The holiday season is upon us, but don’t forget to visit Lake James State Park in the midst of all the hustle and bustle. Late fall and early winter are fantastic seasons to hike the trails in search of flora and fauna. The leaves on the deciduous trees have fallen to the ground, opening up the forest to reveal birds and animals that would otherwise remain hidden. For the first couple of weeks in November, the fall foliage will be more colorful than usual, as the changing colors seem to be late this season.
Food is the driving force dictating when and where animals are active. A poor acorn crop means it will take more time and effort to find food for some animals around the park. White-tailed deer and wild turkeys are acorn lovers, as are gray squirrels, blue jays, wood ducks and black bears. All of these critters will need to find other sources of food to get them through the winter.
The lake’s ospreys have moved South for the winter, but this is the season when birders spot more bald eagles using the area. Eagles that are iced out of their summertime fishing grounds fly south until they find open water and the fish that make up 90-percent of their diet. Many species of ducks, as well as loons, grebes, coots and gulls will also take refuge at Lake James.
Land birds like Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, whitebreasted nuthatches, hermit thrushes, eastern towhees and a host of others will form roving flocks that flit through the woods in search of nuts and seeds. The cooperative groups help individual members survive by keeping an eye out for predators. This is also the season of hawks. Sharpshinned and Cooper’s hawks specialize in capturing small birds for food. When a feeding flock of songbirds discovers one of these predators, members of the group team up to create enough of a ruckus to drive the hawk away.
While everyone looks forward to making preparations for the holidays, it’s also a good idea to step away for a few hours or even a day to reconnect to the natural world. See you out on the trail.