Out Of A Rut, Down The Road

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. – Walt Disney

It’s easy to become accustomed to a routine.  We sometimes find ourselves in an area which has been labeled our “comfort zone” and are reluctant to move out of it.  Birders may have their “patch”, a place they go to often and can list the birds there without even visiting.  This makes it easier to spot anomalies and to keep track of significant changes in that particular population.  Once in awhile, though, it’s important to break through the barrier of our comfort zone and see what else may be waiting to be discovered in the remainder of the universe.

We have been concentrating on our home county for the past year and even when we traveled elsewhere it was to an area with which we were familiar.  It was high time we tried something new.

The moon was full and hanging just above the horizon as I loaded the truck with provisions, optics and driving directions.  Our destination was Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, about a two hour journey to the north.  As the first light of the day illuminated our road, it revealed pockets of heavy fog suspended just above the pastures and woodlands.  The air was refreshingly cool.  We arrived at the park entrance a few minutes before the gate was unlocked and drove down the road a bit and found the trail I planned to hike a bit later.  Once inside the park, the fog lifted to reveal a crisp blue sky and the pines and hardwoods all around us were alive.  We located an observation tower which looked out onto the vast prairie and a Pileated Woodpecker whooshed past on its way to a breakfast appointment.  A small herd of deer materialized out of the edge of the woods and a doe and her fawn froze as they tried to figure out if I might be a threat.  We found a comfortable spot to enjoy breakfast.  Speaking of trying new things – my bride had prepared a treat from her childhood memory but which was quite different for me.  Peanut butter and jelly on raisin-cinnamon bread.  It was good!

Fortified with a nutritious meal, we headed for the aforementioned trail I wanted to explore – Bolens Bluff.  The first half of the trail winds through stands of huge oaks, magnolia and hickory trees.  Then the trail leaves the woods and opens out onto the prairie, which is sprinkled with ponds, scrub brush and all manner of grasses.  Deer, alligators, wild horses, long horn Spanish cattle and a small herd of bison populate the prairie.  I spent most of the time in the woods, hoping to locate migrant warblers.  There were not a lot of birds around but we managed just over 30 species and seven different warblers.  It was a good walk!

Paynes Prairie consists of over 22,000 acres and several diverse habitats.  Here one can fine 800 kinds of plants and more than 270 species of birds.  The noted naturalist, William Bartram, visited the area in 1774 and referred to it as the “Great Alachua Savannah”.  A series of sink holes in the prairie have resulted in times when there was a lake deep enough for steam boat travel as well as times of very little water at all.  For more information on this unique park, see “Additional Information” below.

Warblers are small.  And quick.  And seem to be in constant motion.  And blend in with their surroundings.  And are usually in the very tops of very tall trees.  And that’s why I have very few photographs of warblers.

So, here are some pictures of OTHER stuff which held relatively still while I pushed buttons on the camera.  (Actually, I included a couple of “soft-focus” warbler photos just to prove there actually WERE warblers in the woods.)

A helpful sign let’s one know where the main entrance is located.  (This was the only Sandhill Crane we spotted on this trip.)



Mother White-tailed Deer is using her eyes, ears and nose to frantically sense if I mean any harm.  The fawn is following Mom’s lead.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

The scarlet head of a Pileated Woodpecker makes her easy to spot.  Of course, it helps that she is the size of a small plane.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

October in Florida produces a surprising number of wildflowers.  Here, a morning glory shows off in the deep shade of the woods.

Common Morning Glory (Ipomoea purpurea)

Common Morning Glory (Ipomoea purpurea)

A female American Redstart uses the patches of color on her wings and tail to “flash” continuously in order to startle bugs into revealing their location.  This is the best look I had of her as she never stopped moving and was usually behind lots of leaves.

American Restart (female)

American Restart (female)

Gulf Fritillaries are quite common in central Florida and certainly brighten up any landscape.

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

Pine Warblers were busy scooping up insects from leaves and branches high in the canopy.

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

This pretty member of the Aster family is called Early Whitetop Fleabane.  (Unless someone corrects me – which is highly encouraged!)

Early Whitetop Fleabane (Erigeron vernus)

Early Whitetop Fleabane (Erigeron vernus)

Florida’s state butterfly is the Zebra Longwing.  Hundreds of them were foraging in the woods.

Zebra Longwing

Zebra Longwing

It’s amazing how well the Black and White Warbler blends in with the tree bark.  This relatively large warbler behaves like a Creeper or Nuthatch as he climbs up and down tree trunks probing the bark for a meal.

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

The Obscure Grasshopper does not usually receive a warm welcome from anyone trying to grow a pretty lawn.  They can be voracious.

Obscure Grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura)

Obscure Grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura)

Autumn has officially begun in Florida as hordes of Palm Warblers, tails a-wagging, seem to be everywhere.  We counted 25 this morning.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

I know this plant as Blazing Star, although there may be several varieties of the species.

Blazing Star

Blazing Star

A Blue Dasher waits on a fence wire for his next victim.  Hopefully, it will be one of the millions of mosquitoes which buzzed around my head as I walked through low-lying hammocks.

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

It’s not the best photograph due to the distance involved, but I think the American Kestrel is one of the most striking raptors to be seen.  This male was actively hawking insects in a nearby field and always returned to this perch.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

Trying something new and different can be mildly traumatic but the potential rewards more than make up for any temporary trepidation.  PB&J on cinnamon-raisin bread.  Yummy!

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


Additional Information

Paynes Prairie

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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19 thoughts on “Out Of A Rut, Down The Road

  1. Great shots. Got out of your “backyard” for a change, eh? Nice to see what you found. The American Kestrel appears to be sizing you up for lunch!

  2. What a wonderful place. Although I’m reading this at the end of a day on the road, but before we go to dinner and the sandwich description pretty much stopped me in my tracks there for a few minutes. I bet I don’t find anything that good! (We are traveling by car/motel this trip rather than camping and I am missing my own cooking. Or at least my PB&J sandwiches.)

    Anyway..I loved the tour of Payne’s Prairie and need to look up more about it. Had no idea there were bison in FL!! Wonders never cease. You got quite a few warblers and I love the pileated, who indeed is almost that big!! Thanks for all.

    • Paynes Prairie is definitely worth a visit anytime! Lots of trails and you sort of have to search them out as they aren’t all within the main park. Lots of diversity there!

  3. I see I’m not the only one who felt a good, gentle jolt from your thoughts on getting out of our comfort zones. PB&J on raisin cinnamon sounds yummy. I put walnuts and dried cranberries on my PB (no J). Bet that would really sing on on cinnamon bread! Cool trek through the prairie. Steamboats. Imagine.

    • That’s a really neat area and we plan on returning soon! Some sort of human occupation has been going on in that prairie area for over 12,000 years. Sink holes appearing and disappearing have added to the drama.

  4. Ron Dudley

    I always enjoy your posts, Wally – both photos and narratives, but this one especially struck home because of your Disney quote about curiosity (something we both share) and your effort this trip to get out of your “comfort zone”. That’s something I just have to do more often because all of my old haunts have been so very slow for months now. I just know there are birds out there somewhere and I’ve got to get out of my rut and try some new places. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Thanks very much for your really kind comments, Ron! With the motivation of my wonderful wife, I’m discovering how to create new comfort zones!

  5. Now I know where all of MY warblies are!

    • Dave, there wasn’t a lot of variety but it was fun chasing the ones that were there. Except for this case of “warbler neck”! 🙂

  6. What an interesting place to visit! I’d be happy to just see some of the bigger creatures – deer, wild horses, long-horn cattle and bison – but your photos show such a diversity of other creatures. Beautiful!

  7. Loved seeing all these beautiful shots.

  8. amazing day at the park! Love all the pics, esp the grasshoppers! You couldn’t have posed them any better!!!

  9. I think I enjoyed that stroll through Paynes Prairie as much as you obviously did Wally. Pity i didn’t get to taste the breakfast.With all those acres it’s not surprising birds were a little thin on the ground (or in the trees) but you gave it your best shot and enjoyed it – the main thing.Nice quote from WD – very true.

    Like the groppers, the Zebra Longwing and of course the red topped aeroplane!

    • Phil, my wife and I seem to be a pair of that dreaded species, the eternal optimist! We manage to find stuff to enjoy no matter where we are! Thanks for visiting, wish I had a sandwich left for you, but I destroyed all the evidence.

  10. new breakfast, new park, nice day! enjoyed the butterflies, deer, warblers. i liked your description of the pileated being as big as a plane. 🙂 pretty blooms, too!

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