Little Yellow Mountain Natural Area
June 6, 2015
Our morning began with a beautiful, hazy drive into the Roan Highlands. As we entered Avery County and began to gain elevation the fog began to burn off and by the time we intersected the North Toe River we were cruising to sunny skies and cool temperatures. Before climbing up the steep road to the Little Yellow Mountain Natural Area we stopped for a restroom break and were greeted with the sweet song of the Hooded Warbler.
The road up to the “Bird Cabin” is a steep gravel road that usually deters the minivan or non-4-wheel drive car. Two of our cars made it up to the cabin, which rests on top of a ridge at 4,500 feet elevation. The view is astounding with Grandfather Mountain and the higher peaks of the Roan Massif dominating the skyline. After taking all of this in we began our walk around the cabin where we saw many Chestnut-sided Warblers and Cedar Waxwings. We had a very obliging Alder Flycatcher fly right up to us with his wonderful “Free Beer” song having us all wish we had one!
One of our primary targets, the Golden-winged Warbler, did not disappoint. A short walk to a patch of blackberries with scattered Hawthorne shrubs suggested an ideal location for the sneaky warbler. Soon after settling in, a male Golden-wing flew up from the creek bed and courageously defended his territory against our playback. The Roan Highlands are an important breeding area for the declining Golden-wings so it was comforting to see one.
A short walk through a mature hardwood forest provided great views of a Canada Warbler, Ovenbird, and White-breasted Nuthatch. The other side of the patch of forest was a ridgeline at nearly 5,000 feet elevation offering splendid views into Tennessee. Field Sparrows, Common Ravens, and a Brown Thrasher added to the scenery.
We made it back down to the cabin about lunchtime and Jay Leutze from the Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy (SAHC) joined us and gave an interesting talk on the history of the Roan and SAHC. Jay is a wonderful guy and great speaker. His heart is deeply entrenched in the Roan Mountain area and we could all feel his passion for conservation of the area as he spoke. Jay’s talk and a delicious picnic lunch were a perfect way to end a beautiful and productive day high in the Southern Appalachians.