Journeying On Through Florida

After leaving Lake Kissimmee State Park we headed north, ran the Orlando metro area traffic gauntlet, and arrived at Blue Springs State Park which was a new park for us. After spending a week there we would take relatively quiet back roads further north to Mike Roess State Park. The two parks couldn’t be more different. Blue Springs is a heavily used “day use” park with a small campground near Orlando while the larger Mike Roess SP was quiet and lightly used during our stay. Part of the popularity of Blue Springs can be attributed to the Manatees that inhabit the springs during the winter months and which had started to leave while we were there due to warmer weather. When one ventured away from the campground after mid-morning parking lots were pretty much full and there were always more than enough people in the park’s general use areas. However, once on the water paddling into a secluded creek or cove things changed dramatically and the area felt like wilderness.

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The big find while hiking the parks limited trails was the endangered Scrub Jay which is a bird we’ve been in search of for some time without success. Habitat destruction appears to be the main reason for its decline.

Scrub Jay.

Another look.

Yellow Star Grass occurred periodically along the trail in single blossoms.

This Eastern Towhee was seen in the same scrub habitat as the jay, (Donna).

This Pileated Woodpecker was also seen along the trail as we searched for the Scrub Jays, (Donna).

Spiderwort.

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St Johns River near Blue Springs SP.

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The extensive wildlife seen while canoeing was the big draw at Blue Springs SP. Our favorite paddle was the eleven mile loop that incorporated Snake Creek. The creek is a true celebration of the richness and beauty of nature.

A small alligator checks us out, (Donna).

An immature Black Crowned Night Heron along Snake Creek, (Donna).

A Great Egret watches as we pass by.

St Johns River.

Florida Cooters,  (Donna).

Wood Stork, (Donna).

Black Crowned Night Heron along the St Johns River.

Little Blue Heron in the thick of it.

Snake Creek provided an intimate paddling experience.

Purple Gallinule eating flower petals, St Johns River.

While paddling Snake Creek we came upon this mating pair at Turkeys. The male seemed not to be bothered by our presence.

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Cypress

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A Tree frog at water’s edge, (Donna)

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St Johns River.

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American Bittern along the St Johns River.

Osprey with fish.

Little Blue Heron preening.

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Although they are common, Anhingas always catch our eye.

Male Anhinga dries it’s feathers along the St Johns River.

Preening.

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St Johns river landscape.

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A Snowy Egret shows off its yellow feet, (Donna).

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Unlike Blue Springs which provided excellent opportunities to observe wildlife from the water, hiking was the best way to do so at Mike Roess SP. A plus was that there were no crowed parking lots or large numbers of people to negotiate when one left the campground. There were areas to explore around the park’s several small lakes and along one fairly long designated hiking trail. We enjoyed the park’s quiet subtle beauty.

Mike Roess SP landscape.

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Walking the shoreline of the parks small lakes was an excellent way to see insects. Some of the dragonflies and damselflies seen were new to us.

Vesper Bluet Damselfly, (Donna).

The Variable Dancer Damselfly is one we haven’t seen further north in Ohio.

Carolina Saddlebags, (Donna).

Female Faded Pennant, (Donna).

Male Faded Pennant.

Slaty Skimmer, (Donna).

The Stripe-winged Baskettail is another dragonfly we’ve not seen further north in Ohio.

The Blue Corporal often perches on the ground, (adult male).

The Buckeye is usually seen in late summer in Ohio.

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Pond reflection.

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In addition to the insects there were birds to enjoy:

Hermit Thrush.

A Hooded Merganser and a Wood Duck pose.

There was a sizable population of Ring-necked Ducks on the small park lakes.

A closer look.

Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Pied Billed Grebes

A White Eyed Vireo announces its presence.

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Shoreline grass.

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As well as other things:

Cricket Frog at waters edge, (Donna).

Unfortunately these lovely but uncommon little flowers that liked the park’s sandy soil remain unidentified.

A Fence Lizard shows it’s underside, (Donna).

Lichen on fallen branch.

A Gopher Tortoise enjoys some grass, (Donna).

Trees.

Pinebarren Frostweed.

A Five Lined Skink shows its beautiful tail, (Donna)

A Long Leaf Pine just starting out.

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Leaving Mike Roess we’d completed six weeks of exploring nature in Florida. As we looked forward to spending time at Paynes Prairie Preserve and Black River SP before heading north to early spring in Ohio we couldn’t help but feel incredibly blessed.

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Lily Pads

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Thanks for stopping by.

A Favorite Florida State Park

After the previous post about early spring in Ohio we thought we’d travel back in time to late January and explore the natural beauty of Florida’s Lake Kissimmee State Park. After our third visit we now consider it a cornerstone for any winter camping trip to Florida.

Live Oak

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An advantage to many of the parks we visit in Florida is that they’re not separated by great distances so it’s an easy matter to pull up stakes in one and head down the road to the next. Lake Kissimmee SP is not far from Little Manatee River, is a much larger park so there is plenty of nature to explore without ever leaving the park. The greatest variety of birds can be seen if one quietly paddles the lake shore, Zipper Canal, or Tiger Creek but birding is also very rewarding along the hiking trails. When not observing warblers, gnatcatchers, or kinglets. the trails are a great way to see the park’s many Red Headed Woodpeckers and there are rumors of Scrub Jays although that’s one we have yet to see.

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Folks sometimes ask if we’re concerned about taking expensive camera equipment in a canoe. The answer is yes, but we’ve been blessed to see many birds that we wouldn’t have otherwise and are sometimes lucky enough to get a picture so we feel it’s worth the risk. Within reason the canoe doesn’t limit the amount of equipment one can take and while you may get lucky from time to time don’t expect tack sharp “tripod” images. Where the canoe fails as a photography platform is when wind and water conditions create excessive motion or make the boat hard to control leaving little opportunity for pictures. Although some might not agree, a bonus when exploring overgrown Florida shorelines in a small boat is wondering if around the next bend one will startle a large gator. It’s an experience of “wildness” not availible in places further north. With that intro, below are some of the “canoe” birds seen during our two weeks at the park.

A favorite Lake Kissimmee perch for a group of Anhingas

A closer look at a male.

Paddling Zipper Canal between Lake Kissimmee and Rosalie Lake.

A Bald Eagle along Tiger Creek which flows from Tiger Lake to Lake Kissimmee.

A Bald Eagle peers down at a prospective meal . .

. . then dives.

Hundreds of Tree Swallows in an early morning feeding frenzy on Lake Kissimmee.

A few take a break from the hunt, (Donna).

Clouds over Lake Kissimmee.

Immature Snail Kite along the Lake Kissimmee shoreline. The kites were a real treat because during last year’s visit, which was right after a hurricane, there were none to be seen.

Mature Snail Kite with snail, (Donna).

Mature Snail Kite.

A Glossy Ibis reveals how it got it’s name, (Donna).

Rosalie Creek between Rosalie and Tiger Lakes.

Young Alligator along Tiger Creek.

Tri-color Heron along Tiger Creek, (Donna).

Black-crowned Night Heron along the Zipper Canal, (Donna).

Great Egret with fish, (Donna).

Little Blue Heron, (Donna).

Lily pads, Lake Kissimmee.

Swallow-tailed Kite over Tiger Creek. Observing them it appears that they often catch their prey in their talons and proceed to devour it on the wing.

Common Moorhen along the grassy Lake Kissimmee shoreline, (Donna).

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The hiking trails offer a different mix of birds and wildlife. The length of hike often dictates the type of equipment one decides to take along. Lugging ten pounds of camera equipment for seven or eight miles is not fun. One solution I saw this year was to modify a light weight golf cart to haul your equipment if the trail conditions and other restrictions allow.

The type of golf cart that would be easy to modify to carry a tripod and camera with long telephoto lens.

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When hiking park trails one thing that always amazes me is how different species of birds stay together or flock. One can walk for miles and not see much of anything and then all of a sudden there will be birds everywhere. Chickadees, titmouse, kinglets, gnatcatchers, and warblers are often seen together and often there will even be a blue jay in the mix. With the Live Oaks draped in Spanish Moss, the palmettos, and the pines, the landscape is enchanting so if the birds aren’t cooperating there is always something to appreciate.

Tufted Titmouse often alert us to the fact there may be warblers in the area. (Donna).

Sure enough, a Black and White Warbler makes an appearance.

Along the trail.

Blue-headed Vireo, showing tail and flight feathers.

We weren’t quiet sure what this Red-bellied Woodpecker planned to do with the acorn, (Donna).

White-eyed Vireo.

Eastern Phoebe, (Donna).

Sandhill Cranes. As common as they are we did not have the many opportunities to photograph them.

Pine Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

Bald Eagle and nest on Buster Island near the Cow Camp.

The Great Crested Flycatcher showed up near our campsite. It’s the largest of the flycatchers, (Donna).

Sunlight and Spanish Moss.

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher

A Northern Flicker shared the Red Headed Woodpeckers territory.

Buster Island trail.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are quite common in the park.

Yellow-rumped Warblers competed with Palm and Pine Warblers for most common status.

If Florida had a state hawk, it sound be the always vocal Red-shouldered.

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The other things:

Curious deer, (Donna).

Bark Anole.

A large Golden Silk Orb-weaver.

A Golden Silk Orb-weaver sun lit with a background of dark shade.

Fascinating fungi along the trail.

Female Band-winged Dragonlet

Yellow Milkwort is native and found throughout most of the Florida peninsula. Interestingly, the only place in the world it grows is Florida.

Grass highlighted by the winter sun.

The long burrows, up to 40 feet long and 10 feet deep, of the endangered Gopher Tortoise are home to over three dozen other animal species that use them for shelter from harsh weather and predators.

Anole displaying.

The winter light often highlights the Spanish Moss and creates deep shadows.

Yellow Jessamine is a common flowering vine in January and February.

A Spiny-backed Orb-weaver suspends over the trail.

Florida Baskettail.

Oak Toad, (Donna).

Eastern Racer, (Donna).

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Lake Kissimmee SP is one place we will be returning to next year. With its long hiking trails and extensive areas to explore by canoe there is always a new adventure waiting.

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Tiger Creek

Under a clear blue sky,

with the winter sun warming skin exposed to cool morning air,

paddles rhythmically break the still surface,

as the canoe glides with anticipation along a winding creek

wrapped in sage, bulrush and lily pads.

A solitary alligator swims slowly ahead

then slides below the surface and disappears

while not far away

herons, hawks, egrets, and eagles announce their presence.

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Thanks for stopping by.

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