A spring day birding in Polk County

Published 6:00pm Friday, May 11, 2012

It was a chilly start to the day at Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE) as we started our annual spring Polk County Birding trip. The last time I had been down at FENCE I had been lucky enough to find two red-headed woodpeckers and amazingly, the birds were still around in the now rapidly greening woodlands. A yellow-throated vireo was singing its husky song from near the FENCE Center and a prairie warbler sang its rising buzzy song as it slowly moved up slope on its northbound migration.

Eastern bluebird. (photo by Simon Thompson)

A walk along the old entry road gave us our first barn and northern rough-winged swallows, along with a blizzard of American goldfinches. After having a quiet winter throughout our area this year it was good to see them return in good numbers and also in good color.
A great blue heron slowly flew over, presumably on its way south to fish in the Pacolet River, and several broad-winged hawks also soared overhead as the day warmed up. This stocky bird of prey has just arrived and hundreds (maybe thousands) will move through on their way to breed across much of North America.
I always like to walk down to the FENCE wildlife pond, especially now it has a little more water. This produced several singing male common yellowthroats and a pair of blue-winged teal, always uncommon at this small wetland.
Today was billed as a Polk County birding day, so in addition to visiting FENCE, we took a short drive before lunch through the agricultural fields along River Road and toward the Pacolet River. This patchwork of fields, hedgerows, woodlots and scattered large trees is good for some country birds such as red-tailed hawk, eastern meadowlark and field sparrow. Here we also found our stake-out barn owls for some excellent, if brief views.
It was then back to FENCE to use the convenient picnic tables for an al fresco picnic lunch and to enjoy watching the eastern bluebirds as they vied for nesting boxes with the ever-persistent tree swallows.
We finished the day driving up Warrior Mountain and a walk along the recently paved section of Howard Gap Road. This patch of protected forest is always good in the morning for warblers and other forest birds, but one cannot be everywhere first thing. As expected the birds were a little quieter in the late afternoon, but we still managed to see a few recently arrived black-throated green warblers and to hear black-and-white, worm-eating and hooded warblers.
We finished the day with a very respectable 59 species and an excellent jump-start to spring.
Simon Thompson has lived in WNC for the past 18 years. He owns and operates his own birding tour company, Ventures Birding Tours. WWW.birdventures.com
He and Chris also own and operate the Asheville Wild Birds Unlimited Store. For more information on any of the birding activities in the area, drop by the store or check his website at www.asheville.wbu.com

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