Southwestern North Carolina 6/25-27/15

All photos are Marshall Faintich


Alice had a bridge tournament in Flat Rock, North Carolina, about 30 miles south of Asheville, so I went along to do some birding in the local area. I had read the NC birding listserver and eBird reports for a couple of months prior to the trip, but I didn't see any avian species that I had not seen and photographed many times, except for one species: Swainson's Warbler. There are two populations of this species. One of the populations lives in dense, wet areas, such as swamps, and I saw my first Swainson's Warbler in the Great Dismal Swamp (Virginia) in May 2014. I only had one very quick view of this warbler, and got only a few, slightly out-of-focus photos of it. The other Swainson's Warbler population prefers mountainous areas, usually near mountain laurel. I had heard a mountain Swainson's in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee) in April 2014, but could not see it. So I had only one target species for my trip.

A North Carolina birder, Marilyn Westphal, had posted two Swainson's Warblers along a 5.8 mile long forest road than went from the North Mills River campground up to Bent Creek Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I contacted her, and she very kindly sent me specific locations on the forest road to look for them. A few days prior to the trip, I read that Marilyn, and also another birder, had posted two Swainson's Warblers near the top of the nearby Turkey Pen Road, so I had two possible areas to search for Swainson's Warblers.


Mountain Laurel

It has been a little more than two seeks since my knee surgery, so I didn't want to do too much hiking on uneven ground, and hoped that if I did hear a Swainson's Warbler, it would be visible from the road.

Turkey Pen Road; afternoon of June 25th

We arrived in Flat Rock around 11 a.m., and I decided to try Turkey Pen Road first, as it was a bit closer to Flat Rock, and I thought that a named road might be easier to drive than a forest road. I got to the bottom of Turkey Pen Road a little after noon, and immediately saw a warning sign stating that it was a narrow, winding road, and I could see that it was gravel and not paved. Glad I was driving my Subaru with all-wheel drive, as there were some potholes and other tricky sections of road. I had my windows down to listen for Swainson's Warblers. About 1/4 to 1/2 mile from the summit, and just before reaching a US Forest Service sign that stated no camp sites allowed off the road, I heard a Swainson's Warbler. I got out of my car and tried to find it, but all I saw were Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice. There were mountain laurel plants everywhere I looked. I continued to the top where I was happy to find a small parking area, which meant it would be easy to turn the car around when I wanted to go back.

At the end of the parking lot there were two trails leading downhill, separated by about 50 feet of vegetation and sparse trees, with steep hills on both outer trail sides covered with dense trees and vegetation, including lots of mountain laurel. I heard two Swainson's Warblers singing, one each on the two hill sides, but couldn't see either of them. I hiked down and back up one of the trails several times, but didn't go past where I heard them singing. I didn't see either one. I then hiked back up to my car, waited for about 1/2 hour and tried again. This time, one of the two Swainson's Warblers was flying back and forth from one hill side to the other. A few times it was only a few feet away from me, but it stayed in the dense vegetation, and moved about very quickly. I was able to get a few photos of this one.


Swainson's Warbler


Swainson's Warbler

It was clear to me that I wasn't going to get any photos of this bird perched out in the open sunlight, and thought that the few photos I did manage to get was about the best I could do, so I headed down Turkey Pen Road. I stopped at the Forest Service sign where I had heard the first Swainson's Warbler, and got out to take another look.

Bingo! There were two Swainson's Warblers flitting around along the road there, and I got lots of photos. They never stayed very still, but still enough for some photos. Mission accomplished!


Swainson's Warbler


Swainson's Warbler


Swainson's Warbler


Swainson's Warbler


Swainson's Warbler


Swainson's Warbler


Swainson's Warbler


Swainson's Warbler


Swainson's Warbler


Swainson's Warbler

I then drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and parked at Bent Creek Gap. I had two choices of gravel roads, and decided to walk a little way down the road to the south. I saw a sign there stating that it was an experimental forest area. I only walked a short distance, heard lot of birds, but didn't see any. But I was happy - still very satisfied with this day's birding.


Experimental forest area

Blue Ridge Parkway; June 26th

I decided not to drive the forest road up to Bent Creek Gap as I had my Swainson's Warbler photos, but I did stop again at the experimental forest. As I walked down the road I heard several warblers singing - all Black-throated Green, but decided not to hike the hills to look for them.

My next stop was a Mt. Pisgah, and I first parked in a lot near the trails. I walked a short distance on the trail and heard a Worm-eating Warbler, but I didn't see it and I didn't want to stress my knee looking for it. So I birded around the parking lots, and saw several species including American Goldfinch, Indigo Bunting, Dark-eyed Junco, and several Chestnut-sided Warblers.


Indigo Bunting


Dark-eyed Junco


Chestnut-sided Warbler


Chestnut-sided Warbler


Chestnut-sided Warbler


Chestnut-sided Warbler

I then drove across the parkway and parked at the lot next to the Mt. Pisgah picnic area. There were more Chestnut-sided Warblers, Gray Catbirds, and Brown Trashers. I hiked around the picnic area for more than an hour, had a quick lunch, and than hiked close by for a while longer. There were lots of birds there.


Brown Trasher


Brown Trasher


Eastern Townee


Juvenile Dark-eyed Junco


Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak


Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak

I heard several birds singing the following song that I cannot identify - any help would be appreciated. [Update: Marilyn Westphal just emailed me that the mystery singer was a Veery! I have seen them a few times, but had never heard one before. That makes it 41 trip bird species]

Click here to play the unidentified bird song (9 seconds long), and then hit your back button to return to this page

The highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway (6000+ feet) is about 24 miles south of Mt. Pisgah, so I drove there hoping to see some higher elevation species such as Red Crossbills. There were lots of pine cones on the conifers, but I didn't see any Crossbills - only more Indigo Buntings, Dark-eyed Juncos, Catbirds, and a flying Red-shouldered Hawk. I heard Black-throated Blue Warblers at two of the higher elevation stops.


Dark-eyed Junco


Blue Ridge Parkway summit


View from the Blue Ridge Parkway summit

Jackson Park, Hendersonville, NC; June 27th

I had all day to go birding, but the forecast was for thunderstorms. I got to Jackson Park and hiked first along the warbler trail. I heard a Chestnut-sided Warbler, but the only bird I saw was a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk that wasn't happy I was there. It called and heard back from a flying Red-shouldered Hawk


Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk


Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk

The bottomland trail provided a few more species including a Louisiana Waterthrush, and there were Purple Martins flying over a pond near the ball fields.


Louisiana Waterthrush


Purple Martins


Purple Martin


Purple Martin


Bottomland trail squirrel

The nature trail had the largest number of species.


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher


Juvenile White-eyed Vireo


Juvenile Downy Woodpecker


Juvenile Downy Woodpecker

I heard Common Yellowthroats along the nature trail, and saw two of them along the BMX access road.


Common Yellowthroat


Common Yellowthroat


Common Yellowthroat

After two hours, it started to rain and I headed back to the hotel, and it poured during the early afternoon. I ended up with 26 avian species at Jackson Park, and a total of 40 avian species on the trip.


Eastern Townee

One of the most interesting species I saw at Jackson Park was Indigo Bunting. There were three of them along the nature trail. The male was clearly an Indigo, but the female (or possibly a juvenile male) and a juvenile had white wing bars and some other field marks of a Lazuli Bunting, such as bluish rump and flanks, and a white belly, which is rare in North Carolina. Any opinions on whether or not these two Buntings were Indigo, Lazuli, or Lazuli x Indigo hybrids would be appreciated.


Male Indigo Bunting


Male Indigo Bunting


Female (or possibly a juvenile male) Bunting


Female (or possibly a juvenile male) Bunting


Female (or possibly a juvenile male) Bunting


Juvenile Bunting


Juvenile Bunting

North Carolina trip list (40 species):

American Crow
American Goldfinch
American Robin
Belted Kingfisher
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blue Jay
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Brown Thrasher
Carolina Chickadee
Carolina Wren
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Chimney Swift
Common Grackle
Common Raven
Common Yellowthroat
Dark-eyed Junco
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Towhee
Gray Catbird
Great Blue Heron
Hooded Warbler
House Sparrow
Indigo Bunting
Louisiana Waterthrush
Mourning Dove
Northern Cardinal
Northern Flicker
Northern Mockingbird
Pileated Woodpecker
Purple Martin
Red-shouldered Hawk
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Song Sparrow
Swainson's Warbler
Tufted Titmouse
Turkey Vulture
White-eyed Vireo
Worm-eating Warbler



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