Red crossbill - NPS photo

Red crossbill – NPS photo

Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Dallas. And I’m sure that if you like big, hot, crowded cities the big “D” has lots to offer. But when I met my guest, from Dallas, on the Blue Ridge Parkway last Friday morning, with the temperature in the 60s, she wasn’t missing Dallas much. She told me she had talked to friends the day before and it was 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Gotta love these summer mountain mornings especially when you get up top.

And I really love trips with enthusiastic, knowledgeable guests. Mary Ann owns a landscape company in Dallas, is an avid biker and outdoorswoman and burgeoning birder and wanted to see as much as we could in the short time we had.

We struck out for Black Balsam in the Pisgah National Forest just off the Parkway around mile marker 420, hoping the elevation would help us catch a few birds, but keeping our eyes open along the way. We stopped to get a look at mountain ash (rowan-tree) and found blueberries just turning ripe. We also got looks at rhododendron minus and, of course Turk’s Cap and Carolina lilies.

We pulled onto the shoulder of Black Balsam road and were immediately greeted by a noisy cedar waxwing fledgling begging and being fed by a parent. We also got brief looks at alder flycatchers and could hear several singing.

A short walk out and back along the Art Loeb trail provided a quick glimpse of a Canada Warbler. We heard hermit thrushes in the distance and veerys nearby. We also spent a good deal of time comparing spruce and fir leaves – it was something Mary Ann wanted to get down and I think she mastered it pretty well.

And it wouldn’t be a walk in the woods if we couldn’t play “stump the naturalist.” We found a small plant in a couple of wet areas along the trail that I think was in the genus Platanthera but I’m not a hundred percent sure. We also found Michaux’s saxifrage and some Hypericum sp. And Mary Ann spotted Indian pipe on our way back. And we got great looks at a common yellowthroat.

We took a little side trip into the large spruce stands near the campground/parking lot to try and find golden-crowned kinglets. Our first foray into the stand east of the parking lot produced no kinglets – just a cool, still, dark, quiet portal to that place where your soul connects with nature for a fleeting moment. After our respite we crossed to the stand on the other side of the road and I could hear kinglets when we entered the stand. I played the golden-crowned song on my ibird app and we were immediately covered up with kinglets – must have been a couple of dozen.

At the Devils Courthouse parking lot we were treated to a red crossbill flyover. We found another common yellowthroat and got great views of a red-breasted nuthatch. We briefly saw, and then heard a common raven.

Next we beat it down to a couple of large seepage areas around Wolf Mountain overlook. It was too early for the grass of Parnassus but we found more Hypericum, more saxifrage, dwarf dandelion (Krigia montana) and sun dew. We saw a couple of salamanders, pretty sure one was an ocoee the other could have been also as they are quite variable, but it could have been some other dusky.

Time was running out so we made a quick run to Richland Balsam to try for black-capped chickadee. We heard one but got no looks. We had to head back to where Mary Ann’s friends were waiting for her but we put a few quick stops in to look at Fraser’s magnolia, witch hazel, northern red oak, American chestnut and chestnut oak.

I can only hope Mary Ann had as good a morning as I did. It is always so uplifting to be able to share these beautiful mountains with people who are genuinely interested.