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With springtime comes the return of field season, and I’ve been taking every opportunity I can to get outside and visit some beautiful properties. Many of the grant agencies we apply to want to come out and see the tracts we have asked for funding to protect, and sometimes they send biologists and botanists to see these sites as well. Occasionally I get to tag along.

I was off last Monday, which was Easter Monday and also Earth Day, and in tribute to the day, I decided I would venture out in the afternoon to the Badin Upland Pools on US Forest Service Land way back on Moccasin Creek Road in the Badin Recreational Area. This time of year there are hundreds of atamasco lilies around these upland ephemeral pools, and they did not disappoint. Their delicate white flowers are so graceful and to see them en masse is a true treat. They only bloom for a few weeks, so I was glad to have a day off to hike up there and enjoy them with a friend.

While there, I also spotted a painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica) that had a distinct pink hue. Most painted buckeyes I have ever seen have been yellowish green to faint orange, but this one was definitely pink in color. I asked a botanist friend of mine, and he said he had also seen pink and reddish ones by the Cape Fear River in Harnett and Cumberland counties, supposedly from former interbreeding with red buckeye (Aesculus pavia). That one is more of a coastal plain species, so I was interested to see a pink one in Montgomery County. However, this same upland pool area is where we found a spadefoot toad a few years ago, a classically Sandhills species. Montgomery County is definitely a mishmash of species that can basically be found all across our state.

Later that week, I visited a tract in Davidson County that we are working to protect with a natural heritage biologist. We found two neat and rare plants there, one of which is known as the native barberry, Berberis canadensis, and an unidentified species of Isoetes. The botanist wasn’t sure which of two species it was, but both of those species are rare. That species looks a bit like a juncus and floats in the water in a beautiful little creek on this property. We’re going to have to go back and collect some more and send to an expert to get a definitive ID.

Also on that tract and another I visited later that week, I saw fringe tree in bloom, or old man’s beard, as it is sometimes called. This beautiful whitish green bloom looks very similar to its namesake, and has a delightful fragrance. At the upland pools there was some sweet bubby or sweet shrub in bloom too, another species with a pleasing scent.

This week I ventured to a few land trust properties along Grants Creek, which is a beautiful stream that flows through Salisbury and Spencer in Rowan County. I haven’t ever heard of anyone paddling it, but it certainly looked wide enough to be tempting. Three Rivers Land Trust protected a number of tracts along Grants Creek in its early years thanks to a corridor grant from the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund. At that time the creek was on the 303d list, but it has since came off that list as water quality has improved. We hope to protect additional lands along that creek later this year or early next year.

Whether I’m visiting new properties yet to be conserved or tracts already protected, it’s great to know there are still undeveloped and unspoiled tracts with scenic beauty and abundant wildlife for us all to enjoy.