April 23rd , 2012 9:36 am Leave a comment

Feathered Friends: Blue-winged Warbler visit among migration sightings

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I am still hearing from people reporting the arrival dates of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

Photo Courtesy of Ed Schneider - A male Blue-winged Warbler throws its head back and opens its bill wide to produce its song, often described as a buzzy “Beeee-buzzzz” sound. In areas where their breeding territories overlap, the Blue-winged Warbler will hybridize with the closely related Golden-winged Warbler.

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James Cable, Hampton, called me on Friday, April 13, to report his observation. He saw his first hummingbird for the season at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, April 13.

Photo Courtesy of Ed Schneider - The male Blue-winged Warbler is one of the more colorful members of the wood warbler family. Males are bright yellow with olive backs, blue-gray wings with white wing stripes and a black line that runs through the eye.

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Elizabethton resident Don Rice emailed me about his first sighting of a hummingbird this spring. Don said the bird showed up Thursday, April 12, at 5 p.m.

Photo Courtesy of Ed Schneider - A Blue-winged Warbler clings to a tree branch. This warbler nests as far north as Canada, but retreats each fall to spend the winter as far south as Mexico and Central America.

“It’s funny,” Don wrote. “He hit every port twice on the feeder, checked out the new feeder and took off.”

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Kathy Shipley sent me an email to let me know that she and her husband saw their first two hummingbirds this spring. The Shipleys live in the Mayfield subdivision in Lynn Valley.

“My husband and I saw them at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, April 14, eating from our hummingbird feeders,” Kathy wrote in her email.

“I hope they are here to stay,” she added. “We love to watch these beautiful birds.”

Kathy also shared a story about a very close encounter with a hummingbird.

“Two years ago they even ate from a small feeder I was holding in my hands,” she wrote. “I really enjoyed that.”

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Brookie and Jean Potter saw their first Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Saturday, April 14. The Potters live near Wilbur Lake.

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I finally saw my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird at 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 15. My mother, who lives next door, beat me by a few hours. She saw her first hummingbird that same day at 7:30 a.m. In 2011, I saw my first spring Ruby-throated Hummingbird on April 13.

I was glad to have them back. They lingered this past fall until early October, so just over six months had passed since my last sighting of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird at home.

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Flag Pond resident Anna Paloff Shelton posted a report on my Facebook page that she saw her first hummingbird — a female — on the afternoon of Sunday, April 15.

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Lisa Botts of Elizabethton posted on my Facebook page that she had her first spring sighting of a hummingbird at 7:57 p.m. on Monday, April 16, at her feeder.

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Elizabethton resident Rita Schuettler saw her first hummingbird on Monday, April 16, at 2:02 p.m.

“I have had my feeders up for several weeks, and put fresh nectar in them each week,” she wrote in an email. “Although the nectar seemed to go down, Monday was my first sighting.”

Rita also reported Barn Swallows swooping over the cow pasture in front of her house.

She also reported her first sighting of the year of a Copperhead — one of two venomous snakes native to Northeast Tennessee.

She saw the snake on Friday, April 13. Considering the reputation for bad luck when Friday falls on the 13th day of the month, she probably did well to just see the snake.

“Hopefully, I will remember to watch where I am stepping and reaching,” Rita noted in her email.

Incidentally, the other venomous snake in the region is the Timber Rattlesnake.

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Johnson City resident Pat Moser called me last week to report that she saw her first Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Monday, April 16.

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Donna Adams called me last week to report a friend’s hummingbird sighting. She said that Judy Blevins, a resident in Whitney Estates in Elizabethton, saw her first hummingbird of spring on Friday, April 13.

In addition, Donna told me that her daughter, who lives in Murfreesboro, saw her first Blue Grosbeak of spring on Sunday, April 15.

The Blue Grosbeak is one of Donna’s favorite birds. Both Blue Grosbeaks and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are summer residents in the region, but the best way to see them is when they visit feeders during migration. Their favorite food is sunflower seed. Stock your feeders well and increase your chances during the next few weeks of receiving visits from these colorful birds.

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A Blue-winged Warbler turned out to be my most notable sighting last week of a spring migrant. I found the bird on Saturday, April 14, foraging among the blossoms of a wild plum growing in the swampy area next to my home. Although the bird spent a lot of time in the branches of the plum, it also traveled to a stand of willows in line with Simerly Creek, providing convenient views from my front porch.

This particular warbler, a male, also sang frequently. For those unfamiliar with the song of a Blue-winged Warbler, it’s best described as a rather unmusical cacophany of notes delivered at a high pitch and sound very much like the sounds produced by some buzzy insects.

It’s unique enough, however, to help confirm this particular’s warbler’s identity. A good look, however, is usually all an observer needs. This aptly-named warbler has a unique appearance that includes a yellow body, olive upperparts and gray-blue wings with two white bars. A black eye-stripe runs through the eye. Blue-winged Warblers also have a sharply pointed dark bill.

The Blue-winged Warbler and the very closely related Golden-winged Warbler, which can be found on Roan Mountain in Carter County during the summer months, are locked into a biological rivalry that threatens the continued existence of the planet’s Golden-winged Warblers.

The reasons behind the decline of the Golden-winged Warbler are intricately linked with its relative, the Blue-winged Warbler. To most observers, these are two different birds. They look different. They sing different songs. Traditionally, they occupied different ranges. However, their ranges have begun to overlap, and that’s where the problems start for the Golden-winged Warbler.

Golden-winged Warblers nest in southeastern Canada and the eastern United States. This warbler has been slowly expanding northwards, but is at the same time generally declining across its range. Experts cite the most likely factors responsible for the decline as being the result of habitat loss and competition/interbreeding with the very closely related Blue-winged Warbler.

In other words, these birds are “kissing cousins,” and it is the close relationship that could doom the Golden-winged Warbler as a species.

That’s a little background for these two warblers.

I’ve probably seen more Golden-winged Warblers than Blue-winged Warblers because I can make a trip to Hampton Creek Cove or other Roan Mountain locations each spring and early summer to observe this bird.

I’ve only observed Blue-winged Warblers on three occasions, and each sighting has taken place at my home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton.

I saw my first Blue-winged Warbler several years ago when a singing male put on quite a show in that same stand of willows where the recent visitor also spent some time.

Then, a couple of years ago, I had a Blue-winged Warbler linger for a few days during fall migration at my home.

Both the Golden-winged Warbler and Blue-winged Warbler are extremely unique in their own right. It seems strange that one might some day completely displace the other.

For now, area birders can still resort to visiting the population of Golden-winged Warblers on Roan Mountain. There’s no way to know, however, how long we can count on such a fortunate proximity.

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My friends Brookie and Jean Potter got to visit later on the same day that I spotted the Blue-winged Warbler. They wanted to add the bird to their year list. I worried when we didn’t immediately re-locate the bird, but eventually Brookie noticed the warbler in the willows in the company of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The warbler must have been in a hurry, however, to continue moving northward. He didn’t make any additional appearances after his one-day stopover.

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In addition to migration, many birds are busy with the business of the breeding season. They’re building nests, singing songs, putting on elaborate displays to attract mates. Among the birds already nesting at my home are Eastern Phoebes, Song Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, Eastern Bluebirds, Brown Thrashers, Red-winged Blackbirds and Tree Swallows. Those are only the birds that I have observed taking part in some sort of nesting activity, whether its collecting nesting material or singing songs to establish territories and attract mates.

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On Sunday, April 15, I heard a singing Black-and-white Warbler singing in the woods behind my home. I tried repeatedly to locate the singer, but never managed to do so. I also watched as a Tree Swallow provided an “escort” to one of the local Broad-winged Hawks out of its personal airspace. I have also witnessed the Tree Swallows launching dive-bombing maneuvers against the hawks. The contest is a mismatch in size, with the hawk being much larger than the swallow. The smaller bird has the aerobatic skills, however, to get away with harassing the hawk.

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

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