16 May, 2021

Slow down to see the signs of spring

Nature, especially in spring, can fill us with happiness, joy and a spark of renewal. Don't let distraction consume this spring break; take time to explore the natural world outside Virginia State Parks

For some, it's the option to get outside and enjoy the warm weather or hike a trail we haven't walked since last fall. For others, it's seeing a familiar bird, finding a reappearing wildflower, or spotting your first turtle. From fishing trips to fun family picnics, spring breathes new life into us for many different reasons. Grab some friends and hit the road on your favorite trail.

Walk with friends during spring break

Spring break is a great time to explore a park with friends.

I like to hike trails in the spring and find a comfortable place to sit and observe. Sometimes leaning against a tree with a good view, sometimes near a river or water source. After a few moments of thinking, nothing happens around you, nature happens.

As soon as we stop and sit down, we begin to become more absorbed in our environment. Soon the birds start to sing again. These songs communicate beyond the birds, like security systems that tell other animals the environment is safe. Bugs emerge and you never know what you'll see. Sometimes the hardest part is taking a break and exercising patience. Animals are hyper aware of their environment (their survival depends on it). Breaking sticks, talking loudly, even just walking is enough to make many animals take cover and hide until they think the coast is clear again.

Broad skink at Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Virginia

A broad-haired skink reveals itself to the sun on a warm rock.

At several I have practiced the art of disappearing in my environment Smith Mountain Lake State Park locations and had some great results. Depending on the weather, time of day and year, chance and coincidence, you never know what you'll see – that's part of the fun!

Flowering Dogwood at Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Virginia

Flowering dogwoods along paths mark the onset of spring.

Wildlife viewing success always varies, and you get better at picking out the best habitat locations along the edges of forest and field, next to the water or food sources. Sometimes you see little, sometimes so much, but I always learn something, usually see cool creatures and come away refreshed and in a better mood after spending time outside. It is always helpful to have an open mind without too many expectations, that way whatever happens is a pleasant surprise, and at worst you get some much needed rest in nature.

Binoculars help enormously in this endeavor because we often only see animals from a distance.

Bird watching at Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Virginia

Find some birds, bring your binoculars for a better view.

Birdwatching is a popular recreational activity with Virginia State Parks, which provide many great wildlife viewing opportunities within a wide variety of habitats.

Sometimes you don't even have to go far. I heard and saw a pair of huge stacked woodpeckers foraging and interacting from the deck of my cabin. Anyone who has walked in the forests of Virginia has no doubt heard this bird drumming in the distance or seemed to laugh loudly and proudly, the call of North America's greatest woodpecker.

I also saw two squirrels running into a small hole in a tree from the deck.

Eye spies on a family of squirrels in Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Virginia

Eye spies three little eyes towards a squirrel hole

Soon four squirrels emerged, their hideout was discovered. If you ever find a shelter, burrow or nest, this is an easy way to keep observing an animal from a distance.

piece of a mammal jaw at Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Virginia

The deeper rooted canine is the only tooth left on this skull fragment.

After briefly inspecting it, I took a step and barely caught a glimpse of a black rat snake shot under a downed log – my first snake sighting of the year. While I waited a moment to see if it would turn up again (it didn't), I saw a northern flicker, the only member of the Virginia woodpecker family with a very different coat of colors compared to the typical mix of black, white and red.

Northern flicker peeking out of its hollow in Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Virginia

A black "mustache" next to the beak easily distinguishes the male northern flicker.

With his head out of its hollow, I lit myself with suspicion, looked for a marker, an unusual rock or tree to remember the area, and left.

When I returned the next day I sat quietly in the neighborhood until it flew back home from being outside. I watched it search for food, pecking with precision like a skilled carpenter shaping wood.

A northern fag lands over his hollow in Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Virginia

The Northern Flicker uses dead trees as a hunting ground and home.

He stopped now and then and puffed his body, smoothed his feathers, smeared them and & # 39; zipped them up & # 39; for an efficient flight. I also watched and listened as he excavated his cavity, prepared and "cleaned" his house so that he could impress a woman and maybe start a family for the next month. Maybe I'll come back and hope to see him or his partner feed their potential boy.

A pair of geese paddle in Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Virginia

A few geese are swimming in the lake.

After taking a peek at a flicker's habits, I was also able to see a few geese landing on the water and paddling past, as well as an assortment of other birds. All this because I stopped to look at a bot.

Bumblebees and other pollinators are a welcome sight and sign of warmer weather - in Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Virginia

Pollinators are a welcome sight and a sign of warmer weather.

Spring is the time of year to get outside and let nature remind us that we can all be content with the little things and perhaps even be filled with childlike awe at the returning colors and biodiversity life of our Commonwealth. We need to unplug, reconnect, and let those little moments happen.

click here for more information on Smith Mountain Lake State Park. Go here for more information on camping and cabins, or call 800-933-7275 during business hours.

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