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

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

From Staff Reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Library Happenings – Romance author pens first mystery novel

By Angie Georgeff

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

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

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

Computer Class

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

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

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

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

By Bryan Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

He certainly hooked my attention with that introduction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feathered Friends – Fall migration offers birding opportunities

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

By Bryan Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shorebirds, which in North America can consist of birds ranging from turnstones and sandpipers to willets and avocets, are champion migrants. For instance, the bar-tailed godwit makes an impressive non-stop migratory flight. This shorebird nests in parts of Scandinavia, northern Asia and Alaska. Some of these godwits make a nine-day, non-stop migratory flight that takes them from New Zealand to the Yellow Sea of China, a distance of almost 6,000 miles. Needless to say, since the godwits make no stops along the way, they must also go without food for the duration of their journey.

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

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

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

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

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

By Angie Georgeff

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

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

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

Literary Fiction

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

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

Book News

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

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

Feathered Friends – Rally to offer sneak peak at migration

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

By Bryan Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Library Happenings – Tennessee READS recognizes ‘Potter’ anniversary

By Angie Georgeff

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

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

Holiday Closure

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

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

Spotlight Book

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

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

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

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

Feathered Friends – No cowbird ever knows its biological parents

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

By Bryan Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Library Happenings – New novel leads to historical review

By Angie Georgeff

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

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

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

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

Spotlight Book

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

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

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

Feathered Friends – Egrets, kin wander widely in late summer

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

By Bryan Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

She also commented on her unexpected observation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Library Happenings – Donations of pool noodles needed for program

By Angie Georgeff

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

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

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

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

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

Spotlight Book

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

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

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

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

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.