Birding throughout the year in Chimney Rock State Park

Published 2:33 pm Monday, May 24, 2010

Not far from Tryon or Hendersonville in Western North Carolina, the recently renamed Chimney Rock State Park is a prime birding location and worth a visit at any time of the year. This is a popular destination for both birders and tourists and has several bird species typically associated with colder, northern forests. During the summer months, warblers are the big attraction, with the Black-Throated Green Warbler being the most common and obvious species. Within the cove-forest and associated oak-hickory woodland, there are also many Hooded, Black-and-white, and Worm-eating Warblers.

As the weather warms up and the nesting season gets into high gear, the summer resident birds are in full song. This is a splendid time to visit Chimney Rock State Park. The songs of over a dozen warbler species, tanagers, vireos and cuckoos now fill the green woodlands. But, despite many of the birds bright colors, they can be difficult to see because of the rich green canopy of leaves, and one has to rely on ones ear to identify the singers. This is one of the real challenges of summer birding.

In 1990, a pair of Peregrine Falcons nested within the park and raised three chicks. While this breeding success has not happened since, a pair of Peregrines is usually present in Hickory Nut Gorge and may even nest somewhere within Hickory Nut Gorge.

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By the first two weeks in September, many birds have already left Chimney Rock State Park on their way south. Small flocks of birds that have been raised locally are moving around and the great fall southbound migration is starting to take place.

Aside from April and May, September is the most interesting month of the year. Southbound flocks may comprise of many species all feeding together. Call notes keep the flock together and add to the avian confusion. Herein lies the challenge of bird identification at its finest. On the Chimney Rock State Park Birdwalks, our main aim is to listen to and find these flocks as they pass through the woodlands.

At the same time high overhead, the birds of prey are beginning to move. The updrafts and thermals over the cliffs inside the Park are excellent places to watch for soaring raptors. The best time to watch is after a cold front has passed through. Find a comfortable spot on top of the Chimney or at Inspiration Point and scan the horizon. Small American Kestrels flit by on rapid wings and squadrons of Broad-winged Hawks file by in irregular lines. Up to ten species of birds of prey migrate through the Park and once seen the sight will never be forgotten.

Hummingbirds are also common at this time of the year and feed on the abundant clumps of jewelweed that grow around the parking lot. Most will be immatures, but a closer look at some will reveal tiny red feathers starting to appear on their throats. These are the males. Their full red gorgets will not appear until later this winter and early spring. The rich purple clumps of pokeweed attract feeding tanagers, thrushes and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.

Winter can be crisp and beautiful within the Park, but it can also be cold, and hence the birding is not as good as during the warmer months. Typical birds seen at this time of the year include Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows and a good selection of woodpeckers.

At whatever season you choose to visit Chimney Rock, you will not be disappointed at the birds that you will find within the parks varied ecosystems. Birdwalks are scheduled on a regular basis throughout the year, and these offer a great introduction into the birds of Chimney Rock State Park. You can check out the website: for the birdwalk schedule and further information.

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

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