Fred Howard Park

Fred Howard Park

There are 155 acres on the Gulf of Mexico in Tarpon Springs where you can revel in the beauty of white sandy beaches and breathtaking sunsets. Named for the former Mayor of Tarpon Springs who set aside the property for the enjoyment of residents in 1966, Fred Howard Park delights nearly 2 million residents and visitors every year!

Explore pine flatwoods, sandhills, wetlands, mangrove estuaries, seagrass beds, and coastal scrub. Discover the wildlife who make their homes there. Watch for eagles, osprey, butterflies, gopher tortoises, fox squirrels, manatees, and dolphins.

Stop along the mile-long causeway to sunbath, then cool off with a quick dip in the Gulf. Paddle your kayak or canoe in the Gulf or experience the thrill of windsurfing. Bring your lunch to enjoy in one of 9 picnic shelters and be sure to stop by the playground for a nostalgic ride on the swings.

For more information and map of the park click here:

Photo Credit: Marc Goldberg

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Eastern Cottontail

Eastern Cottontail

The Eastern Cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus, is best known for the white puffy fur on the underside of its tail. Cottontails grow to 14 – 17 inches in length and weigh two to four pounds. Their cotton-like tail is most noticeable when they hop.

Cottontails can be found in woodlands, fields, briar patches, bushy areas, and yards. They are herbivores and are often seen dining on clover, grasses, and other green vegetation. When greens are not available, Cottontails will seek out young woody shoots and bark. You will most often see these solitary rabbits in the early morning or evening.

Breeding can occur any time during the year but happens most often in February through September. In about a month, the mother cottontail will give birth to a litter of 4 – 7 rabbit kittens. Female Cottontails can produce 3-4 litters each year.

Cottontails will stand on their hind feet to look for predators such as hawks, foxes, coyotes, or weasels. When one is spotted, these speedy rabbits can run up to 15 miles an hour and hop distances of up to 15 feet in a single leap.

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Dark Flower Scarab Beetle

Dark Flower Scarab Beetle

Dark Flower Scarab Beetles, Euphoria sepulcralis, have white markings on a black or dark brown body that reflects a metallic bronze or green color in the sunlight. They are daytime flyers and can often be found snacking on flowers in yards throughout Florida.

“The adults feed on tree sap, a wide variety of ripening fruits, corn, and the flowers of apple, thistle, mock orange, milkweed, dogwood, sumac, yarrow, daisies, and goldenrod.” Ratcliffe (1991). Occasionally, these common beetles are considered pests because they love to munch on the flowers of fruit trees, roses, and corn.

Dark Flower Scarab Beetles make tasty dinners for a variety of animals. Grubs, which hatch underground from eggs, are eaten by birds, moles, and skunks. Other animals such as frogs, bats, and birds eat adult beetles.

Photo Credit: Aymee Laurain

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Hillsborough River State Park

Hillsborough River State Park –

Nature and history abound at Hillsborough River State Park located just outside of Tampa. Explore one of the 7.3 miles of trails, learn about the Seminole Indian Wars at Fort Foster, and find peace along the waters of the Hillsborough River.

Fort Foster was originally built in 1836 to defend the bridge which crossed the Hillsborough River on Fort King Military road. It served as a place to resupply soldiers during the Second Seminole War. In 1936, Civilian Conservation Corps realized the historic significance of Fort Foster and the allure of the Class II rapids located nearby.

The Corps opened Hillsborough River State Park to the public in 1938. Today, visitors are invited to explore within the reconstructed walls of Fort Foster complete with blockhouse stairs and cannons. Plan your trip in January to see reenactments at the Fort Foster Rendezvous or in December at the Candlelight Experience.

Hillsborough River State Park is designated a Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. There are 4 trails within the park that wind through pine flatwoods, a floodplain swamp, a hardwood and hydric hammock, and a cypress swamp.

Hike or bike along the 1.6-mile Wetlands Trail through cypress domes and Flatwoods where you may encounter bobcats, hawks, and a variety of rare plants. Saunter down the Rapids Trail to the swift, flowing Class II rapids on the Hillsborough River.

Paddle a kayak or canoe down the Hillsborough River or for the more adventurous, down the rapids. Cool off in the ADA accessible swimming pool.

Primitive campsites and 112 campsites for tents or RVs are located in the park. Playgrounds and picnic areas are waiting for you to enjoy. Pavilions are available to rent for reunions and other special events. A poolside cafe, camp store, and bike and canoe rental are located in the park for your convenience. Pets are welcome and must be on a 6′ leash.

For more information click here:…/hillsborough-river-stat…

Photo Credit: Aymee Laurain

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Rock Springs Run State Reserve

Rock Springs Run State Reserve –

Plan a trip to Rock Springs Run State Reserve in Sorrento. Explore the 14,000-acre reserve and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of swamps, bay heads, oak hammocks, pine Flatwoods, and sand pine scrub. Stop by the spring/run river system which runs along the perimeter of the park. Look for the many varieties of wildflowers in bloom, red-shouldered hawks, sandhill cranes, indigo snakes, gopher tortoises, Florida scrub-jay, and bear tracks. Visit in the fall and you may see a black bear testing on the reserve’s acorn harvest.

Rock Springs Run State Reserve boasts 14 miles of hiking trails for hikers. For cyclists, there are 15 miles of multi-use trails. Equestrians appreciate the nine miles of trails for horse riding. Rock Springs Run Trail Rides offers guided horseback riding.

There are 2 primitive campsites accessible by kayak or canoe and Equestrian primitive campsites. The reserve has spots for RVs. The Hammock House, a log cabin with 4 bedrooms is located on the Wekiva River. Bring your family and enjoy a night on the deck and paddle the 2 provided canoes up the Wekiva River. Your pets are welcome by must be on a 6 ft leash.

For more information, fees, reservations, and more click here:…/rock-springs-run-state-…

Photo Credit: Andy Waldo

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Spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis, is a native Florida wildflower. It grows in wetlands, disturbed areas, and is commonly found in Florida yards.

Spiderwort, a clumping perennial, appears in the spring and flowers and produces seeds through mid-summer. Blue, purple or white flowers grow in clusters on stems with grass-like leaves. The flowers only last until mid-day.

Spiderwort attracts pollinators and is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of native bees.

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Alafia River State Park

Alafia River State Park, located in Hillsborough County, is the place to go for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Alafia River State Park sits on what was once a phosphate mine known as Fort Lonesome. Mining companies donated the 7,733-acre area to the state.

The mining companies changed the landscape and left behind an area with small lakes and steep grades. Alafia boasts elevations high enough to challenge members of the International Mountain Bike Association. Alafia UBC is on-site for bike rentals and repairs.

Spend the night or sleep under the stars at Alafia. Family, equestrian, and primitive campsites are available. Host your family or friends for an outdoor get-together. Rent a pavilion for your next party, reunion, or event.

There are 20 miles of hilly trails waiting to be explored at Alafia River State Park. Hike, horseback ride, or take a leisurely stroll through the forests. Eat your picnic lunch lakeside or under one of the pavilions. Canoe or kayak on the Alafia River. Discover the many birds, wildlife, and plants who call Alafia home.

For more information including what is currently open, click here :

Photo Credit: Aymee Lauraine

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Dewdrop Spider

Tiny Dewdrop spiders, Argyrodes sp. are easy to miss. Nature has designed their abdomens to reflect light and appear to be a dewdrop glimmering in the sun.

Dewdrop spiders do not spin their own webs. Instead, they perch on the outer edge of a larger spider’s web. Once an insect is captured in the web, the tiny Dewdrop Spider will wait patiently until the host spider leaves the web before moving in to steal a bit of the prey.

Dewdrop spiders are aptly known as kleptoparasites.

Photo Credit: Andy Waldo

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Tiger Creek Preserve

Tiger Creek Preserve at Lake Wales Ridge

Tiger Creek Preserve is located on the eastern side of Lake Wales Ridge about five miles north of Frostproof in Babson. It boasts approximately 10 miles of trails within its 4869 acres and is protected almost entirely by the Nature Conservancy in partnership with USFWS and the State of Florida.

Lake Wales Ridge was once a beach and sand dune where animals and plants developed to thrive in the island’s sandy soil. Only about 15% of this 2.3 million-year-old scrub ecosystem exists today. Here you will find one of the highest concentrations of endangered and threatened animals and plants in the US.

Tiger Creek Preserve contains sandhill habitat as well as scrubby flatwood, pine flatwood, longleaf pine, hammock, and hardwood swamp habitats. Two Blackwater streams wind through the preserve. The streams collect water on higher ground and become black as tannins from leaf litter and other vegetation leaches into the water. The Nature Conservancy protects the habit with prescribed burns and the removal of invasive species.

Hike, bike, canoe, or kayak at Tiger Creek Preserve. Look for gopher tortoises, bald eagles, hawks, and the curious Florida Scrub-Jay. Experience the thrill of exploring Florida’s ancient and imperiled scrub and sandhill habitats while discovering some of the 40 endemic invertebrates, more than 40 endemic plants, and 4 threatened wildlife species.

For more information:…/places-we-pr…/tiger-creek-preserve/

Photo Credit: Andy Waldo

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Florida Tasselflower

Florida Tasselflower —

Despite its name, Florida Tasselflower (Emilia fosbergii), is not native to Florida. They are very adaptable and can be found in sunny or shady areas and are commonly found in yards in peninsular Florida.

Also known as Flora’s Paintbrush, this dainty little plant is most often considered a weed. They can reach heights of 2-3 feet and may produce 50 or more florets. Seeds are spread by the wind from their dandelion-like seedheads.

As a member of the aster family, Florida Tasselflower is an annual and may bloom year-round. Bees, wasps, and butterflies are attracted to their pink, red, or purple flowers.

Note: USDA considers the Lilac Tasselflower, Emilia sonchifolia, to be native.

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Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge

Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge was purchased by US Fish & Wildlife Service through the Federal Duck Stamp Program. It was established in 1964 as a migratory bird refuge. Located in Volusia County near DeLeon Springs, the 22,000-acre refuge is bordered by the St. John’s River and includes swamps, marshes, uplands, hammocks, and creeks.

Look for bears, bobcats, manatees, otters, raccoons, opossums, and rabbits. Gopher tortoises, alligators, lizards, snakes, turtles, salamanders, toads, and frogs may cross your path.

There are 230 species of birds at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. How many songbirds, shorebirds, wading birds, and hawks will you see? The refuge boasts the 2nd largest pre-migration roost of swallow-tailed kites in the United States.

For more information click here:

Photo Credit: Alex Clark
Swallow-tailed Kite – Andy Waldo.

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Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kites, Elanoides forficatus, arrive in Florida in early March. They begin their breeding rituals high in the sky. The mated pair will build a nest of sticks, Spanish moss, and lichen near the top of a tall tree. Here they will share the task of incubating 1-3 eggs for about a month.

After hatching, the mother Swallow-tailed Kite will stay at the nest with the young and feed them the food that the father brings for all of them. After a few weeks, both the male and female will leave the nest to bring food back to their hungry chicks. The little ones will begin exploring the tree at about 5 weeks and will make their first flight at 5-6 weeks.

These striking raptors are hard to miss with their black forked tails and brilliant white heads contrasted against their ebony bodies. They are most often found gliding through the sky over forests near rivers or open pine forests near marshes and prairies.

When you see a Swallow-tailed Kite soaring through the sky, watch as they twist their tail and swoop near trees and over lower plants. They will often snatch an animal off of a branch or leaf without slowing down. Their favorite foods include lizards, snakes, birds, frogs, and dragonflies.

In early July, Swallow-tailed Kites will gather in large communal roosts. They are dependent on lowland forests to supply the nourishment and calories they need before embarking on their 5000-mile journey to the tropical forests of southern Brazil where they will spend the winter.

Photo Credit: flying Andy Waldo
Photo Credit: close up, Don Faulkner / CC BY-SA (

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Florida Scrub-Jay

Florida Scrub-Jay
Aphelocoma coerulescens

Florida Scrub-jays are the only species of birds endemic to Florida. These social birds are charismatic, vocal, and friendly. They thrive in sand pine and xeric oak scrub, scrubby flatwoods, sand dunes, and sandy deposits along rivers. Scrub-jays dine on lizards, toads, frogs, mice, insects, and bird eggs. Acorns add protein and Scrub-jays have been known to bury some to be used during the winter months.

Florida Scrub-jays are cooperative breeders. Both the mom and dad as well as grown offspring feed and protect the young. Breeding takes place in March through June. Nests are built from palmetto fibers and twigs and are only 3-10′ above the ground. An average clutch of 2-5 eggs produces new chicks in about 18 days. The babies fledge in another 18 days and remain with their family for a year.

A scrub-jay family lives in a 24-acre area. The family will take turns being the “look-out” bird while the rest forage for food. If a predatory bird such as a hawk is sighted, the “look-out” bird will call to the family and they will all take cover. If the threat is at ground level, the family may join together in attacking a snake or other predator.

Sadly, Florida Scrub-jays have been declared Threatened under the Endangered Species Act and classified as Vulnerable to Extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are only about 8,000 Scrub-Jays left in Florida. Florida Scrub-jays are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Over the last 200 years, humans have claimed Scrub-jays well-drained habitats for development and agriculture. A history of fire suppression caused much of their remaining habitats to become overgrown and unlivable. Because development has caused forests to become fragmented, when young birds leave their family home, they have a hard time finding a suitable habitat where they can settle down and start their own family. This fragmentation has caused isolation between families and thus, each group of Scrub-jays has adapted by developing their own unique vocalizations.

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Photo Credit Dan Kon

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Black Point Wildlife Drive


Black Point Wildlife Drive

*Be safe. Be sure to practice physical distancing with animals and people.

Located in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Black Point Wildlife Drive is a 7-mile one-way road where visitors may view wildlife by hiking, from their bike, or from the comfort of their cars. There is a $10 fee per car to enter the drive. Restrooms are located at Stop 9.

The entrance to the Allan D. Cruickshank Memorial Trail is also located at Stop 9. It is a 5-mile walking trail complete with an observation tower. Leashed dogs are permitted to explore the trail with you. The Wild Birds Unlimited Trail is located at Stop 4. It passes between two ponds in full sun but is only 1/2 mile out and back.

Wildlife at Black Point Wildlife Drive thrives in and near the ponds, marshes, canals, and Pine Flatwoods. Look for birds including wading birds, shorebirds, and migratory birds. Raptors, alligators, turtles, river otters, bobcats, opossums, armadillos, snakes, and more call Black Point home. Animals are most active in the early morning and late afternoon.

Take time to explore as you make your way slowly through Black Point Wildlife Drive. Stop to admire the beauty of the animals who live there. Discover how they hunt, eat, play, and rest in their peaceful, natural habitat. Note how the sun shimmers off of the waters and makes the colors of wildflowers more vibrant. Leave your cares behind and for a time, immerse yourself in Nature and all her glory.

Photo Credit: Dan & Nancy Kon

For more information:…/Merri…/Black_Point_Wildlife_Drive.aspx

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Garden flea hopper

Garden flea hopper ( Microtechnites bractatus)—

These tiny little insects lay eggs in the stems of plants. After about 14 days the eggs hatch and little green nymphs emerge. As they grow they turn black and their wings expand. These small pests tend to damage soft stem plants such as this scarlet salvia (Salvia coccinea). Luckily, parasitoid wasps are effective at keeping these little bugs from causing too much damage. Other insects have been suspected of managing their populations but there is not much research to determine how effective these are. Have you seen any mischievous pests in your garden?

Photo credit: Aymee Laurain