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Wednesday, 06 October 2010 20:28

The Naturalist's Corner

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Foggy fall morning at Lake Junaluska

I decided to get out and get a breath of autumn air this morning (Saturday, Oct. 2) by taking a quick tour around Lake Junaluska. It was pretty fresh and there was a little white sheen to some of the rooftops along U.S. 23/74.

By the time I reached the Junaluska golf course I was socked in. I decided to stop at the little parking area at Richland Creek on the Waynesville Greenway. The fog was thick and close.

There were a few chirps emanating from the fog; the occasional roar of traffic along the four-lane; the tink of golf balls being launched by metal woods from the fog-obscured fairway across the creek and then, the unmistakable twittering of hummingbirds. A pair of lingering female ruby-throated hummingbirds were chasing each other around a batch of Japanese honeysuckle that had been coaxed into blooming by the spring-like vernal period.

A mewing gray catbird soon appeared from the middle of the honeysuckle tangle. A Tennessee warbler passed by hawking insects in the brush along the far side of the creek, and a pair of gray squirrels were busy plucking the few remaining walnuts from a nearby black walnut tree. There were a few song sparrows, a couple of cardinals, some crows and blue jays, an eastern phoebe and a female belted kingfisher was stationed on a dead branch just above the creek.

I left the greenway and headed for the fog-shrouded lake. The silhouette of a double-crested cormorant was barely visible. When I stopped to get a better look I could also pick out a few pied-billed grebes through my binoculars. Continuing around the lake, it became apparent that the pied-billed migration was in high gear. I didn’t count individuals but I must have seen at least 15. The winter population of coots is also growing by leaps and bounds.

I took a quick side trip to the Corneille Bryan Native Garden. Pink and white turtleheads, deep blue gentian and white and blue asters joined the blazing red euonymus berries like colored candles in the fog. The liquid “whoit!” of Swainson’s thrushes mingled with the gurgling brook and the fog dripping from leaves. There must have been a half-dozen Swainson’s foraging in the garden.

I decided to make one more stop at the small wetlands behind the dining hall at the lake. It was nice to see the new NC Birding Trail sign dedicated by the Great Smoky Mountains Audubon chapter. Lake Junaluska is site number 37 in the mountain guide to the NC Birding Trail.

Lake Junaluska has a way of always surprising you, and this trip was no different. I spied a couple of warblers flying into a large black cherry adjacent the wetlands. Binoculars revealed a couple of bay-breasted warblers. As I approached to get a better look, I noticed movement in the tag alders along both sides of the small ditch at the wetlands. There was a mixed flock of migrating warblers chasing insects. Bay-breasteds made up the bulk of the flock, but I also saw one Cape May, one black-throated green, one blackpoll and a couple of chestnut-sided warblers. And to top it off, at the end of the wetlands was a pair of wood ducks.

When I threw in the starlings, mockingbirds, a couple of woodpeckers and the other usual suspects, I wound up with 39 species. Not bad for a quick, foggy trip around the lake.

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