Wet, Wild, Wonderful !


“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
― John Muir


Mention Florida to most folks and they will usually envision beaches, sunshine, orange groves, Disney World — and then they’ll wander off to check their calendars to see how long it is until they can schedule a vacation.  One thing that won’t find itself on the tips of their tongues is the famous “Florida Forests”.  Florida has forests??

Forest:  A dense growth of trees, plants, and underbrush covering a large area.

As it turns out, the Sunshine State boasts 35 state forests encompassing over 1,058,000 acres (428,157 ha).  Much of this land is open to the public and provides miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding and biking.  Camping, hunting and fishing is permitted in some areas and exploring a state forest is usually easy and can be very rewarding.  We confirmed that fact yesterday.

The region coordinator for our local Breeding Bird Atlas effort (see our previous post:  Breeding Bird Atlas) arranged to have the manager for the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest (check out “Additional Resources”, below) meet us before sunrise yesterday morning.  Mr. Dave Butcher was exemplary in providing us a guided tour of the remote area and his local knowledge was invaluable.  By mid-morning, we had tallied almost 60 species of birds, confirmed many as breeding and traveled through some of Florida’s most beautiful natural environment.  We encountered raccoons, wild pigs, alligators, beautiful flowers and a roadblock in the form of a stubborn bull.  What a great day!

Here are a few images from our forest adventure.


Dawn was a bit surprising.  We have had a couple of weeks of rain and didn’t expect to see the sun and clear skies!  A bit of fog hugging the ground enhanced the beauty of the area.

Dawn - Lake Wales Ridge State Forest - Prairie Tract

Dawn – Lake Wales Ridge State Forest – Prairie Tract



Wild Turkeys were abundant.  Here a group of hens wander down the trail ahead of us discussing where to shop for acorns today.

Wild Turkey - Morning Stroll

Wild Turkey – Morning Stroll


All the recent rain has produced lush growth everywhere.  A Sandhill Crane enjoys the juicy green grass of a nearby pasture.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane



Erect Dayflowers bloomed in profusion.  Enjoy the beauty while it lasts, which, true to the flower’s name, will be only one day.

Erect Dayflower

Erect Dayflower



A male Northern Bobwhite scurries for cover.  We heard the clear whistles of males saying their name throughout the morning.  (“Bob-White”.)  Listen here:  Northern Bobwhite call.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite




Water birds, such as this Great Egret, perched atop trees as the morning became brighter.  This may have been its night-time perch.

Great Egret

Great Egret



The state Forest Service leases portions of land to local ranchers in exchange for allowing cattle to graze.  This large bull was not impressed by our official truck and remained in the road until he felt like moving.  I’m sure he was amused by our horn honking, hand waving, clapping and shouting.  At least, I think that’s a grin……





The Tar Flower is a shrub which can grow up to eight feet tall.  The delicate flowers earned their name due to a sticky substance on the petals which traps insects.

Tar Flower

Tar Flower



We were in a part of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest known as the “Prairie Tract”.  It’s easy to see how it was named.  Palmetto and grassland stretched to the horizon in some areas.

Palmetto, Pines, Prairie

Palmetto, Pines, Prairie



An immature Red-shouldered Hawk is poised to pounce on breakfast.  The early morning sun must be a welcome change to the soggy starts of the past few weeks.

Red-shouldered Hawk (Immature)

Red-shouldered Hawk (Immature)



Lots of water in this section of the forest.  The northern boundary of this area is Lake Kissimmee.  An Anhinga dries his wings so he’ll be ready for his next plunge.

Wetlands, Anhinga

Wetlands, Anhinga



One of the highlights of the day was spotting a juvenile Turkey Vulture.  Vultures typically locate their nest sites in very remote areas and there is not a good record of juvenile activity.  This youngster still has a bit of white down feathers and was not yet capable of flying.  But he could run!  He ran up the trunk of a small tree in the edge of the woods and I snapped a few quick pictures and left him in peace.

Turkey Vulture (Juvenile)

Turkey Vulture (Juvenile)



We were fortunate to locate a pair of Florida Scrub Jays.  These birds are endemic to Florida (a different species than found in the western U.S.) and are endangered due to severe loss of habitat.

Scrub Jay

Scrub Jay




So, the next time you think of Florida and all our wonderful state has to offer, don’t forget about our fabulous forests!  Take a look at the Forest Service website (see “Additional Resources”, below) for a map of where the State Forests are located.

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


Additional Resources:

Florida Forest Service

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

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30 thoughts on “Wet, Wild, Wonderful !

  1. Terrific post Wally! Florida is so much more than beaches, isn’t it? Good to see some Florida birds posted here.

  2. I typed a comment a while back, but apparently sent somewhere (who knows?) else! I wanted to say how much I liked seeing the dayflower, with it’s intense color, and also the tar flower. I’ve never seen either of those before, and they’re lovely. Also glad to see the sweet little bobwhite. We hear them, but rarely see them. I think my favorite photo in this series is the Anhinga in the wetlands. The draped Spanish moss and its reflection is dreamy.

    • It was a great time in an area that doesn’t get visited by humans very much. Really beautiful back in there and with all the recent rain it’s incredibly lush. “Dreamy” is a good word!

  3. Wonderful series of photos! The birds are beautiful and the first sky shot is gorgeous! Have a happy weekend!

  4. Hi there and welcome back! Nice set of pictures – like the roadblock!
    Am at Ayers Rock airport waiting for a flight to Melbourne.
    Cheers – Stewart M

  5. Florida forests, a very well-kept secret, apparently. I haven’t heard a bobwhite since we moved away from W.Va. The Sandhill Crane is a lovely bird.

  6. It’s always a pleasure to look at your beautiful pictures, Wally!
    I specially like the Egret and the Hawk.
    Thanks for your nice comment!
    Greetings Pia

  7. Glad to see you’re back to the blogosphere, Wally! What a wonderful and varied morning you must have had. Loved seeing the juvie vulture – something I’ve never encountered. Looks like you’ve got some wonderful country to explore down there.

  8. Wonderful forest walk. On our first visit to Florida, we were completely surprised to find this kind of habitat — but the fact that it is there is one of the main reasons why we keep coming back! Thanks for sharing the hike … although it makes me wish I could be in two places at once; loving it here, but missing it there!

    • We’ll try to keep the trails clean for you until you return! Looks like you’re having a great time out west!

  9. Wally..thanks for the info on the sunbathing. When the youngsters are being shown the feeders and being feed suet dough, they then see sunbathing…and only in the black-capped chickadees here..sometimes a dove…I think it looks like fun too…Michelle

  10. What an interesting place to visit! Everything looks so green and lush. I am intrigued with the photo with the anhinga – is that moss hanging from the trees?

    • Mick, yes, that’s Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides), an epiphyte which is quite prolific in the southeastern U.S. We’ve had a pretty rainy summer here and as a result are blessed with really lush growth.

  11. What a wonderful wander through the forest! I’ve never seen a Turkey Vulture so young before! The dayflower is so vibrant and beautiful!

    • Tammy, thanks! It’s difficult to locate vulture nesting sites as they locate them in remote areas and will often lay their eggs directly on the ground. We were lucky to see this little guy! With all the rain lately, the whole area was full of flowers.

  12. Good to see you back from your vacation and your normal laid back but highly informative commentaries Wally, hope you enjoyed the blogging break. Well yes, over here in the UK Florida is Disney and beaches to I guess 99% of Brits who might visit. It’s hard to imagine over a million acres of forests but a tiny proportion of that would keep me birding happily for a few weeks. Love the Turkey Vulture shot especially and with that juvenile plumage I imagine it could hide away in those lichen covered trees. Thanks for the tour to the Other Florida.

    • Thank you, Phil! It’s good to be back. The young vulture was a real treat, but the whole area was just beautiful. We were fortunate to have an opportunity to explore this tract as it’s not open to the public.

  13. Wonderful shots! I have yet to get a photo of a bobwhite. One day…
    And that’s a gorgeous sunrise!

  14. Beautiful photos.

  15. the turkeys are neat! i haven’t seen a bob white since i left wisconsin so many years ago! and the young turkey vulture was a great sighting!

    • Bobwhites used to be very common when I was young, but have become a bit rare in recent years. It was good to hear so many calling. The new vulture was definitely worth the trip. (Only a birder would say that!) 🙂

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