On Labor Day, my family (husband and grandparents-to-be) and I hiked the Buckquarter Creek trail, located in the western portion of Eno River State Park at the Few's Ford entrance. This is a great trail to hike with friends and family, especially in early fall when vibrant mushrooms rise from the ground, leaves start to change color and one is still able to find snakes, frogs and fall warblers.
The Buckquarter Creek trail begins in the parking lot closest to the park entrance, near the historic Piper-Cox house (which you can visit with a park ranger on Saturday afternoons, call 919.383.1686 to register). The roughly 1.5 mile trail first runs along the rocky Eno River. This section of the river is a favorite for waders, as the water is generally shallow and rocky. All of the rocks, and the forested banks, make a great habitat for snakes and turtles. On this trip, we saw nearly 20 turtles (river cooters and yellow bellied water turtles) and one queen snake. Queen snakes (Regina septemvittata) are docile, non-venomous snakes that feed almost exclusively on freshly molted crayfish. In many areas, their populations are declining due to water pollution and loss of habitat. These snakes are dark brown-gray in color, with keeled (rough) scales, and light tan to white stripes on the sides of their body.
After walking along the banks of the Eno River, the trail heads into the upland forest -- a mix of hardwoods, including maples and oaks, as well as scattered loblolly pines. Look for small hopping Fowler's toads here, as well as some wild mushrooms after a night or two of good rain. This section of the trail is usually a great place to find a black rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta), one of North Carolina's most common non-venomous constrictors. On Monday, we were lucky enough to find a medium sized copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) that was about to shed it skin. When snakes are about to shed, they often appear less vibrant in color and their eyes become an opaque, milky gray. Snakes are very vulnerable to predators when they're about to shed, and they also have difficulty hunting, making them quite irritable. It is best not to handle any snake during this critical phase, but especially not a copperhead, which can deliver a nasty, although seldom fatal, bite.
This trail is a loop, so after walking through the upland forest, you can take a refreshing dip in the river before returning to your car.
If you would like further information about snakes and their conservation, please check out my doctoral dissertation, A Multiscale Investigation of Snake Habitat Relationships and Snake Conservation in Northern Illinois.
You can also click here if you're interested in guided nature hikes or other events at the park.