did indeed hear the call, which helped her find the bird in a tree in her yard.

Many species of birds have been given puzzling common names, and this is certainly the case for the great crested flycatcher. This bird does indeed sport a raggedy crest. For a flycatcher, it is almost a showy bird with its brown and dull yellow plumage. There’s not much to explain the adjective “great” in this bird’s name. It’s only about eight inches long. Helped by the shaggy crest, this flycatcher looks like it has a head slightly too large for its body.

The great crested flycatcher is unique among the region’s flycatchers in nesting inside natural cavities, just like such popular cavity-nesting birds as Eastern bluebird, Carolina chickadee, and wood duck. This flycatcher will also nest inside bird boxes, although the entrance hole needs to be slightly larger than the ones required for bluebirds, swallows and other small songbirds. During spring visits to coastal South Carolina, I’ve observed these flycatchers attempting to nest inside wooden paper delivery boxes. I’m not sure what the newspaper subscribers thought of these clever attempts to take up residence in the boxes.

This flycatcher is famous for including a shedded snake skin into the construction of its nest. This prevalent tendency on the part of great crested flycatcher isn’t practiced as a whim. Studies suggest that the snakeskin serves as a deterrent to ward off potential predators that might seek to eat the flycatcher’s eggs.  With the advent of the era of mass production, the great crested flycatcher occasionally substitutes cellophane or other varieties of clear plastic in place of the traditional snakeskin. The speculation is that the bird mistakes the cellophane for the remnant left behind when a snake sheds its old skin.

As Rebecca did, you’ll probably hear a great crested flycatcher before you see it. Even when hidden in the forest canopy, the great crested flycatcher betrays its presence with its loud “Wheep! Wheep!” calls. They’re not skittish birds, however, and some patience will sometimes result in a visual observation of the bird.

Like with most other flycatchers, insects are the focus of the dietary preference of this bird. However, the great crested flycatcher will also eat some seasonally available fruit, including various berries. One of their ways of foraging for insects is to perch on a branch until an insect wanders into range. Once it spots an insect, the flycatcher swoops down to capture its prey.

The great crested flycatcher belongs to the Myiarchus genus of flycatchers, which consists of about two dozen species ranging throughout Central, South and North America.  In the United States, the other two members of the genus are the ash-throated flycatcher, which resides in the western United States, and the brown-crested flycatcher, a resident of southern California, southern Nevada, central Arizona and southern Texas. Both of these species also range into Mexico and Central America. The island of Jamaica is home to one of the members of the genus with a claim to a rather unusual name. The sad flycatcher, better known in Jamaica as “little Tom Fool,” is considered a common resident of Jamaican forests.

The tyrant flycatchers (Tyrannidae) are a family of passerine birds which occur throughout North and South America. They are considered the largest family of birds, with more than 400 species. They are the most diverse avian family in every country in the Americas, except for the United States and Canada, where they are present but without the diversity seen south of the U.S. border. Other flycatchers in the United States during the summer nesting season include the well-known Eastern phoebe and Eastern kingbird, as well as such species as willow flycatcher, olive-sided flycatcher, and scissor-tailed flycatcher. The great crested flycatcher nests throughout the eastern United States and retreats to Mexico and Central America during the winter months, although a few migrate south only as far as Florida for the colder season.

Other descriptively named tyrant flycatchers include rufous flycatcher, stolid flycatcher, black-capped flycatcher, yellow-bellied flycatcher, fork-tailed flycatcher, golden-winged tody-flycatcher, flammulated flycatcher, boat-billed flycatcher, ornate flycatcher, cinnamon flycatcher and vermilion flycatcher. The latter is a bit of a standout among flycatchers in having brilliant red plumage.

Listen for that “wheep” call from up in the woodland canopy. The hidden singer often repeatedly produces the call. Once the summer nesting season ends, these birds are typically silent. On occasion, however, an individual bird will not remain mute, and I have heard the loud “wheep” call even in September and October during fall migration.

Although the great crested flycatcher is found in the region, I have observed this bird with more frequency farther south in states like Georgia and South Carolina. You just have to use a little more effort to observe this interesting bird closer to home.

Library Happenings – Family Fun Friday welcomes ‘Recycling Queen’ on June 15

By Angie Georgeff

It is the middle of June, so the Beach Reads are sprouting among the new releases and blooming on the bestseller lists. Dorothea Benton Frank’s “By Invitation Only” opens with an engagement party given by the groom’s family in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Fred Stiftel and Shelby Cambria met in college and currently work for the same large Chicago accounting firm. Their families, however, are separated by about a thousand miles and millions of dollars. While Fred’s family are hard-working peach farmers, Shelby’s parents are a titan of business and a doyenne of society. The backwater barbecue is likely to be eclipsed by the Chicago shindig planned by Susan Cambria. Should Fred’s doting mother Diane be worried about her son’s future happiness?

“The High Tide Club” is Mary Kay Andrews’s summer offering for 2018. At the age of 99, heiress Josephine Bettendorf Warrick is dying, but she is not yet done fighting. Shellhaven, her estate on unspoiled Talisa Island off the Georgia coast is coveted by the state, but Josephine is determined to leave it to her estranged friends, the High Tide Club, or their descendants. To that end, she hires struggling attorney Brooke Trappnell, who learns that she is the granddaughter of one of the club’s members. Brooke’s search for other potential heirs alternates with the story of the High Tide Club and one pivotal week in October 1941. Neither treasure nor secrets can stay buried forever, especially on an island.

Coloring Station

If you find yourself waiting for your kids while they attend one of our Summer Reading Programs, take advantage of the lull to ease your stress with one of our coloring bookmarks.  A station has been set up near our public access computers with bookmarks and colored pencils.  The designs are new and simpler this year, so they won’t take as long to finish.  The fish and bird bookmarks in particular lend themselves to fanciful swaths of color, but any of the four designs will give you a welcome opportunity to relax.

And while you’re here, be sure to take a look at the gift baskets that are the prizes for the adult Summer Reading Program this year.  If you favor one over the others, you may write its name on your entry blank.  In that case, if your name is the first one drawn, then you will get the basket of your choice.  Good luck to all!

Family Fun Friday

Beatrice Green the Recycling Queen will be at Erwin’s Town Hall on Friday, June 15, to present her “Libraries Rock!” program for summer 2018. Round up the kids and join us there at 3 p.m. for fun with a purpose.

Heritage, railroad museums open for season

During Saturday’s Clinchfield Pride Gathering at the Clinchfield Railroad Museum, Eddie Williams, who worked on the railroad for 36 years, was presented with one of the Clinchfield Hall of Fame awards. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Close to 100 people turned out for the Clinchfield Pride Gathering on Saturday, June 2, to celebrate the season opening of the Clinchfield Railroad Museum and to support the preservation of the railroad’s history and its far-reaching impact.

“We had a great turnout today,” said Martha Erwin, curator of the museum.

The museum opening occurred on the same day as the graveside service for the famous railroader George Hatcher, who touched the lives of many people in his community.

“A lot of the railroaders attended George Hatcher’s graveside service and then they came by the museum after,” Erwin said. “We did lots of things for George when he was alive and we are so glad that we had George Hatcher day.”

One of the highlights of the day was the performance of Ray Poteat, a former railroader and member of the Clinchfield Hall of Fame, and his southern gospel band, the Royal Quartet.

Poteat worked on the railroad for 43 years as an agent operator that ran the depots.

“I just enjoyed it all; I enjoyed it the first day I went to work and the last day I went in,” Poteat said. “I worked in every station we had on the Clinchfield Railroad and I loved moving around from one place to another and experiencing the whole railroad.”

Poteat currently performs as the bass singer for the quartet, which started in 1958 and eventually disbanded in 1969.

“Forty years later, three of the original members, including me, got together and started again back in 2009,” Poteat said.

In addition to singing with the quartet, Poteat is also the president of the Carolina Clinchfield Chapter of the Railroad Historical Society and publisher of the railroad magazine known as the Jitterbug.

“The name of the Jitterbug comes from the nickname of a local freight on the Clinchfield Railroad and we named the magazine after it,” he said. “It’s all about the history of the Clinchfield Railroad. We have people from Australia, Canada and England that joined our historical society just to get the magazine.” 

Poteat expressed his appreciation for the work done at the museum to preserve the railroad’s history and said he enjoyed spending time with so many railroad enthusiasts.

“I got to see a lot of people I used to work with and speak with them,” he said. “It was a really good time for everybody.”

Following the performance of the Royal Quartet, the Clinchfield Hall of Fame awards were presented to both a deceased and living railroader. Pat A. Brown was awarded the deceased railroader hall of fame award and Eddie Williams was awarded the living railroader hall of fame award.

“I spent 36 years here in Erwin working for the railroad,” Williams said. “I started out as a brakeman conductor for two years and from there they asked me if I wanted to become an engineer.”

After going through training as an apprentice, eight months later Williams was working as an engineer. 

“I got into the flow of it and I had a motorcycle that I used to ride a lot, but I got to the point where I couldn’t ride so I just buckled down and really dove into my work and the years went by so quickly,” said Williams.

One of Williams’ most memorable jobs involved a washout at the Nolichucky Gorge where the train was utilized to carry over a dozen cement trucks.

“These concrete trucks would pour this concrete around these curves where all the rocks were so the water wouldn’t wash the track out,” he said. “That was amazing, just to see a train that these trucks could drive up into. That was one of the neatest jobs I ever worked.”

Williams said he also enjoyed the excitement of going on excursions where diesel locomotives were used to haul passengers.

“I feel like it’s good to look back and see these old pictures and items and the things we have acquired here, it’s nice to just enjoy it,” Williams said about the Clinchfield Railroad Museum. “I like to see old friends, and I got to see a couple of conductors I used to work with.”

In the coming months, Erwin said railroad lovers can expect more festivities, such as a bluegrass music event in July and a silent auction and antique roadshow in August.

“More details will be forthcoming,” Erwin said. “There will, of course, be music and food with all of the events.”