Birding at FENCEPublished 10:00pm Monday, May 5, 2014
It was a chilly morning when we met at FENCE (Foothills Equestrian Nature Center) in Tryon. A front was still clinging on to the shady areas near the woodlands, although the sun was doing its best to warm up the slowly greening woodlands. Like most of our prior excursions to this beautiful property, we started the day with a walk down to the wildlife pond, hearing most of the typical woodland and edge species along the way – Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren and American Goldfinch amongst others. From the boardwalk that crosses the water lily covered lake we watched a Belted Kingfisher circle the lake; rattling at our presence, while an Eastern Phoebe repeatedly sang its simple song. We flushed a small group of Wood Duck but luckily they landed out in good light on the pond, enabling excellent scope views of the immaculately plumaged male and more subtle female. These ducks are always very shy, but the wildlife pond has matured very nicely and the vegetation is perfect for visiting (and maybe breeding) Wood Duck. Continuing around the pond we were met with droves of newly arrived Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and soon to be departing Yellow-rumped Warblers, with most of the latter still in their somewhat shabby winter plumage. It’s only in the last couple of weeks in our area that the males get their sparkling black and yellow breeding feathers. A few of us managed to glimpse an Osprey as it glided overhead, also slowly heading north. A few minutes later, we found our first spring warbler of the day, a male Black-and-White warbler singing his squeaky song from within a leafless grove of trees. This lack of vegetation certainly made for easy viewing, but soon we will have to be happy with just hearing many of our forest birds due to the impending thick leaf canopy.
Back up at the main FENCE Center we had wonderful scope views of a cooperative Yellow-throated Vireo in the surrounding oaks as it casually foraged for insects and also had 2 very nice surprises– a flyover Merlin and a Vesper Sparrow that flew off the side of the road displaying its trademark white outer tail feathers.
Before stopping for lunch we headed down over the state line to Caroland Farms in South Carolina. While we missed one of our target birds, we did get good looks at a few Savannah Sparrows in the open pastureland, and Eastern Meadowlark and Brown-headed Cowbird in the nearby fields. A very nice selection of swallows (Tree, Barn, Northern Rough-winged and Purple Martin) was feeding over the Pacolet River and allowed for excellent comparisons of these highly aerial birds. A few Chimney Swifts were mixed in to add some additional confusion. In the thickets along the banks of the Pacolet we enjoyed seeing a Common Yellowthroat fly catching, while a White-eyed Vireo skulked and remained singing mostly out of sight.
Our final stop for our caravan of cars was along River Road. One stop produced great views of Yellow-throated Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet flashing his bright red crown. Another treat was watching a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks – one sat on the nest while another soared through the tops of the surrounding trees, vocalizing. We continued along River Road, eventually making our way up to Warrior Mountain, part of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. As expected it was mostly quiet up here in the afternoon, but we all got excellent views of a singing Black-throated Green Warbler, a great finish to a fantastic day of birding.
Simon Thompson has lived in WNC for the past 20 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