Wednesday, December 27, 2017

scaup (greater or lesser?)

We get both scaup here in the winter times. We had the usual few scaup at the Christmas Bird Count in early December 2017.

I was out on Christmas Eve driving around Piney Flats, Tenn., and then towards Pickens Bridge, near Boone’s Creek. In this typically yucky farm pond were three scaup. I was excited! Scaup would be listed something on the order of “seasonal, uncommon” so to find any was fun and to find them where I least expected to find anything was even better!

I’ve heard of this dilemma of which is “greater” or “lesser.” I would be the first to admit I cannot tell the difference. So, the label is “scaup, species” and just be glad to get a scaup. I think this is only the second one for me for the calendar year.


Golden Jubilee Carter County Bird Count

The 75th Annual Carter County Christmas Bird Count is in the record books.That’s a pretty good string of successful counts. We had 6 parties, 26 observers, and a new all-time high species count of 85. The 30-year running average is 72. While a bit chilly to start with by noon we had an uncommonly nice winter’s day for north east Tennessee. There was some snow still on the ground higher up but in town folks were out in t-shirts and flip-flops. This old guy was not one of them. The group I most often bird with will tell you I am quick to chill.

The count area is a 15-mile diameter centered on Wilbur Dam so that takes in almost all of Elizabethton, a long ways up Stoney Creek towards Shady Valley, and most of Watauga Lake to the east.

As it always is, some species just don’t want to show up. For example, for a 150-square mile area we had a total of 14 vultures. But we also hit every woodpecker and quite a few of the ducks. This is about the right time in the season for more ducks and we have been seeing more arrive either additional species or additional individuals. We had almost 300 bufflehead which would be a fraction of them for the larger five-county area.

The count produced many singles: white-fronted goose, Eur-Asian collared dove, barred owl, blue-headed vireo, red-breasted nuthatch (a real surprise), red-winged blackbird, catbird, brown thrasher, Eastern meadowlark (although upwards of 30 were spotted a week before outside the area). Bird watching is like that. From time to time in a given area it hit and miss and other times in the same area over a season all kinds of varieties come through.

Of course, in this small area were only thirteen-hundred starling.

I’ve noted here some of the more interesting finds (or misses) as noted by Rick Knight who is the compiler of record for the Herndon Chapter: Red-winged blackbird found 9 of last 25 years; Eastern meadowlark becoming very hard to find on this CBC; Brown-headed cowbird found 3 of last 25 years; Red-shouldered Hawk found 6 of last 25 years, uncommon in northeast Tennessee. Perhaps the most notable miss was American coot.

Our group (Bryan Stevens, Chris Soto, and Brenda Richards) collected 75 pipits in a corn field. Pipits have been on the count only three times in the last 25 years. That was my second pipit sighting of the calendar year. I’ve gone full years without seeing them. We stumbled upon a collard dove not half-a-mile as the crow flies from where they’d been seen several times in the summer. This count, they had none and we had one. The collared dove (pictured) lacks the pattern of a mourning dove and of course has the distinctive black collar around the back of the neck. We were excited, to say the least.

You can also expect some birds to be around that are relatively new to the area. Perhaps most notably is Bald eagle. Rick’s note is that we’ve seen Bald eagle in 20 of the last 25 years but only once before that. About 25 years ago was when the hacking program began on South Holston Lake and has paid off nicely. If you need further convincing of that, check out for the eagle cameras.

Also, Herndon hosts a website at where more details are listed.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Winter Ducks December 2017

With each slightly colder day up north we anticipate getting a newer winter ducks. So far, however, the ducks seem to like their northern temperatures. I guess until a few days ago, we did, too. Winter has arrived, it seems. As I write this I keep looking out the window at all that snow on the ground that blew in last night. The roads are still warm but with a heavily overcast day today the roads will worsen over night.

As of early December we’ve had: bufflehead, blue-wing teal, green-wing teal, widgeon, gadwall, black duck, hooded merganser, and common loon and a few others. 

We’re not usually cursed with iced over ponds although you’ll find a farm pond sometimes with a skim of ice. The bigger lakes and private lakes are usually ice free. More than likely a problem for bird watching is the ice and snow on the back roads. The ducks don’t care.

For December we are more likely to get rain than a snow that sticks. January and February are kind of tough if you are a fair weather birder like me. At Musick’s Campground it has become normal to don wind pants and gloves because the wind always picks up brutally and it’s cold, usually, to begin with!

The detail in this photo isn’t really important: a bunch of mallard and a couple of black ducks in the rain on the Rooty Branch road near South Holston Dam. Even though we pulled up stakes early that day (club meeting that night) it was raining a bit more by then and the day’s work had been fairly productive.

I have condensed Roy Knispel’s compilation of 48 species below: Gadwall, Am. Wigeon, Am. Black Duck, N. Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, Common Loon, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Ring-billed Gull, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Brown Creeper, Towhee, White-crowned Sparrow, E. Meadowlark.

We have a routine of places which work mostly for the winter months: Paddle Creek Pond, Osceola Island/South Holston Dam overlook, Rooty Branch/ Pemberton Road, Musick’s Campground, Middlebrook Lake. During the summer most of these spots become very unproductive. It takes a year to work through all the spots in the five upper east Tennessee counties and even then sometimes two or three or a dozen tries to fill out the list for the year.