Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cole Mill Access, Eno River State Park (Durham, NC)

Today my husband and I explored the Pea Creek trail, a 1.25 mile loop, at the Cole Mill Road access point of Eno River State Park in north Durham. For a longer option, this trail connects to the Dunnagan loop (2 miles).

We started our hike through oak (white - Quercus alba, post - Quercus stellata) and American beech (Fagus americana) uplands. The whisper of the beeches' tawny leaves in the wind added a bit of magical music to the low sound of traffic. Soon we entered the bottomlands, where the trail hugged the river's edge tightly, taking us beneath river birch (Betula nigra) and American sycamores (Platanus occidentalis), whose varied bark added visual appeal on a wintry day. We were also lucky to see a number of colorful birds this afternoon, including a downy woodpecker, yellow rumped warblers, golden crowned kinglets, white throated sparrows, plus more typical Carolina chickadees and northern cardinals.

Betula nigra

Eno River from the Pea Creek Trail

The rocky outcroppings on this trail are also beautiful, topped with large persimmons (Diospyros virginiana), beeches, and resurrection ferns (Polypodium polypodioides) - an epiphyte that gets its name because it survives drought by drying out and curling up, appearing dead until it gets water, unfurls and resurrects.

Resurrection fern on persimmon

We had one more exciting, but sad, encounter on the trail: a great blue heron (Ardea herodias). This normally keen and quick heron was hardly moving along the side of the trail. My husband (who is also a local veterinarian), was able to assess the status of the bird and we rushed it to the Piedmont Wildlife Center (http://www.piedmontwildlifecenter.org/), where it is hoped to recover quickly from its unknown trauma. Handling herons can be very dangerous. If you ever come across one, be aware that they can be quite ferocious and may attack your eyes with their very accurate beaks.

The sick great blue heron

The Piedmont Wildlife Center

All in all, our mid-afternoon walk on the Pea Creek Trail of Eno River State Park was quite surprising and rewarding. Although I can't guarantee animal rescue opportunities in the future, I can attest to the magnificent trees, chatty birds, and beautiful scenery that are available to everyone along this stretch of the Eno River.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lower Haw River Canoe Access (near Pittsboro, NC)

Today we discovered a riparian trail on the lower Haw River -- it can be accessed from the Canoe Access just west of the Haw River on the south side of Route 64. The trail is not well-maintained and is more difficult as you walk south from the gravel parking area.

South of Route 64: The trail south of Route 64, although poorly maintained and lightly littered with beer cans, runs along a beautiful stretch of the Haw River. This section of the Haw River is wide, but the semi-immersed granite boulders and wide islands transport you to the wild rocky rivers of the American West. Along the trail, beaver activity is evident and large loblolly pines (4 - 4.5' in diameter) surprise.

North of Route 64: Walking from the gravel parking lot, north beneath the interstate, the river changes from wide, rushing rapids to a small, deeper stream. The trail is less treacherous and visitors can spot towering willow oaks (Quercus phellos) and thick American hollies (Ilex opaca).

White Pines Preserve (near Pittsboro, NC)

White Pines Preserve (a Triangle Land Conservancy property) is a fantastic setting for a winter hike. Situated at the confluence of the Rocky and Deep Rivers, the enormous eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) -- giants leftover from the last glacial ice age -- steal the scene. These 200 year old tree-titans were so large that my husband and I could barely reach eachothers hands as we tried to hug them. Other interesting tree species include sugar maples (Acer saccharum) and some good sized river birches (Betula nigra). We also encountered a few winter birds, including the hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus).

Pump Station Access, Eno River State Park (Durham, NC)

In the second week of January, I hiked along the familiar Pump Station Trail -- a moderate 1.5 mile walk through mixed loblolly-deciduous forest. This trail is best known for its excellent wild flower display in spring; however, in January it offered up the serenity of babbling streams and salamander surprises. Redbacked salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) can be found under fallen pine logs even this time of year, and larvae of larger species swim in a pond sitting just off the trail.