Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Unicoi State Park

Unicoi Lake

This weekend my husband and I spent a couple of days at Unicoi State Park in North Georgia. He had a departmental retreat and I came along to get more Georgia exploration under my belt. I have a lot to get to know about our relatively new home state! Unicoi is not far from Athens--only about an hour and a half, around the same distance we used to drive to go to the beach when we lived in Florida. We used to pack up the beach towels and go to the coast for a relaxing day-trip, but now we grab our backpacks and head to the mountains! We had actually been to Unicoi before, about a year ago, but didn't get much time to explore. This time I had a day and a half in the park and I walked 3 of the 5 main trails. Unicoi is pretty, but is probably less wild and more oriented toward active recreation than I would usually prefer. Newly installed zipline courses lead from the lodge and all over the woods. It is probably exciting to ride on the ziplines, but I found them to be loud and not very compatible with birdwatching and quiet contemplation. And the bolts they drill all the way through the trees to hold the cables looked like tree torture. Also, a highway runs through the middle of the park, bringing loud trucks and fast traffic that you can hear from quite a distance away.

Zipline Platforms in the Trees

That said, I still had a very nice time. Art and I took a short evening hike and surprised 5-6 deer and saw a wet trail that we think was left by an otter moving from a pond to a creek, and I submitted a bird count on eBird.  Although it is early, I still found a few spring wildflowers. Spring has progressed more down in the Piedmont, where we live (I love saying that--it sounds so geographically specific!) and the plentiful Rhododendrons and Mountain Laurels were still a month or so away from blooming. We drove to the mountains when we bought our home 2 year ago this May and the Mountain Laurels were stunning then. I think I'll have to take a trip up in the next month or so to check on their progress.

Rhododendron Bud

Mountain Laurel from 2015

Southern Barren Strawberry (Geum donianum)

Starry Chickweed (Stellaria pubera)

Tiny Bluets (Houstonia pusilla)

Most Likely a Three-Parted Yellow Violet (Viola tripartita)

Most of my walks on Saturday were quiet and peaceful and I saw all sorts of interesting things, but it started getting more crowded around lunchtime. On the way back from a very satisfying and long loop hike where I had just seen 6 Flickers in a tree (probably 2 adults and their 4 offspring), a raucous family came up behind me on the trail. It had been so quiet all morning and suddenly all around me there was laughter and loud talking, kids running and throwing sticks and general disruption, not caring at all about me and my bird and butterfly watching. I could hear the family a few minutes before I saw them. I felt enormously irritated and moved off the trail onto another fork to let them pass. Grrr. Didn't they have any trail manners? As they passed me, I gave the loud family a pained smile and nod of the head and tried to carry on with my noble nature observation. Just then, the clouds broke and the sun shone through to the woods for a few magical moments. It had been overcast all weekend up until that instant. The bright sun brought the woods to life and I was there at the perfect time to see a big feeding flock of tiny birds who had been waiting for the light--kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers, blue-headed vireos, nuthatches, chickadees, and my nemesis bird for this year--a brown creeper. The sun shone for a few minutes, and then the clouds closed up and it was overcast once again. All of a sudden I wasn't mad any more. In fact, I was thankful for the loud people. Their presence had caused me to move to the fork in the trail where I wouldn't otherwise have been, giving me the opportunity to see the brown creeper. I don't know why I had let them annoy me so much. Maybe it was because I wanted to have the woods to myself, to continue my peaceful nature encounter, and perhaps be lucky enough to see something amazing like a bobcat or a fox or just hear the bees buzz. But after I came back to my senses, I remembered that I did actually get to see quite a few amazing sights, and that also, it is a good thing for families with happy, loud kids to come run around in the woods. People who spend time in nature are more likely to value it and protect it. These might have been junior environmentalists! Or at least future park pass buyers, which supports the parks system.


6 Flickers! (I didn't realize I had 6 until I saw the photo with the one at the top cut off)

Gemmed Satyr Butterfly
Dead Vole in the Field

Good Day, Sunshine!

Brown Creeper, my 2017 Nemesis Bird Seen at Last!

After lunch I hiked around the lake, in good spirits and ready to share the trail with anyone and everyone. It was good exercise, but there weren't as many flowers or birds to see because the trail wound around the cabins, beaches and fishing piers. But no matter--I heard loud American Toads at the lake's edge and even found some of their weird coiled egg ropes. I never saw the toads, which surprised me because they were so vocal. And near the end of the hike I spied a pair of wood ducks. I wish I had gotten a clearer photo, but they were shy and moved away quickly.

Egg Coils from American Toads

Wood Ducks

Georgia has an extensive state park system and national wildlife refuges, covering the mountains, rivers, Atlantic Coast, Piedmont, coastal plain and even the Okeefenokee Swamp! We have a lot more to explore and as we do, you can count on me to share.

Running Pine (Diphasiastrum digitatum), Clubmoss Family

Blue Turkey Tail Fungi

Fern Fiddlehead