April 9th , 2013 15:06 pm Leave a comment

Great Egret among recent sightings of spring migrants

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With a slow, steady drumbeat, the pace of spring migration has increased its rhythm in the past week. As a result, I’ve been able to add some new birds to my year list.

A Pine Warbler singing at Wilbur Lake became Bird No. 92 for the year. I added this bird while birding Saturday, March 30, with my mother.

The first day of April brought another addition to the list with my observation of a Barn Swallow flying over the Watauga River in the Lynn Valley community of Elizabethton. The sighting of this swallow pushed my total to 93.

The next day brought another new bird when I found a Great Egret at the pond located next to the offices of the Carter County Rescue Squad. The egret became Bird No. 94 on my 2013 list.

Later that same day, I visited the Watauga Lake Overlook with Brookie Potter to look for a pair of Common Mergansers reported earlier in the day by fellow birder Glen Eller. We found several distant birds, including Common Loons, Ring-billed Gulls and Canada Geese. Brookie managed to locate one of the mergansers, a female, in his spotting scope. We didn’t relocate the male merganser.

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March seemed to come and go in a rush. I can hardly believe we’re already a week into April, which brings us closer to the annual spring return of the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. As always, I love hearing from readers about their first hummingbird sighting of spring.

These tiny birds endure an incredibly long journey, especially for such tiny creatures, to grace us with their presence. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird flies 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico without stopping to return to the eastern United States each spring. Even more incredible, these tiny birds make the same crossing each fall to return to their tropical wintering grounds.

To emphasize just how small these birds are, here’s an interesting fact. A nickel weighs more than the average Ruby-throated Hummingbird. For something so small to travel hundreds of miles twice a year is just astonishing to me.

If you would like to share the date of your first hummingbird sighting this year, call me at 297-9077. You can also notify me by email at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or bstevens@starhq.com.

•••••

Some readers are seeing some of the birds I’ve been fortunate to see this spring season.

Tom Stetler sent me an email about his sighting of an Osprey March 28. He saw the bird in the Hunter community at the pond next to the Workforce Development Center.

He said the bird circled numerous times and looked like it was going to dive into the pond a few times but didn’t. He reported that it then flew to the Watauga River behind the new Tennessee Technology Center.

I’ve also heard from many people who have made the trip to Wilbur Lake for a look at the nesting Bald Eagles.

For those following the story, the eagles have been observed mating, so it will probably not be long before the female eagle lays her eggs.

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Of the new birds I found last week, I was most excited about observing the Great Egret. I always enjoy watching these elegant, long-legged wading birds. The one I found at the pond at the Carter County Rescue Squad was in full breeding finery.

Egrets are members of a family of birds known as Ardeidae, which includes herons, bitterns and egrets.
The Great Egret is a very stately, graceful bird with white plumage, long legs and a sharp, yellow bill. It is smaller than the Great Blue Heron. The Great Egret stands 3.3 feet tall and has a wingspan of 52 to 67 inches. On average, however, they weigh only about 2.2 pounds.

These egrets nest in large colonies. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the colonial nesting habits of these birds made them particularly vulnerable to humans who slaughtered the birds in the millions to harvest their feathers for use in the fashion industry. The Great Egret and other wading birds were almost decimated in order to decorate fashionable hats for women.

The National Audubon Society was founded in 1905, largely as an effort to combat the unregulated slaughter of birds like Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills. Now, more than a century later, the Great Egret still serves as the official logo for the National Audubon Society. In addition, the Great Egret has rebounded from those dark years. In fact, this bird now ranges as far north as southern Canada in appropriate wetland habitats. During spring and fall migration, Great Egrets also pass through northeast Tennessee. Look for them along rivers, lakes and on small farm ponds.

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Several ducks, including Lesser Scaup and Redhead, have been unusually common this spring. I would also add Ring-necked Duck to that list.

I have found Ring-necked Ducks at various locations in the past couple of weeks. I even found them very close to my home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton at a neighbor’s pond. Two female Ring-necked Ducks spent several days on this pond. Once they departed, a lone male Ring-necked Duck spent at least five days on the same pond.

I have also found Ring-necked Ducks at various locations on the Watauga River in Elizabethton, as well as at the pond at Erwin Fishery Park.

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Photo by Bryan StevensA Great Egret wades through the pond near the office of the Carter County Rescue Squad.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Great Egret wades through the pond near the office of the Carter County Rescue Squad.

Make a comment, ask a question or share an observation by calling me at 297-9077 or by sending an email to bstevens@starhq.com or ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. I am also on Facebook. Don’t forget to let me know when you see your first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the spring season.

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