No Reptiles, No Water

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

 Juliet was a pretty astute teenager.  We get so used to the marketers ascribing outrageous names to products that we have become somewhat numb to the whole effort and don’t give a second thought to what a particular commodity is called anymore.  I really don’t care about Droids, Razrs or Apples – I just want a simple device which will allow me to contact my lover when we’re apart.  Fortunately, that doesn’t happen often!

So far, the folks in charge of naming outdoor places where we can go seek solitude or wildlife or a rose by any other name, have maintained some semblance of logic.  Most of these venues are named for a local natural feature or place name.  Even these sensible names can sometimes lead to unfulfilled expectations.

Thus it was this morning.  Just after sunrise, I turned off the busy highway into a secluded tree-lined lane and entered “Gator Creek Reserve”.  Woo-Hoo!  Water, reptiles and all the bird life associated with such a place!

Sigh.

As it turns out, the original Gator Creek was turned into a canal over 60 years ago in an effort to drain the area for flood protection and agriculture.  With the uncertain geology of Florida’s underground aquifer and no substantial rainfall this year, the remaining canal was dry.  (I did find one small pool of dark water and spooked a White-tailed Deer from her cool resting spot.)  No ‘gators in sight, either.

The more frequently we explore the natural world, the more we become accustomed to surprises.  Brief disappointment soon turned into the awe I usually experience in the outdoors.  The air was crisp, the sky was crystal clear and the prevalent scent of pine assaulted my senses.

This park is managed by the local Polk County Board of Commissioners and is very well maintained.  It opens before sunrise, has a nice picnic pavilion, portable restroom, kiosks with descriptions of the area and trail maps you can take along on your hike.  There is a paved trail for handicapped access and the remaining trails are wide and easy to navigate.  Plant communities include Cypress Dome Swamp, Pine Flatwoods and (during the rainy season) Gator Creek Canal.  The reserve  is located in the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern.  Within the nearby Green Swamp are found the headwaters of several major Florida rivers, including the Ocklawaha, Withlacoochee, Hillsborough and Peace Rivers.

All of this, and it’s only ten minutes north of downtown Lakeland!  It was a bit surreal at one point when I heard the distant baying of hounds from a ranch in one direction and the wail of a police siren from the opposite direction.  Fortunately, peace and quiet resumed and all I could hear most of the morning were birds singing and the occasional “thud” of a pine cone hitting the forest floor.

The entrance from U.S. Highway 98 just north of the Lakeland city limits is well marked and once you make the turn from the busy road it’s like a comforting shrug of the mental shoulders.  Traveling down the short entrance road to the parking area allows you to breathe in the aroma of the pines (you DO have your windows down, right?).

Entrance Sign

Entrance Sign

Entrance Road

Entrance Road

The trails are clearly marked and well maintained.

Trail Sign

Trail Sign

Path

Path

A few flowers were blooming in the pine woods today.  This Common Spiderwort was still dripping with morning dew.

Common Spiderwort

Common Spiderwort

Within the mixed pine/hardwood forest are some magnificent specimens, such as this spreading oak, welcoming birds to perch, nest and sing.

Oak Tree

Oak Tree

Primrose Willow was blooming is several spots and it complimented the bright yellow of the male Pine Warblers chirping in the topmost branches of the tall pine trees.

Primrose Willow

Primrose Willow

“Reindeer Moss” was abundant on the forest floor in places.  This plant is actually not a moss but a lichen of the Cladonia species.  (Expert Naturalist Note:  Reindeer are NOT abundant in Florida.)

"Reindeer Moss" - Lichen (Cladonia sp)

“Reindeer Moss” – Lichen (Cladonia sp)

This Blue Jay was very quiet and secretive, somewhat unusual for a jay.  I suspect there was a nest nearby so I didn’t linger.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Ferns lend a lush appearance to the understory of the woods.  There were many butterflies around these ferns but none would pose for a portrait today.

Fern

Fern

Dried pine needles littered the path through most of the walk and provided a different aroma from the fresh growth on the trees.

Path

Path

I was a bit late to enjoy the fruit of a Sand Blackberry bramble.  (It’s okay, I have other places to visit where they’re still abundant…..shhhhh!)

Sand Blackberry

Sand Blackberry

A “Carolina Saddlebags” dragonfly was not as snooty as her butterfly cousins and posed nicely for me.  I had not previously seen this species.

Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina)

What a great name for an obnoxious plant:  “Horrible Thistle”.  The bloom is quite nice to look at – just don’t touch!

Horrible Thistle

Horrible Thistle

Benches are located along the hiking paths every so often to provide a place to rest and sip nice cool water, which I did.  The bench was very stable, despite is appearance!

Path

Path

Pine Warblers were singing throughout the woods but most remained in the tops of the very tall pine trees.  One finally took pity on me and descended a little for a photograph.  The yellow males in their Spring plumage really brighten up the forest!

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Another abundant songster this morning was the White-eyed Vireo.  This one sang his heart out for almost five full minutes before disappearing into the woods.

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

As you walk along enjoying the sights, don’t forget to occasionally look up.  Someone may be looking back at you!  A trio of Swallow-tailed Kites displayed their aerial prowess over the path and one became curious about what I was doing.  He made several passes overhead, cocking his head trying to figure out if I might be good to eat.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

So, no water in the creek, no ‘gators to be seen.  However, old Bill Shakespeare had it right when Juliet opined that it just isn’t important what something may be called.  If Gator Creek had been called “Warbler Woods” or “Thistle Thicket”, I still would have enjoyed it just as much.

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit.

Additional Resources:

Gator Creek Reserve (Polk County Website)

Gator Creek Reserve (Florida Hikes Website)

Linking to Stewart’s “Wild Bird Wednesday”.  See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 46 Comments

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46 thoughts on “No Reptiles, No Water

  1. And I thought reindeer vacationed there for most of the year. 🙂 The Reindeer Moss is interesting.
    That looks like a great place to hike. Great shots of flora and fauna, the dragonfly posed nicely.

    • Those reindeer might be in the thick part of those woods, but I felt better staying on the trail! Thank you, Patti, for such nice comments!

  2. Wow that white eyed vireo is amazing…I like what you are doing in each post, it is like a virtual walk with you into your birding day, how great is that!! Your flower pics are extremely good, the Horrible thistle is pretty to look at!

    • Hi, Nora! Thanks for visiting our virtual birding world! It’s the least I can do after enjoying your northwest woods and islands!

  3. What a great place, Wally! I’m struck by how very much different your “landscapes” look than ours do. Ah, variety – the spice of life and of nature.

  4. Wally, thank you for taking me (virtually) along on your walk, what a delightful looking place. And wonderful birds too.

  5. Hi Wally!
    What a lovely place you’re having over there! Many nice photos, the first one of the vireo (don’t know about this art) almost looks like a painting! And of course I love the dragonfly, amazing photo!
    Have a great weekend! Greetings Pia

    • Pia, thank you for visiting! The photograph of the vireo does look like a painting. I think it’s due to the lighting and blue sky in the background.

  6. What a beautiful area and tour!! You really got to see some lovely guys on your walk…. Sometimes it’s hard to see anything in these areas!

    • It would have been enough to have enjoyed the pine scent, the company of the old trees and fresh air. To have been blessed with birds, bugs and flowers made it really special.

  7. tingsgrove

    Wow what wonderful image shares. Looks like a great place to visit!

  8. The word Gator would have scared me off. 🙂
    Another wonderful adventure you’ve shared Wally.
    Excellent capture of the dragonfly!

    • Hi, Carletta! Since I’m a native Floridian, I must promote the much maligned alligator at every opportunity! They’re fun to watch – just do it from a distance! It was a good morning to be in the woods.

  9. Shey

    Seems like an awesome place to explore. Love the series of photos esp the swallow-tailed kite in flight. Of course I see that you saw the white-eyed vireo too. Cool!

  10. Oh I am so jealous of your swallow-tailed kit! Excellent images. I’ve only managed one shot and it was terrible. I’m also still waiting for my first sighting of a vireo. What a great day you had!

    • That’s supposed to say “kite” not kit. :/

    • Thanks, Gail! The Vireos (and most other little birds) seem to like the upper altitudes of the million-feet tall pine trees! I heard them singing all morning and this one allowed a couple of pictures before melting into the woods. Yes, it was a good day!

  11. This was a wonderful post! I learned the name of some plants and your bird pictures are incredible….so as one who has seen lots of alligators (and can even take pictures of them, since they’re even slower than I am), I am just delighted that this was “warbler woods” instead of gator woods…just amazing pictures of all the songbirds and the flight shots of the kite are breathtaking! (And I will never get bird pictures that good!)

    • Thank you, Sallie! You say such nice things! I would have been happy with alligators, too, but sure am glad there were a few birds around. By the way, don’t be fooled by the “slow” ‘gators. For a short distance, the old dinosaurs can reach up to 20 miles per hour! I enjoyed watching the kites. You can take wonderful pictures – I’ve seen them!

  12. Hi Wally,
    I’m glad you had a delightful visit to Gator Creek, even without the water or gators! Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos of the birds and the plants~I even learned some of the names of the plant I see out and about:)

  13. This is my first visit, Wallace. It’s nice to meet a person who can look past the name into the soul, and then view it with a sense of humor. It has been a pleasure and I am impressed with your pictures … I have never seen the White Eyed Vireo though I learned it’s song long ago on a birding CD. The Kites are always beautful to see and weren’t you blessed that day to see Kites rather than alligators. Thank you for this lovely visit …

    Andrea @ From The Sol

    • Andrea, thank you so much for visiting! We discovered long ago to enjoy what’s in front of us as we may never pass that way again. The White-eyed Vireo is usually heard more often than seen – but that isn’t a bad thing! We hope you return to visit us again!

  14. Looks like a nice place. I’m going to have to tear myself away from Circle B to try it out. Nice swallow shots! It’s hard to get them upclose.

  15. Hi there – nice post – I think that given some of the legal cases that make the press these days you should sue over a lack of gators and swamp!!

    Great series. The kite is magnificent.

    There was a significant period of ‘looking in shocked amazement’ when I found the big flock of stilts – then the photographer gene look over! Wet feet and mud caked knees seemed a fair price to pay for these shots.

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW.

    Stewart M – Melbourne.

  16. That was a brilliant write up Wally with your ususal touch of humour but now I have to go and swot my literature. By the way I still have a press button phone to make and recieve phone calls only so I still don’t know what an “app” is – who cares? You certainly have a number of wonderful places to visit despite the occasional siren sounds of non birders. I love that colourful dragon, and they are the next best thing to a bird as they too can fly. Superb Swallowtail shots – nice to look up and see a few of those sailing overhead in warm blue skies.

    • It was a nice morning, Phil! The kites put on a real show and the warbler and vireo provided great background music. I’ve been trying to learn the dragonfly species a bit but what with still learning about birds, my brain is full!

  17. Terrific and interesting set of pics, and the photos of the Kites are great, If I ever get over to Florida again, I’m going to be looking for some of these lesser known reserves and trails.
    All the best Gordon.

  18. I enjoyed your description of this place and the things you saw and photographed. That Swallow-tailed Kite is magnificent against the blue sky. It’s so nice to read a blog posting with photos and descriptions of scenery and habitat. It’s so hard to visualize something like this which is so different from what is around here on the opposite side of the world. Of course my mind boggles at the idea of nicely made roads and walking trails through the national park around here – it’s a real coastal wilderness! Hmm!

    • Thanks, Mick! Those nice trails are not really the norm for most parks. The kites put on a real show, it’s mating season and I think 2 out of the tree were males. You know how they are!

  19. Florice

    I loved the dragonfly and the kites. Your pictures of the trees and paths were soooo soothing. Great photos. (as usual)

    • HI SISTER !! Wish you had been there to enjoy the pine trees and singing birds! There were three kites flying together, perhaps 1 female and 2 males as 2 appeared to be showing off. It was quite an aerial show!

      LOVE YOU !!

  20. pretty interesting place. nice woods even w/o water or gators. loved the vireo!

  21. Great series.

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