The wild and scenic Myakka River has its origins in northeast Manatee County and flows 66 miles to Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. Fourteen miles of this river flow through Myakka River State Park, one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks. The park includes 37,000 acres of dry prairie, pine flatwoods, marshes, hammock, scrubby flatwoods, swamp, two lakes and the river itself. There are over 39 miles of hiking trails and you can even walk in the tree tops! The park is easily accessible from I-75 about 9 miles east of Sarasota.
I camped here as a kid along with a group of scouts a v-e-r-y long time ago. It was here I began learning important life lessons in the sciences. Such as physics. When it’s raining outside and you touch the wet ceiling of a canvas tent, it will soon be raining inside. I learned culinary arts information related to Florida cuisine and food preparation: “sand is a condiment”. My fascination with bird life had its roots during this trip when I discovered the Barn Owl does not produce a proper owl-like “hoot”, rather, it utters a noise more akin to deceased spirits who have returned to wreak vengeance upon young boys along a wilderness river bank in the middle of the night.
The park today bears little resemblance to the primitive sand banks I recall as a youth. It’s a large, modern park with full facilities. Getting off the beaten path is easy and there are plenty of experts available to help guide you to the type experience you want.
Gini and I spent several hours here yesterday and had a wonderful time. It was a gray day, no rain and quite blustery. I think the strong winds resulted in low numbers of waterfowl as Upper Myakka Lake was white-capped all day. Despite the gray skies, our day was filled with color. Yellows of wild flowers, warblers, turtle cheeks and legs of waders . Pinks of Roseate Spoonbills. Red shoulders of hawks and heads of vultures. Bright black and white of warblers and butterflies. Blues and bright white of herons.
We encountered the official park greeters immediately after entering the park. Turkey Vultures lingered around their roost, a few lifting off to test the strong wind currents. We counted a little over 200 vultures by the end of our visit.
Roseate Spoonbills occupied a small watering hole where they were busy preening at the beginning of the day.
The park is home to many types of wildlife, such as the White-tailed Deer. This young doe didn’t let us interrupt her breakfast and only looked up briefly as the camera shutter clicked.
One of our most abundant and visible winter visitors is the Palm Warbler. They seem to be everywhere. I think this is the first time I’ve actually seen one in — a palm tree!
This Red-shouldered Hawk appeared to be actively hunting. He dove into the grass just as I snapped this picture and then flew out of sight with no visible prey. Hopefully, he had better luck as the morning progressed.
An Osprey was more successful and takes home a catfish lunch for the family.
We ventured off the main road and were rewarded with a yellow wall of flowers. The Yellow Jessamine is beautiful, but handle with care as the nectar is poisonous.
We found a small stream with turtles sunning on dead logs. This big fellow was at least 15 inches (38.1 cm) long and 12 inches (30.5 cm) wide. I’m by no means a turtle expert but I think this is a Florida Cooter. Any positive identification would be welcome!
Since the day was cool and very windy, I was a bit surprised at the number of butterflies flitting about. This handsome specimen is Florida’s state butterfly, the Zebra Longwing.
Warblers were busy in the treetops gathering insects. We saw Palm, Yellow-rumped, Common Yellowthroat and Black and White warblers during the morning.
We parked along the shore of Upper Myakka Lake to enjoy our sandwiches for lunch and were provided a floor show at no additional charge! (That’s the cool thing about Nature, she usually has cheap entertainment!) A flock of Double-crested Cormorants cruised back and forth along the shoreline following schools of fish. They appeared to be in training for some sort of synchronized swimming competition. The leader would dive under the water and was immediately followed by the rest of the flock in unison. They would then all surface, most with a fish they tossed in the air and swallowed, and the whole thing would repeat. It was great fun.
Another excursion through the woods opened into a large grassy plain bordered by a creek. A Great Egret and Little Blue Heron added a nice touch of color to the bright green of the grass.
We observed several Lesser Yellowlegs throughout the day along the shore of Upper Myakka Lake. This fellow was very active at an oxbow near the park entrance. He was too busy to notice me sitting in the mud clicking away.
It was a good day made better by good company. She sure puts up with a lot, all the time assuring me she likes it as much as I do. I may keep her.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
Myakka River State Park (Official State Site)