April IBA of the Month: Bull Creek
How can I help Audubon's work at Bull Creek? Give a bird one more day, help protect an IBA by supporting Audubon North Carolina.
Drink shadegrown coffee and help protect tropical migratory bird habitats from deforestation.
If the unforgettable Cerulean Warbler is on your must-see list of birds, then a visit to the Bull Creek Important Bird Area should be on your list for a visit this spring.
Home to one of North Carolina's most significant populations of Ceruleans, Bull Creek is a 5-mile section of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville that runs from Lane Pinnacle Overlook (milepost 372.1) to Craven Gap (milepost 377.3). The elevation within this 5,000-acre area varies from about 3,100 feet along the parkway to about 3,806 feet on the upper slopes of Swan Mountain and Bull Mountain. Public access to the area is available along the parkway where you can stop at any of several overlooks. Private lands are also included in this IBA. This section of the parkway is forested in mixed hardwoods dominated by tulip poplar, various species of oak and hickory, and locust. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most popular national parks in the United States with more than 3 million visitors annually.
The NC Birding Trail describes this portion of the Parkway as one of the best mid‐elevation places to bird near Asheville. "During the breeding season, birders can easily find many species of songbirds along this corridor," says the trail website. "As spring progresses, though, traffic and noise picks up, so arrive early in the day for a pleasant birding experience."
Cerulean Warblers have been documented at Bull Creek for at least 20 years. The first record of ceruleans at this site was published in The Chat in 1983 (vol. 48, p. 101). The population appears to be stable or increasing. Numerous other neotropical species breed here as well, including many priority neotropical species, and the site is especially good for Blackburnian Warbler.
A wood-warbler, the Cerulean Warbler is striking in full breeding plumage, with its deep blue coloring. (Check out Meryl Streep's famous description of the evolution of the cerulean color in the fashion industry in The Devil Wears Prada.) Cerulean Warbler breeds from southeastern Minnesota, southern Ontario, and western New England south to Texas, Louisiana, and northern Gulf Coast states and winters on the eastern slope of the Andes where it inhabits remnants of native forest and shade-grown coffee plantations. This species has a discontinuous range, occurring here and there in rather loose colonies. It forages and nests higher in the canopy than many other warbler species and is difficult to see in the thick foliage. This Audubon WatchList species has declined by 3.2% every year since nationwide Breeding Bird Surveys began in 1966. The Cerulean is one of the species of highest conservation concern because of its small total population size and significant declines. This species has been considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
The Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society (EMAS), based in Asheville, has adopted the Bull Creek IBA and chapter member Charlotte Goedsche began monitoring Cerulean Warblers at Bull Creek in 2000. In 2005, she began recording male Cerulean's songs in order to distinguish between individuals and map each male's territory. Her work has shown that the Bull Creek population appears to be stable or increasing at 18-20 pairs.
EMAS has also expanded its commitment to Ceruleans to the species' wintering range. Research in South America shows that 60-90% of the habitat on the species' wintering grounds has been destroyed. In its 2010 Birdathon, EMAS raised $3,744 that was used to purchase approximately 37 acres at the Cerulean Warbler Reserve/Corridor in Colombia, South America. ProAves Colombia owns and operates this reserve at the core of the Cerulean's wintering range. The chapter plans to devote future Birdathon funds to Cerulean Warbler conservation on the wintering grounds. To learn more about the Birdathon, visit http://emasnc.org.
Audubon North Carolina also established point count locations within the IBA in 2006. This area is included in a portion of a Breeding Bird Survey route and the Buncombe County Christmas Bird Count circle.
Loss of important habitats to logging and residential or commercial development is a primary threat to the Bull Creek IBA. Surveys for Cerulean Warblers should be continued and expanded away from the Blue Ridge Parkway to better determine the extent of habitat occupied by this population.
Visit our blog to learn more about the Cerulean Warblers at the Bull Creek IBA.
To see a Cerulean in action, check out this great video.
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