Northern Flicker

by Crystal Cockman

March 23, 2017

Photo by Jeff Beane

The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is native to most of North America, parts of Central America, Cuba and the Cayman islands. They are one of a few species of woodpecker that migrate. Flickers in the northern part of their range move south for the winter. They are a medium-sized woodpecker, brown in color with black spots and bars on their body, and a white rump patch that stands out when they are in flight. They have a shock of red on the back of their heads, and males have a black (in the east) or red (in the west) mustached stripe at the base of their beaks.

In the east, the undersides of the wing and tail feathers are yellow. In the west, they are red. This is probably why eastern Northern Flickers are also called yellowhammer woodpeckers. There’s a classic Appalachian trout fly that used to use the feathers of northern flickers called a Yellow Hammer or Yellarhammer fly. It’s not legal to take a northern flicker, so there are synthetic feathers that look similar that you can get to tie the fly. You can read more about them and learn how to tie them in Roger Lowe’s Fly Pattern Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains. Roger is from Waynesville, NC. [Read more…]

A Couple of Good Loop Hikes

by Crystal Cockman

March 15, 2017

IMG_0441The past couple of weekends, I’ve hiked two loop trails, which means they follow a circle and so you don’t have to do any backtracking. One of these trails is in the Birkhead Wilderness Area, and the other is in the Badin Recreational Area. They are very different trails but equally enjoyable to hike.

The trail in the Birkheads starts at the Robbins Branch Trailhead on Lassiter Mill Road. The bridge is out just south of the trailhead, so if you’re coming from Troy, you’ll have to go a few extra miles up to Highway 49 and come back down to the trailhead. The total length of the hike is about 6.7 miles. You start out on the Robbins Branch Trail, which goes by a nice upland ephemeral pool where some salamanders are likely hanging out. It joins the Birkhead Trail after a big climb.

[Read more…]

Cedar Fever

by Ruth Ann Grissom

March 9, 2017

A band of light rain passed through the Uwharries on a recent Saturday evening. By Sunday morning, the sky was crystalline blue. Despite a lively northwest breeze, the temperature was unseasonably mild. I was out with the dogs, admiring the tawny field of native grass backlit by the unadulterated sun. Suddenly, a line of smoke appeared along the far edge of the field. The wind whipped it across the road. The smoke hit the base of Black Mountain and churned up the slope. In a matter of minutes, it dissipated into a uniform haze. For a moment, I wondered if I had conjured a fire in a field that’s due to be burned in the coming weeks.

Something similar happened to my parents a few years back. On a balmy winter morning, Mama was sitting on her back porch when she caught a glimpse of smoke. It seemed to be coming from the old farmhouse next door. She called to my dad, and they rushed to investigate. A neighbor driving down Ophir Road also noticed it. He stopped and met them in the driveway. They were flummoxed. They didn’t smell smoke or see flames. Then a gust of wind revealed the source of the smoke – the stately cedar just east of the house. The tree wasn’t burning, but it was clearly on fire – a male spewing its pollen into the air. [Read more…]

Smith Branch Longleaf Preserve

Yellow-Fringed Orchid
Yellow-Fringed Orchid

The LandTrust for Central North Carolina, with support from the Open Space Institute and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, is pleased to announce the formal protection of the Smith Branch Longleaf Preserve through a conservation easement. This is a 104-acre, climate-resilient property located in Montgomery County on Smith Branch that has been managed for more than 20 years for longleaf pine ecosystem restoration and enhancement. A plethora of unique flora and fauna are found on the site, including a rare plant, Iris prismatica (blue flag iris), timber rattlesnake, yellow-fringed orchid, and fox squirrels.

The property used to be a subsistence farm, and had a few scattered older growth longleaf pines located on it. The current owner purchased the property and planted some of it in loblolly pine initially, but they did not survive the large snowstorm of 2000. That’s when he noticed the longleaf and began researching about them. He replanted the areas of loblolly with longleaf, and began a rigorous prescribed burning regime. Each block of land in the property gets burned every 2 years now.

longleaf“The LandTrust is very excited to work with this landowner in order to preserve this unique site,” states Executive Director Travis Morehead. “There are less than a dozen native Piedmont Longleaf Pine forests left in North Carolina, many of them on national forest land, and the opportunity to conserve a privately held longleaf forest is a special occurrence.” The LandTrust worked to protect another privately held longleaf forest, the Arnett Branch Longleaf Pine Forest, in partnership with the NC Zoo a few years ago.

The NC Natural Heritage Program now classifies the Smith Branch Longleaf Preserve as a natural heritage natural area. The natural communities of Piedmont Longleaf Pine Forest and Piedmont Boggy Streamhead are found on the property. Piedmont longleaf pine differ from the Sandhills and Coastal Plain longleaf in that they have a understory hosting a suite of native Piedmont grasses and forbs, including big blue stem, little blue stem, broom straw, and Indian grass, for example.

“Many of the plants found on the property are more classically thought of as coastal plain plants,” states Land Protection Director, Crystal Cockman. “This just goes to show that Montgomery County is a crossroads, where the Uwharrie Mountains meet the Sandhills, and thanks to the landowner’s dedication to prescribed burning, new unique plants show up almost every season.” Other special plants found here include Amorpha schwerini (Piedmont indigo bush), Turk’s cap lily, green-fringed orchid, and a coastal plain species of azalea.

Blue Flag Iris
Blue Flag Iris

The property was conserved thanks in large part to the Open Space Institute’s Southeast Resilient Landscapes Fund. As weather patterns change, strategic conservation of places like the Smith Branch Longleaf Preserve—which contain interconnected landscapes covering a diversity of geology, landforms and biologically intact habitats—is a primary strategy for helping plants and animals adapt.

“Many people don’t realize that the Piedmont region, in addition to holding habitat for sensitive plants and animals, is a linchpin landscape that will help protect North Carolina as the climate changes,” said Peter Howell, Executive Vice President of the Open Space Institute. “We congratulate the LandTrust for Central North Carolina for their perseverance in protecting this hallowed land.”

boon closing
Mary Chesson, Crystal Cockman, and Boon Chesson

Additional funding from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund made conservation of this property possible. Thanks to the landowner for preserving this special place, and to supporters of The LandTrust for Central North Carolina for making this work possible. More information about this property’s protection and other LandTrust conservation projects is available on our website at

*For more information about The Land Trust for Central NC, please contact The Land Trust at 704-647-0302 or, or visit their website at’