Canvasbacks were recorded at Lake Junaluska

The twin banes of birding, wind and rain, combined to help set a new record low for the eighth annual Balsam Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The soggy but undaunted cadre of birders sloshed and slogged their way around Lake Logan, Lake Junaluska and the Waynesville watershed; mucked through the mud at the Test Farm and fields of Jonathan Valley; foraged the forests of Balsam Mountain Preserve and braved the brambles at Barber’s orchard to eek out 65 species of birds. The previous low for the Balsam CBC was 69 species recorded each of the first two years – 2003 and 2004. The high count for the circle is 77 species, which has been achieved twice, and the average is around 73 species.

Woodland birds were especially hard to find this year. Notable misses included red-breasted nuthatch and winter wren. I’m sure these birds were hunkered down somewhere trying to stay dry and with last Saturday’s conditions if you didn’t stumble right upon birds you weren’t about to hear or see them through the woods, at a distance.

The Lake Junaluska and Lake Logan sections produced the highest species counts in the circle with about 46 each. Lake Logan was essentially still iced, but I believe ring-necked ducks were found there. Only about seven species of waterfowl were recorded at Lake Junaluska. Canvasbacks were probably the best find at Lake J. The snow goose that had hung around for weeks departed just a couple of weeks before the count. A lone Bonaparte’s gull joined a group of ring-billed gulls at the lake late Saturday evening to add another tick on the species list. The Waynesville reservoir was totally devoid of waterfowl.

Doug Johnston of Leicester, who oversees maintenance and construction at the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Chapter’s Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary in Asheville, suffered through the soggy day with me in my section of the Balsam CBC circle. My section runs from the Old Asheville Highway (east) to Balsam Mountain Preserve (west) and from the Waynesville watershed (south) to Mt. Lynn Lowry (north). The average number of species for my section is low to mid 40s. We turned up (barely) 37 species this year.

At the end of the day, Saturday, we were still missing house sparrow, so we took a turn through most of the fast food restaurants and the Wal-Mart parking lot on the way back to Doug’s vehicle – nothing, zip, nada. We were left with 36 species. Then, as I rounded the corner to the entrance at Bocelli’s, where we gathered for the count tally, I was greeted by a cacophony of house sparrow chirps and whistles emanating from the English ivy along the walls of the little patio there.

No new species were discovered for the circle this year. But we had high-count numbers for robins and probably cedar waxwings, two species we dipped on in 2007. Other notable misses besides red-breasted nuthatch and winter wren included blackbirds and common grackle.

The warm, cozy and dry confines of Bocelli’s were the antithesis of the cold, wet and uninviting conditions encountered in the field. And with warm food, cool libations and resuscitated brethren to commiserate with the after-count glow transcended the gloomy count-day blues.

The Balsam CBC whishes to thank all the die-hard participants as well as the staff and management at Bocelli’s, the Town of Waynesville, for access to the watershed, and Jim Francis and Glen Tolar for access to their private property.