A day out birding in Polk County

Published 3:01 pm Monday, April 5, 2010

The weather forecast for our spring birding trip in the Tryon area was terrific with the promise of warm sunny spring weather; definitely a change from the rounds of snow and ice that have plagued us this past winter.

Despite this good news I still had to scrape ice off the windscreen of my car first thing in the morning, which did seem a bit peculiar, but the day certainly turned out to be as they predicted &bsp; spectacular. Our first stop was FENCE, the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center, where we enjoyed outstanding views across the crystal clear mountains while two pairs of Tree Swallows circled the area. This predominantly northern swallow has only recently colonized the Tryon area and will probably continue to spread further south. Unlike many swallows, Tree Swallows are cavity nesters and readily use boxes put up for Eastern Bluebirds.

Small flocks of Cedar Waxwings and Brown-headed Cowbirds were moving north and the hill above FENCE is always a great place to watch migration. A real surprise came in the form of an American Bittern that we flushed from the marshes at the FENCE pond. Unfortunately, it disappeared into thick cover, never to be seen again. I believe that this was a new bird for the FENCE birdlist.

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A walk along nearby River Road is always productive but surprisingly today it was fairly quiet. We did hear a recently returned Louisiana Waterthrush and a singing Yellow-throated Warbler but a passing Sharp-shinned Hawk silenced all of the singers. Unfortunately we did not even hear any Blue-gray Gnatcatchers always early arrivals along rivers in this part of the county.

Rather than bird the quiet woodlands we decided to stay in open country to see what species had recently arrived.

Surprisingly most of the birds we found were still quite wintry, such as White-throated and Swamp Sparrows, and several Ruby-crowned Kinglets; (one of which was very colorful, showing off his brilliant red crown in response to a passing female).

After driving through some of our best and most reliable birding locations in the local area we managed to find a few birds here and there but not a great many newly-arrived spring migrants. However, near a known colony, we finished the day with a couple of high flying male Purple Martins. This is one of very few species of birds among whom most of the population relies on made nesting habitats.

Despite only a handful of spring birds being around, it was a beautiful day in the Foothills and with ongoing warm weather there will no doubt be an upcoming rush of birds moving north towards their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada.

Simon Thompson has lived in WNC for the past 16 years. He owns and operates his own birding tour company, Ventures Birding Tours. www.birdventures.com.

If you have birding questions, please drop me an e-mail at the above site.