First stop was in Asheville at the French Broad River crossing near the Parkway entrance. We got Willow Flycatcher on the side of the river but of course I missed my photo opportunity. There was plenty of Cliff Swallows working the river and I counted about 40-50 nests under the bridge.
We did not waste much time in heading to the Art Loeb Trail at Black Balsam Knob to try for the Mourning Warbler that has been hanging out there. I missed him by a couple days last year so I did not want a repeat. Sherry heard him clearly as soon as we got to the spot and even with my poor hearing I heard his unique song. Unfortunately after watching for a couple hours we were not able to get good looks. Sherry thinks she got a glimpse and I saw a couple birds that could have been the Mourning but my looks were so brief a picture was impossible.
We both tried making some recordings but they sucked.
If you have never been to Black Balsam Knob you have not lived life to it's fullest. It is breathtaking.
We have been hearing of many Red Crossbill sightings and were pleased to find 4 right at the Mourning Warbler stakeout.
Here are some photos from playing with my new digiscoping set up. My scope is still the same old Vortex Nomad but I bought a decent tripod now and a Phone Skope adapter for my iPhone. These pics are from 50 yards out so not bad.
Above photo is a closer view of a female Red Crossbill with my camera.
We folded our hand with the Mourning Warbler when he stopped calling at about 1pm.
Back in the Black Balsam Knob parking area we looked for Alder Flycatcher but it was to late in the day. So we headed to the Pisgah Campground and got ourselves a campsite for the night. The plan was to camp up top to be able to get some early morning birds.
Canada Warbler at the Pisgah campground.
Black-throated Blue Warbler
The campground is great, but it was busy and quite noisy early on. Some idiot even had a generator running. If you need a generator, you are not camping and might as well stay home in my book.
Dinner was at the Pisgah Inn. It was a 45 minute wait so we opted to take our Chicken Pot Pies and bring them to a picnic table instead. The cheap choice ended up being the right choice. Sure the view inside is good, but nothing like the view from outside. I definitely recommend take out from the Pisgah Inn. Native Azalea and Rhododendron was blooming everywhere.
After dinner we headed to Devil's Courthouse and got us some Saw Whets calling but my recording came out horrible. Unfortunately we did not see any this night although I brought a good flashlight.
Sherry brought a super big tent and mattress, it looked like a circus tent. My tent and sleeping pad was dwarfed by it. Good thing I was exhausted, I slept like a log in my inadequate tent. In the wee hours of the morning I woke and on the way to the Loo I saw a strange creature lurking in the poor light. I ran back to the campsite and grabbed my camera and alerted Sherry.
Ok the photo stinks but what do you expect at 5am in the morning. Woodcock!!!
He was bobbing up and down and probing for worms like some kind of dowitcher on sedatives.
Look at that head!! I love a woodcock. The photos make it seem like it was pitch dark, but actually we got great looks in decent light, just not decent enough for photos.
After a yummy egg breakfast at Pisgah Inn, we headed South on the Parkway and stopped a bunch of times on the way to the Mourning Warbler for a second try. One stop on the Parkway was quite birdy.
Then as we were pulling out of John Rock Overlook Sherry slammed on the brakes and yelled Grouse!!!
What a cool bird! We saw at least one chick fly into the brush but were transfixed on this beauty. Obviously that is what the bird intended, distracting us from the chicks.
On the way up to Bald Knob we had this empi.
Least Flycatcher - we scrutinized this for a while but then he eliminated doubt by emitting a nice Chebek. Also note short primary projection and nice eye-ring.
Unfortunately we dipped on the Mourning this time. It was sunny and warm. As was the trend last year, this bird tends to sing when it is overcast.
However, the stop was not in vain...
Alder Flycatcher - this guy was very cooperative in parking area. All photos digiscoped.
Can you hear the song? My recordings have been very disappointing from iPhone.
But the pictures were good. Medium primary projection, no real eye-ring to speak of.
What a looker.
So then we had a decision to make. Up to now we could not find a Black-capped Chickadee and that was the one Sherry still needed for her year list. I convinced Sherry to make the pilgrimage way over to Clingman's in the Great Smokies. Once at the top it did not take long before Sherry heard the Black-capped two note song. Again I made a recording and it is barely audible due to poor recording but the song came through loud and clear in person.
Black-capped Chickadee - we had at least 2 singing.
Here is the tape, not sure if you will be able to hear it.
This photo shows the white secondaries diagnostic for BC Chicka.
Plenty of Chestnut-sided Warblers.
Red-breasted Nuthatch!!! This bird was very vocal.
I was going to bring this sweet squirrel home for Greg as he loves a good critter, but he was obviously gathering nesting material so I let him be.
The view from Clingman's Dome parking. Highest spot on the Appalachian Trail.
Sunday night was spent in Hendersonville at the Best Western.
We stopped at Fletcher Park in the morning and Sherry heard the Willow Flycatcher but we never got any visual so that bird continues to elude me this year.
At Charles Owen Park we dipped on the sought after Warbling Vireo but still had some decent birds.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Wait a minute, can it be??? This bird looked a lot like a Bank Swallow. However, we were not sure. Immature Tree Swallows can have a pretty dark breast band, but this one was very dark.
Rump and back was lighter than upper wing but was that just a artifact of the sun shining? The problem was the bill, had some yellow on it. However can this be possible for a juvenile Bank too?
Look at that dark breast band!
In this photo, the breast band is not as dark, but still pretty good.
What do you think readers?
Update (17Jun2015): several trusted birders have weighed in with Bank. I am taking this one to the bank.
At that point we had a another decision to make, head up Curtis Creek and try for some warblers I was missing or start heading home and maybe hit Civitan Park in Winston-Salem for Warbling Vireo. We chose the former.
At Curtis Creek campground we were able to get a very agitated Louisiana Waterthrush and mate to perch in some of the trees bordering the creek. The light was horrible and he was moving like crazy so the below speed blur is the best I could do. However I think it is diagnostic. The eye line is visible and the only waterthrush around now is Louisiana. Please they were signing and chinking like crazy, so I am counting it.
Louisiana Waterthrush - I always get one or two of them at this idyllic spot.
Swainson's Warblers were signing but Sherry and I had other things on our mind. At Bald Knob trailhead we found my quarry - Blackburnian Warblers!!
Unfortunately the photos did not come out great despite amazing looks at just above eye level. I think I had gunk on the lens.
Finally on the way home we stopped at Civitan quickly and Sherry heard the Warbling but he stopped singing quickly and we never got a visual. It was over 90 degrees and we had other things on our mind as Greg and Harry just found a Wilson's Phalarope on the coast. We did our best to get back on the road quickly but it became evident that we would not make it the Ft Fisher spit in time for the closing of the gates.
All in all, a great trip. Thanks to Sherry and also to Hampton for letting her go birding a week before her big Alaska trip. Sherry found a good majority of the birds we saw so I owe her some birds when she gets back.