The Elizabethan Gardens
Habitats: Mixed oak/pine forest, ornamental plantings.
Key birds: Summer: Osprey, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, and Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Winter: Bufflehead, Bald Eagle, Blue-headed Vireo, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, White-throated Sparrow. Year-round: Pileated Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Pine Warbler, Eastern Towhee.
Best times to bird: Fall through spring.
Description: The Elizabethan Gardens is a private, non-profit public garden managed by The Garden Club of North Carolina. The gardens consist of 10.5 acres of oak forest interspersed with loblolly pine, southern magnolia, and American holly. The understory consists of native and exotic shrubs, vines, perennials and annuals. There are well-marked trails meandering through the gardens, most of which are wheelchair accessible.
Directions: The Elizabethan Gardens are located at 1411 National Park Drive within the boundaries of the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. They are just off of U.S. Highway 64 approximately 3 miles north of Manteo. Coming from the west on Highway 64, turn left in Mann's Harbor at the foot of the Virginia Dare Bridge. Proceed through Mann's Harbor and cross the William B. Umstead Bridge. Approximately one mile beyond the bridge you will see signs for Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, The Lost Colony Theatre and The Elizabethan Gardens. Turn here. Take the first left onto National Park Drive and proceed to the circular parking lot at the end of the road. If you are coming from the beach, cross the Nags Head/Manteo causeway and take a right at the light. Proceed through Manteo on Highway 64 until you see the signs on your right. Take a right and follow the signs.
Birding Highlights: Over 175 species of birds have been seen in or from the Elizabethan Gardens, including 9 species of flycatchers, 6 species of vireos and 38 species of warblers. Spring and fall are definitely the best times to be here. In early to mid-April, arrive early and stroll the well-manicured paths. Listen for the songs of the Northern Parula, Black-throated Green, Yellow-throated, Pine, Prairie, Black-and-white, Prothonotary, and Worm-eating Warblers, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, White-eyed Vireo and Red-eyed Vireos, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Late April through late May is prime-time for diversity of spring migrants. In addition to many of the birds listed above look for Yellow, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, Blackpoll and Hooded Warblers, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow-breasted Chat, Veery, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Wood Thrush, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted and Blue Grosbeaks, and Baltimore Oriole.
Bird watching in The Elizabethan Gardens excels during fall migration. The clear skies and northwest winds bring in multitudes of migrant passerines. One advantage of the Elizabethan Gardens over nearby Pea Island is that birds tend to linger in the gardens, sometimes for several days. Look for Baltimore Orioles high in the trees feeding in tangles of grapevines. Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are regulars, especially from mid-September until mid-October. Most will be fairly high up in the trees. Thrushes are particularly fond of the dense shrubbery throughout the gardens. Typically they are found very low, under the azaleas or feeding on American beauty-berry or pokeberry fruits. Pay particular attention to the southern magnolias this time of year, thrushes (and many other birds) love the bright red fruits. The Elizabethan Gardens is also a particularly good place to look for Philadelphia Vireos, especially from mid-September to early October. Some of the occasional to rare warblers that have been seen here in fall include Tennessee, Nashville, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, Cerulean, Bay-breasted, Swainson's, Kentucky, Connecticut, Mourning, Wilson's and Canada Warblers. Other occasional to rare fall migrants include: Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Black-billed Cuckoo and Clay-colored Sparrow.
In winter White-throated Sparrows are numerous. Both kinglets are quite common most years. Hermit Thrushes and Blue-headed Vireos are fairly easy to find. Other birds that are often present are Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, American Woodcock and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks are fairly common. Bald Eagles are becoming regular in winter. Look for them on days with north or east winds as they drift along the edge of the sound looking for fish. Look for Common and Red-throated Loons from the Gazebo or from the Watergate path. Roanoke Sound hosts hundreds of Buffleheads in winter and Horned Grebes are often present. Also look for Double-crested Cormorants, Brown Pelicans, Royal and Forster's Terns, and Belted Kingfishers.
Summer birds include a variety of common breeders. Among these are Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and White-eyed Vireo. Rough-winged Swallow nest in the cliffs along the edge of Roanoke Sound. Purple Martins, Barn Swallows and Chimney Swifts are common overhead. Bald Eagle, Osprey, Laughing, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, and Royal, Sandwich, Common, Forster's and Least Terns are frequently seen over the sound. Chuck-will's-widow can be heard at night.
General Information: The Elizabethan Gardens is open seven days a week, year-round except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. There is a daily fee and annual passes are also available. The gardens open at 9:00 a.m. and close at 5:00 p.m. with extended hours during spring, summer and early fall. There is a gift shop, public restrooms and drink machines on site. No food is sold on site. Restaurants and accommodations are available within minutes of the gardens.
DeLorme map grid: page 49, B5
North Carolina Travel Map grid: L2
For more information: The Elizabethan Gardens, (252) 473-3234; http://www.elizabethangardens.org/