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From the Publisher’s Desk – Birds of a feather chirp together (March 23, 2016 issue)

By Keith Whitson

Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!

Last week I was in the Erwin Post Office and kept hearing chirping noises. I assumed a bird had flown in but then realized all of the chattering chirps were coming from a shipment of baby chicks. There must have been dozens of them from the sound.

I looked around the corner to see if I could get a glimpse of the box and saw a cat sitting upon the counter, licking its paws. I feel certain there had been no “fowl” play and saw no feathers scattered. Still, I had to grin at the unlikely situation the chicks were in and not aware of.

Animals are so adaptable, or at least appear to be. The fact that they can travel through the postal delivery, arrive at a new location, fluff their feathers and accept where they are in life. I am sure there is a lesson for humans there somewhere. Hopefully it isn’t do your best or wind up stewed.

Often I see cattle, sheep, horses and other livestock being hauled somewhere by trailer. What could that experience be in the minds of those animals? Could it be like I am at Dollywood? Wow, that was fun! That really slung me around. I am dizzy. I can hardly stand up. I think I might throw up.

Imagine the mindset of being confined in a trailer as a truck pulls you along. You are watching the world rush by at an amazing pace, hearing all of the highway and automobile sounds, watching them approach and pass and having no clue where you are going or when you will get there.

Meanwhile, the breeze feels like a tornado that is about to airlift you to the wonderful land of OZ. Cows must feel a “churning” in their stomachs and sheep think they are having a “baaaaaad” dream. If only they hadn’t counted each other to fall asleep, they might have been able to prevent this.

Have you been watching the East Tennessee State University’s live stream eagle cam? It is part of the university’s biology department. To view the local eagles, go to and click on “Eagle Camera” to access the live streaming and find information about the species.

“The ETSU website claims bald eagle populations first recovered in the Volunteer State in the western counties along the Mississippi River and five years ago, the first nesting pairs appeared in upper East Tennessee. A recent count showed that the EagleCam site has had 9,000 visits from 28 countries.”

I have viewed it from time to time for weeks. The nest alone is a monumental construction accomplishment which must have taken a great deal of labor on behalf of the birds. Large limbs and twigs are intricately placed to lace together the bowl shaped nest, secured tightly to the massive pine that cradles it. Within the frame is a finer, softer nest for the young.

At first I saw the eggs and the dedication of the mother to keep them warm and protected. It is such a remarkable instinct that animals are born with. The baby eaglets are now here.

I viewed Monday as the mother warmed her young by nestling them under her wings. The nest is located high for protection and the tree often sways from the wind. You can see the mother’s feathers ruffling in the gusty air. She later got up and picked small pieces off of a dead animal stored on the side. She would chew the food up in her beak and then place it in the mouth of her young.

I am excited to see them get a little bigger and hope I don’t miss the experience as they take flight.

Growing up on a farm, we had chickens and they often had baby chicks. The chicks looked so enticing to my young eyes and something I wanted to get my hands on. However, the mother hen was not willing to share and made it known she needed no help from me.  If you’ve ever been flogged by a mother hen, you know just how seriously she takes her responsibility. Flogging is a lesson that doesn’t need repeating.

I would often see grouse along one area of the road I lived on. Many times I would have to stop in the road and wait as they slowly strutted across. Sometimes they had small ones which they were introducing to the world around them.

Often times fields of turkeys were visible on Spivey. For several summers there was a familiar flock of them which included one white albino in the midst. There seemed to be no difference shown from the others. They all got along in harmony. Sometimes nature is more understanding and accepting than humans and can teach us much if we take note.

I had a row of crabapple trees in the upper part of the yard. The small bright red fruit hung on into early winter. The turkeys discovered them and every year would sit perched in the tops of those trees, pecking at the tiny, bean-sized apples.

I love bird sounds. The Bobwhite is so remarkable with its sharp call, which sounds like the name it was given. Owls have a haunting, low call, which adds a touch of eeriness to the night.

But, my favorite of all is the whippoorwill. I haven’t heard one in years. I love the soothing, loneliness it emits. I am often reminded of Hank Williams lyrics. “Hear that lonesome whippoorwill. He sounds too blue to fly. The midnight train is whining low. I’m so lonesome I could cry.”

Yet, there is nothing happier than waking up in the morning and hearing the cheerful chirps of the birds outside the window. Even though we don’t speak their language, they seem to be joyful for the dawn of a new day.