Influx of migrating birds helps increase year’s bird list

10:27 am | April 22, 2013

I had just stepped out of my car during a trip to Rock Creek Recreation Area in Erwin on Saturday, April 13, when I heard a singing Black-throated Green Warbler, which became Bird No. 99 on my year list. During my brief visit to Rock Creek, I also observed two soaring Broad-winged Hawks.

I didn’t have to wait much longer to push my number of birds for 2013 into the three-digit range. I found Bird No. 100 — a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher — about 30 minutes later while walking the linear trail adjacent to the industrial park in Erwin. I have usually found this bird in the last days of March or first few days of April, so this sighting was a bit delayed this year.

On Monday, April 15, my list increased by four birds. A lunch hour visit to Wilbur Lake greatly helped in finding some new birds, beginning with a Hooded Warbler becoming Bird No. 101 on my list. It would have been nice if my favorite bird had been Bird No. 100, but I felt that a Hooded Warbler was a great way to begin my quest for the next 100 birds I hope to find this year.
An Ovenbird, which is another member of the warbler family, became Bird No. 102 on my list. At one of the overlooks on the road from Wilbur to Watauga Dam, I pulled into a parking place, exited the car and scanned Watauga Lake, hopeful about my chances to find a good bird.

The previous day, a Red-necked Grebe had been found on the lake by Fred Alsop, a fellow birder and a retired East Tennessee State University biology professor. I had been worried that I had probably missed my opportunity to add this uncommon bird to my year list when I didn’t look for it on the day of its arrival.

However, I hadn’t scanned very long when I found a very likely candidate on the lake. I retrieved my spotting scope from the car and re-scanned the lake. It didn’t take long to confirm the identity of a Red-necked Grebe in breeding plumage.

The most common grebes for Northeast Tennessee are the Pied-billed Grebe and Horned Grebe, which are already on my list for 2013. Eared Grebes are annual but not common visitors to South Holston Lake. I don’t yet have that bird on my year list.
I enjoyed adding the Red-necked Grebe to my list as Bird No. 103.

The Red-necked Grebe has been reported slightly more often than the Western Grebe, which is known from only a handful of records. Last year, I added Western Grebe to my state list when I observed this bird at Musick’s Campground at South Holston Lake in November.

I have also seen both Red-necked Grebes and Western Grebes, as well as the related Clark’s Grebe, from visits to Salt Lake City in Utah in 2003 and 2006.

After this enjoyable outing at Wilbur and Watauga, I returned to work for a few hours. When I got home later that evening, I finally found my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year and added this bird to my list as Bird No. 104.

I didn’t expend much effort at locating the next bird on my list. When I arrived at work the following day, I got out of the car and heard some familiar twittering. Looking up, I saw a Chimney Swift flying over the office of the Elizabethton STAR on Sycamore Street in Elizabethton. The swift became Bird No. 105 for the year.

Later in the day, during a stroll along the Watauga River, I found a Spotted Sandpiper behind the Recycling Center. This shorebird became Bird No. 106 for the year. Shortly after I saw the Spotted Sandpiper, I watched an Osprey hover over the river looking for a chance to capture a fish for a quick meal.

On the morning of Wednesday, April 17, I was having a quick breakfast on the front porch when I noticed a male Downy Woodpecker at the feeders. I was scanning for other birds when I happened to take a second look at the woodpecker. It turned out that instead of a Downy I was looking at a Hairy Woodpecker, which became Bird No. 107 for the year.

Later that same day, I added two more birds — both gulls — to my year list. I found three Bonaparte’s Gulls on Watauga Lake, making this species No. 108 on my list.

While I was still scanning the lake, fellow birder Rick Knight drove into the overlook parking lot just as the small flock of gulls I was scanning joined a larger flock.

In short order, Rick used his impressive spotting scope to locate more than 20 Bonaparte’s Gulls, some Ring-billed Gulls and, for good measure, a couple of Herring Gulls. I enjoyed the chance to look at these birds through his scope. The Herring Gulls became Bird No. 109 on my year list.

While we continue to scan the lake, I spotted two Red-breasted Mergansers. We also re-located the Red-necked Grebe, which was still lingering three days after its initial discovery on Sunday, April 14. I really enjoyed a fantastic look at this bird in Rick’s scope.

At the main Watauga Lake Overlook, Rick also found a pair of nesting Great Blue Herons that had been reported, and I enjoyed a peek at these birds in his scope. While we were scanning the lake, Rick also noticed a Spotted Sandpiper flying close to the lakeshore.

It always pays to stick close to Rick during birding. I swear he’s like a magnet for our feathered friends.

On the morning of Thursday, April 18, I added two more birds to my list before leaving for work. Black-and-white Warbler became Bird No. 110 on my list. Finally, I also added Brown Thrasher, which became Bird No. 111 for 2013. My parents have been seeing Brown Thrashers around the house for about a week, but this was my first observation this year.

It’s been an incredible week for finding birds, and I expect my list to continue growing in the remaining days of April and well into May.

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People are still reporting on the arrivals of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and I finally saw my first one of these tiny birds last week.

My parents, Amos and Peggy Stevens, Hampton, got their first visit from a Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Thursday, April 11.

Nancy Kerr, who lives on Blacksnake Hollow, Elizabethton, saw her first hummingbird of the spring season on Saturday, April 13.

Wanda Lane, Elizabethton, emailed me to tell me she saw her first hummingbird of spring at 6:55 a.m. on April 15.

Vikki Bradach also emailed me to share her sighting, also on April 15, of her first hummingbird of spring.

Lois Wilhelm, who lives on Spivey Mountain in Unicoi County, called to inform me that she saw a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Tuesday, April 16. The next morning, she hosted a male hummingbird at her feeders.

Barbara Lake reported her first hummingbird arrived April 17 at her home in Hampton.

••••••

Terry Vines in Lynn Valley called to report a pair of Tree Swallows nesting in a homemade nesting container. The Tree Swallows at my home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton are also exploring their nesting options, including the box they used in 2012.

••••••

Photo by Bryan StevensA Spotted Sandpiper perched on a rock in the Doe River near the Covered Bridge.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Spotted Sandpiper perched on a rock in the Doe River near the Covered Bridge.

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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