Cherokee students and teachers have undertaken the first part of a long-term monitoring project of birds at the Cowee Mound in Macon County.
A group with the Robbinsville-based Cherokee language camp in July participated in a breeding-bird sample survey at the tribally owned mound. Shirley Oswalt led the effort.
The event proved an opportunity for the students to familiarize themselves with native bird species, the traditional Cherokee names for these birds, and with the historic property itself.
Staff from Southern Appalachian Raptor Research, a local nonprofit group dedicated to the conservation and protection of birds of prey in the southern Appalachians through monitoring, education and field research, organized the survey. Mike LaVoie of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Fisheries and Wildlife Management program participated in the event, as did staff from the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, which has been collaborating with the tribe on the management of the property.
The survey is part of a nationwide program known Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship that is coordinated by the Institute for Bird Populations to monitor the health of breeding birds throughout North America. Last year, the Raptor Research group established a monitoring station in southern Macon County, and is continuing that work this summer.
“We chose the Cowee Mound site due to its diverse mix of early successional habitat along the floodplain,” LaVoie said. “Such habitat has been disappearing throughout the Southeastern U.S., yet is critical for the survival of many of our native wildlife species.”
Cowee is considered one of the most significant archaeological sites of the Mississippian period in North Carolina, when intensive agriculture first became established in the region. Pollen sampling has verified the presence of agriculture on these bottomlands dating back at least 3,000 years. The mound is thought to date from approximately 600 A.D. The council house of the Cherokee town of Cowee was located on this mound in the 18th century, at which time the town of Cowee served as the principal diplomatic and commercial center of the mountain Cherokee. For this reason, Cowee was also the center of significant historic events on the eve of the American Revolution in the South, including the target of the Rutherford Expedition in September 1776.
The 70-acre tribal property along the Little Tennessee River encompasses Cowee Mound and Village Site, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The Eastern Band purchased the property in early 2007 with assistance from the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee and the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund. The latter holds a conservation easement on the property that permanently protects its conservation values and prevents commercial and residential development.