Library Happenings – Strout releases sequel to ‘Olive Kitteridge’

By Angie Georgeff

All Hallows’ Eve is nearly upon us and the longest summer that I can recall (outside of the years I lived in Hawaii, of course) is finally beginning to fade into fall. In the stores, Halloween merchandise has already been replaced by Christmas décor, with Thanksgiving barely receiving a nod. The year seems to be rushing to a precipitous close, and 2020 is already looming large. 

Leap year, the 24th decennial census, the Games of the XXXII Olympiad, and the 2020 elections will make next year one to remember, but I am in no hurry to get there. This is the time of year when I want to slow down and savor each moment before the rush begins.

If you feel the same way, you will be happy to know that we have recently received a large shipment of DVDs and a few more are on the way. Why not come to the library, borrow a couple of good movies, butter some popcorn and settle in for an evening’s entertainment?

As usual, a list of the new titles will be posted on the wall beside the bookcases where the DVDs are shelved. Take a look at it the next time you visit the library and see what tickles your fancy.

Spotlight Book

In 2008, Elizabeth Strout’s novel “Olive Kitteridge” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  The bestselling book was written as a chain of stories mostly set in the small coastal town of Crosby, Maine and filled with a colorful cast of characters. Cantankerous, opinionated and outspoken, retired schoolteacher Olive Kitteridge is the link that holds them all together.

Taking up where the first novel left off, “Olive, Again” follows the same format and it features many of the same endearingly quirky Mainers.

Olive’s husband Henry has died and she is being courted by widower Jack Kennison. Her son Christopher still lives in New York. Olive’s relationship with him is strained. She has a grandson she has never seen and her son’s wife has just given birth to a stillborn baby. Grieving the child’s death, they are hoping for another pregnancy but Olive is not terribly supportive. After all, the couple already has three children between them.

I enjoy novels that are written as stories. With each chapter being a complete and satisfying serving of fiction, they’re perfect for those occasions when you know the time you have available for reading is limited. This may sound gluttonous, but there are times when I would rather enjoy a dozen cupcakes one at a time than devour an entire cake in one sitting. With “Olive, Again”, Elizabeth Strout offers us a baker’s dozen.

Unicoi’s Heritage Day takes visitors back in time

Lesia Willis demonstrates how to grind corn with an old-timey machine. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Town of Unicoi took a trip back in time last week.

Town officials joined the Unicoi History Group to host their annual Heritage Day and on Friday, Oct. 18, and Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Bogart-Bowman Cabin. Local school children attended the event on Friday; the event was open to the general public on Saturday.

According to Town of Unicoi Communications and Programs Director Ashely Shelton, the event was a huge success.

“We had 258 students come through on Friday and more than 100 on Saturday,” Shelton said. “Although our numbers did not set our record, which is 300 in one day, 258 is one of the highest one day of attendance that we have seen since we started doing Heritage Day close to a decade ago.”

Shelton acknowledged that there were 13 vendors on Friday, and 12 vendors on Saturday. “Guests were able to tour exhibits that demonstrated blacksmith forging, beehive oven biscuit making, fireside apple butter cooking, quilting, corn shucking and so much more,” Shelton said. 

Heritage Day is designed to celebrate Southern Appalachian heritage and give visitors a glimpse into the daily life of settlers during the 1700-1800s. The students who attended Friday’s Heritage Day presentation were treated to a very special reading of the story of the Overmountain Men by the Overmountain Victory Trail Association.

Shelton said that the event was a hit among the youth of Unicoi County.

“The children loved it,” Shelton said. “I had one little boy come up and hug me and thank me, he was so excited; that child had a blast.”

According to Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch, events like Heritage Day make the town unique.

“We are very proud of our town, and of events like this, that are both fun and educational,” Lynch said.

This was Shelton’s first Heritage Day experience.

“It was so neat. I’ve never been apart of anything like that; it was so much fun,” Shelton said. “There was such a sense of community among the vendors and demonstrators.”

Shelton acknowledged that Heritage Day could not happen if it wasn’t for the vendors and volunteers.

“We are so appreciative of all the volunteers. We had local high school students who volunteered on Friday, and we had community members volunteering on Saturday,” Shelton said. “We really appreciate the demonstrators as well. What makes this all possible is all of our great volunteers.”

The Town of Unicoi and the Town of Unicoi History Group will be focusing on the upcoming annual Veteran’s Day Lunch, which will be held on Nov. 9 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.

For more information on upcoming events, please follow the Town of Unicoi on Facebook and on Youtube.

Feathered Friends – Mysterious owl retains a low profile

The barn owl’s heart-shaped face helps this bird, which is also known by such names as death owl, ghost owl, and hobgoblin owl, stand out from the other owls that share the domain of night. (Photo by jeanvdmeulen/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

With common names such as cave owl, death owl, ghost owl, night owl and hobgoblin owl, the nocturnal hunter more widely known as the barn owl provides a fitting focus for exploration as the calendar counts down toward Halloween.

Barn owls lurk in the shadows of night, but most people would never know it unless they happen to hear some of the spine-tingling vocalizations produced by this poorly known predatory bird. Shiver-inducing shrieks and screams quite capable of piercing the veil of darkness are often produced by the barn owl. This owl doesn’t utter loud hoots like the great horned owl. Instead, the call of the barn owl is not likely one to be soon forgotten because of its raspy, nails-on-the-chalkboard nature. A hearer could easily be misled into misinterpreting the shrill vocalizations as originating from something far more ghoulish.

According to the website for the Owl Research Institute in Charlo, Montana, barn owls are the most widely distributed owl in the world, and they may be one of the most common, as well. In Montana, where ORI is located, barn owl observations are rather sparse. ORI has documented 12 barn owl nests and made numerous observations in the last 12 years, according to its website. Likewise, the barn owl is not too often observed in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

The barn owl is often associated with rural, agricultural areas, which is one reason they can often be found in old barns, sheds and farm silos. However, the first barn owl I ever saw in the wild was living beneath the eaves of a building on the campus of Mountain Home Veterans Administration in Johnson City, Tennessee, within walking distance of commercial buildings and the campus of East Tennessee State University.

The barn owl has no close relatives among the other owls found in the region. The barn owl is in its own unique family known as Tytonidae. The family name comes from a Greek word, Tuto, which translates as “night owl.”

Other owls in our region — great horned owl, barred owl, Eastern screech-owl, short-eared owl — belong to a family called Strigidae,  which are often described as “typical owls” by ornithologists and other experts.

The barn owl is one of nature’s most perfect predators. Among animals tested by scientists, the barn owl shows an almost uncanny ability to detect prey animals by sound alone. Prey, which is often small voles or other rodents, often doesn’t know of the danger until it’s too late. The structure of the barn owl’s wings and feathers is such that these predatory birds can fly through the darkness in almost perfect silence.

There’s a heavy cost that the owl must pay for these special adaptations. According to the Barn Owl Trust, an organization founded in 1988 in the United Kingdom to conserve one of the most beautiful birds on Earth, a barn owl’s specially adapted feathers are not particularly waterproof. In addition, barn owls are unable to store a lot of body fat. The Trust’s website notes that barn owls are unable to hunt in heavy rain and are particularly prone to starvation during prolonged periods of severe weather and/or prey shortage.

Much myth and legend have arisen around the world’s owls, including the barn owl. A native tribe in California known as the Newuks believed that warriors who proved courageous and virtuous became great horned owls after death. Men who practiced wicked ways, however, were thought to become barn owls.

This owl with the white heart-shaped face has long spooked humans. The bird’s head and upper body typically vary between pale brown and various shade of gray. Especially in flight, the barn owl can look rather pale.

The barn owl is the most widespread terrestrial bird species in the world, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. In addition to its various spooky common names, barn owls are also known by such descriptive monikers as monkey-faced owl, silver owl and golden owl. Some other common names include church owl and steeple owl. This owl acquired this name for its habit of utilizing steeples or bell towers in churches as roosting locations when barns or caves were lacking.

For a bird so closely associated with people and their dwellings and related structures, the barn owl remains an enigma to many. YouTube offers a variety of videos that showcase the creepy vocalizations of barn owls. Familiarize yourself with their calls, and you’ll be more likely to distinguish a barn owl calling after dark from the more sinister specters on the prowl this Halloween.

To learn more about barn owls or to make a contribution toward their conservation, visit www.barnowltrust.org.uk.

Library Happenings – Film festival, Halloween parties among upcoming events

By Angie Georgeff

Between the picture-perfect beauty of the autumn landscape and the frightfully good fun of Halloween, October is undoubtedly my favorite month. Curling up with a good book, watching a scary movie and enjoying sweet treats – especially those flavored with apple or pumpkin spice – are among the joys of October. And your Unicoi County Public Library can help you get in the spirit of the month.

Spotlight Book

Speaking of good books, “The Guardians,” the latest thriller from John Grisham, arrived early last week. We promptly cataloged it, processed it and sent it out the door with the first patron who had requested it on our wish list.

The demand for new Grisham novels is always very strong, so place a hold on it at https://owl.ent.sirsi.net or call the library at 743-6533 and we’ll help you get in line for it.

Twenty-two years ago, Quincy Miller was convicted of the murder of attorney Keith Russo and sentenced to life in prison. There were no witnesses, no motive and no compelling evidence, but Quincy Miller was young, black and one of Russo’s former clients.

Steadfastly maintaining his innocence, Quincy writes a letter to Cullen Post, a lawyer and Episcopal minister who runs Guardian Ministries. Post and his team take on a limited number of wrongful conviction cases at a time. They may be able to help Quincy, but it will be an uphill battle. The powerful people who are truly responsible for Russo’s murder will fight them every inch of the way.

Film Festival

Speaking of “scary” movies, the third and final film in our annual Halloween Film Festival will be shown tomorrow night. Join us at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24, for popcorn, candy and one of my favorite fall movies. It just might be one of your favorites, as well!

If not, there is still hope. We recently placed an order for what is for us a large number of new DVDs. We chose them from a wide range of genres – including horror – so there should be something to appeal to you. We’re hoping they will arrive soon. As usual, we will post a list of the new films when they are ready to be borrowed.

Halloween Parties

Our teen event to celebrate the occasion will take place on Friday, Oct. 25. Join us for scary stories and tasty treats.

The children’s Halloween Party will be held on Tuesday evening, Oct. 29 from 6-8 p.m.

Please visit our Unicoi County Public Library Kids and Teens Facebook page for details.

Work continues on Erwin’s new dog park

Located in White Fish, Montana, Hugh Rogers Wag Park is an inspiration for the design of the Erwin dog park. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The Town of Erwin is moving ever closer to opening a dog park along the Linear Trail.

According to Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice, crews are working on installing fences, but have hit a brief snag.

“We actually broke an auger bit on some rock so it has slowed production down,” Rice said. “Once the fencing is up and the concrete is laid for benches we hope to hold a ribbon cutting.”

Rice said there is no time frame confirmed for the project to be completed, but she is hopeful that it will still be completed in the next few months.

“Our community can expect 1.5 acres of a naturalized open space, scattered with old growth trees to give shade and small hills and tunnels for visual interest and variation,” Rice said. “This area used to be essentially a wasteland, on the backside of our brush dump, and years of construction debris and rocks were removed to create a beautiful green space.”

Rice acknowledged that unlike some dog parks, this one would be free to use.

“It will be free and open to the public during daylight hours,” Rice said.

There will be a spot for large dogs to play and a separate place for smaller dogs to roam.

“The space will be divided into two separate areas – one for large dogs over 30 pounds, and one for small dogs under 30 pounds,” Rice said. “There will be park benches donated by the Unicoi County Health Department, pet waste stations and a manual water hydrant.”

All dogs that use the park should have up-to-date shots, but according to Rice, this is a use at your own risk park.

According to Rice, the Town of Erwin will be taking on the responsibility of upkeep.

“We are hoping to establish a passionate ‘Friends of the Bark Park’ group to help with general oversight and possible fundraisers for future needs,” Rice said. “There are many amenities that could be added to the park at a later date, such as agility courses, jumps and tables among others.”

The park will be located close to the Kiwanis Children’s Playground.

“Parking will be at the Kiwanis Children’s Playground and the dog park is located a few hundred yards north along Linear Trail,” Rice said.

According to Rice, the design will be similar to Hugh Rogers Wag Park located in Whitefish, Montana.

The Town of Erwin is thankful for all of the support they have received in making the park a reality.

“The Unicoi County Health Department donated two benches, our parks and rec and fire departments have both been instrumental creating this space and keeping the grass watered during this dry summer,” Rice said. “We are especially thankful for the Randy Boyd Foundation for sponsoring the Dog Park Dash.”

The dog park is being built with the $25,000 grant that Erwin received from the Boyd Foundation Dog Park Dash in August 2018. Randy and Jenny Boyd started the Boyd Foundation Dog Park Dash to make Tennessee the most pet-friendly state in the country.

According to Rice, the Town of Erwin plans to stay within the budget of the $25,000 grant.

Feathered Friends – Palm warbler’s name unfortunate misnomer

A palm warbler forages on the ground among fallen leaves. This warbler is one of several misnamed warblers and does not actually show any special affinity to palm trees. (Photo by Jean Potter)

By Bryan Stevens

The warbler parade that begins each autumn with such brightly colored migrants as Blackburnian warbler, black-throated blue warbler and magnolia warbler usually ends with some of the less vibrant members of this family of New World birds.

On a recent bird walk at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton, Tennessee, I helped locate a flock of 13 palm warblers and a single yellow-rumped warbler. These two warblers, which look rather brownish and nondescript in the fall, pass through the region later than most other migrating warblers. In fact, the yellow-rumped warbler is one of the few warblers that routinely spends the winter months in the region.

The yellow-rumped warbler has a most suitable name thanks to the yellow patch of feathers on the bird’s rump. The resemblance of the patch to a pat of butter is uncanny enough to have encouraged birders to nickname this often abundant winter warbler the “butter butt.”

The palm warbler’s name is, at best, a misnomer. Throughout most of its life, the palm warbler doesn’t even encounter palm trees. Johann Friedrich Gmelin, a German naturalist who lived from 1748 to 1804, saddled the palm warbler with its inappropriate name. Gmelin based his naming of the bird based on the fact that a specimen had been collected on Hispaniola, an island in the Caribbean with an abundance of palm trees.

Gmelin published several textbooks in the fields of chemistry, pharmaceutical science, mineralogy, and botany. He also had a hand in publishing a catalog of scientific names for various species, including some birds that had until that point never been given a species classification. Thanks to his efforts, a warbler has forever been linked with a type of tree that is, at best, entirely incidental to the bird’s life cycle.

Palm warblers do seek out warmer domains during the winter months, including the islands of the Caribbean. Some of them do not even migrate that far, choosing to remain along the Gulf and Atlantic coastlines of the southern United States. On occasion, individual palm warblers choose to remain in northeast Tennessee, southwest Virginia or western North Carolina during the winter months.

Every spring, however, palm warblers make a long migration flight north. This warbler is one of the northernmost breeding warblers, spending the summer months in the boreal forests of Canada. They build their nests in the thickets surrounding the many bogs along the edges of the great coniferous forests of this region of Canada.

The female palm warbler lays four to five eggs, but both parents will stay busy collecting insects once the young hatch. On an insect-rich diet, the young birds develop quickly and are able to leave the nest in 12 days. They will remain with their parents as their wings strengthen and they learn to fend for themselves.

While not able to flaunt vibrant plumage like such relatives as the Cape May warbler or the American redstart, the palm warbler is not truly as unattractive as a first glance might suggest. In fact, one subspecies, known as the “yellow palm warbler,” is quite dramatic in appearance with a profusion of yellow feathers accented with a bold russet cap and dramatic rufous striping across the yellow underparts. Even in autumn, the other palm warblers are not devoid of color. Most palm warblers show a splash of bright yellow on the throat and beneath the tail.

In fall migration and during the winter season, palm warblers often inhabit weedy fields, grasping the dried stalks of tall weeds as they forage for berries, seeds and insects and their larvae. Look for the spot of yellow beneath the warbler’s tail, which is constantly bobbed up and down as the bird goes about its routine. The tail-bobbing behavior is a good way to distinguish this warbler from the sparrows of similar size and brown coloration that often share the fields and woodland edges.

The bird walks at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park will continue each Saturday in October. Participants should meet in the parking lot at the park’s visitors center at 8 a.m. for a 90-minute stroll along the gravel walking trails. The walks are conducted by the Elizabethton Bird Club and are free and open to the public. Bring binoculars to increase viewing enjoyment. Chances are good that palm warblers will be seen on the walk, but with our fine feathered friends, nothing is ever guaranteed.

Library Happenings – Mystery box arrives from Great Britain

By Angie Georgeff

One of the reasons I love working at the library is that I never quite know for sure what any given day will bring. Last week brought us a surprise. It was a large box that had been mailed from Great Britain. I wasn’t expecting anything to arrive from across the pond, but these days an item that you order from an American company can circumnavigate the globe to get to your front porch.

I opened the box and found two fairly hefty books nestled in a cushion of paper. The first volume was entitled “Contemporary Kazakh Literature: Prose and the second Contemporary Kazakh Literature: Poetry.” The books had traveled 4,000 miles from England, but their literary content added an extra 3,500 miles from Kazakhstan to the journey. I hadn’t ordered those books, so I was puzzled, but also intrigued.

Fortunately, a letter accompanied the shipment. Under the leadership of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, a project called “Modern Kazakh Culture in the Global World” has provided for the translation of modern Kazakh literature into six world languages and the distribution of 60,000 copies to universities, research centers and libraries around the globe. We are one of those libraries.

Decades ago, when I lived in Europe and visited the Soviet Union, I was in the country that then encompassed what is now Kazakhstan. Even so, I was no closer than 1,700 miles from its current capital Nur-Sultan. I have never set foot on the steppes of central Asia, but through Kazakhstan’s prose and poetry, I can to a degree experience the land and its people. And so can you. Literature allows us to glimpse the horsemen racing across the steppes, hear the birds singing in the trees, smell the wildflowers blowing in the breeze, feel the heat of an August afternoon and savor the love in a mother’s good home cooking.

I’m curious: Which book do you think best captures the sights and sounds of Unicoi County and the surrounding area? Many of the novels of Sharyn McCrumb might be candidates, but I’d like to know what you think. Please let us know the next time you come to the library. We will keep a tally and I’ll let you know the winner in a future column.

Halloween Films

Our annual Halloween Film Festival continues tomorrow night with another vintage thriller. Join us at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17, for popcorn, candy and a movie that brings a chilling novel to gruesome life, 1930s style. Please feel free to bring a bottle of water or your favorite soft drink to enjoy with the refreshments that we provide.

UETHDA announces Commodity Food Distribution date for October 2019

From Staff Reports

The Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency will begin a Commodity Distribution on Oct. 21 at National Guard Armory at 615 South Main Ave. Items will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis to income eligible households until all commodities are gone. All recipients must be residents of Tennessee. This project is funded under an agreement with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

Each recipient must now have a Light Blue colored commodity ID card in order to pick up their commodities.  An ID card is obtained by completing an application at the Neighborhood Service Center. We strongly encourage each recipient to complete the application the week prior to the distribution, this will be helpful in reducing wait time.  However, staff will be available on site during the Distribution to assist in acquiring a commodity card. If someone is picking up your commodities, they must have your ID card and be authorized on your application; limits to pickup are five orders.

The distribution will begin at 11 a.m. and will end at 1:30 p.m. or earlier if food is no longer available. Also, volunteers may be available to help elderly and disabled persons carry their commodities.

Misrepresentation of need, or sale or exchange of USDA commodities is prohibited and could result in a fine, imprisonment, or both.  USDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program is available to all eligible recipients regardless of race, color, national origin, age, sex, or disability.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency: Head quartered in Kingsport at the VO Dobbins Complex, UETHDA has been providing the tools, education, and support for a better life for over 50 years. The agency is one of thousands of Community Action Agencies in the United States operated by the National Community Action Partnership. UETHDA serves eight counties in northeast Tennessee: Carter, Greene, Hawkins, Hancock, Johnson, Sullivan, Washington and Unicoi. UETHDA has a variety of programs from emergency assistance to more long terms paths for self-sufficiency, including national programs such as Head Start, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and more. UETHDA operates nine neighborhood service centers in those eight counties.

To learn more visit www.uethda.org.

UCHS band wins competition

UCHS Blue Devil Band members Emily Tapp, Aaron Fregoso, Makayla Clouse, Cynthia Mendoza, Ethan Erwin, Savanna Williams and Kate Hollenbeck celebrate victories at the 67th Annual Apple Festival Competition in Chilhowie, Virginia. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County High School Blue Devil Marching Band continues to build a winning tradition.

According to UCHS band director Evangeline Hurter, the band competed on Sept. 28 in the 67th Annual Apple Festival Competition in Chilhowie, Virginia.

“In class 5A-1 the band received first place in the following categories: music, marching and general effect, thus winning our class,” Hurter told The Erwin Record. “The band won the Upper Division Grand Championship, outscoring the bands competing in class 4A-1 through class 6A –  that’s 10 bands in all and the band also won the Band of the Day Award for having the highest scores out of all the bands.”

This year’s event featured more than 20 regional bands.

“There were 22 bands that competed from Upper Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia,” Hurter said.

According to Hurter, the marching band has put in the work to achieve these awards.

“The kids in this program are extremely dedicated, willing to work long hours to make every performance opportunity something both they and our community can be proud of,” Hurter said. “It takes a special kind of kid to do what they do and do it well. They are an amazing group and I am proud to be their director.”

Hurter acknowledged that the community has really rallied behind the band programs.

“This program has grown largely due to the blossoming middle school program. Hayley Goad is a tremendous asset to the entire band program,” Hurter said. “It also takes a great staff to be successful in the competitive marching band world and we are very blessed in that area; however, none of this would be possible without the hard work of the band boosters who provide support and financial means to make it all happen.”

The UCHS Blue Devil Marching Band looks to keep their winning streak going as they encounter future competitions.

“Our next competition dates are: Oct. 19 at the Hilltopper Invitational held at Science Hill High School; Oct. 26 at the Appalachian Classic held at Sullivan Central High School; and Nov. 2 at Tennessee Division 2 State Marching Band Competition held in Smyrna, Tennessee,” Hurter said. “The theme of this year’s show is Lost At Sea and will be continuously changing until our final competition as we add different musical and visual details.”

For more information about upcoming contests and ways to help sponsor the UCHS Blue Devil Marching Band, please follow Unicoi County High School Band Boosters on Facebook.

Feathered Friends – Water a magnet for waxwings, other birds

Cedar waxwings feed extensively on various fruits and insects, forming large nomadic flocks that can quickly deplete local resources. (Photo by Patrice_Audet/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

The extended spell of dry, hot weather we’ve experienced for the past several weeks threatens to spoil fall colors, but if you’re a person who can offer a water feature or birdbath, this might be the perfect time to observe thirsty flocks of birds. In particular, cedar waxwings, which often travel in large flocks, embrace water with an exceptional avian enthusiasm.

I still remember my first look at a cedar waxwing. Sleek as silk, wearing a mask like a bandit, with a jaunty crest atop its head, this fairly common bird commands attention when making an appearance in a yard or garden. Of course, it’s usually not alone, more often traveling as a member of a larger flock that can number as high as dozens or even hundreds of individuals.

Flocks of these sociable birds win fans almost anywhere they go. Chances of luring these birds to your home and property can increase by offering some essential requirements. Tall trees, especially those that bear fruit, are attractive to these sociable birds. It’s more often water, not food, however, that will bring a flock of these birds close. They love a good splash in a bath, whether the source is a shallow stream or an ornamental pool set into the landscape.

As noted, they travel in often sizable flocks, usually in search of new food sources. The many members comprising a flock can deplete resources in a remarkably short time. During the winter season, I’ve watched a flock of waxwings make short work of a harvest of berries from a holly tree. Their nomadic lifestyles make it nearly impossible to predict where cedar waxwings might make an appearance.

In most years, the wild cherry trees scattered around the edges of my yard are fully laden with berries. As they ripen in late August and into September, waxwings appear and commence harvesting the fruit. Once again, they arrived at just the right time last month to catch the wild cherries at their peak.

As much as the waxwing has a fondness for fruit, it’s also a bird that would have made an excellent flycatcher. Flocks of these birds will often congregate in trees near the edge of a pond, garden or yard — anywhere winged insects might be found in good numbers — in order to hawk insects on the wing. A waxwing will sally forth from a branch, snatch its prey in mid-air, and return to its perch for a quick snack.

Perhaps because of the late-summer abundance of bugs and berries, cedar waxwings are known for nesting late into the summer. They’re certainly not among the birds impatient to begin nesting as soon as temperatures turn mild in the spring. Some fellow birders recently reported seeing cedar waxwings feeding fledgling just out of the nest as the calendar flipped from September of October.

Why is the term “waxwing” applied to this bird? According to the website All About Birds, the name comes from the waxy red secretions found on the tips of wing feathers. The site also notes that the precise function of these waxy tips is not known. There’s speculation among some experts that the bright red tips on the feathers could play a role in helping waxwings attract mates.

The cedar waxwing has few relatives. Worldwide, there are only two other species: the Bohemian waxwing, of the northern forests of Eurasia and North America; and the Japanese waxwing, found in such northeast Asian countries as Japan, Korea and China.

Although it’s classified as a songbird, the cedar waxwing doesn’t truly produce a vocalization that anyone would contend qualifies as a song. They are, however, very vocal birds, producing shrill, high-pitched notes as they pass through the upper branches of tall trees. The excitable commotion of an active flock of these sleek and elegant birds is always a welcome sound at my home.

Library Happenings – Annual Halloween Film Festival begins this week

By Angie Georgeff

In Alice Hoffman’s newest novel “The World That We Knew,” Jewish mother Hanni and her daughter Lea live in Berlin in 1941. Keenly aware of the danger that threatens them, Hanni turns to Ettie, the teenaged daughter of a rabbi, for help. Together, they create a golem, a creature of superhuman strength modeled of clay and animated by kabbalistic magic. They shape the golem so that it appears to be a woman and call it Ava. Ava has no soul, but she does have a purpose, and her mission is to keep Lea safe and to love and protect her as a mother would.

Ettie and her younger sister accompany Ava and Lea as they escape Berlin on a train to Paris.  Once they arrive in France, Lea and her “cousin” Ava seek sanctuary with distant relatives, while Ettie goes on to join the French Resistance. As you might imagine, evil and danger continue to pursue Ava and Lea and those with whom they find shelter, but Lea has a dedicated and powerful protector in Ava.

My own copy of “The World That We Knew” is now at the top of my to-be-read stack at home, along with a box of tissues. Thinking about golems – which, frankly, I don’t do very often – has reminded me of Helene Wecker’s popular 2013 novel “The Golem and the Jinni.” If you are curious, a sequel called “The Iron Season” is planned, but apparently a publishing date has not yet been set.

Film Festival

Driven by autumn winds, dry leaves are skittering along the empty streets and twigs are scraping across window panes like phantom fingernails. It’s time. Our annual Halloween Film Festival begins tomorrow night. Due to the limitations of our site license, I can’t publish the title of the movie that we will be showing in this column. Since the subject has already come up, I can tell you that it’s not “The Golem.” That would be perfect for Halloween, of course, but it’s not covered by our site license. Join us at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10, for popcorn, candy and another movie just as suitable for the season. Please feel free to bring a bottle of water or the soft drink of your choice.

Holiday Closing

Columbus Day may be the Rodney Dangerfield of U. S. holidays, but I’m always happy to have an opportunity to sleep late. The library will be closed on Monday, Oct. 14, in observance of Columbus Day. No items will be due on that date, but you may deposit books in either of our book returns at any time. They are located in front of the library in Erwin and at Town Hall in Unicoi.

Since DVDs may be damaged if heavy books fall on them, please return DVDs to the library when we’re open. We appreciate your help keeping our videos safe. Thank you!

Lingerfelt announces retirement from CFCU, Banks named new CEO

Amy Banks (Contributed photo)

Sandy Lingerfelt (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

After a 43 year career of serving members at Clinchfield Federal Credit Union (CFCU), CEO Sandy Lingerfelt will be retiring at the end of the year. 

Lingerfelt began her career at CFCU in 1977 and was promoted to CEO in 1985. Holding many leadership positions, which include chairman of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Credit Union League and chairman of the Audit Committee of CUNA, she was also the second person to be inducted into the Tennessee Credit Union Hall of Fame. She has been a strong voice in the credit union industry and will certainly be missed.

Lingerfelt is widely known as the lady who makes the bread; her bread has opened many doors and helped to develop friendships and contacts all over the country. Lingerfelt’s dedication to CFCU has created an atmosphere of loyalty, professionalism and financial stability for Unicoi County. 

“I feel very blessed to have enjoyed a 43-year career at CFCU and even more blessed knowing Amy Banks and our caring staff will continue taking care of our members the way they deserve to be taken care of,” Lingerfelt said.

Amy Banks, currently the senior vice president of operations at the credit union, has been named by the Board of Directors to assume the role of CEO effective Jan. 1, 2020. Banks started her career at the credit union as a part-time teller and has moved up the ranks in her 29 years of experience there.   

Banks is involved in numerous community activities, an active member of Evergreen Freewill Baptist Church, and obtained her Certified Credit Union Executive designation from the Credit Union National Association.

“I am honored to be named as the new CEO of Clinchfield Federal Credit Union, and I am excited about the opportunity to continue building on our history of success,” Banks said. “It is important to me to remain a strong supporter of our community and to provide the best member service to our members.”

“Banks is a great fit for the culture that Lingerfelt has set at Clinchfield Federal Credit Union,” said Wade Tilson, chairman of the CFCU Board of Directors. “It is with much respect and appreciation for both ladies to honor one’s retirement while welcoming another’s new leadership. The legacy that Sandy Lingerfelt has built will continue and CFCU will most definitely grow and prosper under the new leadership from Banks as well.”

Feathered Friends – ‘Science’ article warns that people need to focus on needs of birds

A loggerhead shrike, a songbird that aspires to be a raptor, is one of many birds that has decreased dramatically in numbers in the past 50 years. (Photo by PublicDomainImages/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

Imagine the sky growing dark and, looking up, you notice that the cause is not approaching storm clouds but a passage of birds  — millions of individual birds, their wings darkening the skies as they pass overhead.

The early American naturalist and painter John James Audubon once described the passage of enormous flocks of passenger pigeons that blotted out the light “as by an eclipse” and described the noise of the multitude of wings “like thunder.” His observation of these flocks took place in 1813. A century later, the world’s last passenger pigeon, a species that had ranked as one of the continent’s most numerous birds, died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.

The passenger pigeon was the avian equivalent of the American bison, albeit with a more tragic outcome. Bison, also commonly called buffalo, still survive. As with the bison, we’ve had avian rescue success stories — whooping cranes, Kirtland’s warblers, bald eagles — with efforts to bring some birds back from the brink of extinction. At the same time, we’ve lost others, including the ivory-billed woodpecker, the eskimo curlew and Bachman’s warbler. Now a new study indicates that our birds may be under assault as never before.

The journal Science dropped a bombshell article recently about declining bird numbers in North America. The article’s claim that nearly 3 billion — that’s billion with a “b” — fewer wild birds exist on the continent than in 1970 is a shocking figure, but the sad fact is that the article probably doesn’t come as a complete surprise to birders or even backyard bird enthusiasts. The evidence of our own eyes and ears confirms the details of the comprehensive study reported in the pages of Science. There are fewer birds, which has been becoming painfully clear over the past few decades.

I first got into birding in 1993. Now, 26 years later, I have noticed some of the declines in just the past quarter of a century. Every autumn, the variety and numbers of migrating warblers that visit my yard has gone down.

The new study in Science focuses on the drop in sheer numbers of birds. According to most experts, the bird population in the United States and Canada was probably around 10.1 billion individual birds nearly half a century ago. That number has fallen 29 percent to about 7.2 billion birds, an alarming loss of nearly 3 billion birds just in North America.

I have personally noticed signs of this dramatic loss. Let me share some personal anecdotes. These stories don’t serve as definitive proof, but they add to my unease about the state of our feathered friends.

For one thing, I no longer host large flocks of birds at my feeders during the winter. One would expect birds to mass in sizable flocks in the vicinity of feeders during a season when resources can be scarce. In the 1990s, I hosted flocks of pine siskins and evening grosbeaks that numbered in the hundreds and dozens, respectively. At times, large flocks of American goldfinches, purple finches and house finches flocked to my feeders, too. I haven’t seen an evening grosbeak since 2001. Pine siskins still visit, but I consider myself fortunate to host a flock that numbers a dozen or more.

The sights and sounds of summer have changed, too. Two of the most dependable summer songsters used to be Northern bobwhite by day and Eastern whip-poor-will after dark. I haven’t heard a whip-poor-will at home in more than 20 years. The last time I heard a Northern bobwhite was about a decade ago. I live in a rural area that used to be fairly agricultural. The disappearances of bobwhite quail and whip-poor-wills is reported throughout the ranges of these two species.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Some birds have grown even more common in recent decades. Regionally, look at birds like great blue herons, double-crested cormorants, and cliff swallows, which have also shown an increased presence.

What killed the passenger pigeon? People did. What’s caused the precipitous drop in bird numbers since the 1970s in North America? Once again, people must shoulder most of the blame. We have destroyed or altered habitats essential for birds to thrive. We’ve paid little attention to the signals from some of these kin of the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” that something’s wrong in nature.

Yet “hope is the thing with feathers,” as the poet Emily Dickinson phrased it, and the losses are a signal to pay attention, not to panic. Birds are amazingly resilient. Birds need only the same things as humans — food, shelter, water. Well, perhaps they need one more thing. Birds require a safe and welcoming space in which to unfurl their wings and fly.

The great flocks of passenger pigeons may be no more, but there’s no reason to think our remaining birds can’t continue to soar, so long as we provide them with their essential needs and offer them a degree of protection and compassion.

Library Happenings – Library will be open during Apple Festival

By Angie Georgeff

October has arrived with the same flurry of fun and excitement it brings us each year. On Friday, Oct. 4 and Saturday, Oct. 5, the Unicoi County Apple Festival will be held right on our doorstep.  The festival is expected to bring more than 100,000 visitors to Erwin, and a fair number will visit the library. A couple living in Hawkins County recently brought a houseguest visiting from Australia over here just to see our library. We were flattered to be one of the can’t-miss sights of Northeast Tennessee.

As usual, we will be open on Friday and Saturday. Although several streets will be blocked by vendors, your library will still be accessible. Just take Elm Avenue south past Love Street and Erwin Utilities to Iona Street. Turn right at Iona and cross over Main Avenue to Nolichucky Avenue. Turn right at Nolichucky. The Unicoi County Public Library will be on your left in our beautiful and historic old depot building. If you have friends or family visiting during the festival, be sure to put a stop at the library on your itinerary. Story the library cat loves visitors!

Park at the Library!

The parking spaces in front of our main door will be reserved for those patrons who are using the library. There is no charge for parking while you are using our facility or shopping at our book sale. For those who want to attend the festival, convenient parking will be available in the library parking lot on Friday or Saturday for a donation of $5. All funds raised will help support library programs. Our parking lot will open at 8 a.m. each day of Apple Festival. Business hours will be the same as usual. The library will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Book Sale!!

While you’re enjoying the Apple Festival, be sure to visit our book sale in the basement. The sale will be open during our regular business hours. Our shelves are filled to overflowing with a variety of books and DVDs that should appeal to virtually every age and taste, so come discover a hidden treasure at a price even Scrooge would think more than fair. No humbug!

Film Festival

Our annual Halloween Film Festival will begin here at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10. Join us for popcorn, candy and a movie that may elicit a pleasant thrill of horror, but which shouldn’t give you nightmares. The terms of our site license prohibit us from disclosing the titles in this column, but this year all of the movies we have chosen have been adapted from novels. Call us at 743-6533 for more information.

Feathered Friends – Birds not only migrants in skies

Cape May warblers are just one bird species migrating through the region this fall. (Photo by insitedesigns/Pixabay.com)

By Bryan Stevens

Rhonda Eller of Chilhowie, Virginia, posted a question on my Facebook page about some dragonflies that appeared in her yard on Sept. 10.

“We have had a sudden breakout of dragonflies in our yard,” Rhonda explained. “We seldom see more than one or two at a time.”

Rhonda wondered if the dragonflies might have been drawn to her yard in pursuit of some sort of favorite insect prey. She also speculated that the recent dry conditions might have attracted the dragonflies.

I responded to her query by explaining that birds are not the only migrant in the skies at this time of year. Some dragonflies, just like birds, migrate. A species known as green darner is one that migrates. These darners are rather large, for a dragonfly, and travel in swarms. A couple of years ago I observed thousands of these dragonflies swarming over a municipal swimming pool and a nearby fish pond at a park in Erwin, Tennessee.

The WSLS Channel 10 television station out of Roanoke, Virginia, reported on swarms of dragonflies so large that they got picked up by local radar. Rhonda shared a link to the station’s story on my Facebook page.

Of course, swarms of migrating insects are bound to get the attention of predatory birds. The same day that Rhonda experienced the influx of migrating dragonflies, I witnessed dozens of common nighthawks and chimney swifts swooping through the skies over my home. With a little more attention to detail, I also noticed the dragonflies sharing the skies with these birds.

I suspect that the nighthawks were feeding on the large darners while the swifts, which are much smaller birds, focused their foraging efforts on smaller winged insects. Tom McNeil, a neighbor and fellow member of the Elizabethton Bird Club, reported seeing nighthawks and swifts, too. Tom lives on the other side of a mountain ridge that separates our homes.

Tim Morris, a Facebook friend from Australia, noted in a comment on my post about the nighthawks that his country is home to a bird known as the tawny frogmouth, a relative of the common nighthawk. Tim noted that frogmouths are big birds with camouflage markings that allow them to pretend to be dead tree boughs by day. “They feed not only on insects but mice and lizards, too,” he added.

Evidence of fall migration continued the next day when I detected a small wave of warblers foraging in trees at the edge of my yard. I saw five different species — American redstart, worm-eating warbler, Cape May warbler, Blackburnian warbler and Tennessee warbler — in the space of half an hour. Of the warblers in the flock, the Blackburnian and Cape May are some of the more vibrant ones.

The Blackburnian warbler’s common name commemorates Anna Blackburne, an English naturalist who lived from 1726 to 1793. Her brother, Ashton, had immigrated to the United States, which made it possible for him to send his sister many specimens, especially birds. Their father, a salt merchant by trade, was also a well-respected amateur naturalist. In addition to the warbler that bears her name, Anna Blackburne also had a species of beetle named in her honor.

Both the Cape May and Tennessee warblers are named for the locations from which they were first collected. Neither of these small songbirds are closely affiliated with Cape May, New Jersey, or the Volunteer State. The Cape May warbler is also known as the “tiger warbler” for the dramatic black striping across its bright yellow breast. A green back and chestnut cheek patch make the Cape May warbler quite unlike any of its close kin. Even its scientific name — Setophaga tigrina — pays homage to the striped big cat. The term “setophaga” translates to “moth eater” and is a reference to this warbler’s intense fondness for the caterpillars known as spruce budworms that occasionally produce outbreaks in the northern spruce forests that serve as the nesting range for the Cape May warbler.

According to the website, “All About Birds,” Cape May warblers have unusually shaped tongues that allow them to sip nectar from tropical flowers during the winter months spent in Central America and the Caribbean. Their unique tongues also make it possible for them to enjoy sips of sugar water from hummingbird feeders.

Whether its dragonflies, nighthawks, warblers or hummingbirds, plenty of birds and other flying creatures will be moving through the region for the next few weeks. Now’s the time to get outdoors and look for some of these migrants.

Library Happenings – Large shipment of books arrives at library

By Angie Georgeff

Good news: The harvest has begun! We recently received a large shipment of books aimed at children, teens and adults. Since it was impossible to choose only one book to highlight from all that bounty, I chose three.

Spotlight Books

Emma Donoghue’s “Akin” introduces us to Noah Selvaggio. Approaching his 80th birthday and recently retired, the former professor decides to visit his native hometown of Nice. Noah had been separated from his mother during World War II when he was sent to live with his father in America and his mother stayed behind in France to care for her father. He hopes to learn more about his mother’s family and the role she may have played in rescuing children from the Nazis.

His plans are jeopardized when he learns that he is the only available relative of his nephew’s 11-year-old son, Michael. With his father dead and his mother in prison, Michael has nothing in common with Noah except a portion of his DNA. However, unwilling either to give up the trip or to abandon Michael, Noah takes him along to the French Riviera. There the two use photographs that had belonged to Noah’s mother to piece together the puzzle of the life she led in Vichy France.

In William Kent Krueger’s “This Tender Land,” Odysseus “Odie” O’Banion reminisces about his childhood during the Great Depression. Consigned to the brutal Lincoln Indian Training School after their father is murdered, 8-year-old Odie and his older brother Albert endure four years of inadequate provisions and harsh treatment before they escape the institution along with a Sioux teenager and a precocious little girl. The four friends begin their travels in a canoe with St. Louis as their destination, but their journey proves to be just as convoluted as that of Odie’s namesake Odysseus and the characters they encounter just as strange and varied.

“This Tender Land” is being compared to Delia Owens’s “Where the Crawdads Sing,” and it has quickly landed on the bestseller lists. Although it was published with an adult audience in mind, it may have crossover appeal to some teenagers. Similarly, Dahlia Adler’s anthology “His Hideous Heart” was published with a teen audience in mind but may have crossover appeal to adults, especially those who enjoy the macabre.

In “His Hideous Heart,” 13 young adult authors reimagine some of Edgar Allan Poe’s most beloved tales of horror and mystery in order to make them more accessible to a new generation.  Oct. 7 will mark the 170th anniversary of Poe’s death, and late October is always a good time to curl up with one of his tales, so the timing of this release is perfect.

Feather Friends – Vireos are ‘Plain Janes’ of songbirds

A red-eyed vireo grasps a tree branch, a common pose for this bird that spends time concealed in the woodland canopy. The red eye can be difficult to detect unless lighting conditions are optimal for observers. (Photo by FotoRequest/Adobe Stock)

By Bryan Stevens

The start of migration appears to be more of a crawl than a sprint this fall, but I have picked up a few signs. For instance, I’ve been hearing the scolding sounds of red-eyed vireos from woodland edges for the past few weeks. A dedicated singer at most times, this vireo seems more likely to produce a harsh, scolding cry at this time of the year. Other hints of the steady advance of fall migration include flocks of common nighthawks and chimney swifts congregating in the skies over my home and the unmistakable croaking of common ravens from nearby ridges.

So far, I’ve seen only a few warblers, including black-throated blue warbler and hooded warbler. At a glance, vireos would appear related to the wood warblers. Research into DNA, however, has led many experts to contend that vireos are more closely related to crows and shrikes. Like the flycatcher and hummingbird families, the vireo family is exclusive to the New World. With a mere 50 species, vireos and their kin are vastly outnumbered by flycatchers and hummingbirds. The majority of vireos resides in the tropics, but about a dozen species nest in the United States.

In East Tennessee Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina, vireos resident during the summer months include red-eyed vireo, white-eyed vireo, blue-headed vireo, yellow-throated vireo and warbling vireo. Most people are likely unaware of vireos. Although not uncommon, these birds are more frequently heard than seen. They spend much of their time in the forest canopy or in dense brush. When singing, they can remain at a perch, unmoving, for long periods of time.

The loud scolding calls of red-eyed vireos often heard this time of year are given apparently when the vireo is alarmed or irritated. This scolding vocalization is quite unlike the usual ones produced by this bird. First and foremost, the call is louder than one would think could be produced by a bird that is only about six inches long. During the summer season, the red-eyed vireo is also one of the most persistent of singing songbirds. Another common name for the red-eyed vireo is “preacher bird,” so called because of its tendency to unceasingly deliver its song.

The red-eyed vireo is still considered one of eastern North America’s most common summer breeding birds. At one time, the red-eyed vireo was probably the most common breeding bird in eastern woodlands. That, sadly, is no longer the case. Red-eyed vireos are olive-green above and clean white below. These birds show a distinctive head pattern consisting of a gray crown and white eyebrow stripe bordered above and below by black lines. Adults also have the red eyes that give this particular vireo its common name. The term “vireo,” originating in Latin, can be translated into English as “green bird.” It’s an apt description, as many of these small birds are primarily dull green in coloration. Consider the vireos the “Plain Janes” of songbirds.

Other vireos that can be found in the United States, for at least part of the year, include Philadelphia vireo, plumbeous vireo and Cassin’s vireo. A specialty of Florida is the black-whiskered vireo, while the black-capped vireo is an endangered species found in Texas. Two others, Bell’s vireo and gray vireo, are identified as species of concern on the Audubon Watchlist.

Many species of vireo are also found in the islands of the Caribbean, including Jamaican vireo, Cuban vireo and Puerto Rican Vireo. The thick-billed vireo can be found in the Bahamas, which were recently pulverized by Hurricane Dorian. The thick-billed vireo is very similar to the white-eyed vireo, which is a summer resident in our region.

My only birding outside of the United States took place in the Bahamas 20 years ago. My highlights included two hummingbirds — Bahama woodstar and Cuban emerald — as well as bananaquits, black-faced grassquit, Western spindalis, Cuban pewee and other interesting species. I didn’t see a thick-billed vireo, but I did get my first-ever look at a Cape May warbler. I was visiting the Bahamas in January of 1999, which proved a fortunate time since many warblers migrate to these islands for the cold months. I’m hopeful that both people and birds on the islands Abaco and Grand Bahama and smaller islands most affected by the monster storm are able to recover soon.

Some of the more colorful common names for vireos include the dwarf vireo, golden vireo and yellow-winged vireo.  In Central and South America, the vireo family expands to include many birds with common names such as shrike-vireo, greenlet and peppershrike. Some of the varied species include lemon-chested greenlet, green shrike-vireo and the black-bellied peppershrike.

I still focus most of my birding efforts on warblers in the autumn, but vireos are always a pleasant diversion when the colorful warblers make themselves scarce.

Library Happenings – New Knitting Hour begins Friday, Sept. 27

By Angie Georgeff

With the autumnal equinox less than a week away, my thoughts are turning to cozy scarves and sweaters. I know: I’m almost always cold and you are not, but it takes time to knit or crochet something warm and comforting.

You are going to want it before the snow flies. Choose your pattern, needles and yarn and join us from 6-7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27, for our new Knitting Hour.

I have never knitted or purled (although I am willing to try), but we will have someone here who can help you get started or learn to knit even better. Join us! I’m sure Story will be eager to help. You know how cats love yarn!

Board Meeting

The Board of Trustees of the Unicoi County Public Library will meet in the library lobby at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 19. The public is welcome to attend. If you require any special accommodations in order to attend the meeting, please call 743-6533 and ask for Angie.

Book Orders

Good news! We recently placed two substantial orders for books aimed at children, teens and adults. If you have added a request to our Wish List, you may soon get a call to pick it up.

If there is a book, audiobook or DVD you want us to add to our collection, give us a call or let us know the next time you come to the library.

We genuinely do appreciate book suggestions.  If you want to read something, somebody else will, too. We will be happy to get it for you if we can.

Spotlight Book

Stephen King has been terrifying and enchanting readers since 1974, when his debut novel “Carrie” rocketed to the top of the charts.

Forty-five years have passed, but he hasn’t lost his touch. “The Institute” begins with the murder of a husband and wife and the kidnapping of their gifted 12-year-old son, Luke.

Luke wakes to find himself in a room that appears identical to his bedroom at home, but which is located in a facility called the Institute. His room, along with those of four other children with extraordinary abilities, is located in the Front Half.

The kids housed there are promised that they will be returned to their parents after they have been tested and visit the Back Half.

Luke, however, soon learns that other kids have graduated to the Back Half, but that no child has ever left the Institute.

When Luke discovers that the common denominator among his fellow captives is psychic abilities, he befriends a member of the housekeeping staff in order to make his escape and expose the abuse.

Feathered Friends – Hooded warbler brings tropical splash

A male hooded warbler forages in a rhododendron thicket. This warbler spends much of its time in the thick understory of woodland habitats. (Photo by Jean Potter)

By Bryan Stevens

I came away from a recent program on bird migration given by Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman learning a few new nuggets of information about warblers, which are one of my favorite bird families. The Kaufmans, well-known birders and activists on the behalf of birds, spoke Saturday, Aug. 31, on the topic of bird migration during the evening program at the Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally. They confirmed some things I have always suspected to be true about fall migration in the region. For instance, warbler migration in the Southern Appalachians is indeed often more productive in the fall than in the spring. The Kaufmans also noted that fall migration takes place at a more leisurely pace for most of the migrating warblers. They even pointed out that some of the warblers, such as magnolia warbler and Tennessee warbler, which are uncommon fall migrants at their home in Ohio, are actually quite common in East Tennessee.

Hooded warblers nest in the woodlands around my home. So, from the time my favorite warbler returns in April until the last individual departs in October, I enjoy regular glimpses of this colorful and interesting bird. Like all warblers, the hooded warbler is quite energetic, dashing after tiny insects in the branches of shrubs and trees. Hooded warblers often forage close to the ground, which makes observing them easier.

Every time I behold a hooded warbler, I marvel at the bird’s exquisite appearance. The gold and green feathers seem to glow brightly in the dim light of the shadowy thickets of rhododendron they prefer to inhabit. The black hood and bib surrounding the male’s yellow face stands out by virtue of its stark contrast from the brighter feathers. Large coal-black eyes complete the effect. The appearance of the male bird provides this species with its common name. The female has an identical yellow-green coloration as the male, although she is slightly more drab. She lacks the black hood and bib, although older females may acquire some dark plumage on the head and around the face. Both sexes also show white tail feathers that they constantly fan and flick as they move about in thick vegetation and shrubbery.

I know that every migrant passing through my yard at this time of year is making its way southward, and it will likely be another five to six months before I again see any of my favorite songbirds. The hooded warbler will make itself at home in the forests of Mexico, as well as in Belize, Costa Rica and other Central American nations, throughout the winter season. Most hooded warblers begin returning to their winter haunts as early as mid-September, but lingering individuals continue to entertain birders in the United States throughout October.

Like many of the ruby-throated hummingbirds that make their home in the United States for the summer, the hooded warbler’s fall migration takes it across the vast open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, crossing to the Yucatan and then dispersing from there to various points in Central America. That birds as small as hummingbirds and warblers make this incredible migration twice yearly is one of nature’s most phenomenal feats of endurance. In their presentation, the Kaufmans explained that these tiny birds put on incredible fat reserves to help fuel their efforts.

The warblers, also known as wood-warblers, are an exclusively New World family of birds, numbering approximately 116 species. About 50 of these species of warblers make their home in the eastern United States and Canada for the spring and summer, departing in the fall and returning to tropical wintering grounds. Some of them are extremely bright and colorful birds. The hooded warbler would have to be included among the more brightly colored warblers.

Other colorful warblers that share similar tastes in range and habitat with the hooded warbler include the American redstart, black-throated blue warbler and black-throated green warbler.

While some of the neotropical migrants that venture into North America boast even brighter kin in the tropics, we need not feel cheated with the warblers that make their home in the United States for half of the year. Some of their relatives are beautiful birds, including the white-faced whitestart, golden-bellied warbler, three-striped warbler and rose-breasted chat, but few can really hold a candle to their relatives that venture north and brighten our lives.

The warblers are, in short, an incredible family of birds. I’ve seen all but a handful of the species that reside for part of the year in the eastern United States. I still want to see a Connecticut warbler and cerulean warbler, as well as the endangered Kirtland’s warbler of Michigan and the golden-cheeked warbler of Texas. I’ll miss the warblers once fall migration has run its course. For those months they are here, the warblers belong to us. They seem like “our” birds. They’re only on loan, though. Our winter birds will offer some compensation in their absence, but I’ll be impatiently awaiting that flash of gold from the recesses of a rhododendron thicket next April.

Library Happenings – September is Library Card Sign-up Month

By Angie Georgeff

According to brownielocks.com, where they “do not make these up,” the month of September has been set aside for a large number of observances. Among them are Baby Safety Month, Children’s Good Manners Month, National Cheese Month and International Square Dancing Month. 

Story, who is our library cat, customer relations specialist and superintendent of pest control, evidently believes that every month should be Happy Cat Month, but she does seem to expect an especially generous allotment of treats during September. Woe betide our circulation staff if we run out of her favorites! My boundless affection for Story notwithstanding, I prefer to think of September as Library Card Sign-up Month.

A library card is your free ticket to the world of information and recreation.  The Unicoi County Public Library houses more than 30,000 physical items which may be checked out, while our patrons enjoy access to another 170,000 items that can be accessed online.  In addition, through the statewide courier system, we may borrow items from other libraries located across the state. With the help of our Regional Library, we may request items from libraries around the country. All this is available to you free of charge with your Unicoi County Public Library patron ID card!

Residents of Unicoi County and the surrounding counties who are 18 years of age or older may apply for a library card with a government-issued photo ID card that shows their current address.  If their ID shows another address, then additional proof of residence will be required.  A local utility bill is commonly used for this purpose. There is no charge for a library card unless the original card is lost. In that case, a replacement card will cost $1.

A parent or guardian may apply for library cards for children under the age of 18 as long as the responsible adult already has a card or applies for one at the same time. Since no minimum age has been prescribed, we rely on parents to determine when their children are ready to assume that privilege. It’s so much fun to watch their little faces beam when they are given their first library card! In order to celebrate libraries and encourage participation, each person who gets a new library card during September will be entered into a drawing for a $25 gift card from Walmart. Good luck!

Board Meeting

The Board of Trustees of the Unicoi County Public Library will meet in the library lobby at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 19. The public is welcome to attend. If you require any special accommodations in order to attend the meeting, please call 743-6533 and ask for Angie.