ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION

The park’s founders believed the park should serve as a land trust for Valle Crucis, preserving green space and protecting our community’s precious natural resources. Today, we also seek to cultivate a new generation of environmental stewards by providing active and passive environmental education opportunities for visitors of all ages.

Seasonal Programming

During the months of June and July, the park hosts weekly environmental education programming for children and adults. Visit During the summer of 2019 our programming is each Thursday at 11am. Gather under the Cooper Pavilion. Visit our calendar for the specific schedule, including topics covered and appropriate age range.

Bird Walks

From late March through mid-October, the High Country Audubon Society hosts weekly bird walks in the park on Wednesday mornings at 8:30. The walks are led by Curtis Smalling, Audubon North Carolina Important Bird Areas Coordinator and Mountain Program Manager. Walks are free, but donations to the park and the Audubon Society are encouraged.

Explore on Your Own

While in the park, take some time to appreciate the significant natural areas. Our park is located in a floodplain: You may notice standing water, sand, and other debris. Flooding is part of our natural cycle, and we embrace it!

Three major restoration projects have been undertaken in the park to help manage storm water and protect our precious water resources. The large wetland area was once a man-made pond. Depending on the amount of recent rain, this area could be full of water or very dry. Step out onto the two viewing platforms: You’re likely to spot turtles and lots of water-loving birds.

Extensive work also was completed to restore the banks of the Watauga River and Dutch Creek. Please feel free to explore these areas, but use the existing footpaths to help prevent erosion. Many of the trees in the park are accompanied by identifying signs. Information is provided about species that are common in our region, as well as rare plants found very few other places in the world. A tree scavenger hunt worksheet is available in the Welcome Center.

Birds of VCCP

With it’s mosaic of habitat types–riparian forest, marsh, meadow and open field–our Park supports a wide diversity of birds. We’re grateful to our partners at High Country Audubon Society (http://www.highcountryaudubon.org/) for their work documenting birds of the Park (http://www.highcountryaudubon.org/vallecruciscommunitypa.html). Around 150 species of birds have been observed at the Park and at least 30 species nest here. In March through mid-October, Audubon hosts weekly bird walks in the Park on Wednesday mornings at 8:30. Below is a sample of bird species commonly seen in the Park; more information on each species is available by following the link to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Merlin (Falco columbarius): Merlins are small falcons that utilize “surprise attacks” to bring down small songbirds and shorebirds; their “flight speed” is around 30mph, but often fly faster while attacking. They are known to breed in open and semi-open areas in Northern North America and come to the Eastern United States while migrating. They usually utilize old crow and hawk nests for their eggs.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Merlin/overview

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia): This sparrow is found year-round in Western North Carolina! During breeding season they will lay two or more separate groups of eggs, but have been known to lay more groups if resources are ample or if excessive predation has occurred. Their nests are hidden in grasses or weeds; they may nest close to houses as they are not afraid of humans. They mostly eat insects during the summer and seeds and fruits all year.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Song_Sparrow/overview

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura): The Mourning Dove is found year-round is most of the upper 48 states of America in open woodlands and are the most popular game bird in North America; hunters shoot more than 20 million Mourning Doves each year. They eat about 12-20% of their body weight per day and a large majority of their diet are various types of seeds. These birds typically nest in dense foliage, but have commonly been found to nest on the ground in the West.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mourning_Dove/overview

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica): The Chimney Swift spends most of its life in the air; when it lands it is unable to perch. Instead, it will cling vertically to walls in caves, hollow trees, or even chimneys, which is where they also tend to make their nests. These birds breed in urban and suburban areas in the eastern half of America and Canada and migrate to South America each winter. Their diet consists of airborne insects such as bees and flies.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Chimney_Swift/overview

Ruby Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris): This hummingbird is the only kind of its species to breed in eastern North America. They migrate to Central America starting in early fall, with males starting migration as early as August. They are most often found in deciduous woodlands and they often nest on a branch of a deciduous tree. These birds can flap their wings 53 times per second and are able to make straight and fast flights; males can become very aggressive and defensive with food sources. They are attracted to the nectar of red or orange tubular flowers for food.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ruby-throated_Hummingbird/overview

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo): The Wild Turkey is found year-round in every state except for Alaska and is native to America! They travel in flocks and forage for nuts, berries, and insects on the ground. Their habitat is older forests where there are trees for them to fly up and roost in at night. They often make their nests on the ground at the base of trees and use dead leaves to construct the nest. Unlike domesticated turkeys, Wild Turkeys have the ability to fly.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wild_Turkey/overview

Red Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis): Red-Tailed Hawks are known to breed mostly in Canada and live year-round in almost all of the United States, making it the most common hawk in North America. They feed mostly on small animals, such as rats, rabbits, and smaller birds and like to live in open woodlands, where they can place their nests at the top of trees for a large view of the landscape below. They typically stay with their mate for life until one of them dies.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-tailed_Hawk/overview

Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla): Ovenbirds are long-distance migratory birds that breed in the mid-east and eastern United States before migrating to Florida, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. These birds like to reside in “closed-canopy” forests where they can construct a dome-like nest that resembles an oven and thus give this bird its namesake. They spend most of their time on the ground, which allows them to forage for insects. Their song is a familiar, rapidly repeated “tea-cher” phrase.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ovenbird/overview

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas): The Common Yellowthroat breeds in western North Carolina and prefers wet areas with thick vegetation for its habitat. Yellowthroats are foragers and eat insects, spiders, and bugs. Because of their diet and habitat, they are vulnerable to environmental degradation when wetlands are destroyed and water quality declines due to pesticides and other contaminants.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Yellowthroat/overview

American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla): The American Redstart breeds in western North Carolina and migrates down to Florida and northern South America for the winter. They like to situate themselves near water and eat mostly insects and sometimes berries. They startle their prey out of the surrounding vegetation by flashing their brightly colored tails.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Redstart/overview

Red Eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus): The Red Eyed Vireo is a popular bird that breeds in Eastern North America, as well as the United States midwest and the southern parts of Canada. They migrate to the eastern part of South America starting in the fall. These birds mostly eat insects during the spring and summer, but more frequently eat fruit as the time for their fall migration grows closer.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-eyed_Vireo/overview

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor): The Tufted Titmouse is a common year-round bird in the Eastern United States that resides in habitats that are below 2,000ft in elevation. They forage for insects, seeds, nuts, and berries; studies have shown that these birds will always choose the biggest seeds while looking for food. For their nests, they prefer to use cavities and always use either natural holes or old nest holes made by woodpeckers. According to Partners in Flight, there is a global population of 8 million, with all individuals living in the United States.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Tufted_Titmouse/overview

Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus): This bird is often found around the constructed marsh in Valle Crucis Community Park! They are found year-round in a majority of the United States and can be found most often around standing water and cattail marshes. This black bird eats mostly insects in the summer and seeds in the fall and winter. When these birds fly their red spot on each shoulder is visible.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-winged_Blackbird/overview

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus): Carolina Wrens are found year-round in the eastern United States and are mostly found in places with heavy vegetation, such as wooded residential areas and brushy thickets. They eat mostly insects and spiders and occasionally lizards, frogs, and snakes. Because they are not great flyers, they mostly only fly for quick, short distances.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Carolina_Wren/overview

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus): House Sparrows are found year-round in the United States and most of Central America. They are almost always found where there are buildings and are rarely found in places where there is no human settlement. Their diet includes a wide array of food: livestock feed, discarded food, flying insects, and grain crops. House Sparrows most commonly nest in the holes of buildings, signs, and other human structures.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/House_Sparrow/overview

Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis): The Carolina Chickadee is found year-round in the eastern United States and is frequently found in woodlands, parks, and suburban and urban places. Their diet includes mainly insects for most of the year, but includes plants during the winter. Chickadees can become aggressive when defending their space; they typically will isolate themselves around feeders to avoid others’ aggression and like to keep 2-5 feet between themselves. According to Partners in Flight, there is a breeding population of 12 million Carolina Chickadees in the United States.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Carolina_Chickadee/overview

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens): This type of woodpecker is found year-round across almost all of North America. Their habitat includes open woodlands as well as parks and suburbs. They are frequent visitors of bird feeders, even though they mainly eat insects from the inside of wood and tree bark. Their nests are likely to be found in dead wood, making excavating a place for the nest easier.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Downy_Woodpecker/overview

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor): This colorful Tree Swallow breeds in western North Carolina and migrates south to Florida and Central America for the winter. They usually live in areas where there are an abundance of flying insects, such as wetlands, fields, and shorelines. During the breeding season, they are attracted to natural empty cavities or nest boxes for their eggs. This species is one of the most-studied bird species in North America.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Tree_Swallow/overview

American Robin (Turdus migratorius): The American Robin is found year-round in a majority of the United States. They can be found in more human-populated areas such as lawns and parks, or in more isolated areas such as tundra, forests, and mountains. They eat insects and fruit and often have a run-stop movement when foraging on the ground.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Robin/overview

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata): Blue Jays are found year-round in the eastern and midwest United States. They are commonly found near oak trees and mostly eat insects, nuts, and seeds. Blue jays are very intelligent and are known to have “complex social systems;” they mate for life and have been observed to have “tight family bonds.” The oldest Blue Jay recorded was almost 27 years old!

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Blue_Jay/overview

Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis): Cardinals are found year-round in the eastern and midwest United States. Male Cardinals are the familiar bright red color that we have come to associate with the bird, while females are brown with red accents in their feathers. They are often found in dense shrubby habitats and often eat seeds and fruit, such as blackberry, sunflower seeds, and dogwood seeds.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Cardinal/overview

Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia): Yellow Warblers breed in western North Carolina and can be found in thickets along streams and wetlands. They eat mostly eat insects like caterpillars, beetles, and wasps. These warblers are one of the most well populated types in North America; they have a breeding population of 90 million.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Yellow_Warbler/overview

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris): The European Starling is found year-round in the United States and most of Canada. They were brought to North America in the nineteenth century and are now one of the most populated songbirds of the continent. Today, there are about 200 million of these bird and all of them are descendents of an original 100 that were released. They are typically found around human settlement and eat mainly fruit and insects.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/European_Starling/overview

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos): Crows are found year-round in most of the United States and are familiar birds with their black feathers and “cawing” voices. They eat almost anything: seeds, nuts, fruits, small animals, the eggs of other birds, and even compost and garbage. Crows are highly social and intelligent creatures; they work together to solve problems and can work together to scare off predators.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Crow/overview