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The Umstead Coalition 
Celebrating Umstead State Park since 1934!

Umstead Inspirations Blog

With over 1.8 million visitors a year, Umstead State Park is certainly well-used and loved by the surrounding community. The 5,599 acre park is not only a safe haven for a variety of species of wildlife and plants, but it also supports the health of the surrounding community by providing a respite from the daily grind and an opportunity for communing with nature and exercising the body. Want to know more about what’s happening in the park?

Our blog, Umstead Inspirations, is designed to entertain, educate, enhance appreciation and encourage involvement in upcoming events and volunteer opportunities. We’ll tell you what to look for on a seasonal basis including blooming wildflowers, activities of animals, and weather effects. This is your park, and we welcome your ideas regarding the blog.  Please share the posts to encourage others to visit and enjoy. See you on the trails!

  • 06/23/2021 2:04 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    Red Bugs are actually arachnids (not “bugs”) and are called chiggers, harvest mites, spawns of Satan, as well as many other profanities.  Their closest relatives are ticks, so you know they come from a bad family.  Red bugs are the microscopic immature stages of some mite species that can leap onto any passing animal to dine.  They do not discriminate, feeding on humans, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and a host of other animals.  Pity the snakes who get them under the scales with no fingers to scratch with.

    In my experience, they seem to like dampish areas with overgrown grass.  A long day exploring some of the grassy bluffs of the Congaree River in South Carolina resulted in what I thought was on a biblical plague level showing.  The only comfort I found was Romans 5: 3-4 that loosely says, “rejoice in your suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” 

    Personally, I think everyone should have the “red bug experience” at least once in their life for their own edification and reflection.  My nephew Kyle was with me when he had his first crop.  He manfully embraced the itch and suffered whine-free.  However, he was scratching so much that I contemplated duct taping oven mitts on his hands.  

    Once on the host, chiggers do not burrow under the skin as is commonly believed.  They simply inject digestive enzymes through a feeding tube that dissolves skin cells that they can slurp up.  These enzymes are what causes the itch, and this can last for days.  

    Removing or dispatching the red bugs is as simple as rubbing your hand briskly over your body every 15 minutes or so.  Unfortunately, red bugs are inclined to feed in warm moist areas that would be socially unacceptable to rub briskly at almost any time. 

    The itch can be ferocious, and I remember many nights having a 2:00 am scratch session that went on and on.  The raised welts look bad enough on white legs but combined with the self-inflicted panther- like scratches, it can be enough to cause a public spectacle. 

    My grandmother Jennie had a preventative for red bugs which was to tie a turpentine-soaked piece of cotton around both ankles.   My cousin Mary and I became believers after a wood filled afternoon with no red bugs, but we found that the turpentine rag chafed our skin and burned after hours with it on.  So, you had to pick your poison. 

    The army had an effective sulfur-based preventative called Chiggaway that worked perfectly.  That this was never seriously marketed for the public made it highly suspect to me.  Nowadays people just douse themselves in bug spray and for the most part, this works very well.  Staying on a trail works amazingly well also. 

    A good thing to do when you get back from the woods is take a shower and wash with soap.  This will take care of the mites that are on you, but the damage will most likely have been done.  Your skin will harden where the feeding tube was inserted and will begin to itch.  Some people like Calamine lotion but I found it laughably ineffective.   Some people swear by oatmeal baths. 

    I apply Icy Hot muscle rub  because it seems to counteract the itch somewhat.  The best thing, however, is to realize that this too shall pass, hopefully in a few days but up to a week, and at the blessed end, you will have gained a modicum of character and hope.   

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 04/29/2021 11:09 AM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    My bobcat sightings are similar to me having a girlfriend in high school; a surprising and rare event for which I was grateful.  I canoed a lot when I was younger, and I saw a handful of them on logs over the rivers.  I mostly saw their tracks. 

    The closest I ever came to one was on a canoe trip in the Okefenokee Swamp when some friends and I were camping on Jacksons Island where bobcats would come right up to you expecting a handout.  They were impressive, beautiful animals and looked like scrappers. 

    My grandfather trapped during the Depression and he had a large cage to live catch some larger animals.  My Uncle Joe told me he caught bobcats(as well as one overly curious neighbor kid) in that cage and took some to Charles Town Landing State Park in South Carolina to reside as the first bobcats in their Animal Forest.  From all the stories I have heard about my Grandfather, he could, as the saying goes, whip his weight in wildcats. 

    There is still a legal trade in bobcat skins, but even the trapping, studies seem to agree that the bobcat populations are remaining steady or increasing since the 90’s. 

    The Umstead bobcats are proving troublesome to find.  So much in fact that I started the Umstead Trail Cam project in hopes of finding one.  I am a fair tracker and I have yet to see a bobcat track, scat or kill in the park.   I suspect our bobcat population has declined but to what extent I don’t know.  There is a great story from one of the Ranger’s kids in the 60’s about him walking outside to see his sister pinning a bobcat to the ground with a branch.   

    Bobcats are not big animals in the South, with an average weight for males being around 10 lbs and around 7 lbs for females.   A big northern male may top 50 lbs.  When you take a look at the beautiful video of a northern bobcat jumping a stream, look for the striped tail with the black tip as well as the tufted ears.  Check out this video of  a bobcat jumping over a river with a single leap. It is all power and grace. 

    Bobcats are known to be generalists when it comes to diet.  Their preference would be rabbits, mice, squirrels and birds, but they will eat snakes, amphibians, crustaceans, insects and rarely skunks.  Bobcats kill fawns and young deer as well.  Cats are not the long-distance runners like the dog family, so the bobcat hunts with slow careful stalking culminating in a short all-out sprint or lie in wait at a likely spot. 

    February and March are the peak breeding season with a 60 day gestation so little blue-eyed (when they are born) bobcats have just arrived or will be with us soon.  They will be weaned in two months and then the mother will teach them to kill by bringing young birds and mammals to them.  By the fall, they will be self-sufficient. 

    To end, if you see a bobcat, please report your sighting to me, along with the general area you saw it at.  Also, please feel free to send a picture of any tracks that look like the picture.     

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

    Front Track  1 5/8" - 2 3/8" long   1 3/8" - 2 1/2" wide

    Rear Track  1 9/16" - 2 3/8"long   1 3/16" - 2 1/2"wide


  • 07/15/2020 3:15 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    I was walking with my family in the late winter off trail near Paradise Pond, the only pond you go by on the Loblolly trail, and my wife spotted a newly dropped antler.  I say it was new because it did not have any gnaw marks on it yet and it is a calcium rich delicacy of the forest for many animals.  My son and daughter carried it around like a war trophy the rest of the afternoon, each making sure of getting equal time and trying to gore each other at unsuspecting times.

    Antlers are regrown and shed each year and are in fact, the fastest growing bone in the animal kingdom.  Whitetails can grow up to a ¼ inch a day.  Unlike other deer bones, antlers have no marrow.  Research has shown that deer’s ribs become brittle and can break easily during antler growth, such is the draw of minerals from the body at this time. 

    In North Carolina, most antlers are fully developed by the end of August, after which the bucks, with some aggression, rub the velvet (thick velvety skin with many blood vessels that cover and nourished the antlers) off.  By late January here, when the mating frenzy has subsided, antlers loosen and fall to the ground.

    Generally, only males have antlers, the caribou being the exception in the deer family where all females have antlers, but there are anomaly’s for whitetails as well.  One study in the late 1950’s from Kenneth Doutt and John C. Donaldson showed that about 1 doe in 4024 has antlers.  This can be caused by hormone imbalances, hermaphroditism, and rare abnormal tumor growth secreting male hormones.  We can only hope that these rare cases are treated better than Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was during the Reindeer games.

    You can’t really tell how old a deer is by the size of its antlers but deer reach their full physical growth in about 4 years, and then they may have more nourishment to grow the mega rack of antlers that adorn many living room walls.  It is the combination of food, age and heredity that makes or breaks rack size.  With the right diet and right heredity, bucks will have a bigger rack each year.   When a buck gets old, rack size may dwindle.

    Long drawn out fights between bucks are rare, and they are made up mainly of bluffs and posturing (much like a lot of human fights) though charges happen, followed by a lot of antler pushing till one buck tires and retires from the fight. Injuries do happen, but are rare, since most of the animals fighting are somewhat evenly matched.  The old saying that it is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog, does not generally apply to deer. 

    Antlers are not for protection from predators, if they were, they would be retained well into the winter period of deep snow in the north where deer are at their most defenseless.  Deer protect themselves by rearing up and slashing with the front feet and this is how bucks and does fight each other as well. 

    Check out these videos to see that this defense is no joke. The first one gives you a feel for their power against a man and the second against a mountain lion.  The mountain lion might have won in the end, but the deer gave him all he wanted.

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 06/17/2020 1:35 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    Not so long ago, the tails of the dragonfly earned them the name of Horse stingers and Devils Darning Needle, where apparently dragonflies would sew up the eyes and ears of children as they slept.  A dragonfly cannot sting of course, but people saw them flying around horse herds where horses suffered noticeably bloody bites from horseflies, and wrongly accused the dragonfly.  I learned some time ago that some dragonflies can and will deliver an impressive pinch/puncture with its mandibles.

     I ran the Environmental Investigators Camp in Charleston, SC in the 90’s, and one of our parent pleasing take homes was pictures of kids with dragonflies on their noses.  I caught a rather large green darner and placed it on a boy’s nose, and he screamed bloody murder.  It had pierced and bloodied both sides of the bridge of his nose with its mandibles, which bled for an inordinate amount of time and swelled up quite impressively.  That was the sad end of dragonfly pictures and perhaps the beginning of one group of children’s lifelong fear of dragonflies.

    Now a short but necessary side trip into Greek mythology.  Nymphs (think beautiful, alluring, vengeful, spiteful, scantily clad, and easy to anger young maidens) were minor deities, associated with some aspect of nature. A naiad was considered to be a freshwater nymph.  In biology, a nymph is an immature stage of an insect which will metamorphose into a different adult form.  A naiad, in biology, is the same thing but has an immature stage that lives in the water.

    A dragonfly starts its life as a naiad, with an aquatic immature stage that can last a few months up to two years.  A dragonfly naiad is carnivorous and has a modified mouth part that is like a spring-loaded trap.  Their “lower lip” is elongated and jointed and folds nicely under the head.  When prey, up to minnow size, swims by, the “lip” flips out and hooks on the tip sink into the prey and bring it back to the mouth for eating.  My kids and I were doing some aquatic sampling together and they were quite impressed when I pulled the “lip” down with my fingernail to show them.  Both firmly declined to try to do it.

    After molting several times, a naiad climbs out of the water to shed its skin one final time and begin its life as the adult dragonfly we know and love.  Adult dragonflies live, on average, about a month and they spend this time voraciously consuming mosquitoes, midges and mites, thus it is sometimes rightly called the mosquito hawk.  Their adaptations include eyes with up to 30,000 lenses, compared to our one, which gives them almost a 360 degree field of vision.  Their legs come with spines and dangle down in a basket shape to trap insects in the air and the dragonfly dines while it flies.  They are also fast fliers with average speed being in the 20-mph range.

    Mating is an acrobatic, somewhat bizarre affair, that is best seen while described or it can be hard to visualize.   That they have been around for some 300 million years is proof of its effectiveness but still, it seems a tad rough.  Hit the video to see them in all their mating weirdness.  Parents beware, there is strong sexual content of the insect kind here.

    Big kudos to the first person who sends me a picture with a dragonfly on their nose!

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 06/11/2020 3:18 PM | Anonymous

    In a continuation of Ranger Billy’s #woodlandtales, we find ourselves at a historic homestead. This has both National Park and NC State Park significance. Watch Ranger Billy on Umstead State Park's Instagram's IGTV channel now.

  • 05/15/2020 3:14 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    Everybody likes a success story and the Red Fox certainly is, with the largest geographical range of any carnivore.  I see gray foxes much more here, so it is always special when I see a red fox.  The last one I saw at was near Oak Rock Trail and its reddish orange coat, black ears and its white tipped tail was beyond gorgeous.  I stood there for a good five minutes having a stare down with him like Clint Eastwood at the end of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, wondering how such a brightly garbed animal can be so successful.  It would be like a ninja wearing a pumpkin suit and remaining stealthy and unseen.

    The red fox, though clearly belonging in the canine(dog) family, has many feline(cat) characteristics.  Red foxes have long cat like vibrissae(whiskers), similar long thin knife-like canine(the longer front pair)teeth, and do not shake prey to death like other members of the dog family.  Like the cats, they exert continuous pressure with their canine teeth until the prey’s central nervous system is overwhelmed.  They also have feline like claws which can partially retract and similar cat like balance.  The eye of the fox has a catlike vertical slit as well.

    Red foxes look heavier than they are, weighing between 6 and 12 pounds in the south and about 40 inches long.  They have 42 teeth, keen vision, exquisite hearing and sense of smell.  One legend about its hearing is that they can hear a wristwatch tick from 100 yards.  They are first class sprinters and have been recorded at 45 miles per hour, which is fast enough for adult foxes to outrun or out maneuver coyotes, dogs, or wolves.   

    Umstead red foxes here breed in late fall and early winter, with their gestation/term of pregnancy being 52 to 53 days.  Between the bathroom and the Big Lake parking lot, red foxes have used a den hole there for years but skipping the last two years.  Ranger Nick had a great picture of some pups here gnawing on a deer leg outside the den hole, not 5 feet off a social trail.  The fact that he did not share this information with me until months later is still a bone of contention between us.  I attributed this grotesque selfishness to his youth and hope he will gain more of the sharing spirit later in life. 

    Many authorities have noticed red foxes are denning closer and closer to humans when coyotes are present.  Coyotes, of course, will kill any fox they can catch being about 1/3 bigger and viewing foxes as competition.  Coyotes, however, are on the losing end of the stick with wolves in the same way.  The smaller canine must adapt, move or die.  It is the canine way. 

    One historical story is that early highbrow colonists imported red foxes to hunt in the colonies due to hunts of grey foxes that ended rather quickly with the grey foxes climbing trees.  This led to the myth that there were no red foxes in America, which was not true.  Red foxes that were up north, started to move south with the forest opening, which matches their preference of woods and open areas.  Recent tests of red foxes show no European genetic markers.   

    If you are interested in learning more about foxes, J. David Henry has an excellent book called How to Spot a Fox.  Enjoy this video of a red fox scream and pay attention to how fast it turns at about second nine.  I have heard this sound at night here at Umstead.  The fox here looks like it just wanted to play.

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 05/11/2020 3:35 PM | Anonymous

    Today Ranger Billy shifts gears and delves into some of our park’s history with unfinished millstones that can still be seen if you know where to look. Watch Ranger Billy on Umstead State Park's Instagram's IGTV channel now.

  • 05/06/2020 5:05 PM | Anonymous

    Ranger Billy explores boughs of holly, gets a visit from a hoppy friend, and shares some tidbits on a flower not frequently seen by visitors in the park. Watch Ranger Billy on the Umstead State Park Instagram IGTV channel now.

  • 04/15/2020 11:43 AM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    I am not saying I should have been referred to a child psychologist for troubled children, but looking back, my propensity to massacre scores of innocent creatures could have been worthy of a visit.  I truly liked eastern tent caterpillars and shivered in delight at how they felt walking up my arms. This, however, did not stop me and my friends from climbing trees with our bb guns, setting up sniper positions and trying to blow away every caterpillar that came out of the nest. 

    I stopped sharing these childhood stories with my wife, as they seemed to trouble her.  Her stories of her European childhood seem to be straight out of the Sound of Music, which frankly troubles me.

    The good news is that during my insect safaris, I did learn quite a bit about these tent caterpillars as a boy.  I learned that they hatched from a waterproof, hard-black case that encircled the twigs.      

    Once they hatch, the caterpillars immediately set out to build the familiar web that you see every spring.  This web continually expands to house the growing caterpillars and away from the feces dump in the middle.  There is some evidence that inside the nest can be 2 to 3 degrees higher than outside temperatures, which is important in early spring.

    Their hatching always coincided with the leaves coming out, which makes sense because it is then when the leaves are the most nutritious.  This is important because caterpillars must grow as fast as possible to avoid bird predation, parasitoid wasps, and other bug predators. 

    After dissecting one nest, I noticed the tree branches had lines of silk that caterpillars left on the way out and back.  Later, I read that caterpillars returning from more nutritious feeding areas somehow broadcast this fact in their returning silk lines, as more caterpillars would follow these lines over the others.  That is nature cool.

    After molting five times, the caterpillars disperse in solitary journeys to find a safe place under boards, beneath bark, or some other protected nook to start the next step in their journey, the pupa stage.  This is the stage where they are in a cocoon and one of nature’s most magical transformation occurs; that of a caterpillar becoming a moth or butterfly.    

    These little moths are not long for the world; their only task is to mate and lay eggs for the next season.  Perhaps having such a short adult life is for the best, as Aldo Leopold once said “Adult hood is merely a dilution of the essentials, worn down by the trivialities of living. (Paraphrased)

    On a side note, my son seems to have the same proclivity to go on insect safaris as well.  Once he burns it out of his system as I did, the boy might become the nature nerd his father became.  I can only hope.  Enjoy this video of a shedding tent caterpillar.

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 03/16/2020 2:34 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    Flowering dogwoods have always been an integral part of my life, and their beauty in the spring and throughout the year is unsurpassed.  North Carolinians, Virginians and Missourians proudly call it their state tree.  I can’t imagine a spring without them, and I watch for their beautiful white bracts with eager anticipation.  It would not be out of bounds to clap when you see them.  It is that good.  George Washington himself, planted a circle of dogwoods with a redbud in the middle at Mount Vernon.  This act was visionary and proof of his worthiness to be our first president in my opinion.

    While climbing dogwoods as a boy, I learned that they were tough and hard to break.  They were some in the woods I climbed and bent over till they dropped me on the ground.  One, me and my friend Rudy  would climb together and make it bend with our combined weight till one of us dropped off near the ground, thereby sending the other back up with the tree.  I later found that dogwood was used in the textile industry due to this strength and high resistance to splitting. 

    Dogwood has had some obsolete uses in the past.  When the southern ports were blockaded during the Civil War, medicine was hard to come by, so the southern soldiers used a lot of natural remedies.  Dogwood bark was the south’s answer to malaria when they couldn’t get quinine.  Before this, some native American tribes used the roots to make a scarlet dye.

    Dogwood is also known to be an important wildlife food plants, feeding many birds, and mammals like rabbits, gray squirrels, chipmunks and deer.  I have watched groups of birds gorging on dogwood fruit in the fall and it always seems a raucous affair.  The bitter fruit is considered unpalatable for humans. 

    Here is a story from Ernest Thompson Seton in his classic book, Woodland Tales called “The Devil and the Dogwood.”  It was Adam’s favorite tree they say, in the Garden of Eden.  It grew so high and gave so much pleasure that the Devil wanted to kill it.  He made up his mind that he would blight and scatter every shining leaf of its snowy bloom. 

    So, one dark night he climbed a Honey Locust tree near the gate, and swung by his tail over the wall, intending to tear off its lovely blossoms.  But he got a shock when he found that every blossom was in the shape of a cross, which put them beyond his power to blight.  He was furious at not being able to destroy its beauty, so he did the worst he could.  Keeping away from the cross, he bit a piece out of the edge of every snowy flower leaf, and then jumped back to the Honey Locust tree. 

    The Locust was so ashamed when she found that she had helped the Devil to do such a mean bit of mischief, so she grew a bristling necklace of strong thorns to wear;  they were so long and sharp that no one since, not even the Devil himself has ever been able to climb that Honey Locust tree.

    But it was too late to save the Dogwood bloom.  The bites were out, and they never healed up again, as you can see to this day. 

    On a natural history note on this story; the notch that devil bit out in the story is a remnant of the bracts former function as bud scales that protected the flower in the winter.

    Know more to see more,


    Ranger Billy

The Umstead Coalition

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