Winter and spring all in one walk.
Round Lake State Park in North Idaho is a 200-acre preserve surrounding a 58-acre lake with hiking trails, multi-use trails, and a campground.
It was chilly when I started out on the 1.8-mile Trapper’s trail roughly circling the lake. The clouds were breaking up at home, and the pleasant spring sunlight was warming the day. But here, twelve miles north, the clouds are thick, preserving the snow that fell in the mountains overnight and it’s decidedly colder.
Not far along the path splits, a detour takes the high ground around a low-lying wet section of the trail. Since I had chosen my waterproof hiking boots today, I stayed the course. I’m so glad I did! I stumbled upon a floodplain full of blooming western skunk cabbage and false hellebore.
Western or yellow skunk cabbage (Lysichiton Americanus) is a different plant entirely from the Eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) found in Illinois. The leaves of Western skunk cabbage can grow as long as five feet! Aptly called Swamp Lantern, they sport a bright yellow petal-like hood covering the spathe which full of hundreds of tiny flowers. Bears like to eat the tuberous roots when they emerge from hibernation to help get their bowels moving. (I didn’t see any bears today).
False Hellebores are a study in pattern and form. They also hold shimmering droplets of water on their leaves. Their verdant green leaves are a welcome contrast to the brown palette of winter.
I followed a soupy side trail into the wetland, which seemed to be the quarter-mile Swamp Trail. I wandered out to the lakeshore in time to see an osprey plunge into the water after a fish from sixty feet in the air. She came up empty this time. Osprey, also called Fish Eagles, are widespread in North Idaho.
The path continued through an uprooted tree and brought me to the mouth of a broad, fast-flowing stream. Swallows swooped over the water feeding on the wing. A colossal pine tree had fallen across the water, making a perfect wildlife bridge. But not a human bridge. I cannot cross here. I checked my map.
It turns out, I had wandered off the main trail. That route has a footbridge. Instead of backtracking, I decided to follow wildlife trails up the creek until I intersected the Trapper’s Trail. There is so much deer scat and hoof prints everywhere. I walk as quietly as possible, hyperaware, hoping to spot wildlife but also cautious as this is moose habitat, and the bears are waking up from their long winter’s sleep. It isn’t long before I’m relieved to see the boardwalk. When the snow melts in the mountains, this area will be too wet to walk through. But today, it’s a lovely detour.
Up on the boardwalk, I marveled at some hanging oak moss lichen. I’d thought that since I have my own lichen farm at home now, I would be able to walk past them. Not so.
At the wooden bridge, I encounter the swallows again. These little jet fighters are too quick for me to get any pictures. On the other side of the water, I’m in the thick of the floodplain – willows, beaver sign, skunk cabbage, and false hellebore.
The Trapper’s Trail turns and begins to climb into a woodland habitat with snow. I love the bark and lichen/moss patterns on the western red cedars. They have this wonderful graduated green moss that grows on their root flare. I’m so enamored, that I wrote a whole blog about one cedar tree.
Two mallards flew off from the lakeshore thirty feet below me. A pair of buffleheads accompanied by a couple of ring-necked ducks appear to be on a double date. Leery of me, they swim away from the shoreline. Further out, a common merganser seems to be sitting on a nest, guarded by her mate.
The Beaver’s Domain
The path veers away from the lake at what appears to be a beaver pond. The still water begins to flow over a beaver dam, picking up speed and rounding a peninsula into a shallow outflow creek.
More mallards fly off. Song sparrows feed on fallen, mossy log jams. Another wooden bridge takes me back to the lakeside.
The sun has come out, warming the day substantially. Puffy white clouds decorate the bluebird sky. A pair of ospreys circle high above the lake and disappear. I’m almost back to the parking lot when I hear the urgent, repetitive chirping of an osprey and look up. The osprey has a sizable fish (maybe a trout?) in its talons, and an immature bald eagle is in hot pursuit.
The aerial acrobatics of the osprey burdened with the weight and diminished aerodynamics of the fish are nothing short of magnificent.
They circle the lake a couple of times, dipping, dodging, banking, and chasing, when, out of nowhere, two adult bald eagles swoop in. They seem to be after the younger bald eagle.
There’s chaos, near-misses, and tumbling down through the air. And then they all leave – the eagles in one direction and the osprey, still clutching its fish, in another.
It’s almost as if the mature eagles came to collect their unruly teenager. But that doesn’t make any sense. Bald eagles are well-known for stealing fish from osprey. Whatever it was, it was spectacular!
There was so much to see on this short walk. What an excellent introduction to this area!
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