March 12th , 2012 9:53 am Leave a comment

Feathered Friends: Looking forward to spring’s new arrivals

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It’s always interesting when I hear from readers who reside outside of Northeast Tennessee yet still enjoy reading the column each week.

Photo by Tim Bowman/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - A Wilson’s Snipe rests in a wet field. This shorebird will utilize farm ponds, riverbanks and even flooded pastures as places to rest and refuel during migration.

I received an email this past week from Milton Hoke and Brenda Blanchard.

Photo by Katherine Whittemore/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - A Greater Yellowlegs strides across a mudflat at Point Mahon in Delaware. Like many of its fellow shorebirds, the Greater Yellowlegs is known as a long-distance migrant.

Milton had contacted me once previously by phone when he was living in Dodge City, Kan.

He has now moved to Tombstone, Az., and is still reading my column each week. It’s always gratifying to hear from readers, and it’s always nice to hear from readers in other parts of the country who get to see birds that are different from the ones we usually see here in Northeast Tennessee.

“I have been feeding various species of birds out here,” Milt noted.

Some of the birds that visit his feeders are White-winged Dove and California Quail, which are two western specialties. Visits to his feeders aren’t restricted to “feathered friends.” Mule Deer also enjoy the food that he puts out for the birds.

They added that Mule Deer will come right up to the front door and walk through the streets of Tombstone during the daylight hours.

When I replied to the email, I received another response about Roadrunners, which apparently are a common bird in Tombstone. I had asked if they ever see Roadrunners — a species I have never seen.

Apparently, they are common and they are not terribly finicky about what they eat. Their diet includes baby quail as well as such prey as reptiles and insects.

Accurately known as the Greater Roadrunner, this bird is actually a large, ground-dwelling member of the cuckoo family. Its scientific name, Geococcyx californianus, can be roughly translated as “Californian Earth-cuckoo.”

Just as there is a Greater Roadrunner, there is a Lesser Roadrunner, but this bird is confined to Mexico and Central America. On the other hand, the Greater Roadrunner ranges throughout the southwestern United States and into Mexico.

The Greater Roadrunner has served since 1949 as the official state bird for New Mexico, a neighboring state to Arizona.

Other common names for this bird include the “Chaparral Bird” and, in Spanish, “El Correcaminos.”

When most people think of roadrunners, it’s quite likely they think of the well-known cartoon pitting the always triumphant bird against its perpetually unsuccessful rival, Wile E. Coyote.

Milt and Brenda are planning a road trip to Tennessee in June. Early summer is usually a good time of year to see birds in Northeast Tennessee, so I hope Milt and Brenda get to see some of our own special birds during their visit in a few months.

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Since it’s unlikely a Greater Roadrunner will stray into Northeast Tennessee any time soon, I’ll focus my dreaming on the arrival of some of my tried-and-true favorites over the course of the next few weeks.

Shorebirds, also known as “windbirds” for the tremendous migrations staged by some members of this family, should already be migrating through the region. Some of the usual early arrivals include Greater Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper and Wilson’s Snipe. The muddy edges of country ponds, the shorelines of area lakes and even flooded pastures are good places to look at some of these transient birds. Our region is only a temporary stop as they continue journeying north toward distant nesting grounds in the Arctic tundra.

A few birds that will spend the summer locally are also arriving. I’ve already devoted a lot of space to American Robins, but they are hardly the only returning bird. Purple Martins and Tree Swallows have already been observed by birders in the region. Soon, Barn Swallows, Cliff Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows should also arrive.

Flocks of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds are already present and should become a more familiar sight in the coming weeks. A few species of waterfowl are on the move. Look on area rivers and farm ponds for flocks of Blue-winged Teal, a small but distinctive dabbling duck.

The warblers — one of my favorite families of birds — don’t return in significant numbers, but there are always a few “early birds.” Warblers known for making their return in March ahead of other members of their family include Pine Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush. Your best bet for finding all three in one convenient location is to pay a visit to Wilbur Lake. Look for the Pine and Yellow-throated Warblers in stands of pine trees. The Louisiana Warbler usually haunts the edges of the streams tumbling down from the mountain slopes around Wilbur Lake.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird — a favorite of many people — are already being seen in some of the Gulf Coast states and the Florida panhandle. These tiny flying jewels don’t typically arrive in Northeast Tennessee until early April. The vagaries of weather don’t really affect their punctuality. A few years ago I heard from readers in Flag Pond in Unicoi County who were watching Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visit their feeders as a spring snowstorm generated snow flurries.

Once April arrives, the pace quickens considerably. I’m already looking forward to these new arrivals, especially after a winter that has been more or less uneventful.

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

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