Bob Olthoff and I took advantage of last Sunday’s (Nov. 29) Indian Summer weather for a couple of hours of birding at the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee’s Tessentee Bottomland Preserve (formerly Tessentee Farm). Not only was the weather cooperative, the birds were, too. We spent about two hours on the trails that ramble through the different habitats (pine/oak forest, canebrakes, wetlands and red cedar savannah) of the Preserve and recorded 36 species.
The 36 species were all birds that one would expect to find overwintering at Tessentee; however, high numbers of two particular species seems to suggest that the balmy November weather has been conducive to lingering migrants. We were pleasantly surprised at the number of fox sparrows. After encountering seven or eight, we quit counting individuals, but they were seen and/or heard throughout the wetlands, canebrakes and forest edges. A conservative estimate would be high teens. The loud, smacking chip note seemed to emanate from almost every tangle we investigated, and we even heard them occasionally breaking out into song across the Preserve. The eastern, or red fox sparrow is a large handsome sparrow with a gray crown and nape, rufous cheek patch, rufous rump and tail, and large rufous spots on its breast and flanks.
We also encountered at least seven or eight hermit thrushes. Most views were glimpses of a spotted breast and a rufous tail twitching through the leaves and brambles but we did, finally, have one pop up and give good looks.
As I mentioned before, these are both species I would expect to find overwintering at Tessentee. But even on a good day, it’s unusual to find more than one or two of each. It was cool to see them in such numbers — and lagniappe to hear them singing.