Johnston Mill Nature Preserve
Habitats: Upland oak-hickory forest, mixed pine/hardwood, mature loblolly pine, Piedmont riparian forest, grass/perennial herbs/saplings, and power line right-of-way.
Key birds: Summer: Hooded and Kentucky Warblers, American Redstart, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Indigo Bunting, and Blue Grosbeak. Winter: Sparrows. Year-round: Brown-headed Nuthatch and woodpeckers.
Best times to bird: Year-round.
Description: Johnston Mill Nature Preserve consists of 295 acres. It is one of Triangle Land Conservancy's (TLC) public access properties and is considered one of Orange County's most important natural areas and was included in the Inventory of Natural Areas and Wildlife Habitats of Orange County. New Hope Creek cuts through the Northwest corner of the site and is joined by Old Field Creek, which flows out of the Oosting Natural Area of Duke Forest. There is a well marked 2.5 mile trail with bridges over Old Field Creek and intermittent streams.
Directions: Take Exit 266 from Interstate 40 and go north on NC 86. There are two entries and parking lots for the preserve. For the first, turn right off NC 86 after 0.2 of a mile onto Whitfield Road. Drive one mile then turn left onto Turkey Farm Road. After a mile on Turkey Farm Road and just before a narrow bridge over New Hope Creek, there is a parking area on the left marked with a TLC sign.
The second entry is accessed by driving 1 mile north of I-40 on NC 86 to Mt. Sinai Road; turn right and continue for one mile. Parking is on right just before New Hope Creek Bridge. This area is also marked with a TLC sign.
To drive from the Mt. Sinai entry to the Turkey Farm entry, turn right onto Mt. Sinai Road and after 0.8 of a mile turn right on to Turkey Farm Road, following it 0.75 of a mile to the one-way bridge across New Hope Creek. The parking lot is just up the road on the right.
Birding highlights: Over 125 species have been recorded to date. Steep wooded slopes, rocky streams, an understory with a dense shrub layer, and creekside thickets with brambles and grassy swaths make this site attractive to many birds. Ovenbird, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, both species of tanagers, Wood Thrush, Blue Grosbeak, Acadian Flycatcher, Hooded and Kentucky Warblers, American Redstart, and Indigo Bunting are breeding species. Permanent residents include White-breasted and Brown-headed Nuthatches, and several species of woodpeckers. White-throated, Song, and Swamp Sparrows are attracted to the edges and thickets in winter for food and cover. Louisiana Waterthrush appear along the creeks in early spring accompanied overhead by Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Northern Parula.
A 1.5 mile trail begins at the Mt. Sinai Road parking area and ends at the Turkey Farm Road parking lot. The trail stays within sight of the creek most of its length. Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers and Ovenbird are present during the breeding season. Acadian Flycatcher can be found at well-spaced intervals along the creek.
Continue down on the other side of the outcrop to the remnants of an old mill site. This area allows for fording the creek. Cutting through the preserve here is a power line right-of-way. The trail crosses the power line right-of-way, but a side trip to the west along the right-of-way provides access to open country and edge thicket habitat. Look for Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, and Yellow-breasted Chat and check the sky and the towers for Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks and Black and Turkey Vultures. Wild Turkey is common and Northern Bobwhite is possible. Return to the main trail and re-enter the woods. The trail soon drops down to the level of New Hope Creek as it continues into a floodplain forest.
Pullman-Ryals Bridge which crosses Old Field Creek is another good place to stop. Look for Louisiana Waterthrush, American Redstart and Acadian Flycatcher in the summer and Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the winter. Across the bridge, a short spur to the left leads to the confluence of Old Field Creek and New Hope Creek. Check for Hooded and Kentucky Warblers in summer, and sparrows and Hermit Thrush in winter. The main trail soon comes to a junction and here a 1-mile loop trail heads uphill to a forest dominated by beech, oak and hickory. Openings in the canopy here make for easy searching for tanagers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and migrants. Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, and Pileated Woodpeckers are found year-round and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in winter.
After the loop, the main trail crosses a bridge over Booth Branch, and then skirts the creek close to Turkey Farm Road. Look for Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, and Carolina Wren, as well as sparrows in winter. The trail turns away from the road and the remnants of Johnston Mill's stone walls can be seen across the creek. Look for Pileated Woodpecker year-round and for Hooded and Kentucky Warblers and American Redstart in the summer. It is also an excellent spot for Yellow-rumped Warblers and an occasional Winter Wren in the winter. Continue around the big loop of the creek to where the woods become predominantly pine. Depending on the season, look for Pine Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown-headed Nuthatch and Great Crested Flycatcher. The Turkey Farm Road parking area is just ahead. If you did not opt to leave a car here, retrace your steps to Mt. Sinai. If you walked both the main trail and the upland loop trail, you have covered 2.5 miles.
General Information: Preserve maps are located in kiosks at both parking lots, as well as a comment box at the Turkey Farm lot. There are no restroom or picnic facilities available on the preserve. Two shopping centers with a variety of stores, gas stations, and restaurants are located on NC 86 a half-mile south of its intersection with I-40.
DeLorme map grid: page 39, A/B6
North Carolina Travel Map grid: H1/2
For more information: Triangle Land Conservancy, (919) 833-3662; Johnston Mill Nature Preserve