Shorebirds, warblers and hummingbirds moving through region

2:28 pm | April 15, 2013

A pair of Greater Yellowlegs in a wet pasture adjacent to Boone Lake yielded Bird No. 96 on my year list. I found these shorebirds during a brief visit to Austin Springs on Saturday, April 6, with some friends.

We didn’t stay long because we had planned a visit to Bristol Caverns. On the way to our next stop, however, I added Bird No. 97 when we observed a Broad-winged Hawk soaring near Bristol Motor Speedway.

The following day, I added Bird No. 98 when I found a Yellow-throated Warbler at Wilbur Lake while showing my friends the Bald Eagle nest at this small TVA reservoir.

I heard the Yellow-throated Warbler singing and finally located it in some tall trees at the entrance to the campground at Wilbur Lake.

The Yellow-throated Warbler is only the fourth warbler on my list so far in 2013, although I expect that will change quite a bit in the next few weeks. The previous warbler additions to the list included Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler and Pine Warbler.

The Yellow-throated Warbler is a small bird with a bright black, white and yellow plumage. The yellow throat, for which it is named, is its most distinctive feature.

The Common Yellowthroat, another member of the warbler family, is also named for a bright yellow throat. The similarity between these two birds, however, ends there.

The Yellow-throated Warbler is one of the earliest warblers to return to Northeast Tennessee each spring. Sightings usually begin in late March and early April. For the most part, this bird is a specialty of the southeastern United States. It lives throughout the year in Florida, and is a nesting species in Tennessee and other surrounding states. Don’t be fooled by range maps that don’t show Yellow-throated Warblers in Northeast Tennessee. They are definitely present.

In behavior, the Yellow-throated Warbler is similar to the Black-and-White Warbler. Both these species climbs on tree trunks and branches, exploring every nook and cranny for potential insect prey. In fact, an early name for this bird was Yellow-throated Creeper.

When they first arrive in the spring, male Yellow-throated Warblers are persistent singers. They are fond of pine trees, but they can also be found in other types of trees.

The Greater Yellowlegs belongs to a genus of shorebirds known as the Tringa sandpipers, which includes shanks and tattlers. There’s also a Lesser Yellowlegs, which is similar in appearance but considerably smaller.
Other members of this genus include the Solitary Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Grat-tailed Tattler, Wandering Tattler, Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper and Willet.

Only three — Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper — appear with any regularity in Northeast Tennessee. They are all fairly common during spring and fall migration. Wet pastures, mud flats and the edges of ponds and rivers provide habitat capable of attracting these migrating shorebirds.

According to the Tennessee Watchable Wildlife website, the Greater Yellowlegs once had some other common names — Stone Snipe, Greater Tattler, Tell-Tale, Gray Yellowlegs and Yelper — that have now become obsolete.
Some of the names were no doubt inspired by the bird’s calls, which can be described as loud “deew deew deew” or “klee klee klee” given in three or, sometimes, four notes. Enjoy this bird as it migrates through our region, because you’re not going to want to visit this bird’s breeding grounds. The Tennessee Watchable Wildlife website notes that this shorebird nests in mosquito-infested bogs and marshes of the boreal forest  region of Canada and Alaska.

Although it has a body length of 14 inches and a wingspan of 28 inches, this shorebird weighs only six ounces. The Lesser Yellowleg, by comparison, weighs about three ounces.


I will be helping to conduct a bird walk to celebrate the 10th annual André Michaux Day at Tipton-Haynes Historic Site in Johnson City on Saturday, April 20. This event honors André Michaux, a famous French botanist of the 1700s who traveled throughout Northeast Tennessee and stayed with Col. John Tipton in the spring of 1795 and again in 1796. This legendary 18th century botanist spent almost 11 years exploring in America and was the first botanist to travel to Tennessee.

The day kicks off with “Breakfast with the Birds” at 8 a.m. with myself and other members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society taking participants on a stroll around the grounds to look for migrating birds. Coffee, juice and muffins will be available for early guests.

I’m looking forward to this year’s walk. In past years, André Michaux Day has been held in late March and early April. With this year’s event falling at the end of the third week in April, migrants may be more common in the woodlands and gardens at Tipton-Haynes. We’ll look for warblers, vireos, tanagers, sparrows and much more. No doubt, a few surprises will show up.

Bring binoculars to increase your viewing enjoyment. The walk also offers time to enjoy the wildflowers in bloom along the pathways at Tipton-Haynes Historic Site. I’m hoping for pleasant spring weather and a good turnout.


Martha Jenkins saw an adult Bald Eagle flying over the Watauga River in Lynn Valley a few weeks ago. However, she doubted her sighting until she found an eagle perched in a tree along the river early in the morning on Wednesday, April 10.

She called me at the Elizabethton STAR after she saw the bird last Wednesday, and I was able to go out and get some photographs of the eagle.

I’ve also enjoyed other eagle sightings recently.

I took some visiting friends — Byron Tucker and Ricky Dunklin from Atlanta, Ga., and Rob Hicks from Canada — to look for birds at Austin Springs on Boone Lake on Saturday, April 6. A highlight during our visit was seeing two Bald Eagles — an adult bird and an immature eagle. The brief visit also yielded sightings of two Greater Yellowlegs, four Least Sandpipers, a Great Blue Heron, two American Pipits, more than 40 Blue-winged Teals and several Wilson’s Snipe and Killdeers.


The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are back. I heard from Blanche Williams in Poga that she saw the first hummingbird of spring on Wednesday, April 10.

Mae Bell Byrd in Flag Pond in Unicoi County also called to report that her first hummingbird showed up at 12:50 p.m. on Wednesday, April 10. Brenda Sparks, who also lives in Flag Pond, saw her first hummingbird later that same day at 5:55 p.m.

I also heard from Brookie Potter at Wilbur Lake. Brookie reported that he saw his first hummingbird at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 11.

Glen Eller, who like Brookie is a fellow member of Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of TOS, reported that his daughter, Lia, saw a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 10, at her home in Fall Branch.

I haven’t yet seen one myself, but I have the feeders filled and waiting. Please feel free to continue to share the dates of the arrival of these tiny flying gems by calling me or emailing me.


Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife ServiceThe Greater Yellowlegs is named for its bright yellow-orange legs.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The Greater Yellowlegs is named for its bright yellow-orange legs.

Make a comment, ask a question or share an observation by calling me at 297-9077 or by sending an email to or 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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