A few weeks ago I wrote about birding opportunities at the coast, a popular vacation destination for many folks who live in the Piedmont.
This week I want to talk about another area that offers a different taste of birding – the mountains.
The high-elevation habitats in our mountains have characteristics of Canada, including plant life, mammals and birds. Many species found breeding in the mountains are known to us in the Piedmont as winter residents or migrants.
Those breeding populations have been isolated for so long that in some cases they have developed into sub-species, showing subtle differences from more northern populations.
Recently I spent some time at Mount Mitchell along the Commissary Shelter Trail. As soon as I got out of the car, I was greeted by a family group of golden-crowned kinglets. A pair of dark-eyed juncos was in the same thicket, as was a beautiful male Canada warbler. Not all of the birds were unique to the mountains; a young male common yellowthroat, a statewide species, scolded me too.
Cedar waxwings were abundant. There are a few pairs that might nest in the Piedmont, but they are numerous at the higher elevations.
Black-throated blue warblers, black-throated green warblers, more Canada warblers, blue-headed vireos and winter wrens peeked out of the lush foliage to check me out.
A few pine siskins flew over, as did a lone peregrine falcon. Veeries and hermit thrushes gave their descending flute-like songs from deep in the forests; I never could catch a glimpse.
Species like the golden-crowned kinglet, winter wrens, cedar waxwing, yellow-bellied sapsucker and dark-eyed junco are familiar winter birds to us.
One advantage for these is that they do not have as far to migrate to their wintering grounds. Some of them are altitudinal or vertical migrants, meaning they just move downslope a few thousand feet in the winter, instead of travelling hundreds of latitudinal miles.
They can leave “Canada” and be in North Carolina in a few hours; cutting out many perils associated with long-distance migration.