On June 1, 19 birders headed to the Great Smokies, including the Cataloochee elk preserve and the Heintooga Ridge Road. Maggie Valley’s Creekside Lodge was our base of operations. Phil and Mary Dickinson got an early jump on Friday, finding a Bald Eagle and an Osprey at Lake Junaluska. In the evening, diners at the Moonshine Grill discovered grilled trout and famous moonshiner “Popcorn Sutton” (not the real one).
Early Saturday morning, the group was off to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Heintooga Ridge Road. At the first pullout on the Parkway, a beautiful male Rose-breasted Grosbeak had burst into song. At the second pullout, there were more birds, but the real surprise occurred when a bull elk walked down the road. Wary photographers took a lot of pictures. The birding really got exciting at the Balsam Campground and picnic area eight miles down Heintooga. Many people saw their first Blackburnian Warbler, plus Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-throated Green Warblers and Cedar Waxwings. A caravan slowly proceeded down the road to Oconoluftee stopping periodically to watch more warblers, tanagers, a Ruffed Grouse and a Black Bear. That evening, Don Lendle, Nita and Bruce Colvin, Howard Coston and others shared their new “life” birds. After dinner, the more diehard birders drove up to Waterock Knob. It was a beautiful sunset, but there was no Northern Saw-whet Owl.
Sunday morning, our destination was the Cataloochee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Elk were introduced there about 15 years ago. We did see more elk, plus Wild Turkeys, several Northern Parulas, Acadian Flycatchers and other birds. People also checked buildings from a circa 1900 community. On the way home to Forsyth County, some travelers stopped at several parkway overlooks in an unsuccessful search for Red Crossbills, but additonal species did bring the weekend total to 81.
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