Library Happenings – Voting open for favorite, least favorite novels

By Angie Georgeff

“It was the best of books; it was the worst of books.” Even though my bookcases at home are filled to capacity, not every novel I have read has been a keeper. Some of the books I had to read in high school were downright awful, while others are still favorites that I have enjoyed a dozen times or more.

I apologize to Charles Dickens and “A Tale of Two Cities” for the liberties I took with his famous first line, but I’m curious: Which novels do our patrons consider the best – and worst – they have ever read? Well, let’s find out. Starting today and continuing throughout the month of May, vote for the novels you like most and least whenever you come into the library. Both the winner and the loser will be announced in June when we have tabulated all the votes.

The ballots, boxes and pens are located on top of the bookcases where our Spanish-language books are shelved, to the right of our main entrance. You may vote once in each category every time you come into the library, since a new book could supplant a best-loved or least-liked choice at any time.

Spotlight Book

I recently finished reading Diane Setterfield’s “Once upon a River” (thumbs-up!), so now I’m moving on to the next novel in my teetering home library stack of books-to-be-read.

Delia Owens’s “Where the Crawdads Sing” is now in the batter’s box. The title alone was enough to attract my attention, but seeing that title on top of the bestseller list week after week has compelled me to move it to the top of the stack.

Our library’s copy has already checked out twenty times and every copy in the OWL consortium is currently checked out.

Kya Clark was abandoned by her mother when she was only six. Her older siblings moved out of the home soon thereafter. When her alcoholic father left, too, Kya grew up on her own in the marshes outside the coastal community of Barkley Cove, North Carolina.

Having forsaken school because she didn’t fit in and surviving in isolation, Kya is christened the “Marsh Girl” by the town’s residents. Tate Walker, the son of a local shrimper, is one of few people who befriend Kya. He teaches her how to read, but the wild coastal marshes are her true teacher, as well as her home and classroom.

When Tate goes away to college, Kya meets ladies’ man Chase Andrews and they commence a stormy relationship.

In 1969, the young man falls from a fire tower and dies. Foul play is suspected and the murder investigation soon focuses on Kya, but is she guilty?

Feathered Friends – April brings spring migrants

A Louisiana waterthrush pauses streamside to produce its loud, ringing song. (Photo by AdobeStock)

By Bryan Stevens

I’m always happy for the arrival of April because I know the month hails the arrival of some of my favorite birds. The roughly 50 species of New World warblers that occur in the Eastern United States have captivated me from the time I first picked up a pair of binoculars. The warblers offer color, energy, complex songs and much more for the bird enthusiast to enjoy.

The month started out with my first sighting of a purple finch for the year. The finch must have been a harbinger of birds to come because in quick succession I observed many early migrants, including brown thrasher, blue-headed vireo, blue-gray gnatcatcher and chipping sparrow, as well as several warblers.

The first warbler to arrive in the woods around my home this year was a singing male black-throated green warbler. Three others — black-and-white warbler, yellow-throated warbler and Louisiana waterthrush — followed quickly after my sighting of the black-throated green warbler.

The Louisiana waterthrush stood out among these early observations. This warbler is a specialist of creeks and streams, and my sighting took place near a roaring creek swollen by a rainy spring. This water-loving warbler also has a loud, ringing song that can still be hard to hear because of the fact the bird is usually near the background noise of rushing water.

While many warblers have shown signs of decline in recent years, the Louisiana waterthrush 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, a network of organizations engaged in all aspects of avian conservation, 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 the website, “All About Birds.”

The waterthrushes are the only two 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.

The only other warbler in the genus Parkesia is the Northern waterthrush which, unlike its relative, likes to live near quiet, sedate pools, ponds and bogs, not rushing streams.

Hummingbirds getting closer to region

Tommy and Virginia Curtis of Smithville, Tennessee, reported their first ruby-throated hummingbirds of the spring on the email group, “TN-Birds.” The hummingbird arrived on April 7.

“We had two male ruby-throated hummingbirds arrive late Sunday afternoon,” they wrote in their email. “That is a little later than the April 1 arrival times in the past.”

The two visitors had apparently agreed to co-exist.

“So far they are eating peacefully, and neither is attacking or dominating the one feeder,” the couple reported. “We keep wondering when the white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos plan to leave, as we have had many of them all winter.”

The couple also shared that they have been hosting a small flock of purple finches. “They normally don’t show up at our feeders unless there is snow on the ground, but we have enjoyed seeing them daily,” they wrote in their email.

Of course, the Curtises live in DeKalb County in Middle Tennessee. As of press time, I still haven’t received any reports of hummingbirds arriving in East Tennessee, Western North Carolina or Southwest Virginia. I’m confident these tiny winged gems will arrive soon. I hope to update on hummingbird arrivals in next week’s column.

Remember to share your hummingbird sighting by emailing me the date and time of the sighting to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. I’m also on Facebook should anyone want to contact me through that social media platform.

Library Happenings – Staff receives message from Germany

By Angie Georgeff

When our library staff comes in through the back door each morning, we never quite know who or what the day will bring us.

Since most of our books and other library materials arrive via courier services, the mail delivery generally is not the highlight of our day. Bills and sales catalogs just aren’t that exciting.

One morning last week, however, the mail did bring us a surprise, and a good one: a postcard from Germany. It began: “Dear good people of the Erwin Library! It took a while – but I have not forgotten the kindness and support you gave me when I passed through your cute town during my AT-hike in June 2017.”

When I read the message through to the first-name-only signature, I surprisingly remembered the young lady who had sent it. A lot of hikers pass through the library, especially during the spring months, but not that many hail from Germany. I had enjoyed talking to her, especially since her English was much better than my very rusty German. The back of the postcard bore photos of the scenery and recreational facilities in her idyllic hometown of Bad Endbach.

The town’s name translates to “bath at the end of the brook.” It is one of many small spas in the vicinity of Frankfurt, where I once lived, and not far from where my German niece currently lives. 

The motto following the name of the town is ruhig mehr leben. Google Translate suggests “live quietly more,” but I prefer “live more peacefully.” The photos certainly reinforce that image.  Perhaps that was why the young lady felt so at home in Unicoi County.

Speaking of spas…

When we Americans say “spa,” we tend to think of salon services. When Europeans say “spa,” most of the time they are thinking of mineral springs and “taking the waters” either by drinking them or bathing in them.

The word comes from the city of Spa in Belgium, which has boasted its therapeutic mineral springs at least since the 1500s and its casinos since the 1700s. Only people with time and money to spare could travel to take the waters, so many spas and casinos have enjoyed a cozy marriage of convenience.

Of course, at the turn of the last century the citizens of Unicoi County didn’t have very far to travel, since the chalybeate (pronounced kuh-LIB-ee-it) waters of Unaka Springs were considered some of the finest in the South.

Here hiking, swimming, fishing and other rustic pleasures replaced the fevered occupation of gambling. Since the water was impregnated with iron salts, I strongly suspect it was something of an acquired taste. But then there was the food, and I’m sure that was delicious!

Feathered Friends – Feeding birds can draw unwelcomed guests

Leaping onto a fully stocked feeder, an Eastern gray squirrel scatters seeds in all directions as a surprised Northern cardinal looks on. The unconquerable squirrel is one of the most unwanted guests at many bird-feeding stations. (Photo by Dianne Lynne)

By Bryan Stevens

My next adventure out in the world on behalf of the Norwegian military presented itself in early spring of 1992, this time in (the former) Yugoslavia. The situation there had started to slowly unravel all the way back to the early 1980s when their authoritarian President Josip Tito died.

By the end of the 1980s and the fall of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, other former independent countries that had been a part of Yugoslavia now wanted their sovereignty and independence back. In 1991, Slovenia was the first to break free from the federation, followed by Croatia, and the ingredients for civil war was set.

This time Norway had decided to send down an ambulance unit to support other UN forces in the area. We were scheduled to only be there for three months when an ambulance unit from the British Army would relieve us. But before we could deploy, some of us had to pass a pretty challenging medic course. The course usually lasts for three months, but because of the urgency, they gave us the short, intensive three-week version. Those were some long grueling days reading, memorizing, practicing and testing.

Our unit had three ambulances, all white and marked with a big red cross on each side. We were stationed in a Croatian village called Daruvar. Luck would have it that they had an old resort hotel there and that became our new home for the next three months.

This mission was indeed a surreal experience. We were in a war zone less than a two-hour flight from Norway, almost in the heart of Europe. We would often drive through the front lines, and pass burning buildings, military vehicles, dead livestock and indeed human beings, civilians and soldiers alike in the ditches and fields along the roads. In a way, it was almost like being in a dream with images from World War II, but this was real.

We had to send one of our ambulances to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A few days after their arrival their hotel came under heavy artillery fire so with no time to spare they had to evacuate with other UN personnel. It was not until they came back to the town we were in that they discovered that the big red cross on the side of the ambulance had several bullet holes in it like someone had used it for a target. Luckily they all made it back in one piece.

War is always gruesome, and when you, like in this civil war, mix in ethnic cleansing and genocide it truly shows the worst side of human nature. Working in a war zone or even traveling to parts of the world where you see people fighting for survival makes one truly appreciate the freedoms and opportunities we are given, the blessings most of us can count on every day, or as the saying goes: “Many pray hard for what we take for granted.”

Until next time, be safe, be happy and be grateful.

Feathered Friends – Prepare to welcome returning hummingbirds

Male ruby-throated hummingbirds usually migrate ahead of females. These tiny birds must cross the Gulf of Mexico, without stopping, to reach their nesting grounds in the eastern United States. The journey across the Gulf can take them 18 to 22 hours, dependent on weather conditions. (Photo by TheSOARnet/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

As it has done for many years now, the website journeynorth.org is tracking the progress of ruby-throated hummingbirds as they return to the United States.

Most of the first sightings of hummingbirds made each spring are of male hummingbirds. The males arrive first so they can find and defend a choice territory for the purpose of attracting females. Indeed, there are many more sightings this week for male ruby-throated hummingbirds from Journey North citizen scientists who live along the Gulf Coast states.

On Facebook, I have been doing my own tracking based on posts from friends living farther south. For instance, Marcie McGehee Daniels in Summerville, South Carolina, made a Facebook post on March 22 to share news of her first-of-season ruby-throated hummingbird.

“He drank for a few seconds and then rested in the shade for about 10 minutes, worn out from his trip!” Marcie posted on her Facebook page. She also posted a fantastic photo of the intrepid migrant.

As demonstrated by Marcie’s post, the migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds is drawing closer to our region. They cross the Gulf of Mexico without stopping to reach the Gulf States. Once they make that difficult flight, they will spend some time recuperating before they spread out to make their way northward. Residents in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina should soon be making their first sightings of ruby-throated hummingbirds since these tiny flying gems departed last October.

On a recent visit to Fripp Island, South Carolina, I didn’t see any ruby-throated hummingbirds, but I did observe other birds that reminded me that many of my favorite birds should be returning to my home within the next few weeks. I enjoyed sightings of several species of warblers, as well as various shorebirds. Many warblers return to the region in April, and shorebirds may make migration stops at area lakes and rivers as they push rapidly toward breeding grounds in regions far to the north in Canada and Alaska.

Some of the first of the resident summer birds to return to the region each year include species such as Louisiana waterthrush, brown thrasher, chipping sparrow, tree swallow and blue-gray gnatcatcher. Not too long after these “early birds” have returned, people can expect to start seeing the vanguard of the ruby-throated hummingbird spring migration as these tiny birds, which weigh no more than a nickel, return to their summer nesting grounds across the eastern United States and Canada.

As one might imagine, such tiny birds face a range of threats. In addition to offering sugar water feeders and planting gardens with nectar-bearing plants, there are other ways to help ruby-throated hummingbirds thrive.

The American Bird Conservancy recommends paying attention to our buying habits. In the winter months when they are far from their summer homes, ruby-throated hummingbirds are known to winter on shade coffee farms. Unlike today’s typical “sun” coffee farm, which razes all trees but the coffee itself, these traditional farms grow coffee in the shade of native trees. By doing so, they produce superior coffee and provide habitat for dozens of migratory songbirds, according to the ABC.

The importance of shade coffee for migratory birds was confirmed by naturalists Kenn and Kim Kaufman, who estimated that a single shade coffee farm in Nicaragua sheltered more than 1,200 migratory bird species—including the ruby-throated hummingbird—on just 90 acres. The ABC notes that buying bird-friendly coffee is an easy way people can help hummingbirds and many other migratory birds.

While the eastern United States is home only to the ruby-throated hummingbird as a nesting hummingbird species, the western half of the United States and Canada can claim about a dozen nesting species, including rufous hummingbird, Allen’s hummingbird, Anna’s hummingbird, broad-tailed hummingbird, black-chinned hummingbird, calliope hummingbird, buff-bellied hummingbird, broad-billed hummingbird and violet-crowned hummingbird.

To track the progress of ruby-throated hummingbird migration for yourself, visit www.journeynorth.org to monitor their approach to our region. Ruby-throats typically arrive in our region in early April. The early date for a ruby-throated hummingbird arrival in 2018 took place on April 4. If you don’t have your feeders outdoors and waiting for them, it’s time to do so.

As always, I love to hear from readers about their first hummingbird sighting of the year. Jot down the time and date and contact me by email at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. You can also report your sightings on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. I can hardly wait for one of our favorite birds to get back. Let’s give them a hearty welcome.

Feathered Friends – White-throated sparrows advertise their presence with spring singing

A white-throated sparrow perches on a branch to sing its easily recognizable song. Many Americans translate the sparrow’s song as “Ol’ Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.” (Photo by MiniMe/Pixabay)

By Bryan Stevens

The calendar has turned to March, and — when it comes to birds — the month is a time of transition. The season doesn’t know whether it’s winter or spring, but the birds know. They, like me, are anticipating the busy spring season.

The clientele at your feeders may change significantly in March. The winter residents are still present, but newly-arrived birds make appearances. Red-winged blackbird, common grackles, and brown-headed cowbirds, all of which may have retreated farther south during the peak of winter, can arrive suddenly in large flocks to lay claim to offerings like suet and sunflower seeds.

On our lawns, we should be noticing flocks of American robins. Long considered a harbinger of spring, the American robin is actually a year-round resident in the region. Spring’s false starts sometimes take robins by surprise, which results in large flocks of these bird descending on lawns and fields to forage frantically for earthworms and insect grubs.

Many people are probably noticing more bird song in the morning. At my home, I’ve been hearing more from birds ranging from song sparrows and chickadees to bluebirds and Northern cardinals, as well as white-throated sparrows. Although they are fairly common winter visitors in the region, the white-throated sparrow makes its presence known most strongly each spring when the birds begin to sing a familiar refrain that has been transcribed in a couple of different ways. Many Americans render the song of the white-throated sparrow as “Ol’ Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.” For those living north of the border, the white-throated sparrow sings “O’Canada, O’Canada, O’Canada.” As I mentioned, it’s a song I’ve been hearing much more frequently in the past couple of weeks. No matter how you translate this sparrow’s song, it’s a sweet and welcome addition to the spring aural landscape.

The white-throated sparrow also has a close relative that is a little less common. The white-crowned sparrow is one of the more distinctive species in a family often unfairly dismissed as “little brown birds.” It’s fairly common to find mixed flocks of both of these and other sparrows feeding together. They start the mingling process in the fall, probably to prepare them for the necessity of close proximity when winter makes it necessary to crowd together to find food. At my own feeders, I often host mixed flocks of several sparrows, including song sparrows, chipping sparrows, white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos, as well as the occasional field sparrow or swamp sparrow.

The white-throated sparrow and the closely related white-crowned sparrow both belong to a genus of American sparrows known as Zonotrichia, which includes three other species. These other three — golden-crowned sparrow, rufous-collared sparrow, and Harris’s sparrow — range mostly outside the continental United States.  The rufous-collared sparrow ranges throughout Mexico, as well as the island of Hispaniola. Harris’s sparrow is a bird that occurs mostly in Canada, although there are a handful of records in our region. The golden-crowned sparrow is a bird that occurs mostly in Alaska, although some of this sparrow’s population ranges into the northwestern corner of the state of Washington.

The genus name, Zonotrichia, refers to two ancient Greek words for zone and hair, which refers to the pattern of streaks on the backs of these five sparrow species. The Zonotrichia sparrows belong to a large group of birds known as Passerellidae, or American sparrows, which also includes birds such as juncos, towhees and brush finches. Some of the more descriptive names of some of the American sparrows include orange-billed sparrow, white-eared ground sparrow, green-backed sparrow, olive sparrow, cinnamon-tailed sparrow, five-striped sparrow and golden-winged sparrow.

I love white-crowned sparrows, but they are rare visitors to my feeders. They occasionally pass through my yard in the fall, but they rarely stay more than a couple of days. I get plenty of white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos, however, which is nice compensation. The white-crowned sparrow is more numerous in the western half of the United States. In a trip to Utah in October of 2003, these large, striking sparrows were seemingly everywhere. In the eastern United States, the white-crowned sparrow usually makes appearances as a migrant or a winter resident. These sparrows do seem faithful to wintering locations once they have spent a season. The only requirement for attracting them is a yard that offers some extensive thickets or other brushy habitat. A hedgerow bordered by a spacious lawn or field is also a magnet for this particular sparrow.

This accurately named white-crowned sparrow is easy to distinguish from all the other “little brown birds” in the sparrow family. First, for a sparrow, it’s somewhat large. Second, there’s the distinctive black-and-white head pattern that gives the bird its name. Of course, only the adult sparrows show the black and white head pattern. Young birds show alternating bands of tan and brown in place of the black and white. Both adults and young birds show a crisp gray breast that also helps distinguish them from other sparrows, which often have brown streaking across the breast. A pale bill also sets them apart from most other sparrows likely to visit feeders.

In similarly distinctive fashion, the white-throated sparrow, especially as spring gets nearer, also acquires a plumage that makes it stand out from the flock. These sparrows have a plumper shape than some of their kin. They have a black and white pattern to their head and a neat “bib” of white feathers covers the throat. The standout feature to this bird’s appearance is the bright yellow spot located between each eye and the bird’s bill. Some winter birds may lack this spot of yellow or show a less dramatic version, but the approach of spring usually puts white-throated sparrows into fine form.

Many sparrows, including the white-throated sparrow, prefer to forage for food on the ground. It’s often helpful to purchase a supply of millet seed. When filling your feeders with sunflower seeds, scatter a couple of handfuls of millet seed on the ground beneath the feeders or at the edge of a brushy area. Sparrows like to have quick access to dense cover, so they will feed more securely if the scattered seeds are within quick reach of shelter.

Sparrows don’t always co-exist peaceably. According to the website allaboutbirds.com, many of the larger sparrow species are quite aggressive with their kin. This aggression usually demonstrates itself in a tendency to chase other birds. Apparently, white-crowned sparrows will share their territories with fox sparrows — which are larger birds — but they will give chase to chipping sparrows and dark-eyed juncos in an attempt to drive them from the territory.

Most songbirds live a precarious life that can be measured in only a few years. However, an occasional individual defies the odds. According to the website allaboutbirds.com, the oldest recorded white-throated sparrow was at least 14 years, 11 months old, when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Alberta, Canada.

Listen for the song of this garden and yard visitor as you go about your daily routine. It’s easy to recognize, depending on your preference for the Canadian or American version. Don’t wait too long. Most white-throated sparrows depart the region by late April to reach their summer nesting grounds throughout the forests across Canada, the northeastern U.S. and the northern Midwest.

ONLINE: Hear the song and see video footage of a white-throated sparrow at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sL_YJC1SjHE.

Missionary from Kenya serving at St. Michael’s

Glenmary Missioner Kenneth Wandera left his home in Kenya to serve at St. Michael’s in Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church recently brought a unique perspective to the congregation as Kenneth Wandera, a missionary from Kenya, is now serving the community.

Wandera, who has come to serve at the church from Glenmary Home Missioners, said he is excited to serve Unicoi County.

“Growing up in Kenya I wanted to be a missionary priest, which means I would leave my family and friends and go overseas,” Wandera told The Erwin Record.

Wandera grew up watching the missionary priests come from Europe and other countries to serve his community in Kenya and he was drawn to them.

Wandera said he loves the diversity in the Christian faith here in the United States.

“There’s something beautiful working among different Christian groups, because there is a lot that we share in common, and that is what blows me away,” Wandera said.

Wandera said he is able to view the United States from a different perspective.

“There is something beautiful being American that American’s sometimes fail to see,” he said. “There is a sense of hospitality, a love for one another and a deep rooted goodness of people here.”

It’s that perspective that gives Wandera a unique view of the Bible. When Wandera describes being a shepherd in a biblical sense, he can relate it to his upbringing where Wandera actually had to shepherd cattle in Kenya.

“I’m realizing that I can use that as a tool and that I don’t need an entire sermon – I just need one minute to change a life,” Wandera said. “One of my goals here is to continue building on my ‘theology of encounter and ecumenism’.”

Wandera said he is excited to meet new people.

“I’m getting to know people, sharing in their stories and their faith backgrounds, ultimately founded in God,” he added. “I hope to visit Christian churches here and pray with them and be allowed to be transformed by that encounter.

“The welcome and the joy of the people here has blown me away, whether it is the folks at the nursing homes, Clinchfield Senior Adult Center, or in our own church of St. Michael.”

St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church has Mass on Saturdays at 5 p.m. and bilingual service at 10 a.m. on Sundays. Children, aged preschool to eighth grades, have services on  Wednesday from 5:45-7:15 p.m. The youth group, from those in grades 9-12, have services on Sunday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. To keep up with Saint Michael Archangel Catholic Church, visit stmichaelthearchangeluc.org or St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Parish on Facebook. St. Michael’s is located at 657 N. Mohawk Drive in Erwin.

Feathered Friends – American wigeon also known as ‘baldpate’

This male American wigeon shows the white head patch that gives this duck its other common name of “baldpate.” In this photograph, a female wigeon rests near her mate while a male redhead, a species of diving duck, swims in the background. (Photo by Tim McCabe/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

By Bryan Stevens

Erwin resident Pattie Rowland recently asked my help identifying some ducks she had photographed at the pond at Erwin Fishery Park. She already suspected the ducks in her photo were American wigeons, but she wanted confirmation.

The ducks were indeed wigeons, which are classified with the “dabblers” instead of the “divers,” which are two broad categories for describing the wild ducks likely to occur throughout North America. Dabblers feed mostly near the surface of the water, foraging on everything for aquatic insects to roots and tubers. The “divers,” not surprisingly, dive into the depth to pursue fish, mollusks and other aquatic prey.

“This was my first time to see them,” Pattie noted in a Facebook message. I congratulated her because I know how exciting a new observation of a bird can be.

It’s not been an exciting winter for ducks in the region. Other than some redheads and buffleheads back in November and early December at the start of the winter, the wigeons are the only wild ducks of interest that I’ve observed at the pond.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its report this past summer on 2018 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, based on surveys conducted in May and early June of 2018 by FWS and Canadian Wildlife Service.

Overall duck numbers in the survey area remained high, according to the report. Total populations were estimated at 41.2 million breeding ducks in the traditional survey area, 13 percent lower than last year’s estimate of 47.3 million but 17 percent above the long-term average. The projected mallard fall flight index was estimated at 11.4 million birds, down from the 2017 estimate of 12.9 million.

“The dip in the population for prairie-breeding puddle ducks is not unexpected and by no means unprecedented given that conditions on the prairies this spring were drier than last year,” said DU Chief Scientist Tom Moorman. “As a result, 2018 populations dropped accordingly. However, populations of all key species except northern pintails and scaup remain above long-term averages. This year’s breeding population decline is a reminder of the need to sustain the capacity of breeding habitats, particularly in the prairies as we go through natural variation in wetland conditions. Waterfowl populations are adapted well to short-term swings in habitat conditions, but we must continue to guard against the long-term loss of prairie breeding habitat.”

American wigeons, however, bucked the trend of some of the other prairie-breeding puddle ducks and showed a slight rise in overall numbers. The wigeon breeding population was estimated at 2.8 million individual ducks, according to the survey. Wigeons beat their long-term average, which rests at 2.6 million.

The American wigeon can be found all over North America. Their breeding grounds stretch from Alaska across the tundras of Canada all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. American Wigeons can be found in their wintering habitats from the American Northwest to central Mexico, from the southern prairie pothole region through the Gulf Coast and from New York to the Bahamas close to the Atlantic shoreline. American wigeons are also common winter visitors to Central America, the Caribbean, northern Colombia, Trinidad and occasionally Venezuela

Wigeons are aquatic grazers and forage on grasses and sedges in wet meadows and pastures. The American wigeon’s diet has a higher proportion of plant matter than the diet of any other dabbling duck.

It’s also called the “baldpate” for the same reason our national bird is known as the “bald” eagle. A white patch on the forehead reminded early naturalists of a bald man’s head in much the same way that our national bird earned the term “bald” eagle because of its own white head. Further, the word “bald” is thought to derive from an archaic word in Middle English meaning “white patch,” from which the archaic definition “marked or streaked with white” is drawn.

The origins of the term “wigeon” are a bit murkier. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first known use of “wigeon” dates back to 1508, and other sources suggest that the term perhaps was derived from a French/Balearic term meaning “a kind of small crane.”

There are two other species of wigeons — the Eurasian wigeon of Asia and Europe and the Chiloé wigeon of South America. Wigeons belong to the Marecagenus of dabbling ducks, which also includes gadwall and falcated teal.

While female American wigeons produce a rather raspy quacking sound, wigeons more typically produce a vocalization when excited that sounds like “whew, whew, whew.”

Some ducks have become associated with certain bodies of water in the region, and the American wigeon is no exception. In addition to the pond at Erwin Fishery Park, there have been reports of American wigeons this winter from a large pond adjacent to the campus of Northeast State Community College in Elizabethton, Tennessee, as well as on the weir dam at Osceola Island Recreation Site in Bristol. Hooded mergansers have wintered in large numbers at Middlebrook Lake in Bristol. Hundreds of buffleheads have wintered at Wilbur Lake near Elizabethton, Tennessee, for decades. March and April, being periods of transition as winter changes into spring, could bring migrating ducks to the region’s ponds, lakes and rivers. Keep your eyes open and you could be surprised by what you find.

Library Happenings – Check out updates to library’s website

By Angie Georgeff

If you have visited www.sites.google.com/site/unicoipubliclibrary recently, you will have noticed that we’ve made some updates to our website. We have new photographs, new links, an interactive map of our location and feeds for both of our Facebook pages on the “News and Notes” page.

If you have ideas for something you would like to see on our website, please let us know. An ETSU student who is working as an intern through the Holston River Regional Library has been helping us.

This is obviously good news for us, but it may very well be good news for you, too. On specific days during March and April, he will be available to help our patrons with their information technology questions.

If you want to learn how to use Microsoft Word or Excel, he can help you with that. He also can teach you how to use the myriad resources in TEL (the Tennessee Electronic Library), or get you started borrowing eBooks, audiobooks and videos with Tennessee R.E.A.D.S (the Regional eBook and Audiobook Download System). If what you really need is to learn how to use your own electronic devices, he can even assist you with that.

The first date on which the intern will be available is Friday, March 8, from noon until 4 p.m. On the following week, he will be here during the same hours on Thursday, March 14. In addition, he is scheduled to work on March 21 and 22. If you would like to reserve some time for personal instruction, call the library at 743-6533 for information and an appointment. You also may walk in for assistance, but you may have to wait if someone else is being helped then.

Coding Classes

We are justifiably proud of the Cx3 Computer Coding Classes that have been offered at the library for the past several months. The kids are having loads of fun creating their own computer games, while the teens are already learning web design. The excellent instruction and collaborative atmosphere make learning a pleasure.

Could a young person you know benefit from one of these classes? The kids’ class meets on Tuesdays from 3-4 p.m. The teens’ class meets immediately afterwards from 4-5 p.m. Please feel free to call the library for more information.

Spotlight Book

Last fall, Jude Deveraux introduced readers to Sara Medlar, her niece Kate, Jack Wyatt and the seemingly sleepy town of Lachlan, Florida. Now, in “A Justified Murder,” a sweet little old lady has been found poisoned, stabbed and shot for good measure.

The Medlars want nothing to do with another murder mystery, but a number of townsfolk insist on coming to them to clear their names. Why would so many people fear they might be suspects?

Whitson survives premiere episode of ‘Survivor: Edge of Extinction’

“One Of Us Is Going To Win The War” – Gavin Whitson on the second episode of SURVIVOR: Edge of Extinction airing, Wednesday, Feb. 27 (8:00-9:00PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

By Richard Rourk

Week one is in the books on Survivor: Edge of Extinction, and “the Tribe has spoken.”

Erwin native Gavin Whitson and his “Kama” tribe won immunity by winning the first obstacle course of the season. Due to contract requirements, Whitson will not be able to interview with The Erwin Record until the mid-season point of the juggernaut show.

The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce held a watch party for the first episode of the new season on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at Unicoi County High School. Whitson was on hand to greet his fans, some of which traveled over two hours to meet the Survivor star.

A pre-show party included games, food trucks and other activities. Team Gavin merchandise, including T-shirts and bandanas, were sold.

Whitson’s southern wit, ingenuity and charm were on full display early in the first episode. Whitson even slipped a joke about what he would do with the $1 million prize.

“I might buy us a fourth stoplight for Main Street,” Whitson said.

Whitson showed off his athletic skills during the first challenge and also showed that he is a force to be reckoned with during the mental game of Survivor. Whitson was seen early on laying the groundwork for an alliance with other first-time players to oppose the veterans.

“Someone new needs to win this,” Whitson said.

Last week’s event had a large turnout.

“We had between 700-800 people stay for the screening in the auditorium,” Delp said.

That number does not include the individuals that came for the meet and greet only.

To purchase Team Gavin gear, please stop by the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce on Main Avenue.

“T-shirt sales have been tremendous,” Chamber Executive Director Amanda Delp told The Erwin Record. “We sold roughly 300 shirts during the premiere.”

To follow Whitson’s progress and for future viewing party events, please follow Team Gavin on Facebook.

Union Street Taproom also had a successful viewing party for the premiere and will continue to have a viewing party for each episode for the rest of the season. For more information about these events, follow Union Street Taproom on Facebook

The upcoming episode of Survivor is entitled “One of us is going to win this war,” and will premiere on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 8 p.m. on CBS.

Feathered Friends – Birds plan ahead for times of scarcity

Blue Jays often create food caches for acorns and other items. This jay is leaving a feeder with several peanuts thanks to an expandable esophagus. (Photo by dbadry/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

Ernie Marburg sent me an email last month about an article he had read on chickadees that he thought might be of interest. The article’s main focus involved the fact that chickadees are apparently capable of remembering 1,000 cache sites and retrieving food several months after having placed it in various scattered locations.

“Their memories are better than ours,” Ernie wrote. “Mine, anyway.”

Ernie also had a question for me about observations he and his wife have made at their home in Abingdon, Virginia, about birds and the practice of caching food.

“My wife and I have both observed crows taking bread (five or six pieces at a time) in their beaks and flying off and burying it in lawns among the grass,” he wrote. “We have also observed that they march through the lawn apparently looking for such food caches. Is this something that is commonly known? Are we correct in our observation of this?”

Experts have indeed noticed this behavior. In fact, it’s fairly well known that crows are methodical in their approach to storing food. Crows, which belong to the corvid family that includes birds such as jays, ravens and magpies, are also highly intelligent animals. Their intelligence shows in the extra step they take after they have buried food. The crow will often take a leaf or twig and place it over the spot where the food has been buried. Experts suspect the bird takes this action to mark the spot and attract attention to the location when they return to look for the buried food.

Birds store food for convenience when they have more food than they can finish, but they also cache food in anticipation of periods such as inclement winter weather when food is likely to become scarce.

The blue jay, a relative of the American crow, is fond of acorns. The jay is so enamored of acorns — a nutrient-rich food for many birds and other animals — and so dedicated to caching acorns that the bird actually helps oak forests expand. A single jay may cache thousands of acorns each fall. Inevitably, some of the cache will be forgotten, to go uneaten and give the acorn the chance to sprout into a seedling in the spring that may grow into a mighty oak in a new stand of oaks.

The jay even has some modifications to help with the storing of food. Blue jays have a flexible esophagus that can distend and allow them to stuff multiple acorns down their throats. Caching food is hard work, so it helps reduce energy consumption if the jay can transport several acorns at a time instead of a single acorn on each trip to a cache site.

Now, back to chickadees for a moment. Research has shown that the brains of black-capped chickadees grow in anticipation of the need to remember where these tiny songbirds cache their sunflower seeds and other foods. The interesting finding is that only the part of the brain associated with memory grows. After all, it doesn’t do much good to store food for a rainy or snowy day if the bird promptly forgets where the food has been hidden.

The acorn woodpecker might qualify as a world-class cacher of food. As the bird’s name suggests, this woodpecker loves acorns. An acorn woodpecker will devote a significant amount of its time to establishing granaries. In this case, the granaries are holes drilled in the trunks of trees (or sometimes in a telephone pole or the side of a wooden building) for the storing of acorns. Some of these trees have hundreds of holes drilled into them with each hole containing an acorn placed there by the woodpecker. The woodpeckers often use dead trees, but they also utilize living trees. Surprisingly, the holes do not seem to affect the health of the trees.

From chickadees and woodpeckers to crows and jays, birds manage to continually surprise with seemingly infinite resourcefulness.

Library Happenings – Lego Club creating Mardi Gras themed project

By Angie Georgeff

Laissez les bon temps rouler! In English, that is “Let the good times roll!”  Next Tuesday, March 5, will be Shrove Tuesday, better known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras in French. We had fun marking the occasion last year, so once again we will celebrate with beads and crawdads.

In honor of the observance, our Lego Club for kids will have a special building project. Children are invited to join us at 6 p.m. to work on Mardi Gras floats for adorable little toy crayfish wearing purple, green and gold Mardi Gras masks and party hats. Please call the library at 743-6533 for reservations or more information.

Spotlight Book

Truth is not always stranger than fiction, but it often is quite strange enough. I guess that’s part of the reason why I prefer history to historical fiction. I also want to avoid coloring my understanding of history by confusing fantasy with the facts. When a novel is written by a trained historian, however, I’m prone to make an exception, especially when I’ve already enjoyed reading her histories.

Prolific historian Tracy Borman, author of “The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of Britain’s Greatest Dynasty” and “Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant,” turns her pen and imagination to the succeeding dynasty in a new novel with the refreshingly brief title “The King’s Witch.” When James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England from Elizabeth I as James I, he brought a well-documented dislike of women and fear of witches with him. The king’s attitudes permeate his court and threaten the lives of women who are skilled in healing with natural remedies.

Lady Frances Gorges is such a young woman. After she nursed the late queen through her final illness, Frances retired to her family home. She should have been safe there, but she is summoned to court to serve Princess Elizabeth, James’s daughter. Frances finds allies in the young princess and her mother, Queen Anne. Before long, a budding romance develops between Frances and Thomas Wintour, an up-and-coming lawyer. When a sick child whom she had helped dies, Frances is arrested on suspicion of witchcraft and tortured. Charges are dropped when Princess Elizabeth falls ill, but Frances stands on shaky ground and she knows it.

Tom then reveals a secret to Frances that tests her loyalty to him and to others. Since the novel’s Thomas – unlike Frances – is based on a historical figure of that name, readers who can’t wait for the second novel in the trilogy can search the Internet for clues to his probable fate. However, that would likely make you even more impatient for the second volume’s release.

Rock Creek students create cards for Nurturing Neighbors

Sharon Slagle, a local educator and Nurturing Neighbors organizer, speaks to Rock Creek students after they created supportive cards for those needing the organization’s services. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Students at Rock Creek Elementary recently learned what it means to give back to their community.

“It’s been exciting watching the children learn about changemakers during the most recent unit,” Rock Creek Elementary second grade teacher Kristen Allen told The Erwin Record. “The students learned about Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Katie Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., and many other change makers.”

Allen’s second-grade students chose to hand make cards to donate to Nurturing Neighbors. According to Mrs. Allen, the students decided to make the cards the previous week after the class read the story “Follow The Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles.”

Nurturing Neighbors is made up of organizers Sarah Shults, Jamie Rice, Sharon Slagle and Donna Seagroves. The program helps link volunteers to help people suffering from severe illnesses and their caregivers by utilizing the volunteers’ specific skill sets. The organization currently has more than 150 volunteers and are currently looking for citizens who could use the organization’s assistance.

At the Nurturing Neighbors meeting on Jan. 31, Shults stressed the importance of handmade items such as cards to someone who is sick. Allen saw an opportunity to blend her lesson with Nurturing Neighbors cause. Allen encouraged her students to be a change maker by creating cards for Nurturing Neighbors.

“Their goal was 75 cards, but they have made more than that,” Allen said.

To make the cards personal, the students were allowed the freedom to design the cards in their own way.

“The children were able to create the cards the way they wanted since it was their volunteer work,” Allen said.

Shults and Slagle visited Rock Creek Elementary Feb. 12 to explain to the students how Nurturing Neighbors works and to accept the students’ gifts.

If you or someone you know could use the services of Nurturing Neighbors, please contact nurturingneighborsofuc@gmail.com or 742-7508. Updates are also posted on the organization’s Facebook page.

Feathered Friends – Stay of Virginia’s warbler leaves birders amazed

The influx of birders to view the Virginia’s warbler led to other unexpected finds along the Kingsport greenbelt, including such out-of-season birds as blue-gray gnatcatchers, Nashville warbler and Northern parula. (Contributed photo by Sherrie Quillen)

By Bryan Stevens

At times, there’s nothing left to do but scratch your head and wonder. It’s a gesture many birders have been making around the Holston River in Kingsport as walks in the area along Netherland Inn Drive on the greenbelt have produced numerous warbler sightings in recent weeks.

The list includes expected winter warblers such as orange-crowned, pine, and yellow-rumped, as well as such off-season puzzlers as American redstart, common yellowthroat, Northern parula, Cape May warbler and Nashville warbler; these warblers really should be wintering far to the south in locations around the Caribbean and in Central America. So far this winter, sharp-eyed birders have seen at least 12 different warbler species on the Riverfront Greenbelt. None of them have generated the level of excitement that has been produced by a small plain gray and yellow bird that is doggedly devoted to its daily routine. Birders have rushed from all parts of Tennessee, as well as from as far afield as Virginia and New Jersey, for a chance to see a visiting Virginia’s warbler, a bird that has only been observed on a handful of occasions east of the Mississippi River.

This warbler is not named for the state of Virginia. Spencer F. Baird, who first described the Virginia’s Warbler in 1860, named the species after Virginia Anderson, the wife of Dr. W. W. Anderson, who collected the first specimen in 1858 in New Mexico. Virginia’s warbler is not all that exceptional in appearance. While gray overall the bird shows a white eyering and some yellow highlights to feathers on the chest and under the tail. The bird also wags its tail, a behavior that can be helpful in identifying it.

The Virginia’s warbler is a species known for showing up in some rather odd locations. Back in 2012, one of these warblers generated birding excitement around New York City when one was found in Alley Pond Park in the New York City borough of Queens. In their usual range, however, Virginia’s warblers nest in arid terrain, including open pinyon-juniper and oak woodlands in the southwestern Rocky Mountain states, which is a far cry from the banks of the Holston River in Kingsport or Queens in New York.

The Kingsport specimen pulled a vanishing act when the weather turned milder in early February. Well-known birder Rick Knight, who lives in Johnson City, Tennessee, addressed the status of the bird in a post he made to the list-serve, “TN-Bird”:

“The Virginia’s Warbler and the other unusual warblers present at Riverfront Park in Kingsport seem to wander some on warm days and then return to the water’s edge on cold days to take advantage of the milder microclimate there.” Knight went on to speculate that the bird may still be in the vicinity and will return to its usual haunts when cold temperatures return. So far, despite a mix of warm days with colder ones, the Virginia’s warbler hasn’t been seen since Feb. 2.

Several birders who found the bird and added it to their life lists commented on the fact that so many other unexpected species were found at the same time in the same location. It wasn’t long before people began evoking the famous birding phenomenon known as the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect, which is a birding phenomenon named for a famous hotspot in southeast Arizona. The lure of a bird called the rose-throated becard at the location attracted a rush of birders to the area. More eyes resulted in more discoveries of other rare birds. In turn, the additional finds continued attracting even more birders and resulted in the discovery of even more rare bird species.

So, who first noticed the presence of the out-of-place warbler? The credit for the discovery goes to two Kingsport residents. On a post to Facebook, the two women who discovered the bird shared details of their exciting find. Bambi “Birdfinder” Fincher posted the notice of the bird’s discovery.

“Yesterday (Saturday, Jan. 19) in the pouring rain, Sherrie Quillen and I found a Virginia’s warbler on Kingsport Birding Trail-Riverfront Greenbelt,” she wrote in a post to the Birding Kingsport Facebook page. “This is the first record of this bird in the state of Tennessee.”

Bambi explained her birding success simply. “I’m always looking! Keeps me birding!”

She also invited other birders to join her some time. “It can be pretty amazing,” she wrote. “No promises of a state record or life bird, but I can promise you that you will learn something about your surroundings and yourself.”

She earned her nickname “birdfinder” about 10 years ago when she first started birding. “I was out birding with Bill Moyle or Bill Grigsby — one of the Bill’s, anyway — and I was really ‘finding’ birds but didn’t know what they were.”

The Bills didn’t let her get discouraged. “They said, ‘That’s OK, you will learn the birds, but you are a birdfinder.’ It stuck.”

I met both Bambi and Sherrie for the first time on the day I traveled to Kingsport to try my luck at observing this warbler. Bambi quickly proved her “birdfinder” talents. Although I had to wait for about an hour for the bird to make an appearance, when it did arrive, it flew right to the spot by the river that Bambi had recommended I keep under observation. The specific spot consisted of a thin stand of privet rooted in the riverbank only a few yards from a bench located near the paved walking path. When the bird arrived, making telltale chip notes, I got my binoculars on it and enjoyed a satisfying but brief look at the bird. Birds are rarely as cooperative as this particular Virginia’s warbler turned out to be. Several other birders waiting with me also got to see the warbler at the same time. As warblers are my favorite family of birds, getting to observe this unexpected visitor has been the highlight of my birding year thus far.

In the Eastern United States, there are only a handful of warblers I haven’t yet observed. I need to see a cerulean warbler and Connecticut warbler, as well as a Kirtland’s warbler and golden-cheeked warbler. The latter two species are considered endangered and highly localized warblers occurring mostly in Michigan and Texas, respectively — two states I’ve not yet visited.

I’ll always remember my first look at a Virginia’s warbler just before noon on Jan. 28, 2019. The bird had already been present for ten days by the time I made the drive to Kingsport to try my luck. In addition, I saw many other interesting birds while waiting for my target bird to arrive. Some of the other observed birds included palm warbler, blue-gray gnatcatcher, ruby-crowned kinglets and golden-crowned kinglets.

Library Happenings – Researching the origins of an unusual phrase

By Angie Georgeff

I tend to think of Valentine’s Day as the unofficial last day of winter. Although we still have another month of winter ahead of us, our thoughts have already turned to spring. Today several members of our staff are spending the day in Sevierville at the Summer Reading Conference getting ideas we can implement during June and July. Gardeners are already planning flower and vegetable beds and those who watch HGTV throughout the winter are itching to begin home improvement projects. My front porch needs some attention, so I am ready to start looking for paint swatches. Oddly enough, this conjures up a picture of my mother on an especially bad hair day.

When I was a little girl – many, many years ago – my mother would describe her appearance on bad hair days as looking “like a pet haint.” She never used the word “haint” in any other context and her own definition when I asked her was nebulous, to say the least. Consequently, I came to understand it as someone or something that was not looking its best.

Since Mama lived in Johnson City when she was young, and no other family, friends or neighbors ever used the phrase that I recall, I suspect my mother added “pet haint” to her vocabulary during a summer visit to her grandparents in Hawkins County. It must have tickled her fancy, since she employed it to describe her hair at its most unruly for the remainder of her life.

Only many years later did I learn that haint (think haunt) was another word for ghost, which coincidentally happens to be someone or something that is not looking its best. As I’m typing these paragraphs, the word is underlined with a telltale red squiggle. It is alerting me to check my spelling, so evidently I was not alone in my ignorance of the term. Either that, or perhaps there’s a mischief-minded haint haunting my computer. The library is said to harbor 36 ghosts, but I have never encountered one – even late at night.

Haint Blue

If you type “haint” into a search engine, you’re likely to come up with the definition and more than fifty shades of blue, but relatively few other results. “Haint blue” is the traditional color of Southern porch ceilings, particularly those in the South Carolina Low Country. The blue ceilings, door frames and window sills found there were said to ward off stinging insects as well as evil spirits. 

Now that I come to think of it, I have never had a problem with bees or wasps on my front porch, which does have a blue ceiling. Nor have I seen a ghost, so I can’t say that it doesn’t work.  While I may alter the shade, I think I’ll leave my porch ceiling blue. I really don’t want my own pet haint.

Feathered Friends – HMSP plans Great Backyard Bird Count events

A male evening grosbeak perches on a branch. These large, colorful and noisy finches are extremely fond of sunflower seeds. Some participants in this year’s GBBC may have an increased chance of counting these birds because of a winter “irruption” of evening grosbeaks and other Northern finches. (Photo by Ted Schroeder)

By Bryan Stevens

Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, Virginia, plans some bird walks on Saturday, Feb. 16, to coincide with the Great Backyard Bird Count.

The 22nd annual GBBC is taking place Feb. 15-18 in backyards, parks, nature centers, on hiking trails, school grounds, balconies, and beaches—anywhere you find birds. The GBBC is a free, fun and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard or anywhere in the world.

Each checklist submitted during the GBBC helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment we share. Last year, more than 160,000 participants submitted their bird observations online, creating the largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded.

To help participants become better citizen scientists, some field guides and binoculars will be provided during the activities at Hungry Mother State Park. Supplies of these items, however, are limited.

The walk will commence at 8 a.m. Either Master Naturalist Randy Smith or Hungry Mother volunteer Mike Evans will conduct the walk. Participants are also welcome to bird solo or with a few friends to cover more territory.

At 9 a.m., participants will return to parking lot five for “Breakfast in a Bag” with the Holston Rivers Master Naturalists. While enjoying breakfast, attendees will be invited to wander over to the park’s restaurant to check out various hands-on birding activities.

The special event will wrap up when Smith teaches participants a little more about backyard birding with an informative session at 10:30 a.m. at the restaurant.

All ages and skill levels are welcome. Attendees are encouraged to dress warmly as the event will be held rain or shine.

A lot has changed since the first Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) was held in 1998. Each year brings unwavering enthusiasm from the growing number of participants in this now-global event.

“The very first GBBC was an experiment,” says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program. “We wanted to see if people would use the Internet to send us their bird sightings. Clearly the experiment was a success!”

Iliff noted that eBird collects bird observations globally every day of the year and is the online platform used by the GBBC. In the United States and Canada, 2019 bird lists are more likely to include sightings of winter finches and grosbeaks that are moving farther south than usual in what’s called an “irruption.” This type of movement is often sparked by poor cone, seed and berry crops in parts of Canada.

“This year is a very exciting one for backyard birders in the East, headlined by the largest evening grosbeak movement in at least two decades,” noted Iliff. “From Atlantic Canada to North Carolina, these colorful feeder visitors have been making a splash.”

Although seed crops were better in western Canada, eBird maps still show significant number of evening grosbeaks are now being reported in the West all the way down to the border with Mexico. eBird collects bird observations globally every day of the year and is the online platform used by the GBBC.

Evening grosbeaks have been reported this winter in Tennessee in such locations as Palmyra and Sewanee. Although I have not personally seen an evening grosbeak for 18 years, I remember fondly how large flocks of these colorful and noisy birds overwhelmed my feeders during winters in the late 1990s. I’d love to see some of them again at my feeders. People should be aware that hosting a flock of evening grosbeaks can represent a significant investment. A grosbeak flock can literally consume hundreds of pounds of sunflower seeds when they take up residence for the winter at a feeding station.

Whether or not evening grosbeaks make an appearance this winter, I will still be taking part in this year’s GBBC. I encourage others to do so, too.

Learn more about how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count at gbbc.birdcount.org where downloadable instructions and an explanatory PowerPoint are available. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada and is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

For more information on the GBBC event at Hungry Mother State Park, call 276-781-7400. The park is located at 2854 Park Blvd., Marion, Virginia. Details are also available by calling 1-800-933-7275 or visit www.virginiastateparks.gov.

The 21st annual GBBC will be held Friday, Feb.15, through Monday, Feb. 18. Please visit the official website at gbbc.birdcount.org for more information.

If you go:

• What: Hungry Mother State Park Great Backyard Bird Count events

• When: Feb. 16 beginning at 8 a.m.

• Where: Hungry Mother State Park, 2854 Park Blvd., Marion, Virginia, starting at parking lot five

For more information: Call 276-781-7400 or 1-800-933-7275 or visit www.virginiastateparks.gov

And:

• What: Great Backyard Bird Count

• When: Feb. 15-18

• Where: Your backyard or anywhere

For more information: gbbc.birdcount.org

Library Happenings – Some new Honor Books available at library

By Angie Georgeff

Every year the Association for Library Service to Children awards the Newbery Medal to the author of “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”

The ALSC also awards the Caldecott Medal to the artist of “the most distinguished American picture book for children.” 

A small number of Honor Books may also be recognized for each of these prestigious awards.  The 2019 winners of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals were announced on Monday, Jan. 28, along with two Newbery Honor Books and four Caldecott Honor Books.

The big announcement was made in Seattle at 11 a.m. EST. There was a lot going on that day, so it was nearly two hours before I learned which books had been honored.

We already had two of the Honor Books, so I ordered the remaining six for our children’s collection. By that time, four of the six were already out of stock.

The consolation is that when the new stock arrives, those items should sport a pretty gold or silver sticker that proclaims their exalted status. The two that were in stock have already been cataloged and processed.

Honor Books

The first is the Caldecott Honor Book “Alma and How She Got Her Name.”  The book was written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal.

As one would expect, the illustrations are exceptional. Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela is a little girl with a big name. Whenever she writes it, she has to tape an extra piece of paper to the bottom of the page in order to fit it all in.

When she complains to her father, he shows her pictures and tells her about the relatives whose names she bears. Alma comes to realize that she has much in common with each of her numerous namesakes.

Daddy starts with Sofia and ends with Candela, leaving for last a very special reason why she was named Alma. After reading this book, I found myself wishing for more namesakes than the three foremothers I already have. I think a dozen might do.

The second is the Newbery Honor Book “The Night Diary,” written by Veera Hiranandani. When the British colony of India became an independent nation in 1947, the country was partitioned into India and Pakistan. Twelve-year-old Nisha, whose father is Hindu and whose late mother was Muslim, discovers that her family is on the wrong side of the border. 

Their home in the city of Mirpur Khas will be in Pakistan. Since Hindus will no longer be safe there, they must leave and cross over the border into “the new India.” With her identity torn and her father, brother and grandmother preoccupied with the survival of the family, Nisha turns to her diary for consolation during that difficult and perilous journey.

High school drama students staging production of ‘Grease’

The Unicoi County High School drama department will present a new production of “Grease: School Version” in May. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Teacher Lori Ann Wright and the Unicoi County High School Drama Department are at it again. The drama department has brought several high-quality productions to the stage over the years, and this year will be no different.

Wright has worked tirelessly to bring back a “classic” and she’s allowed The Erwin Record to chronicle the production every step of the way.

Once Wright decided what production would fit for this year, the journey began. Wright chose “Grease: School Version,” written by Samuel French, but could not move forward until numerous hours of paperwork had been filed to get the rights to begin the production. According to Wright, work on a production begins six months prior to the first showing.

“We reached out to get the licensing rights ball rolling in November,” Wright told The Erwin Record.

Wright’s first order of business is finding a show that meets the cast size requirements and compliments the skill level of the students, as well as being in budget. Once the play is chosen, the research is done for licensing and purchasing rights to the show. It is at this point that the budget is reviewed and fundraising is planned.

For “Grease: School Version,” this was a tall order.

“For this show the budget is $8,000 dollars for three performances,” Wright said.

Roughly three months out from the first show, Wright is tasked with getting the cast of UCHS students together. Wright is currently in the process of holding auditions. Wright is also in the process of lining up the full production team. Confirmation of the script delivery date is also happening this month.

According to the official press release, the show dates are officially set. The UCHS Drama Department is proud to present “Grease: School Version” in the UCHS auditorium on May 2-4 at 7 p.m.

Tickets for the show will go on sale starting April 1, 2019 at the UCHS main office for advance purchase or can be bought 30 minutes before each performance. Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for students and $3 for children under 12.

“Grease: School Version” is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc. “Grease: School Version” book, music and lyrics are by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.

Please keep an eye out for the next installment as The Erwin Record and Wright bring you updates on casting, ticket designing and publicity for the upcoming production.

Feathered Friends – Virginia woman hosting wintering hummingbird

The ruby-throated hummingbird is the expected hummingbird in the eastern United States spring through fall. These birds are rare winter visitors, however, which makes the one living in a yard in Fall Church, Virginia. (Photo by Mariedy/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

I have been corresponding by email with Ellen Haberlein since around Thanksgiving of last year about a hummingbird that is wintering at her home in Fall Church, Virginia, which is located only a few miles from Washington, D.C.

The hummingbird’s presence has brightened the winter season for the Haberlein family since it showed up in late October of 2018.

Through the years, I have seen several of these seemingly out-of-place hummingbirds. Some of them remain at their host’s feeders for a brief stay of a few days or a couple of weeks, but some of these hummingbirds have extended their stay for several months, lingering throughout the winter months before eventually departing in February or March.

The big question is: are these hummingbirds truly lost and out of place? The answer, based on everything I have managed to learn, is that these hummingbirds are precisely where they want to be. For still unknown reasons, some of these western hummingbirds make a migration swing through the eastern United States.

Many of the visiting winter hummingbirds turn out to be Rufous Hummingbirds, which is a species native to the western United States. The bird visiting Ellen’s feeder, however, is a ruby-throated hummingbird. In the summer months, the ruby-throated is the expected species of hummingbird in the eastern United States. In the winter months — not so much. However, in some regions in Virginia, as well as along the Gulf Coast, a few ruby-throated hummingbirds are attempting to overwinter.

The Rufous Hummingbird has basically become an expected winter visitor with a few reports being received each winter. I have observed Rufous Hummingbirds in many different locations, including Bristol, Blountville, Flag Pond, Elizabethton and Hampton. I have also observed Allen’s hummingbirds in Mountain City and Johnson City. I know of records of these small birds from Erwin, Roan Mountain, Johnson City and many other locations throughout the region. Winter hummingbirds are a delightful surprise for their hosts, but their presence no longer shock long-time birders.

“Hosting a hummingbird in winter is a first for us, so we enjoy having him here,” Ellen wrote.  “I feel that I am responsible to keep the little guy alive through the cold months.”

Doing so has meant staying atop some challenges.

“I monitor the feeder to make sure it doesn’t freeze,” Ellen wrote. “I have read the nectar doesn’t need to be replaced as often in winter, but I still change it every 2-3 days.”

She’s taking no chance with the health of her tiny visitor. “I think he needs to have fresh food to stay in good health,” Ellen wrote. “I have two feeders, so when I remove one, I immediately replace it with another. That way his food source is not disrupted.”

Ellen noted that the hummingbird seems to be able to stand the cold nights. “I take in the feeder at night, and he looks for it just at dawn in the morning,” she wrote.

She contacted Bruce Peterjohn at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Her visiting ruby-throated hummingbird is the first he has heard of in Virginia for the winter season this year, although Peterjohn informed Ellen that some ruby-throated hummingbirds usually overwinter close to the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia.

Peterjohn, the chief of the US Bird Banding Laboratory for USGS, is the person responsible for administering the national bird banding program and the data management system for bird banding and band encounter datasets. His personal banding activities are focused on banding hummingbirds in the mid-Atlantic region, especially hummingbirds that appear during late autumn and winter.

With the dawning of the new year, Ellen’s visiting hummingbird remained present. “I am happy to help this little bird get through the winter,” Ellen said.

I checked back with Ellen on Jan. 29 to see if the hummingbird remains in residence.

“He made it through the last storm with wind chills at zero or below,” she replied to my email. “Now we have more cold coming and I am hoping for the best.”

I imagine Ellen is a good host for many birds, not just the unseasonable hummingbird, that visit her yard and gardens.

In our correspondence, she shared some sightings of warblers, which is my favorite family of birds.

“By the way, I have not seen a hooded warbler,” Ellen wrote. “I see warblers pass through during spring, like Tennessee warblers and black-and-white warblers.”

I’m hopeful that she will spy a migrating hooded warbler, perhaps this spring. In the meantime, she’s hosting a wintering hummingbird. “I am happy to help this little bird get through the winter,” Ellen wrote.

Senior Center News – Heart health, tax assistance events on calendar

By Kerry Taylor

February usually brings us more cold weather and winter doldrums. But your Clinchfield Senior Adult Center is here to help warm you up!

Once again, please call on snow days because we are operating on a new schedule in 2019.

Thanks for everyone’s help getting Erwin ready for the Yarn Bomb. We will be working on a new knitting project in February. Don’t forget to check out our library – we get new books from time to time.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we are focusing on the heart in February. Be sure to come by for help on heart-healthy living. Come with friends and stay for lunch!

Love Your Heart!

Thursdays from 9:30-10:30 a.m.

This month show your heart some love with Rachel York from UT Extension! Learn ways to keep your heart strong with exercise and nutrition. This series will be fun, interactive and helpful for all ages.

• Week 1 (Feb. 7 ) Exercise: We all know that exercise is important for our health, but what is the best workout for your heart? Let’s take a walk through the Senior Center fitness room to see what equipment is the most helpful for your heart health.

• Week 2 (Feb. 14) Nutrition: Valentine’s Day can only mean one thing- chocolate!  Are sweets allowed if you are worried about your heart?  Enjoy a healthy food demonstration that will hit your sweet tooth!  We will also discuss other common ways you can keep a healthy diet.

• Week 3 (Feb. 21)  Making a Plan for Your Heart: Having a healthy heart means making small decisions about your health every day. In our closing session, we will connect what we’ve learned about diet and exercise, along with other factors like working with your healthcare professional, including your family, and more.

AARP Tax Aide

Feb. 11 & March 12

AARP Tax Assistance is available annually at the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center during tax season by appointment only. 

Please call the center at 743-5111 and ask for an AARP Tax Aide appointment.