Sunday, May 24, 2015

North Carolina Mountain Birds: Green Heron

Green Heron [Photo: Nature Mapping Foundation]
This month, we have been fortunate to see a Green Heron on the pond at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. This is the first year that we've seen one, although that doesn't mean they haven't been here before...we just never noticed! So now that we have taken notice, this beautiful bird is getting the May 2015 spot in our 12 Months of Birding at the Inn series on the blog.

Green Heron [Photo: Brandohl Photography/Cornell Lab of Ornithology]
The Green Heron is shorter and stockier than a lot of other herons. From a distance, it may look like one solid, dark color, but up close, you can see that it has a dark green back, gray wings, and a chestnut-colored upper body. The Green Heron often sits hunched and motionless, waiting to surprise fish and insects. It has a very long bill that makes it a very effective fish catcher. In addition, check out this fun fact from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

The Green Heron is one of the world’s few tool-using bird species. It creates fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, earthworms, twigs, feathers, and other objects, dropping them on the surface of the water to entice small fish.

What we like about the Green Heron is that even though it has a generally sleek appearance, the feathers on its head will sometimes stick up, giving it a "bed head" look, almost like Kramer off of Seinfeld. Seriously.

Green Heron [Photo: Dan Pancamo/Wiki Commons]
The Green Heron is a summertime visitor to our area, migrating north in the springtime and heading back home to its southerly abode sometime around August.

Friday, May 22, 2015

TripAdvisor 2015 Certificate of Excellence

We were so excited and humbled this week, after receiving the TripAdvisor 2015 Certificate of Excellence.

This award is given to lodging properties, restaurants, etc., who consistently earn great reviews from travelers. Can't remember the last time getting mail made us giddy. Thanks to our super guests who have shared their experiences at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. We look forward to hosting you again.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Botanical Gardens at Asheville

Picturesque bridge at the Botanical Gardens of Asheville
The Botanical Gardens at Asheville is one of those places that we consider to be a true gem in our area. It's not as big or as well-known as, say, the gardens at Biltmore Estate or the North Carolina Arboretum. But it's a wonderful spot for people who want to experience nature in a leisurely setting.

Established in 1960, the Botanical Gardens at Asheville is located at the confluence of two creeks, and features a variety of natural habitats, including forests, meadows and rocky outcroppings. A half-mile trail and several side trails meander through the Gardens, featuring more than 600 species of native plants, and there's even a birding garden for bird watchers.

Here are ten reasons we think you should visit the Botanical Gardens of Asheville:
  1. It's FREE. Donations are welcome and support the Gardens.
  2. The Gardens are open year-round, seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset.
  3. Due to the variety of plants, something is in bloom from spring through fall.
  4. With ten acres, there are lots of opportunities for nature photography.
  5. Many items in the Gardens are labeled, so it's a fantastic way to learn about the different trees, shrubs and flowers that are native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
  6. It's a great spot for a picnic lunch, with benches, tables and plenty of space to spread a blanket.
  7. In the summertime, you can cool off in the shade under magnificent trees, or dip your toes in a cool babbling creek.
  8. You'll see more than just plants: cool rock formations, beautiful water features, and even an original dog-trot cabin that was relocated from Madison County are on the grounds. There's also a set of earthworks that were constructed during the Battle of Asheville, one of the last Civil War battles, which took place in April of 1865.
  9. The Gardens are managed as a non-profit, dedicated to the outstanding cause of conservation and preservation of native plants, many of which are now uncommon, rare, or endangered. Donations and any profits from the gift shop go toward furthering the organization's mission.
  10. It's not far from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, just 25 minutes away (north of downtown Asheville and near the UNC-Asheville campus).
Below are some photos we took on a visit in May to the Botanical Gardens of Asheville. Enjoy!

Beautiful paths let you see plants up close

Cabin at the Botanical Gardens of Asheville

Wildflowers abound at the Botanical Gardens of Asheville

Green and Gold, one of many types of wildflowers at the Botanical Gardens

Flowers aren't the only interesting items at the Botanical Gardens

Trails take you to different points in the Botanical Gardens

Many of the Botanical Gardens' plants are labeled for easy ID'ing

Get up close with native flowers and plants at the Botanical Gardens

Spring blooming shrubs at the Botanical Gardens of Asheville
A few things to keep in mind: Due to the fragile habitats and mission of preservation at the Gardens, and for the consideration of all visitors to the Gardens, they do have some restrictions: no picking the flowers, berries, or other Garden features, no dogs/pets, no bicycles, and no sporting games like frisbee or football. They request that visitors be mindful of staying on trails rather than venturing into fenced in or roped off areas, and also ask that all trash be placed in containers near the Botany Center.

To learn more about the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, visit

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Late Afternoon in May at the Biltmore Estate Gardens

Walled Garden at Biltmore Estate in Asheville
A lot of our guests love visiting Biltmore Estate in Asheville when they stay with us at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. The entrance to Biltmore is about 20 minutes away, and we have tickets here at the Inn for your convenience (discounted and good for two days!).

Most people think of Biltmore House when they think of Biltmore Estate, but the gardens are magnificent and well worth spending some time exploring. Acres and acres of gardens, including formal gardens, park-like gardens spaces, and a beautiful azalea garden. We always recommend touring the gardens in the morning or the late afternoon if you go in spring or summertime, as afternoon temperatures can be a little on the warm side in the sun-drenched gardens. The Biltmore gardens are open until dusk, so you have plenty of time to stroll.

Here are a few photos we took on a visit to Biltmore on May 12, around 5:30pm.We mostly stayed in the Walled Garden, just below Biltmore House, between the house and the two-story Conservatory.

Looking through a lattice window in the Biltmore Estate Walled Garden
A House Finch keeps an eye on late afternoon visitors in the Walled Garden

Viewing the Conservatory from the Walled Garden at Biltmore
Beautiful perennials in the Biltmore Estate Walled Garden

A Northern Mockingbird feeds its (hidden away) babies in the Rose Garden

Someone thinks he's part of the Biltmore grounds crew...

Lots of different trees and shrubs along the garden paths at Biltmore Estate

Late afternoon sunshine lights up a Japanese Maple

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

2015 Spring and Summer Art Events in the Asheville Area

Red House Studios & Gallery in Black Mountain [Photo: TripAdvisor]
While the Asheville area is known for natural beauty -- hiking trails, waterfalls, the Blue Ridge Parkway -- it is equally known for its superb arts culture. Asheville is recognized annually for its art and craft on various "top ten" lists. So if you're looking for some inspiration during your trip to the mountains this spring and summer (and maybe a souvenir to take home), look no further than the following Asheville area art events and exhibitions taking place over the next few months:

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Blue Ridge Parkway Spring Hike: Crabtree Falls

Crabtree Falls [Photo: Wikimedia Commons]

If you're looking for a springtime day trip while you're staying in the North Carolina mountains, and want to see some of the area's truly photogenic scenery, check out Crabtree Falls. This wildflower and waterfall hike is north of Asheville, off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Milepost 339, between Mt. Mitchell State Park and Little Switzerland. It's about an hour from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, and is a good recommendation if you want to take a day for traveling along a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic byway that runs northeast through the western part of North Carolina into Virginia and provides panoramic views of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Crabtree Falls, a 70-foot waterfall, is accessed via the Crabtree Falls Loop trail, which has a couple of options. You can hike just under a mile to the waterfall and then turn around and head back to the trail's start, or you can get to the waterfall and then hike another 2 miles to complete the trail's loop. The first option is easier and shorter, of course, while the second option, which has a moderately strenuous portion, gives you lots of opportunities to view woodland wildflowers and plants and do some birdwatching.

Here's an excellent trail description from our friends at HikeWNC: Additionally, we have trail maps here at the Inn for our guests. This also happens to be a great summer and fall trail, although you'll see fewer people in spring.

To get to Crabtree Falls from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, travel east on Highway 70 through Old Fort to Highway 80, which goes 12 miles north to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Take the Parkway north and turn left at the Crabtree Falls Campground at Milepost 339.5. The parking area for the Crabtree Falls Loop trailhead is on the right before you get to the campground pay station.

Monday, April 27, 2015

North Carolina Mountain Birds: Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo [photo: Wikipedia]
Starting in the springtime, usually by late April, you'll start hearing the Red-eyed Vireos at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B singing a lovely song of gently slurred notes, with phrases ending in an up-note or a down-note, making it sound like the bird is sweetly tweeting a short question and answering it. Over and over, and over and over.

Typically, the song comes from the trees that border our orchard, or from the trees near the Carolina and Oak Leaf Rooms on the north side of the B&B. Even when the other birds take their afternoon break and the forest is otherwise quiet, the Red-eyed Vireo just keeps on singing.

We love the return of this bird from its winter home in the Amazon, so we're giving the Red-eyed Vireo the April spot in this year's 12 Months of Birding at the Inn series on our blog.

Here's a description of the Red-eyed Vireo, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Red-eyed Vireos are olive-green above and clean white below with a strong head pattern: a gray crown and white eyebrow stripe bordered above and below by blackish lines. The flanks and under the tail have a green-yellow wash. Adults have red eyes that appear dark from a distance; immatures have dark eyes.

They aren't the easiest birds to spot once the leaves are full on the trees, but just keep following their song and be patient. They like to hang out in the canopy of trees all day, munching on their favorite food, caterpillars. And singing.

About that song: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that a male Red-eyed Vireo can sign up to 20,000 times a day! And even though it sounds like the same song, each bird can have 30 or more different types of tunes in its repertoire, and more than 12,500 different types of Red-eyed Vireo songs have been recorded. So, when you're at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B in late spring and during the summertime, take a listen to the daytime singing of our winged neighbors. Chances are likely, you'll hear a Red-eyed Vireo at some point during your stay.