Watchable Wildlife in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains
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Watchable Wildlife in the Tennessee Mountains
Cherokee National Forest

The rugged mountains, sparse human population, and diverse habitats of Tennessee's eastern border make it home to a variety of wildlife. In the Cherokee National Forest, there are 55 species of Amphibians and reptiles, 154  species of fish, and 43 species of mammals. There are plenty of opportunities to view wildlife in its native environment.

Southern Districts

Conasauga Fish Viewing Trail

This stretch of the Conasauga State Scenic River is relatively silt-free and is a unique opportunity to view fish in their natural habitat. Slip on a mask and snorkel and swim slowly in the still, deep pools. You might see turtles, redeye bass, sunfish, amber darter and Conasauga logperch, and the threatened blue shiner. Scanning the shallows, you might also see Alabama hogsuckers, stonerollers and male darters in breeding color. Always wear a personal flotation device and snorkel with a partner.

Chilhowee Watchable Wildlife Trail

As you walk this loop, notice how wildlife use different habitats in the forest. Along the trail there are three different ecosystems – a grassy opening, a white pine community, and a hardwood forest. These habitats provide a variety of food and shelter types for animals. During spring and fall migration and summer breeding season, watch and listen for migratory birds like scarlet tanagers and block throated green warblers. During the winter months, listen for residents like golden-crowned kinglets, pine warblers, and Carolina chickadees. Nature detectives might also see signs of deer and other animals that live in the area.

Gee Creek Watchable Wildlife Trail

This easy loop trail meanders through wooded areas near Gee Creek Wilderness. Grasses, shrubs, and trees have been planted and nest boxes have been installed to attract wildlife for viewing. Look for white-tailed deer and gray squirrels. Listen to the songs of the many species of birds that use this area.

Hiwassee State Scenic River

The stretch of the John Muir National Recreation Trail is ideal for viewing wading birds as they search for food in the pools near the shores of the Hiawassee River. Tellico Auto Loop: Climbing from 1,000 to over 5,000 feet, this auto loop passes wilderness, managed forest and a black bear sanctuary. There are many excellent birding opportunities: watch for red breasted nuthatch, rose-breasted grosbeak, Blackburnian warbler, veery and winter wren. You may spot an occasional bear, boar, red squirrel, eastern chipmunk, or a red or gray fox.

Northern Districts

Weaver Bend

These floodplain forests and fields along the French Broad River attract yellow-throated warblers, swamp sparrows and yellow-breasted chats. White-tailed deer are common, as are opossum and skunk; more rare are raccoon, fox and weasel. Great blue herons are common year-round, and bullfrogs can be very noisy on summer nights. (Near Del Rio)

Unaka Mountain Auto Tour

Travel through the dense rhododendron and hemlocks of Rock Creek, listening for black-throated green and Swainson's warblers and Louisiana waterthrush. Next, visit grassy balds at Beauty Spot, home to least weasels, New England cottontail rabbits, bobcats, barred owls, and snow buntings. The drive climbs to misty mountaintops of red spruce. Look for pigmy salamanders, saw-whet owls, and magnolia warblers. (Near Erwin)

Highlands of Roan Mountain

Wind-blown grassy balds, misty forests and rhododendron gardens provide unique high-elevation habitats for plants and animals. If you are a bird watcher, look for more than 150 species of birds, including chestnut-sided warblers, saw-whet owls, and pine siskins. Spot a cottontail rabbit or northern flying squirrel. Watch ravens cavorting in the winds or listen to the scolding trill of a red squirrel. (Near Roan Mountain)

Little Oak Watchable Wildlife Area

The Little Oak Recreation Area on the shores of South Holston Lake features two interpretive trails through different ecosystems. Little Oak Mountain Trail is a 1.5 mile loop that crosses through cove and upland forest. Look for deer, ruffed grouse, wild turkeys and pileated woodpeckers. Little Oak Trail meanders along the lake's shoreline and through the recreation area. Stop to photograph wildlife from the viewing blind or look for butterflies in native wildflower plantings. In winter, there are waterfowl and gulls around the lake. Bald eagles were re-introduced here during the early 1990s. Use your binoculars to scan for the profiles of these large birds with white heads. (Near Bristol) Wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains.

The Smokies are a premier wildlife viewing area. Early in the morning and late in the evening make the viewing. Cades Cove and Cataloochee have large open spaces, providing excellent opportunities for viewing. Still, wildlife sightings are common throughout the Park. Bears are the most sought after.

A total of 65 mammals live in the Park. Some, such as the coyote and bobcat are reclusive, while deer are very common and obvious. Besides deer, people most often see red and gray squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, raccoons, opossums, red and gray foxes, skunks, and bats. Deer are common throughout the Park. An exotic, the wild European boar, causes widespread damage. Like other intrusive exotic species, the Park seeks means to control the boar population. Mammals native to the area, but no longer living here include bison and gray wolves. Reintroduction efforts brought back the red wolf and river otter; however, red wolf reintroduction efforts were not successful. In February 2001, the Park reintroduced elk back to the area as an experimental release effort.

More than 230 species of Birds use the Park, and over 110 species breed within Park boundaries. Birds are most active early in the morning, starting about 45 minutes before sunrise. Good birding spots include the Sugarlands Visitor Center, Cades Cove, and Oconaluftee. Some common species include: juncos, mourning doves, chimney swifts, eastern phoebes, barn swallows, blue jays, indigo buntings, cardinals, towhees, sparrows, chickadees, and warblers. Birds of prey include turkey vultures, hawks, and eagles. Peregrine falcons, the world's fastest bird, were close to extinction a few years ago. Through reintroduction, peregrines now nest on several rock

Reptiles include snakes, turtles and lizards. The only two poisonous species are the timber rattlesnake and northern copperhead. Neither have a lethal poison, and death from a snake bite in the Smokies is extremely rare. Other common reptiles include the eastern box turtle, common snapping turtle, and southeastern five-lined skink.

Amphibians thrive in the Great Smokies. Frogs, toads, and salamanders are all common Park residents. The Smokies' 30 species of salamanders make them the salamander capital of the world. Notable species include Jordan's Salamander, one subspecies of which is found only in the Smokies, and the Hellbender, which can grow up to a whopping two and one-half feet long.

Appalachian Ranger District

Craggy Gardens: black-throated blue warbler, rose-breasted grosbeak, pine siskin, red crossbill. Mount Mitchell and Black Mountains: veery, red crossbill, pine siskin, Canada warbler. Roan Mountain and Carvers Gap: golden-winged warbler, alder flycatcher, saw-whet owl, pine siskin, red crossbill.

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