We were excited and ready to begin the morning on an easy trail, since it was the first hike for either of us this spring. Before we arrived at the state park, we found a reptilian friend in the middle of the road. As can be seen by the below photo, we had to make sure it was safely across the busy road!
This was going to be my first spring birding trip in that part of North Carolina. We were planning to have a leisurely hike on a trail at the Park. (However, we took the difficult trail by accident…oh well!) Namely, since it was mid-spring, we hoped to see skinks, birds, and a few flowering native plants. Somehow my trusty Nalgene bottle (full of drinking water,) decided to fall off the car and burst in the parking lot before the hike. Luckily, we had brought some extra Gatorade with us. Take note and make sure you bring some water for your hikes as you may need it!
There’s Skinks Out Here!
The day hike with my son at Morrow Mountain State Park quickly brought me face-to-face with my first ever Broad-Headed Skink. Naturally, a lizard with my favorite color on it drew me right in to inspect it more closely. Lizards usually let you check them out, but will dart off if they feel threatened by you.
When just out of hibernation, the male head color is tan. However, during the May/June breeding season, as it is now, the testosterone level in the male turns its head a highly visible bright orange. What a showoff… For one thing, it really stood out against the leaf litter that day, and especially when it was in the sun. As a result, they will be quite easy for you to spot. This one seemed to not mind us moving about it, albeit there WAS some tongue flickering going on!
The female will circle the eggs she lays until they hatch late summer. The young have a black striped body with long yellowish stripes which join up with an almost iridescent blue tail. They can be confused with 5-Lined Skinks. (To tell the difference, look from the pit on the nose to the beginning of the eye. I know, who is going to get THAT close, right? The Broad-Headed has 5 scales and the 5-Lined sports 4.) Curiously enough, this shimmering blue tail has the remarkable ability to just “fall off” the body through a process called “autotomy”. Should a predator attack, the blue tail then wiggles about on the ground and distracts the predator as the hatchling makes its daring escape. You CAN’T miss this iridescent blue tail or the stripes!
Finding a Pulpit in the Forest
- The beautiful Mountain Laurels were in full bloom along the rocky hillsides. What a unique cup-shaped flower with a pinkish red marking almost like a bull’s eye in the center. When an insect lands on the bent stamens them, all the tension on them is released depositing pollen directly onto the insect.
- We also saw Spotted Wintergreen, also known by a host of other names. Waxy, almost succulent like green leaves of three with points along the side sit at the base of the stalk. The flowers are much higher than the leaves.
- To my absolute thrill we stumbled into a “colony” of Jack-in-the-Pulpits, another great “leaves of three plant” standing 1 – 3 feet tall. (The roots can cause blisters if touched) It was great to see them all standing at attention!
First of all, what a wonderful time checking out the reptiles, flowers and trees on our day hike at Morrow Mountain State Park ! It is east of Charlotte, NC towards Uwharrie National Forest, another fun state park for you to check out. To repeat, make sure you carry water when going on a hike. This particular trail was easy descending, but difficult on the way back. We stopped a few times to rest on the way back up, to get a much needed drink of water.
In the long run, we saw what we came to see, except birds. It was still a nice hike though. Cannot wait to go back again to check out the other trails!