This past Saturday, May 7, was (I believe) the 12th-annual “Birding for the Arts” fundraiser for the Haywood County Arts Council. I can’t remember exactly how many Saturdays we’ve done it, but I do know it’s become one of my favorite Saturdays.
Joe Sam and Kate Queen are always the most gracious and enthusiastic hosts, and there is always a mix of first-timers and returnees. And I had a more visceral connection to the Arts Council and some of their wonderful community work this year because Director Kay Miller assisted Central Elementary’s PTO in securing grants to bring two cool educational performing arts programs to Central this year.
We began, as always, at the Performing Arts Center on Pigeon Street, but this time we had a little competition for space. The place was bustling, as vendors for Haywood’s Farmers Market were busy setting up and displaying their wares. Native plants, artisan breads and handmade arts and crafts were impossible to ignore as we did a quick turn around the parking area looking for birds.
We started out at the Performing Arts Center with a Mimidae trifecta. All three of our eastern mimics – northern mocking bird, gray catbird and brown thrasher – were present and loosening up their vocal chords.
Our next stop was Lake Junaluska. We began our tour of the lake at the newly enhanced wetlands behind the cafeteria. A spotted sandpiper was there enjoying the banks of Suzy’s Branch where it has been released from an underground culvert and allowed to meander across the wetlands. Two green herons were at home, on their nests, along the narrow, brushy island between the wetlands and the lake. Yellow-rumped warblers, who winter with us but are now preparing to depart for their northern nesting grounds, were common in the larger trees around the wetlands. Also present, singing loudly and persistently but somehow managing to stay hidden in the foliage, was a blackpoll warbler. We did, however, get great views of a yellow warbler at the edge of the wetlands.
After the wetlands we made a quick stop at the large parking lot on the lake near Stuart Auditorium. There we got good (comparative) looks at tree swallows, northern rough-winged swallows, barn swallows and purple martins.
We proceeded to the cross where, after minutes and minutes of searching, a loudly singing Cape May warbler finally popped out of the deep cover of a spruce and provided great looks. We were teased again by singing blackpolls in the large oaks near the cross and a couple of people got quick glances, but we never got good looks. We also found a couple of lingering waterfowl – a ruddy duck and a female lesser scaup – to go with the dwindling population of American coots.
We headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway from the lake, which turned out, to our chagrin, to be quite windy. Despite the wind, we got great looks at chestnut-sided warblers, indigo buntings and rose-breasted grosbeaks.
It was also a great day for raptors and other soaring birds. A sharp-shinned hawk, carrying breakfast in its talons, buzzed us at one overlook and we got great looks at a red-tailed hawk that stooped at 100 mph from a gazillion feet up into the woods across the parkway from us to chase an apparent interloper out of its territory. We also saw ravens, turkey vultures and broad-winged hawks riding the bumpy thermals.
And what better way to end an all-day birding quest than standing at the edge of a wetlands in Bethel, out of the wind, and watching three Baltimore orioles within 50 feet of each other. We wound up with 74 species seen or heard for the day.
Whether you’re an arts aficionado looking for a cool and fun way to support the Haywood County Arts Council, a beginning birder looking for tips, an experienced birder willing to share tips and promote your hobby, or a community member who enjoys the outdoors and enjoys communing with like-minded souls, “Birding for the Arts” is an event you should attend. See ya next year!