Feathered Friends: No major surprises during recent GBBC

10:35 am | March 5, 2012

During last month’s Great Backyard Bird Count, I conducted counts at my home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton as well as counts in Erwin and Elizabethton.

Photo courtesy of Don Rice - These American Robins were photographed in 2008 in Florida. They were part of a flock of at least 50 robins that descended on this shrub to feed on berries.

I counted the most birds — 30 species — in Elizabethton, although I found 25 species at home. In Erwin, I found a total of 22 species, mostly around Erwin Fishery Park.

The most astonishing observation during that weekend of counting birds involved a Cooper’s Hawk clutching prey in its talons as it flew across Highway 19E near State Line Drive-In. I only got a glimpse, but I am almost certain that the large raptor was carrying a smaller hawk in its talons. The prey looked bigger than any songbird and also gave me a brief look at a heavily barred tail.

I only counted the Cooper’s Hawk, not the bird the large hawk had captured. Still, if I had to make a guess, I suspect that the aftermath of that incident involved a female Cooper’s Hawk — females being bigger than males — that had successfully captured a male Sharp-shinned Hawk or perhaps an American Kestrel.

The other birds I found in Elizabethton included:

Canada Goose, 48; Mallard, 15; Bufflehead, 8; Great Blue Heron, 1; Black Vulture, 2; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1; Cooper’s Hawk, 1; Killdeer, 12; Rock Pigeon, 57; Mourning Dove, 7; Belted Kingfisher, 3; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 3; Downy Woodpecker, 1; Northern Flicker, 1; Blue Jay, 11; American Crow, 15; Carolina Chickadee, 5; Tufted Titmouse, 8; White-breasted Nuthatch, 1; Carolina Wren, 4; Eastern Bluebird, 5; American Robin, 82; Northern Mockingbird, 3; European Starling, 170; Eastern Towhee, 1; Song Sparrow, 2; White-throated Sparrow, 2; Dark-eyed Junco, 4; Northern Cardinal, 8; and House Finch, 4.

I also enjoyed counting at my feeders and around the pond at home in Hampton.

The surprise sighting of the weekend was a Northern Flicker, the first I’ve seen this year at home. My other sightings at home included:

Mallard, 4; Turkey Vulture, 2; Mourning Dove, 2; Eastern Screech-owl, 1; Belted Kingfisher, 1; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 2; Pileated Woodpecker, 2; Blue Jay, 8; American Crow, 5; Carolina Chickadee, 8; Tufted Titmouse, 8; White-breasted Nuthatch, 3; Carolina wren, 2; Eastern Bluebird, 2; American Robin, 50; Eastern Towhee, 1; Song Sparrow, 4; White-throated Sparrow, 5; White-crowned Sparrow, 1; Dark-eyed Junco, 10; Northern Cardinal, 6; House Finch, 2; and American Goldfinch, 4.

The 22 species of birds I found in Erwin included Canada Goose, 15; Mallard, 6; Great Blue Heron, 1; Turkey Vulture, 5; Red-tailed Hawk, 1; Rock Pigeon, 8; Mourning Dove, 2; Downy Woodpecker, 1; Blue Jay, 4; American Crow, 78; Carolina Chickadee, 2; Tufted Titmouse, 2; White-breasted Nuthatch, 2; Carolina Wren, 1; Eastern Bluebird, 10; American Robin, 63; Northern Mockingbird, 5; European Starling, 210; Eastern Towhee, 2; Chipping Sparrow, 2; Song Sparrow, 4; and Northern Cardinal, 6.

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I received an email this past week from Rita Schuettler informing me of a recent sighting.

“I had my first Red Winged Blackbird Monday morning about 11:30 a.m.,” she wrote. “At least, that’s what time I saw him. It seems to be a week or two early this year. Normally, I see Red-winged Blackbirds about the middle of March.”

She said she also reloaded her feeders because of the large number of American Goldfinches that have been feeding and emptying the feeders at a quick pace.

“I’ve finally spotted a couple of House Finches,” she added. “Otherwise, it’s the usual birds feeding.”

Rita noted that she is looking forward to seeing an Indigo Bunting and hopefully a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

“Those two sightings always make my spring,” she reported.

The good news is that in only a little more than a month, many of our favorite birds will start returning to the region. In addition to Indigo Buntings and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, we can expect April to bring back a variety of warblers as well as Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Wood Thrushes, Blue Grosbeaks, Baltimore Orioles and Red-eyed Vireos.

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Since several recent columns have speculated on the presence of American Robins this winter in the region, I’ve got to add another twist to the status of this common bird thanks to an email I received from Elizabethton resident Don Rice.

Back in February of 2008 while living in West Palm Beach in Florida, Don encountered a large flock of American Robins feeding on the berries of a shrub.

“I didn’t recognize the species,” he said. “Having been in Florida from 1981 to 2010, I had forgotten what a robin looked like.”

Of course, he eventually recognized the birds as American Robins and took the photograph that I am using this week to illustrate the column.

Don said that he was born and raised in New England, where the robin was the old standby as one of the first signs of spring.

“This was only one reason I couldn’t wait to move North,” he shared.

I appreciate Don sharing his own robin story, as well as the dynamic photograph.

As readers can see from my tallies during the recent GBBC, there was certainly no shortage of American Robins in the region during the duration of this annual census of bird life.

Still, now that the robins can safely be considered back in Northeast Tennessee, I am now looking forward to some new arrivals. March has arrived and the trickle of migrants that is already starting to return will turn to a torrent when the calendar changes to April and May.

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If you have a comment or 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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