Green Anoles, Anolis carolinensis, are native to Florida. They are found in natural and suburban areas throughout our entire state.
Adult Green Anoles grow to 5-8 inches long. Males have a solid pink throat fan known as a dewlap. Anoles can quickly change from bright green to a dull brown color to blend into their surroundings. Their favorite foods are roaches, beetles, flies, spiders, and other small invertebrates which makes them beneficial to your garden.
In cool weather, you may find these lizards hiding in shingles, under tree bark or in rotting logs. In warmer weather, look for them basking in plants, on fence tops or rooftops. Females lay single, round, eggs in rotting wood or moist soil throughout warmer months. The tiny lizards emerge from their eggs looking like miniature adults.
The biggest threat to Green Anoles is the introduced Cuban brown anole. Because they are great climbers, Green Anoles move vertically up in their habitat which allows them to decrease competition by claiming the higher habitat among the trees as their own.
House sparrows were introduced at various stages throughout New York (Barrows 1889), Maine, Massachusetts, and Nova Scotia. Some of these releases were a sentimental connection to the homeland of many European immigrants. Others were to help control cankerworms or linden moths(Marshall 2014). In some cases, the release of house sparrows failed and the birds died without breeding. One of the more successful attempts was in Nova Scotia. This population spread and the presence of other populations in the U.S. Northeastern states may have helped them thrive.
Today, house sparrows have spread throughout all of the United States, most of Mexico, and the southern parts of Canada. They have even made their way to South America. In most regions, they are considered an invasive species due to their aggressive and territorial tenancies. They will even go to such extremes as to damage the nests of other birds. They out-compete many native birds for food and reproduce at a rapid rate making them difficult to control. Oddly enough, many places in Europe are seeing declines in house sparrow populations. The United Kingdom has a 71% reduction since the mid-1990s. This decline has been linked to avian malaria and areas of increased nitrogen dioxide. Italy experienced a 49% decline in house sparrow populations from reductions in nesting sites, reduced food availability, and possible disease. Paris reported a 12.4% reduction by year primarily due to city gentrification. Yet, these birds continue to thrive in North America.
One way you can help is by providing a nesting box for house sparrows. If eggs are laid you can simply poke them with a pin to prevent the eggs from further developing. Removing the eggs entirely can cause the female to produce more eggs at a faster rate. Removing an entire nest could force sparrows into more wild landscapes and could pose a greater threat to native birds. While we might never be able to fully eradicate house sparrows from Florida, it never hurts to try and reduce the growing population.
The photos below show a male (Left) and female (Right). They are sexually dimorphic with the male having a classic black mask across his eyes.
Photo credit: Aymee Laurain Reference: Barrows, W.B. (1889). “The English Sparrow (Passer domesticus) in North America, Especially in its Relations to Agriculture”. United States Department of Agriculture, Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy Bulletin (1).
“This park is like nothing else in Florida. Being able to see the stars at night in unbelievable detail was absolutely worth the trip.” Jonathan Holmes, IOF Contributor
There is a place in Florida that is world-renowned for stargazing. Designated as a Dark Sky Park due to the absence of light pollution, the stars and planets can be enjoyed the way nature intended.
Located in Okeechobee, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is part of the headwaters to the Everglades and is the largest remaining dry prairie ecosystem in Florida. Once spanning coast to coast and from Lake Okeechobee to Kissimmee, the prairie has been reduced to a mere 10% of its original expanse.
Throughout the years, humans have altered the prairie to suit their needs. The State Park is working to restore the land to pre-European influence. Over 70 miles of ditches and canals have been restored to swales and sloughs. Old plow lines are slated for reconditioning, and a cattle pasture will be restored to native shrubs and grasses. As a fire and flood dependent ecosystem, these efforts will allow the prairie to thrive once again.
The most famous resident of the prairie is the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. Critically endangered, the sparrows rely on a healthy prairie ecosystem for survival. Crested Caracaras, Burrowing Owls, Wood Storks, Swallow-Tail Kites, and White-Tail Kites find refuge at the park. Watch for Bald Eagles, White-tailed Deer, and Indigo Snakes. Native wildflowers are abundant. Look for Blazing Stars, Yellow Bachelors Buttons, Meadow Beauty, Pipewort, and Alligator Lilies.
There is plenty to do at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. Hiking, horseback riding, and biking are wonderful ways to experience Nature up close. Camping, primitive camping, and equestrian camping are offered for those who want to spend the night. A ranger-led prairie buggy tour and an astronomy pad are spectacular ways to enjoy the park.
Creeping indigo is an invasive plant that originated in Africa. This plant is particularly concerning due to its toxicity. It is highly toxic to cows, horses, and donkeys. Symptoms include a wide range of abnormal behavior such as mouth ulcers, dehydration, heavy breathing, high temperatures, rapid heartbeat, foaming of the mouth, pale mucous membrane, light sensitivity, lethargy, odd gait, pressing their head into a corner, etc. Any abnormal behavior should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian.
This plant can spread rapidly and is difficult to remove due to its strong taproot. If you spot these popping up in your garden remove them before they become overwhelming.
What other invassive species can you think of in Florida?
One mile of shoreline, wildflowers, and birds draw over 200,000 people each year to the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands which is commonly known as Viera Wetlands. Named in honor of a long-time Brevard County employee and awarded a grant by the Florida Wildflower Foundation, the wetlands are a popular destination for ecotourists, birders, photographers, and wildflower enthusiasts.
There are 200 acres to explore at Viera Wetlands. Walk or bike around the berms. Enjoy the scenery from your car as you leisurely drive no more than 10 mph along the one way, unpaved road. (The road is occasionally closed to vehicles when too wet.) Revel in the beauty of wildflowers along the banks of the lakes and ponds. Notice the different plants in dry areas as well as those in wet areas. The plants work together to stabilize the soils without the need for fertilizers and irrigation. What pollinators will you discover?
Birds abound at Viera Wetlands which is included in the Great Florida Birding Trail. Get a better view of the wetlands from the observation tower. Keep your eyes open otters, marsh rabbits, and raccoons who make their homes there along with an abundance of amphibians and reptiles. Look for beautiful butterflies and striking Painting Buntings.
These cute little fuzzy spiders are typically found around immature woodland habitats. They can also be found hanging out on your windshield. Males are identified by their black and white features. Females are grey or brown in color. These spiders may be expert jumpers but they also produce a dragline in case they miss their target.
Males perform a romantic dance to woo the females. They show off their handsome leg fringe and bright metallic green chelicerae. If the lady is impressed they will cohabitate in dried leaves such as old palm fronds. When the mating time arrives the male does another type of romantic dance that is different from his courtship dance. During this dance, he shows off his dance moves and then plays a game of peek-a-boo with the female through the tent-like web. Once the female allows him in, he softly pets her several times before mating occurs. Quite the charmer isn’t he?
When it comes time to lay eggs the female will produce several nests under pine and oak trees. Several hundred eggs can be laid during this time. Babies will consume small invertebrates. While they may strike fear into other insects they are relatively harmless to humans. Rough handling of the spiders may prompt a bite which can sting for several minutes before subsiding.
Do you know an animal that performs an interesting mating dance?
“Nice morning walk warm-up. I loved seeing all the Florida pond apples. A plethora of water birds. Definitely bring your camera when you stop here.” Bobby Putnam
Located in suburban Delray Beach, Wakodahatchee Wetlands is the perfect place for a morning walk. A 3/4 mile boardwalk makes it easy to stroll leisurely through 3 of the wetland’s ponds. There are benches and gazebos to sit and enjoy the views. Interpretive signs will help you learn about the history and ecology of the wetlands as well as water purification.
Wakodahatchee Wetlands, a Seminole Indian word meaning “created waters,” was built by Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department to act as a natural filter for about 2 million gallons per day of treated reclaimed water. While cleansing the water, the wetlands provide a home for an abundance of wildlife.
Forested wetlands, marsh areas, ponds, and islands have been designed to attract an abundance of birds and other wildlife. Part of the Great American Birding Trail, Wakodahatchee Wetlands boasts sightings of178 species of birds. Raccoons, rabbits, otters, frogs, turtles, and alligators call these wetlands home. Native plants are used as buffers to hide human neighborhoods.
Twice the size of domestic cats and weighing 12-28 pounds, Bobcats, Lynx rufus, are beautiful, stealthy, and secretive. This native species is abundant in Florida and can be found in forests, swamps, and hammocks as well as rural, suburban, and urban areas.
Bobcats are often mistaken for Florida Panthers. Despite being the only two native wild cats to Florida, they diverged from two different lineages. Bobcats are a species of lynx. The lynx line diverged from a common ancestor 7.2 mya. The Puma lineage which the panther diverged from did not appear until 6.7 mya.
Dense shrub thickets and saw palmetto provide cover for private dens. Breeding takes place in August through March with the peak time occurring in February and March. After a gestation period of 50 to 60 days, mother bobcats give birth to 1-4 cubs. The cute cubs are spotted or mottled and have distinct facial markings.
Bobcats usually hunt at night but can often be spotted during the day. Dinner consists of rats, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, and squirrels. Towhees, thrashers, catbirds and other ground-dwelling birds provide winter treats. Coyotes effectively regulate the Bobcat population when they prey on cubs.
Bobcats are elusive and show no interest in people. They play an important role in the ecosystems they inhabit by helping to control populations of their prey animals.
When living with Bobcats, we must do our part. Secure chickens and other small pets in an enclosed pen. Domestic cats and dogs should not be left alone in your yard or on a screened porch. Always walk your dog on a leash. With just a little common sense, we can truly coexist with these magnificent cats. #ConnectRespectCoexist
Hiking the 7.1-mile loop trail along the St. John’s River in Seminole County’s Black Bear Wilderness Area will provide a great opportunity to view many of Florida’s native species. The trail system in this 1600 acre Wilderness Area winds through a Hydric Hammock, Wet Prairie, and Cypress Swamps. Because it is established on levees, it stays dry most of the year. However, it can experience flooding during the wet season since it is located within the St. Johns River’s floodplain. Blue Blazes will show you the way along this remote trail and boardwalks provide a dry passage over wet areas.
The Black Bear Wilderness Trail plays an important role in connecting the Ocala National Forest with the Wekiva / St. John’s basins. Look for River Otters, American Alligators, White-tailed deer, and Swallow-tailed Kites. We hope you are the lucky ones who get to see a Florida Black Bear in the wild.
The Leavenworth’s tickseed is an endemic flower that provides food for several pollinators. It can usually be found in pine flatwoods where the soil is dry but can adapt to other regions. Here we have pictures with a species of fruitfly, Dioxyna picciola and a Green sweat bee, Agapostemon splendens. Most flowers are produced in spring but flowers can be found year-round. Have you spotted these beauties anywhere around the state?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://brookercreekpreserve.org/
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.
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 https://myfwc.com/recreation/lead/fisheating-creek
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.
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.
Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park There’s something for everyone at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park!
Nature trails, birding, equestrian trails, biking, walking, jogging, camping, cabins, picnic areas, horseshoe games, volleyball court, pavilions, and playgrounds assure your entire family will enjoy their day. You can even bring your dog on a 6-foot leash to the hiking or paved bike trail.
You can easily spend an entire day here as you explore this beautiful park of 8,300 acres located in New Port Richey. Take your time as you wander through the wilderness and discover an abundance of wild plants and animals who make their home there. Leave your cares behind while you spend quality time with your family and friends reconnecting with nature. Get Outside. Explore. Discover.