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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.