With the threat of frost now long past, it’s time for the growing season to kick into high gear. Trees have leafed out for the most part; just in time to provide shade during the heat of summer.
The month of May is a great time to hike the trails at Lake James State Park and enjoy the wildflower show. Some of the best wildflower habitat exists where recent prescribed burns have cleared the forest floor of dead leaves and pine needles and seed to soil contact allows for better germination. With two prescribed burns over the past four years, the trail system at the Catawba River Area is an excellent choice for those who want to test their plant identification skills. Among the many specimens you’ll find along the Fox Den Loop are Daisy Fleabane, Windflower, Foamflower, Solomon’s Seal and Lady’s Slipper. Understory trees and shrubs have also blossomed and though it may be getting late in the season you may find Pinkster Azalea, Mountain Laurel, Sweet Betsy and Catawba Rhododendron still in flower if you get out during the first part of May.
Resident and migratory birds are nesting now. Full leaf-out of the trees makes tracking them difficult, but the need to find food for fledglings keeps them active throughout the day. Some of the birds known to nest within the park include red-shouldered and broad-winged hawks, Louisiana waterthrush, summer tanager, Eastern bluebird and brown-headed nuthatch to name a few.
Unfortunately, it’s also tick and chigger season, so hikers and mountain bikers should take precautions against these nasty parasites. Wear light-colored clothing to make dark-colored ticks stand out during mandatory post-activity inspection. Consider using a repellent on your clothes, focusing especially around sock lines, waistlines and necklines to discourage chiggers from embedding. Avoid hiking through areas of tall grass and other vegetation that brushes against your legs. Learn how to remove embedded ticks properly, without squeezing or pulling away mouth parts that can become infected or transmit disease. Make it a habit to bath or shower quickly after completing your foray in the woods. A thorough body inspection and good scrubbing with soap and a hand towel will help you avoid days of itching and the possibility of chronic, tick-borne diseases.
On that note, don’t let fear of biting insects, snakes, bears or any other critters keep you from enjoying the great outdoors. Simple precautions, common sense and respect for wildlife will keep you safe and sound. See you on the trail!