Went West, Young Man: pt 1
Bouyed by reports of migrating warblers in the western part of the state, I headed out to the mountains this past weekend to see if I could put myself right in the middle of the migration turnpike that is Appalachia. It seems that every year birders in that part of the state do really well in terms of both diversity of migrating birds as well as abundance. The triangle, where I’m located and do most of my birding, is pretty good, and technically lies right in the middle of the eastern flyway. Most of the birds, however, tend to migrate north on either side of us. Some who winter in the Caribbean and cross into the US in Florida, stay close to the coast. Most, though, both circum and trans gulf migrants, connect with the Appalachian mountains in north Alabama and Georgia and follow the range all the way into boreal Canada.
Not only that, but because of the elevation, the habitat along the ridge is very similar to what you’d find in boreal Canada and as such, many boreal nesters range along the highest point of the mountain range, all the way south into the Carolinas. This Appalachian “spur” puts Carolina birders closer to species that otherwise might be out of our reach, like Saw-whet Owl and Red Crossbill among others.
So I had hoped that, this time of year I could get in the middle of it and come across some birds that will be harder, if not impossible, to find around home. And to do that I would be camping near Linville Falls along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a road maintained by the National Park Service that runs from western North Carolina on up into Virginia. It’s known primarily for its scenic vistas, but provides the birder with a throughway right down the middle of the best habitat for migrating birds. But the scenery isn’t half bad either.
I pulled into the campsite in the last afternoon, and almost immediately heard singing Black-throated Green Warblers. The Linville River ran behind my campsite and the along with the Greens, the buzz of Northern Parula and Black-throated Blues could be heard. A bit of foreshadowing, those three species would be among the most plentiful of the trip. I set up my tent and began to scrounge for firewood to cook a quick meal when disaster struck. While walking on the rocks around the river I misplaced my foot, turned my ankle and immediately went down. Normally I’m not so clumsy, having walked along rivers of this sort my entire life, but one poorly chosen hop threatened to ruin my entire weekend.
I felt sick. I limped over to the river, sat down and stuck my rapidly swelling foot into the cold mountain water. Nothing appeared to be broken or sprained, and it helped, and while I sat there a Blue Jay slowly arrived to bathe and BT Blues and Parulas foraged in the willows. Not so bad I guess. After half an hour I tested it, I could walk though it ached. Once I got things arranged the way I like them I slowly hobbled down a trail where I found all the birds I seen earlier, plus Black and White and Hooded Warblers.
I drove down the parkway some to see if any birds might be making one last song before the sun went down and found nothing except the BT Greens, some Red-eyed Vireos and Wood Thrushes and a Wild Turkey walking along the side of the road. Time to turn in and I fell asleep to the sound of a Wood Thrush that has taken up night singing near my campsite and the waters of the Linville River rolling past. My ankle still hurt, we’d see in the morning whether it would limit me at all. A few warblers would take away the sting for sure.
More to come…