Asheville – Asheville is fortunate to have a birding company, Ventures Birding Tours, with a team of highly knowledgeable guides who have been taking their clients all over the world to learn about some striking and beautiful birds in their natural habitat. The excitement of actually seeing a bird close up through your binoculars is quite thrilling. Even with someone telling you where to look, it is not always that easy to spot the fleeting creatures. The popularity of getting out in nature to discover and learn about birds and wildlife is growing year after year. After just one guided tour, participants return again and again. Many have discovered the thrill of going to the Outer Banks to learn about the varieties of gulls, waterfowl, and other wintering birds. Others have managed to explore the Appalachian Mountains with an organized trip through Ventures Birding, where they perhaps discovered a Great Horned Owl blending into the bark of a tree or were able to see soaring hawks and eagles in a clear sky. Just a few days ago, on March 10, if you read Simon’s trip report, day trip participants encountered as many as 46 species of birds—including a pair of Red-tailed Hawks, a female Rufous Hummingbird near UNCA, and a pair of Wood ducks on the French Broad River.
Ventures Birding Tours is run full time by Simon Thompson, past owner of the Asheville Wild Birds Unlimited. Simon is originally from Suffolk, England, has lived in North Carolina for over 20 years, and lived in Lebanon, Kenya, Yemen and Ghana as well. In addition to traveling extensively in the United States, Simon spent six months in China studying the crane and bird of prey migration as a member of the British “China Crane Watch” expedition. He is a past board member of the Blue Ridge Audubon Society in Asheville, NC. Over the years as the business has expanded, he has assembled a team of experienced and knowledgeable guides to help him.
As we all know, the COVID pandemic has practically brought travel to a standstill, thus these stimulating adventures to places like Spain, Kenya, and Ecuador have had to grind to a temporary halt for Ventures Birding. However, there are high hopes for a renewal of trips later in the year. In the place of long distance travel, this spring the company is offering an amazing number of stimulating local walks, day and overnight trips, guided excursions, programs and even virtual tours—all around western North Carolina with their knowledgeable and experienced guides. Of course the number of participants with each group is limited and all COVID social restrictions apply, but Ventures Birding is asking the public “to join us as we explore the wide diversity of birds and wildlife throughout the mountains and foothills of the Carolinas and Eastern Tennessee.”
Community Walks and Day Trips
This spring there are a number of community bird walks all around our area with a local birding guide: Lake Julian Park, Jackson Park, Chimney Rock State Park, The Foothills Equestrian Nature Center in Tryon and other locations. Some of these are no-charge, while others have a nominal entry fee. There are lots of local trips, some just for the day. The cost runs at approximately $55, not including lunch. The group often has a picnic where each can bring their own favorite sandwich. On April 8, Aaron Steed is taking a group to the Sandy Mush Gamelands and on April 24 to Swain County near the Tuckasegee River; on April 14 Kevin Burke is going to the Green River Gamelands and Lake Adger in Henderson and Polk Counties. Participants may see Scarlet Tanagers, Northern Bobwhites, a wide variety of warblers and possibly migrating Osprey or hawks. Without a doubt the participants will have the thrill of seeing birds that never make it to the home feeder. Due to COVID, individuals must travel in their own vehicle or with a close friend, not as a group. With the number of participants limited to only 8-10 people, some trips are already fully booked. Find the schedule on birdventures.com to book a spot.
Overnight Birding Trips
Ventures Birding has many exciting overnight trips as well. The spring migration of the Warbler Weekend will be held May 7 – 10th here in Asheville with Kevin Burke as the guide. The North Carolina Mountains are home to around 25 species of breeding wood warblers and several more that migrate through. Early to mid-May is the best time to view peak diversity of warblers in the habitat rich region of Western North Carolina. A wildlife week from May 11 – 14th will be held at the Snowbird Mountain Lodge with Emile Travis, who is the resident naturalist at Snowbird. Then as one gets more optimistic about the lessening effects of COVID, Ventures Birding has planned more trips further afield, such as to Northern Minnesota, New Mexico, Nebraska and South Texas. More information on these trips can be found on their website.
Virtual Birding Trips
Online birding is offered for those who are not inclined to hike or walk outdoors. On March 22 a virtual tour of Bhutan high in the Himalayan peaks, with dense pristine forests, incredible mountain views and over 600 species of bird recorded, was held with Simon Thompson as the guide. Currently, he is planning to take a group in April of 2022 to the small country of Bhutan, where some camping will undoubtedly be involved. Earlier in the year a virtual tour of Cuba, the Caribbean’s largest and an ecologically diverse island nation was given. The North Carolina Arboretum is holding several online adult education classes on birding with Venture Tours guides. On April 1, you can learn about Nocturnal birds who are active at night and on April 15 a class will be held on the Eastern Birds of Prey. These classes and others can be found at https://www.ncarboretum.org/education-programs/adult-education-classes/
Some people have long ago taken up the hobby of watching and learning about birds. In Western North Carolina, we often see the colorful Northern Cardinal, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin and Blue Jay. Perhaps it is time to broaden one’s understanding and delve deeper into the subject. There is a whole world out there to be discovered. Simon Thompson’s Ventures Birding Tours can help with this explorative journey. Pull out your most comfortable walking shoes, your easiest-to-use binoculars, and sign up for a walk or day trip at birdventures.com.