Binoculars

You may remember that one of my Christmas presents was a set of birdwatching binoculars. Wife of Mine presented them to me, and I’m starting to put them to use — at least when I don’t forget and leave them on the kitchen table. 

Where are my expeditions taking me? Sometimes no farther than the back yard. I’m liking this birdwatching thing. In fact, the patch of woods at the back of our lot is about as convenient as it gets. It used to be grass. But a while back I decided to do my part for wildlife and let it go natural — you know, creating habitat and all that. 

Besides, I told myself, if I let it go natural, I won’t have to worry about cutting all that extra grass. That would mean more time for fishing or birdwatching or whatever else seems more enjoyable than yard work, which is just about everything. See how logical that is? Yes, logic is a wonderful thing.

Close-to-home birdwatching is fun, but there’s always something to be said for “going somewhere,” whether for fishing or hiking or birdwatching or whatever. That may be why, the other day, I found myself planning a rambling excursion somewhere up in the mountains.

“I think I’ll go northwest,” I said, “and see what I can see.”

“You ought to take your binoculars!” Wife of Mine replied. “There might be birds.”

“Good idea!” I replied, and so I set them on the table so I wouldn’t forget them, unless of course I forgot them, which is exactly what I did.

My day in the mountains was refreshing. Some days it’s nice just to wander, and this was definitely one of those days. 

Eventually, about mid-afternoon, I decided to head home. But then there it was — a sign pointing to what is, for me, one of the most irresistible points of interest you’ll find — a dam.

Specifically, the sign pointed the way to the Carter’s Lake Lower Pool Reregulation Dam. That was a new one for me. 

Curious, I followed the signs. What I found when I got there was a concrete dam of the classic sort — a massive, gray, vaguely brooding monolith that stretched across the Coosawattee River — and thanks to all the rain we’ve had, the water was roaring through, too. Standing on the top of the dam (yes, you can walk across it) and leaning on the railing and looking down at the resulting turbulence was mesmerizing in that funny kind of way that gives you goosebumps and makes your knees a little weak and causes your blood pressure to rise. Like a really good roller coaster, it was kind of terrifying but also a heck of a lot of fun.

After a while, I turned to head back to the truck. That’s when I saw the sign. It was a big ol’ sign, and it read “Hidden Pond Trail Songbird Management Area.” 

And there was a trail…

I don’t know about you, but I can’t spy a trail without wondering where it goes. This one was no exception, and since I had time, I decided to go see. Songbirds, eh? I knew I should have brought those binoculars with me! Like my fly rod, they’re probably destined to become a regular item in my outdoor adventure bag. On that day, though, all I had was my eyes. 

From the parking area, walk past the sign. The trail turns right and crosses a creek, climbs a little hill, and soon takes you to a loop. To your left is a longer bridge which crosses a wetland area; to your right, the trail follows a clearing, then turns left (look for a trail sign) and heads back toward the lake, eventually crossing another bridge over the same creek. Just beyond that bridge, look for a pathway turning left; it follows the edge of the wetlands and eventually enters a cleared area and the far end of the long bridge over the wetland. You can also follow the clearing back to your car. Make sense? It will when you hike it.

One of the neatest things about the loop portion of this trail is that it takes you to a number of blinds built specifically with bird watching in mind. You’ll find these blinds at several points along the trail. They make it easy to observe the wetlands wildlife — especially if (yeah, yeah) you don’t leave your binoculars on the kitchen table.

But even without fancy optics, I saw birds — lots of birds — big ones, small ones, large flocks and small groups of two or three. Most were songbirds, but I saw a couple of hawks and some wading birds too. I expect there will be many more as the weather warms, and this is now on my list of places to revisit 

It should offer many opportunities for birdwatching of the first order — especially if I don’t leave the binoculars at home. 

The Hidden Pond Trail Songbird Management Area is located at the Carters Lake Reregulation Dam Recreation Area. It is accessed via Highway 136 and Old Highway 411. The trailhead is located near the beginning of the parking area.

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