Carolina Bird Club Bonus Field Trip—September 21–22—Blue Ridge Parkway
Rain. Fog. Wind. The bane of birders everywhere. You hope you avoid them, but sometimes one or two must be dealt with. But one really has to be neglecting the gods of birding to encounter all three. Apparently I've done just that, for as birders gathered from across the great state of North Carolina to participate in September's Blue Ridge Parkway bonus field trip, Mother Nature tossed a lightning bolt. Well, not really, there was no lighting, but we “enjoyed” plenty of rain, fog, and wind that first day. Not exactly what one hopes for when the goal is to locate and enjoy flocks of migrant passerines.
But let's back up to Saturday morning where twelve birders gathered in the pre-dawn and headed out for a day on the Blue Ridge. While the moon glowed weakly through scudding cloud in the “lowlands” of Sparta, up on the Parkway fog and wind challenged. Plenty of birds were about, in fact the number of flocks was quite impressive, but visibility that often extended to less than the heights of the tree hampered viewing the colorful jewels of fall. Nonetheless, most of the expected species were encountered and enjoyed, and the number and frequency of the flocks made up in part for the less than stellar viewing conditions. A perched Merlin on the North Carolina side of the state line may have been the bird of the day.
When the rain finally settled in for good, we abandoned the Parkway for the drier offerings of Sparta's restaurants and coffee shops where tales of birding trips past provided entertainment. Later, after dinner and the “Official First and Maybe Last CBC Ski-Ball Tournament” we retired with visions of sunshine, not sugar plums, in our heads.
All that hoping seemed to work, for Sunday dawned clear and blue. And while the cold front that whisked through the highlands the prior evening seemed to take some of the birds with it, we were rewarded with ample sunshine in which to enjoy the warblers, thrushes, tanagers, and others who remained behind. Highlights included a flock of Swainson's and Wood Thrushes feeding on ripe berries along a bubbling mountain stream, a very pleasing mixed flock that provided perfect views of eleven species of warblers, and what was likely the best Broad-winged Hawk flight day in years. By the time we arrived at the Mahogany Rock hawk watch the birds had begun to kettle, and throughout the afternoon hundreds of Broad-wings streamed over in a river of feathers heading south. Up and down the Blue Ridge hawk watches would tally a multi-thousand bird day as the hawks took advantage of the perfect migration conditions created by the departing weather system.
The trip ended Sunday afternoon atop Mahogany Rock after an invigorating hike. Broad-wings continued to drift overhead while warblers bounced through the trees. We decided that with the ground around us littered with gems (thousands of tiny garnets embedded in mica schist) and the trees above full of birds, we were once again in nature's good graces.
The trip tallied a total of fifteen warbler species and sixty-seven species overall.
Mallard Wild Turkey Great Blue Heron Black Vulture Turkey Vulture Cooper's Hawk Broad-winged Hawk Red-tailed Hawk Killdeer Mourning Dove Eastern Screech-Owl Chimney Swift Ruby-throated Hummingbird Belted Kingfisher Red-bellied Woodpecker Downy Woodpecker Hairy Woodpecker Northern Flicker Pileated Woodpecker Merlin Eastern Wood-Pewee Acadian Flycatcher Eastern Phoebe Blue-headed Vireo Blue Jay American Crow Common Raven Carolina Chickadee Tufted Titmouse Red-breasted Nuthatch White-breasted Nuthatch House Wren Carolina Wren Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Ruby-crowned Kinglet Eastern Bluebird Swainson's Thrush Wood Thrush American Robin Gray Catbird Ovenbird Black-and-white Warbler Tennessee Warbler Common Yellowthroat Hooded Warbler American Redstart Cape May Warbler Northern Parula Magnolia Warbler Bay-breasted Warbler Blackburnian Warbler Chestnut-sided Warbler Black-throated Blue Warbler Pine Warbler Black-throated Green Warbler Eastern Towhee Field Sparrow Song Sparrow Dark-eyed Junco Scarlet Tanager Northern Cardinal Rose-breasted Grosbeak Indigo Bunting Red-winged Blackbird Eastern Meadowlark Common Grackle American Goldfinch