Feathered Friends: Spring arrivals continue as May nears

9:12 am | April 30, 2012

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have, for the most part, returned and are already settling into their spring and summer routines. On Saturday, April 21, I observed a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird in his pendulum swing mating display. In this display, he flies in a U-shaped arc as if tethered to an invisible string. If he was performing for a female hummingbird, she went unseen.

Photo courtesy of David Caton - A flock of Red Crossbills visited for several weeks last spring at the home of David Caton in Erwin. He recently reported that two Red Crossbills have again shown up at his feeders. Above are some members of the flock that visited in 2011.

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Dianne Draper, Jonesborough, saw her first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the spring season on Sunday, April 22. Dianne is a fellow member of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society. She posted her sighting on her Facebook page.

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Vikki Bradach. who lives on Stoney Creek, saw her first spring hummingbirds on Friday, April 13, when two of them came to her feeders. She noted that she had heard them as much as a week before she actually saw one.

In her email, Vikki said she enjoys reading the column every week. “I really enjoy learning about the birds of eastern Tennessee,” she wrote. “We just moved here from Colorado last May, and I love having so many different birds to add to my list.”

Vikki has worked at raptor rehabilitation at Colorado State University for over two years. “I was also the first person to get my backyard certified as a wildlife habitat in the town we lived in,” she wrote. “So, I am always looking up, it seems!”

That came in useful about three weeks ago. “It was a cool, gray day, and I saw a huge bird land at the edge of my pasture, on the top of a dead tree,” she wrote. “I instantly recognized it as being a juvenile bald eagle. I then confirmed it with my binoculars.”

She noted that after a few short minutes, the Blue Jays were all over the unfortunate eagle. “But, he did a great job of taking the hits, both to the back of his head, and the strafing to his face,” Vikki wrote. “They would double team him that way, front and back at the same time. This went on for almost an hour!”

At some point, she said one of the jays must have tired of the game. “I think he went and tattled to one of his crow friends,” Vikki explained. “There were over a dozen crows, and it took them about 10 minutes to roust him from his perch, and the jays escorted him out.”

Vikki noted that she was being facetious about the jay having a crow buddy, but who knows? I can confirm from actual experiences of my own that birds of different species can communicate the news that an unwelcome intruder has gotten too close for comfort.

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Erwin resident Liz Haller saw her first Ruby-throated Hummingbirds of spring on Saturday, April 14. She called me concerned that the recent cold snap might have been dangerous to them.

I informed Liz that to the best of my knowledge, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have adapted to deal with early spring fluctuations in temperature. After all, many of these tiny birds don’t end their migration in East Tennessee. Some of them continue all the way to Canada, where winters and early spring are often much colder.

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Amanda Austwick in Flag Pond sent me an email this past week.

“I just wanted to let you know that for us when the green or yellow finches start turning up with light gray patches on their wings, that is our harbinger of spring here at the top of Devil’s Fork,” she wrote. “Well they have not turned up at our feeders like that yet.”

Amanda’s reference to the transition of American Goldfinches from drab winter plumage to their bright summer appearance is indeed a reliable indicator of the changing of the season.

She also shared news about an observation of some other “things with wings.” She saw that two Luna Moths had landed on the two screens on her porch windows. The large, pale green Luna Moth is a very striking member of the moth family. They are so beautiful that they are often mistaken for butterflies.

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I’ve enjoyed some other new arrivals for the spring season.

I heard an Ovenbird calling very far back in the woods on Friday, April 20, as I left for work. That made the Ovenbird the fourth warbler species to pay a visit at home so far this spring. In the following days, I heard as many as three Ovenbirds singing from the woods.

On Saturday, April 21, a Barn Swallow flew for a brief time over the fish pond.

On Monday, April 23, a male Indigo Bunting made his first appearance for the season. He visited first at the feeders located at the next-door home of my parents. I had to wait a few hours to finish work, but when I got home I didn’t have to wait long before observing the Indigo Bunting feeding on sunflower seeds at a feeder in my parents’ yard. Later that same evening, he also paid a visit to the feeder in my back yard.

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I have also made some recent birding stops at Rasar’s Farm on the Watauga River in Elizabethton.

I stopped there on Friday, April 20, with my parents. We saw three Blue-winged Teal, an Osprey, a Great Blue Heron and lots of American Robins.

I also visited Rasar’s Farm on Monday, April 23. While there I observed nine Blue-winged Teal, two Solitary Sandpipers and a lone Pectoral Sandpiper. There were swallows everywhere, swooping over the water, foraging despite the cool temperatures and brisk wind. Most were Tree Swallows, but I also saw a few Cliff Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

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During a trip to Johnson City on Saturday, April 21, David Thometz and I saw a perched Osprey in a tall tree in a field along Edgefield Road near Boone Lake.

Other people have also been noticing Ospreys, which are sometimes called “Fish Eagles.”

Martha Shell, who lives near the Watauga River in Elizabethton, sent me an email on Wednesday, April 11, with a dozen photographs of an Osprey that she observed recently.

“I was sitting at my computer this morning and I glanced up and noticed this large bird on a tree limb across from my house on the other side of the river,” Martha wrote.

She responded once I sent her an email reply.

“I see them often on this river,” she wrote back, agreeing with my assessment that Ospreys are impressive birds.

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David Caton in Erwin sent me an email to report that for the second year in a row, he has Red Crossbills at his feeders.

“It’s hard to believe, but my Red Crossbills are back almost one year to the date that I saw them last year,” he wrote.

He observed one male and one female at the feeder on Thursday, April 19.

“I’m thrilled that they made it back to my place,” he added. “Last year I had over thirty. Hopefully, I’ll see a lot more.”

His visiting flocks of crossbills delighted local birders last spring. In another email, he informed me he is still seeing two birds, but there’s no sign of more members of the flock joining them.

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I am also hearing from readers who have been visited by Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.

Linda Powell, a resident on Tiger Creek in Hampton, saw her very first Rose-breasted Grosbeak on Thursday, April 26. Linda was visited by one of the dazzling male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in its black-and-white plumage with the large burst of rosy-red across the breast.

Barbara Lake in Hampton reported seeing a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak on Thursday, April 19.

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

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