Archived Outdoors

The Naturalist's Corner

The front that passed through the week before Thanksgiving brought the first waterfowl fallout of the season to Lake Junaluska. I passed by on Thursday afternoon (11/17) and observed one snow goose with a small group of Canadian geese. Friday afternoon I returned for a longer look and found one gadwall in the back of the lake near the newly designed wetlands; a number of hooded mergansers in the same area; numerous American coots there and all around the lake; a double-crested cormorant sunning itself on the little island beneath the osprey platform; and a wood duck near the entrance road off US 19. There were a couple of pied-billed grebes around the lake. A small raft in the middle of the lake contained American wigeon, ring-billed ducks and lesser scaup. A group of bufflehead were also out in the middle of the lake along with one horned grebe.

The lake will provide refuge for migrant waterfowl from now through late spring. Often after fronts and/or storms, numerous species may be observed. The largest number of waterfowl I have ever seen on Lake Junaluska occurred back in December of 2000. There were approximately 500 waterfowl and shorebirds representing at least 20 different species.

These migrants will come and go with the weather patterns and the time of year. The composition and numbers of migrants had already changed by Saturday (11/19.) A quick tour Saturday afternoon failed to produce the snow goose, horned grebe, wigeons, scaup, ring-necks or cormorant. I saw only one bufflehead as opposed to the 8 or 10 that were there earlier in the week, but I did see species I hadn’t on Thursday or Friday. There was a small raft (15) of redheads present, and I also saw some ruddy ducks. Other species around the lake included belted kingfisher and great blue heron.

You always get a mixed bag at Lake Junaluska. A lot depends on water levels. In the winters when there is a lot of dredging going on and mudflats are exposed, there will be more shorebirds but fewer ducks. When the lake has plenty of water the numbers and frequency of waterfowl fallouts are greater.

Because of sediment removal and construction on the dam we haven’t had a full pool at Lake Junaluska the past few winters. I don’t know what the schedule is this year, but I hope the lake stays full. I have missed the rafts of ducks.

Of course different conditions at the lake bring their rarities. Remember the sandhill cranes of a few winters back. Willets and black-bellied plovers have also been recorded during those years with mudflats exposed. At full pool, common goldeneye, black scoter and surf’s scoter are some of the rare ducks that have been reported from the lake.

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Whatever the water level, Lake Junaluska will be a spot to watch from now through late spring. Other locations in the area that produce migrant waterfall during this time include Lake Julian and Beaver Lake in Asheville and Lake Osceola and Four Seasons Marsh in Hendersonville.

(Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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