North Carolina county #27 Meat Camp Creek Environmental Studies Area
These counties in the northwest of the state have lots of great places to choose from. I had visited Watauga last year as part of a Carolina Bird Club trip and the Meat Camp Creek Environmental Studies Area was one of the field trips I did not go on, so I thought I would see what was there.
I don’t know why the area is called Meat Camp, it is a strange name – perhaps something to do with the activities of early settlers. In any case, this is a slightly less than 10 acre privately owned lot that is available for birding and nature watching in general. It has a very good diversity of terrain for its size, including wetlands, both evergreen and hardwood trees, and grassy and shrubby areas. It also runs adjacent to a stream and a working cattle farm.
There were a lot of birds singing right off the bat, and it turned out to be a great spot for me, netting 29 species in 2 hours. I would highly recommend stopping here if you are at all nearby – there are detailed instructions regarding it on the Carolina Bird Club site as well as a hotspot marker in ebird. Because of the tight and low shrubs and trees, you can get some really close looks at times. There was a Yellow Warbler 5 feet from me for a while that I was trying to get a clear shot at with my camera – there were branches in the way – until finally he decided to take a better look at me.
I flushed a Green Heron that was standing less than 10 feet away and got great looks as he flew into a tree across a small frog pond. There were lots of good birds here, including a Common Raven, Red-tailed Hawk, a group of Cedar Waxwings and my first of the year Yellow-billed Cuckoo. But the absolute highlight was getting two life birds – Willow Flycatcher and Alder Flycatcher.
These are very difficult birds to tell apart. I had read that there are often Willow Flycatchers here so I was ready to listen for their calls, but it was a struggle to make them out. Luckily I ran into a very experienced birder here named Robin who helped me find and identify both of these flycatchers. She said that even when holding them in your hand (she is a bird bander) you often cannot tell them apart, and that in the field you really need to hear their songs to know for sure. I was able to get recordings and photos of both which was very exciting.
It is always great to run into a another birder; they have been without exception very helpful and friendly. If I haven’t made it clear, this little spot is great and I would definitely visit again. It is small, quick, and easy, with a ton of birds.