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North Carolina in late May?

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Old Sunday 10th February 2013, 09:49   #1
gandytron
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North Carolina in late May?

My sister-in-law is getting married in Asheville, NC on 25th May and my wife and I are thinking about spending a few days post-wedding for exploring some areas of the state.

Being a bit of a novice when it comes to birding in North America I'd be interested to know if there are any must-visit areas for a few days hiking and birding, and any species that are easier in this area that elsewhere in the eastern USA.

Thanks and best wishes

Dave
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Old Sunday 10th February 2013, 15:34   #2
Jim M.
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Hi Dave,

I'm not a local, but a couple of ideas spring to mind to get the discussion started.

First, not far to the west of Asheville is Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It's a popular area with tourists, but also a very large area and one of the more famous national parks in the East. At that time of year breeding wood-warblers and other neotropical migrants will have just arrived. One of the rarest warblers in North America, the Swainson's Warbler, would also be a possibility there – and is a bird easier to see in that region than in much of the rest of the East. But it is a drab skulker and you need to know the song and how to distinguish the song from the very similar song of the Louisiana Waterthrush. As I recall black bear would be a possibility there as well – though also not easy to see.

Second, significantly further and to the east are the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This is the best place on the East Coast for pelagic trips, and birders from around the country travel there towards the end of May to take those trips. If you want more info here is the website for the pelagic tour operator:

http://www.patteson.com/

But if you are interested I would book early, because the trips sell out early for that time of year. (On the way to the pelagic there are also good areas for shorebirds and other birds such as Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.)

Hope this helps,
Jim
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Old Sunday 10th February 2013, 15:45   #3
NCcorgi
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Hi Dave,
Would suggest that you contact Simon Thompson. He's our local treasure regarding all things birding. Look forward to having you in our area.
-George
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Old Monday 11th February 2013, 01:28   #4
gandytron
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Jim, George,

Thanks for these tips! I'll look into the options that you suggest Jim.

George, I'll send you a PM for Simon's contact details.

Thanks and best wishes

Dave
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Old Wednesday 13th February 2013, 02:21   #5
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Dave,
Many great mountain areas in that area of North Carolina. Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a tremendous area but can be a bit crowded at that time of year. If you are unsuccessful connecting with Simon, here is a link to the North Carolina Birding Trail site.
http://www.ncbirdingtrail.org/
Once you access the site, Cursor over the "Trails" Tab on the left of the screen and then click "mountains" on the pop up. On the Mountains screen there is a link " group maps and site descriptions " underneath the picture of the Golden Winged Warbler. A map of Western North Carolina pops up and you can click on the colored dots that represent different areas in the Mountain group. Asheville is in the "French Broad" Section. Click away and a Key pops up for a second click to access a more detailed map of the French Broad area. There are numbered dots that correspond to descriptions that can also be downloaded. I would also suggest the "Central Blue Ridge Parkway" group. The Parkway is a skyline drive along the top of the blue ridge mountains. There are hiking trails at many of the overlooks that range from easy to strenuous - almost all are excellent birding locations.

Alternatively, you can contact the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society http://emasnc.org/ based in Asheville to see if anyone there has suggestions or would like to show you around...........Rob
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Old Wednesday 13th February 2013, 16:06   #6
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I made a trip to NC in Late May a few years ago. Visited the Smokies, but again , expect tons of people. I didn't actually get to do much birding in the National Park, as we were mostly looking for Salamanders.

Other spots to hit up:

Croatan National Forest has some good birding, and I was able to get without too much trouble my lifer Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman's Sparrow. Worth a shot if you need any southern pine forest specialities

If you have time, I would absolutely endorse booking a trip with Patteson Pelagics.

http://www.patteson.com/

They have daily all day pelagics late May and early June, which is considered the optimal time for pelagics in the area. I had two trips out, and while we didn't see anything super rare, I still was able to get Audubon's and Cory's Shearwater, Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, Black-capped Petrel, etc, plus mating Loggerhead Sea Turtles and great looks at Sperm and Pilot whales. There is some pretty good coastal birding in that area as well.
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Old Wednesday 13th February 2013, 17:41   #7
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Excellent advice. It depends on if you want to stay in the Asheville area or tour the state. The trip to Croatan / Pelagic tours is a good 7 to 8 hour drive. SO....not a day trip but definitely high quality birding. In the Asheville area at that time you could theoretically pick up all the Eastern Wood Warblers as they will be migrating through with a large number breeding there. Swainson's, Gray Cheeked and Wood Thrush as well as Veery are all possible. Yellow & Black Billed Cuckoo - and the list goes on.
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Old Wednesday 13th February 2013, 18:58   #8
Hamhed
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Argon View Post
Excellent advice. It depends on if you want to stay in the Asheville area or tour the state. The trip to Croatan / Pelagic tours is a good 7 to 8 hour drive. SO....not a day trip but definitely high quality birding. In the Asheville area at that time you could theoretically pick up all the Eastern Wood Warblers as they will be migrating through with a large number breeding there. Swainson's, Gray Cheeked and Wood Thrush as well as Veery are all possible. Yellow & Black Billed Cuckoo - and the list goes on.
Most of the Warblers found in Asheville in the spring are not migrating; they breed here. Swainson's Thrush is a very uncommon and difficult to find breeding species as is Black-billed Cuckoo. Gray-cheeked Thrush does not breed here nor have I heard of it reported as a migrant in the spring. However, Wood Thrush and Veery's are relatively easy to find.
Fall migration will bring many non-breeding warblers, the Black-billed Cuckoo and in large numbers, the Gray-cheeked and Swainson's Thrushes. Locally, fall is generally considered a superior migrant season for diversity of species. I have recorded 50 species on my property just a few miles north of Asheville in a single September day.

No one mentioned the eastern Empidonax species, some of which are at the very southernmost edge of their breeding range. The Willow, Least and Alder Flycatchers are found here as breeding species. The Acadian Flycatcher is a southeastern species that is also found Buncombe County (Asheville).

One group of species we are NOT known for and that's the waterbirds. There's not much flat land and not much stationary water or many swampy areas.

Really, it would be easy to fill up several days within an hour's drive of Asheville, searching for different species each day.

Steve

Last edited by Hamhed : Wednesday 13th February 2013 at 18:59. Reason: added a word
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Old Thursday 14th February 2013, 02:11   #9
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Yes - it is easy to know when you see a warbler that it is breeding in the area and not headed north........

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Old Saturday 27th April 2013, 11:47   #10
David in NC
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Here is a decent link to an article by Simon Thompson who has already been mentioned (who ironically is not an area native but is from the UK!):

http://www.romanticasheville.com/birds.htm#.UXuqPbWG1rM


In addition to what's been said already, I would also tell you that The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through Asheville, and is VERY HANDY as a quick route to a fast getaway from the city area of Asheville.

Not specific to birding (but mentioned prominently in the NC Birding Trail book/website) but this is a "must see" part of the Asheville area for out-of-town folks, in my humble opinion... Also it is some of the finest hiking in NC.

Within 60 minutes of Asheville going NORTH is:

*Mt. Mitchell (the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River in the US) which is VERY ACCESSIBLE from a parking lot and walking trail
*Craggy Gardens (a very "alpine" looking area of NC and you should see plenty of Rhododendron in bloom or close to bloom then)

Within 2 hours driving time (but plan longer-as much as double or triple that-as you will want to stop many times along the way at overlooks and attractions) is Linville Falls and Linville Gorge a VERY rugged area for hiking but very beautiful and unique as to biodiversity.

Within 60 minutes of Asheville going SOUTH is Mt. Pisgah, and the Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness areas, which include The Graveyard Fields, a BEAUTIFUL (IMHO) area. This is a GREAT hiking area where you can just stretch your legs for 5-10 minutes, or do a 5-6 hour hike to Cold Mountain... This area looks more like Canada or the American West than NC, and in fact is considered the southernmost reaches of the Canadian Vegetation Zone.

The terrain here is very easy (in MOST places) and I hike here often (even at 375 pounds I can easily do some of the trails...)




NOTE: This is a high elevation area (for the Eastern US anyway) and weather can change fast. Bring an extra layer of clothing, a rain jacket (even if you think you don't need it!) and a daypack with water and snacks. Also, bear in mind that many facilities along the parkway are closed due to budgetary reasons. You can hop off the Parkway in some places for gas or food, but these intersecting roads may be few and far between so make sure you have a full tank of gas and some snacks in case you get sidetracked with the area's beauty.

Let me know if you need or want more info on any of these suggestions...
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Old Tuesday 7th May 2013, 15:24   #11
gandytron
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Davis,

Thanks for this, and your PM, and thanks to those other posters further up the tread.

Looking forward v. much to our visit!

Dave
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Old Wednesday 29th May 2013, 04:35   #12
David in NC
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Dave-

Give us an update when you get back home! Where did you end up at? Where did you eat? Thoughts? Sights?

David
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Old Wednesday 29th May 2013, 06:22   #13
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Dave,

If you end up in the Durham/Chapel Hill area, there's a Great Blue Heron rookery I can point you toward, if that would be of interest. I was there yesterday, and there are easily over 100 birds in residence. Let me know if you'd like details.

--dave
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