Nature Notes


While we appreciate Nature during every season, it’s hard not to get excited by the first signs of spring.

The landscape is a spectrum of greens as various trees leaf out and grasses and vascular plants sprout new growth to take advantage of the sunshine. Although it’s not known for an abundance of wildflowers, Lake James State Park is home to many colorful blooms. Keep your eyes peeled along the lakeshore for serviceberry trees and their cascade of delicate, white flowers, dogwoods and redbuds and even pinkster azaleas.

Equally telling of changing seasons is the arrival of many migratory birds. After spending the winter months in the tropics, the birds are flooding north. Some will pass us by on their way to breeding grounds as far away as the arctic tundra. Others will find the climate in western North Carolina just right for nesting and raising young.

For bird watchers, spring is a time for new discoveries and welcoming back old feathered friends. Among the first to arrive are the red-winged blackbirds. Male red-wingeds precede the females by a couple of weeks. The head start allows them to reach their preferred habitat in freshwater marshes and set up territories. By the time the brown-striped females arrive, the males will have already sorted out the living arrangements and can focus on impressing their potential mates.

The same staggered migration strategy can be seen in purple martins. These beloved members of the swallow family are almost entirely dependent on human-provided nesting facilities. With intricate “hotels” and stringers of hollow gourds, people have been encouraging martins to nest close by so they might dine on the annoying biting insects of summer.

Snakes are emerging from their long winter’s hibernation. Hikers and bikers will eventually run into snakes of various species along the trails. Black rat snakes are most commonly-encountered around Lake James, but eastern garter, black racer, eastern hognose and copperhead will also be about.

It’s time to knock the dust off the hiking boots and find your walking stick. Enjoy the start of spring. See you out on the trail!