Birding in the Citay!

Urban parks and open spaces provide convenient bird watching opportunities.

Urban parks provide convenient bird watching opportunities.

Some of the best year-round birding in the area can be found just two miles north of the heart of downtown Asheville. The Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society’s Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary is located on Merrimon Avenue at the southern end of Beaver Lake. A lot of different habitat packed into a little over eight acres offers the chance for a lot of diversity within a small area.

There are conifers and hardwoods, a small pond with marshy edges, wetlands, weedy fields and open water on Beaver Lake. Common nesting species include Gray catbird, eastern towhee, northern cardinal, ruby-throated hummingbird, yellow warbler, yellow-throated warbler, black-and-white warbler, American redstart, red-bellied woodpecker, red-eyed vireo, tree swallow, red-winged blackbird, green heron and many more. Some not-so-common nesters that have been documented on a regular basis include warbling vireo, Baltimore oriole, orchard oriole and brown-headed nuthatch.

And of course there’s migration when almost anything is possible. A dozen-warbler morning is not uncommon during migration when you can toss the possibility of chestnut-sided, magnolia, northern parula, palm, blackpoll, northern waterthrush, Canada, hooded, common yellowthroat and many more including golden-winged and blue-winged into the mix alongside the nesting warblers. Scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings and rose-breasted grosbeaks often add their music and color during migration. Fall migration can be just as wild with fallouts that will leave you dizzy. And storm driven waterfowl and/or shorebirds can bring surprises to Beaver Lake during spring or fall migration and throughout the winter. Some recent surprises include red-necked grebe, white ibis, American avocet, lesser and greater yellowlegs, pectoral sandpipers and Caspian tern.

This urban birding oasis was destined to simply be an extension of more strip malls along Merrimon Ave. until Elisha Mitchell Audubon raised enough awareness and money to purchase part of the site in 1988. The group owns about half the site and manages the rest through an agreement with the Lake View Park homeowner’s association. Now there are trails and 3/8 of a mile of boardwalk plus the trail alongside Beaver Lake for birders, “butterfliers” and other outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy. There is parking at the entrance to the sanctuary, which is open dawn to dusk. Be sure you pay attention, because the gates open and close automatically. There is a little bit of additional parking available at the Beaver Lake dam on the corner of Merrimon Ave. and Glen Falls Rd.

Add an hour to your commute to work – nothing makes that cubicle more bearable than remembering the gorgeous American redstart you just left foraging for insects at the edge of the pond. And it’s a great place for a “green” birding expedition – just hop on your bike and hit the road.

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