Give it Up FOR THE BIRDS Part 2: This is an Amazing Birding Weekend—So Get Out There!

Give it Up FOR THE BIRDS Part 2: This is an Amazing Birding Weekend—So Get Out There!

By Frances Figart, Creative Services Director

In Part 1 of this two-part series, we learned about some of the birds people have been seeing near and around the park during this amazing spring migration. Learning the calls of the birds you like makes it easier to find them. 

There is a peculiar metallic squeak (“kick” or “eek”) made by one of my favorite beautiful migrants, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (or RBGB as I like to say), and that’s how I spotted him a few days ago. Last Sunday, my husband heard the Scarlet Tanager’s distinctive “chip-burr” call. We followed the sound with our Diamondback binoculars and were amazed to see seven bright orange-red males on our property at once!

“The red of scarlet tanagers is among nature's more vibrant hues,” says David Brill, author of GSMA’s Into the Mist. “the only equivalent I can think of is the crest of a Pileated Woodpecker, which we observed over the weekend on a tree a few yards from our front window. The contrast between dreary gray skies and that flash of red was spectacular.”

National Parks Conservation Association wildlife biologist Steve Goodman has been working on his “warbler and vireo by-sound-skills as neotropical breeding migrants arrive and set up shop. Using former park biologist Arthur Stupka’s Notes on the Birds of Great Smoky Mountains National Park as my chronological guide,” he says, “I’ve hit the Pisgah National Forest (with proper social distancing) to await first arrivals: starting with Blue-headed Vireos in mid-March, to Black-throated Green and Black-and-White Warblers in late March/early April, to worm-eating warblers, Ovenbirds, Hooded Warblers, and Red-eyed Rireos over the last two weeks.”

Paul Super, who lives between Clyde and Lake Junaluska, recalls finding a rare bird just by its call: “I was sleeping with my windows open on a warm spring night and in the morning heard a very loud and unfamiliar song in my backyard. It turned out to be a Mourning Warbler, of which we have only one confirmed record from the park, though they certainly migrate through this area and occasionally stick around long enough to sing.” Super is the science director at Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center.

Naturalist Stephen Lyn Bales lives surrounded by woods in South Knoxville and says he “looks forward to the flow of migrants passing through on their way to the Smokies. One bird I listen for routinely is the Hooded Warbler. The mnemonic is ‘The red, the red, t-shirt!’ I love this species. Bright yellow face and, since it is an understory bird, you almost always see it at eye-level.”

The mnemonic I have heard for the Hooded Warbler is, “I’m pleased to, pleased to meet you!” Maybe the ones who migrate through our property up here in Flag Pond, Tennessee, have a different dialect. The video that goes with this essay provides a lot of other mnemonics.

Edward Abbey claimed the only bird names you need to know are LBB and LGB—little brown bird and little grey bird. In other words, you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy birding. And it’s a great activity to share with family members sheltering at home. Children love to check off the birds they have identified GSMA’s Bird Checklist, draw them, or even write a story about their favorite bird. Recording bird sounds to play back later can be a great identification tool.

Sometimes, very early in the morning, I can hear the magical notes of the Wood Thrush from my bed. I don’t really need to see this rather drab LBB—I’m just in awe of his song. From now through late summer, just after sunset, we will visit a nearby cemetery to hear a group of Wood Thrushes singing for about an hour. Right after they stop, the Whippoorwills begin. And that makes for the perfect end to a busy birding day!


Resources to check out:

Birds of the Smokies

Common Birds and Their Songs

Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology

The Compleat Naturalist has binoculars, guidebooks, and other great birding resources.

There are also many great birding apps. My favorite is Sibley Birds.

Photo by Warren Lynn

Related Posts
  1. Bird Brain? Not so fast... By mid-March, birds like the Louisiana water thrush and the blue-headed vireo will be returning to the Great Smoky Mountains. They will have traveled hundreds of miles, mostly at night — perhaps across the Gulf of Mexico — from as far awa
  2. Smokies LIVE: Bringing the Smokies to You Smokies LIVE: Bringing the Smokies to You
  3. Welcome to Smokies LIVE Welcome to Smokies LIVE
  4. Make Social Distancing BEARable Make Social Distancing BEARable