By ROBERT JUMPER
One Feather Staff
One of the great simple pleasures I get to enjoy on the Qualla Boundary is wildlife watching. Many people must travel to see the natural beauty of the untouched outdoors. Much of the U.S. is not mountainous. Even North Carolina is mostly “flat”. The rolling, older Appalachian range is much different as compared to the Rocky Mountains of the West. We who live here need not walk further than our back porches to see the awe-inspiring landscapes -flora and fauna – that are so common to us that we many times take them for granted.
People have been coming to the Qualla Boundary for centuries to walk the trails, wade the streams, and play in the woods, if you will. Many people are unaware that the Boundary is an amazing place to bird watch. North Carolina boasts that some 460 species of birds either make the state their permanent or temporary home as they migrate through seasonally. From Canadian Geese to Bald Eagles to Chickadees, there are a beautiful array of colors and styles to choose from. One of my favorites is the Goldfinch. They hang around year-long. In the winter, the males and females of the species have dull grey and muted yellow plumage. But, in the spring, the males shed their dull clothes for feathers of bright shiny black and stunning yellow. They look like totally different birds. And the Cardinals are always a welcome sight year-round as well, with their incredible red featherings, proud crests, and black masks.
The Cherokee people were so fascinated by the variety and habits of birds that they may be found in many of the legends and stories that have been handed down over the centuries. For example, take a few minutes to read some of the great stories of the Cherokee people like the tale of Spearfinger and learn how the Tufted Titmouse and the Black-capped Chickadee played roles in her demise.
There are five North Carolina Birding Trails (www.ncbirdingtrail.org) on the Boundary and one near the Boundary. Check out their site for more information on many more great viewing locations.
Mingo Falls has one of the most amazing waterfalls in the state. The waterfall itself is 120-feet over large rock formations. The falls are back in the woods a bit, requiring a four tenths of a mile hike up an incline, but the reward is the spectacular falls and one of the most beautiful green spaces in the mountains, maybe in the world.
The Oconaluftee Indian Village Botanical Garden was created in the 1950s to showcase native and cultivated plants. It is a perfect habitat for many indigenous animals as well. On a Spring or Summer day, the garden is full of song and color from songbirds. The Oconaluftee Island Park and the Riverwalk at Riverbend are well maintained with walkways accessible to all ages so that all may experience the beauty of the river and the wildlife that call it home.
“The sacred ‘Mothertown’ of the Cherokee, some archeologists have estimated that Cherokees and their ancestors have occupied Kituwah for nearly 10.000 years. The Cherokee mound on-site is a remnant of the great council house that existed 200 years ago. Visitors are welcome but need to treat the site with respect.”
The Tribe restricts how the land is used and other than farming, little activity is allowed that would disturb the nature of the place, which makes it a great bird habitat, and a great place to view them.
And just off the Boundary is the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, which has an old homestead museum for a quick trip back in time as you walk around the bee gums, mill, smithing building, and pig pen. It is situated along the Oconaluftee River and, in addition to turkey and other local birds, you may find yourself withing camera shot of elk, deer, bear, and more.
Birding is an activity that may be as laid-back or a strenuous as you want it to be. You may just want to sit on a porch with your binoculars or camera and let the birds fly by you. Or you may want to hike the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the great locations in Graham and Cherokee County, or any of the hundreds of wild areas of Western North Carolina. You can either invest just time into the hobby or buy equipment to your heart’s content. And it doesn’t matter if you are young or old, firm or infirm, birding is a hobby that most anyone may enjoy.
Birding or bird watching has been a great therapy for me for a long time. There are great examples of life in nature, particularly among birds, like the devotion of Cardinals, who mate for life, and the love of a mother goose, who will defend her goslings to the death against insurmountable, or seemingly insurmountable odds; the beauty in the song of the Carolina Wren and the inquisitive chortling of the Goldfinch.
You have heard it said that you should “stop and smell the roses”. Similarly, it could be said that you should just stop and watch the Chickadee.