“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.
Wild Turkeys were abundant. Here a group of hens wander down the trail ahead of us discussing where to shop for acorns today.
All the recent rain has produced lush growth everywhere. A Sandhill Crane enjoys the juicy green grass of a nearby pasture.
Erect Dayflowers bloomed in profusion. Enjoy the beauty while it lasts, which, true to the flower’s name, will be only one day.
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.
Water birds, such as this Great Egret, perched atop trees as the morning became brighter. This may have been its night-time perch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!