Sunday, September 28, 2014

North Carolina Mountain Birds: Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at the Inn on Mill Creek
September marks the end of summer here in the mountains of Western North Carolina, and what better way to bid farewell to lovely summertime than feature one of our lovely summer residents before he flies to his winter home in Central or South America? Therefore, we introduce you to the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, our September 2014 bird in our 12 Months of Birding at the Inn series on our blog.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, especially the males, are pretty easy to spot. Males have black heads, white chests, and black and white patches on their backs. They also have a rich red V-shaped patch from their throats to their chests.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak male [photo credit: Audubon]
Females are mostly shades of brown, with a long, white eye stripe. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks also have large beaks, which is not a surprise for a bird with "grosbeak" in its name, and their beaks are triangular in shape.

One great way to attract Rose-breasted Grosbeaks is to have sunflower seeds, which these birds loooove. They also eat other seeds, as well as fruit and insects.

The most appealing characteristic of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak may be its song - a long string of cheerful whistles. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, "Present-day bird watchers have variously suggested it sings like a robin that has had opera training, is drunk, refined, in a hurry, or unusually happy." If you know what an American Robin's song sounds like, imagine an American Robin in a really good mood and you have the Rose-breasted Grosbeak's song. With a pleasant tune filling the trees around the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, our summers are definitely happy with the Rose-breasted Grosbeak around.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Arrowhead Artists Battle of the Brushes 2014

The Arrowhead Artists and Artisans League (A3L) in Old Fort, NC, recently held its 2014 Battle of the Brushes, a plein air art competition, where nearly 20 artists painted scenes of the Old Fort area. Judges chose Judy Meyler's depiction of the Thomas Wolfe Angel statue in the Old Fort Cemetery as the first place winner. Love the colors!

Work by Judy Meyler [photo credit: A3L]
Judy's work also garnered her the Arrowhead Award, which honors the painting that best captures the essence of Old Fort, as well as the Mayor's Award.

You can view all of the artists' works on the A3L Facebook Page and in person at the Arrowhead Gallery & Studios on Catawba Avenue in Old Fort.

Arrowhead Gallery & Studios
 A3L will be awarding a People's Choice award in October, chosen by the public, so you can vote for your People's Choice winner until October 27.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Waterfall Hikes Near Black Mountain, Marion and Old Fort

Roaring Fork Falls
A lot of our guests like to hike to waterfalls, and while choices are limited east of Asheville and involve a little bit of driving (scenic routes, of course), the quality of the waterfalls near Black Mountain and in McDowell County near Old Fort more than make up for it. Here's a short list, in order of drive time from the Inn on Mill Creek Bed & Breakfast to each waterfall hike's trailhead:

Catawba Falls - Located just south of Old Fort, the trailhead for Catawba Falls is about 20 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. The Catawba Falls trail meanders along the headwaters of the Catawba River, on forested land. Prepare to get your feet wet as you cross the river at a couple of shallow spots along the way. The trail is about 3 miles round trip, and leads to the base of Catawba Falls, which cascades hundreds of feet over large rocks. Note that this waterfall hike can be rather busy on the weekends, and is very popular with hiking groups and families.

Catawba Falls
Roaring Fork Falls - The trail for Roaring Fork Falls is actually an old Forest Service road, just north of the Blue Ridge Parkway off Highway 80, approximately 40 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek. It's an easy trail, about a mile in length one way. The waterfall does a zig-zag down to a pool at the base of the falls where the trail leads. Moss-covered rocks and trees placed perfectly by Mother Nature add to the appeal of Roaring Fork Falls, as well as the fact that it sees fewer people than most waterfalls in the area. Want a quiet hike to a peaceful spot? This one's for you.

Toms Creek Falls - Just a few miles off Highway 221 north of Marion and 40 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek is the trailhead for Toms Creek Falls, a nice 80-foot waterfall inside Pisgah National Forest. The trail is a little more than 1.5 miles round trip and is considered one of the area's easier hikes. You can see a description of the trail and photos via our friends at RomanticAsheville.com.

Douglas Falls - Craggy Gardens, about 45 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek and north of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, is an area of the North Carolina mountains known for its gorgeous rhododendron blooms in the springtime and its stellar views looking down on the Black Mountain range as the leaves change color in the fall. A lot of people don't realize there is a waterfall hike there as well. With an elevation gain of 1,300 feet, switchbacks and stream crossings, plus a distance of 6 miles (round trip), the strenuous trail to the 70-foot Douglas Falls is suited for avid hikers. For a description and photos, check out www.ncwaterfalls.com/craggy1.htm.

Linville Falls - Easily accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway and Highway 221 north of Marion, NC, Linville Falls is close to Grandfather Mountain and Linville Gorge, making it great for a day trip to that section of the mountains, which is about 45 minutes northeast of the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. Linville Falls is quite dramatic and in a beautiful area. For a description of hikes around the falls and photos, check our Linville Falls blog post.

Crabtree Falls - Approximately 60 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek is the Crabtree Falls campground and the trailhead to Crabtree Falls, a favorite hike of guests who are exploring the portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway between Mt. Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain. The campground is at Milepost 399.5 on the Parkway. There are two trails to Crabtree Falls: an easy out-and-back hike of 3 miles, and a more strenuous 3-mile loop trail that incorporates the first 1.5 miles of the easy hike and continues beyond the falls back to the parking lot. Check out this video from Blue Ridge of Crabtree Falls:



We have maps for guests of all waterfall hikes, so be sure to ask when you stay with us if you're interested in seeing a waterfall during your stay in the North Carolina mountains near Asheville.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

North Carolina Mountain Birds: Eastern Wood-Pewee


Eastern Wood-Pewee [photo credit: Phil Fowler]

Adding a dash of adorable to the Inn on Mill Creek Bed & Breakfast in the summertime, the Eastern Wood-Pewee gets the nod as our August 2014 bird in our 12 Months of Birding at the Inn series on the blog.

As a flycatcher, the Eastern Wood-Pewee's diet is mostly insects, including flies, crickets, grasshoppers, butterflies and moths, and even bees and wasps. You can often find the Eastern Wood-Pewees perched on branches of trees and rhododendron that line the pond at the Inn on Mill Creek, waiting for a little snack to fly by. They are amazing to watch when they catch insects in mid-air! They also eat small berries and seeds.

It can be a challenge to identify the Eastern Wood-Pewee since a lot of flycatchers look similar, especially the Eastern Phoebe, another mainstay at our B&B. Some differences to watch for:
  • The Eastern Wood-Pewee is more olive-gray, while the Eastern Phoebe is more brown
  • The Eastern Wood-Pewee is slightly smaller than the Eastern Phoebe
  • The Eastern Wood-Pewee has strong wingbars (lines of contrasting color on its wings)
  • The Eastern Phoebe has a serious tail wag while perching, flitting its tail up and down

Another way to single out the Eastern Wood-Pewee from other birds is by identifying its song. They tend to sing, loudly and often, during the day. Listen for three sliding notes that sound like "pee-a-weeeee" and you'll know who the afternoon's performer is: the Eastern Wood-Pewee.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Guest Favorites Garden August 2014 Update



As summer winds down, our Guest Favorites Garden planning is going full speed! Spurred on by the lovely late August color palette of our hydrangea and coreopsis in the garden, shown below, we're looking into spring blooming favorites of our guests that would have similar and complimentary tones.




We already have daffodils planted, and are now looking at varieties of columbines for the sunny, lower section of the garden. For summertime, we're perusing different colors of cosmos and hope to add more coneflowers as well. Small daylilies are also on the list for planting.

In addition to plants and flowers, we're hoping to start work soon on our "green stream", which will run from the top of the Guest Favorites Garden and meander toward the middle of the garden. This section is mostly shade beginning in May, so hosta plants and other shade lovers will line the "banks" of the stream and we'll have hardscaping in there as well.

Here's what we have to work with, an area that slopes downward toward our baby quince bush:


For the "stream" part, we're considering moss and pebbles, but we also like the look of grasses like this, from Fine Gardening magazine:


Flows pretty nicely, right? We're really excited about how this garden is going to look!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Taking the Garden Paths to the Bass Pond at Biltmore Estate

Exploring the outdoors at Biltmore
We know that most people who visit Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, can't wait to go through the 175,000 square-foot, fully furnished and ornate, Downton Abbey-esque house, but we tend to recommend heading outdoors at Biltmore, especially in late summer/early fall.

With thousands of acres of both cultivated gardens and pathways through naturalized park-like outdoor spaces designed by New York's Central Park and D.C.'s Capitol Ground designer Frederick Law Olmsted, Biltmore has a little something for every gardener and garden lover.

To make the most of your outdoor stroll around Biltmore, start at the house and walk through the Italian Garden, which are three water pool gardens that really show their stuff in late summer. If you are facing the house, the Italian Garden is to the left, below the South Terrace.
 
Italian Garden at Biltmore
Then proceed along the Shrub Garden just beyond the Italian Garden, making your way on the path to your right to get to the stairs that lead down to the Walled Garden. The Walled Garden has four acres of formal flowerbeds with an grapevine-laden arbor leading down the middle. It looks divine in late summer!

Biltmore Walled Garden side view in August
From here, you can head through the Walled Garden and through the adjacent rose garden, into the Conservatory (Brigette's favorite place at Biltmore), which is a gigantic glassed-in building filled from floor to ceiling with amazing plants and trees year-round.

Biltmore Conservatory (photo from May)
Once you get through the Conservatory, head to the left, go across the road and head down the stairs to the 15-acre Azalea Garden (gorgeous in springtime) and then on to the Bass Pond, about a third of mile away. The trail system beyond the Azalea Garden is a criss-crossing set of paved nature trails that are great for bird watching and it's also hard not to notice all the detail that has gone into the plantings along the pathways.

Pathway made from stones across a small stream
Pathway under a hydrangea archway
Summer blooms on the way to the Bass Pond
When you reach the Bass Pond, the first thing you'll notice is the Boat House, which is a great spot for sitting and relaxing.

Almost to the Bass Pond and the Boat House
The Boat House at Biltmore's Bass Pond
The other side of the Bass Pond looking toward the Boat House

The Bass Pond Bridge
A helpful tip: Biltmore House sits at a higher elevation than the gardens, so when you walk through the gardens to the Bass Pond, keep in mind that it will be uphill all the way back. It's not steep, it's a gradual incline, but you will notice it. So be sure to wear comfortable shoes, and take it at a leisurely pace.

Another helpful tip: We recommend exploring the gardens in the morning or late afternoon. Even in late summer and fall, daytime temperatures in the afternoon can be pretty warm and many of Biltmore's outdoor spaces are sunny.

There are plenty of outdoor activities at Biltmore as well, including bike trails (you can rent bikes there), horseback riding, Segway tours, Land Rover School, shooting clays, fly fishing, rafting and kayaking, and more. Check www.biltmore.com/visit/things-to-do/outdoor-activities for details and remember that you can purchase tickets to Biltmore that are good for any day and the following day here at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kiva 2014 Loans (so far...)

Can't believe we're more than halfway through 2014 and we haven't done any Kiva loan updates this year! As you may recall, our goal as the owners of a small business is to assist with loans to small business owners in every country represented on Kiva, which is currently 78 countries. So far in 2014, we have helped with four microloans. We decided to go with a farming theme this year and are helping out those in the agricultural industry in developing countries, including Walter Alexander in El Salvador, Suurakan in Kyrgyzstan, Chamnan in Cambodia, and the Tei Pin San Village group (63 farmers) in Myanmar/Burma.






These loans bring our country count to 37. We're hoping to make it 40 countries this year. Every time one of our borrowers pays on his or her loan, we receive our money back and are able to reloan it.

For more information on Kiva and how you can get involved with helping small business owners to lift themselves out of poverty and improve the economic conditions in their communities, visit www.kiva.org.