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Max Patch Road ...

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Max Patch Road - North Carolina

Joe Kegley | E-Mail | Updated 05-24-09

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Wabler, Max Patch Rd
- Joe Kegley


Max Patch, a bald mountain on the North Carolina - Tennessee border, is popular for the 360 degree panoramic view of the Appalachian Mountains. There is a parking area near the top of the bald where you can park and walk the approximately 1/4 mile trail to the summit. The Appalachian Trail also traverses across the summit making the area a popular pickup/drop-off point for backpackers. While the area has been popular with hikers for years, Max Patch Road leading to the mountain is popular for birding opportunities during spring migration.

Max Patch Road starts at an intersection with Fines Creek Rd at an elevation of around 2600 ft. The road traverses rural farm communities, rural forested areas, Pisgah National Forest, then peaks at Max Patch Mountain at around 4500 ft. The route from the turn off at Fines Creek Rd to Max Patch Mountain is approximately 12 miles. Max Patch Road continues past the mountain for another couple of miles before merging with another forest road.

Note there are no stores, gas stations, or public restrooms on Max Patch Road.

Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler, Max Patch Rd.
- Joe Kegley

Nature Perspective

The route up Max Patch Road offers several distinct environments for birds and the people who enjoy birding. Starting near Fines Creek Rd the route traverses meadows/fields, early to mid-successional growth (shrubby black berry patch areas), streams, hardwood\coniferous forest, and rhododendron thickets. The best time to bird is going to be mid-April thru the end of May to observe breeding and migratory species.

The highlight in the rural farm areas on Max Patch Rd is the Golden-winged Warblers found in the shrubby blackberry patch areas off the road. With a tip from my birding friend Ken Brooks I was also fortunate enough to observe a Brewster's Warbler (a cross between a Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warbler) at one particular location.

Yellow-breasted Chat, Chestnut-sided Warblers, and Goldfinches were also observed in the blackberry thicket areas. Red-Winged Blackbirds were frequently observed in the fields.

Brewster's Warbler

Brewster's Warbler, Max Patch Rd
- Joe Kegley

Stops along the forested areas yielded encounters with Blue-headed Vireos, Scarlet Tanagers, Chestnut-sided Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Blackburnian Warblers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.

While I did not see any Bobwhites, I did enjoy listening to their call on Max Patch Bald. Numerous Field Sparrows were sited on the bald meadows.

Continuing on Max Patch Road just below the bald is a small fishing pond and beyond that a rhododendron thicket on the right.

Within the thicket I was able to observe Canada Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warblers, and of course the ever present Chestnut-sided Warblers. Also encountered in this area were Dark-eyed Juncos.

Golden-winged Warbler

Golden-winged Warbler, Max Patch Rd.
- Joe Kegley

Turning around and tracking back on Max Patch Road, I took a right onto Cold Springs Road. I wanted to investigate a previous homestead area that was overgrown with blackberry. In the past I had gone there to look for black bears. An apple tree in this area is clawed up from bears and I have also found bear scat, but never actually observed a bear at the location.

This time I went to see if Golden-winged Warblers might also be in this open area. To reach this area you drive down the mountain on Cold Springs Rd to the picnic/horse camp area on the left and park. Once out of your vehicle you get back on Cold Springs Rd and continue walking down the road until you come to a rarely used forest road on the right (a very short distance from the picnic area turnoff). Actually this is not a forest road but the previous drive to the homestead. A short walk up this dirt road and the forest opens up into a shrubby blackberry thicket area. It's pretty obvious a home was here years ago.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler, Max Patch Rd
- Joe Kegley

In this old homestead clearing I observed Chestnut-sided Warblers, an Indigo Bunting, and another Brewster's Warbler.

Wilderness Experience Perspective

You would expect a certain amount of traffic in the rural farm section of Max Patch Road, what you wouldn't expect is the amount of traffic found in the Pisgah National Forest section of the road.

The Pisgah National Forest section is popular with folks going hiking, horseback riding, four-wheeling, and dirt biking. Plus the road is a thru-way for the folks who live up there.

If you are looking for a wilderness experience you will not find it on Max Patch Road. You will need to get off on a spur road or hike past one of the closed gates. Hiking is your best bet for solitude.

Pisgah National Forest does allow primitive camping within the forest boundary. There are some 'official' camp sites that are marked on Cold Springs Road. There is also a horse camp off of Cold Springs Road that can be reserved for those who are equestrians.

Brewster's Warbler

Brewster's Warbler (a hybrid variant), Cold Springs Rd.
- Joe Kegley

Photography Perspective

Just like Warbler Road in Virginia, you are going to need a very long lens to shoot these songbirds. And just like Warbler Road, I used a 500mm with a 1.4 telephoto extender, which gave me a focal length of 700mm. Rarely did 700mm feel like enough focal length.

All photos on this web page were also cropped and enlarged.

An additional problem Max Patch Road had, that Warbler Road did not, was traffic. The noise from vehicles and dirt bikes at times made listening for the birds frustrating. Dust from traffic on the gravel road was also a problem. I frequently used my ball cap to cover my lens when cars went by.

During the summer you will get bitten by gnats (black flies).

Gear/equipment Suggestions

  • Long Telephoto Lens - You can not have enough reach when trying to photograph songs birds

  • Cloth or handkerchief to cover your lens - The forest roads are very dusty when a vehicle drives by.

  • Wide Angle Lens - In case you want to photograph the panoramas from Max Patch Bald.

  • Insect Repellent - Lot's of gnats (black flies) when you get into the forested higher elevations. Insect repellent didn't seem to do much good about the gnats.

Location and Points of Interest

There are 3 ways to get to Max Patch Road from interstate I-40. All three are on the NC side of I-40, though none of them are too far from the TN/NC state line.

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler, Max Patch Rd.
- Joe Kegley

  • Harmon Den Exit (Exit 7 on I-40) - Pisgah National Forest Route.

    Heading west on I-40, take a right onto Cold Springs Rd. from the exit.

    Heading east on I-40 take a left onto Cold Springs Rd. Cold Springs Rd runs through the Pisgah National Forest.

    There is a picnic area and a horse camp about half way before Cold Springs Road terminates at Max Patch Rd.

    Continue up Cold Springs Rd and at the intersection with Max Patch Rd. take a left to reach the bald and trout pond, or take a right to access the lower elevations and farm lands.

  • Fines Creek Exit (Exit 15 on I-40) - This is probably the best birding route.

    This route starts at the lower elevations and ends at the upper elevations. Heading west on I-40 take a right onto Fines Creek Rd. Heading east on I-40 take a left onto Fines Creek Rd.

    Follow Fines Creek Rd approximately 3.5 miles until you come to a stop sign. Take a left onto Max Patch Rd.

  • Hwy 209 Exit (Exit 24 on I-40) - Midway Motel at this exit.

    Highway 209 eventually turns into Max Patch Road. Heading west on I-40 take a right onto Hwy 209 (Crabtree Rd). Heading east on I-40 take a left onto Hwy 209 (Crabtree Rd).

    Follow this road approximately 8.5 miles, at which point you will pass a intersection at a small country store on the right. Continue straight and the road changes to Max Patch Rd. Start birding.

Max Patch Road Map (Google interactive map):

left double click to zoom in
right double click to zoom out
click and drag to move
hover over markers to see descriptions

I suggest you 'left double click' to zoom in for more a more detailed view. Note, clicking on the balloon markers does nothing.

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