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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!

  • 02/13/2020 9:57 AM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    Bluejays are in the Corvidae family, which includes Ravens, Crows, and Magpies. This family includes our largest passerines (perching birds/songbirds) and is without a doubt, taken as a whole, the brains of the U.S. bird world. The term “Bird Brain” is meant as an insult but studies of the Corvid family should turn this insult into a compliment. If you want to read how smart the Corvids are, read the “The Genius of Birds,” by Jennifer Ackerman.

    My relationship with jays have changed since I was a boy. They were the annoying guardian of the forest then, scaring away my b.b./.22 gun prey with their raucous “Sneaakk, Sneaakk.” I learned at an early age that the whole forestlistens to bird alarms and responds accordingly.  It took me quite a bit longer to learn that I could take advantage of these alarms myself.  But that is a tale for another time.

    I have been in the woods when I heard a rowdy group of jays coming near, screaming, making hawk sounds, seemingly just to disrupt the woods and have fun.  It reminded me of a loud bunch of teenagers at the beach, loud and obnoxious, reveling in their fun and annoyance of others. They take this behavior to a new level when they are mobbing hawks or owls. They gather around the offending bird and scream together and dive at them until the big birds move off or the blue jays tire of it.  I have, however, seen some owls and hawks who were Zen masters of ignoring this hubbub around them.

    Perhaps like me, you have seen a Jay prey upon a sparrow, warbler or vireo. Watching them use their heavy bill to kill a hatchling never failed to disturb me as a boy, but as I grew older, I adopted the classic James Bond biological theme song of “Live and Let die.”  Jays are mainly vegetarians, primarily eating nuts, fruits, and seeds, and the forest is thankful that they are. They are cachers, burying acorns and other nuts for winter use, and the fact that many go unclaimed results in new oaks and beeches each year.  It is thought that Bluejays took a major role in quickly reestablishing trees up north when the last glaciers retreated.

    Jays are beautiful in that way where you are thunderstruck, standing with your mouth open.  Maybe it is just me.  I pick up a lot of things in the woods, some that horrified my mother when she found them in the freezer when I was young, and I still find joy in every bluejay feather I find.  For fun, check out this bluejay video, from a self-named bird nerd who has some great bird videos.  If you don’t think jays are beautiful by the end of the video, then maybe it’s time for a long sabbatical and time of introspection into who you are and why you are like you are.

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 01/14/2020 4:53 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    I remember trail running at small county park in Plano, Texas, some years back, and I cut off a side trail and came face-to-face with a coyote coming from the opposite direction. We froze six feet from each other, and he showed no signs of animosity. His yellow eyes possessed equal parts of awareness, curiosity, and intelligence. I don’t know how long this moment lasted ‘til he loped off to the right, but I still remember his eyes so vividly.

    I ask kids which animal was known as the trickster/creator/fool/magician by many native American tribes. No answer. When I next compare this animal to ninjas with their skills to live or move through an area unseen, disappear quickly, have a multitude of tricks up their sleeves, yet currently have more reported sightings in Wake County than other N.C. counties, the kids get interested but still have no answers. It proves the old maxim: out of sight out of mind.

    Coyotes are indeed among us, in all 100 North Carolina counties, and they have proven themselves unstoppable, unlike the mountain lion and some bears and wolves, which were driven/hunted/trapped out of the East. The smaller, stealthier and more adaptable coyote has withstood all attempts to drive its population down. In the Carolinas, you can hunt coyotes all year with a hunting license and this hasn’t put a dent in their population. Even if you could reduce the local coyote population by 90%, studies have shown that they can replace the population numbers in 5 years.

    Rangers here in Umstead see coyotes frequently, but we still tell each other each time we see one. One has a route that comes about 150 yards from my residence; often enough to make me nervous with my four-year-old playing in the yard by herself. Coyotes rarely attack people, but attacks are happening here and there throughout the state, both rabid and non-rabid coyotes. The problem is likely to increase in the future; just read about packs roaming neighborhoods in Charlotte. The following link is about little girl from Illinois that would have been attacked had she not turned around at the last millisecond. 

    Coyotes are in the season of love right now, and the Alpha couples are still courting or have already mated by now here in the South. Gestation is generally around 63 days, and litter size (4-7) adjusts for population density and food abundance. At my boyhood home in South Carolina, I became good at locating grey fox dens, but to date, the coyotes have skunked me. I continually look in tight brushy areas for a hole entrance being around one foot wide, and I remain hopeful.

    Pups can be seen as early as three weeks outside their den, and their parents — and sometimes young from the previous year — feed and care for them. They disperse in autumn or winter with a typical dispersal range from 25 to 100 miles. This is the most dangerous time of their lives, and mortality is frequently high. If they make it to adulthood, they survive by being so adaptable in their ways and diet. According to Mark Elbroch (fantastic author on tracking and animals), a study in Missouri identified 47 animal and 27 plant foods that coyotes eat. That is a diverse diet indeed.

    I’ll end this article with a quote you might have heard: “In case of a nuclear holocaust, cockroaches will be the only survivors.” People who know coyotes will probably add them to this list. Enjoy a good audio of coyote sounds that might help you discover that coyotes live close to you.

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 12/17/2019 10:11 AM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    I went to my mom’s house for Thanksgiving in South Carolina, and when I put my dog in the backyard, I turned over a metal pail to use as a water bowl.  My fingers were a good 8 inches away from the Black Widow, but it still caused a visceral reaction due to a horrific story I have carried since childhood of my Uncle Archie being bitten in the gonads while in the outhouse.  I think about it every time I go by the outhouse at Youth Tent Camp.

    Taken by itself, the black widow female is a beautiful spider.  The black part is so dark in fact that it seems like a menacing, though slightly gleaming, little black hole.  I guess what I am trying to say is that there is a dark night of the soul, and then there is the black widow female dark night of the soul.  And then when you are getting pulled into that blackness, the vivid red hourglass appears to repulse and push you away. 

    On a fun note, Gary Larson of Far Side Comics fame,  penned the Spider Personals where you see ad after hilarious ad of Black Widow female personals trying to get a mate.  Black Widows are not the only spiders, or insects for that matter, to eat their mate after sealing the deal.  Though this does not happen all the time, it occurs frequently.  I have often wondered how many human males would still proceed knowing they may be devoured afterwards. 

    Nowadays, the black widow can be found under rocks, boards, stonewalls, water and electric meters, garages, crawl spaces and other dark and damp areas.  They can inhabit closets and live under appliances, furniture and even seldom worn shoes.  The best way to not get bitten is to stay alert and wear gloves if you are frolicking about in such places.  If you see one and want it to die, then spray insecticide on it and the problem will be solved.  You can even spot treat an area if you worry about an infestation.  However, please know that black widows in general are the poster children of minding their own business.

    If by chance you are bitten, then you may be in for a rough couple of days.  Pain may last for eight to twelve hours and the other symptoms may continue for days.  The best plan is to get to a medical facility, especially for younger kids and pregnant women.  There is antivenin available now for this bite, and doctors will determine if you need it.  There are possible side effects from the antivenin.

    One arachnologist, W.J. Baerg, in an inspired attempt to further scientific knowledge, coerced a black widow bite him in 1922.  His account was documented by Paul Hillyard, the “spider guy” at London Natural History Museum and it reads, “The pain at first was faint but very soon began to increase into a sharp piercing sensation.  In less than one hour the pain had reached the shoulder and within two hours the chest was affected; the diaphragm seemed partially paralyzed, breathing and speech became spasmodic.  After 5 hours, the pain extended to the legs and after 9 hours I was taken to a hospital.  A severe nausea and excruciating pain not only kept me awake but kept me moving throughout the night.  I left the hospital after three days but found that recovery was not complete; a feeling of wretchedness remained for a couple of days.”

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 11/13/2019 4:42 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    Growing up, my Uncle Joe had some unsavory pet nicknames for me: Hammerhead, Bill de Bob, His Girl Bill and Pepe Le Pew.  If you don’t know Pepe, he was the always unwelcome, overly amorous cartoon skunk who did not take no for an answer from his targeted paramours.  Not a cartoon for todays times to be sure.  Here at Umstead, I have seen two road-killed striped skunks just outside the park but have yet to see a skunk or skunk tracks in the park.  I hope they are still here.

    I have had some run ins with skunks in the past and for the most part, they have behaved admirably well.  One skunk sashayed into my campsite at Hueco Tanks State Park near El Paso and boldly walked to where two buddies and I were eating at the picnic table.  We sat stone still, and he came close enough to our legs to feel his fur.  It was like a King passing near peasants, like we weren’t there.

    Contrary to popular belief, skunks do not spray first and ask questions later.  They go through a process of hissing, growling, arching their backs and lifting their tail over their back to display agitation over a perceived threat.  They may even stamp their feet and if the threat remains, they arch their bodies unto a U-shape, from which they are ready, willing and able to fire.

    I was sprayed while camping one night with my wife, our dog Katie, and our nine-month-old son in Pisgah National forest.  The skunk attempted to nose his way into our tent which awakened Katie, a notorious scrapper and small animal killer, who destroyed the tent door to get out and deal with the interloper.  She pursued the skunk, a slow animal with a top speed about 10 m.p.h, which stopped about 10 ft. from the tent, turned and fired; effectively stopping my dog on a dime.  The spray hit me in the door of the tent with a small dose, but enough.  The wife, not even knowing what was happening, was out of the back flap with the boy like some movie ninja, saving both from getting hit.  I knew in my heart already but stood confirmed by her uncaring actions about my wellbeing that I was now, a distant second string in her heart.

    Katie was rubbing her eyes with her paws, salivating profusely, and I was crying and felt nauseous.  The skunk was forgotten by us both, no doubt ambling away, unconcerned.  We got out of the “area of stink” and went down to the creek together to try and get the stink off.  A task easier said than done.  My clothes would be thrown away, but Katie’s fur would stink for a solid three months.  Tomato juice, soap, dishwashing liquid, vanilla extract were all equally ineffective.  The most effective remedy was a combination of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dawn liquid soap mixed together. 

    Skunks are a member of the Mustelidae(Weasel) family, all of which have twin anal scent glands about the size of a grape.  None of the other members of the weasel family have the skunk strike capabilities.  When not trying to steal human food, striped skunks eat insects, worms, berries, carrion, small rodents and many other delicacies.  Not many animals will attack a skunk more than once, which proves the saying “It is good to be the king.”   If you doubt this claim, these videos of a mountain lion and bear encounter with a skunk may help.

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 10/18/2019 2:10 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    Some native american tribes felt that birds were put on this earth to lift the spirits of man.  I tend to agree.  If you can hear the carolina wren’s exuberant song, see a cardinal, tanager, wood duck or blue jay and not feel better, then you are in a deep funk indeed.  On a similar note, when I was stationed in Korea, I was in a valley by myself, lying on my back asking God to send me some sign, a chickadee landed on the branch above me and dropped a twig on my chest.  Proof positive right?

    Just last week, I was watching a pileated woodpecker on the Oak Rock Trail do its thing working a dead tree for insects and then it flew down to the creek and disappeared below the bank.  It stayed just long enough for me to creep over and get close enough so that it could blast out right in front of my face.  It flew right to a huge old oak tree, went in a hole and did not come out.  I have never seen that during the day and let me tell you my spirits were lifted.

    Birds have been around since around the middle of the Jurassic period approximately 150 million years ago.  This time until now have allowed birds to evolve a great variety of forms and behaviors, which makes watching them so fun.   There are about 8,700ish species of known bird species, and 1800ish species in America.  This variety is due to a process called adaptive radiation.  This basically means that the form and behavior of birds become modified as they adopt different ways of life.  Fossil evidence shows that birds evolved from reptilian ancestors but now a sparrow can live on seeds, something no reptile has ever been able to do. 

    Of the birds found in Umstead, grebes, herons, and waterfowl are the most primitive.  Hawks, owls, and woodpeckers are intermediates, and the passerines, which contain all the songbirds, crows, jays, and blackbirds are the most highly evolved. 

    If you want to see some of the earliest finds of Archaeopteryx,(Long thought to be the earliest bird and proof of reptile ancestry) go here. It is rather involved but interesting.  After about 11 minutes you can see the fossils. 

    To help lift your spirits, here is Bird Name quiz for you.  What is the bird name that matches the following descriptions?  Answers are below.

    1. Little League Outfielder
    2. Grave Digger
    3. Coward from the Great Plains
    4. Regal Angler
    5. Sad Letter
    6. Church official
    7. Conversation
    8. Fun in the field
    9. Fast
    10. Crazy
    11. Heavenly humor
    12. Murder a game animal
    13. Angry William


    1. Pewee
    2. Shoveler
    3. Prairie chicken
    4. King Fisher
    5. Blue Jay
    6. Cardinal
    7. Chat
    8. Meadowlark
    9. Swift
    10. Cuckoo/ Loon
    11. Godwit
    12. Killdeer
    13. Crossbill

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 09/19/2019 2:31 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    When it comes to black bears, there are two types of people.  People who want to see black bears in the woods and people who hope to God they never see a Black Bear in the woods.  Just recently, I was rooting for the black bear sighted in Cary to make it to the park, but alas, it looks like he didn’t make it.  The last bear we had in the park was in 2009 but like the Cary bear he was probably just passing through.   

    Living previously at Mt. Mitchell State Park, my family and I got used to black bears (Ursus americanus).  Bears looking into our living room window, bear scat in the yard, screams of the campers behind our house with a bear on their campsite and our inability to let our infant girl stay outside all year when she was napping; as is the Czech way. 

    Many times, in the winter, I would snow track the bears that were doing a little walkabout back to their den.  I never found out what they were doing up and about when they still should be in torpor (they are not true hibernators), but it was exciting tracking. 

    My most memorable bear encounter was when I was hiking off trail in the mountains of South Carolina.   As I gained the top of a ridge, a summer storm cut loose, and the thunder rolled up and down the valley.  I sat through the storm with my back on a rock enjoying the drips from the leaves after the rain had stopped.  I heard some sound to my right about 25 ft away and a mother bear with two cubs came out of a mountain laurel thicket.  She didn’t see me or smell me yet, so I clicked with my mouth the sound you use when you are calling your dog.  She froze, gave me an intense stare as if deciding to kill, cripple or just maim me, and went “Whhhooof”.   The cubs reacted immediately and climbed a tree to the left.  The mom kept staring, and I, probably like most people just before they are mauled, was sure my good intentions would affect a non-violent outcome.  She swayed her head left and right three times and just started slowly down the mountain, calling “Whhhhhooof,” once more and the cubs descended effortlessly and quickly caught up.  It was, for many reasons, my lucky day.

    Black bears are the most common bear in the United States as well as the smallest.  Craven county holds the record N.C. black bear weighing 880 lbs.  A more average black bear is between 150 and 400 lbs.  Black bears are generally not aggressive and will flee from humans in most cases. 

    Unfortunately, a lot of people have anthropomorphized the bear due to cute movie portrayals, television shows, and feelings that they are indeed teddy bears.  The thrill of being close to what seems like a “tame” bear leads people to feed them, adopt them, and feel falsely safe with them.  This has caused many lapses in common sense in how you treat a wild animal leading to yearly injuries and rare fatalities.  Here is a look at a scary video where the man survived but seemed to lose his ability to speak the Queen’s English.     

    The question you are probably asking now is “Just how cool is the black bear?”  I mean, any animal that might help us explore Mars has got to be Snoopy with sun glasses on cool.   Just for fun, check out this article

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 08/15/2019 12:00 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    Growing up, I knew quite a few pines in the woods near my house on a first name basis.  I knew them in drought stress, deluge and covered with ice, climbed them in the day and night, shot foes from them in B.B. gun wars, played squirrel, jumping from pine to pine, and even ate edible parts of the pine in efforts to be an Indian.  Many was the day where my friend Rudy and I camped beneath Loblolly pines with an occasional breeze making that gentle whishing sound through the needles that is so peaceful and distinctive.  Moonlit nights were extra special, and I know from experience what the author of the song “Georgia on my mind,” meant when he penned:  

    I said Georgia


    A song of you

    Comes as sweet and clear

    As moonlight through the pines

    Pine needles also helped me through a long cold December night in Kentucky when my army unit had been separated from its rucksacks, which meant we had no gear to pass the night.  Through a teenage experiment, Rudy and I built a debris hut entirely of pine needles that was designed to be a shelter and sleeping bag type of thing (think of a structure topped with needles and filled with needles).  It was warm enough but scratchy, pokey and made for a very long night.  But back to Kentucky, I piled up a massive pile of pine needles and then wormed into the middle and got a blessed 4 or 5 hours of sleep and earned the title of Hooch Master (Hooch is military slang for a shelter among other things) by my squad. 

    Pines are conifers, cone bearing evergreen trees which first appeared around 225 million years ago - just about the time small mammals were starting to gather steam but still in the Dinosaurs large shadows.  The pines flourished quickly due to the epic evolutionary achievement of the seed.  The seed contained an embryonic plant with a reservoir of food to give it a boost when compared with spore-bearing plants which had to land in exactly the right place or die.  Conifers are gymnosperms, meaning naked seeds that lack a protective covering like an acorn or an apple.  On a fun note, gymnasium means a place of naked training (think ancient Greeks). 

    At Umstead we only have three species of pine here: Loblolly, Short-leafed, and Virginia Pine with Loblolly making up the lion’s share.  After the farm properties that made up Umstead were purchased by the federal government in 1934, the old fields were no doubt quickly dominated by Loblolly Pines. These pines were eventually overtaken by slower growing, more shade tolerant hardwoods such as the oaks, hickories, and sweetgums that make up a lot of Umstead today.  The only way Loblollys can resist this transition is if fires come through every few years because they are more fire tolerant than the hardwoods.  That thick scaly bark keeps the cambium layer (the green growing part of the tree) from cooking in low to medium fires that would kill younger hardwoods.  Beeches, with their very thin bark are on the opposite end, being extremely fire intolerant. 

    So, go out and enjoy the pines or hike the Loblolly trail named in honor of this beautiful pine.  Living in the south can make us take the pine for granted, such is its numbers, but if you take the time to really get to know them, soon you will be singing that “Georgia on my Mind” verse with feeling. 

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 07/15/2019 9:02 AM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    The more you know about Turkey Vultures, the more you can overlook some of the more unappealing aspects of their life.  Ancient Egyptians certainly did as they revered the vulture as the symbol of Nekht, the protector of the queen.  

    For me however, I remember many times in the late afternoon where I would come across a vulture roost, mostly black vultures by the water, and they would silently and appraisingly stare at me with a calm certainty that one day I would be theirs.  The thing that gave me the willies was that I felt that just by being close to them that I was closer to death.  Once I even canoed a couple miles further down the Edisto River past a primo campsite because I didn’t want to camp near a roost of vultures.  I thought they might know something I didn’t and since there were alligators on the river and I was alone… better safe than sorry I thought.

    It is difficult to get past their looks and behaviors to be honest.  First, their heads, while functionally understandable for birds reaching into a carcass, look wounded, raw and unfinished, much like those baboons with the flaming red butts.  Second, vultures cool off by urinating on their legs, a no doubt effective, though socially suspect process called urohydrosis.  Third, vultures use their vomit as an extremely effective weapon, no doubt giving any predator pause with that smell.  Sometimes they overeat and cannot get off the ground unless they vomit as well. 

    You would think that with all the above limiting factors that vultures would have trouble finding a mate but surprisingly they don’t seem to have any trouble.  Their nest building is usually a weak attempt at best with most eggs lying on the bare ground.  Both parents incubate the eggs for an average of 31 days and they share the feeding duties afterward.  I once checked out an old silo and came upon a turkey vulture nest with both parents there.  Their cold stares had me easing out the door quickly and brought to mind Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart where the man was killed merely for “having the eye of a vulture.”   

    As sanitary engineers they are some of the best, cleaning up the dead animals they find.  They can eat animals with diseases such as anthrax, botulism and cholera with their super strong stomach acid that kill these bacteria and toxins.  This benefits us because these toxins, once processed by the vultures, can no longer be spread to us.  

    Vulture fan clubs are probably non-existent, the closest being tourists attending Tibetan Sky Burials,  but there is an International Vulture Awareness Day coming up this September the 7th for its 13th year.  Perhaps here we all can learn to appreciate one of the most vilified birds in the avian world.  Check out the festivities and activities here.

    Take this next photo taken by my cousin Scott as a bonus.  This is a wild boar he shot and could not find till the following day.   I am guessing the boar was not completely dead when the vulture gained access from the rear and he clamped down.  Definitely not something you see every day.  On the fun side, a native American myth, (can’t remember the tribe), about a deer playing a trick on the vain vulture who was very proud of the feathers on his head.  The deer acted dead and when the vulture gained access like the picture shows, the deer clamped down and ran and jumped around, thereby making all the feathers on the vultures head rub off and giving him the present appearance.  

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 06/13/2019 4:57 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    Whitetail deer, a common sight among the paths and roads of Umstead, are the epitome of grace, alertness and beauty.  As a boy, growing up in the sandhills of South Carolina, deer were scarce.  I can still remember the year when me and a friend were canoeing down Congaree Creek and came upon what we thought was Deer Shangri-La.  We based this on the immense volume of deer tracks we saw all over the bank. 

    We got out to explore and followed tracks out of the woods into a meadow where about 30 goats, some with wicked looking horns, were looking at us.  They started coming toward us as one, slowly at first, then picking up speed.  If you have seen the start of the ride of the Rohirrim on the hill above Gondor, it was much like that. 

    We decided to retreat, running toward the safety of the creek, fully knowing they would catch us before we got there.  They caught us in short order and fanned out around us, slowing to match our top speed.  We started laughing and slowed to a walk, feeling foolish but enjoying the experience of being part of the herd. 

    If you see the deer here at Umstead, you might wonder about their life history, so here are some basics.  A deer’s primary task during the day (24 hour period) is eating.  A feeding deer will bite and tear off leaves, twigs or grasses, chew them briefly and swallow them.  It can take a deer approximately an hour to fill their ruminating stomach, (imagine a multi-chambered stomach) if there is a lot of food available.  The practical beauty of the ruminating stomach is that it can be filled up quickly and then the deer can go to a safe location to process (regurgitate and chew thoroughly) its contents called “cud.”

    The best time to see deer at the park is at sunrise and sunset with some bursts of activity around midnight and midday.  During the day, deer stay mostly in thicker cover, dividing their time with short excursions to gather food and back to the bedding area for resting, ruminating and grooming.

    From my tracking deer in the snow, their bedding areas seem to always to have a good view of the surrounding area like on ridges or slopes.  As night approaches, deer will move into more exposed areas to do some heavy feeding interspersed with more bedding and chewing their cud breaks. 

    Deer in general move between one and four miles a day, but as my Uncle Joe would say, they have rubber band knees, which means of course that they are flexible.  Strong weather patterns such as heavy rain, gusty or strong winds, snow and intense cold can limit their movements and have them bed in protected areas for longer periods.  I have also seen loose/wild dogs chase deer for miles outside their home range or through neighborhoods.

    Besides automobiles, deer have some predators that prey upon them in our park. Coyotes are the main predator, but they mainly prey on the young.  Some research from North and South Carolina have coyotes accounting for up to 50% of the fawn population but this could be habitat specific.  Attempts to control coyote populations through yearlong open seasons with no bag limits have been ineffectual.  Bobcats prey on fawns and foxes have been known to take a deer fawn as well, however infrequently. 

    If you are lucky, quiet and still you may see fawns together like I did playing a game best described by my father as “Grab Butt”.   It was a hilarious game of chase filled with tight circles, crashes into bushes interspersed with spirited jumps and kicks.  I watched them for about 15 minutes till I laughed out loud and ruined it.  (Check out fawns playing here).  Another time, I watched my son of six at the time and a doe at Mt. Mitchell State Park having some sort of bonding moment as she walked closer and closer to him and when she got within a foot of my son, he panicked and gave out a loud “Yahhhhhhhh!”, scaring the doe, me and effectively ruining the picturesque moment.   

    Good luck with making your own memories with the Gentle Ghost of the Forest!

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 05/15/2019 4:04 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    The Silent One

    If you are like me, and love plants, you definitely have your favorites.  Hepatica and I have been friends ever since I saw them for the first time outside limestone caves of Santee State Park in South Carolina.  My Uncle Munsy turned me on to the caves, but the flowers kept me coming back every year to catch up.  Each year I would monitor the population, but mainly I would just sit, visit, and admire.  (Caution: Granola-head statement ahead!) Hepatica, with its amazing color and presence, made me feel it was sentient and had something to tell me.  I know how that sounds, but it just resonated with me, and I sat for a long time with them each year. 

    The Chippewa Indians called the plant gabisanikeag, which meant “it is silent.”  I liked that name when I read it; it felt right somehow, like they exactly caught the plant’s personality.  I know you might be thinking I am not just a plant lover but a flower child.  Seeing that I only lived three years in the sixties, it is a stretch.  On the other hand, perhaps that is all it took in those heady times. Nonetheless, I liked Hepatica so much that I wrote poetry about them.  I am, I assure you, valiantly trying to refrain from sharing. 

    Ephemeral flowers found at Umstead State Park such as Hepatica, Trout Lily, Windflower, Bloodroot, and Pennywort harken the lengthening daylight and seem designed to lift our spirits after winter.  Their lifestyle, however, is rather down and dirty, to flower before the trees leaf out, so they take advantage of the late winter and early spring sunlight to photosynthesize and build up stores of carbohydrates in their roots to last another year. 

    Spring ephemerals, however, cannot count on insects for fertilization due to the cold weather they often endure, so most of them, if not all, can self-fertilize.  These ephemerals evolved with ants in a relationship called myrmechory The seed of many ephemerals have elaisosomes, which is a nutritious addition on the end of the seeds that ants will take into their anthill and eat, discarding the rest of the viable seed on a trash heap, which provides a fertile and friendly place for a plant to start as well as giving seed predators less access to the seeds.  

    Hepatica and other ephemerals are found throughout the park, and a searching eye will find them on the stream banks or moist areas.  If you need help finding them, I will guide you to them.  If you don’t take to them like I did, I will try not to think less of you, but if that is indeed the case, it may be time for some serious introspection on your end. 

    I fought against adding the poem, but it overpowered me.  Circa August 1997, and before I knew its name. The silent one.  I will ask my parents if we have some Chippewa blood. 

                    From the cave flows a clear cold stream

                    With high banks growing and guarding the little green

                    Sentinels that signal Winter’s end.


                    They sing in whispers, slow but sure

                    Gently tickling my ear and spirit

                    The feather soft song of the Hepatica.


                    Gently blue, not quite of the sky

                    For wood wanderers and elves to know

                    Patience and many returns reward me

                    This bringing of spring to the land and my heart.


                    And from heart to you, and you, and you

                    The beautiful silent sharing.

                    The beautiful silent singing

                    The cloud soft song, of the Hepatica        


    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy


The Umstead Coalition

We are a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the natural integrity of William B. Umstead State Park and the Richland Creek Corridor.


The Umstead Coalition is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.