Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Bald Eagle in Old Fort, NC (March 10, 2015)

Well, well, well, what do we have here?

Bald Eagle perched near Mill Creek Road in Old Fort, NC
Bald Eagles are not spotted very often in our neck of the woods inside Pisgah National Forest east of Asheville. In fact, we note just a few sightings in the Asheville area since January of this year on eBird.

After a friend told us that he had seen a bald eagle for about a week near our Bed & Breakfast, curiosity got the better of us and we headed out today to take a look. Sure enough, there it was, perched in a tree along Mill Creek Road near a pond, about two miles from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, in Old Fort (McDowell County, North Carolina).

Bald Eagle on Mill Creek Road near the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
Here's a very short video:

And a little bit of information about the bald eagle from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Once abundant in North America, the species became rare in the mid-to-late 1900s—the victim of trapping, shooting, and poisoning as well as pesticide-caused reproductive failures. In 1978 the bird was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Since 1980, gentler treatment by humans along with the banning of DDT (the bird’s main pesticide threat) have led to a dramatic resurgence. By the late 1990s, breeding populations of Bald Eagles could be found throughout most of North America. In June 2007, the bird’s recovery prompted its removal from the Endangered Species list.

Have you ever seen a bald eagle in your area?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Springtime Blue Ridge Birding Weekend at the Inn on Mill Creek, May 8-10, 2015

Join us for the a special weekend of birding, May 8-10, 2015

Warblers and vireos and buntings, oh my! Birding enthusiasts and nature lovers, bring your binoculars and join us for the Blue Ridge Mountains spring migration birding weekend coming up on May 8-10, 2015, hosted by the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, a site on the North Carolina Birding Trail, Mountains Region.

Get set to go birding at various locations near Black Mountain, Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway with well-known ornithologist and naturalist Simon Thompson of Ventures Birding Tours.  Friday, May 8, the Inn on Mill Creek B&B will host a meet-and-greet for guests, with hors d'oeuvres and complimentary beverages, as Simon reviews the itinerary and birding checklist for the weekend. Then it's off on a full day of birding on Saturday, May 9, before breakfast around the Inn on Mill Creek and then after breakfast at different locations in the area, led by Simon. Lunch is included on Saturday. Simon will then be back at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B on Sunday to lead guests on a morning bird walk around the Inn's seven-acre wooded property in Pisgah National Forest.

Rooms are discounted to $150/night and the birding package is $135/person. Reserve online at www.innonmillcreek.com -- simply select the May weekend dates (May 8-10), pick your room, and add the birding weekend package when prompted. Or reserve over the phone at 828.668.1115. 

SPACE IS LIMITED. Reserve a spot before the weekend sells out.

More details and a list of Ventures Birding's other tours and day trips can be found at http://www.birdventures.com/InnMillCreek2015.html.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Snow Day(s) 2015

Snow Day! Inn on Mill Creek B&B, February 26, 2015
A lot of our guests and friends of the Inn who live in the northeastern U.S. and also in the midwest are no doubt ready for Spring. It's understandable, what with Boston getting more than 100(!) inches of snow this 2015 winter season and other areas seeing plenty of the white stuff to last through the rest of winter.

However, here inside Pisgah National Forest east of Asheville and Black Mountain, NC (elevation 2,300 feet), we had had yet to see an actual winter as of mid-February at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, even saying so in our winter newsletter.

Well, we spoke too soon! Mother Nature is clearly not quite ready for Spring as we [finally] got our first snow. And second snow two days later. Our snow day on February 23 has turned into a snow week. We are loving it!! Whenever it snows here at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, it's extremely peaceful and very calm. Very still. Just pure white with evergreen rhododendron and the warm gray tones of bare tree branches. And then the birds come out and serenade us in the early afternoon. Just so lovely.

Our road through Pisgah National Forest is a North Carolina State Route, and therefore gets plowed. But sometimes not for a day or so. That said, for the few snow days that we have each year, we recommend that visitors choose lodging closer to the interstate if they are on a strict schedule and/or they don't have 4-wheel drive.

Even though it's quiet at the Inn, we don't want to keep all this loveliness to ourselves, so please enjoy the following photos before the snow quickly melts away. This time next month, we'll be sharing bright yellow daffodils, but right now, it's beautiful, beautiful winter white.

See the walking labyrinth outline?
Partially frozen pond at the Inn on Mill Creek
A favorite sitting spot (in spring, summer and fall, of course!)
Tufted Titmouse at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
Black & White Garden is mostly white right now!
Dark-eyed Juncos LOVE winter at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
Savoring the snowy scene before it melts away

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bathroom Remodeling: Part 1

One big misconception about Bed & Breakfast lodging is that you have to share a bathroom. This outdated stereotype is present in virtually every editorial, satire piece, and article criticizing B&Bs. It is the question we get most often from guests inquiring about staying at the Inn on Mill Creek. Well, fear not! According to a recent study of the industry, almost 95% of B&Bs do NOT have shared bathrooms.

All of the guest rooms at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B have their own private bathrooms, and February 2015 has been designated "Bathroom Transformation Month" in three of the guest baths: The Lake View Room, the Mountain Laurel Room, and the Maple Tree Room.

Lake View Room at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
Mountain Laurel Room at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
Maple Tree Room at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B

The Mountain Laurel Room and Maple Tree Room have new tile showers, while the Lake View Room is undergoing extensive renovations. We put together this tiny sneak peek of the work being done...

Stay tuned for more... the shower doors were just installed in the Mountain Laurel and Maple Tree Rooms and they are officially finished so video is coming soon!

Reserve one of these or our other rooms online at www.innonmillcreek.com

Sunday, February 15, 2015

North Carolina Mountain Birds: Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin [Photo: Wikipedia]
During the wintertime, there are fewer species of birds in our neck of the woods. However, the ones who are year-round and winter only residents really stand out. One such cold weather superstar is our February 2015 pick for our 12 Months of Birding at the Inn blog series: The Pine Siskin.

Pine Siskins are small brown and white streaked finches with yellow markings on their wings, thin, pointed beaks and notched tails. They are often confused with House Finches (which have thicker bills and no wingbars) and American Goldfinches (who are stockier and whose backs and chests aren't streaked).

Pine Siskins like cool temperatures and live year-round in southern Canada as well as in parts of the western United States. But in wintertime, these little nomads set off in flocks to find seed all over the U.S. This is when we see them the most at the Inn on Mill Creek's birdfeeders and flying overhead, usually in good numbers.

Not only do they add visual interest to the winter landscape, but they are serious chatterboxes and their nonstop cheerful-sounding tweets help us to avoid the winter blahs.

Here's a fun fact about the Pine Siskin from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Pine Siskins are known to move unpredictably into southern and eastern North America. Every couple of years, Pine Siskins make unpredictable migrations called irruptions into southern and eastern North America, sometimes traveling very far distances. So, even if pine siskins haven't visited your feeder in a year or two, it's worth keeping the thistle out and also keeping an eye out for these irregular migrations that may bring an upsurge in the number of Pine Siskins to your backyard. That's what happened here at the Inn in March of 2009:

Pine Siskins flock to the Inn on Mill Creek birdfeeders

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

2015 Garden Planning

Heading day by day into Spring... one day closer... one day closer... we're ready to see some blooming flowers and spring-y sunny days, how about you? While we wait for those first crocuses to pop out of the ground and make us happy, we're perusing various magazines and garden catalogs in search of some new garden ideas. You know we ("we" meaning Brigette) can't stop when it comes to gardening! We've expanded one garden and added two more, and we still have room to grow. Or our plants do anyway.

We'll be continuing to add plants to our newly established Guest Favorites Garden this year. The garden sits on a slope along the driveway, and the top section is shade, while the bottom section is full sun. We're filling the Guest Favorites Garden with flowers and shrubs that our guests love.

So far, the GFG has baby azaleas and a baby quince bush, daffodils, a lovely hydrangea, a barberry bush, a butterfly bush, hostas, coreopsis and daisies, plus some cool grasses that are going to look like a stream cascading down the center of the top section.

Coreopsis in the Inn on Mill Creek Guest Favorites Garden

Li'l Quince Bush in the Inn on Mill Creek Guest Favorites Garden

This year, we'll be adding more coreopsis, another butterfly bush, more hostas and some hardscaping to add to our "green stream" and possibly (OK, for sure) more daisies, among other plants. If you have any flowers that you love, let us know and we'll see about adding them to the GFG.

The former White Garden at the Inn is now in its second year as the new and improved Black and White Garden, containing flowers and shrubs with white/silver or black flowers and foliage. This year, we'll be crossing our fingers that our black hollyhocks added last year will bloom this year and we'll also be adding dahlias to that garden and experimenting with annuals and containers to give the garden a different look throughout the year, focusing on summer and fall. We may also relocate the roses in that garden to a spot where they'll get more sun.

Third on the garden planning list, this year looks to be promising in terms of relocating/replanting our high bush blueberries, which have gotten "shaded out" by the trees nearby that have grown up next to them. To a more sunny spot they will go and more will be added. We're currently looking at the best location to put our blueberries. And when they are moved, the south lawn beyond the labryinth will be expanded into a more park-like setting, with its mature trees and small stream. We may add some spring flowering trees and shrubs to the mix so that it's as colorful that time of year as in the fall.

The Labyrinth and South Lawn at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
Fourth on the list is something we're really excited about: We're going to develop a small portion of open land in the Inn on Mill Creek's apple orchard into a Monarch Butterfly-loving milkweed field with the help of our friends from Hop-n-Blueberry Farm in Black Mountain. We'll have more on that this spring.

Finally, will 2015 be the year that we add a raised vegetable garden? Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ten More Hikes for Winter in the NC Mountains

Winter mountain views along a nearby hiking trail
Five years ago, we did a list of ten good wintertime hikes of varying degrees of difficulty, ranging from easy nature trails to fairly strenuous hikes. It remains one of our most-read blog posts ever. Visitors to the Blue Ridge mountains near Asheville, NC, want to know good places to hike in winter (and the other three seasons as well). So why not add more to our list of seasonal favorites?

In this set of hikes, we've included a number of waterfall trails, since wintertime waterfall viewing is pretty awesome. Also, we included trails that may have interesting things to see beyond wildflowers and verdant views that you see at other times of the year.

Wintertime hiking showcases the beauty of the area
Please do take note that many of the trails in our area are "rooty and rocky," with lots of tree roots and small or medium-sized rocks in your path, which can be slippery in rainy or snowy conditions. These mountains are the oldest on earth and part of a diverse and beautiful landscape! They have a distinct personality for each season. But they don't care if you slip and fall. We do, however, so please take care when hiking in the wintertime.

Also, dress in layers, don't forget to take water, watch the forecast, and be aware, before you go, of any road closures due to wintry weather.

Here are ten more good hikes for wintertime in our neck of the woods, in alphabetical order.

Bent Creek Trail (North Carolina Arboretum) - The North Carolina Arboretum features more than 430 acres of public gardens in a natural setting near the Blue Ridge Parkway, southwest of Asheville. Included are ten miles of hiking and biking trails in the beautiful Bent Creek area. One of the trails, the aptly-named Bent Creek Trail, is for hiking only and leads along the creek for 1.3 miles. It also parallels Bent Creek Road, a wide gravel pathway for use by pedestrians (and pooches) and cyclists. We prefer the Trail.

Cascade Glen Trail via the Lee Moore Trail (Christmount in Black Mountain) - Attracting many visitors to our area are various conference centers around Black Mountain. Not only do these conference centers host different events, but many of them have hiking trails open to the public. One is Christmount, located just south of downtown Black Mountain, NC, off of NC Hwy 9. Christmount has numerous trails, including the Cascade Glen Trail, a half-mile moderate trail accessed via the Lee Moore Trail. So, two trails in one! See trail map and description here.

Catawba Falls (Old Fort) - Catawba Falls is a great year-round trail. It is extremely popular in warm weather months, so the decrease in crowds in the off-season is one reason it has made its way on to our wintertime list. The trail is approximately 3 miles roundtrip, meandering along the headwaters of the Catawba River (and past the very cool ruins of a hydroelectric dam) and leading to the base of Catawba Falls. One note: We do not recommend that you try the steep section to the top of the falls, especially in wintertime.

Lower Piney Trail (Montreat) - The town of Montreat has a fantastic trail system with more than 20 hiking trails, which are a nice alternative to trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway that are not easy to get to in the winter. The Lower Piney Trail can be accessed from either the north or south ends of the trail via roads, and is just under 3 miles out and back. There is a view about halfway down the trail. We have Montreat trail maps here at the Inn for guests to use.

Parris Creek Fire Road (Pisgah National Forest 1/4 mile from the Inn) - There are two Forest Service access roads a quarter mile from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. No motor vehicles allowed, but the grassy/gravel roads make great hiking trails. The Parris Creek Fire Road is on the west side of Mill Creek Road and leads into Pisgah National Forest for well over a mile, on a gradual incline. It rounds a bend to lovely views of the ridges between the Inn and Montreat.

Rainbow Road (Montreat) - One of many easy trails in Montreat, Rainbow Road features tunnels of evergreen rhododendron following an old roadbed through deciduous forest. It's an easy 2 miles out and back to the trailhead off Lookout Road in Montreat. For something more strenuous, try Lookout Mountain or Rainbow Mountain, but be very careful if hiking those steep trails in the wintertime. Check with us when you stay at the Inn on Mill Creek for area trail maps, including Montreat.

Roaring Fork Falls (Pisgah National Forest north of the Blue Ridge Parkway) - Located not far off of Highway 80, just north of the Blue Ridge Parkway is the Roaring Fork Falls Trail, taking hikers on an old Forest Service access road along Roaring Fork, a tributary to the South Toe River, to the base of a pretty awesome waterfall that zig-zags down through the forest. See a trail description here.

Ruins Trail (Warren Wilson College) - Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa has its share of beautiful hiking trails, including the Ruins Trail, part of a network of trails that were actually roads in the years following the Revolutionary War. This trail in particular, which branches off of the Davidson Road Trail, has ruins of old homesteads and even an old inn.

Toms Creek Falls (Marion) - Toms Creek Falls, not far off of Highway 221, east of the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, is a very well maintained trail through forested land and along Toms Creek. The trail's namesake is a rather nice waterfall that cascades steeply down more than 60 feet over rocks. An observation platform is under construction at the base of the falls, and you can hike to the top via a moderate trail to the right of the falls. There's also an old mica mine to the left of the base of the falls. For more details, see our recent blog post on Toms Creek Falls.

Youngs Ridge (Old Fort) - Last but not least in our winter hike lineup is Youngs Ridge, a 4-mile (one way) moderate trail through Pisgah National Forest south of the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. We recommend accessing the trailhead that begins in the Old Fort Picnic Grounds, a short drive from the Inn. The picnic grounds themselves are closed in the wintertime, but you can park outside of the gate at the intersection of Mill Creek Road and Old US Hwy 70, and then walk through to the trailhead, which is on the left side of the picnic grounds. Keep an eye out for mountain bikers on this trail, especially on weekends.

Innpugs from a winter past...wondering why we're sitting and not hiking!