Venture to Ridge Junction
September 26, 2019
Ridge Junction is a fantastic place in Fall Migration. The birds use the pass as a natural funnel and stream over the ridge in waves. We got up to the junction early enough to watch a beautiful sunrise. The deep reds and purples were worth the trip even if we didn’t see any birds. But of course, we saw birds. The pre-dawn thrushes were calling all around. SWAINSON’S THRUSH, WOOD THRUSH, and HERMIT THRUSH were among the first birds to be heard as the sun rose. A steady stream of warblers flew by all morning. The majority of birds were TENNESSEE WARBLERS and BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS. A pair of MERLIN patrolled the ridge for a few minutes, with one coming rather close. The first call of a ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK rang out. Little did we know what we would be in store for with this species for the day. A few other warblers paused long enough for us to get looks, including BLACK-THROATED BLUE, CHESTNUT-SIDED, and BLACK-THROATED GREEN. It was a great start to the morning.
Acting on a tip we moved down to Balsam Gap before mid-morning. The birds were lower and afforded us better views. A steady stream of ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS flew over. It was ten at first, then twenty, thirty, one hundred. We were at Balsam Gap for an hour and forty-five minutes and we conservatively counted two hundred and fifty ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS. It was a sight to see! BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS were a close second with just over one hundred birds counted. Clifton shouted CROSSBILLS, and we watched two RED CROSSBILLS perch in a Spruce tree long enough for scope views. We would later see five total. A very handsome PHILADELPHIA VIREO was in the mix with quite a few BLUE-HEADED VIREOS. A great bird! All this activity occurred less than one hundred feet from the car.
We decided to head back up to Ridge Junction for lunch and see if things had picked up. A walk up the Mount Mitchell road showed a small flock of warblers including BLACK-AND-WHITE and BLACKBURNIAN. A pair of RAVENS croaked overhead. Lunch was a delicious picnic at the junction, although it was a tad windy and blew the chips off the table. While eating a BROAD-WINGED HAWK flew overhead, showing us the bands on the tail and large strong wings. Lunch was over and we thought that Balsam Gap would be worth visiting one more time. ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS were still flying over when we got there. There is no telling how many actually moved through the region today, but it had to be a huge number. We heard RED CROSSBILLS again and got some more looks at TENNESSEE and BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS. It was a great day with a huge number of birds. This trip is absolutely worth doing in the Fall if you enjoy the spectacle of migration.
Clifton Avery & Kevin Burke