Spring birding in Polk County

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Osprey (Photo by Simon Thompson)

Osprey (Photo by Simon Thompson)

The predictions were for a colder than normal, windy day and yes, the weather forecast was accurate. Our birding tour group all met in Saluda as the wind whistled around us – even the newly arrived Barn Swallows were sheltering under the awnings of the local fuel station. With the windy conditions we decided to try and find places to look for birds which were not too exposed and windy.

Our first spot was the leeside of Warrior Mountain. This patch of protected woodland that traverses the Blue Ridge Escarpment has some mature trees which attract some several breeding warblers. Still being quite early in the season many spring birds had not arrived, but we did hear and see both Black-and-white and Black-throated Green Warblers.

No sign yet of the Worm-eating and Cerulean Warblers which should arrive later in April as the trees leaf out even further. A nice surprise was a small flock of Purple Finches that were singing and feeding in a flowering maple tree – a good sight considering Purple Finches have been scarce most of the winter.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The nearby Green River Cove Road was our next birding spot, but again the higher reaches of the road were still quite windy. Despite the cold winds we still managed to see or hear Blue-headed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Black-throated Green, Yellow-throated and more Black-and-white Warblers and at least two Prairie Warblers and a White-eyed Vireo were singing in the lower elevations; the formers distinctive rising song being easily heard above the rushing wind.

We had our picnic lunch in the sunshine at Lake Adger, and aside from a couple of Osprey flying around, there were no shorebirds due to the high water levels. A few Northern Rough-winged and Tree Swallows were flying over the lake allowing us to study the quite different flight patterns of these swallows. The Rough-wings tend to fly in slow motion with an erratic flight pattern, while the Tree Swallow fly and glide more frequently.

We finished the day just over the state line in the farm country of South Carolina. Again, many of the spring birds had not yet appeared. The views are always beautiful down along the Pacolet River and a distant (very) Northern Bobwhite was calling. Some Barn Swallows were feeding over the fields, and a few Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were calling in the roadside trees.

We just had one more thing to do and that was to check on the Barn Owl. Yes, he was there again. And a great sight to see after a gap of a couple of years.

Despite the windy conditions and the cooler than average temperatures we had a great early spring day in the Southern Foothills.

Simon Thompson has lived in WNC for the past 20 years. He owns and operates his own birding tour company, Ventures Birding Tours online at birdventures.com. For more information on any of the birding activities in the area, check the website for additional listings.