“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
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!
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?).
The trails are clearly marked and well maintained.
A few flowers were blooming in the pine woods today. This Common Spiderwort was still dripping with morning dew.
Within the mixed pine/hardwood forest are some magnificent specimens, such as this spreading oak, welcoming birds to perch, nest and sing.
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.
“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.)
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.
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.
Dried pine needles littered the path through most of the walk and provided a different aroma from the fresh growth on the trees.
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!)
A “Carolina Saddlebags” dragonfly was not as snooty as her butterfly cousins and posed nicely for me. I had not previously seen this species.
What a great name for an obnoxious plant: “Horrible Thistle”. The bloom is quite nice to look at – just don’t touch!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Linking to Stewart’s “Wild Bird Wednesday”. See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for