A spring day birding in Polk County

Published 10:56 am Monday, May 23, 2011

After a frosty morning in the Asheville area, it was a pleasure to be down the mountains in Polk County amidst flowering trees, green fields and under blue skies.

This was our annual birding trip to Polk County, where we hoped to catch an early glimpse into spring migration, as well as enjoy the warmth of the southern foothills.

Luckily there were plenty of birds and what was scheduled to be a quick visit to FENCE ended up being our main morning birding destination.

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A yellow-throated vireo was singing its burry song along the woodland edge, along with black-and-white, Cape May and yellow-throated warblers and the obligatory blizzard of yellow-rumps, some of which were starting to acquire their spring breeding finery.

At the southernmost known limit of their breeding range, a pair of tree swallows was competing with the bluebirds for a nesting box (with uncertain results, I am sure!).

Several barn swallows were pairing up and swooping around the nearby horse barns and at least one broad-winged hawk was circling slowly overhead as it drifted northwards towards the distant mountains.

A walk down to the FENCE wildlife pond produced the expected common yellowthroats, which were singing their rhythmical song from the dense thickets. Recently arrived northern parula and black-throated green warblers were also singing, as were lingering winter visitors such as swamp sparrows. Additional wintering birds seen along the edge of the woods included hermit thrush and the diminutive winter wren.

Another late sparrow, the Savannah, was seen sitting on one of the horse jumps. This small short-tailed bird winters in short grasslands and open country throughout the southeast and breeds as far north as Alaska.

Woodpeckers made a good showing today with at least four species being seen well. The familiar red-bellied and downy woodpeckers are always easy to see, but the larger hairy woodpecker is more uncommon in lightly wooded parts of the county.

Occasionally this larger version of the downy will visit feeders, but it is more apt to be seen in woodlands with larger trees.

A brief afternoon visit to a nearby site along the Pacolet River produced very little aside from some beautiful open country, yet we finished the day with a healthy spring total of more than 50 species. It was indeed, a fine day in Polk County with some great birding and surprisingly quite a few butterflies around.

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. 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.