Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Jewels of the North Carolina Mountains -- Day 4 in Cataloochee -- June 13

180 Degree Panorama View from Sam Knob -- Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina  -- June 10, 2013 -- Photo by Carl Miller

               For this third post in the series, "The Jewels of the North Carolina Mountains," I will continue the travelogue of our June 2013 vacation.  As I finished editing the photos for Day 4 recently, I realized that I had never blogged about our Day 4 destination, Cataloochee.  Carl and I have visited this place several times now -- particularly in recent years.  In order to give you a representative picture of this delightful treasure, I will include some photos from our visits over the past 3 summers and not just from Day 4 of this particular trip.

              Cataloochee, a valley in the southeastern corner of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is one of the less-visited gems of the park.  Like the popular Cades Cove, the park service preserves the character, to a certain degree, of a farming community of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The service provides useful information on the environs and the history of the area.  The first link also gives directions to Cataloochee.  For a first-hand account of life in the valley before it was incorporated into the park, you will want to view the video below made by Great Smoky Mountains Association.




             Cataloochee in one of the best places in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see elk.  Elk once roamed the Smokies but were eventually eliminated due to over-hunting and loss of habitat.  Today, members of the elk herd, re-introduced to the park in 2001 and 2002, can best be seen in this area in the early morning or evening hours.  They are beautiful and majestic animals but can also be dangerous.  Follow the park guidelines if you have an opportunity to view them.  You can read a 10-year anniversary report on the success of the re-introduction experiment here.

             Two years ago, on my last day of vacation in the mountains, I drove from our Elk Ridge Cabin over the Cataloochee ridge and towards the entrance hoping to catch site of a bull elk.  I had already seen several females at the barn at the gate.

Elk -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 5, 2011

Barn at entrance to Cataloochee -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 11, 2011
Photographing the females can be a bit disappointing due to the fact that, as an experimental herd whose survival rates must be tracked,  they are all tagged and wear radio collars.  The park service no longer tags or places radio collars on the males born in the park.  I decided to try one more time before I packed up my gear to head home.  About a quarter mile before the camp ground, there he was -- grazing on a grassy knoll on the right side of the road!

Elk -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 11, 2011

I immediately pulled off of the road.  Staying at my car, I began to photograph him as he continued to graze and move towards me seemingly unconcerned by my presence.
 
Elk -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 11, 2011

Elk -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 11, 2011

Elk -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 11, 2011

           Wow!  What a way to end my  vacation!  Of course, Carl and I have returned the past 2 summers hoping to replicate that experience.  Though we did not see any elk this year, last year we captured this elk running across the meadow,

Elk -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 20, 2012
.... and later, we spied from a distance the silhouette of this female nursing her calf in the shade of a wooded streambed.

Female elk nursing her calf in a shaded stream bed -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 17, 2012


            Even without the elk sighting this year, our 2013 visit to Cataloochee  was still fabulous!  I promise, there is more to Cataloochee than simply the elk.  First of all, the scenery is outstanding.  We were able to enter the park area early due to the fact that the rangers were already at work.  We believe they were tracking the reclusive elk mothers on the verge of giving birth so that they can tag and collar the female calves.  Our early entrance into the park provided us with the opportunity to photograph the fields with an early morning mist.

Entrance to Cataloochee Valley, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 13, 2013

Caldwell Barn -- Cataloochee Valley, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 13, 2013

Caldwell Barn -- Cataloochee Valley, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 13, 2013

               Across the creek from the Caldwell Barn, I took pictures of the Caldwell House featured in the video above.

Caldwell House -- Cataloochee Valley, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 13, 2013

               Then Carl and I decided to do a two-mile out-and-back hike into see another old farm house, Woody's House.  The hike was wooded and quite flat.  The trail followed the old road bed that crossed the Rough Fork Creek three times.  I had hiked this trail 2 years earlier with Carl's parents so some of the photos date back to that event.

Anna and Don Miller on the trail to Woody's House -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 5, 2011
 
Rough Fork Creek -- Cataloochee Valley, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 5, 2011

Woody's House -- Cataloochee Valley, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 5, 2011

Woody's House -- Cataloochee Valley, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 5, 2011

View of the Springhouse from Woody's porch -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 13, 2013

Woody's House -- Springhouse -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 5, 2011

Rough Fork Creek -- Cataloochee Valley, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 13, 2013
             Along the trail, we heard numerous times songs of several Acadian Flycatchers and a few Ovenbirds.  I did see an Acadian Flycatcher but the Ovenbirds remained hidden. 

            After visiting the house, we returned to the main part of Big Cataloochee Valley.  In the fields, this year as in previous years, we spotted a few turkey.

Wild Turkey -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 13, 2013

Wild Turkey -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 20, 2012

            I spent some time birding the fields around the Caldwell House and the Beech Grove School while Carl went on a photo shoot along the creek next to the schoolhouse. 

Beech Grove School -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 5, 2011

Beech Grove School -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 5, 2011

Beech Grove School -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 5, 2011

I also have pictures of the Palmer Church.

Palmer Church -- Cataloochee Schoolhouse -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 5, 2011

              Ok, I have now shown you all the photos I have of the buildings in the valley, now let me show you some more birds!  There was no shortage of beautiful Indigo Buntings on any of my visits.

Indigo Bunting -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 20, 2012

Indigo Bunting -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 13, 2013

         The scruffy male above was seriously courting this female.

Female Indigo  Bunting -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 13, 2013

           Both last year and this year, we heard then saw our fly-over Broad-winged Hawk.

Broad-winged Hawk -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 20, 2012

         In front of the Caldwell House, at the same tree, I was able to photograph a cooperative Song Sparrow both last year and this year.  Some migratory species are known for great site fidelity.  Could this young bird from 2012 be the same bird as the one from 2013?  Or a related bird, perhaps?

Young Song Sparrow -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 17, 2012


Song Sparrow -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 13, 2013

Song Sparrow -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 13, 2013

            I heard many more species than I was able to photograph.  These little wigglers busied themselves with far more important matters than posing for some clumsy photographer.  Sometimes though, when you are not trying to find a bird, they simply pop up right in front of you.  Such was the case with this Least Flycatcher! 
  
Least Flycatcher -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 13, 2013

           This scolding Chipping Sparrow made quite a raucous when I approached.  From his behavior, I ascertained that he probably had some recently fledged chicks hiding in the foliage.  I took a couple of shots and then left the family in peace.  

Chipping Sparrow -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 13, 2013

Chipping Sparrow -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 13, 2013

         A variety of butterflies flit about in the meadow and along the trails of Cataloochee.  In 2011, my parents-in-law and I were engulfed by a horde of these Appalachian Azure butterflies on our hike to Woody's House.

Appalachian Azure Butterflies -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 5, 2011

As I was perusing my photo files for additional pictures of butterflies of Cataloochee, I also found this one from a hike that Carl and I did there in July 2007. 

Appalachian Azure -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- September 1, 2007
In the same photo file, I found this (below) unfamiliar-to-me species.  I had never identified it back then but now that I have the fabulous Butterflies of the East Coast; An Observer's Guide (Cech, R. and Tudor, G. 2007), I discovered that I had a Red-Spotted Purple.
  
Red-Spotted Purple -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- September 1, 2007


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (top) with Red-spotted Purple (below) -- Pipevine Swallowtail -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- September 1, 2007



Red-spotted Purple -- Pipevine Swallowtail (ventral wing lightened to show similarity to other species) -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- September 1, 2007
 In the past, I had confused both the Red-Spotted Purple and the Pipevine Swallowtail with the dark form of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  Their ventral (wings up) coloration on all three is very similar.  Apparently predators also confuse them which helps to keep the Red-Spotted Purple safe as the predators know to avoid eating the toxic Pipevine Swallowtail.  Thank goodness I have my guide now to help me to distinguish them for you!  I always learn something when I blog -- smile.  And with a teacher's soul, I am compelled to share my new knowledge -- smile again.  I have also learned now how important it is to take photos of both the dorsal (wings down) and ventral sides.  

Pipevine Swallowtail -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 13, 2013
 
Pipevine Swallowtail -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- September 1, 2007

 In the side-by-side shot (below), you can see the similarities in ventral wing patterns between the dark form of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (left) and the Pipevine Swallowtail (right).  The size difference also helps you to distinguish them -- when they are side-by-side!

Dark form of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (left) and the Pipevine Swallowtail (right) on Turk's-Cap Lily -- Mount Pisgah trail (NOT Cataloochee this time) -- Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina -- August 2, 2008

On this trip, we noticed this large "bouquet" of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and a few Pipevine Swallowtails.  

Pipevine Swallowtail and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails -- Pipevine Swallowtail -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 13, 2013

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails -- Pipevine Swallowtail -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park June 13, 2013

They were feasting on animal dung and truly relishing it!  They also can drink and take in nutrients from damp rock.  I suppose the Appalachian Azure butterflies in the photo above were enjoying the moisture on my boot.

        An account of Cataloochee would be incomplete without some photos of the wildflowers.  In general, the blooms seemed later this year in the mountains.  The Cataloochee meadow lacked wildflowers, I presume, because of the cooler spring.  We had already noted that the Catawba and Great Rhododendron were only just beginning to bud.  Last summer's show of wildflowers however impressed indeed.

Great Rhododendron -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 17, 2012

Crimson Bee Balm -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 20, 2012

Yarrow -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 20, 2012

Black-eyed Susan -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 17, 2012

Oxeye Daisy -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 20, 2012

           At the top of the ridge, at the park boundary, Carl and I hiked last year a wooded ridge-top trail, the Cataloochee Divide Trail.  The shade and the breeze across the top cooled us as we delighted in the wildflowers and the wildlife.

Cataloochee Divide Trail with Flame Azaleas -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 18, 2012

Flame Azalea -- Cataloochee Divide Trail -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 18, 2012

Fire Pink -- Cataloochee Divide Trail -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 18, 2012
 
Eastern Garter Snake -- Cataloochee Divide Trail -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 18, 2012

Red-tailed Hawk -- close to the Cataloochee Divide Trail -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 18, 2012

 Ovenbird with a meal for its fledgling -- Cataloochee Divide Trail -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 18, 2012

Scruffy Ovenbird fledgling -- Cataloochee Divide Trail -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 18, 2012

Dark-eyed Junco -- Cataloochee Divide Trail -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 18, 2012

Eastern Wood Pewee -- Cataloochee Divide Trail -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 18, 2012

         This year, the Cataloochee meadow had not yet produced the same variety of wildflowers as the year before.  But I did manage to capture this Pipevine Swallowtail enjoying the sweet nectar of a Hairy Hawkweed.

Pipevine Swallowtail on Hairy Hawkweed -- Cataloochee, North Carolina -- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 13, 2013

Along one of the creekbeds, I found some fading Mountain Laurel.

Mountain Laurel -- Cataloochee Valley-- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 13, 2013

Also, close to one of the creekbeds, I noticed these tiny little furry flowers -- the Partridge Berry.

Partridge Berry -- Cataloochee Valley-- Great Smoky Mountain National Park -- June 13, 2013
  
          When I started this post about Day 4 of our 2013 NC Mountain vacation, I had not intended that it become so long.  It seems that I have taken you to Cataloochee!  When I discovered that I had not yet  blogged about this beautiful wildlife-rich and culture-rich area, I then knew that I was going to have to delve into the old photo files to truly introduce it correctly.  I hope you have enjoyed your "virtual" journey.  To really appreciate it though, you have to see it!  Go and enjoy!  I plan to return again -- perhaps in a different season -- to experience the parts of Cataloochee valley that I have not yet seen!


2 comments:

  1. STUNNING!!!! G

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  2. I'm really enjoying your writing and photography, not sure which is better! So many species we don't have here in Alaska . . .

    Tom Jacobsen DDS

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