North Carolina is a dreamland for the naturalist. From our home along the fall line adjacent to the Sandhills in the geographic center of the state, we are less than four hours from the outermost barrier islands in the Atlantic to the east, with similar distances to the 4-6000 foot elevations in the Blue Ridge and Great Smokies to the west. With ready access to such distinctly different habitat, we can experience a broad range of biodiversity with relative ease.
A group of lively shadows gathered in the late autumn sun to contemplate the splendor of the view near Grandfather Mountain from their perch atop Beacon Heights along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The same shadows seem to be huddling for warmth on the silent windswept desert of stone - a silence broken only by the calls of an occasional crow and the merest hint of a breeze whispering amidst the lichen-clad evergreens.
The path west brought encounters with some two dozen bird species, including more than a dozen red-tailed hawks patiently scanning for prey along the fringes of the interstate corridor, a red-shouldered hawk subduing its prey in the grassy median and a barred owl roosting in a leafless wood, a bit too close to the margins for complete obscurity. Skyward focused eyes also spied evidence of other winged species, though it was a bit too nippy for the bald-faced hornets to be out and about.
At our feet was a wealth of nature as well. A tiny copse of mossy "trees" towering alongside the ferns remind us of our purpose in traveling west to locate the perfect Christmas fir.
This woolly worm, or woolly bear caterpillar seems to be enjoying the warm late-autumn sun; its broad orange band seems to be forecasting a mild winter as well.
Despite its ubiquitous blanket of cast off leaves, the forest floor still boasts a bit of colorful flora today. These galax leaves have taken on a lovely autumn hue.
And the dense masses of so-called dog hobble near the Cascades waterfall have taken on a similar cast, while still clinging to the remnants of summer's blossoms. Local lore has it that more than one bearhound has met its end after becoming helplessly entangled within reach of a cornered bear's claws.
Peering into the crystal clear waters above the falls gives the curious observer a fleeting glimpse of living color in the chilliest of climes! This lovely little brook trout coolly stalks the shivering pools in pursuit of sustenance.