What can I say about winter, it’s cold (kind of), wet, muddy, and sometimes hard to get around in. It’s also the perfect time to enjoy the peace and quiet in the woods, see a multitude of vibrant and industrious woodpeckers, enjoy the landscape, and look for hidden surprises like the early emergence of the Harbinger of Spring.
Ooooooh, the sheer delight at finding one of these tiny beauties! Those microscopic flowers make my heart sing! Also called, Salt and Pepper, these are the first of the spring ephemerals to say “Hello”; however, you need to look very closely as they are often hidden under leaf litter. To find them in the park, try the Trillium Trail under the large Cottonwood on the left hand side of the parking lot. You can usually find these blooming as early as late February.
Not a plant person? How about the prehistoric sounding call of the Pileated Woodpecker to add a little excitement to a winter hike. The largest woodpecker in North America, the Pileated is one of my favorite Giant City residents. You can listen to one here on the Cornell site.
Now is also the perfect time of the year to investigate a few of the more “hidden” spots in the park. Some of the most stunning sandstone to be found is located along the west edge of the 12 mile equestrian trail. The colors are extraordinarily bright and the darker bands (iron-oxide) provide a striking outline. The trail is closed to horses from November until May, but is open to hikers. Stop in the Visitor Center and we can show you how to get there
On warmer days in winter, you may get a glimpse of a butterfly…..yes, a butterfly! The Mourning Cloak will occasionally emerge from hibernation on those unusual warm winter days that we periodically get in Southern Illinois. Sometimes they look a little rough around the edges, but I think we may too if we slept outside all winter.
Don’t let the winter blues get you down! There is much to be seen outside this time of year and for me, nothing removes a winter funk faster than a hike or walk in the woods. Why not grab a thermos of something hot and head out to Giant City.