Like it or not, the middle of winter is upon us. So far the season has run the gamut; with a major snowstorm, heavy rains and temperatures from the 60s to the 20s.
Plants and animals in the park have responded in kind. Many organisms that would otherwise be dormant have been active during this latest temperate period. Spring peepers have been calling in the mornings and evenings. It’s never too early for these tiny frogs to voice their breeding chorus when the conditions are suitable. In fact, spring peepers have been heard at the park every month of the year.
Another surprising critter you might encounter during warm winter nights is the red bat. Red bats are migratory to the Southeast this time of year and start their nightly work shift earlier than most bat species. Sometimes they even fly during daylight hours and their reddish orange fur makes them a familiar species to most folks, whether they know it or not. Red bats are members of the “tree bats” – meaning they roost in dense foliage and under loose bark instead of caves, so they are not susceptible to the “White Nose” fungus that is decimating many other bat species across the eastern half of the country.
Our winter birds have moved in and made themselves comfortable for the season. Eastern bluebirds hang around field edges with mixed flocks of dark-eyed juncos, chipping sparrows and tufted titmice. The lake’s nesting pair of bald eagles has already started the courtship process. A recent boat tour on the lake saw the male eagle chasing the female back in Mills Creek. It won’t be long before the female lays her eggs and starts the breeding cycle anew.
There’s still a lot of green in the woods. Everyone knows about pine trees and their allies keeping their color, but a hike along a trail at Lake James State Park reveals so much more. American holly, dog hobble, mistletoe and ferns and mosses all add a shock of green to the stark winter landscape.
It’s beautiful and quiet at the park in winter, so bundle up and do yourself a favor. See you out on the trail.