Goldeneye, several sparrows help increase year list

9:16 am | February 18, 2013

Sometimes, persistence — with some help from sharp-eyed friends — pays off.

I observed Bird No. 65 (a female Common Goldeneye) on the Watauga River Monday, Feb. 4, thanks to a phone call from Jean and Brookie Potter.

I went directly to the location where they had found the duck. At first, I saw only a single male Bufflehead, but then I noticed a darker duck and focused my binoculars on a nicely marked Common Goldeneye hen. This duck is the same one that has been lurking along the Watauga River for a couple of weeks and had, until that day, proven quite elusive.

The Common Goldeneye’s scientific name is Bucephala clangula, placing it in the genus Bucephala. Only two other ducks — Barrow’s Goldeneye and Bufflehead — are members of this genus of small, diving ducks.

The Goldeneyes and Bufflehead are cavity-nesting birds, a trait they have in common with such ducks as Hooded Merganser and Wood Duck.

The Goldeneyes are named for their distinct yellow iris. At close range, their yellow eyes are easily detected with binoculars.

Common Goldeneyes nest across the forested areas of Canada, as well as Minnesota, Michigan, Alaska and the northeastern United States. This duck is most abundant among lakes of the Canadian boreal forests.

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I usually manage to enjoy some birding during daily lunch break strolls. Such was the case recently when I managed to gradually increase my five-county bird list for 2013.

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, my lunch break walk took place on the linear trail along the Watauga River in Elizabethton. I picked up two new birds for my 2013 list.

Bird No. 66 was a Sharp-shinned Hawk that made only a brief appearance before flying behind the Recycling Center.

Bird No. 67 was a Yellow-rumped Warbler with a mixed flock of Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice. I’m a little surprised its taken me so long to find my first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the year. The Yellow-rumped Warbler is typically the only member of the warbler family to spend the winter in the region. On occasion, Palm Warblers and Pine Warblers may also try to endure the region’s winter season.

During my lunch break stroll Wednesday, Feb. 6, I added two more bird species to my 2013 list for Northeast Tennessee.

Bird No. 68 was a Swamp Sparrow. I actually found two Swamp Sparrows in a large, weedy field within the borders of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park. Bird No. 69, staying with the sparrow theme, was a Fox Sparrow.
Over the years, fellow birders and I have named this location, with good reason, the “sparrow field.”

The field is located beyond the woods adjacent to the Franklin Fitness Center near Sycamore Shoals Hospital. Other sparrows present during my stroll included numerous White-throated Sparrows and several Song Sparrows.
In the past, I have located other sparrows — Field, Chipping, Grasshopper and Savannah — in this field.

The Fox Sparrow had been my target bird. I knew from previous reports that other birders had observed a Fox Sparrow in this location. The presence of the Swamp Sparrows was a nice bonus.

After those sparrows, it took me another week to find a new bird. I stayed with the sparrow theme, finding Bird No. 70 — a Chipping Sparrow — during a visit on my Feb. 13 lunch break to Rasar Farm on the Watauga River in Elizabethton.

The Chipping Sparrow was traveling through the woods along the river with a mixed flock that also included Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

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The birds are getting restless, as they are apt to do during the transitional month of February. I am hearing from some readers about their first sightings of American Robins.
I heard from Betty Kirby in Hampton, who reported that she saw a flock of 14 American Robins on a recent Sunday. The day before this sighting, she saw a single American Robin in her yard.
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Amy Tipton shared some photos of Purple Finches that have been visiting feeders in the yard at the home where she lives with her husband, Paul, in Erwin.
Purple Finches have been a little more prevalent this winter, which means more people are seeing them.
“You definitely don’t see them too often,” Amy remarked in her email.
“I have been using safflower seed in one of my three feeders, and they seem to really like it,” she added.
Amy buys her safflower seed at Tractor Supply in Elizabethton.
“The safflower seed has a bitter taste that seems to deter the squirrels and attracts cardinals, finches, nuthatches and grosbeaks,” Amy said. “I have had an abundance of cardinals since I started using it and have been noticing the Purple Finches for about a week. I hope they stick around for awhile.”
Purple Finches have been regular visitors at my feeders at home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton since December of last year. They don’t visit every day, but varying numbers do seem to visit at least every couple of days. My mother and I have noticed a maximum of at least three pairs of Purple Finches.
Jean and Brookie Potter have also been hosting Purple Finches this winter. The Potters live near Wilbur Lake in Elizabethton.
Purple Finches are definitely one of the birds likely to show up during this weekend’s Great Backyard Bird Count.
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. The count kicked off Friday and continues today and tomorrow. If you didn’t manage to look for birds Friday and Saturday, you still have time to participate. Anyone, from anywhere on earth, can participate by visiting www.birdcount.org and reporting the kinds and numbers of birds they see during the 16th annual GBBC. Count locations can be your own backyard or your favorite park.

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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 ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or bstevens@starhq.com. I’m also on Facebook.

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