GOLDEN POND — Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy designated the peninsula between Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake as a new "national recreation area."
But long before it was conceived or named, the area known as Land Between the Lakes was — and remains — a biodiversity hot spot in Western Kentucky. "Biodiversity" is a $10 word that means there are a lot of different forms of life there, and they all live in a tightly meshed network of different habitats in the 170,000-acre recreation area.
More than 230 species of birds spend at least part of the year at LBL. Wild turkey and bobwhite live there year-round. Neotropicals — songbirds that breed and nest in summer woodlands and fields, then migrate for the winter as far south as Mexico, the Caribbean islands, and Central and South America — are plentiful.
Neotropicals include warblers, flycatchers, orioles, vireos, tanagers and hummingbirds. The last are so numerous at LBL that its Woodlands Nature Station puts on a "festival" of special programs about hummingbirds in early August.
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Additionally, herons, ducks, geese and shorebirds are commonly seen along the 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline. Bald eagles and ospreys nest here, as do several species of owls. One of the most common is the barred owl, whose accented hoots sound as though it's asking who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all?
The oak and hickory forests at LBL support more than 50 species of mammals that range in size from a tiny shrew to the American buffalo. Visitors may see bison and elk together on a restored 700-acre prairie. Buffalo also may be seen in the South Bison Range on LBL's Tennessee side.
LBL also hosts four venomous snakes: copperhead, cottonmouth, timber rattlesnake and pygmy rattlesnake. Bites are rare, but be on your guard should you visit.
Chiggers and mosquitoes are numerous, too, but the creepy crawlies you'll want to guard against the most are ticks. When walking at LBL, it's best to check your body or clothing periodically to make sure you haven't picked up unwelcome hitchhikers.
For more information about Land Between the Lakes, go to Lbl.org.