Nature Notes

The march of the seasons is undeniable and evidence is all around us. Fall and winter are fantastic times to visit Lake James State Park, with air temperatures just perfect for hiking in the woods, birds and animals active throughout the daytime as they search for food and open vistas of the lake and surrounding mountains everywhere you look. One of the best kept secrets at the park is the view at sunrise from the Paddy’s Creek Bridge. Sometime this winter try to make it to the Paddy’s Creek Area gate just as it opens at 7 a.m. Park at the pull-off just past the bridge and walk back onto the catwalk facing the lake for an unforgettable start to the morning.

bridgeIt’s always interesting to take note of the different tree species as they prepare for winter. Some, like sweet gums, tulip poplars and sourwoods turn colors and droptheir leaves early in the fall. Others, like oaks and beech trees hold their leaves long into the coldest months. Evergreens such as pines, hemlocks and cedars stay green throughout the year, as do American holly trees. Even in their dormancy, trees provide food and shelter for wildlife. American goldfinches will feast on seeds they find in the spikey pods of sweet gum and sycamore. Pine siskins and purple finches will scour the cones of pine trees for seeds while ruby-crowned kinglets and blue-headed vireos wait for the sun to warm tiny flies and other insects that shelter in the needles. Of course, acorns are the fast-food of the forest and critters gather from far and wide under oaks that are dropping these energy-packed nuts. White-tailed deer, black bears, wild turkeys, gray squirrels, wood ducks and a host of others take advantage of the bounty during years when the acorn crop is abundant.

The park rangers at Lake James have scheduled an extensive list of outdoor programs designed to educate and experience this fantastic season for viewing wildlife and enjoy the best of what our area has to offer. See you out on the trail!