American Kestrel USF&W photo

I had the pleasure of leading 9 women from the Great Smoky Mountains Audubon Chapter on an outing along the Blue Ridge Parkway last Saturday (Sept. 22.) Initially hyped as a birding trip, the early fog and high wind had us focusing on many other aspects of nature. Now this isn’t to say birds weren’t there, just conditions were difficult for getting good looks.

We had a couple of large mixed flocks of migrants at our first stop – the Waynesville Overlook. Rose-breasted grosbeaks in about any plumage you could imagine were abundant and we got good looks at a few of these. Tennessee warblers were, as usual, the most common migrants and it was hard searching through them for different species. But at that first stop we also had blue-headed vireos, chestnut-sided warblers, magnolia warblers, scarlet tanagers, Swainson’s thrushes and wood thrushes. But the fog was pretty thick and the birds were quite active and getting really good looks was difficult.

We headed a little ways up the Parkway and found some sunshine but the wind was picking up. We did get good looks at a pair of Cooper’s hawks here. And it was here that I discovered these ladies were keen on all Mom Nature had to offer. There was a pipevine swallowtail caterpillar moseying across an asphalt path at the edge of the overlook. After a short photo-op, I immediately disseminated false information. Someone asked what that caterpillar was doing so late in the year, and I said it would find a place to overwinter – then pupate in the spring. Wrong! While many butterflies do overwinter as caterpillars, pipevines are not one. They will actually overwinter in the chrysalis – sorry ladies. But with the wind building and the fog moving in and out it was nice to know that we were free to talk about whatever we stumbled upon – and I really enjoy that type of outing.

We stopped next at the Roy Taylor overlook. Here we got looks at dark-eyed juncos; some got a brief glimpse of a black-throated blue warbler and while we could clearly hear golden-crowned kinglets none presented themselves for viewing.

We had a great stop at the large cliff seepage area at Wolf Mountain Overlook. Here we focused on wildflowers and found grass-of-Parnassus, turtlehead, soapwort, saxifrage, hawksbill, ladies’ tresses and sundew. We also encountered a garter snake here that we assisted across the busy Parkway.

We lost the fog but the wind was still with us as we headed to Mills River Overlook and the Mount Pisgah hawk watch. It was around noon and people with other commitments began peeling off. Mary Gollwitzer of Maggie Valley and I hung with the Pisgah hawk watchers till about 2:30 p.m. We had already seen about 10 broad-wings as we traveled the Parkway and we probably added five or six more at Mills River Overlook. And while it wasn’t a big migration day for broad wings we did get good looks at an American kestrel and Peregrine falcon.

And – a “trying to remember” butterfly list would include pipevine swallowtail (several,) painted lady (several,) buckeye (several) and a few sulphurs plus a few migrating monarchs.