This park south of downtown Raleigh is where to find Kentucky and other warblers, Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager, and other songbirds in spring and summer, plus sparrows and ducks in winter.
By Nathan Swick | Published: 4/22/2011
Historic sites often make for good birding locations precisely for the same reasons nature preserves do. If a building is slated to be protected as a link to times past, there’s an excellent chance that the surrounding property will get the same treatment. That’s certainly the case with Historic Yates Mill, the oldest functioning grist mill in heavily developed Wake County, North Carolina. The mill itself stands much as it did in the 18th century, as do the surrounding 574 acres, with a few modern touches, including an interpretive center and miles of well-maintained trails. Birders in winter enjoy a variety of ducks on the old mill pond, and in spring and fall, migrating warblers, thrushes, and tanagers pass through.
Surprises are also possible. I’ve seen Virginia Rail skulk in the marshy back end of the pond, and on one late spring morning, an unlikely Anhinga showed up. In spring, I usually take a short drive around the agricultural fields that border the park to look for flocks of migrating Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows on territory, and nesting Loggerhead Shrikes, a species of special concern in the state. — Nathan Swick
Nathan Swick is the eBird reviewer for North Carolina and the manager of the American Birding Association’s blog. He wrote about Mason Farm Biological Reserve, Hotspot Near You No. 88, in our April 2010 issue.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Pine-hardwood and oak-hickory forests surround a small mill pond. Wet meadows and agricultural fields border the park.
Mostly flat but some small hills.
Spring and summer: Little Blue and Green Herons, Broad-winged Hawk, Spotted Sandpiper, Yellow, Prothonotary, Magnolia, Kentucky, Yellow-throated, Prairie, and Worm-eating Warblers, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Summer Tanager, Bobolink, Grasshopper Sparrow, White-eyed Vireo, Purple Martin, Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Fall: Migrating warblers and sparrows, Merlin. Winter: Rusty Blackbird, Hermit Thrush, Fox Sparrow, Winter Wren, Bufflehead, Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks, Hooded Merganser, Northern Shoveler. Fall through spring: Brown-headed Nuthatch. Year-round: Wood Duck, Eastern Screech-Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk, Pileated and Red-headed Woodpeckers, Loggerhead Shrike, Pine Warbler, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher.
When to go
Year-round. Spring and fall are particularly good.
Occasional field trips led by Wake Audubon. The A.E. Finley Center has restrooms, an information desk, and a small museum displaying artifacts from the mill’s history. Guided mill tours available March to November for a small fee.
County park. Admission free. Open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset. A.E. Finley Center open 8:30-5.
Take precautions for ticks, chiggers, and biting insects during summer and early fall. Hike on designated trails only. No dogs allowed.
For more info
Two miles south of Yates Mill on Lake Wheeler Rd. Excellent for deepwater ducks, gulls, and migrating terns. Marshes at the west end are great for sparrows in winter.
Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
Ten miles west off Kildaire Farm Rd. One of the area’s better sites for migrating warblers. Breeders include Wood Thrush, Summer Tanager.