Stop…look….and listen to nature’s call

Published 3:09 pm Tuesday, April 11, 2023

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The North Carolina Birding Trail is a partnership project designed to establish a driving trail linking great birding sites across the state.

Because of the high number of great bird watching locations in the eastern region, many of those sites are right here in eastern North Carolina from Bertie County to Gates County and many of the surrounding regions.

There are a lot of bird watchers across the local region as well as statewide and nationally. And the proverbial icing on the cake is that bird watchers will travel to find species they have not previously observed within their wild habitat. That means tourism dollars locally where bird trails exist.

Six agencies worked together to organize the NC Birding Trail: the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, NC State Parks, Audubon NC, US Fish and Wildlife Service, NC Sea Grant, and the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

It has been implemented in three regional components: the coastal plain, piedmont and mountains.

If you are interested in sites here in our little corner of the world, then lace up your hiking boots, grab your binoculars and visit one or more of the following locations:

Merchants Millpond State Park, Gatesville – More than 200 species of birds have been recorded in the 760-acre park. Watch and listen for a variety of warblers, including Northern Parula, Prothonotary and Yellow-throated Warbler. Visitors may catch a glimpse of a Hooded Merganser, Wood Duck, Bald Eagle, Pileated Woodpecker, Barred Owl, or a Redshouldered Hawk on their visit.

Trek on any of the nine miles of trails that pass through the park. The best way to explore Merchants Millpond, however, is by canoeing across the park’s shallow waters. Marked canoe trails lead from the boat ramp to canoe campsites. Venture out of the millpond and take slow-moving, dark-water Bennetts Creek through Lassiter Swamp, among mistletoe, hanging Spanish moss and ancient cypress trees.

Historic Hope Plantation, Windsor offers about 18 acres of partially open areas around the buildings and 28 wooded acres with access via two short trails. This casual birding stop offers open birding views around the front area and gardens of the site and a chance to stretch your legs on short trails into the woodlands, plus excellent information for those interested in the historical heritage of the Roanoke-Chowan regions, especially from 1760-1840. Both resident and migrating songbirds typical of eastern North Carolina mixed hardwood/pine woodlands are possible, such as Great Crested Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Warbler, Northern Parula, and Summer Tanager.

Roanoke River Paddle Trail – Cashie River, Broad Creek in Bertie County is a 22-mile section of the Cashie River thart flows through extensive and pristine bottomland hardwood forest, most of which is bordered by NC Wildlife Resources Commission Game Lands. The first four miles of the river, in and near Windsor, are narrow and small; the river widens after that. Paddlers may wish to turn around once the river begins to widen in order to make this an out-and-back paddle.

The Cashie River, much like the main stem Roanoke, hosts a variety of breeding wood warblers, including Cerulean, Swainson’s, Prothonotary, Worm-eating, Kentucky and Hooded Warblers. Other species found here include Wood Duck, Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites, Anhinga, Bald Eagle, and Barred Owl. There are two overnight camping platforms on the Cashie River: Lost Boat and Otter 1. Consult with Roanoke River Partners to determine appropriate routes and access points, depending on time constraints and river conditions.

Sylvan Heights Bird Park near Scotland Neck is an 18-acre facility that features large, walk- through aviaries displaying birds from South America, North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Tranquil gardens and lush natural areas enhance the beauty of the birds on exhibit. The park is set in natural oak woodland with a wheelchair accessible tree house, walking trails, bridges and two overlooks showing an adjacent hardwood wetland. View the park website for more information.

Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail, Roanoke Rapids – offers public access to the upper Roanoke River, an area otherwise accessible only by boat. The canal trail is an excellent place to see birds associated with mature bottomland forest and riverine aquatic habitats. The convenient parking and well-maintained path make for easy walking and viewing of birds. There is a small population of Cerulean Warbler along the river from the Chockyotte Creek aqueduct downstream to the US 158 bridge. Bald Eagle often can be seen along the stretch from NC 48 to below Weldon. Mississippi Kite may be seen collecting insects overhead. Breeding Swainson’s Warblers are tightly packed into the canebrakes and shrubby understory along the river, especially between the aqueduct and US 158 bridge. Migrating songbirds such as Black-throated Blue and Blackpoll Warbler are common in the spring, and mature forest songbirds like Acadian Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Hooded Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, American Redstart, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Louisiana Waterthrush nest along the trail.

Roanoke River Paddle Trail – Weldon to US 258 Bridge. This 30 mile section of the upper Roanoke River flows through the most extensive bottomland hardwood forests east of the Mississippi. During migration and the breeding season, this area supports a huge diversity of songbirds. Limited development along the river creates a pristine, remote experience, with opportunities to hear specialty species such as Cerulean Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler. Also be on the lookout for Mississippi Kite and Bald Eagle overhead. The Tillery Camping Platform is located halfway down this section of river, 15 miles downstream of the Weldon put-in.

Consult with Roanoke River Partners to determine appropriate routes and access points, depending on time constraints and river conditions.

These locations represent one-day outings for local bird watchers. Visit ncbirdingtrail,org for a complete listing of sites all across our great state.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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