North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

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Sandy Mush and Green River Game Lands Birding Checklists Now Available Online

  • 13 April 2017
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Sandy Mush and Green River Game Lands Birding Checklists Now Available Online
Chris Kelly, wildlife diversity program biologist, holds a kestrel nestling. Sandy Mush is known for its American kestrel population, which has grown substantially because of a network of 20 nest boxes maintained by Commission staff.

RALEIGH, N.C. (April 13, 2017) — Just in time for spring, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has released two, four-season birding checklists for Sandy Mush and Green River game lands, located in western North Carolina.


The second edition of the Sandy Mush Game Land Birding Checklist features 169 species and the new Green River Game Land Birding Checklist features 147 species. Both checklists provide information on each species’ relative abundance and seasonal occurrences. The Sandy Mush checklist includes 11 Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) — as identified in the N.C. Wildlife Action Plan — that are known or believed to breed on or adjacent to the game lands. The Green River checklist includes eight SGCN that breed there. Numerous other SGCN stopover during migration or overwinter on these game lands.


The 2,795-acre Sandy Mush Game Land is in Buncombe and Madison counties, and is a designated stop on the N.C. Birding Trail. It comprises a mix of shrub lands, fields, food plots and forests that are managed by staff from the Commission’s Burnsville Wildlife Depot. The game land is bounded to the east by the French Broad River and is surrounded by privately owned agricultural land, primarily cattle farms.


“This habitat variety has a diversity of sparrows in the winter and is full of surprises, such as a sandhill crane that visited fields near Cedar Hill in winter 2011,” said Chris Kelly, a wildlife diversity biologist with the Commission. “Sandy Mush is also well known among local birders for its American kestrel population, which has grown substantially in the past five years thanks to a network of 20 nest boxes maintained by Joe Tomcho, a conservation technician with the Commission.”


The 14,464-acre Green River Game Land, which is located in Henderson and Polk counties, also supports a diverse bird community, including sought-after species like the red-headed woodpecker, Swainson’s warbler and common merganser.


“Green River Game Land’s diverse vegetation communities, actively managed wildlife habitat and position on the Blue Ridge Escarpment make it a prime birding destination” said Chris Kelly, a mountain wildlife diversity biologist. “Since 2009, the game land has been a designated stop on the N.C. Birding Trail and has been growing in popularity as a birding destination ever since.”


Commission staff developed the birding lists in collaboration with local birders and members of the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society, who helped Commission staff create the first Sandy Mush Game Land birding list back in 2013. Since then, the game land’s popularity among birders has generated many more bird sightings and the discovery of 16 additional species that were added to the second list.


 Kelly encourages game land users to share their bird sightings on eBird, a real-time, online bird checklist. Data from the birding checklists provide biologists with a better understanding of the number of birds, their distribution, and their habitat preferences during the different seasons.


“For birding on the Green River Game Land, tech-loving birders can download the geo-referenced PDF map to their mobile device for use in apps such as Avenza,” Kelly said. “People who prefer having a hard copy can print the map and checklist to take to the field.”


Both game lands are open to hunting and birders are encouraged to visit the game lands on days when they’re closed to hunting, particularly during turkey season, which runs from April 8 to May 6. Sandy Mush Game Land is open to hunting Monday, Wednesday and Saturday; Green River Game Land is open to hunting Monday through Saturday.


“Because the game lands are open to all users, it’s important for everyone to be mindful of all the uses the game land offers and act accordingly,” Kelly said. “That means doing things like wearing blaze orange and not wearing red or blue during turkey season and, when you encounter a turkey hunter, maintaining a safe distance between you and the hunter.”  


Funding for the Wildlife Resources Commission’s work with songbirds comes from multiple sources including State Wildlife Grants, Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration, and the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Fund, which support wildlife research, conservation and management for animals and the habitats that support them. Donations to the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Fund provide matching funds to projects benefiting nongame animals and their habitats.

North Carolinians can support this effort, as well as nongame species research and management projects in North Carolina, by:



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