Tennessee & Kentucky: Spring 2017

1 Mar–31 May

Chris A. Sloan

Recommended citation:

Sloan, C. 2020. Spring 2017: Tennessee and Kentucky. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-98j> North American Birds.

As an introductory note, we must recognize the contributions of Brainard Palmer-Ball, Jr. to this journal and to our overall knowledge of the avifauna of both Kentucky and the region. This is the first-ever Tennessee-Kentucky report without him as co-editor. When former North American Birds editor Ned Brinkley first called me about forming this new region in 2002, my first call was to Brainard to ask him to be the co-editor. It has been my privilege to work with him these many years, and, as he spends more time birding during his well-earned retirement both professionally and from this role, his contributions to this journal will be missed, but not forgotten. Thank you for your service, Brainard.

In April, the eastern part of the region experienced extremely warm temperatures, and significantly warmer than average temperatures elsewhere. The remainder of the season was average to slightly warmer than normal, with average temperatures cooling to normal in May.  Similarly, rainfall amounts were average to above average for most of the season; east Tennessee experienced significantly higher than normal rainfall in April.

Rarity highlights in Kentucky included Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, White-winged Dove, Red-necked Phalarope, King Rail, Purple Gallinule, White-faced Ibis, Say’s Phoebe, Black-capped Chickadee, and Painted Bunting. In Tennessee, rarity highlights included Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Cinnamon Teal, Limpkin, Whimbrel, Ruff, Glaucous Gull, Neotropic Cormorant, and Cave Swallow.

Cited contributors (sub-regional compilers in boldface)

Chris Agee, Fred Alsop, Matt Anthony, Clay Bliznick, Ray Brontrager, Kristy Baker (KBa), Melinda Barnett, Eric Bodker, Kevin Brooks, Doug Bruce (DBr), David Buehler (DBu), Kevin Calhoon (se. Tennessee), Ron Carrico (RCa), Patti Case, Phillip D. Casteel (PDC), Hap Chambers, Erin Chapman, Lisa Combs (LCo), Richard Conners, Dwight Cooley, Linda Craiger, Charlie Crawford, Roseanna Denton, Bruce Dralle, Marjorie Dunham, Dean Edwards, Melinda Fawver, Frank Fekel, Bob Foehring, Graham Gerdeman, Steve Graham, Teresa Graham, Mark Greene, Bill Grigsby, Joe Hall, Cheryl Hiers, Don Holt, Susan Hubley, Rick Huffines, Ann Inouye, Daniel Jacobson, biJud Johnson, Timothy Jones, Richard L. Knight (RLK) (ne. Tennessee), Edmund LeGrand, Payton Lykins, Dax Manley (DxM), Lee McNeely, Stephany McNew (StM), Susan McWhirter, N.P. “Mac” McWhirter (NPM), Memphis Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society (MTOS), Don Miller, Mark Monroe, Daniel Moss (DMo), Sandy Moss (SMo), Justin Nation, Tina Nauman, Ronan O’Carra (ROC), Brainard Palmer-Ball, Jr. (BPB), Brookie Potter, Josh Powell, Dick Preston, Josh Range, Pete Range, Beth Schilling, Kathy Sellers, Roi & Debbie Shannon (R&DS), Damien J. Simbeck (DJS), Shelly Simpson, Chris A. Sloan (CAS), Marshall Smith (MaS), Michael Smith, Dan Snell (DSn), Jeff Sole,  Ruben Stoll, Victor Stoll, Donna Stricklin (DoS), David Svetich (DSv), Carol Swann, Derek Thorning, Michael C. Todd (MCT) (w. Tennessee), Melanie Torres (MeT), Mark Tower (MTw), Alan Troyer, Chloe Walker, Chris Welsh (CWe), Melinda Welton, James Wheat, Mary Anna Wheat (MAW), Brian Wulker, Ben Yandell (Kentucky), Mary Yandell, Stanley York, Jr., Stephen Zipperer (middle Tennessee).


Audubon Wetlands (John James Audubon State Park, Audubon Wetlands Trail, Wolf Hills Road, Henderson, KY); Duck River (Duck River Unit, Tennessee N.W.R., Humphreys, TN); Ensley (Ensley Bottoms, including the EARTH Complex, in southwest Shelby, TN); Kentucky Dam (Livingston/Marshall, KY); Radnor (Radnor Lake State Natural Area, Nashville, TN); Sauerheber (Sauerheber Unit Sloughs W. M. A., Henderson, KY).

Waterfowl through Grebes

The peak count for the resident Black-bellied Whistling-Duck population at Ensley was 175 19 Apr (MCT). Outside of this population, the species is rare in the region, although the number of extralimital records appears to be steadily increasing. One at John Sevier L., Hawkins, TN 19 May (ph. SH) established only the second record for east Tennessee, with the other from the same site. Other reports included single individuals at Ledbetter, Livingston, KY 16 May (ph. DrT); Radnor 22–29 May (ph. FF, m. obs.); and Rutherford, TN 24 May (CW). As many as 16 were in West Paducah, McCracken, KY late Apr–May (ph. PC), but unlike in 2016, none remained past the end of May. Three Fulvous Whistling-Ducks were observed flying northeast at Tumbleweed W. M. A., Lake, TN 21 May (†MG).

A possibly injured Greater White-fronted Goose in Fulton, KY 30 May (BPB) was extremely late. Singles at Bark Camp Barrens, Coffee, TN 18 Apr (SM) and Harp Rd., Coffee, TN 22–24 Apr (NPM, SM) were also over a month later than expected. Other unusually late waterfowl included an American Black Duck at the Melco Flood Retention Basin, south Jefferson, KY 26–28 May (ph. BPB), a Lesser Scaup at the Fowler Rd. Irrigation Pond, Franklin, TN 24 May (DSn), and a Canvasback at Chester Frost Park, Hamilton, TN 6 May+ (DJ). A male Cinnamon Teal at Lobelville Bottoms, Perry, TN 17 Mar (†AT) represented approximately the fifteenth record for Tennessee.

The only scoters reported during the season were 9 Black Scoters near Pickwick Dam, Hardin, TN 7 Mar (RS, AT), with one remaining there 10 Mar (JJ), and three at Lexington Reservoir #2 & 3, Fayette, KY 2–23 Mar (ROC, DSv, ph. CB, m. obs.). Away from east Tennessee, where Common Mergansers now appear to be permanent residents and local breeders in small numbers, two were present at Snow Bunting Peninsula, Old Hickory L., Nashville, TN 5–11 Mar (PC, MS, SZ, et. al.) and 18 were at Cross Creeks NWR, Stewart, TN 18 Mar (JH). In Kentucky, 8 very late females were reported at Breaks Interstate, Pike 27 May (MA, EC); there were three other reports, all from March.

One to two Eared Grebes lingered at the traditional winter location on S. Holston L., Sullivan, TN through 25 Mar (RLK, m. obs.). The only other one reported was one in alternate plumage on Reelfoot L., Lake, TN 7 Apr (ph. MG).

Doves through Shorebirds

White-winged Doves continue to occur with increasing frequency. There were four reports this season: one in Rutherford, TN 16 Apr (CS); one in Rockvale, Rutherford, TN 29 Apr–2 May (KBa, CA, CW); one in Dyersburg, Dyer, TN 10 May (ph. KS); and one in Scott, KY 30 May (ph. MaS). Black-billed Cuckoos were reported in above average numbers from mid-April through late May. An Eastern Whip-poor-will at Watauga Dam, Carter, TN 20 Mar (BP) established a new early arrival date for ne. Tennessee. A Chuck-Wills-Widow at Hancock Biological Station, Calloway, KY 2 Apr (MeT) was also extremely early. A Chimney Swift at Radnor 15 Mar (AI) was early.

Due to the lack of consistently-available marsh habitat, King Rail has become a fairly rare species in the region; one was photographed in a flooded field at Mud Lake, Lake, TN 22 May (ph. MG) and another was found at Long Point, Reelfoot N. W. R., Fulton, KY 16 May (vr. TJ). In the latter case, possibly the same individual was heard again 26 May (DP, JP). Virginia Rails and Soras were reported in fairly typical numbers across the region; one or more birds were present through the season at Standifer Gap Marsh, Hamilton, TN (m. obs.). Two Purple Gallinules were reported: one at Audubon Wetlands 4–10 May (†Rle, ph. m. obs.), and one at Sugar Bottoms, Perry, TN 14–17 May (AT, RS, VS, McT). The only Common Gallinules reported were one at John Sevier Lake, Hawkins, TN 26 April-25 May (ph. SH) and two at Sugar Bottoms, Perry, TN 14-17 May (AT, RS, VS, MCT).

A Limpkin in the Tennessee River Gorge, Marion, TN 24 May (†DC, PR, RH, JR) represents a remarkable and unexpected third state record, and the first from east Tennessee. There were four reports of exceptionally late migrating Sandhill Cranes: one in South Carthage, Smith, TN 15 Apr (CA); one in Washington, TN 29 Apr (DM); three in Wayne, KY 27 May (ph. RB); and one in Hart, KY 29 May (LC, SMo).

An extraordinary high count of 50 Black-necked Stilts at Robinson Bayou, Lake, TN 11 May (MG) was followed by an even more extraordinary high count of 74 at the same location 23 May (MG); the latter represents the highest count in the region away from the long-time breeding population in Shelby, TN. There were four other extralimital reports of 1–2 individuals from elsewhere in the region. A flock of 30 American Avocets at Snow Bunting Peninsula, Old Hickory L., Nashville, TN 30 Apr (VS) tied the fourth highest count for the state. There were only three other reports, all of single individuals.

Twenty-six Black-bellied Plovers at Robinson Bayou, Lake, TN 12 May (DP) established a new high count for the state. American Golden-Plover numbers were down this season; there were few reports, and no sizeable flocks. Small flocks of Willets were reported in fairly typical numbers throughout the region from mid-April to mid-May; 40 at Snow Bunting Peninsula, Old Hickory L., Nashville, TN 27 Apr (CA, MS, PDC) was the largest flock reported. An estimated 1,000 Lesser Yellowlegs at Sauerheber 15 Apr (m. obs.) represented one of the largest flocks ever reported in the region. At least 1,300 yellowlegs were found in Fulton, KY 7 Apr, and at least 1,400 were present there 8 Apr (BPB, BW). A Whimbrel was reported near Mud Lake, Lake, TN 11 May (MG). Two Hudsonian Godwits were at Robinson Bayou, Lake, TN 13 May (BF, MG). Two Marbled Godwits were at the Walter S. Davis Blvd. Marsh, Nashville, TN 23 Apr (FF, JH, MS).

Two noteworthy high counts of Ruddy Turnstone came from northwest Tennessee on 12 May; 10 were at Robinson Bayou, Lake (MG, BF, DP) and 8 were in Dyer (DP). A Red Knot at the Fowler Rd. Irrigation Pond, Franklin, TN 1 May (DSn) was the only one reported. A Ruff at Buckelew Slough, Obion, TN 11 Apr (MG) added to the 20+ records for Tennessee. There were only two reports of Sanderlings: one at Kentucky Dam beach 30 Apr–3 May (LM, ph. BY, ph. MY, ph. RD, m. obs.) and 5 at Minor E. Clark Fish Hatchery, Rowan, KY 21–24 May (DSv, ph. LsC, ph. JS, CB). Baird’s Sandpipers are very rare in the spring, but there is a consistent pattern of records suggesting a limited, annual movement north in March. One in Lake, TN 24 Mar (ph. MG) added another data point. A few were also reported in connection with large concentrations of shorebirds at Ensley and Lake, TN in mid-May; the only other report came from Lincoln, TN 12 May (DJS). Fifty-nine Long-billed Dowitchers at Buckelew Slough, Obion, TN 11 Apr (MG) established the fifth highest count ever for the state. One hundred and two at Long Point, Reelfoot N. W. R., Fulton, KY 19 Apr (BPB, HC, JP) was also a noteworthy high count for the region. One at Sauerheber 16 Mar (ph. CC) was early.

Two female Red-necked Phalaropes were at Lower Hickman Bottoms, Fulton, KY 26 May (ph. HC, JP) and another was at Murl Pond, Wayne, KY 28 May (ph. RB). Wilson’s Phalaropes were reported in typically small numbers from scattered locations, with a high count of 7 on 29 Apr at Ensley (MTOS).

Gulls through Nuthatches

A first-cycle Glaucous Gull at Snow Bunting Peninsula, Old Hickory L., Nashville, TN (ph. CA, m. obs.) represented approximately the 23rd record for the state and the first for spring. A Least Tern at Duck River 27 May (AT, RS) was the only one reported away from the species’ breeding range in the far west part of the region.

Several sightings of rare loon species came from Seven Points Rec. Area, J. Percy Priest L., Davidson, TN. Both a Red-throated and a Pacific were there 12 Mar (PDC, MS). A Red-throated was also present there 10 Mar (RC), and single Pacific Loons were reported there 14 Mar (GG) and 16–18 Mar (JN, DBu, MD, et al.). The only other rare loon sighting was a Red-throated Loon at Pickwick Dam, Hardin, TN 7 Mar (RS, AT). Two Common Loons at L. Tansi, Cumberland, TN 30 May (EL) were tardy.

A Neotropic Cormorant was at Mud L., Lake, TN 30 May (ph. MG). One to two Anhingas were reported from seven west Tennessee locations in April, including two at the Macedonia Bottoms, Gibson 25 Apr (MG), where they have previously nested, but none were found on subsequent visits. Two at Duck River 28–29 May (AT) were noteworthy away from the Mississippi R. In Kentucky, where the species is reported less frequently, one was present at the Island 8 boat ramp, Fulton 31 May (†DP).

A Brown Pelican, always rare in the region, was present at the Tennessee R., Hamilton, TN 20 May (SS).

In Tennessee, single American Bitterns were reported at least thirteen times from eight counties 27 Mar–3 May; two were present at Lobelville Bottoms, Perry 6 Apr (AT). In Kentucky, singles were reported four times from three locations 26 Mar–6 May. An impressive four were present at Green River W. M. A., Adair, KY 15 Apr (ph. RD). One to two Least Bitterns were reported from seven locations in Tennessee 22 Apr–28 May. A Snowy Egret at Cadiz, Trigg, KY 9 Apr (JS) and a Little Blue Heron in Franklin, TN 30 Mar (DSn) were unusually early. A Tricolored Heron at Robinson Bayou, Lake, TN 23 May (ph. MG) was the only one reported. The wintering Green Heron at Centennial Park, Nashville, TN lingered through 16 Mar (CH).

A White Ibis, surprisingly an adult, was at Mud L., Lake, TN 23 May (ph. MG). Single White-faced Ibises were reported at Robinson Bayou, Lake, TN 19 May (ph. MG) and at Midway Road, Lower Hickman Bottoms, Fulton, KY 29 May (TG, ph. SG).

Seven Swallow-tailed Kites in Calloway, KY 6 May (HC) was a remarkable high count. In Tennessee, singles were reported from Washington 20 Apr (FA, KB) and Seven Islands S. P., Knox 29 Apr (MF, DBr). Mississippi Kites are still rare in east Tennessee; one was in Washington 16 Apr (DH) and another was in Knox 18 May (DE). Single Golden Eagles were reported from one Kentucky and three Tennessee locations.

A Northern Saw-whet Owl banded at Surrey Hills Farm 24 Oct 2016 (MM) was found 29 Mar near Niagara Falls, near Grand Island, Erie, NY.

A Peregrine Falcon nest at Kentucky R., Garrard, KY established the first confirmed natural cliff nest for the species in the state; two adults were feeding two nestlings there 29 Apr (ph. TN). A pair that successfully nested at Doe River Gorge, Carter, TN last year apparently had a failed nesting attempt at the same location this year (PR, RLK).

In Tennessee, both Olive-sided Flycatchers and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were reported in below-average numbers. The Say’s Phoebe first observed in Nelson, KY 21 Jan was last reported 25 Mar (DxM). Fifteen Western Kingbirds at President’s Island, Shelby, TN 3 May (MCT) established a new high count for the state. Away from known breeding territories, single Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were reported from seven Tennessee counties and two Kentucky counties.

Away from Fort Campbell, which hosts the only known breeding population of Bell’s Vireos in Tennessee, one was reported from Lake, TN 25 May (TJ, ph. MG). A Yellow-throated Vireo at Audubon S. P., Henderson, KY 15 Mar (†PL) would represent the earliest spring record for the region, if accepted. Continuing their expansion through east Tennessee, a Fish Crow in Bristol, Sullivan, TN 11 May (RCa) established a first local record; nesting attempts in east Tennessee were documented from Knox (CWe) and Johnson City, Washington (MAW, m. obs.). As is the case most years, a few Common Ravens were reported from east Tennessee locations away from their core mountain range. Similarly, in Kentucky, the species was sighted for the first time in Boyd and Greenup.

A Northern Rough-winged Swallow at Fort Henry Dam, Sullivan 4 Mar (PR) established a new early arrival date for ne. Tennessee. With less than ten records for the state, single Cave Swallows in Dyer, TN 5 May (ph. MG) and at Mud Lake, Lake, TN 11 May (MCT) were noteworthy. Extremely rare in Kentucky, a Black-capped Chickadee at Yatesville Lake W. M. A., Lawrence 2 Mar (ph. BPB) was presumed to be the same individual reported earlier. Although Red-breasted Nuthatches had mostly vacated Tennessee, they were widely reported in Kentucky, with over 100 reports from 27 counties. A Brown-headed Nuthatch at Lone Oak Farms in Hardeman, TN 29 Apr (MG, AT, MW) may have been a county first.

Gnatcatchers through Goldfinches

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at John Sevier L., Hawkins, TN 5 Mar (SH) established a new early arrival date for the state by one day. Conversely, a Golden-crowned Kinglet at Clarks River N. W. R., Marshall, KY 13 May (†JP) established a record late date for the state. A Wood Thrush in Nashville, TN 28 Mar (CAS) established a record early date for the state. One at the Troyer Farm in Perry, TN 2 Apr (AT) was also early. Only a handful of Pine Siskins were reported in each state.

A male Spotted Towhee was in Trenton, Gibson, TN 28 May (MG). A Bachman’s Sparrow at Fort Campbell, Montgomery, TN 18 May (DMo), where they are known to breed, was the only one reported. A Vesper Sparrow at Fowler Road, Franklin, TN 12 May (DSn) was extraordinarily late. A Grasshopper Sparrow in Louisville, KY 4 Apr (†JW) was very early. A Rose-breasted Grosbeak in Rockvale, Rutherford, TN 3 Mar (KBa) was either a record early spring arrival or a very rare overwintering individual; one in Kingsport, Sullivan, TN 13 Apr (BG) established a new early arrival date for northeast Tennessee. A Harris’s Sparrow in Bledsoe, TN 21 Mar–2 Apr (R&DS) established the first record for southeast Tennessee.

A Yellow-breasted Chat in Nashville, TN 1 Mar–8 Apr (KS) was either an overwintering individual or a record early spring arrival.

Two to three Western Meadowlarks at Duck River 4–17 Mar (JN, SY, RS, AT) were an extraordinary discovery away from the far western part of the region. A Yellow-headed Blackbird was at Duck River 10 May (fide MG). A Brewer’s Blackbird at Hillsboro Pond, Coffee, TN 23 Mar (BD, BS, CA) was noteworthy away from the western part of the region. A Great-tailed Grackle in Dyer, TN 21 Apr (ph. MG) represented Tennessee’s third record.

A Worm-eating Warbler at Mahr Park, Hopkins, KY 5 Apr (DoS) tied the early arrival date for the state. Continuing from winter, Orange-crowned Warblers were reported in above average numbers throughout the spring. A Bay-breasted Warbler at Sharp’s Ridge, Knox, TN 17 Apr (StM, EB) established a new early arrival date for east Tennessee and the second earliest for the state. A Blackburnian Warbler at Cross Creeks N. W. R., Stewart, TN 9 Apr (JH) was early.

There were several reports of early Indigo Buntings from both states in the last few days of March. Painted Buntings are only expected in southwest Tennessee. Accordingly, one in Dyer, TN 11 May (ph. MG) and one at a feeder in Ravenna, Estill, KY in early Apr (ph. MBa fide MTw) were noteworthy. The latter, if confirmed, would represent Kentucky’s ninth record.

Report processed by Amy Davis, 29 Oct 2020.

Photos–Tennessee & Kentucky: Spring 2017
Hover or click on each image to read the caption.