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Erwin man part of volunteers assisting with Saturday’s Roan Mountain Spring Naturalists Rally

By Bryan Stevens

Each year, the Friends of Roan Mountain organization sponsors naturalists rallies on four weekends spanning the seasons with help from an abundance of volunteers. The Roan Mountain Spring Naturalists Rally takes place the last weekend in April; the Youth Rally (Xtreme Roan Adventures) is the last weekend in July; the Fall Rally is in September on the weekend after Labor Day; and the Winter Rally falls on a Saturday in mid-February.

Erwin resident and retired U.S. Forest Service employee Joe McGuiness is one of the volunteer field trip leaders this year for the Spring Naturalists Rally, which take place this Saturday.

McGuiness will be offering walks for beginning birders. McGuiness plans to stick

A male red-winged blackbird perches in an alert stance, ready to curb intrusions by other birds into his territory. (Photo by Skeeze/

to some helpful basics to introduce enthusiasts to the variety of bird species that can be found in the region.

“I try to focus on identifying characteristics of each bird we see, not trying to see how many birds we can find,” he said.

During his walk, he plans to discuss some important things that new birders should pay attention to when they see a bird. According to McGuiness, some of the most important things to take note of are the bird’s size, shape, color, bill shape, eye lines/eye rings, wing bars, specking on breast and song.

“These things that will help you identify the bird when looking through the field guide,” McGuiness added.  “Depending upon the knowledge of the group, we will also discuss, binocular use, field guides, etc., if needed,” he said. “I encourage folks to ask questions.”

His goal, he noted, is to try to ease them into the world of birding. He pointed out some challenges that many new birders face. “I think the biggest challenge is getting overwhelmed,” McGuiness said. “We have a high diversity of birds in the area. Some birds look different by sex or time of year, and they can be hard to find in all the vegetation present in our area.

“It’s easy to become overwhelmed,” he added.

To prevent such setbacks, he offered some advice.

“You have to be patient, learn the key characteristics to look for, learn some of the songs and learn a few birds at a time,” he said. “Start with the birds you already know and then build your knowledge from there,” McGuiness said. “Go out with other birders. Ask questions about identification when out with other birders, learn about habitat preferences and practice, practice, practice.”

Volunteers like McGuiness help the Friends of Roan Mountain conduct its walks and programs at each seasonal rally. The organization is dedicated to fostering greater awareness and understanding of the natural, historical and cultural significance of Roan Mountain.

In addition to hosting naturalist rallies, Friends of Roan Mountain also works with Roan Mountain State Park and the U.S. Forest Service on different projects throughout the year. The annual spring rally is modified this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of the usual three-day event, the rally will only be held one day – Saturday, April 24 – with no evening programs or meals being offered. Organizers are planning to return to the regular schedule as soon as possible. Field trip participants will meet in the field adjacent to the cabins in Roan Mountain State Park for all trips. For this rally, all trips are free and there is no printed brochure. Trip options can be viewed by clicking the “Register Now” button at Please consider supporting the seasonal rallies by joining the Friends of Roan Mountain or by donating.

Due to COVID-19, extra precautions are being taken. The first priority of organizers is to keep everyone safe. To meet recommended State of Tennessee and Roan Mountain State Park guidelines for safe COVID-19 protection for organizers, trip leaders and rally participants, the following measures will be taken:

• Everyone should maintain a safe distance of least six feet apart.

• Everyone will be required to bring a mask and wear it when social distancing is not possible.

• Trip group size will be limited to nine participants and one leader.

• Pre-registration is required for all events. Participants will sign up online. Once registered, participants will receive an email with a ticket. Registration for the Spring Rally trips for Saturday, April 24, can be found at

Trips include: • Birding with Cade Campbell and Adrianna Nelson at 8:30 a.m.

• Beginning Birding with Joe McGuiness at 8:30 a.m.

• Fred Behrend Trail Hike with Lance Jessee at 8:30 a.m.

• Salamanders with Dale Ledford at 8:30 a.m.

• Snakes with Connie Deegan at 10:30 a.m.

• Moonshiner’s Run Wildflower Hike with Ranger Phillip Hylen at 10:30 a.m.

• Beginning Birding with Joe McGuiness at 10:30 a.m.

• Mosses and Liverworts with Jim Goldsmith at 10:30 a.m.

• Owls with Ranger Phillip Hylen at 12:30 p.m.

• Tri-Cities Young Naturalists with Cade Campbell at 1 p.m. • Snakes with Connie Deegan at 1 p.m.

• Wildlife Tracking and Signs with Marty Silver at 1 p.m. • Nature Photography with Travis Bordley at 1 p.m.

• Photography with Ranger Marcianne O’Day at 3 p.m.

• Hike to Jones Falls with Marty Silver at 3 p.m. • Grassy Bald Ecology Exploration with Travis Bordley at 3 p.m.

• Geology of Roan Mountain with Mick Whitelaw and Jeremy Stout at 3 p.m.

For more information, email Spring Rally Director Larry McDaniel at [email protected] For general park information, call Roan Mountain State Park at (423) 547-3900.