Friday, May 20, 2016

Carver’s Gap and Hampton Creek Cove, May 2016

Tuesday, May 17, the four of us tramped Hampton Creek Cover in search of blue-winged warbler and a few other warblers. We got amongst others, turkey, alder flycatcher, chestnut sided warbler, indigo bunting, common yellow throat warbler, chimney swifts, and a blue-winged warbler.

The day was heavy overcast with occasional drizzle. The grass in the cove was wet, the steams up a bit, and bridges uneasily slippery. But, worth it. Jim Anderson and Roy Knispel bemoaned that they’d left their cameras in the car out of the rain. We did get some really good looks through the drizzle. Maybe the birds had been camera shy?

For lunch we dined amongst the clouds at Carver’s Gap, on the Tennessee and North Carolina state line. Carvers’ Gap has changed a bit since I was last at the gap many years ago. The brush has been cut back, most of the timber fencing gone, and any remaining fence in slightly less than picturesque shape. For such a crummy day there were people hiking the trail and some going/coming to camp along the trail.

 But, still, the gap is hard to beat. Clouds swirl in. The air temperature plummets. A silence ensues. A blue-headed vireo stubbornly calls. Maybe a raven zooms by. The sun comes out again. The balsam smell delicious.

 On sunny days, you can look northbound (but not north) and see the copse of pines up on Jane Bald against a deep blue sky. The old trail northbound was a deep rut so the AT people rerouted both sides from the gap.

When I first came up to Carver’s Gap in the early 80s, on a Sunday, I would watch folks in their Sunday best sort of take the air and enjoy the scenery along the gap side of the bald.

Rising behind us was the heavily forested Roan Mountain home of juncos and raven and red-breasted nuthatch. Juncos abound, easily identified by their white outer tail feathers. The red-breasted nuthatch called a “yank, yank” as it worked it way up and down the balsam and fir trees, usually upside down.

 There is a toilet at the parking lot at Carver’s Gap. Bring you own toilet paper!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Spring Count 2016 & the Unaka Mtn. Tour

The 2016 Spring Count is in the books! Our chapter fielded 13 teams involving 59 people on Saturday, April 30, to invade the five upper counties in search of as many species as possible. Rob Armistead and I skirted Boone Lake for the whole day with a black-crowned night heron to show for our efforts but no bobolink at the Tri-Cities Airport! That is the way it goes, sometimes.

The tally was 166 total species which is a new high number. The average for the last ten years was 152. For the past 30 years, the average count has been 147 species. This was the 73d consecutive spring count.

Other highlights from the survey: American Golden-Plover, Fish Crow, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Virginia Rail, Black-billed Cuckoo, Saw-whet Owl, Peregrine Falcon, Sedge Wren, and Cerulean Warbler.

Boone Lake is, as the locals know, a mere puddle of its former self. The dam sprung a leak and TVA lowered the water level to lower the pressure on the dam. The water level will remain down for several more years and that is assuming that TVA does not find another leak. The effect is that many shore bird spots are farther out into the lake if not gone all together or with the vegetation grown up on the new shoreline habitat is tucked into spots not at all viewable from the shore.

Below the dam is still a good place for herons and in the winter, gulls. In the lake near the dam the shore has receded enough that either you have to hike down to the lake to get a view (which may be trespassing) or you have to use a telescope each time. What may have been a good spot two years ago might not be, indeed is probably not, a good spot now. Good birding places constantly change, though. And since the survey is oriented towards species counts adding or subtracting spots is not a negative thing.

The surrounding farm land should be good for field birds in particular bobolink, catbirds, cowbirds, and all manner of raptors. But (there is always a “but”) this is also prime real estate. The habitat is under pressure as farm land converts to large homes. These many-acre estates are good for starling and robins. Still, there are good places to bird but for a count of 166 species we would be good to get fifty?

My thanks to Rick Knight for getting this all organized. The Herndon Chapter is one of the most active chapters in Tennessee.

Tuesday (May 10) Roy Knispel, Gil Derouen, Jim Anderson, and myself birded the Unaka Mountain Auto Trail. This runs from outside of Unicoi, Tennessee, on State 107 over Unaka Mountain to Tennessee State 395 where it meets the North Carolina/ Tennessee state line. The distance is about 10 miles but it is slow and very narrow. BE ADVISED: HEADING TOWARDS TN 395 BEYOND HALFWAY IS A CONCRETE FORD THAT WILL BE MURDER ON LOW CARS! But, also the trail offers some great views of the mountains and wonderfully-noisy roadside brooks.

Some of our sightings for the day: Raven, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Wood Thrush, Veery, Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Canada Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Junco.