It may be hard to remember how the seasons progress from year to year, but Spring 2013 is about two weeks behind schedule. How do we know? By looking at the forest plants as they come into bloom and noticing when we see the first migrating blue-gray gnatcatcher of the spring. There are all kinds of signs to look for. One thing that’s certain, the woods and water at Lake James State park are starting to look like a nursery. It’s “baby season” and boy have we got ‘em.
It started with the unusual sighting of a mother American woodcock and her three fuzzy chicks back in the middle of April. Woodcock are secretive members of the shorebird family, closely related to sandpipers but adapted to life in the forest where they hunt for earthworms with their long bills. It’s rare enough just finding any woodcock in Burke County, but to get lucky enough to witness undeniable evidence of successful breeding is truly exciting. After observing the happy family as it foraged on the road shoulder for several minutes, Park Ranger Jamie Cameron eventually had to get out of his vehicle and gently escort the woodcocks back into the forest where they would be safe from passing cars.
Just as exciting is the expected report that the red foxes have a new litter of kits on the appropriately named Fox Den Loop Trail. As with all wild animals at the park, visitors are reminded not to approach the foxes too closely if they are lucky enough to come in contact with the rambunctious family.
Not to be outdone, the reptiles at Lake James are on the move. A silver dollar- sized eastern painted turtle was found attempting to access the women’s locker room at the Paddy’s Creek Area bathhouse. It’s not unusual for aquatic turtles like this to strike out across the land in search of greener pastures, but it’s unlikely the little fellow would have been happy if he’d made it past the locked door. Shower stalls and toilets hardly a substitute for the clear lake waters.
If you haven’t already visited the park this spring, there’s no better month than May. Hope to see you on the trail.