Hickory Run State Park is offering a dozen free hikes led by Environmental Education Specialist Megan Taylor.

The first hike in the series, a one-mile nature study of the early blooms, returning birds, and reproducing amphibians in the spring vernal pools was led by Taylor on April 26. A group of a dozen outdoor enthusiasts joined her in a walk along the Wood Frog Loop in Nescopeck State Park.

This first hike in the series was planned to be short and flat, so it would serve as a warm-up for those who had not taken much exercise during the winter. It was also a good time to walk the Wood Frog Loop, which because of its dampness, tends to be a breeding ground for mosquitoes during the warmer season. But at this early time in spring, the damp ground was a wonderful place to see wildflowers while listening to birds returning from their winter migration.

Steve Smetana pointed to a wood duck nesting box, one of 50 that he has mounted on Nescopeck State Park wetlands. "I'm building boxes to bring the wood duck back. There haven't been many wood ducks in this area," he said. "I've been doing that for the last 15 years. When I started the habitat was very poor for the wood duck population. I've brought the population back up in this area."

Smetana had his boxes up by March 1, when the birds began returning along the Mississippi flightway. He filled each box with cedar chips, and then wired-tied the boxes to trees so that they were 6 feet off the ground. If this year is like past years, he expects to see all the boxes filled, and the offspring fully fledged by Memorial Day.

The hike passed by vernal pools ponds that filled with spring rains and were dry by summer. These pools attracted reproducing frogs and salamanders.

Spring ephemeral wildflowers were in abundance: false hellebore, fiddlehead fern, trout lily, red-flowered trillium, blue cohosh, bell wart, and skunk cabbage. Taylor noted that bears seek out skunk cabbage to purge themselves after a long winter's hibernation.

In the background could be heard the sounds of a newly returned Black-throated Green Warbler and a Blue-headed Vireo. Roosted on a distant tree limb was a Barred Owl.

This was the first in a series of 12 naturalist-led hikes offered by Hickory Run State Park. The following is a list of the remaining hikes. All hikes are on weekdays and meet at 9 a.m. For additional information, call: 570-403-2006.

Hickory Run State Park 2013 Hiking Series

Hikes marked with an "*" indicate a potluck reception to follow.

May 23 Sandy Run, 3-1/2 miles Terrain: more difficult

Meet: Tannery Access to Lehigh Gorge State Park

June 7 7 Tubs Nature Area, 2-1/2 miles Terrain: more difficult

Meet: 7 Tubs, off Route 115 in Bear Creek

June 19 Pine Hill Loop, 5-1/2 miles Terrain: most difficult

Meet: Hickory Run State Park Office

July 3* Gamewire Trail, 5 miles Terrain: Easy

Meet: Sand Spring Beach " picnic to follow

July 17 Brady's Lake 2 miles Terrain: Easy

Meet: Brady's Lake off Rt. 940 in Pocono Lake

Aug. 1 Stone Trail, 3- miles Terrain: Easy

Meet: Boulder Field at Hickory Run State Park

Aug. 23 Austin T. Blakeslee Natural Area, 2-1/2 miles Terrain: More difficult

Meet: Lot along Tobyhanna Creek off Rt. 115

Sept. 12 Broad Mountain overlook 8 miles Terrain: More difficult

Meet: DCNR parking lot across from the Weatherly Country Inn on Lehigh Gorge Drive

Sept. 25 Skyline Trail, 2-1/2 miles Terrain: More difficult

Meet: large Gould Trailhead lot at Hickory Run

Oct. 16 D&L Black Diamond Trail 4- miles Terrain: Easy

Meet: Lehigh Gorge park access at intersection of Main & Susquehanna St. in White Haven

Oct. 24* Creekside Trail, 3 miles Terrain: Easy

Meet: Nescopeck State Park Office