Prothonotary Warbler one of several new additions to year list

9:33 am | June 24, 2013

Since the last time I updated readers on the status of my year list, I have added nine new species.

My participation in the recent Carter County Summer Bird Count on June 8 helped me add five additional species to the list.

A field trip on June 10 with Brookie and Jean Potter to some destinations in Sullivan County and Johnson County helped me to place another three species on my list.

Finally, I visited the Potters’ home at Wilbur Lake on June 15 to listen for a nocturnal bird that had so far evaded my efforts to add it to the list. On this successful trip, I added one more bird to my 2013 list.

On a morning when mist still shrouded Wilbur Lake, the Potters and I began birding at this small TVA reservoir. It didn’t take long before we heard a singing Louisiana Waterthrush. We all looked for the bird, but Brookie found it first when he spotted it perched on a utility wire while singing.

Right off the bat, the Louisiana Waterthrush became Bird No. 160 on my list.

This warbler nests in wet woodlands near running water. It is closely related to the Northern Waterthrush, which prefers slow-moving or still water.

The Louisiana Waterthrush often chooses to place its nest in small cavities along a stream bank. These birds will also tuck their nest under a fallen log or within the roots of an upturned tree.

Near Blue Springs, I added Bird No. 161 when we found a pair of Eurasian Collared-Doves perched on a wire. While we watched the doves, they flew into a nearby plowed field and foraged among the furrows.

The next three birds added to my list were all members of the warbler family. I added the first two during our visit to Holston Mountain.

Bird No. 162 was Canada Warbler. I got an excellent but brief look at a male Canada Warbler in an area where much of the woodland had been cleared to make way for utility lines.
Male Canada Warblers show dark streaking on a yellow breast in a pattern that resembles a necklace.

These warblers do mostly nest in Canada and the northern United States, but a few Canada Warblers nest throughout the southern Appalachian mountains. Locally, look for them on Roan Mountain, as well as Holston and Unaka mountains.

Bird No. 163 was Blackburnian Warbler. Farther up the mountain, we found a pair of these brightly colored warblers on the road to the old WJHL-TV transmission facility.

This is one of the most striking warblers that nests in the region. Males look quite striking in their brilliant orange-and-black breeding plumage. The pattern of this plumage has also earned this warbler the name “flame throat” or “fire throat.”

The final new species found during our participation in the Summer Bird Count was another warbler. Worm-eating Warbler became Bird No. 164 on my list when we returned to the vicinity of Wilbur Lake and drove to the Watauga Lake Overlook.

The Worm-eating Warbler doesn’t dine on earthworms. Instead, this small, brown warbler with the distinctive head pattern feeds extensively on caterpillars, which are sometimes called “worms.” With that in mind, the Worm-eating Warbler is quite aptly named.

On Monday, June 10, I joined up with Brookie and Jean again for a trip to South Holston Lake in Sullivan County and Shady Valley in Johnson County.

I had three target birds — Prothonotary Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler and Willow Flycatcher — and I found all three species.

Bird No. 164 for the year was Prothonotary Warbler at Jacob’s Creek Recreation Area at South Holston Lake in Bristol. We heard the bird singing before we even got out of the car.
Other birders, starting with Joe McGuinness of Erwin, had previously reported this particular male Prothonotary Warbler at Jacob’s Creek.

I first saw a Prothonotary Warbler during a summer visit to Reelfoot Lake in west Tennessee back in the late 1990s. I was surprised how similar the flooded cove at Jacob’s Creek resembled the swampy habitat that would be commonplace at Reelfoot. The Prothonotary Warbler must have found himself right at home after stopping at this location at Holston Lake.

Although he was singing persistently, we never observed a female Prothonotary Warbler at this location. It would be nice if he could attract a mate, and the pair could raise some young. It’s getting fairly late in the season, however, for this particular Prothonotary Warbler and its quest for a mate.

The Prothonotary Warbler is named after clerical officials in the Roman Catholic church, whose robes were bright yellow. I like another of this bird’s common names, which is “Golden Swamp Warbler.”

Bird No. 165 was Swainson’s Warbler at Backbone Rock Recreation Area near Shady Valley in Johnson County.

I’ve only ever had one really good look at a Swainson’s Warbler, and even that was best described as a brief glimpse.

This warbler is infuriatingly shy and elusive, and birds nesting in Northeast Tennessee choose to reside in thickets of dense rhododendron near water.

They usually make their presence known by their loud, ringing songs. We managed to lure in one of these warblers by playing a recorded version of its song, but we mostly observed a brown blur of feathers. The bird soon retreated back into the rhododendron thickets near Beaverdam Creek.

Bird No. 166 was Willow Flycatcher, which we found first at Quarry Bog in Shady Valley. Later, we also found another Willow Flycatcher at Orchard Bog in Shady Valley.

The Willow is a small drab flycatcher of wet, brushy areas, which are often dominated by willows.

They belong to the family of Empidonax flycatchers, with many species looking almost exactly alike. The most trustworthy way of distinguishing these similar birds is by their voice. The song of the Willow Flycatcher is often described as a sneezy “Fitz-bew.”


So, that’s a summary of where I now stand in my quest to find 200 species of birds in Northeast Tennessee in 2013. The next couple of months will be a little tough for finding additional species, but I still have some birds that I can target in the higher elevations.
By August, the beginning of fall migration will commence and my chances of adding new species will increase.


Photo Courtesy of Jean PotterA Prothonotary Warbler at Jacob's Creek Recreation Area.

Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter
A Prothonotary Warbler at Jacob’s Creek Recreation Area.

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