Exploring the Little River Park and Natural Area

February 24, 2014

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The weather was perfect for a morning walk outside. After a week of snow and sleet, the temperature gods had smiled upon us North Carolinians and granted a gorgeous weekend of sun. It was the ideal time to explore someplace new, and I chose the Little River Park and Natural Area.

The park is managed by both Durham and Orange counties, and was created in partnership with the Triangle Land Conservancy, Eno River State Park, NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, NC Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and the Water and Land Conservation Fund. The park features 7 miles of hiking trails and 7 miles of mountain biking trails spread throughout its 376 acres. I did not have time to explore the entire park, so I headed down the S. River Loop Trail.

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The trail began in a dense thicket of new trees, probably only a few years old. The temperature hovered in the 40s but continued to rise as the sun warmed the land and scattered the clouds. Pine warblers called high in the pine treetops, but were much too far for even binoculars to reach. Though there were plenty of birds in the forest, it was not their calls that echoed through the trees, but the call of another creature that had lain patiently dormant throughout the chilly winter months: the frogs!

Following the trail carpeted with orange pine needles, I found a small creek winding its way through mossy rocks, exposed roots, and fallen trees. Though the frogs silenced as I approached, I could hear them farther up and down the sparkling creek. I didn’t realize how much I had missed them in the previous winter months.

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The S. River Trail continued to border of the small stream, alternating between damp boardwalks and cleared trail. Carolina Wrens bobbed their tails as they jumped across logs on the forest floor, tufted titmice and Carolina chickadees tittered in the branches overhead, and from somewhere in the woods came the heavy hammering of a large woodpecker.

The small creek eventually fed into a river, brown and swollen from the melted snow and pouring rain of the previous days. Chickadees sang above us, every so often descending just far enough so that we could make out their form and dark black heads. Climbing the bluff overlooking the stream, I suddenly found myself in woodpecker-ville. Downy woodpeckers flew from tree to tree with their signature squeak and red-bellied woodpeckers throaty churr reverberated around me. Bits and pieces of bark rained down on my head as a downy woodpecker whacked its bill into a branch above.

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The trail looped back to the parking area once more, passing through a stand of large pines and an especially large oak. There hadn’t been too many birds – less than ten different species that morning – but the trail itself was incredible, passing through a multitude of microhabitats that probably yield a different mix of species each season. Now that I have covered the S. River Trail, I am itching to try the N. River loop!

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