Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Birding

Winter-time bird watching expeditions are sometimes not anticipated as a lively activity. The teeming numbers of summer birds has gone. The migrants have pushed on through. The great hawk watch at the Mendota Fire Tower is once again in the history books. We’re lucky in these parts that we have mild weather nearly year around and many good locations for a variety of habitat. From the snowy tops of Holston and Roan Mountains to South Holston and Douglas lakes we have plenty of places to choose from and usually good luck.

During the week we’d experienced a “duck fall out” of which I’d never heard. Apparently, when the cold front came through it collided with several migrations of ducks. In this collision, the ducks are forced to land (or, to water, to be more specific.) The result was a congregation in places one or two thousand ducks of the same species. We’re lucky to get a single species count into the two hundreds. I’m thinking of Buffleheads on Wilbur Lake and that’s very unusual. By the weekend, these ducks had pushed on. Jean and Brookie Potter counted a raft of ducks of over one thousand.

Despite the cold morning this day became warm and clear and we shed coats just after lunch.

But our outing was still very productive and even exciting. We started at the Weir Dam and Osceola Island, downstream from the South Holston Dam on a chilly, sunny, and beautiful morning. (Top picture.) Osceola Island has been a long-time favorite birding area. It is also a great picnic grounds featuring good walking paths and good fishing for trout. Perhaps the best finds were a beaver carcass, American widgeon, coots, all the woodpeckers, and black duck. Up on the dam we got even luckier with two Bald eagles and loon. (To find Osceola Island go east from Bristol, Tenn./Va., on U.S. 421 and after the turn off to BMS keep an eye out for the sign to the dam, maybe three or four miles up the road on 421. If you cross the lake you went too far.)

Our second spot was Middlebrook Lake which I can’t even begin to describe how to find. It was one of these housing development impoundments where you would expect to find lots of Mallard and Canada Geese but also Hooded merganser and loons.
Our last stop was Musick’s Campground on the shores of South Holston Lake but north from the 421 Bridge. Amazingly, you are still in Tennessee by about one quarter of a mile. (Second picture.) With the lakes down, shore line is more accessible than during the full pool. But winter water fowl are around although here you need a spotting scope. We found all three grebe (eared, pied-bill, horned), Bonaparte gull, surf scoter, and few more loons. These are not uncommon in northeast Tennessee but you have to be willing to work for ‘em. Without a ‘scope a person would be hard pressed to see well enough at these distances. They’re shy and the lake is still a good distance across.

I only noted 30 species. The official count came to 47 species.


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