Meat Camp Creek Environmental Studies Area

Curtis Smalling

County: Watauga

Key Birds: Summer: Wood Duck, Virginia Rail, Green Heron, Willow and Least Flycatchers, White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireos, Yellow and Chestnut-sided Warblers, Carolina Wren, and Wood Thrush. Winter: Hairy Woodpecker, Swamp, White-crowned, and White-throated Sparrows, and American Pipit.

Year Round: Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers, American Goldfinch.

Best Times to Bird: Spring and fall migration best times although good numbers of certain species found year-round. The breeding season is also good with the chance of finding a Virginia Rail.

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Description: This 9.5 acre wetland is privately owned but available for use. Maintained grass paths with boardwalks over wet areas meander for almost 1 mile through this dense wetland. Bounded on two sides by Meat Camp Creek, this riparian corridor attracts many migrants in spring and fall. Over 130 species of birds have been seen here in just two years. Dense cover provides roosting for many nocturnal migrants with most eastern warblers observed here. The paths are grass so wear shoes for dew and frost. The temperature on fall mornings may be 10 degrees colder than other areas so dress warmly in layers that can be shed later. The dense cover makes it especially attractive to birds but notoriously hard for beginning birders. Sightings are often brief so being familiar with vocalizations will help to add to species totals. On the other hand, the dense cover and close access to usually difficult habitats (marsh, beaver ponds, etc.) can yield extraordinarily close views for patient birders.

Directions: From the intersection of US Highway 421 N and Hwy 194 N east of Boone, proceed north on 194 for 2.75 miles to Castleford Road on your right. Go 1.7 miles to Appaloosa Trail on your left. At both of these turns you should see small white signs for the Watauga Gun Club. Go 0.1 miles and cross Meat Camp Creek on one lane bridge. Take immediate left into grassy parking area.

Birding Highlights: After parking your car, head down the fence line in front of you for about 20 yards. Scan the agricultural area to your right in late fall for pipits and in spring for American Robin, Killdeer, and Eastern Bluebird. Turn left onto wooden boardwalk. This boardwalk crosses an active beaver meadow. This area hosts Song Sparrow year round and Swamp Sparrow from October through April. Other breeding species easy to find from the boardwalk include Northern Cardinal, Gray Catbird, Yellow Warbler, and Willow Flycatcher. In winter, Fox and Lincoln's Sparrows often are found at the edges of this marshy area. Continue on around the path looking for Eastern Towhee, Common Yellowthroat, White-throated Sparrow, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and others depending on season. You will eventually come to the banks of Meat Camp Creek. From here the view opens up a little to scan the tops of the riparian trees for vireos and Cedar Waxwing in the breeding season and warblers in migration. Twenty-seven species of warblers have been recorded here including Mourning, Nashville, and Brewster's hybrid. The taller locust and buckeye thicket at the deep bend of the creek is a great spot to patiently await warbler waves. Mixed in with the fall migrants are usually plenty of Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, Swainson's Thrush, both cuckoos, and orioles. In the morning, these taller trees will be lit by the sun behind your back, providing excellent light for viewing.

As you follow the creek in this area, you will see a small pond on your right. This is the main beaver pond on the property and often hosts Wilson's Snipe, American Woodcock, Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, and in fall small flocks of Rusty and Brewer's Blackbirds. Marsh Wren is also regular here in spring and fall. At night until there is hard freeze, Wood Ducks roost on this area of the wetland and many linger on cold mornings. Continue on the path to the second main boardwalk along a small creek that often attracts Green Heron and American Bittern in the spring. The alder thicket also attracts migrant warblers, especially the low foragers like Canada and Worm-eating Warblers. In fall and winter sparrows also pile up in the multiflora rose thicket along this part of the creek.

As you continue on along the creek you will see a large pond on the other side. This pond hosts good numbers of migrating shorebirds and waterfowl, especially in the spring, but is, unfortunately, off limits. In the spring a scope will allow good views of the ducks, geese, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers. Also check for Great Blue Heron, Great Egret and Osprey during migration.

Continue on until you come to a long fence row separating the study area from the agricultural area. Check this area carefully for sparrows by the horse manure piles. This area regularly attracts lots of sparrows and Indigo Bunting. Look for Savannah and Vesper Sparrows here and in the adjacent plowed fields in spring and fall. About half way down this fence line to the parking area is a small grassy area and reed marsh on your right. Here are picnic tables and benches. This is surrounded by alder thicket, reed marsh, and multiflora rose. It is often good for migrants as they forage around the edges. Look especially for Tennessee and Palm Warblers in the fall. American Bittern and Blue-winged Teal make use of the shallow marsh here. Continue checking both sides of the grassy road back to your car. Be especially alert for Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks since they hunt this area frequently. Peregrine Falcons also buzz this fence line from time to time in migration.

General Information:

No restroom facilities are available but there are picnic tables and benches. No camping or fires permitted and call for night use permission. Also, this property is adjacent to the Watauga Gun Club, so do not be alarmed if you hear gunfire while visiting.

Additional Help

DeLorme map grid: page 13, C6

North Carolina Travel Map grid: E1

For more information: ECOS of the Blue Ridge, 828-265-0198



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