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salamanders

Blue Ridge

“Birds in the Mist (Net)”

“Thank God I have seen an orange sky with purple clouds. How easy it is to forget that we have the privilege of living in God’s art gallery.”—Erica Goros

We crawled out of our tents before the sun had risen and the owls were still hooting. Why did we get up so early? To see a beautiful sunrise along the Blue Ridge Parkway and to get an early start on our birding adventure.

Sunrise view from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mount Mitchell

Sunrise view from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mount Mitchell

After a beautiful sunrise (that we had to be dragged away from), we made our way to an elevation of 5,100 ft on the Big Butt trailhead to start banding birds. Ornithologist John Gerwin taught us about his research on the Hermit Thrush and then we pulled out the nets to actually catch and band some. We used recorded bird calls and a wooden decoy to draw in a male bird, and it was only a matter of minutes before we had one caught in our spiderweb-like net. Once we had him in hand we confirmed his sex, took his weight, aged him by looking at his tail feathers, and added two different types of bands to his legs. After a morning of calling and netting birds we had tallied a Hermit Thrush, Dark-eyed Junco, and Golden-crowned Kinglet.

Sarah with a Golden-crowned Kinglet that we caught in the mist net.

Sarah with a Chestnut-sided Warbler that we caught in the mist net.

Although bird banding was amazing, the draw of going to the summit of the highest mountain east of the Black Hills of South Dakota led us to our next destination, Mount Mitchell. Once we arrived at the summit, we learned about the history of Mount Mitchell and the establishment of North Carolina State Parks. We were joined by Amy Tomcho, local birder and Audubon representative.  We then took a hike along the summit nature trail where we learned about salamanders, owls, and the spruce-fir forest.

The group at Mount Mitchell

The group at Mount Mitchell.

One of many salamanders we caught!

One of many salamanders we caught — a pygmy salamander!

We ended our day with nature journaling, hunting for salamanders, exploring the South Toe River, and an amazing group dinner at the campground.