A quick one, while he’s away
This past weekend my wife ran a 5k in Asheville, in the western part of North Carolina. She’s been training for it for some time and I’m only too happy to support her, especially when “support” means a trip to the mountains in the middle of May. Past that, though, nothing was really up to me. The race was being run on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate, the 250-room summer home of 1920s train titan Cornelius Vanderbilt, and one of the top tourist attractions in western Carolina. The estate itself sits on 8000 acres of Appalachian countryside and boasts gardens and a winery, not to mention gift shops and restaurants and all the trappings of the modern tourist trap. The centerpiece is the big house, and to be honest, unless one is a huge fan of gilded era opulence, it’s nothing special. But that could just be the proletariat in me speaking. The Vanderbilts were apparently nice to their hired help, but come on…
But as one may expect on 8000 acres of Appalachia, there are some nice foresty parts too, especially along the French Broad River that runs through the estate. And as luck would have it, that’s precisely where the 5k would be held. So the plan for my “support” involved dropping my wife off at the start, heading off for about an hour to wander the tons of fine birding habitat that surely would be there, and being back in time to see her cross the line at the finish. Foolproof.
Well, I may have somewhat overestimated the quality of the habitat immediately around the winery. The trees were quite a long way off and the distance I would have to walk to get to them would have prevented me from being there at the end, which was the most important thing I had to do for the day. There were however, small pockets of mature trees that were filled with singing Blackpoll Warblers, who much really be making a major push through the state, and a foraging pair of Pileated Woodpeckers, providing me with the nicest looks of this species I’ve had in recent memory. Bluebird boxes were filled with bluebirds and Tree Swallows. And, lo and behold, just when I though I wouldn’t get anything new, a singing Swainson’s Thrush saved me from scrambling for that species in the fall.
So I got a little productive birding in and made it to the end of the race right on time. And since it was early, and we had made the trip all the way to the mountains just for the race, my kind wife allowed me to drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway a few miles to look at the views, and maybe, just maybe, check out a few birds along the way.
This was where the real fun was had (at least by me), as no sooner had we turned up into the mountains than the warblers started coming. BT Green, BT Blue, Ovenbird, Chestnut-side, Black and White, Redstarts, and Hoodies sang from along the roadside. But the real treat was a stop that turned up no fewer than three gorgeous singing male Blackburnian Warblers. I would be hard-pressed to name a warbler I enjoy more.
And as a topper, as we pulled into the last overview before we decided to turn around, a pair of young Peregrine Falcons shot overhead, chasing each other down into the gap. There are several pairs that nest in the area, and I had hoped to catch a flyby. Two birds are better than I could ask for.
Tomorrow I head to the Outer Banks in the hopes that a weekday pelagic proves lucky. They got Euro Storm-Petrel this weekend. Something like that would be a nice surprise. I’m taking the long way as I have some additional targets to attempt. Reports when I return.