Highlands Plateau: The July Important Bird Area of the Month

Each month we feature one of the 97 IBAs (Important Bird Area) in North Carolina. This month our team from the mountains is showcasing the Highlands Plateau IBA's amazing bird diversity. This post is written by Audubon North Carolina’s Curtis Smalling.

Red-breasted Nuthatch. Photo by Don Mullaney

The Highlands Plateau has long been known as a unique place for birds.  The southern terminus of the higher elevation parts of the Appalachians, the Highlands Plateau hosts a wide variety of high elevation and northern species that reach their southern limit of distribution here.  In the cool hemlock and white pine stands of the plateau, birds normally found up in the spruce fir forest find their homes here.  Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Red Crossbill all call the Plateau home.  Mixed with them are a variety of wood warblers like Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue, and Canada Warblers.  Veery, Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak help round out the list of 90 or so breeding species on the Highlands Plateau.  Read our previous post on a historical review completed by our intern Andrew Chin.

Town of Highlands. Photo by Curtis Smalling.

Another interesting characteristic of the Plateau is that it is also been a tourist and second home destination for more than a century.  The small towns of Highlands and Cashiers are embedded in this IBA, making it one of the few IBAs with whole towns within its boundary.  While visiting Highlands it is easy to see and hear Red Crossbills and Pine Siskins flying over Main Street, or to see Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in the church parking lot downtown, or to have Black-Throated Blue Warblers in the parking lot of the Bascom, the fine art museum in Highlands.

Because of this, Audubon North Carolina has launched a special communication and partner program called Treasure Highlands.  Through strong partnerships with a half dozen other environmental and conservation groups, we are seeking to raise the profile of conservation efforts and easy things residents and visitors can do to make their land and decisions better for birds and the whole Plateau.  Visit the Treasure Highlands website for more info.  More details on Treasure Highlands will follow in a subsequent blog post.

Red Crossbill. Photo by Jesse Pope.

The Plateau has also been hit hard by the effects of the invasive hemlock wooly adelgid and is beginning to see the impacts of other invasive plant species.  These changes will no doubt have impacts for birds, as does development and other factors. But individual landowners can make a difference and thanks to an Urban Forestry grant in 2011, we produced a guide to land owners to help birds in the Plateau.  The full booklet is available on the Treasure Highlands website.