Etowah, TN - The Cherokee National Forest in southeast Tennessee is well
known for many of its outdoor activities from whitewater rafting to
fly-fishing. However, there is a growing segment of outdoors enthusiasts to
the region that are as elusive as their prey- birders. And with over 17
million individuals taking bird watching vacations annually, bird watching
is rapidly becoming one of the most popular outdoor activities in the
Home to 262 bird species such as the black-capped chickadees, ravens,
woodpeckers and the ever-popular warblers the Cherokee National Forest
offers a variety of bird watching opportunities. From backwoods trails to
paved scenic byways, the Tennessee Overhill in southeast Tennessee offers
excellent vantage points to see everything from sandhill cranes, blue
herons and other lowland birds to the most popular of the region, the
colorful warblers that skirt the mountain tops of the high country.
The high-elevation of the Cherohala Skyway offers numerous opportunities
for bird watching. Among the species are a variety of winter wrens,
golden-crowned kinglets and warblers. During late spring and the first
portion of summer, warblers are in their breeding plumage — their boldest,
most vivid colors — and males are actively singing to proclaim their
territory. While some warblers are uncommon or difficult to locate, there
are several species that most anyone can find.
Stratten Gap along the Cherohala Skyway is an excellent place to watch for
the brilliant orange flash of a male Blackburnian Warbler. At Whigg Meadow
and Mud Gap, birdwatchers can relish in the beauty of a scenic grassy
meadow overlooking the mountains from an elevation of 5,000 feet where one
can see several species of warblers in the spring. The prothonotary warbler
is one of only a few warblers that nest in tree cavities and are becoming
harder to locate due to destruction of its wetland habitat. They prefer
flooded river bottoms and wooded swamps and can be seen in the Overhill
region on Hiwassee Island.
For even more birding, go to the Gee Creek Trail section of the John Muir
National Recreation Trail. This trail follows an abandoned forest road to
the wilderness boundary and meanders through wooded areas and grasses.
Shrubs and trees have been planted and as nest boxes have been installed to
attract wildlife for viewing.
Travel Forest Service Road 108 to Hood Mountain Overlook or to Big Bend
Overlook when the forest comes to life during April as many types of
warblers nest to raise their young along with veery, wood
thrush, scarlet tanager, brown thresher and the Louisiana waterthrush. If
you have a quick eye you could spot hummingbirds feeding on cardinal
flower, jewel weed and bee balm. It is also the ideal place for viewing
wading birds, such as blue heron on the shores of the Hiwassee State Scenic
River or maybe even an eagle or an osprey flying high.