Feathered Friends – Mystery bird turns out to be Louisiana waterthrush

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

By Bryan Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Library Happenings – Summer programs come to end with pool parties

By Angie Georgeff

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

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

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

Board Meeting

The Board of Trustees of the Unicoi County Public Library will meet in the library lobby at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 19. The public is welcome to attend. If you should require any special accommodations in order to attend the meeting, please call the library at 743-6533.

Spotlight Book

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

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

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

By Bryan Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few other eagle facts:

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

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

— Bald eagles have 7,000 feathers.

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

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

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

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

— All eagles are renowned for their excellent eyesight.

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

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


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

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

By Angie Georgeff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Fun Friday

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

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

Feathered Friends – Eggs showcase genuine miracle when bird hatches

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

By Bryan Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Angie Georgeff

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

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

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

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

Excel Class

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

Family Fun Friday

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

Holiday Closing

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

Feathered Friends – Readers wonder about change in hummingbird numbers

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

By Bryan Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Library Happenings – Youth ice cream social planned for June 21

By Angie Georgeff

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

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

Teen SRP

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

Adult SRP

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

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

Family Fun Friday!

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

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

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

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

By Bryan Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Angie Georgeff

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

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

Coloring Station

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

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

Family Fun Friday

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

Heritage, railroad museums open for season

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

By Kendal Groner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feathered Friends – Regional bird count detects population trends

A Great Blue Heron explores a paved driveway at an Erwin home. Rookeries, or nesting colonies, in Erwin have expanded the population of this large wading bird locally. (Photo by Pattie Rowland)

By Bryan Stevens

Members of the Elizabethton Bird Club, as well as members of birding organizations in Kingsport and Bristol, fanned out across Northeast Tennessee on Saturday, May 5, for the 75th consecutive Elizabethton Spring Bird Count. A total of 60 observers (a new participation record) looked for birds in Carter County and parts of the adjacent counties of Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington.

This year’s spring count tallied 152 species, slightly better than the overall average of 149 species established over the last 30 years. The most ever species tabulated for this count was 166 species back in 2016.

I counted birds along the Watauga River in Elizabethton, as well as on Holston Mountain. Some of the better birds I saw during the day-long outing included Baltimore Oriole, Blackburnian Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and many others.

I also saw numerous Great Blue Herons. It’s notable that this large wading bird has become much more common in the region, thanks to recent rookeries, or nesting sites, in Erwin, Elizabethton and other locations. A total of 123 Great Blue Herons were found on this year’s spring count. This heron has only been known to nest in Unicoi County since 2007. In addition, count participants found 144 Double-crested Cormorants, another bird affiliated with water that has proliferated as a summer nesting bird in the region.

Pattie Rowland contacted me on Facebook recently about her own unusual encounter with a rather tame Great Blue Heron. Instead of flying away when Pattie stepped outside, the heron strolled down her neighbor’s driveway.

Pattie wondered if the heron could be a fledgling from the heronry located in Erwin. While that’s certainly a possibility, the bird could also be an adult from the rookery wandering a little farther afield than usual in search of food for its young. In addition to fish, Great Blue Herons will also feed on earthworms, amphibians, reptiles and even small rodents. As I mentioned to Pattie, herons are like people. Each bird is an individual; some are shy, others are curious and adventurous, which may find a heron exploring a paved driveway instead of a water lily-choked pond.

Despite the increasing numbers of Great Blue Herons and Double-crested Cormorants, they were far from the most numerous bird found on the spring count. The European Starling claimed the distinction of most abundant bird on this year’s count with a total of 921 individuals found. Other abundant birds included Cliff Swallow  (864); American Robin (844); Canada Goose (648); Red-winged Blackbird (546); and American Crow (377).

Although the count produced many good birds, it was also notable for some misses, including Northern bobwhite, sharp-shinned hawk and Kentucky warbler. The total follows:

Canada Goose, 648; Wood Duck,  70; Mallard, 176; Northern Shoveler, 1; Greater Scaup, 1; Bufflehead, 1; and Red-breasted Merganser; 4.

Ruffed Grouse, 4; Wild Turkey, 45; Common Loon, 5; Double-crested Cormorant,144; Great Blue Heron, 123; Great Egret, 2; Green Heron, 29; Black-crowned Night-Heron, 2; and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, 8.

Black Vulture, 121; Turkey Vulture,167; Osprey,12; Bald Eagle, 8; Cooper’s Hawk, 8; Red-shouldered Hawk, 2; Broad-winged Hawk, 8; and Red-tailed Hawk, 27.

Killdeer, 41; Spotted Sandpiper, 37; Solitary Sandpiper, 35; Greater Yellowlegs, 2; Lesser Yellowlegs, 8; Least Sandpiper, 10; White-rumped Sandpiper, 1; and Ring-billed Gull, 2.

Rock Pigeon,  217; Eurasian Collared-Dove,10; Mourning Dove, 251; Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 17; Black-billed Cuckoo, 3; Eastern Screech-Owl, 8; Great Horned Owl, 2; Barred Owl, 8; Common Nighthawk, 5; Chuck-will’s-widow, 7; Eastern Whip-poor-will,  43; Chimney Swift, 185; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 51; and Belted Kingfisher, 15.

Red-headed Woodpecker,10; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 129; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 5; Downy Woodpecker, 55; Hairy Woodpecker, 6; Northern Flicker, 44; and Pileated Woodpecker,  59.

American Kestrel, 19; Eastern Wood-Pewee, 43; Acadian Flycatcher, 32; Least Flycatcher, 2; Eastern Phoebe, 82; Great Crested Flycatcher, 31; Eastern Kingbird, 123; and Loggerhead Shrike, 1.

White-eyed Vireo, 21; Yellow-throated Vireo,10; Blue-headed Vireo, 86; Warbling Vireo, 17; Red-eyed Vireo, 280; Blue Jay, 231; American Crow, 377; Fish Crow,  2; and Common Raven, 22.

Purple Martin  82; Tree Swallow  206; Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 131; Barn Swallow, 226; and Cliff Swallow, 864.

Carolina Chickadee, 197; Tufted Titmouse,  213; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 11; White-breasted Nuthatch, 44; Brown Creeper, 3; House Wren, 53; Winter Wren, 7; Carolina Wren, 225; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 110; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 5; and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 2.

Eastern Bluebird,181; Veery, 15; Gray-cheeked Thrush, 1; Swainson’s Thrush, 3; Wood Thrush, 109; American Robin, 844; Gray Catbird,  77; Brown Thrasher, 72; Northern Mockingbird, 138; European Starling, 921; and Cedar Waxwing, 144.

Ovenbird, 170; Worm-eating Warbler, 42; Louisiana Waterthrush,  37; Northern Waterthrush, 3; Golden-winged Warbler, 2; Black-and-white Warbler, 118; Swainson’s Warbler, 3; Tennessee Warbler, 1; Common Yellowthroat,  23; Hooded Warbler, 192; American Redstart,12; Cape May Warbler, 4; Northern Parula, 44; Magnolia Warbler  7; Blackburnian Warbler, 11; Yellow Warbler, 34; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 18; Blackpoll Warbler, 5; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 71; Palm Warbler, 5; Pine Warbler, 13; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 53; Yellow-throated Warbler, 43; Prairie Warbler, 14; Black-throated Green Warbler, 97; and Canada Warbler, 34.

Eastern Towhee, 250; Chipping Sparrow,137; Field Sparrow, 74; Savannah Sparrow, 2; Grasshopper Sparrow, 4; Song Sparrow,322; Swamp Sparrow, 1; White-throated Sparrow, 10; White-crowned Sparrow, 7; and Dark-eyed Junco, 74.

Summer Tanager, 3; Scarlet Tanager, 97; Northern Cardinal, 376; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 37; Blue Grosbeak, 6; Indigo Bunting, 148; Dickcissel, 2; and Yellow-breasted Chat, 10.

Bobolink,16; Red-winged Blackbird, 546; Eastern Meadowlark, 144; Common Grackle, 474; Brown-headed Cowbird, 144; Orchard Oriole, 28; Baltimore Oriole, 35; House Finch, 96; Pine Siskin, 79; American Goldfinch, 382; and House Sparrow, 47.

Library Happenings – Summer Reading Programs underway, registration open

By Angie Georgeff

Our Summer Reading Programs are underway! The next six weeks constitute our busiest time of the year, with special programs available for readers of all ages. Registration is still open for our children’s and teen programs, and schedules are available at our circulation desk. Be sure to keep them posted on your refrigerator door so you don’t miss any of the special activities your child wants to attend.

Preregistration is not required for the adult program. Simply fill out an entry blank for each library item you read, listen to or watch during the contest period and drop it in the tote near the front door to be entered in the drawing. Books, audiobooks and DVDs are all qualifying items.  An additional entry may be earned by completing the weekly brainteaser activity. Activity sheets are available at the circulation desk.

This year the prizes are themed gift baskets. My favorites are the “Beach Reads” basket and the “Night at the Movies” basket. Be sure to take a look at all of them the next time you come to the library. The drawing will be held after the close of business on Saturday, July 14. We wish you all the best of luck.

Teen SRP

The theme for Summer Reading 2018 may be music, but the “Libraries Rock!” slogan allows latitude for interpretation. Young persons between the ages of thirteen and eighteen are invited to come to the library on Thursday, June 7, to exercise their skills and imagination as they paint rocks. The program will begin at 2 p.m. and last for about two hours. A parent or guardian must register each participant before the class begins. Registration forms are now available at our circulation desk, or call 743-6533 for more information.

Family Fun Friday

Our summer series of Family Fun Friday events will kick off with Mr. Bond’s Science Guys on Friday, June 8.  Their child-friendly Spectacular Science Show will commence at 3 p.m. at Erwin’s Town Hall. Don’t miss this popular annual event!

Thank you!

If you have visited the library recently, you will have noticed how pretty our landscape looks. A team of volunteers from Nuclear Fuel Services are the fairy godmothers and godfathers responsible for the transformation. They arrived bright and early one Saturday morning in May, worked their magic and left our salvia, coreopsis and roses nestled in a luxuriant bed of fresh mulch. Thank you! Our Cinderella is now dressed in her best and ready for her waltz with Prince Charming.

Feathered Friends – World’s sandpipers include species known to migrate through region

The spotted sandpiper’s spring appearance makes it one of the more easily recognized shorebirds. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

As spring migration wanes, it’s a good time to reflect on what birds this seasonal phenomenon brought within viewing distance. In recent weeks I have seen grosbeaks, warblers, vireos, orioles, flycatchers, hummingbirds and more. Another family of migrating birds doesn’t attract quite as much attention from backyard birders, probably due to the fact that shorebirds are not usually considered birds likely to drop by a yard for a brief visit.

Throughout April and May I saw a few different shorebirds, most of them belonging to a group of birds labeled as sandpipers. The most common was the spotted sandpiper. This robin-sized bird belongs to the genus, Actitis, which consists of only one other species, the common sandpiper of Europe and Asia. The genus name originates with an ancient Greek term for “coast dweller,” which is an apt name for this shore-loving bird.

During their breeding season, spotted sandpipers sport dark spots against a bright white breast, a bright orange bill and a dark brown back. This distinctive pattern makes a springtime spotted sandpiper one of the most easily recognized members of a family that can cause some real challenges when it comes to identification. During the winter season, spotted sandpipers lose their spots and attain a dingy grayish-brown and white plumage. In their winter appearance, they are definitely not as easy to contrast from other shorebirds.

This sandpiper is also known for its unique teetering, tail-bobbing gait as it walks along a pond’s edge or a muddy stream bank. The similar solitary sandpiper has a less pronounced teeter-totter stance as it walks and forages.

The spotted sandpiper belongs to a group of related birds known collectively as shorebirds or, in a somewhat more whimsical context, “wind birds.” They are known as “wind birds” for the propensity of many members of this extended family to stage long-distance migrations; some species fly through Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina each spring and fall as they migrate to and from distant nesting grounds. This varied family of birds ranges in size from sparrow-sized sandpipers to larger species such as American avocet and Hudsonian godwit.

While Virginia and North Carolina are not landlocked like Tennessee, shorebird sightings are still infrequent enough that they cause some excitement among birders in the region. This spring didn’t seem to produce sightings of too many surprise shorebird migrants. Some of the better reported observations included species like greater yellowlegs and white-rumped sandpiper. I observed only a few of the more common species; other than the aforementioned spotted sandpiper, I also saw several solitary sandpipers during late April and early May. I saw most of these sandpipers around the pond at Erwin Fishery Park.

The solitary sandpiper is, in many ways, a bird of contradictions. For instance, despite this bird’s common name, they do travel in flocks on occasion. During migration, it’s just as likely to see three or four of these birds traipsing around the muddy edges of a pond as it is to observe a single individual. Unlike many sandpipers, they do not build a nest on the ground. Instead, the solitary sandpiper seeks out the old nests of songbirds, such as thrushes, in the branches of trees. This probably adds to the security of the nest, but poses a challenge once the young hatch. Young shorebirds are precocial in that they are relatively mature and mobile from the moment of their hatching. The parents usually must do some coaxing to get the young to leap from their nest in shrubs and trees.

Some of the other sandpipers found around the world include the spoon-billed sandpiper, sharp-tailed sandpiper, broad-billed sandpiper and Baird’s sandpiper. The latter’s name pays tribute to Spencer Fullerton Baird, a 19th-century naturalist and assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Baird had other birds named for him, as well as several species of fish, a whale, a crab, a snake and a tapir.

While shorebirds are often intimidating to new birdwatchers, they don’t have to be. Go to any beach along any coast, especially during the height of spring and fall migration, and you’re likely to see perhaps a dozen or more species of shorebirds. Several of the species encountered are likely to be numbered among the sandpipers.

For a few of these birds, however, it’s not necessary to travel as far as the coast to see them. A visit to a river’s bank, a pond’s edge or a lake shore is sufficient to yield looks at such migrating shorebirds as pectoral sandpiper, lesser yellowlegs and least sandpiper, as well as the solitary sandpiper and spotted sandpiper. For these latter two species, they’re not really fussy. A spacious lawn with a flooded area is enough to attract one or two of these birds. I saw my first spotted sandpiper bobbing around the edges of a temporary puddle after a heavy spring rainstorm. Sometimes those April showers produce more than flowers. They also yield some interesting looks at migrating sandpipers.

Library Happenings – How many ‘great’ books have you read?

By Angie Georgeff

Last week’s launch of the Great American Read has me once again considering my favorite novels. Several of my top tier picks, the books I have read and enjoyed time after time, are on the list of 100. I could no more choose one from that group than I could choose a favorite from among my three grandchildren. Consequently, I am glad we can vote multiple times for multiple books. I wouldn’t want “Pride and Prejudice,” “Little Women” and “Gone with the Wind” competing with “The Lord of the Rings.” Rings is three times their size (at least in number of volumes). And Jane Eyre shouldn’t have to contend with “Wuthering Heights,” given that their “mothers” were sisters!

Even though “War and Peace” made the list, it didn’t make my top tier. I have only read it once, and I don’t foresee that changing, since I consider Leo Tolstoy’s endless depiction of the Battle of Borodino nearly as tedious as Victor Hugo’s interminable description of the layout of Medieval Paris in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Even though I loved most of that book, I recall the struggle almost as vividly as I remember the thrills. Perhaps that is why Hunchback did not make the list.

Some of the books that I checked off the list were ones that I read as school assignments, while others were books I read because they were available and I wanted something to read. That was how I managed to read “The Godfather” as a teenager. Mama considered it unsuitable, but she left it lying around. When I needed a new book, I simply picked it up and read it without knowing that Mama would object.

How many books on the list have you read, and which is your favorite? We have the list available at the circulation desk or you can find it at www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/books.

Libraries Rock!

Our Summer Reading Programs for children, teens and adults begin next Monday, June 4.  Registration for the children’s and teen programs is currently ongoing.  The paperwork is available at the circulation desk in the library lobby and it must be completed before your child may participate.  Full schedules of activities and Family Fun Friday events are also available.

Mr. Bond’s Science Guys will kick off the first event at 3:00 PM on Friday, June 8.  As many of you know from previous performances, the Science Guys make science fun and fascinating.  And occasionally, an experiment will end with a resounding bang.  The kids love that!  The Summer Reading Programs that are held Monday through Thursday will take place at the library.  This special Family Fun Friday event, however, will be held at Erwin Town Hall, so don’t miss it!

Feathered Friends – Cape May warbler part of intriguing songbird family

While the Cape May warbler doesn’t breed locally, these warblers are fairly common spring and fall migrants in the region. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

A small songbird, less than six inches in length, sang a series of shrill notes as it flitted from branch to branch about 40 feet off the ground in a tall tree. A group of about 20 birders lifted their binoculars and reacted with excitement when they focused on the bundle of yellow, black, orange and white feathers.

The unexpected discovery — a Cape May warbler — kicked off a bird walk held at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton, Tennessee, on May 12. The date deliberately coincided with this year’s observation of International Migratory Bird Day.

This special day is set aside once a year as a conservation initiative to raise awareness about conserving migratory birds and their habitats throughout the Western Hemisphere. This program is dedicated to international conservation efforts and environmental education in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.

The Cape May warbler wasn’t the only warbler found on the morning walk. Like bookends, a sighting of a blackpoll warbler, a long-distance migrant with black and white feathers, took place near the conclusion of the walk with the same level of excitement that the discovery of the Cape May warbler generated at the walk’s start.

Slightly fewer than half of the world’s 116 warbler species make their home in North America for only a few months out of the year. The others range throughout the Caribbean, as well as Central and South America. Most of them are noted for leading fast-paced, energetic lives. For that very reason, warblers pose a challenge for people wishing to draw them closer by peering at them through binoculars.

Several dozen species of warblers pass through Southwest Virginia, Northeastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina each spring. Some of these birds end their journey in the region, content to build nests and raise young in the Appalachian Mountains and surrounding valleys and foothills. Springtime offers a great opportunity to glimpse many of these small, energetic and often colorful songbirds. It’s always an exciting and memorable moment to focus my binoculars on species ranging from Blackburnian warbler and common yellowthroat to bay-breasted warbler and Northern parula.

Becoming a dedicated “warbler watcher” is a bit of a challenge for several reasons. At the top of the list is the aforementioned pace of the average warbler’s lifestyle. These birds are constantly in motion. Observing and identifying warblers is sometimes accomplished one glimpse at a time while tilting one’s neck back at impossible angles to focus binoculars on tiny birds only a few inches long as they flit through the treetops. Get enough glimpses of that bird skillfully hiding behind autumn foliage and you’ll soon learn to identify the individual species.

Entire field guides have been written offering helpful hints and emphasizing characteristic field marks to make the task of spotting and identifying these birds somewhat simpler, especially for beginners. In birding, there are other challenging families of birds, including shorebirds and sparrows. These others are often studies in subtlety. For the most part, however, warbler’s aren’t subtle. Many of them sport bright and gorgeous plumage in shades of yellow, orange, green, blue, brown and black. Each species has unique patterns, including facial markings, wing bars (or lack thereof) and other signature traits. Some have unusual behaviors that are diagnostic, such as the up-and-down “tail pumping” of a Northern waterthrush or palm warbler or the tail fanning of an American redstart or female hooded warbler.

The Cape May warbler observed at the spring bird walk most likely spent the winter months in such far-flung locations as the Caribbean, although a few of these warblers migrate only as far south as southern Florida. I saw my first Cape May warbler during a trip in the Bahamas back in January of 1999, years before I ever saw this species locally. In its wintering grounds, the Cape May warbler is known for a love of fruit. It also uses a tubular tongue — an oddity among warblers — to sip nectar from flowers and sugar water from feeders intended for hummingbirds.

The Tennessee Watchable Wildlife website explains the origins of this warbler’s common name, which refers to Cape May, New Jersey, the locality where early American naturalist Alexander Wilson first described the species. Interestingly, according to the website, it was not recorded again in Cape May for more than 100 years.

The Cape May warbler is one of the warblers that does not cut short its migration to nest locally. Instead, it spends the nesting season in the spruce forests of Canada and the northern United States. Its spring passage is usually brief, providing a window of opportunity of only two to three weeks to see this dazzling little bird. Fortunately, Cape May warblers migrate back through the region in the fall, usually at a somewhat less hectic pace.

The Cape May warbler’s scientific name — Setophaga tigrina — identifies the bird as a member of the genus Setophaga and also refers to the black striping against its yellow-orange breast that prompted early naturalists to describe this warbler as “tiger striped.”

The Cape May warbler is dependent on spruce budworms, caterpillars of a family of moths that feeds on spruce needles. When the caterpillars are abundant, Cape May warblers shift their nesting efforts into overdrive. As a result, reproductive success for these warblers is sometimes a matter of feast or famine, depending on the abundance of spruce budworms in the forests where they make their home during the nesting season. The size of the clutch of eggs these warblers lay is even dependent on the presence of these caterpillars. When these larval moths are numerous in a forest, the Cape May warbler may lay as many as nine eggs. In years offering less abundance, a clutch of four eggs is more common.

Other warblers I’ve seen around my home and on birding trips this year have included common yellowthroat, yellow-throated warbler, Northern parula, Blackburnian warbler, American redstart, and black-throated green warbler. Many warblers still continue to migrate through the region during the month of May. As mentioned earlier, some of them will also settle in the region long enough to nest before heading back south in the autumn.

In the eastern United States, I’ve seen all the expected warblers save for a handful of species. I’ve never seen a Connecticut warbler, a species notorious for being elusive and hard to spot, or a cerulean warbler. Two endangered species — the Kirtland’s warbler, with a narrow range in Michigan, and the golden-cheeked warbler of Texas — remain future targets for observation. But, when it comes to warblers, I’m always enchanted by these birds, whether I’m seeing them for the hundredth time or the first. So, get outdoors during the month of May and try your own luck at getting a glimpse into the world of warblers. You may find yourself as captivated by them as I am.

Library Happenings – Online shopping, couponing topics of May 31 class

By Angie Georgeff

When I flipped over the latest James Patterson thriller to scan the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and get it into our catalog, I noticed two things. The first and worse was the $32 price tag! The second and better was an advertisement for Mr. Patterson’s next thriller. It was no surprise to see that he has a co-author, but I was shocked to see that name listed above his. I imagine that occurs only when the co-author happens to be a former President of the United States.

When I saw that Bill Clinton’s name was listed first, I checked to make sure “The President Is Missing” is on our standing order list for next month. We automatically get every book James Patterson writes, just as long as it is adult fiction and published in hardcover. If it is non-fiction, juvenile fiction or paperback, then I do have to place an order for it if we want it. There was no need for me to scramble. The distributor we use evidently anticipated that problem and placed Patterson in the first position in their catalog. The book touted as “the most authentic suspense novel of the year” should arrive by the release date, June 4. In the meantime, “Princess: a Private Novel,” co-written by Patterson and Rees Jones, helps a fictional member of the British royal family find her missing friend.

Couponing Class

If you are interested in online shopping and couponing, then join us at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 31. Learn how to take advantage of the choice, convenience and savings the Internet has to offer, while still remaining a careful consumer. Since our space is limited, please call the library at 743-6533 to reserve your place.

How puzzling!

A few of our staff members recently helped to assemble a jigsaw puzzle that will be used in our Summer Reading Program. It was so much fun that one of our patrons joined in.

We already had thought about having a Family Puzzle Night or perhaps a Family Puzzle Saturday. Our puzzle-solving patron is all in favor of it. Now we’re asking for your input. What do you think? If you might like to participate, or if you have a well-preserved puzzle that you would like to donate, please let us know.

Holiday Closing

After a long and dreary winter, it’s time for summer, vacations and beach reads! The library will be closed on Monday, May 28, in honor of Memorial Day.

No items will be due on that day, but books may always be returned to one of our drop boxes. They are located at the library in Erwin and at Town Hall in Unicoi. We wish you all a very safe and happy holiday.

Feathered Friends – Male scarlet tanager stands out from other birds

A male scarlet tanager forages close to the ground, which is not typical behavior for these birds. Tanagers, although brightly colored, spend most of their time in the tree canopy obscured from view. (Photo by Jeana Chapman)

By Bryan Stevens

I received an email from Lewis and Jeana Chapman detailing a dazzling discovery they made.

The couple have been adding a few new birds to their bird list and decided to give me an update on what they’ve been seeing. The Chapmans reside in the community of Laurel Bloomery in Johnson County, Tennessee. The wooded slopes of Pond Mountain where they make their home provide an attractive location for migrating birds, as well as summer residents.

“The tree swallows returned this spring to nest in our bluebird box,” Lewis wrote in his email reporting his new sightings. “The great crested flycatcher has moved its nest from the front porch to the barn. Last year the flycatchers raised five chicks on the front porch. The nest got so full the chicks were perched around the edge.”

Some new additions to their list have included golden-crowned kinglet and the Northern flicker. “Most recently we spotted a scarlet tanager,” Lewis continued.

They had never seen a scarlet tanager at their home. Over the years I have heard from other readers left stunned by the tropical beauty of the male scarlet tanager. That description would not be that far off. While the scarlet tanager resides in the United States and Canada from April to October each year, this bird spends the rest of the year in South America. Citizens of the United States and Canada get the better part of the bargain when it comes to hosting this bird. After the summer nesting season, male scarlet tanagers lose their brilliant red plumage and look more like the greenish females. By the time they get back to the tropics for the winter, this striking bird has transformed into a rather drab specimen.

I’ve written in previous columns about the scarlet tanager, which is one of those birds that always takes an observer’s breath away upon first seeing it. Of course, it’s the male scarlet tanager that bewitches observers with his dazzling feathers of vivid red and jet black. Female and immature tanagers are a dull olive-yellow in coloration with dark wings and tails.

During their summer stay in the region, scarlet tanagers largely prey on insects. Although renowned as a fruit-eating bird, the scarlet tanager primarily feeds on fruit during its migration flights and on its wintering range in the tropics. This tanager breeds in deciduous and mixed deciduous-evergreen woodlands across the eastern half of North America. I’ve often heard that oaks are a favorite tree for this woodland dweller.

It’s unlikely that you’ll run across the nest of a scarlet tanager. These birds nest high in trees, often locating their nests 50 feet or more above the ground. After building a nest, a female tanager will incubate her three to five eggs for about two weeks. It’s during this time that her inconspicuous appearance is a plus, helping her blend well with her surroundings. After the young hatch, the parents are kept busy feeding the nestlings for another 10 to 15 days.

The website All About Birds notes that the population of scarlet tanagers has declined in the last half-century. Between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, scarlet tanager numbers declined by 14 percent. The environmental organization Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 2.2 million, with 93 percent of these birds spending some part of the year in the United States and the other seven percent breeding in Canada. These birds do poorly in forests that have been harvested for lumber. Other causes of habitat fragmentation probably also affect the well-being of scarlet tanagers. It’s worth keeping an eye out for any other signs of decline in these beautiful birds.

The scarlet tanager is a fairly common songbird during the summer months, but it also has a less common relative that can be found in northeast Tennessee, southwest Virginia and western North Carolina. The male summer tanager is the only entirely red bird found in North America. Lacking the scarlet tanager’s black wings, the summer tanager’s red feathers are also of a rosier hue.

While I have seen summer tanagers in Tennessee on occasion, most recently at Steele Creek Park in Bristol, Tennessee, I saw my first summer tanager during a spring trip to South Carolina many years ago. Overall, the summer tanager has more of a southern stronghold than the scarlet tanager, as the summer tanager’s range also extends into the southwestern United States.

Both of these tanagers are birds fond of dense, undisturbed woodlands. Most of the time, unfortunately, these tanagers reside in the dense woodland canopy. They’re more often heard than seen, producing a song similar to an American robin’s, but usually described as somewhat more raspy. The apt description I like for these two tanagers is that their songs sound like one sung by a hoarse robin with a sore throat.

Some of the world’s other tanagers are known by extremely descriptive names, including seven-colored tanager, flame-colored tanager, lemon-rumped tanager, green-headed tanager, golden-chevroned tanager, azure-shouldered tanager, fawn-breasted tanager, metallic-green tanager, emerald tanager, gilt-edged tanager, golden-naped tanager, opal-crowned tanager, blue-gray tanager and silver-beaked tanager.

The tanager wasn’t the only unexpected feathered visitor to the Chapman home this spring. The same week the tanager made its appearance, a male hooded warbler also visited with the Chapmans. “This we found ironic because of your email address,” Lewis wrote. For readers who may not have noticed, my email address is ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. I’ve used this email address for many years to celebrate one of my favorite birds.

The Chapmans also provided me with photos of all their colorful birds. In subsequent emails, they also informed me of some other unusual visitors. “One of our strangest visitors was an albino American goldfinch,” Lewis also revealed in his email. “Over this past weekend, we had rose-breasted grosbeak and indigo bunting show up.”

Many of these birds — the rose-breasted grosbeak, the scarlet tanager, the indigo bunting — always wow observers experiencing their first observation of them. Our two native tanagers — scarlet and summer — are definitely two memorable birds for anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing one. It’s a great time of year to get outdoors and keep your eyes open for a splash of bright color. You never know what you may see when you lift your binoculars.

Library Happenings – Beginning of Summer Reading Programs approaches

By Angie Georgeff

With less than three weeks to go before the start of our Summer Reading Programs for children, teens and adults, the library is abuzz with activity. Decorations are being made and displayed, and craft projects are being prepped. New picture books are anxiously awaiting their special story times. They’ve been cataloged and processed and are ready for their debut. After that introduction, they will be available to pay a two-week visit to your child. Don’t worry! They are ideal houseguests—always entertaining and willing to tailor their schedule to yours.

Registration is now open and programs are scheduled to start on Monday, June 4. Activities aimed at different age groups will be offered from Mondays through Thursdays and Family Fun Fridays will cap the week with special programs geared to entertain the entire clan.  Calendars for our youth programs are already available at the circulation desk. Be sure to pick one up so you won’t miss any of these opportunities for fun and learning.

And speaking of opportunities, if you have metal food cans you want to recycle, please bring them to the library. We need about two dozen cans and we are looking for a variety of sizes, from the small cans that hold tomato paste to the large ones used for commercial food service. We ask that they be clean, but we’ll be happy to remove the labels and smooth the edges.

Since the slogan for the 2018 program is “Libraries Rock,” you probably can guess that they’ll be used to make some music–or at least noise.  They also will be used to teach young children about the science of sound.  Who knows which budding musician or scientist might be attending the program?

Board Meeting

The Board of Trustees of the Unicoi County Public Library will meet in the library lobby at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 17. The public is welcome to attend. If you should require any special accommodations in order to attend, please call the library at 743-6533 for assistance.

Genealogy Class

The third in our series of classes about how to use the Internet to trace your family’s history will be offered at the library at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 21. I began my research decades ago, traveling to libraries, archives, courthouses and cemeteries in quest of precious nuggets of information. I still enjoy research trips to all of those destinations, but nowadays much of that information is available without ever leaving home. Be sure to join us Monday to learn more about some valuable online resources.

Feathered Friends – White-faced ibis creates birding stir with rare visit

This white-faced ibis was seen for one day last month at two different ponds in Elizabethton, Tennessee. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

By Bryan Stevens

When I awoke on April 19, I didn’t expect that I’d end up seeing a new state bird before the day ended. Thanks to timely notices of a new bird sighting by email, I used my work break to drive to Elizabethton, Tennessee, to see a white-faced ibis at the Carter County Rescue Squad pond. The opportunity for unexpected appearances by birds like the white-faced ibis is why I love spring migration.

Tom McNeil spotted the bird at a much larger pond on the campus of Northeast State Community College in Elizabethton. After he reported the bird, I was able to use a work break to travel to the location and find the bird nearby at the smaller pond, where several area birders had already arrived. The ibis had moved to this smaller pond after departing the larger pond where it was first detected.

This is only the second record of a white-faced ibis for Northeast Tennessee.

The white-faced ibis is a widespread wading bird, nesting from the western United States and Canada south through Mexico, as well as from southeastern Brazil and southeastern Bolivia south to central Argentina, and along the coast of central Chile.

I saw white-faced ibises for the first time during a trip to Utah in May of 2006. The state had enjoyed a spring with ample rainfall, and every flooded field and pasture contained flocks of these distinctive wading birds. These flooded fields provided temporary habitat for numerous other birds, including cinnamon teal and Wilson’s phalarope.

The white-faced ibis is almost identical in appearance to the glossy ibis, which is the most widespread ibis in the world. The glossy ibis ranges across six continents, absent only from Antarctica. In the United States, the glossy ibis ranges mostly along the southern Atlantic coastal area. I have observed this bird at several locations in South Carolina.

The similar appearances of white-faced and glossy ibis presents challenges to identification, which was the case with this recent visitor. The bird found in Elizabethton lacked the white plumage in the face that gives the species its common name. Fortunately, the bird did plainly show one physical trait — red eyes — that easily distinguishes it from the related glossy ibis. Sometimes, all it takes to clinch an identification is a simple physical characteristic such as, in this case, a red eye.

A third ibis native to North America is the white ibis. The Audubon Society identifies the white ibis as one of the most numerous wading birds in Florida, but the bird is common also in other parts of the southeast with appropriate wetland habitat. Like the wood stork, the ibis has declined in Florida in recent decades largely as a result of human encroachment.

The white ibis looks like a humorously absurd bird that could have been invented by Dr. Seuss. The extravagant, all-white plumage is contrasted by pinkish-orange legs, an extremely long, downcurved, reddish-pink bill and bright blue eyes. In flight, the white ibis shows black feathers on the edges of its wings.

I’ve seen white ibises in Tennessee as well as in South Carolina and Florida. In the Sunshine State, another relative — the unmistakable scarlet ibis —  is sometimes observed in the wild. The scarlet ibis inhabits tropical South America and islands of the Caribbean, but the species is often held in zoos and other attractions. Escaped birds rather than strays are often the source of sightings in Florida of this vibrant scarlet-feathered ibis.

All ibises have long, downcurved bills. These birds usually feed in small flocks, probing wetlands for prey such as crustaceans, small fish, amphibians, insects, and various invertebrates. Worldwide, there are about 34 species of ibis, including the red-naped ibis, black-faced ibis, green ibis, straw-necked ibis and African sacred ibis, which is the bird often depicted in tombs and other monuments of ancient Egypt. This ibis was associated with the Egyptian god, Thoth, who was often depicted as a man with the head of an ibis.

The brief visit from the white-faced ibis provides a good reminder that we’re in the midst of spring migration. Stay alert for those unexpected birds. You never know what you might see.

Readers continue to report hummer arrivals

A few other readers have shared their first spring hummingbird sightings.

• Bunny Medeiros of Abingdon, Virginia sent me an email to announce her first sighting. “To my delight, the day after I put out my feeder a hummer appeared,” she wrote. The bird, a male, made his appearance on April 14.

• Rhonda Eller of Chilhowie, Virginia, saw her first ruby-throated hummingbird of spring on April 18. “Surely spring is going to come and stay!” Rhonda predicted on her post on my Facebook page.

Bird walk offers viewing opportunities

Come to Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton at 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 12, for a casual bird walk on the park’s trails. The walk, conducted by members of the Elizabethton Bird Club, is free and open to the public.

It’s a wonderful chance to see migrating birds such as warblers, tanagers, grosbeaks, vireos and much more. Bring binoculars to increase viewing enjoyment. For more information, email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. The walk will start from the parking lot at the park’s visitors center.