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.
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.
October in Florida produces a surprising number of wildflowers. Here, a morning glory shows off in the deep shade of the woods.
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.
Gulf Fritillaries are quite common in central Florida and certainly brighten up any landscape.
Pine Warblers were busy scooping up insects from leaves and branches high in the canopy.
This pretty member of the Aster family is called Early Whitetop Fleabane. (Unless someone corrects me – which is highly encouraged!)
Florida’s state butterfly is the Zebra Longwing. Hundreds of them were foraging in the woods.
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.
The Obscure Grasshopper does not usually receive a warm welcome from anyone trying to grow a pretty lawn. They can be voracious.
Autumn has officially begun in Florida as hordes of Palm Warblers, tails a-wagging, seem to be everywhere. We counted 25 this morning.
I know this plant as Blazing Star, although there may be several varieties of the species.
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.
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.
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!