Kahite volunteers unite for project

Bill Leaning views the new Birds of Tellico Village kiosk between holes 11 and 12 on The Links at Kahite golf course. Leaning photographed all of the birds for the display that was erected by members of the Kahite Chain Gang.

Motorists and golfers driving between holes 11 and 12 along The Links at Kahite golf course will recognize a new, unique wildlife kiosk to celebrate the beautiful nature that envelopes the community.

Members of the Kahite Chain Gang, a volunteer-based group that specializes in beautification projects in the community, built and erected the kiosk last week.

“We build the trails and, as I go along, I kind of think of what we should do to make Kahite a more interesting place and get people involved,” Gary Mulliner, Chain Gang leader, said. “We started out going to do a two-sided kiosk like the history kiosk we have. When we started this idea, we thought we were going to do birds and animals, and then I said, ‘Well, we’re leaving some things out, but maybe have plants or flowers.’ We went from making a two-sided kiosk to a three-side with 4x6 panels.”

The first panel is complete, which includes high-resolution photos of all species of birds that can be found in the Tellico Lake area. All photos were taken by Kahite resident and former veterinarian Bill Leaning.

Leaning, a New Zealand native, and his wife moved into the Village nearly two years ago.

“We moved into a property in New Jersey in 1984 and were across from the (Edwin B. Forsythe) National Wildlife Refuge, and she said, ‘We better get a birding club because we can hear all these birds’,” Leaning said. “We went to the birding club, and I’ve been keen on photography in an amateur way photographing all the research trials and so forth, and then we decided we were bitten by the birding bug back in 1984. We haven’t looked back since.”

Since retiring in 1991, Leaning has become an avid wildlife photographer.

“I got myself some pretty serious equipment when I retired, and I didn’t have much other than a routine Canon camera until then,” he said. “Then I got myself really good equipment and then made serious birding trips both here and overseas. I’ve built myself quite a collection of photographs now. With my wife’s urging, she said that we need to know what these bird sounds are.”

After moving into the Village, Leaning decided to start regularly photographing birds that inhabit the area.

More than 50 species of birds live in Tellico Village, including the American bald eagle, double-crested cormorant, red-breasted nuthatch, belted kingfisher and eastern phoebe.

Leaning’s favorite species to photograph is the Carolina chickadee.

“There’s an island that I call Bird Island, and I don’t know if it has a name or not, but it’s a host to cormorant nests and great blue heron nests and green heron nests,” Leaning said. “A lot of my photographs that are on that board have come from those species. I was fascinated with the Cherokee names when I moved here, and I looked up Dudi and it turned out to be the Cherokee name for the Carolina chickadee or the snowbird. We call our property Omanu, which is the New Zealand name for The Place for Birds.”

Word soon got around of Leaning’s collection, which prompted Mulliner and others to create a new display.

Irene Gabashvili, a Kahite resident, was responsible for the graphics and design.

“We needed somebody to figure out how to make the birds look good. You’ve got to have somebody with some skills and I know it’s not me,” Mulliner said. “I put the word out in Kahite, and then, on chance, asked a lady who was good with computers and said, ‘No, I’ve never done anything like that but I’ll try.’ She turned out to be fabulous. She took my idea of the birds and did the design work and found a background and put them on trees. She did a fabulous job. Around here, it takes a Village.”

The final two panels for the kiosk will include native animals and plants. There will be public unveiling at 9:30 a.m. Friday.