Spring in the Great Smoky Mountains Apr 24—May 01, 2005

Posted by Steve Hilty

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Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty is the senior author of A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, and author of Birds of Venezuela, both by Princeton University Press, as well as the popular Birds of ...

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This was the fourth birds and botany trip offered by Victor Emanuel Nature Tours to this area. The itinerary followed previous trips and included Sharp’s Ridge Memorial Park in Knoxville, Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge, and numerous areas inside and around the border of the park itself. We began mostly at low elevations and then, by traveling to higher elevations, gradually experienced a reversal of spring, ending with an early spring plants and birds at the highest elevations. This spring was unusually cold and rainy, although the rain did not appreciably affect our activities; the cool temperatures sent us scurrying for jackets and gloves.

The botanical diversity in the park is daunting—the highest anywhere, for the size of the area, in North America. We searched for flowers and plants at every turn, inside and outside of the park and, despite the cool temperatures, ended the trip with the longest list of plants to date. Birds were generally more difficult to see in the park than in disturbed areas outside the park, and our best viewing, in most cases, was outside of the park. Sharp?s Ridge was particularly nice this year, providing opportunities to see a number of migrant warblers.

I was very pleased by some of our botanical finds, among them Pink Lady-Slipper Orchids, Large Yellow Lady-Slipper Orchids, many Trilliums (the most ever including Vasey?s and Nodding trilliums), carpets of phacelias, Dutchman?s Pipe, Spotted Mandarin, Shrub Yellowroot, and more. I am especially indebted to Pat for help with wildflower identifications.

The Smokies also provide a rare opportunity to stand in the shade of some beautiful old growth forest, where one can view immense yellow birch, buckeye, beech, and maple trees. Once virtually blanketing the eastern half of the continent, such remnants now survive in few places outside of this park and, but for the work and foresight of a few, we and our future generations might never have been able to experience this magnificent sight. May your travels always include many birds and flowers!