Archived Outdoors

Peregrines once again at Devil’s Courthouse

out natcornA couple of Saturday’s ago Bob Olthoff and I made a quick trip up the Blue Ridge Parkway. We were going up to Black Balsam to look for yellow-rumped warblers. Yellow-rumps are regular visitors to Western North Carolina during the winter but generally pack their bags and head back to New England and/or Canada for nesting season. Occasionally nesting yellow-rumps can be found at higher elevations in the mountains of North Carolina.

I have picked them up now and then on Roan Mountain while doing my annual Forest Service bird point survey. This year, for the first time, I encountered a single yellow-rump along the Art Loeb Trail at Black Balsam.

I did some Internet sleuthing and discovered other records for Black Balsam and for Mount Mitchell, so I decided to go up and nose around to see if I could turn up any more and Bob, being the bird-friend he is, agreed to go along for moral support. After nearly two hours of searching along the Black Balsam road from the Art Loeb trailhead to the parking lot at Ivestor Gap, with no luck, we gave up.

Earlier on the ride up, when we passed the Devil’s Courthouse parking lot, we talked about the fact that peregrine falcons had nested there this spring for the first time in three or four years. I had recently talked with Chris Kelly of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and she acknowledged that a pair of peregrines had successfully hatched two chicks at Devils Courthouse this year. So Bob and I decided to make a stop at the parking lot on our way down.

As luck would have it, when we got to the parking lot we found Marilyn Westphal, Marcus Simpson and a friend (whose name, regrettably, I missed) and they were intently focused on the Devil’s Courthouse cliff. They even had a spotting scope set up and trained on one of the fledgling peregrines standing at the eyrie.

The peregrines at Devil’s Courthouse are a direct result of the hard work done through a partnership between the Peregrine Fund and North Carolina Wildlife Resources. Peregrines were hacked at different sites throughout the mountains of North Carolina for more than a decade beginning around 1984. 

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One of the first successful nesting attempts at Devil’s Courthouse, after the hacking program was initiated, occurred in 2000 and the male falcon was a bird that had been hacked at Pickens Nose in Macon County, near Standing Indian, around 1987. Peregrines had a pretty successful run at Devils courthouse, producing fledglings eight of the next 11 years.

But then there was a dry spell of three or four years until this spring. The birds are likely no longer at the eyrie but they could hang around the area till this fall. You can view the eyrie with binoculars, but to get a good luck a spotting scope is required. To locate the eyrie set up about 20 yards to the right (facing the summit) of the interpretive sign in the Devils Courthouse parking lot. Look to the right below the summit overlook; there will be a vertical rust-colored streak; just above and to the left of the streak is the ledge where the nest is. Look for whitewash (guano) on the ledge to determine exactly where the nest is/was.

And for a bonus, if you go around dusk and linger into the night you just might get serenaded by a northern saw-whet owl. It seems Marilyn, Marcus and friend were there to survey one of their active northern saw-whet nest boxes. Marcus told us that they had been monitoring the nest boxes for a number of years with very little success but this year they had five active boxes.

I guess you can’t harp about dipping on yellow-rumps if you get to see a peregrine falcon and learn of northern saw-whet nesting success in the mountains.

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