Lyonia Preserve

Lyonia Preserve is a hidden gem located in Deltona, Volusia County. It is a 360 acre restored scrub ecosystem with three clearly marked hiking trails and an educational center. Named for the Rusty Lyonia, a scrub plant, this imperiled Florida ecosystem is found on a high sandy ridge with open areas of white sand, low vegetation, dwarf oak trees, and few tall trees.

Three trails meander through the Preserve where you will experience more than 164 species of plants and 124 species of animals including Florida mice, gopher tortoises, gopher frogs and many other species of birds, mammals, and insects. Located on The Great American Birding Trail, you may see white-eyed Vireos, Eastern Towhees, Common Nighthawks.and many more so bring your binoculars and camera.

This Preserve had been restored and maintained as scrub habitat for threatened Florida Scrub Jays. Scrub Jays are endemic to Florida and depend on scrub habitat for survival. Scrub Jays are not shy birds. They are curious about people and may even approach you.

The Lyonia Preserve has no shade so come prepared. Bring water, sunscreen and close-toed shoes for the soft, sandy trails. There is a covered picnic pavilion to enjoy your picnic lunch before visiting the Educational Center.

The Educational Center shares the complex with the Deltona Library. It features an outdoor amphitheater, classrooms, ecological exhibits, fresh and saltwater habitats as well as native and non-native reptiles and mammals. The Center offers insights and education into this fragile scrub ecosystem and the animals and plants who live there.

Photo Credit: Lourdes Brown
#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #Lyonia #Getoutside #Getoutdoors

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Least Bitterns

Least Bitterns, Ixobrychus exilis, are some of the smallest herons in the world. They are hard to spot because they don’t wade in shallow waters like most herons. Look for them on reeds and cattails at the water’s edge in a pond, fresh marsh, salt marsh, or in mangroves.

Long toes make it easy for these birds to maneuver through dense vegetation in search of food. While clinging to a reed or cattail, bitterns will open and close their wings to startle prey then capture them on the surface of the water with their long bills. Least Bitterns love to dine on large insects such as dragonflies and small fish such as minnows. Frogs, tadpoles, small snakes are favorite snacks.

Males build hidden nests of sticks, vegetation, and grass on bent reeds. Both parents incubate
2-7 eggs for 17-20 days and share in feeding via regurgitation for up to 2 weeks.

These beautiful little herons have the perfect colors to make them hard to spot. Watch for movement in the dense marsh at the edge of the water. When you spot a Least Bittern, spend some time watching this bird’s acrobatic feats among the reeds.

Photo Credit: Andy Waldo
#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #lLeastBittern #heron

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Opossums, Didelphis virginiana, are North America’s only marsupial.

Mother opossums have 2 litters each year and like other marsupials, nurse their babies in their pouches where they keep them safe and warm. Baby opossums, called joeys, are about the size of an acorn when they are born and immediately crawl into their mother’s pouch. They will stay there for almost 3 months before they take a ride on their mother’s back. At a little over 3 months, the joeys are weaned and set off to live on their own.

Opossums love trees. Their long prehensile tails, thumbs on all 4 paws, and sharp claws make them skilled climbers. You may find them resting on a branch or nesting in a tree hole.

When encountering a human, an Opossum may hiss, growl, and show all 50 of his/her teeth in an effort to tell you to leave. The 50 teeth are used to chew the different types of food in an opossum’s diet. Opossums are not picky eaters and will eat fresh fruit, grass, nuts, carrion, worms, birds, mice, insects, and snakes. They are immune to bee stings and snake bites. You will often find them enjoying a free human meal in unsecured garbage cans and open dumpsters.

Opossums play “possum.” When threatened, they will roll on their sides and play dead. Their eyes may be open or closed, they may urinate, let their tongue hang out, foam at the mouth, and secrete a foul scent from their anal glands. They will remain this way until the threat has passed.

Fun Fact: Each opossum can eat up to 5000 ticks each season.

Photo Credit: Dan Kon.
#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #Opossum #ConnectRespectCoexist

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Oakland Preserve

Oakland Nature Preserve

Oakland Nature Preserve is a 128-acre preserve just west of Orlando between Winter Garden and Clermont. It includes 5 of Florida’s 12 major ecosystems. The mission of the Oakland Nature Preserve is to educate visitors about the ecosystems of the Lake Apopka Basin, and to conserve and restore the land and habitats within the Preserve.

The Oakland Nature Preserve offers many programs for visitors, including insect safaris, paddle tours, and guided hikes to experience Florida’s native species. On the Critter Cams, you may see a bobcat, osprey, great horned owl, or a gopher tortoise.

The Preserve’s most popular trail is its 2/3 mile long and mostly shaded boardwalk to Lake Apopka and a pavilion. The boardwalk is wheelchair accessible. The signage along the boardwalk will identify plants and trees. You may see blackberries, elderberries, cattails, alligators, birds, spiders, snakes, and turtles. There are 6 hiking trails. Trails are color-coded to available maps. Each trail offers a different experience and view, from floodplain forests to a shady oak hammock.

The Preserve’s Education Center offers live turtle and fish exhibits as well as a museum and library. While there, enjoy the Serenity Porch by resting in one of the rocking chairs and taking in the beauty of Nature.


Photo Credit: Dan Kon

#ImagineOurFlorda #IOF #OaklandNaturePreserve#getoutside #getoutdoors #explore #discover

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Blue Dasher

—-Blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)—

This male blue dasher is easily recognized by the vibrant blue body and metallic blue eyes. Females are not as colorful as the males. The difference between the appearance of males and females is called sexual dimorphism. As they age their bodies cast a more powdery overtone. These little carnivores will eat 10% of their body weight each day and are not picky eaters. They will eat almost any type of insect. Mosquito larvae are a common food source. They hunt by remaining still and waiting for food to come to them. In one swift movement they “dash” toward their prey to capture it.

Photo Credit: Aymee Laurain

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #BlueDasher #Dragonflies

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Anna Maria Island

Just south of Tampa Bay on Florida’s Gulf Coast is a quaint Barrier Island called Anna Maria.

Anna Maria Island is a seven-mile strip of white sandy beaches. It is a bird sanctuary and has attracted scholars who come to study biology, including marine biology, ecology, and more.

Seagulls, sandpipers, cranes, pelicans, herons, spoonbills, egrets, wood storks, osprey, vultures, hawks, bald eagles, crows, and feral parrots make their home here. Sea turtles come ashore to nest and bottlenose dolphins play in the Gulf, Intracoastal Waterway, and Bimini Bay.

Experience snorkeling, diving, including group diving, bicycling, bird watching, boating, or strolling along the beach. Enjoy a spectacular sunset to end your day at Anna Maria Island.

Photo Credit Aymee Laurain

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #AnnaMariaIsland #SaturdaySaunter

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Red Widow Spider

Red Widow Spiders, (Latrodectus bishopi), although endemic to Florida, live in a limited range. Red Widow Spiders can be found in Lake Wales Ridge and in other areas in Central and Southern Florida. The Spider lives in sand pine scrub habitats and makes its homes in palmettos and other shrubs. Red Widow Spiders are listed as a Threatened Species due to the destruction of habit.

A Red Widow will bind together palmetto leaves with silk where she will mate, hide, and guard her eggs. The egg sac which is smooth and white is deposited inside the silk-lined rolled frond. She binds the tips of the palmetto fronds and her web becomes invisible during the day. The web can only be seen on foggy mornings.

The web looks like a cobweb sheet with snare lines. An insect will fly into the snares and fall to the sheet. The Spider will rush out to retrieve her prey. She will eat insects of all kinds caught in the web but primarily feasts on beetles endemic to the area in the spring. Bees and wasps are favorites during the rest of the year. Although the male is capable of hunting his own prey he will most often eat the prey provided by the female.

The Red Widow’s abdomen is black with red dots bordered with yellow. It’s head, legs, and thorax are red-orange. The female is 1/2 an inch with a leg span of 1/2 to 2 inches. The male is 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the female.

Although the female’s venom is a neurotoxin that causes sustained muscle spasms, very few bites and no deaths have been attributed to the Red Widow Spider. These spiders are rarely encountered and only bite when touched. Wear gloves when lifting firewood or picking up wood and other items in areas where spiders may be living. Red Widows have been known to make their home in sheds and garages. If a Red Widow Spider bites you, seek medical attention.

Photo Credit:

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #RedWidowSpider #ConnectRespectCoexist

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St Johns River

The. St. Johns River is Florida’s longest river at 310 miles long. It is one of only a few rivers in the US that flow north and is one of the laziest rivers in the world.

With headwaters in saw grass marshes south of Melbourne in Indian River County, the St. Johns River flows into the Atlantic Ocean near Mayport in Duval County. The Wekiva River, the Econlockhatchee River, and the Ocklawaha River along wth other tributaries flow into the St Johns River.

Twice a day, the incoming tide from the Atlantic Ocean causes the St.Johns River to reverse its current. When the water is low and/or the wind is blowing from the northeast, the reverse flow can extend 161 miles upstream and last for several days.
The reverse flow makes the St. John’s River more vulnerable to pollutants since they are not easily filtered.

For the St. Johns River and all rivers in Florida:
– Reduce fertilizers.
– Plant Florida native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers.
– Make sure your septic system is working properly
– Pick up dog poop. Don’t let it run down the storm drains.
Can you think of any other ways you can do your part to keep Florida’s water sources clean and safe for humans and wildlife?

Photo credit: Kon Studio
Source: St Johns River Water Management District

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #StJohnsRiverr #ConnectRespectCoexist

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Kraft Azalea Garden

There’s a secret garden in Winter Park with magnificent cypress trees, 8 benches for you to pause and immerse yourself in the beauty of Nature, and sunsets at The Excedra on the shore of Lake Maitland.

Kraft Azalea Park, located near Orlando, is a 5.22-acre public garden open to the public year-round from 8 am until dusk. The garden was designed in 1938 by Martin Daetwyler who was hired by Winter Park residents George and Maud Kraft along with Mayor Frederick Cady and other Winter Park residents.

While you are there, be sure to look for the banyan tree. Banyan trees, native to Sri Lanka and Pakistan and sacred to Buddhists and Hindus, have been planted throughout the tropics in botanical gardens and city parks. The banyan tree at Kraft Azalea Park is at least 70 years old and is believed to be the northernmost banyan tree in Florida which has survived the frosts. Like all trees in the fig family, the foliage and sap of the banyan tree can be an irritant to some.

IOF contributor David Gale says, “The Kraft Azalea Gardens on the edge of Lake Maitland are definitely worth a visit in February/March. We saw dozens of Great Egrets and numerous Anhingas all in full mating plumage high in the Cypress trees. We missed the azalea blossoms for this visit but this small park was still spectacular and very peaceful even though it’s in a suburb of Winter Park.”

David was lucky to visit during the breeding season for the Great Egrets. Kraft Azalea Park is a Great Egret rookery where up to 50 pairs show off their mating rituals, lay their eggs, and raise their babies. Mockingbirds, ospreys, and pileated woodpeckers also make their nests there. Sandhill cranes and wood storks visit the garden too.

Make plans today to visit this central Florida secret garden.

Photo credit: David Gale

#ImagineOurFlorida #SaturdaySaunter #KraftAzaleaPark #Getoutside#Getoutdoors #egret

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Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area

Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA), located near Palmdale in Highlands County, is an 18,272-acre corridor along Fisheating Creek. A 40-mile stretch of the 52-mile long creek is located within the management area. Fisheating Creek is now the only free-flowing water source feeding into Lake Okeechobee.

This WMA is a beautiful and unique place to spend the day or multiple days. It is made up of several ecosystems including marshes, cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks, longleaf pine, slash pine, and Florida scrub.
Be sure to bring a camera since the management area is a site along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.

Canoe or kayak through hardwood hammocks and cypress swamps. Decaying plant matter creates tannin which makes the water a brilliant tea color where the sunlight touches it. The creek is teeming with bluefish, bass, and panfish. Wading birds, otters, and alligators enjoy the creek too. Swallow-tailed kites raise their babies along the creek and thousands of beautiful butterflies can be seen in the fall.

The 5-mile Fort Center Interpretive Nature Trail takes you through a hardwood hammock, wet prairie, and flood plain. There are covered rest areas with benches along the trail. You will learn about the history of the early Native Americans who made their homes here between 1000 and 500 BCE. See wildlife such as alligators, turtles, deer, wild hogs, turkey, wading birds, raptors, and an occasional black bear as you hike the hardwood forests. If you are lucky, you may even spot a federally endangered Florida panther!

At the Fisheating Creek Outpost enjoy camping primitively, hook up your RV, and rent a canoe or kayak. Hike through cypress forests on the 2-mile Knobby Knee Trail. Take the 8-mile Burnt Bridge paddling tour or consider the 16-mile Ingram Crossing tour for an overnight canoe or kayak trip. Cool off in the designated swimming areas, cook over a campfire or enjoy a picnic lunch.

Both the WMA and the Outpost are open 365 days, including holidays. Before planning your trip, be sure to check the calendars for both the WMA and the Outpost for activities, the best time to view your favorite wildlife, and water levels. Hours vary at the Outpost office.
Let’s camp at Fisheating Creek! – Fisheating Creek Outpost

IOF’s Board of Directors held their annual meeting around a campfire at Fisheating Creek Outpost in Feb. A few of the directors camped overnight and cooked campfire chili and other tasty treats for those who drove in for the day. All of us fell in love with Fisheating Creek Outpost and are planning to have our next annual meeting there.

Photo Credit: Directors Lourdes Brown, Ileana Rodriguez-Ramirez, Andy Waldo

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #FisheatingCreek #Explore #Discover

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Purple Lovegrass

Purple Lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis).

Purple Lovegrass is a beautiful and eye-catching Florida native groundcover. It is a bunching grass that grows slowly with a fibrous root system. It grows on disturbed and undisturbed sandy soils, borders, embankments, meadows, dry savannahs, and prairies. Drought and salt tolerant, it thrives in sandy soils where other grasses can not be grown. Purple Lovegrass prefers full sun but is tolerant of partial shade. In the spring it displays is blue-green foliage. In the summer the plant displays purplish-pink spikelets. In the fall it develops a bronze-red color and the seeds have a beige color. The entire seed branch will detach and blow away like a tumbleweed in the wind.

Purple Lovegrass is used in gardens because it is a tough low maintenance grass that needs little care. This grass is a perennial that will reseed. The smooth leaf blades are 10 inches long and 1/4 of an inch wide. The plant is 2 feet tall with a 2-3 foot spread. Purple Lovegrass supports wildlife, that uses it as cover and as nesting material. It is a host to the caterpillars of the Zabulon skipper and attracts other butterflies and birds. Deer will not eat this plant but other small animals will forage on its seeds. From a distance, when planted en mass it offers a stunning display to the landscape.

Did you know:
Purple Lovegrass is widely used by internationally renowned garden designer Piet Oudolf and was listed as one of his “100 Must-Have Plants” in Gardens Illustrated magazine.

Photo Credit: James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service,

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #lovegrass #garden #nativeplant

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Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park consists of 22,000 acres of both wet and dry savanna in Micanopy, Florida. This state park, located just south of Gainesville, has more than 20 biological communities which provide habitats for wildlife. In the 1970s the state of Florida acquired the land and began the process of restoring it.

Within Paynes Prairie Preserve is a highland freshwater marsh composed of different plant communities that vary based on the depth of the water. The wet, forested areas have coastal swamps of bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) and swamp tupelo (Nyssa biflora). Coastal plain blackwater river forests grow along streams. The uplands have southern oak domes and hammocks of southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) growing in areas with moist soils. Florida longleaf pine sandhills grow on drier, sandier soils.

There are over 720 species of plants at the Paynes Prairie Preserve including native, introduced, and invasive species. You will see everything from the Red Maple(Acer rubrum) to the invasive Cora Ardisia (Ardisia crenatum) to the beautiful Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata).

Over 270 species of birds including anhingas, ibis, flocks of turkeys, herons, and migratory birds can be found on the plain. You will see alligators as well as Cracker Horses and Cracker Cattle, both of which were introduced by the Spaniards. You may even see an American Bison which was reintroduced to the Preserve where they roamed until the 18th century.

Start your exploration of the Preserve in historic Micanopy. Exhibits, photographs and an audio-visual program will explain the natural and historical significance of the Preserve. A 50-foot tower provides a panoramic view, where you may spot wild horses.

Paynes Prairie has more than 30 miles of trails for horseback riders, cyclists, and hikers which will lead you through a variety of ecosystems. Camping opportunities await you in a full-facility campground. There is a boat ramp on the east side of the 300 acres Lake Wauberg for canoes, kayaks, and small boats. On weekends in November – April you can participate in ranger lead activities with pre-made reservations.

In 1971, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park was designated Florida’s first state Preserve. In 1974, Paynes Prairie Preserve was nominated to the National Register of Natural Landmarks, one of only 600 in the country.

ADDRESS: 100 Savannah Blvd, Micanopy, FL 32667

Photo Credit Kerry Waldo
#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #PaynesPrairie #GetOutdoors #Explore#Discover


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Purple Gallinule

(Porphyrio martinicus)

Plumage in shades of purple, teal, indigo, and olive along with a yellow-tipped red bill and bright yellow legs make this bird hard to miss. Purple gallinules are noisy rails who are most often found near freshwater marshes, ponds, and swamps. You may find them swimming, walking on lily pads, or in the branch of a tree.

In the spring and summer, a pair of Purple Gallinules will build one or more nests at or above the water level. The nests are supported by strong vegetation at the water’s edge and are made of grasses, cattails and other vegetation found nearby. Raising babies is a family affair. Both the male and female incubate 5-10 eggs for 22-25 days. Once hatched, the mother, father, and older siblings help feed the babies until they are 9 weeks old and able to fly.

Purple Gallinules are omnivorous. You may find them pecking the ground like a chicken as they forage along the shore for fruit, seeds, insects, worms, or snails. In the water, they will nod their head while looking for tasty aquatic greens or a fish dinner.

When you see a Purple Gallinule, spend some time watching this gorgeous bird with quirky movements. Note how their feathers appear to change color when they move from sunshine to shade. You will be amazed at how the Purple Gallinule’s brilliant colors perfectly blend into Florida’s wetlands.

Photo Credit: Andy Waldo
#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #PurpleGallinule #Explore #Discover

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Eastern Hognose Snake

Eastern Hognose Snake Heterodon platirhinos

Eastern Hognose Snakes are found throughout Florida with the exception of the Keys. Their habitat is diverse and includes scrub, sandhills, turkey oak woodlands, hardwood hammocks, pine woodlands, meadows, and even cultivated fields. Hognose snakes secrete a mild venom that is toxic to their prey. They are not known to cause serious injuries to humans, however, some people may show signs of an allergy if bitten.

Hognose snakes are thick-bodied and vary in color from solid gray or black to various shades of brown, yellow, orange, olive, or red with large, randomly shaped markings. The underside can be off-white, gray, or yellow with the bottom side of the tail lighter in color. An average adult grows to 20-35 inches. Hognose snakes breed in spring. Females lay 15-25 leathery eggs in sandy soil or under logs. In 1-2 months, the hatchlings break free of their eggs and are 6 1/2 to 9 1/2 inches long.

Active only during daylight hours, Hognose snakes use their blunt noses to search through soil and leaf litter for their meals. They may dine on frogs, insects, salamanders, and invertebrates, but toads are their favorite dinner. When a toad is threatened, it will puff itself up. Immune to the toad’s poison, Hognose snakes are equipped with rear fangs which enable them to pop the toad-like a balloon before swallowing it whole.

Eastern Hognose Snakes are best known for their dramatic display when warding off danger. Also known as a Puff Adder, when a threat is detected, a hognose snake will suck in air, flatten its head, rise like a cobra, and hiss. With its mouth closed, it may strike. If this display does not scare away the predator, the hognose will flip itself over and imitate death. It may convulse, regurgitate, and emit foul-smelling fecal matter before becoming completely still with its mouth open and tongue hanging out. When the danger passes, the Hognose snake will simply roll over and get on with enjoying its day.

Photo Credit: Andy Waldo
#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #EasternHognoseSnake #snakes

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