February 13th , 2012 10:19 am 2 Comments

Counting down to the 2012 GBBC


Wanda Markham called this past week to report American Robins in her yard in Hampton. She’s not the first person to notify me of the presence of robins this winter. It’s been such a mild season that I don’t doubt that higher numbers of these birds have comfortably remained with us this winter. Even in colder winters, some American Robins can usually be found in the region.

Photo by Hazel Erickson - This Northern Mockingbird feasts on peanut butter and suet placed into holes drilled into a tree.

Betty Lacy sent me an email about large flocks of American Robins in the treetops at her Elizabethton home. She observed these flocks on Tuesday, Feb. 7. That same evening, I also encountered some large flocks of American Robins while taking an evening stroll at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton. If nothing else, the robins are certainly restless and on the move.

Photo by Marcin Kojtka - This Great Blue Heron was photographed in Texas during a previous Great Backyard Bird Count. Great Blue Herons can also be found along rivers and creeks in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee during the winter months. Country farm ponds are another good place to look for these large wading birds.

I also heard from Betty O’Neal, who lives along Riverside Drive in Elizabethton. She has been without the company of birds at her feeders after changing the seed offered to her feathered visitors. As usual, I recommended black oil sunflower seeds as the overall best food to offer. Other than that, I can only recommend patience. Birds will, eventually, find a feeder. It’s also good to keep in mind that the mild temperatures that we have experienced so far this winter means that birds lack any pressing need to supplement their diets with our free offerings.


Warmer temperatures and lack of snow in parts of North America are setting the stage for what could be a most intriguing 15th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, coming up Feb. 17-20. Make plans now to take part in this fun and useful activity.

Bird watchers across the United States and Canada are getting ready to tally millions of birds in the annual count coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, and Canadian partner Bird Studies Canada.

In past counts, participants were most likely to report American Robins in areas without snow. Will more robins be seen farther north this year? Will some birds, such as Eastern Phoebes, begin their migrations earlier? And where will the “Harry Potter” owl turn up next? Snowy Owls have dazzled spectators as these Arctic birds have ventured south in unusual numbers this winter — an unpredictable occurrence that experts believe is related more to the availability of food than to weather.

“This count is so much fun because anyone can take part — we all learn and watch birds together — whether you are an expert, novice, or feeder watcher,” said Gary Langham, Audubon’s Chief Scientist. “I like to invite new birders to join me and share the experience. Get involved, invite your friends, and see how your favorite spot stacks up.”

Participants count birds at any location they wish for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, then enter their tallies at www.birdcount.org. Anyone can participate in the free event, and no registration is required.

Last year, participants submitted more than 92,000 checklists with more than 11 million bird observations. These data capture a picture of how bird populations are changing across the continent year after year — a feat that would be impossible without the help of tens of thousands of participants.

“This is a very detailed snapshot of continental bird distribution,” said John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Imagine scientists 250 years from now being able to compare these data with their own. Already, with more than a decade of data in hand, the GBBC has documented changes in late-winter bird distributions.”

To learn more about how to join the count, get bird ID tips, downloadable instructions, a how-to video, past results and much more, visit www.birdcount. org. The count also includes a photo contest and a prize drawing for participants who enter at least one bird checklist online.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.


On Tuesday, Feb. 7, I noticed an email about a Greater White-fronted Goose found by Brookie and Jean Potter at the Great Lakes pond at the Workforce Development Complex. I hurried to the pond and quickly found the Greater White-fronted Goose foraging on the lawn with a flock of Canada Geese. In addition, I encountered Vanessa Ryder of Roan Mountain, who had also arrived at the pond to look for the goose.

This goose breeds across the tundra from Canada to Siberia, across Russia and in Greenland. The Greater White-fronted Goose has one of the largest ranges of any species of goose in the world. In North America, however, it is common only west of the Mississippi River, where it is found in large flocks in wetlands and croplands during the winter months. Most regional sightings are of single birds during migration.

Other Greater White-fronted Geese have made appearances in Carter County, but this is the first time I have observed this bird in my native county. My first sighting of this goose took place many years ago at South Holston Dam in Sullivan County.

This medium-sized goose has a gray-brown body with black mottling on the upper belly and breast. Because of the mottled plumage, this goose is often referred to by such common names as “Speckle- Belly” and “Speckled-breasted Goose.” White-fronted Geese have a white band around the base of the bill and forehead. The bill is pink or orange and the legs are orange. Males and females are similar in appearance.


A Great Blue Heron continues to make appearances at my fish pond and ponds belonging to neighbors along Simerly Creek Road in Hampton. On Wednesday, Feb. 8, I observed the heron up to its belly as it waded in a neighbor’s pond while trying its luck at finding some dinner.

In addition to fish, there are probably plenty of frogs available. On Saturday, Feb. 4, I returned home after dark on a mild, rainy evening. With some surprise, I discovered numerous frogs in the gravel driveway. I didn’t want smashed frogs on my conscience, so I got out of my car and removed all the frogs I could find from the driveway before I proceeded to the garage. This seemed like a very early date for these amphibians to emerge. The next day, I found clusters of frog eggs in the puddles in the driveway.

Of course, a few days later those same puddles froze as the temperatures dipped. I suspect these “early bird” frogs will have to try again to produce some tadpoles when spring truly arrives.


On Thursday, Feb. 9, I startled a Winter Wren as I left for work on a frosty morning. The tiny bird scolded me and flew into a yew tree. All these recent sightings make me optimistic that some good birds will be present by the start of the Great Backyard Bird Count. Get outdoors, especially if we are fortunate enough to have more sunny weather, and see what birds you can find.


To share your own sighting, make a comment or ask a question, call me at 297-9077 or send email to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or bstevens@starhq. com. I’m also on Facebook.


2 Responses to Counting down to the 2012 GBBC

  1. Anonymous says:

    Concerning Robins


    Robins may indeed be seen farther north this year for the reasons you mentioned, but after recently returning from central Florida, I can safely say they are doing well down south. I saw more American Robins at one time last week than I ever have in my life. Standing on a dock at Lake Yale (technically Leesburg, but closer to Eustis), Florida, I saw a massive Robin flyover late in the day as they were heading to a roost. We estimated about 1000 Robins every 5 minutes were flying over and it was about 20 to 30 minutes strong. I felt I was getting a small glimpse of what the hawk counters see in South Texas when the Broad-wing migration converges past Hazel Bazemore Park in Corpus Cristi. That was especially evident when instead of a continual channel of birds, they flooded out across they sky for a short time. That was only for a half and hour, on one evening, during one night was there. If we do have more northern Robins this winter, and I suspect that your are right in thinking so, it goes to show how strong the Robin populations are. In these increasingly depressing days where certain species keep declining, its nice to be able to talk about one that still seems strong and healthy.

    • Anonymous says:

      Still, I think those Florida robins have the right idea. Who would not rather be in the Sunshine State even in a mild winter?

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