Missionary from Kenya serving at St. Michael’s

Glenmary Missioner Kenneth Wandera left his home in Kenya to serve at St. Michael’s in Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church recently brought a unique perspective to the congregation as Kenneth Wandera, a missionary from Kenya, is now serving the community.

Wandera, who has come to serve at the church from Glenmary Home Missioners, said he is excited to serve Unicoi County.

“Growing up in Kenya I wanted to be a missionary priest, which means I would leave my family and friends and go overseas,” Wandera told The Erwin Record.

Wandera grew up watching the missionary priests come from Europe and other countries to serve his community in Kenya and he was drawn to them.

Wandera said he loves the diversity in the Christian faith here in the United States.

“There’s something beautiful working among different Christian groups, because there is a lot that we share in common, and that is what blows me away,” Wandera said.

Wandera said he is able to view the United States from a different perspective.

“There is something beautiful being American that American’s sometimes fail to see,” he said. “There is a sense of hospitality, a love for one another and a deep rooted goodness of people here.”

It’s that perspective that gives Wandera a unique view of the Bible. When Wandera describes being a shepherd in a biblical sense, he can relate it to his upbringing where Wandera actually had to shepherd cattle in Kenya.

“I’m realizing that I can use that as a tool and that I don’t need an entire sermon – I just need one minute to change a life,” Wandera said. “One of my goals here is to continue building on my ‘theology of encounter and ecumenism’.”

Wandera said he is excited to meet new people.

“I’m getting to know people, sharing in their stories and their faith backgrounds, ultimately founded in God,” he added. “I hope to visit Christian churches here and pray with them and be allowed to be transformed by that encounter.

“The welcome and the joy of the people here has blown me away, whether it is the folks at the nursing homes, Clinchfield Senior Adult Center, or in our own church of St. Michael.”

St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church has Mass on Saturdays at 5 p.m. and bilingual service at 10 a.m. on Sundays. Children, aged preschool to eighth grades, have services on  Wednesday from 5:45-7:15 p.m. The youth group, from those in grades 9-12, have services on Sunday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. To keep up with Saint Michael Archangel Catholic Church, visit stmichaelthearchangeluc.org or St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Parish on Facebook. St. Michael’s is located at 657 N. Mohawk Drive in Erwin.

Feathered Friends – American wigeon also known as ‘baldpate’

This male American wigeon shows the white head patch that gives this duck its other common name of “baldpate.” In this photograph, a female wigeon rests near her mate while a male redhead, a species of diving duck, swims in the background. (Photo by Tim McCabe/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

By Bryan Stevens

Erwin resident Pattie Rowland recently asked my help identifying some ducks she had photographed at the pond at Erwin Fishery Park. She already suspected the ducks in her photo were American wigeons, but she wanted confirmation.

The ducks were indeed wigeons, which are classified with the “dabblers” instead of the “divers,” which are two broad categories for describing the wild ducks likely to occur throughout North America. Dabblers feed mostly near the surface of the water, foraging on everything for aquatic insects to roots and tubers. The “divers,” not surprisingly, dive into the depth to pursue fish, mollusks and other aquatic prey.

“This was my first time to see them,” Pattie noted in a Facebook message. I congratulated her because I know how exciting a new observation of a bird can be.

It’s not been an exciting winter for ducks in the region. Other than some redheads and buffleheads back in November and early December at the start of the winter, the wigeons are the only wild ducks of interest that I’ve observed at the pond.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its report this past summer on 2018 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, based on surveys conducted in May and early June of 2018 by FWS and Canadian Wildlife Service.

Overall duck numbers in the survey area remained high, according to the report. Total populations were estimated at 41.2 million breeding ducks in the traditional survey area, 13 percent lower than last year’s estimate of 47.3 million but 17 percent above the long-term average. The projected mallard fall flight index was estimated at 11.4 million birds, down from the 2017 estimate of 12.9 million.

“The dip in the population for prairie-breeding puddle ducks is not unexpected and by no means unprecedented given that conditions on the prairies this spring were drier than last year,” said DU Chief Scientist Tom Moorman. “As a result, 2018 populations dropped accordingly. However, populations of all key species except northern pintails and scaup remain above long-term averages. This year’s breeding population decline is a reminder of the need to sustain the capacity of breeding habitats, particularly in the prairies as we go through natural variation in wetland conditions. Waterfowl populations are adapted well to short-term swings in habitat conditions, but we must continue to guard against the long-term loss of prairie breeding habitat.”

American wigeons, however, bucked the trend of some of the other prairie-breeding puddle ducks and showed a slight rise in overall numbers. The wigeon breeding population was estimated at 2.8 million individual ducks, according to the survey. Wigeons beat their long-term average, which rests at 2.6 million.

The American wigeon can be found all over North America. Their breeding grounds stretch from Alaska across the tundras of Canada all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. American Wigeons can be found in their wintering habitats from the American Northwest to central Mexico, from the southern prairie pothole region through the Gulf Coast and from New York to the Bahamas close to the Atlantic shoreline. American wigeons are also common winter visitors to Central America, the Caribbean, northern Colombia, Trinidad and occasionally Venezuela

Wigeons are aquatic grazers and forage on grasses and sedges in wet meadows and pastures. The American wigeon’s diet has a higher proportion of plant matter than the diet of any other dabbling duck.

It’s also called the “baldpate” for the same reason our national bird is known as the “bald” eagle. A white patch on the forehead reminded early naturalists of a bald man’s head in much the same way that our national bird earned the term “bald” eagle because of its own white head. Further, the word “bald” is thought to derive from an archaic word in Middle English meaning “white patch,” from which the archaic definition “marked or streaked with white” is drawn.

The origins of the term “wigeon” are a bit murkier. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first known use of “wigeon” dates back to 1508, and other sources suggest that the term perhaps was derived from a French/Balearic term meaning “a kind of small crane.”

There are two other species of wigeons — the Eurasian wigeon of Asia and Europe and the Chiloé wigeon of South America. Wigeons belong to the Marecagenus of dabbling ducks, which also includes gadwall and falcated teal.

While female American wigeons produce a rather raspy quacking sound, wigeons more typically produce a vocalization when excited that sounds like “whew, whew, whew.”

Some ducks have become associated with certain bodies of water in the region, and the American wigeon is no exception. In addition to the pond at Erwin Fishery Park, there have been reports of American wigeons this winter from a large pond adjacent to the campus of Northeast State Community College in Elizabethton, Tennessee, as well as on the weir dam at Osceola Island Recreation Site in Bristol. Hooded mergansers have wintered in large numbers at Middlebrook Lake in Bristol. Hundreds of buffleheads have wintered at Wilbur Lake near Elizabethton, Tennessee, for decades. March and April, being periods of transition as winter changes into spring, could bring migrating ducks to the region’s ponds, lakes and rivers. Keep your eyes open and you could be surprised by what you find.

Library Happenings – Check out updates to library’s website

By Angie Georgeff

If you have visited www.sites.google.com/site/unicoipubliclibrary recently, you will have noticed that we’ve made some updates to our website. We have new photographs, new links, an interactive map of our location and feeds for both of our Facebook pages on the “News and Notes” page.

If you have ideas for something you would like to see on our website, please let us know. An ETSU student who is working as an intern through the Holston River Regional Library has been helping us.

This is obviously good news for us, but it may very well be good news for you, too. On specific days during March and April, he will be available to help our patrons with their information technology questions.

If you want to learn how to use Microsoft Word or Excel, he can help you with that. He also can teach you how to use the myriad resources in TEL (the Tennessee Electronic Library), or get you started borrowing eBooks, audiobooks and videos with Tennessee R.E.A.D.S (the Regional eBook and Audiobook Download System). If what you really need is to learn how to use your own electronic devices, he can even assist you with that.

The first date on which the intern will be available is Friday, March 8, from noon until 4 p.m. On the following week, he will be here during the same hours on Thursday, March 14. In addition, he is scheduled to work on March 21 and 22. If you would like to reserve some time for personal instruction, call the library at 743-6533 for information and an appointment. You also may walk in for assistance, but you may have to wait if someone else is being helped then.

Coding Classes

We are justifiably proud of the Cx3 Computer Coding Classes that have been offered at the library for the past several months. The kids are having loads of fun creating their own computer games, while the teens are already learning web design. The excellent instruction and collaborative atmosphere make learning a pleasure.

Could a young person you know benefit from one of these classes? The kids’ class meets on Tuesdays from 3-4 p.m. The teens’ class meets immediately afterwards from 4-5 p.m. Please feel free to call the library for more information.

Spotlight Book

Last fall, Jude Deveraux introduced readers to Sara Medlar, her niece Kate, Jack Wyatt and the seemingly sleepy town of Lachlan, Florida. Now, in “A Justified Murder,” a sweet little old lady has been found poisoned, stabbed and shot for good measure.

The Medlars want nothing to do with another murder mystery, but a number of townsfolk insist on coming to them to clear their names. Why would so many people fear they might be suspects?

Whitson survives premiere episode of ‘Survivor: Edge of Extinction’

“One Of Us Is Going To Win The War” – Gavin Whitson on the second episode of SURVIVOR: Edge of Extinction airing, Wednesday, Feb. 27 (8:00-9:00PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

By Richard Rourk

Week one is in the books on Survivor: Edge of Extinction, and “the Tribe has spoken.”

Erwin native Gavin Whitson and his “Kama” tribe won immunity by winning the first obstacle course of the season. Due to contract requirements, Whitson will not be able to interview with The Erwin Record until the mid-season point of the juggernaut show.

The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce held a watch party for the first episode of the new season on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at Unicoi County High School. Whitson was on hand to greet his fans, some of which traveled over two hours to meet the Survivor star.

A pre-show party included games, food trucks and other activities. Team Gavin merchandise, including T-shirts and bandanas, were sold.

Whitson’s southern wit, ingenuity and charm were on full display early in the first episode. Whitson even slipped a joke about what he would do with the $1 million prize.

“I might buy us a fourth stoplight for Main Street,” Whitson said.

Whitson showed off his athletic skills during the first challenge and also showed that he is a force to be reckoned with during the mental game of Survivor. Whitson was seen early on laying the groundwork for an alliance with other first-time players to oppose the veterans.

“Someone new needs to win this,” Whitson said.

Last week’s event had a large turnout.

“We had between 700-800 people stay for the screening in the auditorium,” Delp said.

That number does not include the individuals that came for the meet and greet only.

To purchase Team Gavin gear, please stop by the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce on Main Avenue.

“T-shirt sales have been tremendous,” Chamber Executive Director Amanda Delp told The Erwin Record. “We sold roughly 300 shirts during the premiere.”

To follow Whitson’s progress and for future viewing party events, please follow Team Gavin on Facebook.

Union Street Taproom also had a successful viewing party for the premiere and will continue to have a viewing party for each episode for the rest of the season. For more information about these events, follow Union Street Taproom on Facebook

The upcoming episode of Survivor is entitled “One of us is going to win this war,” and will premiere on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 8 p.m. on CBS.

Feathered Friends – Birds plan ahead for times of scarcity

Blue Jays often create food caches for acorns and other items. This jay is leaving a feeder with several peanuts thanks to an expandable esophagus. (Photo by dbadry/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

Ernie Marburg sent me an email last month about an article he had read on chickadees that he thought might be of interest. The article’s main focus involved the fact that chickadees are apparently capable of remembering 1,000 cache sites and retrieving food several months after having placed it in various scattered locations.

“Their memories are better than ours,” Ernie wrote. “Mine, anyway.”

Ernie also had a question for me about observations he and his wife have made at their home in Abingdon, Virginia, about birds and the practice of caching food.

“My wife and I have both observed crows taking bread (five or six pieces at a time) in their beaks and flying off and burying it in lawns among the grass,” he wrote. “We have also observed that they march through the lawn apparently looking for such food caches. Is this something that is commonly known? Are we correct in our observation of this?”

Experts have indeed noticed this behavior. In fact, it’s fairly well known that crows are methodical in their approach to storing food. Crows, which belong to the corvid family that includes birds such as jays, ravens and magpies, are also highly intelligent animals. Their intelligence shows in the extra step they take after they have buried food. The crow will often take a leaf or twig and place it over the spot where the food has been buried. Experts suspect the bird takes this action to mark the spot and attract attention to the location when they return to look for the buried food.

Birds store food for convenience when they have more food than they can finish, but they also cache food in anticipation of periods such as inclement winter weather when food is likely to become scarce.

The blue jay, a relative of the American crow, is fond of acorns. The jay is so enamored of acorns — a nutrient-rich food for many birds and other animals — and so dedicated to caching acorns that the bird actually helps oak forests expand. A single jay may cache thousands of acorns each fall. Inevitably, some of the cache will be forgotten, to go uneaten and give the acorn the chance to sprout into a seedling in the spring that may grow into a mighty oak in a new stand of oaks.

The jay even has some modifications to help with the storing of food. Blue jays have a flexible esophagus that can distend and allow them to stuff multiple acorns down their throats. Caching food is hard work, so it helps reduce energy consumption if the jay can transport several acorns at a time instead of a single acorn on each trip to a cache site.

Now, back to chickadees for a moment. Research has shown that the brains of black-capped chickadees grow in anticipation of the need to remember where these tiny songbirds cache their sunflower seeds and other foods. The interesting finding is that only the part of the brain associated with memory grows. After all, it doesn’t do much good to store food for a rainy or snowy day if the bird promptly forgets where the food has been hidden.

The acorn woodpecker might qualify as a world-class cacher of food. As the bird’s name suggests, this woodpecker loves acorns. An acorn woodpecker will devote a significant amount of its time to establishing granaries. In this case, the granaries are holes drilled in the trunks of trees (or sometimes in a telephone pole or the side of a wooden building) for the storing of acorns. Some of these trees have hundreds of holes drilled into them with each hole containing an acorn placed there by the woodpecker. The woodpeckers often use dead trees, but they also utilize living trees. Surprisingly, the holes do not seem to affect the health of the trees.

From chickadees and woodpeckers to crows and jays, birds manage to continually surprise with seemingly infinite resourcefulness.

Library Happenings – Lego Club creating Mardi Gras themed project

By Angie Georgeff

Laissez les bon temps rouler! In English, that is “Let the good times roll!”  Next Tuesday, March 5, will be Shrove Tuesday, better known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras in French. We had fun marking the occasion last year, so once again we will celebrate with beads and crawdads.

In honor of the observance, our Lego Club for kids will have a special building project. Children are invited to join us at 6 p.m. to work on Mardi Gras floats for adorable little toy crayfish wearing purple, green and gold Mardi Gras masks and party hats. Please call the library at 743-6533 for reservations or more information.

Spotlight Book

Truth is not always stranger than fiction, but it often is quite strange enough. I guess that’s part of the reason why I prefer history to historical fiction. I also want to avoid coloring my understanding of history by confusing fantasy with the facts. When a novel is written by a trained historian, however, I’m prone to make an exception, especially when I’ve already enjoyed reading her histories.

Prolific historian Tracy Borman, author of “The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of Britain’s Greatest Dynasty” and “Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant,” turns her pen and imagination to the succeeding dynasty in a new novel with the refreshingly brief title “The King’s Witch.” When James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England from Elizabeth I as James I, he brought a well-documented dislike of women and fear of witches with him. The king’s attitudes permeate his court and threaten the lives of women who are skilled in healing with natural remedies.

Lady Frances Gorges is such a young woman. After she nursed the late queen through her final illness, Frances retired to her family home. She should have been safe there, but she is summoned to court to serve Princess Elizabeth, James’s daughter. Frances finds allies in the young princess and her mother, Queen Anne. Before long, a budding romance develops between Frances and Thomas Wintour, an up-and-coming lawyer. When a sick child whom she had helped dies, Frances is arrested on suspicion of witchcraft and tortured. Charges are dropped when Princess Elizabeth falls ill, but Frances stands on shaky ground and she knows it.

Tom then reveals a secret to Frances that tests her loyalty to him and to others. Since the novel’s Thomas – unlike Frances – is based on a historical figure of that name, readers who can’t wait for the second novel in the trilogy can search the Internet for clues to his probable fate. However, that would likely make you even more impatient for the second volume’s release.

Rock Creek students create cards for Nurturing Neighbors

Sharon Slagle, a local educator and Nurturing Neighbors organizer, speaks to Rock Creek students after they created supportive cards for those needing the organization’s services. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Students at Rock Creek Elementary recently learned what it means to give back to their community.

“It’s been exciting watching the children learn about changemakers during the most recent unit,” Rock Creek Elementary second grade teacher Kristen Allen told The Erwin Record. “The students learned about Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Katie Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., and many other change makers.”

Allen’s second-grade students chose to hand make cards to donate to Nurturing Neighbors. According to Mrs. Allen, the students decided to make the cards the previous week after the class read the story “Follow The Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles.”

Nurturing Neighbors is made up of organizers Sarah Shults, Jamie Rice, Sharon Slagle and Donna Seagroves. The program helps link volunteers to help people suffering from severe illnesses and their caregivers by utilizing the volunteers’ specific skill sets. The organization currently has more than 150 volunteers and are currently looking for citizens who could use the organization’s assistance.

At the Nurturing Neighbors meeting on Jan. 31, Shults stressed the importance of handmade items such as cards to someone who is sick. Allen saw an opportunity to blend her lesson with Nurturing Neighbors cause. Allen encouraged her students to be a change maker by creating cards for Nurturing Neighbors.

“Their goal was 75 cards, but they have made more than that,” Allen said.

To make the cards personal, the students were allowed the freedom to design the cards in their own way.

“The children were able to create the cards the way they wanted since it was their volunteer work,” Allen said.

Shults and Slagle visited Rock Creek Elementary Feb. 12 to explain to the students how Nurturing Neighbors works and to accept the students’ gifts.

If you or someone you know could use the services of Nurturing Neighbors, please contact nurturingneighborsofuc@gmail.com or 742-7508. Updates are also posted on the organization’s Facebook page.

Feathered Friends – Stay of Virginia’s warbler leaves birders amazed

The influx of birders to view the Virginia’s warbler led to other unexpected finds along the Kingsport greenbelt, including such out-of-season birds as blue-gray gnatcatchers, Nashville warbler and Northern parula. (Contributed photo by Sherrie Quillen)

By Bryan Stevens

At times, there’s nothing left to do but scratch your head and wonder. It’s a gesture many birders have been making around the Holston River in Kingsport as walks in the area along Netherland Inn Drive on the greenbelt have produced numerous warbler sightings in recent weeks.

The list includes expected winter warblers such as orange-crowned, pine, and yellow-rumped, as well as such off-season puzzlers as American redstart, common yellowthroat, Northern parula, Cape May warbler and Nashville warbler; these warblers really should be wintering far to the south in locations around the Caribbean and in Central America. So far this winter, sharp-eyed birders have seen at least 12 different warbler species on the Riverfront Greenbelt. None of them have generated the level of excitement that has been produced by a small plain gray and yellow bird that is doggedly devoted to its daily routine. Birders have rushed from all parts of Tennessee, as well as from as far afield as Virginia and New Jersey, for a chance to see a visiting Virginia’s warbler, a bird that has only been observed on a handful of occasions east of the Mississippi River.

This warbler is not named for the state of Virginia. Spencer F. Baird, who first described the Virginia’s Warbler in 1860, named the species after Virginia Anderson, the wife of Dr. W. W. Anderson, who collected the first specimen in 1858 in New Mexico. Virginia’s warbler is not all that exceptional in appearance. While gray overall the bird shows a white eyering and some yellow highlights to feathers on the chest and under the tail. The bird also wags its tail, a behavior that can be helpful in identifying it.

The Virginia’s warbler is a species known for showing up in some rather odd locations. Back in 2012, one of these warblers generated birding excitement around New York City when one was found in Alley Pond Park in the New York City borough of Queens. In their usual range, however, Virginia’s warblers nest in arid terrain, including open pinyon-juniper and oak woodlands in the southwestern Rocky Mountain states, which is a far cry from the banks of the Holston River in Kingsport or Queens in New York.

The Kingsport specimen pulled a vanishing act when the weather turned milder in early February. Well-known birder Rick Knight, who lives in Johnson City, Tennessee, addressed the status of the bird in a post he made to the list-serve, “TN-Bird”:

“The Virginia’s Warbler and the other unusual warblers present at Riverfront Park in Kingsport seem to wander some on warm days and then return to the water’s edge on cold days to take advantage of the milder microclimate there.” Knight went on to speculate that the bird may still be in the vicinity and will return to its usual haunts when cold temperatures return. So far, despite a mix of warm days with colder ones, the Virginia’s warbler hasn’t been seen since Feb. 2.

Several birders who found the bird and added it to their life lists commented on the fact that so many other unexpected species were found at the same time in the same location. It wasn’t long before people began evoking the famous birding phenomenon known as the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect, which is a birding phenomenon named for a famous hotspot in southeast Arizona. The lure of a bird called the rose-throated becard at the location attracted a rush of birders to the area. More eyes resulted in more discoveries of other rare birds. In turn, the additional finds continued attracting even more birders and resulted in the discovery of even more rare bird species.

So, who first noticed the presence of the out-of-place warbler? The credit for the discovery goes to two Kingsport residents. On a post to Facebook, the two women who discovered the bird shared details of their exciting find. Bambi “Birdfinder” Fincher posted the notice of the bird’s discovery.

“Yesterday (Saturday, Jan. 19) in the pouring rain, Sherrie Quillen and I found a Virginia’s warbler on Kingsport Birding Trail-Riverfront Greenbelt,” she wrote in a post to the Birding Kingsport Facebook page. “This is the first record of this bird in the state of Tennessee.”

Bambi explained her birding success simply. “I’m always looking! Keeps me birding!”

She also invited other birders to join her some time. “It can be pretty amazing,” she wrote. “No promises of a state record or life bird, but I can promise you that you will learn something about your surroundings and yourself.”

She earned her nickname “birdfinder” about 10 years ago when she first started birding. “I was out birding with Bill Moyle or Bill Grigsby — one of the Bill’s, anyway — and I was really ‘finding’ birds but didn’t know what they were.”

The Bills didn’t let her get discouraged. “They said, ‘That’s OK, you will learn the birds, but you are a birdfinder.’ It stuck.”

I met both Bambi and Sherrie for the first time on the day I traveled to Kingsport to try my luck at observing this warbler. Bambi quickly proved her “birdfinder” talents. Although I had to wait for about an hour for the bird to make an appearance, when it did arrive, it flew right to the spot by the river that Bambi had recommended I keep under observation. The specific spot consisted of a thin stand of privet rooted in the riverbank only a few yards from a bench located near the paved walking path. When the bird arrived, making telltale chip notes, I got my binoculars on it and enjoyed a satisfying but brief look at the bird. Birds are rarely as cooperative as this particular Virginia’s warbler turned out to be. Several other birders waiting with me also got to see the warbler at the same time. As warblers are my favorite family of birds, getting to observe this unexpected visitor has been the highlight of my birding year thus far.

In the Eastern United States, there are only a handful of warblers I haven’t yet observed. I need to see a cerulean warbler and Connecticut warbler, as well as a Kirtland’s warbler and golden-cheeked warbler. The latter two species are considered endangered and highly localized warblers occurring mostly in Michigan and Texas, respectively — two states I’ve not yet visited.

I’ll always remember my first look at a Virginia’s warbler just before noon on Jan. 28, 2019. The bird had already been present for ten days by the time I made the drive to Kingsport to try my luck. In addition, I saw many other interesting birds while waiting for my target bird to arrive. Some of the other observed birds included palm warbler, blue-gray gnatcatcher, ruby-crowned kinglets and golden-crowned kinglets.

Library Happenings – Researching the origins of an unusual phrase

By Angie Georgeff

I tend to think of Valentine’s Day as the unofficial last day of winter. Although we still have another month of winter ahead of us, our thoughts have already turned to spring. Today several members of our staff are spending the day in Sevierville at the Summer Reading Conference getting ideas we can implement during June and July. Gardeners are already planning flower and vegetable beds and those who watch HGTV throughout the winter are itching to begin home improvement projects. My front porch needs some attention, so I am ready to start looking for paint swatches. Oddly enough, this conjures up a picture of my mother on an especially bad hair day.

When I was a little girl – many, many years ago – my mother would describe her appearance on bad hair days as looking “like a pet haint.” She never used the word “haint” in any other context and her own definition when I asked her was nebulous, to say the least. Consequently, I came to understand it as someone or something that was not looking its best.

Since Mama lived in Johnson City when she was young, and no other family, friends or neighbors ever used the phrase that I recall, I suspect my mother added “pet haint” to her vocabulary during a summer visit to her grandparents in Hawkins County. It must have tickled her fancy, since she employed it to describe her hair at its most unruly for the remainder of her life.

Only many years later did I learn that haint (think haunt) was another word for ghost, which coincidentally happens to be someone or something that is not looking its best. As I’m typing these paragraphs, the word is underlined with a telltale red squiggle. It is alerting me to check my spelling, so evidently I was not alone in my ignorance of the term. Either that, or perhaps there’s a mischief-minded haint haunting my computer. The library is said to harbor 36 ghosts, but I have never encountered one – even late at night.

Haint Blue

If you type “haint” into a search engine, you’re likely to come up with the definition and more than fifty shades of blue, but relatively few other results. “Haint blue” is the traditional color of Southern porch ceilings, particularly those in the South Carolina Low Country. The blue ceilings, door frames and window sills found there were said to ward off stinging insects as well as evil spirits. 

Now that I come to think of it, I have never had a problem with bees or wasps on my front porch, which does have a blue ceiling. Nor have I seen a ghost, so I can’t say that it doesn’t work.  While I may alter the shade, I think I’ll leave my porch ceiling blue. I really don’t want my own pet haint.

Feathered Friends – HMSP plans Great Backyard Bird Count events

A male evening grosbeak perches on a branch. These large, colorful and noisy finches are extremely fond of sunflower seeds. Some participants in this year’s GBBC may have an increased chance of counting these birds because of a winter “irruption” of evening grosbeaks and other Northern finches. (Photo by Ted Schroeder)

By Bryan Stevens

Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, Virginia, plans some bird walks on Saturday, Feb. 16, to coincide with the Great Backyard Bird Count.

The 22nd annual GBBC is taking place Feb. 15-18 in backyards, parks, nature centers, on hiking trails, school grounds, balconies, and beaches—anywhere you find birds. The GBBC is a free, fun and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard or anywhere in the world.

Each checklist submitted during the GBBC helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment we share. Last year, more than 160,000 participants submitted their bird observations online, creating the largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded.

To help participants become better citizen scientists, some field guides and binoculars will be provided during the activities at Hungry Mother State Park. Supplies of these items, however, are limited.

The walk will commence at 8 a.m. Either Master Naturalist Randy Smith or Hungry Mother volunteer Mike Evans will conduct the walk. Participants are also welcome to bird solo or with a few friends to cover more territory.

At 9 a.m., participants will return to parking lot five for “Breakfast in a Bag” with the Holston Rivers Master Naturalists. While enjoying breakfast, attendees will be invited to wander over to the park’s restaurant to check out various hands-on birding activities.

The special event will wrap up when Smith teaches participants a little more about backyard birding with an informative session at 10:30 a.m. at the restaurant.

All ages and skill levels are welcome. Attendees are encouraged to dress warmly as the event will be held rain or shine.

A lot has changed since the first Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) was held in 1998. Each year brings unwavering enthusiasm from the growing number of participants in this now-global event.

“The very first GBBC was an experiment,” says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program. “We wanted to see if people would use the Internet to send us their bird sightings. Clearly the experiment was a success!”

Iliff noted that eBird collects bird observations globally every day of the year and is the online platform used by the GBBC. In the United States and Canada, 2019 bird lists are more likely to include sightings of winter finches and grosbeaks that are moving farther south than usual in what’s called an “irruption.” This type of movement is often sparked by poor cone, seed and berry crops in parts of Canada.

“This year is a very exciting one for backyard birders in the East, headlined by the largest evening grosbeak movement in at least two decades,” noted Iliff. “From Atlantic Canada to North Carolina, these colorful feeder visitors have been making a splash.”

Although seed crops were better in western Canada, eBird maps still show significant number of evening grosbeaks are now being reported in the West all the way down to the border with Mexico. eBird collects bird observations globally every day of the year and is the online platform used by the GBBC.

Evening grosbeaks have been reported this winter in Tennessee in such locations as Palmyra and Sewanee. Although I have not personally seen an evening grosbeak for 18 years, I remember fondly how large flocks of these colorful and noisy birds overwhelmed my feeders during winters in the late 1990s. I’d love to see some of them again at my feeders. People should be aware that hosting a flock of evening grosbeaks can represent a significant investment. A grosbeak flock can literally consume hundreds of pounds of sunflower seeds when they take up residence for the winter at a feeding station.

Whether or not evening grosbeaks make an appearance this winter, I will still be taking part in this year’s GBBC. I encourage others to do so, too.

Learn more about how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count at gbbc.birdcount.org where downloadable instructions and an explanatory PowerPoint are available. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada and is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

For more information on the GBBC event at Hungry Mother State Park, call 276-781-7400. The park is located at 2854 Park Blvd., Marion, Virginia. Details are also available by calling 1-800-933-7275 or visit www.virginiastateparks.gov.

The 21st annual GBBC will be held Friday, Feb.15, through Monday, Feb. 18. Please visit the official website at gbbc.birdcount.org for more information.

If you go:

• What: Hungry Mother State Park Great Backyard Bird Count events

• When: Feb. 16 beginning at 8 a.m.

• Where: Hungry Mother State Park, 2854 Park Blvd., Marion, Virginia, starting at parking lot five

For more information: Call 276-781-7400 or 1-800-933-7275 or visit www.virginiastateparks.gov

And:

• What: Great Backyard Bird Count

• When: Feb. 15-18

• Where: Your backyard or anywhere

For more information: gbbc.birdcount.org

Library Happenings – Some new Honor Books available at library

By Angie Georgeff

Every year the Association for Library Service to Children awards the Newbery Medal to the author of “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”

The ALSC also awards the Caldecott Medal to the artist of “the most distinguished American picture book for children.” 

A small number of Honor Books may also be recognized for each of these prestigious awards.  The 2019 winners of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals were announced on Monday, Jan. 28, along with two Newbery Honor Books and four Caldecott Honor Books.

The big announcement was made in Seattle at 11 a.m. EST. There was a lot going on that day, so it was nearly two hours before I learned which books had been honored.

We already had two of the Honor Books, so I ordered the remaining six for our children’s collection. By that time, four of the six were already out of stock.

The consolation is that when the new stock arrives, those items should sport a pretty gold or silver sticker that proclaims their exalted status. The two that were in stock have already been cataloged and processed.

Honor Books

The first is the Caldecott Honor Book “Alma and How She Got Her Name.”  The book was written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal.

As one would expect, the illustrations are exceptional. Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela is a little girl with a big name. Whenever she writes it, she has to tape an extra piece of paper to the bottom of the page in order to fit it all in.

When she complains to her father, he shows her pictures and tells her about the relatives whose names she bears. Alma comes to realize that she has much in common with each of her numerous namesakes.

Daddy starts with Sofia and ends with Candela, leaving for last a very special reason why she was named Alma. After reading this book, I found myself wishing for more namesakes than the three foremothers I already have. I think a dozen might do.

The second is the Newbery Honor Book “The Night Diary,” written by Veera Hiranandani. When the British colony of India became an independent nation in 1947, the country was partitioned into India and Pakistan. Twelve-year-old Nisha, whose father is Hindu and whose late mother was Muslim, discovers that her family is on the wrong side of the border. 

Their home in the city of Mirpur Khas will be in Pakistan. Since Hindus will no longer be safe there, they must leave and cross over the border into “the new India.” With her identity torn and her father, brother and grandmother preoccupied with the survival of the family, Nisha turns to her diary for consolation during that difficult and perilous journey.

High school drama students staging production of ‘Grease’

The Unicoi County High School drama department will present a new production of “Grease: School Version” in May. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Teacher Lori Ann Wright and the Unicoi County High School Drama Department are at it again. The drama department has brought several high-quality productions to the stage over the years, and this year will be no different.

Wright has worked tirelessly to bring back a “classic” and she’s allowed The Erwin Record to chronicle the production every step of the way.

Once Wright decided what production would fit for this year, the journey began. Wright chose “Grease: School Version,” written by Samuel French, but could not move forward until numerous hours of paperwork had been filed to get the rights to begin the production. According to Wright, work on a production begins six months prior to the first showing.

“We reached out to get the licensing rights ball rolling in November,” Wright told The Erwin Record.

Wright’s first order of business is finding a show that meets the cast size requirements and compliments the skill level of the students, as well as being in budget. Once the play is chosen, the research is done for licensing and purchasing rights to the show. It is at this point that the budget is reviewed and fundraising is planned.

For “Grease: School Version,” this was a tall order.

“For this show the budget is $8,000 dollars for three performances,” Wright said.

Roughly three months out from the first show, Wright is tasked with getting the cast of UCHS students together. Wright is currently in the process of holding auditions. Wright is also in the process of lining up the full production team. Confirmation of the script delivery date is also happening this month.

According to the official press release, the show dates are officially set. The UCHS Drama Department is proud to present “Grease: School Version” in the UCHS auditorium on May 2-4 at 7 p.m.

Tickets for the show will go on sale starting April 1, 2019 at the UCHS main office for advance purchase or can be bought 30 minutes before each performance. Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for students and $3 for children under 12.

“Grease: School Version” is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc. “Grease: School Version” book, music and lyrics are by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.

Please keep an eye out for the next installment as The Erwin Record and Wright bring you updates on casting, ticket designing and publicity for the upcoming production.

Feathered Friends – Virginia woman hosting wintering hummingbird

The ruby-throated hummingbird is the expected hummingbird in the eastern United States spring through fall. These birds are rare winter visitors, however, which makes the one living in a yard in Fall Church, Virginia. (Photo by Mariedy/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

I have been corresponding by email with Ellen Haberlein since around Thanksgiving of last year about a hummingbird that is wintering at her home in Fall Church, Virginia, which is located only a few miles from Washington, D.C.

The hummingbird’s presence has brightened the winter season for the Haberlein family since it showed up in late October of 2018.

Through the years, I have seen several of these seemingly out-of-place hummingbirds. Some of them remain at their host’s feeders for a brief stay of a few days or a couple of weeks, but some of these hummingbirds have extended their stay for several months, lingering throughout the winter months before eventually departing in February or March.

The big question is: are these hummingbirds truly lost and out of place? The answer, based on everything I have managed to learn, is that these hummingbirds are precisely where they want to be. For still unknown reasons, some of these western hummingbirds make a migration swing through the eastern United States.

Many of the visiting winter hummingbirds turn out to be Rufous Hummingbirds, which is a species native to the western United States. The bird visiting Ellen’s feeder, however, is a ruby-throated hummingbird. In the summer months, the ruby-throated is the expected species of hummingbird in the eastern United States. In the winter months — not so much. However, in some regions in Virginia, as well as along the Gulf Coast, a few ruby-throated hummingbirds are attempting to overwinter.

The Rufous Hummingbird has basically become an expected winter visitor with a few reports being received each winter. I have observed Rufous Hummingbirds in many different locations, including Bristol, Blountville, Flag Pond, Elizabethton and Hampton. I have also observed Allen’s hummingbirds in Mountain City and Johnson City. I know of records of these small birds from Erwin, Roan Mountain, Johnson City and many other locations throughout the region. Winter hummingbirds are a delightful surprise for their hosts, but their presence no longer shock long-time birders.

“Hosting a hummingbird in winter is a first for us, so we enjoy having him here,” Ellen wrote.  “I feel that I am responsible to keep the little guy alive through the cold months.”

Doing so has meant staying atop some challenges.

“I monitor the feeder to make sure it doesn’t freeze,” Ellen wrote. “I have read the nectar doesn’t need to be replaced as often in winter, but I still change it every 2-3 days.”

She’s taking no chance with the health of her tiny visitor. “I think he needs to have fresh food to stay in good health,” Ellen wrote. “I have two feeders, so when I remove one, I immediately replace it with another. That way his food source is not disrupted.”

Ellen noted that the hummingbird seems to be able to stand the cold nights. “I take in the feeder at night, and he looks for it just at dawn in the morning,” she wrote.

She contacted Bruce Peterjohn at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Her visiting ruby-throated hummingbird is the first he has heard of in Virginia for the winter season this year, although Peterjohn informed Ellen that some ruby-throated hummingbirds usually overwinter close to the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia.

Peterjohn, the chief of the US Bird Banding Laboratory for USGS, is the person responsible for administering the national bird banding program and the data management system for bird banding and band encounter datasets. His personal banding activities are focused on banding hummingbirds in the mid-Atlantic region, especially hummingbirds that appear during late autumn and winter.

With the dawning of the new year, Ellen’s visiting hummingbird remained present. “I am happy to help this little bird get through the winter,” Ellen said.

I checked back with Ellen on Jan. 29 to see if the hummingbird remains in residence.

“He made it through the last storm with wind chills at zero or below,” she replied to my email. “Now we have more cold coming and I am hoping for the best.”

I imagine Ellen is a good host for many birds, not just the unseasonable hummingbird, that visit her yard and gardens.

In our correspondence, she shared some sightings of warblers, which is my favorite family of birds.

“By the way, I have not seen a hooded warbler,” Ellen wrote. “I see warblers pass through during spring, like Tennessee warblers and black-and-white warblers.”

I’m hopeful that she will spy a migrating hooded warbler, perhaps this spring. In the meantime, she’s hosting a wintering hummingbird. “I am happy to help this little bird get through the winter,” Ellen wrote.

Senior Center News – Heart health, tax assistance events on calendar

By Kerry Taylor

February usually brings us more cold weather and winter doldrums. But your Clinchfield Senior Adult Center is here to help warm you up!

Once again, please call on snow days because we are operating on a new schedule in 2019.

Thanks for everyone’s help getting Erwin ready for the Yarn Bomb. We will be working on a new knitting project in February. Don’t forget to check out our library – we get new books from time to time.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we are focusing on the heart in February. Be sure to come by for help on heart-healthy living. Come with friends and stay for lunch!

Love Your Heart!

Thursdays from 9:30-10:30 a.m.

This month show your heart some love with Rachel York from UT Extension! Learn ways to keep your heart strong with exercise and nutrition. This series will be fun, interactive and helpful for all ages.

• Week 1 (Feb. 7 ) Exercise: We all know that exercise is important for our health, but what is the best workout for your heart? Let’s take a walk through the Senior Center fitness room to see what equipment is the most helpful for your heart health.

• Week 2 (Feb. 14) Nutrition: Valentine’s Day can only mean one thing- chocolate!  Are sweets allowed if you are worried about your heart?  Enjoy a healthy food demonstration that will hit your sweet tooth!  We will also discuss other common ways you can keep a healthy diet.

• Week 3 (Feb. 21)  Making a Plan for Your Heart: Having a healthy heart means making small decisions about your health every day. In our closing session, we will connect what we’ve learned about diet and exercise, along with other factors like working with your healthcare professional, including your family, and more.

AARP Tax Aide

Feb. 11 & March 12

AARP Tax Assistance is available annually at the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center during tax season by appointment only. 

Please call the center at 743-5111 and ask for an AARP Tax Aide appointment.

Library Happenings – Excitement building for Summer Reading Programs

By Angie Georgeff

Although summer seems to be quite a long way off, it will be here before you know it. Realizing this, we already are making big plans for our Summer Reading Programs for children, teens and adults.

This year, we are dividing the programs into two phases. The first five weeks will be centered on space, which is the nationwide theme for 2019. The slogan will be “A Universe of Stories,” and each week activities will be planned for each age group, along with a Friday Family Fun Day. These programs will emphasize reading, writing and the STEAM disciplines.

In addition to the nationwide program, several libraries in the OWL consortium, to which we belong, will join in a second back-to-school phase of Summer Reading centered on the Harry Potter novels.

The focus of these programs will be to stimulate the child’s imagination and engage the entire family in reading for pleasure in order to foster a positive learning environment in the home. Our entire staff is excited about these programs and the lifelong love of learning they can ignite in our youth.

Spotlight Book

Marie Benedict, the author of “The Other Einstein” and “Carnegie’s Maid,” finds inspiration for her fiction in the lives of real women. For her latest bestseller “The Only Woman in the Room,” she has turned her attention to film star Hedy Lamarr. The novel opens in a theater in Vienna.  Young Hedwig Keisler is standing onstage accepting the adulation of the crowd for her performance as Austria’s beloved Empress Elisabeth. The wealthy and influential munitions magnate Friedrich Mandl is among her admirers. The year is 1933. The National Socialist German Workers’ Party is starting to exert influence in neighboring Austria. A woman must be careful whom she rebuffs, especially if the woman in question happens to be Jewish.

Hedy’s parents encourage her to accept Mandl’s offer of marriage, hoping that it will protect her.  Their union is not a happy one and Hedy becomes increasingly concerned as she overhears conversations between her husband and high-level military and political functionaries. Since she is “only” a woman, it never occurs to them to guard their tongues in her presence. That proves to be a mistake, because Hedy understands what they’re saying just as well as they do. Her pretty face masks her brilliant mind from their notice.

Alarmed, Hedy escapes to London and then Hollywood. Louis B. Mayer bills the rechristened Hedy Lamarr as the most beautiful woman in the world. Her career on film takes off, but she also wants to help the Allied war effort. With the military intelligence she gleaned from her husband’s conversations and her own expertise in science, she has the means to make a contribution that still resonates today.

Feathered Friends – Readers shares story about pine siskin rescue

By Bryan Stevens

A recent email reminded me that some of the birds that visit us during the winter range far beyond our yards and gardens here in Northeast Tennessee.

Pine siskins have a sharp, pointed bill rather than the blunter bills of some of their finch relatives. (Photo by Bryan Stevens)

I received an email from Fred Bergold, a reader who resides in Utah.

“This little warbler flew into our window,” Fred explained in his email, which arrived with photos attached. “My wife picked it off the deck and held it for about half an hour.”

The kind treatment worked. “When it got its bearings back, it flew to the top of our Colorado green spruce,” Fred wrote.

“We feed the local wintering birds black oil sunflower seeds, which many species seem to like,’ Fred continued. “We live in Fruit Heights, Utah, just north of Salt Lake City.”

When I looked at the photos Fred provided, I realized that the bird in question wasn’t one of the warblers but a species of small finch known as a pine siskin. I replied to Fred’s email and offered a quick lesson in distinguishing pine siskins from warblers and other small songbirds.

I informed Fred that siskins usually travel in flocks and that they love feeders with sunflower seeds.

I also shared with him that I’ve gotten to travel to his home state of Utah twice since 2003. Getting to see some western species — American dipper, lazuli bunting, western tanager, violet-winged swallow — while visiting the state produced some memorable birding moments.

Winters, no matter where one lives, can decrease the variety of bird species one sees on a daily basis. I often find myself hoping for the excitement produced when flocks of “irruptive” finches not often seen in the area expand their range into the region. In addition to pine siskins, birds such as evening grosbeaks, purple finches, common redpolls and red crossbills represent a few of these northern finch species that occasionally stage massive migratory movements, or irruptions, into areas far outside their typical ranges.

These finches are not the only birds to stage these periodic irruptions. The website birdsource.org identifies several non-finch species — red-breasted nuthatch, Clark’s nutcracker, bohemian waxwing, black-capped chickadee and varied thrush — that undertake periodic winter irruptions. Two of these northern finches — the pine siskin and the red crossbill — are sporadic summer residents on some of the higher mountains in our region.

These irruptions are not usually motivated by cold or severe weather. The absence of a favored food source on a bird’s normal winter range is usually a trigger for an irruption. Birds, such as pine siskins, will fly farther than normal in a quest for reliable food sources. Not surprisingly, well-stocked feeders often attract their attention.

The pine siskin belongs to a genus of birds known as Spinus, which includes three species of goldfinches and more than a dozen species of siskins, many of them native to Central and South America. Only one species — the Eurasian siskin — is found outside of the New World. Other siskins include the black-capped siskin, hooded siskin, red siskin, black siskin, Antillean siskin and Andean siskin.

Siskins often associate with American goldfinches. In shape and size, the two birds are extremely similar. Unlike goldfinches, however, siskins display extensive streaking on their back and breast. The bill of a siskin is sharp and pointed. Overall a drab brown in coloration, siskins also show some surprisingly bright yellow coloration in their wings and tails. Although sociable, individuals can display some irritable tantrums when competing for prime space at feeders.

Some people quickly discover that a large flock of pine siskins is quite a drain on the daily allotment of feed provided for backyard birds. For such small birds, they have large appetites. Siskins are also extremely tame and can often be approached quite closely. A few years ago during a particularly frigid cold snap, I succeeded in luring a pine siskin to land on my gloved hand, which held some sunflower seeds. Needless to say, it was a very memorable, intimate moment.

In addition to this unusual tameness, siskins are extremely vocal birds. These birds have a shrill trill that sounds almost mechanical to my ears. Large flocks also produce a constant twittering noise as they perch in trees or on feeders.

Next month will offer an opportunity to participate in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, which is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Recording visiting birds such as pine siskins is an important component of the GBBC. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world. The 21st annual GBBC will be held Friday, Feb. 16, through Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. Please visit the official website at birdcount.org for more information. I’ll also focus on the GBBC more in upcoming columns.

Library Happenings – With February comes special events

By Angie Georgeff

As we prepare to bid farewell to January, I suspect few hearts are breaking. We who work at the library and lock the doors at 6 p.m. were overjoyed on the first day when it wasn’t quite dark when we left. Hearts seem to lighten as the days lengthen, and now February stands on our doorstep with hearts, flowers, chocolate and cherry pie. The month is chock full of observances and I’m ready to let it in.

The month starts with Change Your Password Day on Friday. I know that changing your passwords can be a hassle, but with data breaches becoming common occurrences, I believe it pays to be proactive. After the Collection 1 Breach was revealed earlier this month, I groaned, but took the precaution of changing several passwords. I made them strong by using more than 12 characters, including capital letters, lower-case letters, numerals and special symbols. I also made sure that they were easy for me to remember, but something that not even my own family would guess. I then wrote down the passwords I won’t use often and locked them away in a secure place.

An even more important day – to my way of thinking – is Take Your Child to the Library Day, which will be observed this year on Saturday, Feb. 2. For 2019 it happens to coincide with Groundhog Day, but regardless of whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow or not, we will be celebrating from 1-2 p.m. with a story walk and craft. While you are here, let your child choose a book about groundhogs or any other subject that may interest her and check it out. I do have a word of caution for fans of the Groundhog Day movie: Unlike the film, we will only do this program once, so don’t be late! You – and we – will have only one chance to get it right.

Teen Party

Of course, events to celebrate Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day are currently being planned.  The teen Valentine’s Day party is the first on deck. Young people between the ages of 12 and 18 are invited to celebrate all things February with a party to be held on Friday, Feb. 1, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Please call the library at 743-6533 for information or to register or check out our Unicoi County Public Library Kids and Teens Facebook page for more details.

President’s’ Day

To apostrophe or not to apostrophe, that is the question. Should the upcoming holiday be written as plural (Presidents Day), possessive (President’s Day) or plural possessive (Presidents’ Day)?  We see all three, but according to the State of Tennessee, Feb. 18 will be Presidents Day, while the federal government refers to the holiday as Washington’s Birthday. Sorry, Abe!

Feathered Friends – Birds made headlines around world

At 67, Wisdom, a female Laysan albatross and the world’s oldest known breeding bird in the wild, is a mother once more! On Feb. 6, 2018, approximately two months after Wisdom began incubating her egg, Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, welcomed their newest chick to Midway Atoll. In this photo, Wisdom is pictured with her most her recent chick. (Photo by Bob Peyton/USFWS)

By Bryan Stevens

We are still in the first weeks of 2019, so I thought it might be a good time to look back at some of the top bird-related stories of 2018. Here are my Top Five picks:

Mother of Mothers

Wisdom the albatross nested again at age 67. Wisdom, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service website, is the oldest known banded bird in the wild. She is a female Laysan albatross that nests within the world’s largest albatross colony on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. She is at least 67 years old and a world-renowned symbol of hope for all species that depend upon the health of the ocean to survive.

Famed ornithology expert Chandler Robbins banded Wisdom on Dec. 10, 1956. Forty-six years later, he banded her again.

Albatrosses and other seabirds return to the same nesting site each year. Wisdom has been using the same nesting site on Midway Atoll since she was first banded. Albatrosses lay a single egg and incubate it for a little over two months. After a chick hatches, it will still be another five months before it will leave the nest. In that time, Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, like all albatross parents, take turns incubating the egg or caring for the chick while the other forages for food at sea.

“Midway Atoll’s habitat doesn’t just contain millions of birds, it contains countless generations and families of albatrosses,” said Kelly Goodale, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge Biologist, in a press release. “If you can imagine when Wisdom returns home, she is likely surrounded by what were once her chicks and potentially their chicks. What a family reunion!”

Wisdom’s also a real survivor. For instance, she survived, along with her chick, the earthquake and tsunami that killed many Laysan and black-footed albatrosses on Midway Atoll in 2011.

New Discoveries

New birds continue to be discovered around the world. For example, a research team has described an unusual new songbird species. The bird was named the Rote leaf-warbler (Phylloscopus rotiensis) after the island where it is found.

This new species of leaf-warbler, which has an unusually long bill, was first discovered on Rote Island, Indonesia.

Each year, about five to 10 new bird species are described worldwide. The fact that this bird is the second novel species described from Rota last year is also noteworthy. The other species — the Rote myzomela (Myzomela irianawidodoae) is a species of Indonesian honeyeater endemic to the island of Rote. Although first noticed years ago, scientists only confirmed this past year the the bird is actually a distinct species.

On this one small island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana islands live two other birds found nowhere else in the world: the Mariana crow and the Rota white-eye. These birds are testimony to both the resilience and fragility of the world’s birds.

Mixed Heritage

In an example of the fluidity of some species of birds, experts have confirmed a rare three-species hybrid with DNA from three different New World warbler species. As the warblers are my favorite family of birds, I found this a fascinating story.

The bird found in Pennsylvania was the offspring of a hybrid warbler mother and a warbler father from an entirely different genus. This is a combination never recorded before now, which resulted in a three-species hybrid bird. The bird is the offspring of a female hybrid between a blue-winged warbler and a golden-winged warbler. Its father was a chestnut-sided warbler, which is not considered a close relative of the other two warblers.

Condors Soar Again

California condors continue to climb back from the brink of extinction. For the first time in more than three decades, an endangered California condor chick successfully fledged from a cliff-side nest in Santa Barbara County in California in November of 2018.  Condor number 933 took its first short flight after being raised by its parents for six months in the northern Santa Barbara backcountry of Los Padres National Forest. This chick represents another milestone in the condor recovery program: the first second-generation wild fledgling in Southern California. Its father fledged from the Santa Barbara backcountry in 1980.

The chick known as Condor 933 hatched in late April and was raised by six-year-old female condor 654 and 38-year-old male condor 20, more popularly known as AC-4.

Official USFWS statistics from December 2016 recorded an overall population of 446 condors, of which 276 are wild and 170 are captive. A key milestone was reached in 2015, when more condors were born in the wild than died.

The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to establish two geographically distinct self-sustaining populations, each with 150 birds in the wild and at least 15 breeding pairs, with a third population of condors retained in captivity. As the Recovery Program works toward this goal, the number of release sites has grown. There are three active release sites in California, one in Arizona and one in Baja, Mexico.

Slipping Away

Despite the success stories, birds are getting hit hard in the age of extinction sweeping our planet. Some of this year’s extinction casualties included a diminutive Hawaiian species known as the po’ouli, as well as the Brazilian birds known as the cryptic treehunter and the Alagoas foliage-gleaner. Spix’s macaw — a parrot species made famous by Disney’s animated feature film Rio — is now extinct in the wild, although about 50 individuals survive in captivity. The announcement about the macaw was a formality. Scientists have suspected the species is extinct in the wild since 2011 when the last known female Spix’s macaw perished. The announcement in September of 2018 served as a mere formality. Unfortunately, things will probably only get worse for many bird species in the short-term future. We must never begrudge the resources needed to keep them all flying free.

Library Happenings – New books for children, teens arrive

By Angie Georgeff

Our very large order of books for children and teens has arrived! When they were first delivered, one of the big tables in our lobby was filled to capacity with boxes in an array of sizes.

Their less-than-first-class travels from Middle Tennessee and Indiana had left them cold in spite of their dust jackets, but they soon warmed up and now are eager to entertain your children. We are cataloging and processing them as quickly was possible.

Spotlight Book

Alphabet books are a wonderful resource for teaching young children their letters. Most begin with something like “A is for apple; B is for ball and C is for Cat.” They are colorful and practical, but just not that interesting if one is not a toddler. One of our most recent acquisitions, however, is an alphabet book with a twist.

Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter’s “P Is for Pterodactyl” is subtitled the WORST alphabet book ever. In this book, “A is for Aisle,” “B is for Bdellium” and “C is for Czar.”

Unlike most alphabet books, this one is recommended for children ages four and up, who are familiar with the sounds letters represent most often, but not with the silent letters and other alphabetical oddities that trip up spellers.

I had never expected to encounter the word bdellium in any book other than the Bible, but it’s perfect for this book. If you are wondering, bdellium is an aromatic resin similar to myrrh. It is found throughout the Middle East and is used for incense. Bdellium may also refer to a pearl or precious stone, but don’t worry about unfamiliar words.

At the end of “P Is for Pterodactyl” readers find “The Worst Glossary Ever.” This provides correct pronunciations and humorous definitions for any words with which the kids—or parents—are not yet acquainted. The charming illustrations by Maria Tina Beddia also help to give the words meaning. Now ABCs are fun for kids and grownups!

Thank you, Blue Devils!

Blue Devil baseball coach Chad Gillis wants to involve the team in the community, so he has brought the boys to the library for the past two weeks.

Along with the library’s own Teen Activity Group, they have read with young children in the library’s Reading Buddies program. The kids enjoy the help and attention as they read aloud to their buddy. This helps them to become more confident in their abilities and build reading proficiency.

We want to thank the Blue Devils and all of the volunteers who help out with this program. If you have a child who might benefit from this program, please call the library at 743-6533 for information.

Feathered Friends – Common loon saved after making crash landing

The common loon is a masterful diver and swimmer, but these birds are awkward and nearly helpless on land. (Photo by dkbach/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

An early December snowstorm had deposited a blanket of snow over the landscape, but milder temperatures quickly melted the snow on roadways when a weary — or perhaps disoriented — traveler made a crash landing.

Complete disaster was avoided thanks to the efforts of Joe McGuiness, a resident of Erwin, as well as an employee of the U.S. Forest Service. Joe shared the story at a recent meeting of the Elizabethton Bird Club.

Joe discovered the stranded traveler just after he finished having lunch on Dec. 6. He looked out his window and saw a “dark blob” in the driveway.

Joe recognized that the blob was actually an immature common loon. As he went to investigate, the bird tried to slide downhill on some of the recent snow.

Waterfowl like loons and grebes occasionally make landings on wet roadways. These birds mistake the dark, damp asphalt for water and don’t realize their error until it is too late.

“It probably landed on a neighborhood road by mistake,” explained Joe, who resides in the Rolling Hills residential community in Erwin. Over the years, Joe has been a magnet for some unusual birds. Several years ago, an American woodcock became a daily visitor for a spell in the community where Joe lives. Several birders got an opportunity to see that particular bird, which is usually extremely elusive and difficult to observe at close range.

Once he identified the loon, Joe still faced the challenge of rescuing it. Without human intervention, the bird would have been doomed. Loons, while so graceful and powerful in their element, are clumsy and almost helpless on land. According to loons.org, the official website for The Loon Preservation Committee, the placement of a loon’s legs at the far back of the body ensures that loons are excellent divers and swimmers. It also means that loons cannot easily walk on land. This difficulty is one reason why loons nest right next to the water. At night, loons sleep over deep water, away from land, for protection from predators.

Once a loon lands on any body of water, it requires a considerably long “runway” to take off again. They sort of run along the surface of the water to gain the momentum to become airborne again. Obviously, that’s not going to happen for one of these birds if they’ve made the mistake of putting down on dry land. Fortunately, Joe realized he would need to help the loon reach water.

By tossing a coat over the loon, Joe managed to subdue the bird and transport it to a local pond for release. As he placed the bird at the edge of the pond, the loon surprised him and didn’t budge. Joe gave the bird a helpful nudge. In response, the bird turned and whacked him in the face with its beak. I suppose no good deed goes unpunished.

Eventually, the frightened loon moved into the water. The loon has remained on the pond recuperating for several weeks, which has allowed people to see the rescued creature.

In the northern United States and Canada, the common loon is often put forward as a symbol of the wilderness areas where it likes to reside on ponds and lakes for the summer nesting season. In Europe and Asia, the common loon is known by the more descriptive name “great northern diver.”

A common loon can reach a length of 3 feet. This bird’s wingspan can stretch out to almost 5 feet. They can attain a weight between 9 and 12 pounds, which is quite heavy for most birds.

All five living species of loons are members of the genus Gavia, which in addition to the common loon also includes red-throated loon, Arctic loon, Pacific loon and yellow-billed loon. All loons feed chiefly on fish.

It’s usually human behavior that puts loons at risk. For example, ingested lead fishing tackle is a leading cause of mortality for loons in New Hampshire. Joe’s encounter with a loon, and its happy ending, spotlights how people can sometimes help these beautiful birds instead of harming them.