Spring is here! Spring is here! You can practically see the season turning right before your eyes. The hardwood trees are budding and the forests are ringing with the sounds of songbirds returning from their winter vacation in the tropics. Among the early migrants are Louisiana waterthrush, a type of warbler that can be easily found along fast-flowing streams like Paddy’s Creek. The male waterthrushes are particularly fierce defenders of territory and mates and are on constant patrol of their streamside kingdoms. As the breeding season begins, Louisiana waterthrushes will sing almost constantly and all a person needs to do to see one is stand quietly beside Paddy’s Creek and wait for a male to fly by on his never ending boundary check.
Other neotropical migrants to watch out for on the trails that wind through the park are northern parulas, yellow-throated warblers, red-eyed vireos, wood thrushes, summer tanagers, great-crested flycatchers and a host of others. From now until leaf-out will be some of the best birdwatching of the year.
After the trees have leafed out and the temperatures rise, the birds will be harder to spot and won’t sing as frequently.
At the same time, some of the wintering birds we’ve become familiar with during the last few months have left us and headed north to their breeding grounds. Common loons, dark-eyed juncos, hermit thrushes and red-breasted nuthatches won’t be seen again in these parts for many months.
The warmth of the spring sun has resulted in an abundance of freshly emerged butterflies like mourning cloak, variegated fritillary, spring azure and tiger swallowtail. Dragonflies and damselflies are also buzzing, so there’s plenty to look at for nature lovers with a trusty pair of binoculars.
This is also a great month to enjoy some of the hard-to- find forest wildflowers that show their delicate blooms for only a short time each spring. Lake James State Park’s extensive trail system takes hikers and wildflower enthusiasts through a variety of habitats and soil types, resulting in a plethora of flower species including Jack-in- the-pulpit, pink lady’s slipper, May apple, wild alzalea and windflower.
This year, the North Carolina state park system’s theme is wildflowers and many programs are planned to help visitors learn about and enjoy these exquisite, yet fleeting splashes of color in our Southern forests. Hope to see you at one of these, or any of the myriad programs offered by our dedicated park rangers and guest experts.