I was fortunate to be able to spend a few hours last Saturday morning (Nov. 23) with members of the Carolina Field Birders on one of their trips around Lake Junaluska. It was still a bit chilly around 9 a.m. when we were to meet at the swimming pool area. But the wind wasn’t blowing and the sun had a nice warm feeling to it. Plus we could see a few interesting birds from our vantage point. Nothing warms birders up in the wintertime like seeing birds.
Horned grebes swam and dived in front of us near the pool. Several members had spotting scopes, through which, even in the bad lighting conditions, red-breasted mergansers, ruddy ducks, redheads and others could be seen across the lake near the large parking lot behind Stuart Auditorium. And while we waited for everyone to show up, the soft “mewing” of a yellow-bellied sapsucker could be heard from the trees behind us.
After everyone was accounted for we carpooled around to the parking lot near Stuart Auditorium and set up shop again. We got great looks at the red-breasted mergansers – most were females but there were a couple of males in the group. There was a raft of 20 or more redheads. We also saw a double-crested cormorant, some ring-necked ducks, more horned grebes, pied-billed grebes, ruddy ducks and more. There were also butterbutts (yellow-rumped warblers) in the trees behind us at the parking lot.
We left the parking lot and went up to the cross. We watched golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets from our vantage point there. We were also treated to a quick stop-and-go from a small group of pine siskins, plus we saw eastern towhees, song sparrows and picked out a Bonaparte’s gull from a group of ringed-bills that flew in and settled on the lake.
From the cross, we made a quick tour of County Road. Along the edges of the pasture and cropland there we were treated to a variety of species. We got common grackles, red-winged blackbirds, brown-headed cowbirds, rusty blackbirds and even an eastern meadowlark. We also found a large group of killdeer in the horse pasture.
My time was running short and I soon had to leave. But I got in contact with Bob Olthoff and Connie Wulkowicz to see how the rest of the trip went. They were still on a roll. White-crowned sparrows were found at the Greenway parking area along Richland Creek across Highway 19 from the lake. A mature bald eagle also made a grand entrance and perched in a tree just above the group.
But it didn’t stop there. A recent email from Keith Miller, a CFB member whose health has curtailed his ability to join the group on trips, had alerted Connie to the possibility of greater white-fronted and a blue-phase snow goose in Jonathan Valley. Part of the group took a quick ride to Jonathan Valley – and sure enough they found four greater white-fronted geese and one blue-phase snow goose.
The trip and the trip count ended Saturday with around 57 species. But Nature’s faucet doesn’t turn on and off like that. Bob Olthoff called me Sunday morning as my girls and I were headed to South Carolina. He was at the lake with Connie and others and they were looking at three American avocets. You don’t have to wait for a “trip-day” to find interesting guests at Lake J from now through May. And while the more time you spend there – the more you are likely to see – a quick loop around the lake at anytime, especially just after weather events could put you in the right place at the right time.