I have not walked in or written about this site in quite some time. It is really my “home park” here in Greenville, NC, and is the place where I really discovered the joy of birding in this part of the country. For several years I walked here daily and learned about birding from one of the best birders I have ever met, Howard Vainright, who at that time was the Director of the park. When Howard retired from this position, my birding interests expanded to other venues. But i always come back here to my “home base”. Last week we actually had a few days of cooler weather, and I decided to return once more to the comfort and familiarity of the park. I spent a couple of hours on two mornings here and was pleased to find many of the old species still around. I had hoped to find an early migrating warbler, but I don’t think they are on the move quite yet.I was glad to see that the two sentinels of the park, Great blue Herons and Great Egrets were still at their lookout posts. There was a Kingfisher, several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Robins, Cardinals, Orchard Orioles, Kingbirds, Blue Grosbeaks, a swarm of Mockingbirds, Pileated Woodpecker, Wood Duck, and many butterflies and dragonflies, as well as several fall flowers starting to bloom. The early morning cool temperatures were a delight and I enjoyed this “homecoming” very much! I have heard that the park managers are planning a series of upgrades aimed at improving the habitat to promote its attracting a broader diversity of wildlife, I look forward to more days of photographing the critters who roam here and can’t wait for the fall warbler migration which should be underway in the next few weeks. For a full description of this site, please click on this link. For photos taken on the two days, see the gallery below.
When Glyn and I left home this past Monday morning for a short, three-night vacation to Boone, NC, the temperature was already 84 and climbing. The 90+ degree days this summer have been brutal, so we decided to seek the cooler temperatures of the Smokey Mountains in the western part of the state. Boone is a nice city embedded in the mountains, with many nature trails and fine restaurants, with easy access to sites such as Blowing Rock, Valle Crucis, Banner Elk, and Elk Knob State park.. It is also the home of Appalachian State University, now with a twenty plus thousand student body. When we arrived, we quickly realized that it was check-in week for the fall semester.
Once at our hotel in Boone, around one PM, the temperature was only 77 degrees, the highest temp we would see during our visit!! Wow!! What a refreshing relief! Early morning temps during the 3 days were around 60 degrees, just chilly enough for a light sweater.
Before we left home, I had checked out The Boone Greenway(described here on this site), a seven mile long trail along and crossing the South Fork of the New River, and running through the entire city of Boone.Since this was to be my first visit to this site, I wanted to check out the trail access I would be using. We found it easily, and Glyn and I were both impressed with the scenery and the “wildness” of the area. I, of course, couldn’t wait until the next morning to be out there in the cool air, looking for my feathered friends. Later we drove the few miles to Blowing Rock, where we had dinner at the Bistro Loca restaurant which had been recommended by a friend. The dinner was excellent and we returned to the hotel, exhausted from a long day. I fell asleep thinking about the Greenway---
I was wide awake at 6AM, dressed quickly, grabbed coffee and eggs downstairs, and was at the trailhead by 6:30. It was still dark!! I had forgotten that in the mountains, daylight comes more slowly---so, nothing to do but wait. I had chosen the most rural end of the trail and planned to do about 1.5 miles in and back. This would take me along the New River to 2 bridges spanning the river, as well as through 2 large meadow areas. At 7AM, it was finally light enough for my camera to see, and I was off. The cool air of the morning and the fresh green appearance of the vegetation and the forest were amazing and refreshing as compared to the late summer “burned out” appearance of eastern NC. Impressive also was the abundance of wild flowers and their “spring like” freshness. I would get more wild flower pictures than birds! My first bird sightings came quickly with 3 species in one spot. There was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher along with a White-eyed Vireo feeding in a small tree overhanging the river. Then a Goldfinch landed on a small branch nearby. I have to admit that i became so enamored with the scenery and the wildflowers, I was not attentive to bird presence and missed a few who were flying away before I saw them. I was on the trail for about 2.5 hours and it seemed like about 10 minutes. It was time to get back to the hotel and get Glyn for other exploring. I would repeat the walk the next morning.
Glyn wanted to visit the shops in Blowing Rock, and find a place to have lunch. Being an avid knitter, she had located a neat yarn shop there, so off we went . I spent some time on a bench sitting with some other old guys who were also “wife-waiting” and talking junk! Around noon we went to the Storie Street Grill for lunch. This was a recommendation of a friend who had a son in school at Applachian State and had sampled the food here frequently. If you ever go here, be sure to try the asparagus fries appetizer!! It is great! We had really delicious sandwiches here. A great lunch!
In the afternoon we drove north to Elk Knob State Park 18 miles from Boone. This is North Carolina’s newest and most northern park. The road up is classical mountain road with many curves and switchbacks as you gain another 2000 feet in elevation. There is a 10 degree temperature drop from the Boone elevation! It was actually cold at the top. For a brief description and a few pictures from the Park, click on the link above.
In the evening we returned to Blowing Rock where we dined at Twiggs for another nice dinner. We both were tired and ready to return to our room and relax. I was ready to return again the next morning to the Boone Greenway. Up again early, I enjoyed a more leisurely breakfast and arrived at the trail at a more reasonable light time than the day before. I hiked a bit further and was more and more impressed with the beauty of this Greenway. The city of Boone is to be congratulated for the investment in this great nature venue. There are many hiking/birding trails in this area, but many of them are rough, steep climbs, not really easy for older folks like me. The Greenway offers a truly wild site with easy access that is appropriate for the entire family. If you are a photographer, you can target landscapes, birds, animals, and flowers. I tried to capture a little of all those categories. Bird species seen included many Goldfinch, Blue gray Gnatcatchers, White-eyed Vireo, Gray Catbirds, Cardinals. Savannah Sparrow, Hooded and Chestnut-sided Warbler, American Crow, Kingfisher, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Pileated Woodpecker. Animals seen were about 15 Deer and a couple of rabbits, I spent about 4.5 hours on the trail, covering about 4 miles of the seven total available. Photo opportunities were plentiful. See pictures below.
After the morning on the trail, we decided to drive up to Valle Crucis and Banner Elk at the base of Beech Mountain road that goes uo to the ski resort. Valle Crucis is the home of the original Mast General store, established in the 1800s. The old store is still there and you can buy about anything you can imagine. Of course, Glyn had to examine every item there!!. I sat on the old back porch with a bunch of less enthusiastic shoppers and tried to help solve the political divisions in the country. I’m not sure we got it done--- On up the mountain toward Banner Elk, we passed the old Episcopal Conference Center where Glyn had visited many years ago. At Banner Elk, we had lunch at a Louisiana style eatery--best part of the meal was the hot blackberry cobbler made with local fresh berries----yumm!! Headed back down, again at Valle Crucis, we took a primitive gravel side road up a hollow where there was an 1862 church, the St. Johns Episcopal.(not to be confused with the St. Johns in Sladesville, NC out east) This beautiful old church is worth the drive up the hollow to see if you ever visit Valle Crucis. See pictures below.
If you find yourself struggling with the heat Down East, pick a time in mid-summer and make a run up the mountain--you will not regret it!! I will be back next year!
SEE GALLERY BELOW. CLICK ON ANY PIC TO ENLARGE. USE SIDE ARROWS TO MOVE BACK AND FORTH. SCROLL UP OR DOWN FOR OTHER RECENT POSTS, OR CLICK ON ARCHIVES ON RIGHT FOR OLDER ENTRIES.
At this favorite site, there is always a surprise as well as the usual. Last week I was here one morning for a couple of hours and was blessed with both.Mid-summer usually provides a range of birds who are year round residents as well as unusual or early or late seasonal visitors. Usual residents included Buntings, Finch, Cardinals, Blackbirds, Doves, Gulls, Herons, Mockers, Thrashers, Towhees, Ibis, and others. A pleasant finding was my first adolescent male Painted Bunting in developing colors. There was also an unexpected mid-summer Prairie Warbler. In addition there was a female Pondhawk dragonfly as well as a Cloudless Sulpher Butterfly. This was quite a pleasant and productive photo shot for a quick two hours!! Enjoy pics below.
CLICK ON ANY PIC BELOW TO ENLARGE. USE SIDE HOURS TO SCROLL BACK AND FORTH. SCROLL UP OR DOWN FOR RECENT ENTRIES, OR CLICK ON ARCHIVES ON RIGHT FOR PAST ENTRIES.