August 18th , 2013 9:07 am Leave a comment

Terns migrating through region



Photo by Bryan Stevens

I’ve added a couple of new species to my year list with the arrival of August, which is a transitional month for our feathered friends. Many birds have already started fall migration, including long-legged wading birds, shorebirds and a variety of gulls and terns.

After a couple of slow months in June and July, I am beginning to add a few new birds to my year list with each passing week.
On Sunday, Aug. 11, I added Forster’s Tern to my list as Bird No. 171 for the year. I saw this tern during a visit to Austin Springs on Boone Lake.  The following day, I returned to bird Austin Springs with my mother. We found a Forster’s Tern — perhaps the same bird from the previous day — perched on some of the posts as a small dock on the waterfront of Boone Lak

In addition, we observed an Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Kingbird, Great Blue Heron and about a dozen Killdeers.

On Tuesday, Aug. 20, Rick Knight and some other birders found some good birds at Austin Springs, including a Willet, Bald Eagles, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper and a Common Tern.

When I got off work, I visited and found the Common Tern perched on one of the orange and white buoys floating on the surface of the lake. I didn’t re-locate any of the other birds reported earlier in the day, although I did see a Belted Kingfisher, some young Wood Ducks, a Great Blue Heron and an Osprey. The Common Tern became Bird No. 172 for 2013.

Terns pass through the region every spring and fall. These seabirds enjoy a worldwide distribution and are usually found near the sea, large lakes, rivers or wetlands. Four species — Common, Forster’s, Caspian and Black — are the members of the family most often found in the region. Other terns that have been recorded for Northeast Tennessee include Sooty Tern, Least Tern and Royal Tern. Their visits have usually been associated with the passage of fall hurricanes or other weather-related factors.


Forster’s Tern


While my mother and I watched the perched Forster’s Tern, it left its perch a couple of times, skimmed the surface of the water and managed to snatch a couple of small fish for a quick meal. The Forster’s Tern is named in honor of Johann Reinhold Forster, a pastor and naturalist. He lived from 1729 to 1798 and made contributions to the early ornithology of Europe and North America. Forster is best known as the naturalist on James Cook’s second Pacific voyage. Accompanying him on this voyage was his son, Georg Forster, who became famous as one of the founders of modern scientific travel literature.

The Forster’s Tern breeds on inland lakes and wetlands in North America and winters as far south as the Caribbean and northern South America. During the nesting season, the Forster’s Tern and the related Common Tern are quite similar in appearance.
The Common Tern is more widespread than the Forster’s.

Common Terns breed in Europe, Asia and North America. A strongly migratory species, the Common Tern winters in coastal tropical and subtropical regions.

In North America, the Common Tern breeds along the Atlantic coast from Labrador to North Carolina, and inland throughout much of Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. In the United States, some breeding populations can also be found in the states bordering the Great Lakes and locally on the Gulf Coast.

The plume hunters of the early 1900s responsible for the decimation of elegant wading birds such as egrets for their feathers also killed terns to obtain their striking white feathers. With laws in place to protect them from such slaughter, tern populations have recovered. Now, the biggest threats to terns involves the eradication or alteration of preferred nesting habitat in the face of human activity.

Worldwide, there are about 40 species of terns. Other terns that reside in or venture into North America include the Sandwich Tern, Elegant Tern, Roseate Tern, Gull-billed Tern and Arctic Tern.


The hummingbirds are still present in good numbers at my home, and I’ve heard from readers who are also enjoying a fantastic summer for hummingbirds.

To learn more about these fascinating birds, consider attending the upcoming Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival in Knoxville.
The festival, sponsored by the Knoxville Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society and Ijams Nature Center, will be held Saturday, Aug. 24, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Ijams Nature Center.
The event will offer expert speakers on the hour, starting at 10 a.m. and running through 4 p.m.

Hummingbird banding will be conducted from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Wildlife education demonstrations will be presented by Ijams Naturalist Stephen Lyn Bales on the American Kestrel and Wildlife Rehabilitator Lynne McCoy on birds of prey and mammals.

The event will also offer a native plant sale, arts and crafts and a Bird Bargain Barn, where new and gently used bird and nature-related items will be offered for sale. Guided nature walks will also be conducted. Food and drinks will be available.

The event will feature several guest speakers, including Oliver Lang, Peg Beute, David Unger, David Pitts, Chris Mahoney, Marcia Davis and Steve McGaffin, presenting informative talks from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Of particular interest to hummingbird enthusiasts:
• “The Hummingbirds That Nest In Our Yards” by David Pitts. His presentation includes descriptions and photos of the nesting cycle of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds with information about nest sites and suggestions for finding nests in your yard.
• “Landscaping for Hummingbirds” by Chris Mahoney. Learn what plants you need to plant to attract hummingbirds in the spring, what plants they need for nesting and what plants to keep for the fall migration of hummers. Want to attract a wintering hummingbird? Learn what plants will attract a winter visitor.
• ”Hummingbird Feeders” by Marcia Davis. A nature columnist, Davis will tell you everything you need to know about hummingbird feeders and trouble-free hummingbird feeding. Her topics include when to expect the most (and the fewest) hummingbirds, when to put up and take down feeders, selection of trouble-free feeders with the best features for hummingbirds, homemade and commercial nectar solutions, feeder maintenance, feeder problems (bees, ants and feeder raiders), where to hang feeders, providing perch sites near feeders, making a fruit fly feeder and keeping hummingbirds safe in your yard.

Other presentations will include “Backyard Butterflies” by Steve McGaffin, “Nesting Bluebirds” by David Pitts, “Carnivores” by David Unger and “Flowering Plants” by Peg Beute.

The event will go on rain or shine. For directions to Ijams Nature Center, visit

Admission is $5. Children under 6 are admitted free. No reservations are needed. All proceeds will benefit KTOS and Ijams Nature Center.

For more information about the festival and a complete schedule, visit the KTOS website at


To share a sighting, ask a question or make a comment, call me at 297-9077 or 542-4151 or send email to or


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

share Facebook Twitter

Switch to our mobile site