Visit by Orchard Oriole a highlight for spring migration

10:54 am | April 29, 2013

I conducted a bird walk at Tipton-Haynes Historic Site in Johnson City on Saturday, April 13. The walk, which was part of Andre Michaux Day at Tipton-Haynes, was attended by Tom and Helen Stetler, Nora Schubert, Michelle Sparks, Charles Moore, David Thometz, Kate Morgan and Henry Antkiewicz.

We saw some good birds, including Broad-winged Hawk, Eastern Phoebe, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Meadowlark, American Goldfinch, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Pileated Woodpecker.

Director Penny McLaughlin did inform us that this was the final Andre Michaux Day. Charlie Williams, who has long portrayed French botanist Michaux for the annual event, is cutting back on his schedule. McLaughlin did say she might look into a way for Tipton-Haynes to continue offering a yearly bird walk.

The walk at Tipton-Haynes Historic Area helped me increase my year list of birds in the region. A House Wren, singing quite fervently, was one of the first birds encountered by the participants in the casual stroll on the grounds of Tipton-Haynes. The House Wren also became Bird No. 112 on my list.

After the walk at Tipton-Haynes, David Thometz and I made a stop at Austin Springs on Boone Lake in Johnson City. We found some good birds, including two Blue-winged Teal, a Greater Yellowlegs, 19 American Pipits and four Killdeers. We also saw lots of Tree and Barn Swallows.

Of course, I had already found all of these birds for the year. As we were getting ready to depart, I scanned a long ditch that runs through the middle of the wet pasture at Austin Springs. I detected a couple of shorebirds that required a closer look. Once I found them in my spotting scope, I identified them as Lesser Yellowlegs, and they became Bird No. 113 on my list.
The following day, I birded around my home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton and found an unexpected arrival in a flowering quince at the fish pond. When I got my binoculars focused on the bird, I identified the first Orchard Oriole to visit the yard since the late 1990s.

I also had my camera, and the Orchard Oriole, a beautiful male in his spring finery of brick red and black feathers, led me on a merry chase as I attempted to get some photographs. He visited a blooming Bradford pear, a thicket of blooming forsythia and a blue spruce as I continued to observe him and get a few photographs.

The orioles are members of the icterid blackbird family, which also includes cowbirds, meadowlarks and bobolinks.
The Orchard Oriole is the smallest member in the icterid blackbird family in North America, which also makes it automatically the smallest of the orioles ranging through North America. At about six-and-a-half inches in length, the Orchard Oriole is roughly the size of an Eastern Bluebird.

The Baltimore Oriole is the best-known member of the oriole family in the United States. Several species — Bullock’s Oriole, Altimira Oriole, Hooded Oriole and Audubon’s Oriole — are found in Texas and the western United States.

During my lunch hour on Tuesday, April 23, I added three new species to my year list while walking in the area along the Watauga River behind the Franklin Fitness Center in Elizabethton.

Bird No. 115 was a White-eyed Vireo, which was also the first vireo to make my list this year.

Next, I found a Yellow-breasted Chat, which became Bird No. 116 for 2013. The Yellow-breasted Chat is the largest member of the family of New World wood warblers. In fact, the Yellow-breasted Chat is bigger than an Orchard Oriole. Some experts have speculated for years that the chat is not truly a warbler but for now this bird maintains a tenuous connection with its smaller kin.

An Eastern Kingbird became Bird No. 117 for the year. This bird belongs to the tyrant flycatchers, or Tyrannida, which is a group of songbirds native to North and South America. The Tyrant Flycatchers comprise the largest family of birds on Earth, with more than 400 species.

During my walk on Tuesday, I also observed an American Kestrel, numerous Field Sparrows and Eastern Towhees, as well as Brown-headed Cowbirds and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.

Kate and James Morgan, who live on Coffee Ridge in Unicoi County, are being entertained by hummingbirds.
I met Kate at the bird walk at Andre Michaux Day at Tipton-Haynes Historic Site on Saturday, April 20. She is also a new member of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society, or Elizabethton Bird Club.

Kate emailed me and let me know that her husband saw their first hummer this year around 8 a.m. on Wednesday, April 17.
“My husband came in from the front porch and told me a male hummingbird was investigating our wind chime, so we filled and put out our feeders,” she wrote. “Later that day, he saw two males at them.”
At that time, she hadn’t seen one, but she remedied that a few days later.

For a third consecutive spring, Red Crossbills have returned to the feeders at the homes of David Caton and his parents in Erwin.

David emailed me last week to report their return.

“Figured I would give you a heads-up that the Red Crossbills have returned,” he wrote. “One male, female and juvenile were at the feeder. They returned this morning (April 19) to my parent’s feeder. I hope more will come.”

David noted that the birds always return around the same day each year.

“It’s kind of weird that last year the first sighting was April 19 and in 2011 it was April 20 — oh well, they know why,” he wrote.
He sent me another email Monday, April 22, to let me know that another female joined the visiting flock over the weekend.

Looking for a chance to get into the field and look for some of the birds moving through the area this spring? The upcoming Roan Mountain Naturalists Rally will offer opportunities to do some bird watching with experienced birders with the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society. Birding activities are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and May 5. For a complete schedule of events, visit

Photo by Bryan StevensA male Orchard Oriole perched in a blooming forsythia shrub.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A male Orchard Oriole perched in a blooming forsythia shrub.

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.

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