Here are our top five places for bird watching in the Asheville, North Carolina, area of the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you are into birding, this is a great place to be!
1. Beaver Lake: The best place in the city Asheville for bird watching is Beaver Lake, just a few miles north of downtown (pic above). Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary is half uplands and half wetlands and lakeside with a 3/8 mile boardwalk loop. In an urban setting, on a busy street, it provides good resting, feeding and nesting spots for resident and migratory birds. Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society, a chapter of National Audubon, owns half the 10-acre sanctuary and manages the rest. Beaver Lake Bird Walks are scheduled for 9 AM on the first Saturday of each month from October through March. From April through September the walks are scheduled for 8 AM on the first Saturday of each month.
2. Chimney Rock Park: From its riverbanks to its highest cliffs, Chimney Rock Park is a haven for birds and birding lovers. Deciduous forests on the north and east-facing slopes attract many summer-breeding birds such as scarlet tanagers and as many as 15 varieties of warblers and vireos. The most elusive of these are the cerulean and Swainson's warblers. You can spot cerulean warblers in the tall trees immediately below the parking lot at the Chimney, and the Swainson's warbler in the rhododendron thickets, especially along the Hickory Nut Falls trail. Along the Rocky Broad River, floodplain trees and wet thickets attract yellow and yellow-throated warblers. Belted kingfishers—chattering their distinctive staccato call—also can be seen swooping and diving along the river. The high cliffs on top of the steep, north-facing wooded slopes have an unusually cool climate considering the low altitude of the Park (1,100-2,800 feet). This makes Chimney Rock Park attractive for several high-elevation species such as the darkeyed junco and the common raven, both of which breed here at a much lower elevation than anywhere else in the state. In addition, birds of prey thrive here. A pair of Peregrine falcons has been present in the Park for several years, and in 1990, they successfully fledged three chicks. Spring and fall migration through Hickory Nut Gorge provide an annual show many visitors return for each year. Mixed flocks of tanagers, warblers and vireos move through the Gorge in the spring on the way to their summer breeding grounds in the north; they return in the fall on their journey south. And the hawk migration every September and October is a spectacle not to be missed. More than 500 broad-winged hawks may be observed soaring together high in the sky on their way south. Smaller numbers of sharp-shinned, Cooper's and red-shouldered hawks also pass through. Read about their Birding Weekend!
3. Blue Ridge Parkway: From the spruce-fir forests at the highest elevations down to the valley bottoms, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides nesting habitat for northern and southern birds alike. Additional dozens of other species pass through the Parkway on their spring and fall migrations. In all, more than 250 bird species have been observed along the Parkway. As with plants and other animals, the mountaintops provided refuge for many birds as the glaciers retreated back north. Typically nesting in boreal forests rather than in the southern US these species can be found in the Parkway's higher elevations where the plants and habitats are more to their liking. About 20 percent of the Parkway's breeding birds, including veery, red-breasted nuthatch, black-throated green warbler, golden-crowned kinglet and Canada warbler, are more typically found up north. Some of these, such as northern saw-whet owls, are disjunct populations and may be totally different species than their northern relatives. The 4,000 acres of agricultural lands on the Parkway provide habitat for other bird species. Bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks can occasionally be found singing on fence posts in the meadows and pastures. Taking advantage of the hunting opportunities that these open areas offer are American kestrels, year-round residents along the Parkway. Streams, lakes and wetlands provide additional habitat. Great blue herons and wood ducks are benefiting from the return of beavers and are often found in beaver ponds, as well as in streams and man-made lakes. The rattle of kingfishers can be heard at many ponds and along larger rivers. During migration sandpipers stop to feed along shorelines while bitterns and great egrets occasionally wade the wetlands. Several rare species of birds nest along the Parkway. Cerulean warblers can be found during the summer in mature woods with open understories. Peregrine falcons, reintroduced to the Southern Appalachians, have recently begun to nest again on the Parkway. Several pairs of the Appalachian yellow-bellied sapsucker and northern saw-whet owls nest in North Carolina. Great bird watching spots near the Parkway include the Cradle of Forestry.
4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: The crest of the Smokies towers nearly a mile above the foothills, creating a range in elevations and a variety of topographies that provide a diversity of habitats and microclimates for birds. From the high, exposed peaks, to the warmer, sheltered lowlands, some 240 species of birds have been found in the park. Sixty species are year-round residents. Nearly 120 species breed in the park, including 52 species from the neo-tropics. Many other species use the park as an important stopover and foraging area during their semiannual migration. Changes in elevation affect the types of vegetation that grow in the mountains and determine where many birds can be found. Some species are found only in distinct habitats at certain elevations, while others may range over several habitats.
5. North Carolina Arboretum: This 434-acre public garden in south Asheville is located within the Bent Creek Experimental Forest of the Pisgah National Forest. Surrounded by the dense folds of the botanically diverse Southern Appalachian Mountains, the Arboretum is nestled in one of the most beautiful natural garden settings in America. A center for education, research, conservation and economic development, and garden demonstration, the Arboretum offers a wide range of activities for visitors of all ages, including great birding.
North Carolina Birding Trail
The North Carolina Birding Trail's guide for Western North Carolina includes 100+ sites west of Interstate 77 approved for the mountain region. The guide is more than just a map and serves to link great bird watching sites and birders with communities, businesses, and other historical educational attractions. The NC Birding Trail is a partnership project to establish a driving trail linking great birding sites across the state.