“A quiet canoe ride along a river forest provides an ideal way of seeing birds” states John C. Kircher in Peterson’s Ecology of Eastern Forests field guide (1988). For those who enjoy watching wildlife, or simply relaxing on a quiet summer evening, the French Broad River in Transylvania County offers some of the best places in Western North Carolina to take in this recreational experience.
While a few songbirds and squirrels may be seen during the day, the prime hours for viewing the majority of the French Broad’s residents occur when the sun settles in the west, and bustle of the day turns gradually into the calm and quiet of night.
On the river at dusk, you may be startled by the warning slap of a beaver’s tail on the water. However, if you paddle quietly you may be able to observe North America’s largest member of the rodent family for a time before it drops below the surface to find its underwater burrow entrance. The beaver’s smaller cousin, the muskrat, is less shy and is more likely to be viewed in its normal routine. Evidence of each can be found along the river banks where their burrows and trails meet the river’s edge.
Abundant bird life is also found at dusk on the French Broad. Swallows dip and dive to catch insects and feed their young in the nests which have been burrowed into the dark soil of the river’s bank. Sand pipers scurry across gravel bars in search of more insects, their niche in this river ecosystem. The green heron and belted kingfisher patrol from the air, trees, and shore, looking for the frog or fish that will make their meal.
Possibly the most colorful visitor to the river, however, is the American Wood duck. This tree-nesting waterfowl is known for its distressed call if flushed from its roost, or when attempting to lure predators away from ducklings. The male Wood duck carries a distinct red head with black crest, and reflects an array of colors from the feathers along its sides and back. The female is not as flashy, needing to keep a low profile while caring for the offspring. Seen singly, in pairs, and in larger flocks, this beautiful bird is always a highlight on an evening river trip.