This day trip features some of the best birding that the Blue Ridge Parkway has to offer. There will be minimal hiking – most of the birding will take place from overlooks, roadsides, and picnic areas. Higher elevations will be cooler if not cold and it could be very windy.
The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia into North Carolina, skirting the southern end of the Black Mountains, weaving through the Craggies, the Pisgahs, the Balsams, and ending in the Great Smokies. We visit various locations heading North from Asheville on the Parkway. We will study the natural history of the area at different elevations from the foothills to the top of Mt. Mitchell (at 6,684 feet, the tallest peak in the eastern United States). At the higher elevations the mountains are cloaked with spruce-fir and northern hardwood forests mixed with heath balds of Catawba rhododendron and mountain laurel.
Typical breeding birds of the higher elevations include Common Raven, Brown Creeper, Dark-eyed Junco, Winter Wren, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Northern Saw-whet Owl. Hermit Thrush and Red Crossbill can be found as well. The Appalachian race of the hardy Northern Flying Squirrel, closely related to the more familiar Southern Flying Squirrel of lower elevation broad-leaved woodlands, also occurs at this elevation.