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.
During the breeding season a number of birds that belong to the flycatcher family appear in the southern mountains: eastern kingbirds and wood peewees, as well as great crested, olive-sided, least, arcadian, willow, and alder flycatchers. As their name implies, these birds hawk insects from perches and are great fun to watch. They will start arriving here in April from Central and South America.
When the North Carolina Audubon Society announced its campaign to install 10,000 small-holed bird boxes to bolster the population of brown-headed nuthatches, Russ Regnery was intrigued. But, like many environmental issues coming down from Raleigh, the plight of the little songbird had little relevance in the mountains. The birds just don’t live much above 2,000 feet.
“We kind of felt left out because we didn’t have the bird,” said Regnery, president of the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society. “Then we started thinking, ‘Well shucks, the same principal may apply to other small cavity-nesting birds as well.”
At last! I finally had a birding outing planned last Saturday – the first one since April when I helped lead a trip for the Wildflower Pilgrimage. But, the primary guiding force of my life happens to be Murphy’s Law.
“As I traveled on, the air was literally filled with pigeons. The light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse, and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses. Before sunset I reached Louisville, Kentucky. The pigeons passed in undiminished number, and continued to do so for three days in succession.
May 3 and 4 were the dates for this year’s 30th annual edition of the Great Smoky Mountains Birding Expedition. This trip began in 1984 as the brainchild of George Ellison, Bryson City resident, author and naturalist; Rick Pyeritz, M.D., who had a practice in Bryson City before he became medical director at University of North Carolina Asheville; and Fred Alsop, Ph.D., field guide author and ornithologist at East Tennessee State University.
Despite last week’s chill and blustery snow, we are in the throes of spring migration. Actually, migration never stops. There is a bird somewhere on its way to somewhere else every month of the year. Purple martins have reached Florida by January. In June around the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge you might find red knots headed north and least sandpipers headed south.
In my youth, never did a B-western movie make it to the end without the bad guy being cornered and denounced for the “yellow-bellied sapsucker” he was. Yellow-belly and/or yellow-bellied has, for various etymological reasons, been associated with cowardice. Sapsucker, I don’t know, maybe it just sounds kinda lowlife.
The annual Balsam Christmas Bird Count (CBC) took place Saturday, Jan. 4. In the weeks prior to the count many regular Balsam CBC participants, like me, had been crying in our eggnog. Bob Olthoff, long-time compiler for the count, was calling Lake Junaluska a “liquid desert” due to the lack of waterfowl.
I believe Lake Junaluska has spoiled local birders like me. I spent about an hour and a half poking around the lake and nearby areas last Sunday morning. I ran into a few other birders and we were all of the same opinion — the lake was dead, not much going on. But then I got home and looked at my list. Twenty-seven species for an hour and a half of birding in mid-December is not a terrible showing.