Friends reach January birding goals

10:15 am | February 4, 2013

Last week I spoke about the friendly rivalry between my birding friends Tom McNeil and Brookie Potter to find at least 100 birds in Northeast Tennessee during January.

Well, January is now history. Did they reach their goal?

Yes, they did, in spectacular fashion and with a few days to spare.

On Saturday, Jan. 26, Brookie Potter reached 100 birds with the addition of a female Common Goldeneye. The bird was found by Sue Farthing on the Watauga River at Rasar Farm in Elizabethton. She notified her friend, Glen Eller, who is also a fellow birder. Glen, in turn, made others aware of the presence of this duck.

Brookie, with his wife, Jean, arrived at Rasar Farm ahead of Tom, which allowed him to reach the 100 mark first.

When Tom arrived and saw the duck, he was still stuck at 99 birds so far in 2013. The following day, however, he reach 100 when he found a flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds in the Limestone community in Washington County.

I didn’t get to see the Common Goldeneye. Although I learned of the sighting, I wasn’t able to search for the duck until the next day. By then, she had already flown.

I did get to increase my total to 60 last week. On Saturday, Jan. 26, I found my first Wood Duck — Bird No. 56 — of the year at Erwin Fishery Park in Unicoi County.

On Sunday, Jan. 27, I found a Hermit Thrush — Bird No. 57 — near Wilbur Lake in Carter County.

Later that same day, I found a female Northern Pintail — Bird No. 58 — at Erwin Fishery Park. In addition, this duck was present with a male Northern Shoveler and the same Wood Duck I observed the previous day.

Even better, I was able to call Brookie and Jean and inform them of the Northern Pintail. They had already found this duck earlier in January, but they called Tom, who still needed to add this bird to his list.

He hurried to Erwin and managed to pick up this “bonus” bird, taking his total to 101 for the year. He even thanked me on a Facebook post for helping him find this bird.

On my way home, I got Bird No. 59 — four Turkey Vultures — flying to roost in a stand of pine trees in the Fairview community off Simerly Creek Road.
I managed to get 60 birds in January, but I didn’t put in the intensive hours that Brookie and Jean, as well as Tom, have dedicated to the effort so far.

Bird No. 60 was a female Hooded Merganser that I spotted swimming with a couple of female Buffleheads on the Watauga River at Rasar Farm in Elizabethton.

More snow arrived on Thursday, Jan. 31, and I added one last bird to my list for the month of January. I found Bird No. 61 for the year this morning as I was getting ready to leave for work and noticed a flock of about 15 Dark-eyed Juncos at the edge of my gravel driveway. I think they were picking up grit.
Anyway, I almost didn’t scan them, but I had my binoculars and noticed a smaller bird in the flock. Once focused on that bird, I easily identified a Field Sparrow, which added one more bird to my year’s list.

I’ve had a couple of people ask me if I’m worried that my total’s not higher after my first month pursuing this goal. I usually smile and remind them of the parable of the tortoise and the hare.


After 15 years of success in North America, the Great Backyard Bird Count will open up to the entire world for the first time in 2013. Anyone, from anywhere on earth, can participate by visiting and reporting the kinds and numbers of birds they see during the 16th annual count, Feb.15­­–18, 2013.

A joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, with partner Bird Studies Canada, the four-day count typically receives sightings from tens of thousands of people reporting more than 600 bird species in the United States and Canada alone. The Great Backyard Bird Count is also sponsored in part by Wild Birds Unlimited.

During the 2012 count, participants reported 17.4 million bird observations on 104,000 checklists. Snowy Owls thrilled many participants when these striking birds-of-prey ventured south from the Arctic in record numbers. In 2013, scientists predict that U.S. and Canadian bird watchers will see an influx of Red-breasted Nuthatches and winter finches (such as Pine Siskins) because of scarce food supplies on their northern wintering grounds.

Participating is easy. Simply watch birds for at least 15 minutes at the location of your choice on one or more of the count days. Estimate the number of birds you see for each species you can identify. You’ll select your location on a map, answer a few questions, enter your tallies, and then submit your data to share your sightings with others around the world.

The global capacity for the count will be powered by eBird, an online checklist program for all of the world’s 10,240 bird species. Participants will be able to view what others are seeing on interactive maps, keep their own records, and have their tallies recorded for perpetuity.

I’ve always enjoyed taking part in this annual count. It’s a great way to get outdoors and find some birds. I’ve also got extra motivation to look for birds this year, so no doubt I will visit some of my favorite birding spots during this year’s four-day count period.

So, mark the dates on your calendar and consider join me in this effort by reporting the bird you’re seeing at your own favorite birding locations even if that’s no farther than your backyard.

Call me at 297-9077 or 542-4151 to share an observation, make a comment or ask a question. Readers can also send email to or I’m also on Facebook.

Photo by Tom McNeilA Northern Pintail hen at Erwin Fishery Park in Unicoi County.

Photo by Tom McNeil
A Northern Pintail hen at Erwin Fishery Park in Unicoi County.

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