Looking for a lot of birds in 2013

10:16 am | January 14, 2013

I’m well on my way to one of my personal goals for 2013. I’m once again going to try for a local “big year” in Northeast Tennessee.

My previous best year for sightings took place in 2000, when I achieved a personal best by observing 220 species in the counties of Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington. I’m not necessarily looking to match this lofty number, but I would like to see at least 200 species in 2013.

Back in 2000, I birded frequently with the late Howard P. Langridge, who found 237 species that year and set a new record that stood until 2009 when Rick Knight found 241 species. The record set by Rick back in 2009 has not been seriously challenged in the subsequent years. It would take an almost “perfect year” to even hope to match that record, which I suspect may hold for quite some time.

I last tried for these “big years” in area birding back in 2006, when I found 190 species, and again in 2007, when I finished the year with 209 species.
In 2008, I narrowed my focus and tried for a “big year” in yard birds, but found a somewhat disappointing 88 species. My personal goal had been to see at least 100 species in my yard.

I am not the only person hoping for a good year in birding. The Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society now awards yearly recognition to any member who finds 200 or more bird species in the five-county area in a calendar year. That award, appropriately enough, is known as the Howard P. Langridge Memorial Award. Many chapter members have received that recognition in recent years. I strongly suspect competition will be friendly but intense in 2013. Chapter members Brookie Potter and Tom McNeil are hoping to see their first 100 species in January! Other chapter members sure to be looking for a lot of birds include Jean Potter, Rob Biller, Reece Jamerson, Jim D. Anderson and, of course, Rick Knight. With a bit of luck, a lot of persistence and sheer dedication, we may see a lot of people finding the threshold of 200 species in 2013.

To date, I’ve already seen 51 species, including such noteworthy birds as Loggerhead Shrike, Bald Eagle, Horned Grebe, Redhead and Purple Finch. It’s a modest start, but the way I look at it, I am already a quarter of the way to my goal.

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On a quick trip to Wilbur Lake after finishing work Monday, Jan. 7, I added several birds to my 2013 list when I observed three Ruddy Ducks, 162 Buffleheads, a Common Raven, a Pileated Woodpecker and two Great Blue Herons.

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I enjoyed several hours of birding in Sullivan County with Reece Jamerson, Gil Derouen, Roy Knispel and Tom McNeil, all members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society.

We visited such area birding “hot spots” as the Paddle Creek Pond Migratory Shorebird Management Site, Osceola Island Recreation Area in Bristol and Musick’s Campground on South Holston Lake.

We found a Loggerhead Shrike on Pemberton Road, a location known for attracting these predatory songbirds.

The Loggerhead Shrike is a songbird that has adopted the lifestyle of a raptor. The Loggerhead Shrike is the only member of the shrike family confined to North America. Its larger relative, the Northern Shrike, occurs in North America but also ranges into Europe and Asia.

The Loggerhead Shrike has a large hooked bill, which it uses to dispatch prey. It lacks the talons of a hawk or falcon. It has met this deficiency by learning to impale prey on thorns and even barbed wire fences. With its prey thus held securely, the bird can use its bill to tear apart victims, which are usually large insects, such as grasshoppers, as well as amphibians, reptiles, rodents and other songbirds. This behavior has earned the Loggerhead Shrike the nickname of “Butcher Bird.”

The Loggerhead Shrike was once considered an abundant bird, but declined drastically through the last half of 20th century. The species is essentially gone from the northeastern part of range, which includes Canada.
Experts haven’t yet determined any single cause for the drastic decline of Loggerhead Shrike numbers. The decline can probably be attributed to a variety of factors, including pesticide use and habitat loss.

Worldwide, there are 31 species of shrikes, including the The Magpie Shrike of Africa; the Tiger Shrike of eastern Asia; the Masked Shrike of the Middle East and northern Africa; the Grey-backed Fiscal of Africa; the Red-backed Shrike of Europe, western Asia and tropical Africa; and the Woodchat Shrike of southern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

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From spring to fall, my favorite family of birds is the warblers. In the winter months, when most warblers have retreated to warmer climates, I enjoy looking for waterfowl, especially ducks. My recent birding has helped me find plenty of wintering ducks.

At Paddlecreek Pond, my friends and I found three Gadwalls, an American Wigeon, an American Black Duck, 30 Mallards, two Green-winged Teals, four Ring-necked Ducks and two Ruddy Ducks. We also found such birds as a Killdeer, a Great Blue Heron, a Pied-billed Grebe and an Eastern Meadowlark.

At Osceola Island Recreation Area, we found at least 100 Buffleheads, five American Wigeons, 10 Mallards and a Redhead hen.

At Musick’s Campground, we counted 35 Canada Geese, seven Pied-billed Grebes, two Horned Grebes, a Common Loon and at least 130 Ring-billed Gulls. We also found White-crowned Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows and Northern Cardinals at some of the feeders at the campground.
During our drive to Musick’s Campground, we also spotted a soaring immature Bald Eagle and an adult Red-tailed Hawk.

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The Loggerhead Shrike is a songbird that has adopted the predatory lifestyle of a hawk.

To report an observation, ask a question or share a comment, give me a call at 542-4151 or 297-9077. I’m also on Facebook.

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