Valle Crucis Community Park
Habitats: Mixed hardwood/conifer, Watagua River floodplain, pond, marsh, agricultural fields, and suburban yards.
Key Birds: Summer: Green Heron, Tree, Barn, and Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested, Acadian, Willow, and Least Flycatchers, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Red-eyed, Yellow-throated, Blue-headed, and Warbling Vireos, Cedar Waxwing, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow Warbler, and Common Yellowthroat. Winter: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Swamp, Lincoln's, White-crowned Sparrow, and Savannah Sparrows. Year Round: Eastern Phoebe, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers, and White-breasted Nuthatch.
Best Times to Bird: Good birding year round. The late spring/early summer is especially nice with easy looks at breeding species. Migration periods are productive and this has also been a good site for unusual sightings.
Description: The Valle Crucis Community Park is a true community park with an active board and volunteer base that keep it very well maintained. The park sees a lot of use by walkers, recreation teams, and families. The bird diversity of the park is due to the wide variety of habitats that surround it. These habitats include deep woods, the Watauga River, a small pond and cattail marsh, agricultural areas, and suburban yard habitats.
Directions: Travel south on Highway 105 toward Linville approximately 4 miles from the junction with Highway 321 in Boone. At the traffic light just past the Watauga River Bridge, turn right on Broadstone Road (follow signs for Mast General Store). Proceed 4 miles to unpaved park entrance road immediately before Mast Store Annex. Drive to large parking area at end of entrance road.
Birding Highlights: Around 150 species have been documented at the Valle Crucis Community Park, and few of them are first county records which include Dickcissel, King Rail, Sora, Sedge Wren, and Orange-crowned Warbler. About 45 species are likely to breed in the park, and 30 of these are easy to observe during the nesting cycle.
Upon entering the park walk to the overlook for the small pond and cattail area. During the breeding season, Tree Swallows use the numerous nesting boxes in the park. Look for them as well as the other swallows and swifts using the pond for foraging, drinking and bathing on the wing. Other nesters around the pond include Yellow Warbler, Willow Flycatcher, and numerous Red-winged Blackbirds. Check carefully for Green Herons, which forage around the pond. During migration seasons check for Spotted, Solitary, and Least Sandpipers. Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and American Bittern are all seen here in spring. During fall and spring migration, listen for Marsh Wrens. To your right as you proceed around the path, check the weedy area at the edge of the marsh for Song Sparrow; during fall and winter check for the other sparrow species. The hedgerows and ditches on your right as you approach the first turn of the path host Willow Flycatcher, Common Yellowthroat, and Gray Catbird. American Robin is numerous in the park. The black cherry trees to your right are good for migrants in the late summer and fall; once the fruits are ripe look for Cedar Waxwing and both oriole species. Where there is a break in the hedge under the cherry trees, step into a hayfield. Normally a small path is kept mowed along the fence line and this area attracts numerous birds in all seasons. Look for Eastern Meadowlark during the breeding season and fall. The park is one of the best areas in the region for migrating Bobolinks in the spring.
Return to the paved path. As you approach the Watauga River scan the large sycamores along the river for breeding Warbling and Yellow-throated Vireos, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and Eastern Kingbird. Least Flycatcher and Cedar Waxwing nest in the grove of willows surrounding a short boardwalk. During migration, check for warblers including Yellow-throated, Tennessee and Magnolia Warblers. This area also usually yields early migrant Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos from mid August until the end of September.
Cross the boardwalk and check for Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Bluebird, and Tree Swallow in the willows and near the bird boxes. Close looks at Yellow Warbler and Red-winged Blackbird are possible here on the backside of the pond. You should hear and see many vireos of all four species, both orioles, and lots of flycatchers in these willows as well. In migration carefully check the end of the pond opposite the boardwalk for late broods of Wood Duck, migrating shorebirds, and Northern Waterthrush.
As you leave the pond area and walk toward the large grove of white pine, look for Blue-headed Vireo along the river, Eastern Wood-Pewee in the sycamores, and Cedar Waxwing and American Robin in the pines. Chipping Sparrow is common along this section as well.
Continue walking with the Watauga River on your right. Later in the summer season you may get some good sightings of Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, Northern Parula, Ovenbird, Black-throated Blue and Hooded Warblers. Look for Acadian Flycatcher in the hemlocks along the river. As the path leaves the river adjacent to the agricultural area scan the tops of the nursery stock hemlocks and fraser's firs for territorial males in the breeding season. Brown Thrasher, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Song and Chipping Sparrows, Eastern Towhee, Indigo Bunting, and Northern Cardinal all use these short trees for song perches. A scope is helpful here as some of the birds are 100 yards or more away. You will also be treated to swarms of Tree Swallows along this open stretch of the path. In November and December check the bare ground fields for Killdeer, American Pipit, Savannah and Vesper Sparrows.
Continue toward the parking area and along Dutch Creek on your right you should see more Willow Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, and in some years, Northern Rough-winged Swallow. The small bridge across the creek usually has a resident Eastern Phoebe and House Wren. In fall and winter especially, check the hedgerow at the edge of the parking area and the short grass around the parking lot for sparrows. Savannah and Vesper Sparrows are regular here in fall and White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows use the parking area throughout the winter months.
General Information: The park is wheelchair accessible. A scope is useful here for watching nests as most are very easy to find. The park has paved walkways, restrooms, picnic shelters, tables, a boardwalk, as well as ball fields, basketball court, and playground equipment. Non-birders will enjoy it also as it is immediately behind shopping opportunities at the Mast General Store Annex and Candy Barrel, well known and popular shopping areas with a deli restaurant on site. Restrooms are available at the park as well. Mornings are busy with walkers and Saturdays in the fall are very busy with soccer matches and families. Several special events are held here each year as well. Weekly Wednesday morning walks are held here from March through October. Phone 828-265-0198 for more information.
DeLorme map grid: 13, D5
North Carolina Travel Map grid: D1
For more information: Valle Crucis Community Park, 828-963-9239; http://www.vallecrucis.com/park/