Birding Around Blue Ridge: Summertime
Summer birding advice from guest blogger Tom Striker.
In the summer months set your alarm for an early hour, because birding is more productive and more comfortable in the early morning. The first round of nesting is over by early June, and young birds can be seen following their parents, begging for one last feeding. They often carry a few leftover bits of down, and short wing- and tail-feathers broadcast their youth.
The flute-like songs of Wood Thrushes still echo from the woods, mainly in morning and evening hours. Eastern Screech Owls, Whippoorwills and Chuck Wills Widows add mystery to a late evening as you sip a glass of wine out on the deck. Chimney Swifts and five kinds of swallows scour the air for insects, yielding the sky to bats as the dusk deepens.
Birding Around Lake Blue Ridge
Summer birding slows down around Lake Blue Ridge, although Chimney Swifts, Barn and Rough-winged Swallows remain on duty. Early mornings and evening offer glimpses of Mallards and Canada Geese starting the day or coming in to roost. Older birders will recall when a flock of Canada Geese brought thoughts of Arctic tundra and long migrations; these same birds, while beautiful in the air, are year-rounders now and are remembered for the messy deposits left on lakeside lawns, docks and golf courses. Watch where you step! Cover photo credit of Great Blue Heron goes to Brian Lupa.
Birding on The Toccoa River
Majestic Bald Eagles and fish-eating Osprey nest on Lake Blue Ridge and along the Toccoa River between the Lake Blue Ridge Dam and McCaysville. They are most frequently seen before thGre lake gets busy, although a flyover at the Marina is an occasional treat. Fishermen and kayakers are most likely to see these big raptors as they float or wade the river.
A quiet float down the Toccoa is often shared with a Great Blue Heron who lifts off to fly ahead of your boat, only to land and lift off again as you approach. Green Herons are likely as well. Wood Ducks may be seen, herding flocks of downy chicks to cover along the alder-lined banks of the river. Watch for Pileated Woodpeckers and the occasional Yellow-billed Cuckoo above the river as you pass.
Birding at Fannin County Park
This 107-acre county park is the place to bird in summer. At first glance, the park seems full of soccer and baseball fields, picnic tables and a fitness trail, because it is a major center for recreation for the area. It’s also full of birds because of the tremendous habitat diversity, especially around the edges and along Sugar Creek, and offers good to excellent birding in all seasons. Over 130 species of birds have been seen there since it opened in 2005, and it continues to be the birding hotspot for visitors to Blue Ridge.
The list for a recent June bird walk delivers a hint of the diversity of birds at Fannin County Park. Eastern Kingbirds on the roadside wires on the way in and a male Blue Grosbeak on a treetop next to the parking started the morning. Four tiny chicks followed a Killdeer in the soccer field. Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping Sparrow and Northern Mockingbird were added as we walked the path above the soccer field. A single Green Heron flew over, stayed in view for a long time, and landed precariously on the top of a huge Leland Cypress. A small flock of year-old Orchard Orioles played in a willow at the end of the park. A pair of Downy Woodpeckers pecked and called from a Sycamore tree near Sugar Creek. The “best” bird of the day was the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, calling its “chowp-chowp-chowp” call from overhead. It finally flew, giving the lucky birders a clear view of the large white spots on the underside of the tail.
Getting Around Fannin County Park
Fannin County Park is located on Highway 5, about 3 miles north of the McDonald’s corner at Highway 515 (the four-lane). Turn right on Tom Boyd Road, and the birding starts right away. Watch for Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Bluebird and Blue Grosbeak on the roadside wires and fences, and listen for Eastern Towhee, White-eyed Vireo and Common Yellowthroat. Yellow-breasted Chat has been seen occasionally.
In about a mile, turn right at the “T” intersection on Park Drive and proceed slowly, checking the overhead wires for Eastern Meadowlark. Turn right again on the road to the Rec Center and park near the bridge. Pileated Woodpecker, Hooded Warbler, Wood Thrush, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Scarlet Tanager can often be found near the bridge. Listen for Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Northern Parula. The spotted touch-me-nots near the creek are attractive to Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.
Return to Park Drive and check out the pond near the park manager’s home (to the right). Spotted Sandpipers are possible and there is a new Wood Duck house on the pond. The trees near the manager’s house often hold Chipping Sparrow, House Finch and Blue Grosbeak.