Just northeast of Brooksville there is a beautiful tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest waiting to be explored. The Croom Wildlife Management Area is made up of 20,000 acres along the winding Withlacoochee River in Hernando and Sumter counties.
There are 31 miles of hiking trails, 64 miles of biking trails, 43 miles of equestrian trails along with the paved Withlacoochee State Trail. Camp at one of 5 camping areas, launch your boat or canoe from one of 3 boat ramps or enjoy a thrilling ride at the Dirtbike and ATV area. A four-wheel drive is recommended if you prefer to drive through the sandy roads.
Walk, bike or ride through the Longleaf Pine forests, admire the many Cypress trees, and stop by Silver Lake. Watch for fox squirrels, deer, turkeys, alligators, and swallow-tailed kites. Bring your dog on a leash – they are allowed in most places, a picnic lunch, and enjoy your day outdoors at The Croom Wildlife Management Area.
Photo Credit: Marc Goldberg
Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, is native to Florida from the panhandle through Central Florida. It occurs naturally in soil that is rich in calcium carbonate and in moist areas.
Before cold weather arrives they will lose their leaves to reveal brownish flaky bark with dark reddish-brown twigs. Among the first plants to bloom in spring, the Red Buckeye is an important early source of nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds. Fruit appears in the fall and when split, reveals a seed that resembles a chestnut.
Red Buckeye is a gorgeous addition to your native plant garden. It is a fast-growing plant and can be grown from seeds. Red Buckeyes can be maintained as a shrub or allowed to grow into a tree. The plant grows quickly, thrives in moist, rich soil and partial shade. Irrigation may be required in full sun or dry areas. When planning your garden, you may want to consider the leaves and seeds from the fruit contain saponins which are poisonous to humans and pets.
Photo Credit: Andy Waldo
Once a wet prairie that was part of the St John’s River flood plain, Orlando Wetlands Park in Christmas Fl is now a man-made wetland treatment system that attracts over 230 species of birds.
Orlando Wetlands Park has quite a history. It was originally settled in the 1830s. In 1837, Fort Christmas was erected by the Army. When the Civil War was over, settlers drained the land for agriculture. By the early 1900s, the land became an open range for cattle while red cedar trees and pine trees were being cut down for lumber. By the 1940s a dairy farm was operating on the property. With a growing population, the city of Orlando and surrounding communities needed a larger and more efficient treatment facility. The City of Orlando purchased 1650 acres from Ft Christmas, converted 1220 acres of pasture back into wetlands, and named it Orlando Wetlands Park.
35 million gallons of reclaimed wastewater makes its way through 3 wetlands communities each day. The ecosystems include a mixed marsh, wet prairie, and hardwood /cypress swamps. A 100-acre lake was also established. As the water makes its 30-40 day journey through the park, nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as other residual nutrients, are removed before the clean water spills into the St Johns River.
2.3 million aquatic plants, including 200,000 trees were planted during the construction of Orlando Wetlands Park. Look for pickerelweed, duck potato, cattails, and giant bulrush. Trees include cypress, pop ash, and water hickory.
Animals abound at Orlando Wetlands Park. Over 18 species who are federally or state listed live at the park. Blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, black-bellied whistling duck, roseate spoonbill, black-crowned night heron, American bittern, wood stork, sandhill crane, bald eagle, great blue heron, red-shouldered hawk, osprey, common gallinule, and coot are some of the birds you may encounter. Be on the lookout for raccoons, river otters, white-tailed deer, bobcats, and alligators along the roads and hiking trails.
Open daily from sunrise to sunset, Orlando Wetlands Park offers wonderful opportunities for wildlife viewing, photography, hiking, biking, and horseback riding. There is an education center, guided tours, pavilions, picnic tables, and interpretive signs for your enjoyment.
For more information, click here: https://www.orlando.gov/Parks-the-Environme…/…/Wetlands-Park
Photo Credit: Andy Waldo
The Red-bellied woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, is often found in the suburbs or city parks. They thrive in woodlands near rivers and in swamps.
With just a touch of red on their bellies, these woodpeckers are easily identified by the beautiful black and white barred pattern on their backs. Males have a bright red crown and nape. Females have a pale white crown and red nape.
A mated pair will work together to build a nest. Often the male will excavate several holes in a dead tree or fence post and the female will choose the best one. She may also select a nest box or a previously used nest from another woodpecker. Once the nest is complete, the female will lay 4-5 eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs with the male usually taking the night shift. In about 2 weeks, the eggs hatch. Both parents feed their babies until they leave the nest in 3-4 weeks and for up to 6 weeks after.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers love insects. Look for them on branches and tree trunks as they pick at bark for food with their bills or perch while eating berries. Other food may include acorns, nuts, fruit, and seeds. Occasionally, these woodpeckers may treat themselves to a tasty bird egg, a tree frog or oozing sap.
The next time you are outside, look up. You may get to see one of these beautiful, acrobatic birds in action.
Blowing Rocks is a barrier island composed of Anastasia limestone shores which can produce spectacular dances of waves as they thrash against the stone and bounce higher than a house.
In 1969 Jupiter Island residents donated 73 acres of land towards conservation. The land would become a haven for endangered species such as the green, loggerhead, and leatherback sea turtles. It also houses one of Florida’s most endangered ecosystems, the sand dune. Volunteers over several decades have removed Australian pines and Brazilian pepper, invasive species to Florida. The dunes were restored with sea grapes, sea oats, beach sunflowers, and bay cedar.
There are many activities that you can take part in at Blowing Rocks Preserve. The park attracts nature photographers, hikers, campers, snorkelers, and bird watchers. Have you visited Blowing Rocks Preserve? Tell us what your favorite part of the trip was.
Striped Mud Turtles, Kinosternon baurii, are small turtles who grow to only 4″ -5″ long. They usually have 3 visible stripes on their shells and 2 yellow stripes on each side of their faces. These native semi-aquatic turtles live in and near brackish and freshwater in ditches and ponds. Dinner consists of algae, snails, insects, worms, seeds, and carrion.
Females may travel up to 820 feet away from the wetlands to lay a clutch of 1-6 eggs. Temperature determines the sex of the embryo. The embryo may pause its development until the correct temperature is reached. Incubation lasts from 2 1/2 to five months. The hatchlings are about 1′ long and may take more than a year to leave the nest.
Striped Mud Turtles depend on waters with low saline content. This makes them especially vulnerable in the Lower Keys where sea level rise is expected to cause saltwater intrusion into freshwater habitats. More intense storms will cause many of the low-lying areas to be inundated with saltwater thus making the ecosystem uninhabitable for Striped Mud Turtles. Human-caused pollution and oil spills also threaten these little turtles.
Striped Mud Turtles spend much of their time underwater and can often be seen in the shallow waters. When in wetlands keep an eye out for movement in mud, marshes and wet fields and you may meet a new wild turtle friend.
Photo Credit: Andy Waldo.
Soras, Porzana Carolina, are chubby little birds who spend most of their time hidden in marshes. Their distinctive whistles can be heard often near ponds, rivers, and other marshy areas. When they finally appear, Soras move their heads forward with each step and flick their tails to expose the white undersides. They are striking birds with a black mask and a bright yellow bill.
After the male and female complete their courting ritual, the couple builds a nest of grasses and dead cattails before adding a soft lining. The nest is well hidden in the dense marsh, often among cattails, and is placed a few inches above the water. Incubation begins as soon as the first of 10-12 eggs are laid. As the eggs hatch, one parent will incubate the remaining eggs while the other will care for the hatchlings who leave the nest. Both parents will feed the hatchlings for 3 weeks before the young ones learn to fly.
Soros dine on a variety of foods. Seeds, insects, snails, and aquatic invertebrates are some of their favorite foods. They forage on the ground, in the water, on plants, and in the mud.
Have you heard a Sora? Listen Here:
Brooker Creek Preserve is the largest natural area in Pinellas County. Surrounded by urban development, this 8700 acres of wild Florida protects much of the Brooker Creek Watershed.
There are trails for everyone at Brooker Creek Preserve. Explore the preserve via boardwalk or trail. Two trails are nearly 5 miles long. Shorter hikes vary from the .1 mile bird path to the 4 mile Pine Needle Path. Equestrians can enjoy over 9 miles on one of two trails that wind through fields and pinelands.
There are 4 distinct ecosystems within the Preserve. The Forested Wetlands is made up of a creek system with 13 meandering channels. Water flows through the channels during the rainy season of May through Oct. Fish, birds, and other wetland inhabitants thrive in the wetlands. The Pine Flatwoods is a sunny area alive with saw palmetto and native grasses. Gopher Tortoises enjoy the grasses as well as the leaves and fruits from the plants that grow here. Be sure to look for the threatened Catesby’s Lily.
Cool off in the Oak Hammocks where tall oaks block the sun. Watch for turkeys and white-tailed deer foraging for acorns among the leaf litter. The Cypress Dome boasts Black Gum, Bald Cypress, and Buttonbrush. Look for an abundance of wildlife in this cool and moist swamp. Dragonflies, frogs, spiders, marsh rabbits and owls thrive here.
Interpretive Trail Signs along the paths show how everything in nature is connected. Discover how your yard can expand wildlife areas, how human choices are impacting the watershed, and how water connects all of us.
Plan your visit. See the schedule for annual events and programs, download a map, reserve a guided tour or sign up for classes at the Environmental Center
Photo Credit: Marc Goldberg
Meet Katy! A Katydid to be exact. Listen to her chirp and you will hear “ka-ty-did.”
Katydids love to hang out on palmettos, scrub oaks, vine-covered undergrowth, and in damp areas. They are solitary and sedentary creatures. Their coloring provides a wonderful camouflage from predators and humans. The veins in their wings mimic the veins in leaves. This makes it easy to blend in with the tree or plant they are resting on. Katydids are tasty treats for birds, wasps, spiders, frogs, and bats.
Katydids are primarily leaf eaters and feast most often at the top of trees and bushes where there are fewer predators. They will dine on an occasional flower and other plant parts.
Katydids are related to grasshoppers and crickets. Like their cousins, Katydids have strong legs and jump when they feel threatened. They are poor flyers but their wings allow them to glide safely from a high perch to a lower one.
You can find Katydid eggs attached to the underside of leaves. They resemble pumpkin seeds and are lined up in a row. Adult katydids have a lifespan of about 4 to 6 months. They can grow up to 4 inches long and their antennas can be double the length of their body.
Katydids are nocturnal. The next time you go outside after dark, take a flashlight. How many Katydids can you find in your yard? When you spot one of these beautiful insects, be sure to say hi to Katy.
The Plant that Rises from the Dead.
The Resurrection Fern, also known as. the Miracle fern lives on branches and trunks of trees. Live Oaks and Cypress Trees are their favorite hosts. They have been seen growing on rocks and on the sides of buildings. Resurrection Ferns are air ferns that attach themselves to a host plant or rock and will get moisture and food from the air and rain. They will also gather nutrients that collect on the outer part of their host. The fern does not steal any nutrients from its host and therefore will not harm the host.
Have you seen ferns that are curled up, brown, and appear to be dead? Simply add water and they miraculously uncurl and resurrect to a live, healthy, green fern.
Resurrection Ferns can lose up to 97% of their water content and still come back to life when water returns. In contrast, most plants can only lose 10% of their water content before their cells collapse and they die. Like all ferns, Resurrection Ferns reproduce from spores.
These ferns can be found from Florida to as far north as New York and as far west as Texas. They are so fascinating that in the late ’90s, NASA sent a Resurrection Fern on the space shuttle Discovery to watch it miraculously come to life in zero gravity.
The Halloween Pennant Dragonfly (Celithemis eponina)—-
This not-so-spooky dragonfly gets its name from it’s orange and black coloring. Yellow markings can be found on females and juvenile males. As males mature their coloring starts to turn a more vibrant color of orange. This is the largest species of pennant dragonfly in eastern North America. They can commonly be found around lakes, streams, or other wetland areas and are most active in the morning.
Native to South Florida, the Gumbo Limbo tree, Bursera simaruba, is a striking addition to landscapes south of Tampa Bay. Also known as the West Indian Birch or the Turpentine Tree, Gumbo Limbo Trees quickly grow to 50-60′ tall with a round canopy. They are extremely wind tolerant and are recommended as a hurricane-resistant species. Gumbo Limbo trees can be grown simply by sticking sprouts in the dirt.
Gumbo Limbo trees prefer sun but quickly adapt to shady, moist, dry, and slightly salty habitats. They are easily recognized by their reddish-brown bark which peels to reveal a beautiful green wood beneath. Vireos and Mocking birds dine on their deep red fruits during summer and fall. Gumbo Limbo trees are naturally found in coastal hammocks, tidewater areas, and mixed forests.
Fiddler Crabs, genus Uca, live in the tidal sands of mangroves and salt marshes. They are experts at sensing the ebb and flow of the tide because their survival depends on it. Although they have gills, Fiddler crabs can drown if there is too much water. At high tide, they retreat to their 12″ burrows in the sand and seal the burrow with mud or sand.
During low tide, colonies of Fiddler Crabs get down to business doing their part for the ecosystem when they come out in the hundreds to work and eat. To build and maintain their burrows, they use their small claws to move sand to their mouths where they strain and extract nutrients. Clean sand pellets are spat out. Although their diet consists of algae and decomposed matter, Fiddler Crabs are tasty meals for shorebirds, fish, and land mammals such as raccoons and foxes.
Female crabs incubate eggs for 2 weeks. During high tide, the female will release the larvae who will float away. In a few weeks, the surviving young crabs will drift back to shore and join a Fiddler Crab colony.
Male Fiddler Crabs have one oversized claw that looks like a fiddle. While it is sometimes used to defend against other male crabs, the large claw is primarily used in courting rituals. To woo his desired female, the male Fiddler crab will dance while waving his giant claw until the lady agrees to join him in his burrow.
Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling convinced President Harry Truman to protect environmentally valuable land on Sanibel Island from developers. In 1945 President Truman signed an Executive Order, and J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge was created. Today, it is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States.
J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge offers refuge to countless animals, including those who are threatened or endangered. There are over 245 species of birds in its 6400 acres of mangrove forests, open waters, tropical hardwood hammock, seagrass beds, freshwater marsh, and Mudflats.
Federally and State listed species seek haven at Ding Daring Wildlife Refuge. Piping Plovers, Black Skimmers, Roseate Spoonbills, Burrowing Owls, West Indian Manatees, Sanibel Island Rice Rats, and Loggerhead Sea Turtles make their homes here. Aboriginal prickly-apple and Barbed wire cacti are protected from development within the refuge. Visitors from all over the world travel to Sanibel to catch a glimpse of and photograph The Big 5: the American White Pelican, Mangrove Cuckoo, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, and the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.
Calusa Indians once made their home in the hardwood hammock among Gumbo Limbo trees, Strangler Figs, and Sea Grape trees. Take a short walk down the Shellmound Trail and discover remnants of shells which along with other waste, grew into mounds. The change in soil chemistry and height created a subtropical maritime hammock.
The 4-mile wildlife drive offers visitors the opportunity to drive, bike, or hike along the paved road. There are plenty of spaces to park and get out of your car for wildlife viewing. Four walking trails: the Indigo Trail, the Wildlife Education Boardwalk, Shellmound Trail, and Wulfert Keys Trail are accessible from the wildlife drive. A 90 minute guided tour aboard a tram is available. Walk or bike the Bailey tract to enjoy freshwater plants and wildlife. Launch your canoe, kayak, or boat or take a guided canoe, kayak or paddleboard tour at one of the designated sites.
For more information, times and to plan your trip, click here: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/JN_Ding_Darling/
Cormorant is derived from the Latin word corvus which means raven and marinus which means sea.
Cormorants, Phalacrocorax auritus, are brownish-black with black webbed feet and legs and a reddish-orange face and beak. You will often find them floating low in the water or with their wings outstretched along the shores of coastal areas, rivers, swamps, and lakes. Because their oil glands do not waterproof their rings, cormorants will find a sunny spot to dry their wings.
Cormorants may feed alone or in flocks. Finding their favorite foods, fish and invertebrates like shrimp and crabs, may require them to dive up to 60 feet and remain submerged for more than a minute. Cormorants are not picky eaters and their diets vary by season. They enjoy treats such as eels, plants, frogs, and an occasional snake.
Courtship is a big deal for Sea Ravens. A Male will use his wings to splash, swim in zig-zag patterns, and dive for vegetation to present to a female. He will crouch at his chosen nest site and call out to his desired female while vibrating his wings. Nesting usually takes place in a large colony which is sometimes shared with other wading birds. Using twigs, sticks, seaweed, and grass collected mostly by the male, the female constructs most of the nest in a tree or on the ground near the water. Cormorants incubate their 3-4 eggs with their webbed feet. Both the male and female will feed the chicks until they are about 10 weeks old and ready to leave the nest.
Before 1966 populations significantly decreased from hunting and pesticides such as DDT. Today, cormorants are once again widespread and abundant. This heartwarming story of the Sea Ravens who not only survived persecution from humans but who are now thriving can be repeated with today’s endangered and threatened animals. It’s up to us to teach folks of all ages to #connect, #respect, and #coexist with our wildlife and within our shared ecosystems.
White-tailed deer are found throughout Florida. They are most often seen at dawn, dusk, or on overcast days near the edge of a forest where they browse vegetation and can quickly run back into the forest to avoid a predator. Some of their favorite foods include twigs, leaves, acorns, mushrooms, and fruit. Deer are herbivores and enjoy many of Florida’s native plants including buttonbush, tupelo trees, beautyberry, and persimmons.
In northern Florida, male deer can reach weights of 190 pounds although the average weight in Florida is 115 pounds. The average weight for a female is 90 pounds. White-tailed deer in Florida are smaller than their northern relatives because their bodies have adapted to the steamy temperatures. Their smaller bodies allow deer to use less energy to regulate their body heat. Adults are 55-80″ tall.
Male deer, known as bucks, grow antlers to establish dominance and attract does. Their antlers begin growing in the spring and will grow a velvet-like tissue. The tissue will dry up and the buck will scrape it off by rubbing his antlers against a tree. The smooth, hard antlers are then ready to be used to fight if another male is pursuing the buck’s desired doe. Antlers are shed in late winter or early spring. They will regrow within 6 – 8 weeks which is perfectly timed to the beginning of the breeding season.
Deer breed from September to March. Gestation lasts approximately 200 days and the doe will give birth to 1-3 fawns. Fawns will start foraging with their mother at 3-4 weeks and are weaned at 2-3 months old. They will set out on their own when they are 6-18 months old
White-tailed deer get their name from the white on the underside of their tail. To alert other deer of possible danger, white-tailed deer will raise and wag their tails like a flag. You may also see them stomp a foot and hear them snort. Their predators are panthers, bobcats, coyotes, dogs, and humans.
Fun Fact: Fawns are born with no scent. To keep her fawn safe from predators, the doe will hide her fawn in tall vegetation. She will visit the fawn several times a day to nurse but will leave quickly so her scent does not attract predators. If you find a fawn hidden among the brush, leave it alone and know that mom will soon return. #NatureKnowsBest!
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
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
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
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.
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.
The Florida Reef Gecko (Sphaerodactylus notatus) is the smallest lizard in the United States. They are tiny and only grow to 2 – 2.25 inches. They have a rounded body with large, overlapping, scales on their backs. The body and tail are covered with dark spots on a brown background. Females have three broad, dark stripes on their heads.
The Florida Reef Gecko is found in the Dry Tortugas, Florida Keys, and southeastern mainland Florida. They can be found in pinelands, hammocks, and vacant lots. They are active at dusk and feed on tiny insects and spiders. Females lay one egg at a time. When born, hatchlings are over an inch long.
The Florida Reef Gecko could be impacted by human development as well as competition from introduced geckos. At this time, the only native gecko in Florida, the Florida Reef Gecko abundant within its range.
Saddleback Caterpillars, (Acharia stimulus), have hairs that cover their bodies which secrete venom. Contact with the hairs will cause a painful rash, burning, itching, swelling, blistering, and nausea. The cocoon and the larvae have the hairs as well. The hairs are hollow quills connected to poison glands beneath its skin. The venom will spread if the hairs are not removed from the skin.
Saddleback Caterpillars are easy to distinguish by their green-colored backs with a white-ringed, brown dot in the center. They are brown at either end, have skin with a granulated appearance and sport pairs of fleshy horns. The Caterpillar is one inch long with a slug-like body in its larvae stage.
The Saddleback Caterpillar is a general eater and can be found in oak trees, fruit trees, and many other plants. Females lay up to 50 eggs on the top leaves of a host plant. The eggs are tiny and transparent with a scaly look.
The adult Caterpillar is the Saddleback Caterpillar Moth which is dark brown with black shading. The dense scales on its body and wings make it look furry. The back wings are a lighter brown. The wingspan is between one to two inches wide. Near the front wing is a single white dot and another 3 white dots near the front apex.
The bright colors on this Caterpillar are a warning to predators. Never touch this or other brightly colored, hairy Caterpillars with your bare hands.
You can remove the hairs from the skin by using tape.
Photo Wikimedia Commons
This vibrant wildflower is found throughout the coastal regions of Florida, from the panhandle to the Keys. It is tolerant of salty and flooded soils. These plants are annuals and require open soil to spread and reseed. Depending on the conditions, the Rose of Plymouth can grow from 6 inches to 24 inches tall. The flowers are 1 to 1-1/2 inches wide and the plant creates many blooms. Flowers peak in the summer but can be seen blooming all year long. Rose of Plymouth can be grown from seeds and cuttings in wet to moist soils.
Wekiwa Springs State Park, located in Orange County, is just waiting to be explored. Discover a longleaf pine forest and sandhill uplands. Hammocks at the river’s edge are thick and tropical-like. Wildflowers of multiple colors spring up at all times during the year to greet you. The park is home to an abundance of wildlife from iconic Florida black bears to the tiniest spiders who weave their intricate webs along the trails.
Wekiwa Springs State Park is best known for its crystal clear springs which are a refreshing 72* all year long. Swimming and snorkeling are favorite pastimes. A swim lift is available for those who have difficulty with the steps leading to the springs.
After enjoying a dip in the cool springs, cook an outdoor meal on one of the grills. Eat at a picnic table nearby or spread your blanket on the ground overlooking the springs. There is a playground for the kids, and a volleyball court and horseshoe pit for friends and family to enjoy.
If the river is calling you, canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards are available to rent. Paddle the Wekiva river where you will see an abundance of wildlife including alligators and turtles basking in the sun and osprey high in the treetops.
Explore the trails of Wekiwa Springs State Park on foot, horseback, or bike. Trails range in length from 8/10 of a mile to 13.5 miles. The Tram Bed Horse Trail is perfect for horseback riding. Pedal along the bike trail or discover the many birds found along the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail within the park.
Stargaze at one of the 60 spacious campsites in Sandhill habitat. Camp with your horses at Big Fork or experience primitive camping at Camp Cozy or Big Fork. A concession is available for your convenience should you forget to pack something.
Make your day at the park a family affair. Bring your dog! Just be sure he or she is on a 6-foot leash.
Plan your adventure today! Explore and discover Wekiwa Springs State Park!
Wekiwa Springs State Park is located at 1800 Wekiwa Cir. Apopka FL 32712
Plan your trip here: http://www.wekiwaspringsstatepark.com/plan.html
Note- the park reaches capacity early in the day during the summer. It is best to arrive when the park opens.
Photo credit: Andy Waldo images captured during several hikes throughout the year.
The Eastern Grasshopper Lubber, (Romalea guttata), is very distinctive in its coloration. They are yellow with black along the antenna, body, and abdomen. Their forewings which are rose or pink in color extend along the abdomen. The hind wings which are rose in color are short. They can grow as large as 3 inches and can be seen walking very slowly and clumsily along the ground. Lubbers cannot fly or jump but they are very good at climbing.
The Grasshopper Lubber can be found in wet, damp environments but will lay their eggs in dry soil. The eggs are laid in the fall and begin hatching in the spring. The female will dig a hole with her abdomen and deposit 30-50 yellowish-brown eggs. They are laid neatly in rows called pods. She will produce 3-5 egg clusters and closes the hole with a frothy secretion. Nymphs wiggle through the froth and begin to eat. The male will guard the female during this time.
Nymphs have a completely different appearance from the adults. They are black with yellow, orange or red strips. They will have 5-6 molts to develop their coloration, wings, and antennae. The coloration of adults will vary throughout their lives as well and they are often mistaken for different species. There is no diapause in the egg development and they take just 200 days to develop depending on temperature. A month after the Grasshopper becomes an adult, they begin to lay their eggs.
Both females and males make noise by rubbing their front and hind wings together. When alarmed they will secrete and spray a foul-smelling froth. This chemical discharge repels predators and is manufactured from their diet. The Grasshopper’s diet is so varied that it makes it difficult for predators to adapt to the toxin produced. Their bright color pattern is also a warning to predators that they are not good to eat. Birds and lizards avoid them but nymphs will be infected by parasites from the tachinid fly. Loggerhead Shrikes will capture the Grasshopper and impale it on thorns or barbed wire. After 2 days, the toxins in the lubber’s body will deteriorate enough for the prey to be consumed.
Lubbers are long-lived and both the adults and the nymphs can be found year-round in Florida. This Grasshopper occurs in such large numbers in Florida that they can cause damage to your landscape’s plants. Lubbers will bore holes throughout a plant regardless if they are vegetables, citrus, or ornamentals. If their numbers are large enough they can decimate a plant.
Did you know:
Lubber is an old English word. It means a big, clumsy, stupid person, also known as a lout or lummox. In modern times, it is normally used only by seafarers, “landlubbers”.
Photo credit: Dan Kon