A nice morning spent walking the trails and dirt roads of Warren Wilson College and Owen Park, one of the top birding hotspots in Buncombe County. Though the trails are easy to walk, we will likely end up walking several miles over the course of the morning. Comfortable footwear & sun protection are highly recommended.
Warren Wilson College and Charles D. Owen Park in Swannanoa are must-stops for any birder visiting the WNC region, especially in the spring and fall. Collectively encompassing an area of over 300 acres of agricultural fields and riparian woodland along the Swannanoa River, the adjacent properties provide important habitat for transient species. Fall birding here can be amazing and with over 212 species (including nearly all 37 eastern wood warblers) reported, it is not hard to imagine why!
This ‘Warbler Warm-Up’ trip is set to take place a couple weeks prior to peak migration time. This will allow us to spend more time with each warbler we find and focus on their key characteristics without being overwhelmed by the large mixed flocks typical of late September. Even so, we will still expect a good mix of migrants coming through at this time, including American Redstart, Northern Parula, Tennessee, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, and Magnolia Warblers, just to name a few. With a bit of luck, we’ll cross paths with some of the more uncommon and highly-sought after birds as well, like Mourning, Wilson’s, Blue-winged, or Golden-winged Warblers. Even Lawrence’s Warbler – a Blue-winged x Golden-winged hybrid -has been seen here during the fall!
While this trip will have a warbler focus, we won’t ignore any of the other birds we stumble upon. Joining in with the warblers will be a nice mixture of vireos (Blue-headed, Red-eyed, and Yellow-throated are expected), flycatchers (Wood-Pewee, Eastern Phoebe, perhaps an Olive-sided), and we could see both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers as well. Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks which nest here should still be around in good numbers and we will hope for a nice assortment of raptors hunting the fields or migrating along the river. The tall sycamores along the river have in recent years held Red-headed Woodpeckers, an uncommon migrant and very local breeder here in the mountains, and we will look for them as well.
To add to the excitement, this area has been a magnet for rarities over the last few years with Lark Sparrow, Dickcissel, and even Wood Stork turning up here in the fall.