Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
Habitats: Pine forest, mixed pine/hardwood, open lawn areas, freshwater marsh, freshwater ponds, sound shoreline
Key birds: Summer: Chuck-will's-widow, Eastern Kingbird, and Prothonotary Warbler. Winter: Common Loon, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren. Year-round: Brown Pelican, Bald Eagle, Brown-headed Nuthatch.
Best times to bird: Spring and fall.
Description: Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is a 450 acre park managed by the National Park Service. It is located on the site of the first English Colony in the New World, established over 400 years ago. There is a network of well-marked trails near the Park Headquarters as well as a 2 mile Freedman's Trail that begins near The Elizabethan Gardens and weaves its way to the foot of the William B. Umstead Bridge. Portions of the trails are wheelchair accessible.
Directions: Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is located along U.S. Highway 64 near the north end of Roanoke Island, approximately 3 miles from Manteo. The park entrance is well marked with a large sign and there is ample parking. Driving in from the west on Highway 64, turn left in Mann's Harbor near the foot of the Virginia Dare Bridge and proceed through Mann's Harbor and across the William B. Umstead Bridge onto Roanoke Island, a distance of approximately 5 miles. After one additional mile, look for the Fort Raleigh sign on your left and follow the signs into the park.
Birding highlights: Nearly 200 species of birds have been seen at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, including 38 species of warblers. Around the Park Headquarters look for Brown-headed Nuthatch, Pine Warbler and Eastern Bluebird, woodpeckers and a variety of other common year-round birds. In spring and fall scan the shrubs and trees for migrant warblers, including Northern Parula, Yellow, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Blackpoll, and Black-and-white Warblers and American Redstart. Behind the Visitor Center, explore the Thomas Hariot Nature Trail. This area can be good for Veery, Gray-cheeked, Swainson's, Hermit, and Wood Thrushes during spring and fall migration. Also during fall migration National Park Drive and Pear Pad Road can be very good. Look for Baltimore Orioles in grapevines and in open areas for flycatchers. The more dense areas can be good for thrushes and wrens. Often seen in the treetops during the fall are Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Veery, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Scarlet Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Warblers include: Magnolia, Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Worm-eating, Hooded and Wilson's. A variety of vireos are usually present including Philadelphia and Warbling Vireos.
At the end of Pear Pad Road there is a beautiful overlook of the Roanoke Sound. During the breeding season, you may find an Osprey nest here. Northern Rough-winged Swallows nest in the eroded banks along the shoreline to the south. In winter you may see loons or diving ducks here, especially Buffleheads. If the wind is strong from the north or east, look for Bald Eagles. In all seasons, check out the net stakes. Terns are seen here year-round. In winter there are usually plenty of Double-crested Cormorants, Brown Pelicans and Great Black-backed Gulls present. Often a Belted Kingfisher will be perched on one of the stakes closer to shore. You may even find a Merlin or Peregrine Falcon.
Wintering birds found in the park include Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawk, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, House and Winter Wrens, Golden- and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Blue-headed Vireo, Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Fox Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow and American Goldfinch.
One of the park's birding hotspots is the area near the William B. Umstead Bridge. To get there, head back out to Highway 64 and turn right (west). Drive approximately one mile and park in the gravel parking lot on the right. You will notice a small freshwater pond and marsh. The Freedmen's Trail begins beside the pond. In early spring look for Yellow-throated, Black-and-white and Prothonotary Warblers, Ovenbird, Northern Parula, Common Yellowthroat and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Later in spring the variety increases to include Blue-winged, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Magnolia, Hooded, and Blackpoll Warblers, American Redstart, and Yellow-breasted Chat. Thrushes are often encountered, especially further back in the woods. Veery, Gray-cheeked, Swainson's and Wood Thrushes are all possible at this season. During the breeding season you should find Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, Purple Martin, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Prothonotary Warbler and Ovenbird. Chuck-will's-widow can often be heard at night. Over 30 species of warblers have been seen here during fall migration. On mornings after cold fronts, start in the parking lot and slowly work your way around the pond and down the trail. On good days, you may find 15 or 20 species of warblers, including some of the less common species, such as: Blue-winged, Chestnut-sided, Cape May, Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Worm-eating, and Canada Warblers. This is a particularly good spot for Nashville and Wilson's Warblers. Philadelphia Vireo is a regular visitor from mid-September to mid-October. Look for them in the shrubs and trees beside the pond and in the shrubs along the highway near the bridge. Check the area behind the pond and also bird the first ½ mile or so along the trail for thrushes and a variety of other birds including Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Kingbird, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted and Blue Grosbeaks, Bobolink and Baltimore Oriole. Dickcissel is seen almost every fall.
General information: The Fort Raleigh National Historic Site grounds are open 24 hours a day, year-round. The Visitor Center is open every day except Christmas. Hours are generally 9am to 5pm. Inside you will find park interpreters, exhibits and a gift shop. There are picnicking facilities but fires and camping are not allowed.
DeLorme map grid: page 49, B5
North Carolina Travel Map grid: L2
For more information: National Park Service, (252) 473-2111 Visitor Center (252) 473-5772; http://www.nps.gov/fora/