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The Naturalist's Corner

Junaluska waterfowl are plentiful, varied

A quick turn around Lake Junaluska last Sunday revealed 13 species of waterfowl and/or wetland birds. This tiny (200-acre) clear dot nestled at 2,500 feet in the highest county east of the Mississippi River must call out to migrants seeking passage through the mountains. It will consistently turn up a dozen or more species of waterfowl from now through early spring.

The trip also pointed out how quickly birders, like myself, become jaded. That Sunday I was commiserating with a couple of other regular Junaluska birders about how “not much was going on at the lake,” that morning. But when I looked at the list a little more objectively, I realized it was a pretty diverse list. It included belted kingfisher, American coot, pied-billed grebe, double-crested cormorant, ring-billed gull, bufflehead, hooded merganser, lesser scaup and others.

I remembered having seen some postings from Stephan Pagans, a birder I know from Monroe, La., on the Birdmail listserv. The postings were from a couple of surveys along a large impoundment, D’Arbonne Lake, in north-central Louisiana. When I combined the waterfowl and wetland species from Pagans’ two stops, I tallied 11 species. Nine of the 11 were present at lake Junaluska last Sunday. The two species Pagans had that were not at Junaluska were gadwall and great egret. Both species have been recorded at Junaluska and gadwalls will be present sometime between now and spring.

That little bit of species sleuthing led me to refer to another list. I have a list of birds from Lake Junaluska prepared a few years back by Jonathan Mays before he left the area for the Great North Woods of Maine. That list, which may not even be current now, has 68 species of waterfowl, waders and kingfishers from this tiny mountain lake.

The list, which was years in the making, includes a number of rarities/oddities for a small inland lake including brown and white pelican, Ross’s goose, cackling goose, surf scoter, white-winged scoter, black scoter, willet, laughing gull, Sabine’s gull and Caspian, common, Forster’s and black tern.

The waterfowl at Junaluska will ebb and flow as fronts come and go this winter. One day in December of 2000 turned up more than 500 different waterfowl and waders composed of at least 20 different species. So if you start jonesing for waterfowl this winter before you pack the car and head for the coast, take a drive around Junaluska, you might be pleasantly surprised.

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