‘Duck ID Day’
Henderson, Buncombe &
Transylvania Counties, NC
December 7, 2014
As expected for this time of year, the day began chilly but sunny. Our first stop was Lake Julian and our first birds were duck look-a-likes – American Coot and both Pied-billed and Horned Grebes. We found a single Ring-billed Gull sitting on the water in the middle of lake, and it was soon joined by about 20 more plus a smaller, daintier gull – a Bonaparte’s. A few minutes later the gulls suddenly got up, clearly spooked. It didn’t take long to discern the cause; soaring above the lake we spotted a beautiful, adult Bald Eagle. After taking a few passes, it flew low over the pines and perched farther along the shore out of sight. We eventually relocated it and enjoyed lengthy views through the scopes. From this vantage point we also got better views of 2 female Hooded Mergansers (our first proper ducks) that had flown by quickly earlier in the morning.
Our next stop was a small farm pond in Mills River. We didn’t linger here long, but aplenty were the ubiquitous Mallard and Canada Goose, staples of any ‘Duck ID Day.’ We moved on to the wastewater treatment plant and found only one bird on the water – a female Bufflehead. A Graylag Goose walked from behind the building and we were able to examine the reasons why this was not a Greater-white Fronted Goose, a rare winter visitor to WNC. Other than a Sharp-shinned Hawk chasing a flock of Starlings, there wasn’t much else happening here, so we moved on to Lake Osceola.
As expected, Lake Osceola was THE place of the day. It’s typically reliable for Gadwall and today was no different. We also found small numbers of Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Redhead and American Wigeon. Seeing such a variety of dabbling and diving ducks in the same place only quickens one’s learning of this colorful and easy-to-see group of birds.
After a great lunch and respite from the cold at Mills River Restaurant, we finished the day with a trip to Deer Lake (aka Carolina Lake) in Brevard to see the previously reported Ross’s Goose (rare in NC). A small, white goose with black wingtips, it stuck out in the flock of Canadas it was with and we found it instantly. We all got great looks at the short, stubby bill which lacks the grin patch of a Snow Goose and enjoyed this bird for a while before calling it a day.