A New Year’s resolution: get out more often (and see more birds!)

Published 10:00 pm Monday, January 2, 2017

Eastern towhee

Eastern towhee

Another new year and once again we have a chance to try and improve ourselves – albeit psychologically. We could try to drink less, write longer letters to those we love (how about even just writing a letter rather than sending an e-mail?), eat healthier or just get out and exercise a little more often. 

Let’s talk about the latter as this one may stand the chance of actually being a little more successful than the others. I am not going to talk about the discipline of going to the local gym. I know that some of us need the regimen of a regular workout and maybe even the release of large amounts of cash to encourage us to exercise more often.

We have something even better around here and it surrounds us on all sides – the great outdoors! Here in western North Carolina we have the Blue Ridge Parkway right outside our door, with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just a few miles down the road. In other words, we have two of the country’s best outdoor “playgrounds” within easy access of all of us along with some of the best birding in the eastern U.S.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

How is all of this proposed outdoor activity going to affect me with a newfound resolution to shake a few extra holiday pounds? Maybe it won’t do too much physically, but my mental attitude could improve in leaps and bounds with clean air in my lungs and no traffic to deal with. Plus, putting some miles under the belt may make the trousers less snug – always a good thing!

Despite the fact that we live in the mountains, there are a lot of fairly level trails in our area. FENCE (Foothills Equestrian Nature Center) has some very easy trails and is a great place to start. Pick up one of the printed birdlists and head out to see what’s moving in the gardens. As well as enjoying the changing seasons in the woodlands, you can nose around in the gardens and watch the towhees scratching under the shrubbery. 

Another very nice spot is Chimney Rock Park, which is just a short drive away and the Hickory Nut Falls Trail is always a pleasant walk. Winter birding can be a little slow, but there’s always the chance of seeing the semi-resident Peregrine falcon that nests in the area.

One of my favorite outdoor and birdwatching spots is the Blue Ridge Parkway. This scenic drive snakes through our mountains and the Pisgah National Forest and has to be one of the most beautiful drives around. If you need a warbler fix in the spring, there’s nowhere better in our area.

One of my favorite walks is at Black Balsam near Devil’s Courthouse. This hike is great at any time of the year, but especially fruitful during blueberry season. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is another good one with several stretches that are fairly level and the higher you climb, the more likely you are to hear what I consider the most beautiful bird song in the U.S. — the fluting song of the hermit thrush.

So, you are now off and running (so to speak) but I will let you in on one little secret. This outdoor stuff, and especially birdwatching, is dangerously addictive. I have known people who started out slowly, puttering through the local woods looking at wildflowers. They then started looking at birds, then trees and now they explore the whole planet enjoying the vast wealth of riches in protected parks, forests and preserves.

I myself have been an outdoor person since I was a youngster camping in the game parks of East Africa. The addiction to the natural world started early and now I can only handle three days in a big city before I go completely mad.

So will I keep this resolution? It wasn’t a great challenge for me to start with and I plan to head into the wilds sometime later in the week. But as for losing those wretched holiday pounds that I can’t seem to shake, I may have to start thinking about the gym that I drive past several days a week. Now that would be a resolution that would be hard to keep!

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.