Posts Tagged With: golden-winged warbler

A Bird House Workday

volunteergroupFor college students during the exam season, late November and early December can be riddled with stress, anxiety and wary nerves. Many students find that breaking from long hours in the library to spend time outside, for a breath of fresh air and a pause from the stress,  can actually boost effectiveness when they do return to their books.

The Environmental Science majors who came out to volunteer with us this month believed in this strategy. In the midst of stressful finals, ten students went up to our Bird House cabin at Grassy Ridge in the Highlands of Roan for a volunteer workday. Lead by Travis Bordley, our new AmeriCorps Roan Highlands Outreach and Volunteer Member, the group worked to improve Golden-winged Warbler habitat.

volunteerwork2Golden-winged Warblers (GWWA) are a neo-tropical, migratory songbirds that overwinter in Central and South America. In the summer months, these birds return to the highest peaks of the Appalachian Mountains; they particularly enjoy our land at Grassy Ridge. GWWA prefer young shrubby habitat or regenerating forest edges. They also move quickly to mature forest after fledging, so the high elevation open areas of this property – surrounded by hundreds of acres of conserved forest – provide perfect habitat. GWWA have suffered an extreme decline in population over the past half a century. They have one of the smallest populations amongst species not on the endangered species list. We strive to preserve habitat for this and other species in our landscape.


volunteer2Our ten generous volunteers  worked with weed eaters and clippers to knock back overgrown black berries bushes that surrounded our Bird House cabin, and then collect and pile the cut branches into three large brush piles. Such brush piles provide optimal areas for GWWA to breed and forage. The work was also effective in distracting the volunteers from stressful circumstances.


“With everything going on in the world lately, I  really enjoyed being able to volunteer with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy,” said Iyana Quinn-Cuffie. “A sense of helplessness is a common feeling I get these days. So, having the ability to go out and have such an immediate impact on something like the Golden-winged Warbler and its habitat gave me a deep joy.”


Jay Leutze, President of our Board of Trustees, couldn’t stay out of the fun when he heard about the workday. Jay was deeply moved and impressed by the effective volunteers, stating, “You hear a lot of cynical talk about the “millennial” generation. You can throw all of that out the window when you see a group of young people giving up their weekend to improve habitat for a species some of them had never heard of before the workday.”


volunteer1Jay spent time around the fire with the group after the work was done, further explaining the importance of conservation, thanking the group for their hard work, and wishing them luck on their impending exams.
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Hampton Creek Cove, A Hidden Gem in Tennessee

Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area

Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area

The 693-acre Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area (HCC SNA) is a breathtaking haven for wildlife with ample opportunity for outdoor recreation. Time spent visiting the pastoral cove, trekking the miles of hiking trails, or fishing cold trout streams will be well spent. Check out these recent updates from the cove!

Golden-winged Warbler Habitat Restoration

Golden-winged Warbler, a neotropical migratory songbird.

Golden-winged Warbler, a neotropical migratory songbird.

Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area is one of only three state natural areas in the Blue Ridge province of Tennessee and is home to one of the largest breeding populations of Golden-winged Warblers (GWWA) in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The Golden-winged Warbler is a species in need of additional conservation management, and is undergoing review by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for potential listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. Because HCC is so important to this warbler, the National Audubon Society designated it an “Important Bird Area” in 2005. The Golden-winged Warbler, along with many other important game and non-game bird species, relies on early successional, scrubby habitats for breeding and nesting. Past efforts to restore early successional habitat in Hampton Creek Cove SNA have focused on shrub management, tree thinning, and native grass restoration.

In 2015, SAHC and our partners at North Carolina Audubon and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation received a generous grant from the Tennessee State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, which enabled us to manage seven acres of early successional habitat in HCC.  The newly managed area is adjacent to a field that was previously restored by mowing and native grass restoration. It also adjoins habitat known to occupied by GWWA. We believe our recent work in this area will provide immediate benefits to the species.

Installation of Hiker Stiles

Multiple publicly-accessible hiking trails cross through the cove.

Multiple publicly-accessible hiking trails cross through the cove.

Several trails traverse Hampton Creek Cove SNA. The Birchfield Trail and the Shell Hollow Trail are popular birding spots, due to the variety of habitats found along their routes.  The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail — the historic route of the Overmountain Men in their march to the Revolutionary War’s 1780 Battle of King’s Mountain — also runs through the cove. Because the trails at Hampton Creek Cove traverse agricultural areas, hikers must pass through a series of farm gates. These gates can be difficult to open and can be left open, allowing livestock to enter areas where they should not be, and potentially injuring themselves or causing damage to sensitive wildlife species.

The hiker stiles in HCC were designed and built by Paul Cremer of Carolina Trailbuilders, from Weaverville, NC.

The hiker stiles in HCC were designed and built by Paul Cremer of Carolina Trailbuilders, from Weaverville, NC.

We installed three hiker stiles on the busiest sections of trail in HCC. The stiles are based on a design that has been used successfully along the Appalachian Trail in Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, VA. This design does not require hikers to climb over fencing (a safety hazard) and is built to ensure that the gate will swing closed even if a hiker forgets to latch it behind him or her. Our work was sponsored by a grant from the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation “connections” grant program which funds greenway or trail projects connecting nearby communities to Tennessee’s beautiful State Parks and Natural Areas. Since 1999, the Tennessee State Park Connections program has awarded over 193 grants statewide totaling over $300,000.

Small Game Hunting


Wild Turkey. Photo courtesy of Witt Langstaff, Jr.

In fall 2015, the State of TN reopened Hampton Creek Cove SNA for hunting on a limited basis. Hunters are allowed to take wild turkey, grouse, rabbits, squirrel and other small game. Deer hunting (archery only) has also been authorized for the site. No dogs, ATVs, or other motorized vehicles are allowed in the natural area and hunting must be conducted in accordance with current State of Tennessee Hunting Seasons and Regulations.

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NPCA/Nature Valley Work Day

Around 33 volunteers offered services for the workday.

‘Thank you’ to the 33 volunteers offered services for the workday!

We hosted another successful volunteer workday in the Highlands of Roan, made possible by a generous grant from the National Parks Conservation Association and Nature Valley. Funding from this partnership has helped us accomplish land stewardship projects over the past several years.

Organized by our AmeriCorps Project Conserve Stewardship Associates and Highlands of Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett, 33 gracious volunteers gathered to get their hands dirty on our National Trails Tract.

Three teams worked on trail re-routing.

Three teams worked on trail re-routing.


After a brief introduction from Executive Director Carl Silverstein and Don Barger of the National Parks Conservation  Association, who manages the corporate relationship with Nature Valley, teams split up to hear safety talks and get to work on several critical projects on the property.

The main objectives of the workday centered around the vision for the tract to be used for hiking and camping enjoyment, and its capability of providing excellent habitat for the threatened Golden-winged Warbler.  One team of volunteers improved a scenic area near the property entrance, removing dilapidated and rotting structures to enhance the beauty of a picnic spot next to rushing Roaring Creek.

Trail improvements will help protect stream and habitat health as well.

Trail improvements will help protect stream and habitat health as well.

Also working to improve visitor accessibility to this gateway property, three teams of volunteers tackled a much-needed trail-rerouting.  The pre-existing trail loop, which leads to a breathtaking waterfall, contained gravel sections that were degraded and steep. The trail was unsustainable and eroding quickly.  With loppers and digging tools, the Nature Valley work crew re-routed a section of trail down a more gentle slope with a more sustainable tread.

Another team helped control some non-native, invasive plant species to enhance the quality of breeding habitat for Golden-winged Warblers. The beautiful sweeping meadows and mosaic of scrub and early successional habitat on the property naturally provide suitable habitat for these threatened neotropical migratory songbirds.

The crew enjoyed lunch in a meadow overlooking a scenic view of the surrounding landscape, including several other tracts that SAHC has helped to protect.  Trustee Jay Leutze highlighted major land protection efforts and successes in the area as everyone enjoyed the beautiful autumn weather.  Later, volunteers enjoyed hiking to the incredible waterfalls on the property to end a successful day.  It is our hope that visitors and Golden-winged Warblers alike benefit from the workday for years to come!

National Trails Tract

The aptly-named National Trails Tract is a gateway to the Roan area and central to an expanding network of conservation lands.  It is highly visible from the Appalachian Trail on Roan Mountain and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (which traces the route of patriot militia through VA, TN, NC & SC).  Because of the property’s connection to such important historic and scenic trails, its notable conservation values — pristine wild trout waters, bird habitat, and adjacency to Pisgah National Forest — it was identified as a high priority for conservation.  SAHC purchased the 113-acre property in 2008 to protect it from development and later transferred 73 acres to the state  of NC, retaining

40 acres for long-term management.

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“For Love of Beer and Mountains” partners care for Grassy Ridge


SAHC and Highland Brewing Company “For Love of Beer and Mountains” volunteers

On a brisk fall morning in October, a boisterous group of SAHC and Highland Brewing Company staff (and guests) met at the corner of Roaring Creek Road and 19 East, eager and excited for the busy “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership work day ahead. The plan included removing invasive species and restoring habitat for Golden-winged Warblers (neo-tropical migratory songbirds that nest in the Highlands of Roan). Good company with cheery spirits, a gorgeous day on Grassy Ridge, and delicious food combined to create the recipe for a great workday!

The high elevation of the Southern Appalachians is extremely important habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler.

Volunteers spread out from the Grassy Ridge cabin to work on habitat restoration. The high elevation Southern Appalachians highlands provide extremely important habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler.

Marquette, our Roan Stewardship Director, gave a brief introduction of the Grassy Ridge area and the importance for Golden-winged Warbler (GWW) management before we began. The high elevation of the Southern Appalachians is extremely important to the GWW, a bird that faces such significant declines in population that it has become a proposed candidate for the endangered species. Western North Carolina has a special and important role to play in protecting the warbler because WNC is part of their migratory path and the southernmost area for breeding.

Creating prime Golden-winged habitat, in the brush.

Part of SAHC’s plan for the Grassy Ridge property includes Best Management Practices for Golden-winged Warbler habitat. Half of our partnership work day group focused efforts on creating and improving habitat by weed-eating blackberry and other thick shrubs. Encouraging the growth of native grasses and wildflowers creates the perfect habitat for the GWW. The other half of the group created ‘early successional’ habitat by stacking brush-piles. This creates the sort of open edge habitat that GWWs need to thrive; other rare animals, like the Appalachian cottontail, also love nesting and foraging in these brush piles.

View from the ridge.

View from the ridge.

It was a chilly day on the mountain, but that didn’t stop us from working hard and having a good time. Later in the day, a group took a hike up to the top of the ridge, where a 360 view of the Highlands of Roan could be seen. Standing just below Grassy Ridge and Round Bald we all took in the view of Yellow Mountain, Little Hump and Hump Mountain and Grandfather Mountain way off in the distance. The ridgeline eyesore, a multi-story block resort building located on Sugar Mountain, could also be seen in the distance. This was my first time witnessing the incredible impact the building has on the scenic viewsheds in the Roan. While its stark silhouette stands out against the curves of the mountains, I was reminded that its presence along the ridge now serves as a reminder of the Mountain Ridge Protection Act of 1983 and the importance of organizations like SAHC and their conservation efforts.


The work day ended with a jovial atmosphere of camaraderie, and wonderful food!

As the afternoon slowly turned into dusk, Kristy and Marquette called for the group to put down their tools and come inside. A wonderful spread of homemade pickles, corn salsa and pepper jelly, cheese, and fruit, awaited us. Kristy’s famous vegan chili was on the stove and we all began warming up and filling our bellies with good food and drink. The workday ended and the night drifted into laughing and storytelling around the campfire before transitioning inside for the night.

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Nature Valley/NPCA/SAHC partner in Highlands of Roan

“All good things are wild and free”  – Henry David Thoreau

Nature Valley/National Parks Conservation Association/Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy work day volunteers on Grassy Ridge.

Nature Valley/National Parks Conservation Association/Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy work day volunteers on Grassy Ridge.

Grassy Ridge - prime bird habitat & beautiful work day setting.

Grassy Ridge – prime bird habitat & beautiful work day setting.

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy began some forty years ago with a mission to protect the Highlands of Roan. We don’t have a lot of places left that make us feel “wild and free” anymore, at least not in the way Thoreau implied. While we have constructed ways and means to feel these ideals, arguably none of them are as effective, or human, as standing atop an undeveloped landscape. The Roan is certainly wild and free, but only because of the hard work and care that so many people have contributed. Unfortunately we aren’t done yet. As long as we still face threats to our wild places, good people will keep working. SAHC is lucky enough to count many of these willing people among our ranks.

Volunteers at work in the Roan Highlands

Volunteers at work in the Roan Highlands

On Saturday October 19th, SAHC hosted a volunteer work day on our Grassy Ridge property within the Highlands of Roan. The day was a culmination of work sponsored through a grant from National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), who has partnered with Nature Valley to fund projects that benefit National Parks around America. Nature Valley also partnered with National Geographic travel journalist Andrew Evans to help document the importance of our project.

Grassy Ridge tract in the Roan Highlands

Grassy Ridge tract in the Highlands of Roan.

Grassy Ridge is an essential piece of the conservation landscape puzzle. It connects National Forest land crossed by the Appalachian Trail with the North Carolina Yellow Mountain State Natural Area.  It is both a home to threatened plant and animal species and an access point to places that offer incredible vistas of the Roan landscape. SAHC designed the volunteer day to address these features through two different projects.

SAHC Farmland Stewardship & Sustainability Director Allison Kiehl in habitat restoration area.

SAHC Farmland Stewardship & Sustainability Director Allison Kiehl in habitat restoration area.

In the morning, volunteers worked in a Golden-winged Warbler habitat restoration area. The Golden-winged Warbler has experienced one of the steepest population declines of any songbird over the last 45 years, and is now part of an effort to restore and maintain breeding habitat across its range. SAHC has teamed up with state, federal, and other not-for-profit partners to help protect the Golden-winged on both public and private lands. Grassy Ridge is home to several breeding pairs, but through projects like this, we hope to create additional habitat for the imperiled bird.

Habitat restoration work.

Don Barger of NPCA helping with habitat restoration work.

Habitat restoration volunteers.

Trail improvements.

After our volunteer group finished lunch, the crew of representatives from NPCA, Nature Valley, and National Geographic Traveler met us to help on the second project — improving what will soon become a public trail in the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area.  Volunteers used loppers, saws, and swing blades to clear brush from what was previously an existing abandoned 4-wheeler trail. Because of everyone’s hard work, the thorny thicket of blackberries and hawthorns quickly became an open, inviting trail. This trail will eventually allow the public to stand on Little Yellow Mountain and look onto Mount Mitchell, Roan Mountain, and Grandfather Mountain — some of the most distinctive peaks in the Southern Appalachians.


Volunteers take a lunch break on the scenic tract.

Without support from partners like the NPCA, Nature Valley, and National Geographic, SAHC would not be able to accomplish our conservation goals. Without dedicated volunteers — people that care enough about wild places to work through cold hands on a Saturday — our organization simply could not function.

A tremendous thank you to all of the volunteers! Also, many thanks to our partners from the National Parks Conservation Association, Nature Valley, and National Geographic for joining us. You made this a banner day for SAHC.

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