Feathered Friends: Warblers, hummingbirds lingering in region

9:59 am | October 15, 2012

On the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 3, I found a solitary Tennessee Warbler. The following evening was much better. I found a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, two Golden-crowned Kinglets, two Magnolia Warbler and one Tennessee Warbler.

Photo Courtesy of Donald Rice
A young Ruby-throated Hummingbird pokes at a yellowjacket to steer the pesky insect away from
a sugar water feeder at the home of Donald Rice in Elizabethton. A few lingering hummingbirds are
still visiting feeders, but will likely depart the region well in advance of the end of October. Be alert
for “brown” hummingbirds after the departure of the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Such birds
could be a western species, such as an Allen’s Hummingbird or Rufous Hummingbird.

The Golden-crowned Kinglets were a little early. I don’t normally see this species in the yard until much later in October.

The kinglets belong to the genus, Regulus, which is a term derived from the Latin word for “petty king.” These small birds are grouped in this genus because of the colorful “crowns” visibly on the heads of adult birds. The crown patch is usually red, yellow or orange. This genus of birds has species native to North America and Eurasia.

Only the North American members — Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned — are known as “kinglets.” The other members are called “firecrests” and “goldcrests.”


The first of the October Saturday bird walks was held at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton on Oct. 6.

These annual walks, held every Saturday at 8 a.m. during the month of October, are conducted by members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society.

Nine people, including myself, attended the first walk. The walk attracted a visitor from North Carolina as well as a couple from Knoxville. Several chapter members also attended the walk.

We found 45 species, which is a good number for these casual walks. The species total is listed below:

Canada Goose, 43; Wood Duck, 1; Mallard, 8; Blue-winged Teal, 13; Pied-billed Grebe, 2; and Double-crested Cormorant, 1.

American Kestrel, 1; Rock Pigeon, 8; Mourning Dove, 2; Chimney Swift, 2; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 1; and Belted Kingfisher, 1.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, 2; Downy Woodpecker, 5; Northern Flicker, 3; Pileated Woodpecker, 3; Eastern Wood-Pewee, 1; Yellow-throated Vireo, 1; Blue-headed Vireo, 1; and Red-eyed Vireo, 2.

Blue Jay, 21; American Crow, 6; Carolina Chickadee, 8; Tufted Titmouse, 5; and White-breasted Nuthatch, 1.

Carolina Wren, 13; Eastern Bluebird, 9; Swainson’s Thrush, 3; American Robin, 11; and Northern Mockingbird, 2.

European Starling, 29; Cedar Waxwing, 25; Magnolia Warbler, 4; Cape May Warbler, 1; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 3; Blackburnian Warbler, 1; Palm Warbler, 2; and Northern Waterthrush, 1.

Eastern Towhee, 2; Song Sparrow, 1; Northern Cardinal, 12; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 2; Common Grackle, 15; Brown-headed Cowbird, 1; House Finch, 2; and American Goldfinch, 7.

I managed to obtain this list thanks to Roan Mountain resident Tom McNeil, who kept track of every species the group observed using software on his phone. After the walk ended, he collected email addresses and sent any interested participant a complete list of the species found during the walk.

If you would like to see some of the migrants making their way through the region, consider attending one of the remaining morning bird walks at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park every Saturday in October. Remaining dates are Oct. 20 and Oct. 27. The free walks, which are conducted by members of the Lee & Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, commence at 8 a.m. from the parking lot at the park’s Visitors Center. Bring binoculars to increase your viewing enjoyment.


Before leaving for work the morning of Monday, Oct. 8, I found a new arrival — a Swamp Sparrow — in the cattails. I also heard a Gray Catbird and saw both our kinglets, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned, as well as a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

The Swamp Sparrow is aptly named. This sparrow, related to the better-known Song Sparrow, prefers wetland habitats. The stand of cattails near the fish pond has been a great place through the years to look for this sparrow during fall migration. On occasion, I’ve recorded lingering visits into late fall by Swamp Sparrows.

Most field guides will describe this bird as “shy,” which is true to a degree. The Swamp Sparrow is also a very curious bird and will investigate any squeaking, or “pishing,” noises produced by birders to lure a reluctant bird into view. The bird will usually remain in view long enough to allow for identification. However, once it has satisfied its curiosity with a look around, the bird will retreat back into hiding and can be difficult to bring into the open a second time.

Although I didn’t see any Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that morning, I did see two of these small birds when I arrived home from work that evening. In addition, I found three warblers — a Magnolia, a Tennessee and a female Common Yellowthroat — that evening. The female Common Yellowthroat played hide-and-seek with me in a weedy patch near the fish pond. Forcing myself to be a little patient, I managed to get some great looks at the small warbler. At a glance, she would have looked like many “little brown birds” except for the pale patch of yellow plumage at her throat.

The sunflower seed at the feeders attracted a young Northern Cardinal (you can distinguish young cardinals because they have dark gray, not orange, bills) and an immature male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the feeders. I also observed a couple of Eastern Towhees in the yard.


Tuesday, Oct. 9, started out as a foggy, cool morning, but I managed to observe a young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the feeders. The trademark rose-red patch was visible on the bird’s breast. Other birds I saw that morning included two young Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and, somewhat unexpectedly, a Wood Thrush.

When I got home from work that same day, I flushed some Palm Warblers from the edge of the gravel driveway. When I got out of the car, I noticed three Eastern Bluebirds perched on the utility wires that run over the fish pond. I noticed a smaller bird on the wires with the bluebirds. When I scanned with binoculars, I identified the bird as a Palm Warbler.

It’s not the first time I’ve noticed Palm Warblers associating with bluebirds. Pine Warblers and American Goldfinches also seem to share a friendly relationship with bluebirds.

At the sunflower seed feeders, I watched Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, while Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visited the sugar water feeders.

In addition to the Palm Warblers, I spotted three Yellow-rumped Warblers in the tall poplar trees. I also glimpsed a Magnolia Warbler in the stand of willows at the creek.

The Yellow-rumped Warblers represented the 19th species of warbler to pass through the yard this fall. Even if I don’t add any more warblers this migration season, I feel like that’s a fairly decent tally.

When the Yellow-rumped Warbler begins to arrive in sizable numbers, I know that another fall migration season is nearing its end. The Yellow-rumped Warbler is the only warbler that routines spends the winter season in Northeast Tennessee. Other warblers will vacate the region, not to return until next spring.


On the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 10, I found that my feeders were still attracting visits by Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Some people have reported that they are no longer seeing hummingbirds at their feeders, so I am thrilled that these little birds have lingered as long as they have. Once they finally depart, I know I won’t see any Ruby-throated Hummingbirds for the next six months . Ruby-throated Hummingbirds typically return to Northeast Tennessee each year in early April.


On Thursday, Oct. 11, I awoke to a light frost. For the first time this fall, I had to take time to defrost the windows on my car before heading to work. Despite the frosty start to the day, I enjoyed watching three Ruby-throated Hummingbirds buzz around the feeder. I’m sure they won’t remain with us for much longer, so if you’re still seeing them, enjoy them while you can.


To share a sighting, ask a question or make a comment, call me at 297-9077 or email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. I am on Facebook at www.facebook. com/ahoodedwarbler.

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