April 2nd , 2012 11:01 am Leave a comment

Pace of spring sightings on the rise

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Can you believe today is the first day of April?

Photo by Brandon Hicks - This Mourning Dove has nested between two pillows on a porch swing at the home of Betty O’Neal on Riverside Drive in Elizabethton.

Spring is certainly here, and to prove it I saw a Great Auk swimming with the Buffleheads at Wilbur Lake this morning. While driving home, I was fortunate enough to spot an Ivory-billed Woodpecker that flew across the road.

Photo courtesy of Donald Rice - This Eastern Bluebird was feeding young in a nest box in late March.

All right, forgive my attempt at some April’s Fool’s humor.

Photo courtesy of Donald Rice - Elizabethton resident Donald Rice captured this stunning photo of an American Robin perched near a feeder at his home. The American Robin reminded early European settlers of their own English Robin, but the two birds are closely related.

In all seriousness, however, migrating birds are starting to return. April and May will see the return of many of our favorites, such as Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Indigo Bunting.

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Amanda Austwick in Flag Pond in Unicoi County sent me an email last week to report her first spring sighting of an American Robin.

She reported that she saw the robin on top of Devil’s Fork in Flag Pond.

She has also done some research into robins.

“The one thing that is so unusual is that English robins are about one-third the size, and are not of the same family of birds.”

Amanda is correct, of course.

The American Robin may have reminded early settlers of the English Robin of their homeland, but the two birds are not similar in other than very basic ways. Both birds do have the “robin red” breast, and that’s about the extent of their similarities.

Experts once classified both birds as thrushes, but they now consider the English Robin a member of the Old World Flycatchers.

Also known as the European Robin, this bird ranges across Europe, east to western Siberia and south to North Africa.

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Donald Rice has, once again, shared some wonderful photos. The subjects of the photos are an American Robin and nesting Eastern Bluebirds.

His bluebirds are already nesting.

“I was worried when I found a piece of egg shell and yoke on the railing under the bird house,” Don wrote in his email. “But it appears the bluebird is feeding its young.”

For his bluebirds to already be feeding recently-hatched young, they probably began their courtship in February and began building a nest and incubating eggs in early March.

He also shared a photograph of an American Robin, which landed on a perch near one of his feeders.

By now, anyone who has been outdoors at all is aware that the American Robins are back in the region. Park lawns and residential yards are prime locations for looking for robins as they hop over the grass looking for earthworms and other prey items.

A few of the female robins are no doubt also hopping across lawns and fields to collect nesting materials.

By the way, the American Robin serves as the official state bird of Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin.

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In addition to nesting bluebirds, other birds have taken up the duty of incubating eggs and rearing young. Betty O’Neal on Riverside Drive in Elizabethton invited me to come out to her home this past week to observe a Mourning Dove.

What’s unusual about this common bird is the location it has chosen for a nest. The dove has constructed a nest between two pillows located in the front porch swing. The swing is suspended on retractable chains, which had been raised closer to the porch ceiling during the winter months to protect the swing from the elements.

Betty said that the Mourning Dove chose to build its nest in this odd but rather secure location before she had the chance to lower the swing.

She noted that the Mourning Doves at her home usually nest in Blue Spruces on her property. When several of the trees became diseased, however, she had to remove them. She hoped the Mourning Doves would choose to nest in a holly tree in her yard, but apparently this particular dove had its own ideas about an alternate nesting location.

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On Saturday, March 24, I watched from the window of the den as two Ruffed Grouse strolled through the backyard and then climbed the slope to travel the ridge located behind my home.

Based on other sightings over the past few months, I am optimistic that the population of Ruffed Grouse may be increasing around my home.

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Not only are some of our eyecatching birds returning to the region, but some of the usually unseen nocturnal serenaders are also back.

Brookie and Jean Potter reported hearing their first Whip-poor-will of the year on Wednesday, March 28, at their home near Wilbur Lake in Carter County.

They also observed an adult Bald Eagle on the morning of March 28. They noted that the eagle was standing on the ground next to Wilbur Lake.

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I have not yet seen a Ruby-throated Hummingbird this spring, but they are being seen in Tennessee. If you would like to share your first sighting of a hummingbird this spring, call me at 297-9077 or 542-4151 or send e-mail to bstevens@starhq.com or ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. I’m also on Facebook and you are welcome to post your sightings to my wall.

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