Went West, Young Man: pt 2
Part 1 is here.
It gets cold at night in the mountains. And when I woke up it was still dark out so I pulled a wool sock over my ankle without looking at it. By now was feeling somewhat better, at least I could walk with only a little discomfort. Good enough for me! I took down my tent and headed out to catch the dawn on the Parkway. I was going south, towards Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi. I drove along with the windows open, hoping to catch the song of anything besides the abundant BT Green Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, and Wood Thrush. One of the most interesting thing I noted was the degree to with the trees on the ridge had begun to leaf out. The trees down in the valley were already in full foliage, but up where I was they had only begun to bud. It was like being transported back in time about 6 weeks, which, I began to note, was as true with regard to the birdlife as it was with the trees. You can see it in the photo below how the green seems to creep up the mountain.
Most people drive the parkway for its scenic splendor, and rightly so, it’s gorgeous, and for that reason there are countless pulloffs and overlooks along the road. Not only do they usually provide a panoramic view of Licklog Gap or Flatrock Bald or even Cold Mountain (for you fans of literature or even just Jude Law), but they allow the birder a convenient look into the canopy of the trees directly below, a view you rarely get to enjoy. I took advantage of nearly every one, pulling off to take a quick listen for any singing warblers.
At one stop I came across the first of many singing Scarlet Tanagers. This one stayed in one place long enough for me to pull out the scope and try a little digiscoping. A nice couple from Florida pulled in and got to see it as well. New converts to the fold? Who knows, but a Scarlet Tanager is a pretty cool spark bird if so. As if to add to the wealth of colorful riches, no fewer than 4 male Indigo Buntings were singing and fighting in the cleared area directly below the pull off. The warblers were there in good numbers, but usually the same few species I’d seem before. By and large the BT Greens, BT Blues, Hoodies, Ovenbirds, and Black and Whites. In short, early spring warblers rather then the late spring boreals I was looking for on this trip.
That’s not to say the birds that were there weren’t fantastic too. I got the best looks I’d ever had of Scarlet Tanagers and BT Greens, and every single cleared area had a singing Indigo Bunting, and in many cases more than one. The woods, covered in new May Apples, rang with the songs of Wood Thrush and the occasional Veery. The last one, more like a science fiction sound effect than a bird, is my very favorite bird song.
Things started to turn around when I stopped at on overlook of McKinney Gap. In a shrubby area, below the pullout several small birds were foraging. They were mostly Dark-eyed Juncos, birds that nest up in the high parts along the ridge, and whose songs would continue to throw me the whole day (I’m just not used to hearing it!). I pished a bit to see if anything different would pop up and like a rocket out of a rhododendron grove shot this little Chestnut-sided Warbler who hopped around only a few feet from me. Here he is captured in mid-Get the Hell Out of Here moment. I was unable to take any additional photos as my camera wouldn’t focus on a bird so close, an odd situation to be in. But the best bird was still to come.
The last part tomorrow…