Thursday, December 22, 2016

2016 Winter/Christmas Bird Count

The Herndon Chapter of TOS conducts four bird survey each year. Two summer and winter are centered on Elizabethton, Carter County, Tennessee. This weekend before Christmas was this year’s Christmas Count. Six parties spread out over a given area of Carter County and each year they rotate to give everyone a chance at the different terrain and habitat. Carter County runs from relative lowlands at about 1800 feet and moist to Roan Mountain and South Holston Mountain both at 5,000 feet. We can expect over the county at any time during the winter counts for the weather to run nice a dampness in town to snow and a full gale up high.

For the club, this was the 74th consecutive, annual CBC.

In a small city, habitat is often scare if you’re looking for more exotic and wild birds. We didn’t expect to get turkey but at the city park we had 60 or so bufflehead. And a green-winged teal. Driving through town just hoping for something other than another starling or dove or pigeon, Bryan Stevens spotted a Cooper’s hawk on the church belfry next to the Legion hall. Little corners give up sparrows. Town edges give up hawks and vultures (on most days but not that day).

The purpose of the count is find out what’s there not what we’d like to see that we haven’t seen for every other day of the year. So the club counts one ruffed-grouse equally with the 809 starling (two years ago the number was 2,000+). Three owl species goes on the list just do the three Killdeer, the only plover. Good days and bad. Only two turkey vulture? We’ve had days with none. All the woodpecker group? That’s kind of neat. But, only two warblers species. It goes up and down and sometimes the surprise is rewarding, like four bald eagle.

I was lucky enough to join Chris Soto and Bryan Stevens for the area that enclosed Elizabethton proper including Sycamore Shoals State Park. Mostly cloudy, a bit breezy, but the temperature held about 50 degrees or so. Not a bad day. Not a good day. We had about 35 species. I think the more exciting finds for us were: cedar waxwing, yellow-rumped warbler, gadwall, bufflehead, sapsucker, ruby-crowned kinglet, Cooper’s hawk, and green-winged teal.

For the club, 80 species, 6 parties, 24 observers. The 30-year average is 72. We have noticed a few species no longer seen regularly and a few new ones. Since this covers a variety of territory in a small space irregularities are more likely to occur. Our next survey will be the first of May and covers the five upper-east counties.

Send an e-mail to “” to get more details or click on the link to the right for the “Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of TOS.”

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Cumberland Island

For the first time ever, the Herndon Club’s fall trek to the southeast coast was cancelled. I think this would have been the ninth trip. They were heading to Cumberland Island on the very southeastern tip of Georgia but would have run smack head on into Hurricane Matthew. The plan is to try again over spring break in March, 2017.

I was at Cumberland Island as Matthew was pounding Haiti and on the trip home got caught up in the first wave of evacuation traffic coming out of Charleston. Cumberland Island is just a short ferry ride from St. Marys, Georgia, a delightfully nice town with some good eats and good birding of its own. But, you will be lucky to see just a little bit of the island in the few hours between the early boat to the island the late boat back. The island is quite large compared to how far you can walk out and back in a day. Still, it is worth the trip.

This is a national park, so you can only enter with permission and there are rules about feeding and trash of course. But also, it offers some nice long easy walks. You can rent wheel chairs that are on balloon tires. Some amenities are available but the best plan is to bring all you need. And one thing you need is sunscreen. The hike to the beach is affectionately called the Death March. It can be brutal. Water is available but bring plenty, nonetheless. The water there is salty, of course, but at least it’s water.

Also, check out Crooked River State Park. The river of course is effected by the tides and than in turn brings in the shore birds. Plus the park is just a nice place to visit. In the middle is a fresh-water pond that probably with enough time spent would yield a nice set of sightings.

Visit Cumberland Island  at St. Marys, Georgia, where Georgia, Florida, and the coast all come together.