Trip Report

‘Sparrows & Ducks,’

Mills River, NC
Sunday, February 8, 2015



Greater White-fronted Goose; by Alan Lenk

    Our annual sparrows and ducks-themed day trip began among cool but pleasant morning temperatures at Mills River Park, one of our favorite destinations in the region for studying sparrows. The sun shone down from nearly cloudless skies as we watched our first sparrows of the morning – Adult and juvenile White-crowned Sparrows and Song Sparrows both foraged on the ground next to each other, giving us good comparative views of the sizes of both species. Seconds later we spotted a flock of Canada Goose foraging on private land adjacent to the park. A quick scan of the flock revealed a small, white goose with a short, stubby bill – a Ross’s Goose, a rare winter visitor to WNC! Farther along the paved walkway down by the river we found a few little groups of White-throated Sparrows, though they were quite uncooperative and only gave fleeting glimpses through the thick vegetation. Looping back around to the cars to head to our next stop, we got great looks at a highly cooperative Savannah Sparrow, sitting in the grass mere feet from the group. At this distance, the pale yellow coloration above the lores was clearly visible. An added treat was a Merlin that perched briefly at the top of a tree, revealing the characteristic weak mustache before taking off and quickly disappearing.

    At the wastewater treatment plant we re-found the flock of Ross’s and Canada Goose, and this time, there was another rare goose with them – a Greater White-fronted Goose! Close inspection of this individual ruled out the domestic Graylag Goose, a much more common and far bulkier look-a-like. Back on Hooper Lane, we found more White-crowned and Song Sparrows, as well as Swamp Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, American Kestrel, and Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks.

    After a delicious and filling lunch at Mills River Restaurant, we made for Lake Osceola in Hendersonville to finish the day with ducks. As always, Lake Osceola did not disappoint – we found Gadwall in good numbers as well as Redhead, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead and a few American Wigeon. The lighting here was perfect and we enjoyed prolonged scope views of each of these ducks, which made for a beautiful finish to a beautiful day!

Aaron Steed