Elk Knob State Park, located just minutes from downtown Boone, NC. From the intersection of US 421 North and NC 194 North head proceed north approximately 4 miles to Meat Camp Road, turn left and drive 5.5 miles to the entrance on your right.
Elk Knob sits among the high peaks of the Amphibolite-Gneiss range of the Piedmonts and is a northern hardwood forest dominated by beech trees.
The open fields on either side of the entrance are supposed to be good for Golden-winged Warblers and Least Flycatchers. I found neither upon my arrival. My only consolations were a pair of Eastern Bluebirds, American Robins, Mourning Doves, and European Starlings. An American Redstart was singing in the woods left of the entrance, and I found it easily. A Chestnut-sided Warbler was nearby, but a bit harder to locate. Rufous-sided Towhees and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks could also be heard singing deeper in the woods.
I drove to the trailhead for the Summit Trail, a 1.8 mile series of switchbacks that would take me to the top of the mountain, which consists of a heath bald on top (low-growing scrub). Last year at this time I attempted the same trip, but failed to make it the final 200 yards up the side of the mountain to the top (the switchbacks end, and a 45º steep service trail must be climbed to reach the top). This year I was determined, despite carrying 20+ lbs. of scope, tripod and camera equipment.
By the time I had reached the 12th switchback and the service trail, I thought that my day was going to be over. The steep hillside looked daunting, and I didn’t have the energy. But in the back of my head I kept hearing, “You can do it, Mr. Frodo!”, so I continued on (for the Shire). I had to stop every 50 feet or so, but eventually I made it to the summit.
I was greeted by singing Canada Warblers, Rufous-sided Towhees, a Gray Catbird, and American Robin. Though I pished for 20 minutes, I was unable to bring any of the birds out from the heath, which blanketed the entire mound.
I took the service trail all the way down (1.1 miles) so that I wouldn’t have to take the switchbacks (which, incindentally, is more like 2.8 miles long). Despite the threat of shattering knee-caps, the steep climb down was quicker and less tiring than the longer walk up. I made it back to the car in less than an hour.
On my way out I stopped at the entrance for a few minutes to listen for birds. A Least Flycatcher finally made an appearance, and was found as I followed its ‘Chebeek’ call. I was unable to hear Golden-winged Warbler, so I decided to continue on down the road another ¼ mile to search the open hillside.
Continuing on I would find a Brown Thrasher, and hear a Hooded Warbler from somewhere in the heavy woods below. Satisfied, I headed back to the cabin before the rains started.