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Wednesday, 16 May 2007 00:00

Soggy birding

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May 5 was a soggy morning. At 7:30 a.m. a light drizzle had engulfed Lake Junaluska. We sat in our cars and debated our plight. This was the date selected for the Haywood County Arts Council “Fun Party – Art of Birdwatching.” About 20 arts patrons were beginning to wonder how much fun they were going to have.

 

We decided to go to the Harrell Center where we could find a dry place to scan the lake and watch the weather. A tent set up there, between the Harrell Center and Stuart Auditorium, became our birding pavilion. The drizzle continued but a few hungry birds were out foraging. From our dry vantage point we saw northern rough-winged swallows, tree swallows, barn swallows and purple martins. A song sparrow serenaded us to the best of his buzzy abilities while a group of immature ring-billed gulls, a belted kingfisher and a little green heron gave us a fly-by. We saw coots, pied-billed grebes, a merganser and a cormorant on the lake.

As we stood there looking through the drizzle we noticed it wasn’t drizzling anymore, at least not as hard as it had been. So being the birdbrains, I mean birders, we were, we decided to car pool for a trip around the lake. As soon as we got everyone loaded up and in line we stopped because right there, across from Stuart Auditorium, was a treetop full of cedar waxwings. As we were watching the waxwings we heard the high rapid tseet-tseet-tseet-tseet of blackpoll warblers right above us. There were at least two overhead and most people got good looks.

The blackpoll is a migrant here passing through on its way to the boreal forests of northern New England, through Canada all the way to northwest Alaska. This 4- to 5-inch warbler has an annual migration of 12,000 miles, the longest of any passerine species.

Besides the blackpolls we also picked up yellow and palm warblers at the lake plus good looks at the little green herons that nest in the wetlands area.

As the rains began again we beat a hasty retreat up Oxner Cove to the Walnut Creek community and home of local sculptor Daniel Miller where hot coffee, sweet treats and that Appalachian delicacy — ramps — greeted us.

After our fill of warm coffee and the yin and yang of sweet treats and pungent ramps, the rain gods smiled upon us once more and we struck out from Daniel’s home. There were birds all around; a pair of house wrens had usurped a blue bird box in Daniel’s yard; ovenbirds, blue-headed and red-eyed vireos were singing from the woods across the road; a chestnut-sided warbler beckoned from a meadow just down the road and rose-breasted grosbeaks and indigo buntings were singing from the trees overhead; but no one was giving good looks.

Finally most of the group was able to focus on an indigo. Shortly after that a pair of scarlet tanagers passed by and the male ablaze in its fresh scarlet plumage juxtaposed by its jet-black wings gave everyone a dazzling look. Wood thrushes teased us with shadowy glances but they filled the woods with their ethereal flute-song. A lemon-drop yellow, black-helmeted hooded warbler danced across the road in the trees above us and some got good looks. We were vexed by black-and-white warblers that sang and sang from the foggy woods but never showed themselves.

As we ended our hike at the home of Steve and Betsy Wall, the rain began again. But with more coffee, sourdough waffles, apple sausage, juice and fruit salad beckoning, the rain just served to make the breakfast more intimate as we sat in the dry and watched rose-breasted grosbeaks at Steve and Betsy’s feeders. It was a wet yet wonderful morning.

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