Happiness Is A Dirt Road

The county map describes Peavine Trail as an “unimproved” road.  The dictionary defines “unimproved” as:  not made better; neglected; unused.  It’s a dirt road.  When it rains, it’s a mud road.  For us, it’s a happy road.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice, smooth, stretch of asphalt highway where you can cruise from Point A to Point B without much delay.  But when you leave that technological marvel and pull onto a dirt road, your whole psyche breathes a sigh of relief.  The “unimproved” nature of the path requires you to travel slowly.  You can roll down all the windows to breathe in pine-scented air and wildflowers.  You can stop as often as you like.  And you can “read” a dirt road.  Walk a short ways and you will inevitably find evidence where a group of deer crossed in the night, see the tracks a raccoon left as he trotted alongside the ditch full of frogs, wonder if that is a dog’s footprint or that of a coyote.

That’s where we began last Thursday.  Peavine Trail in Osceola County just a few miles west of Yeehaw Junction.  Lake Kissimmee is 15 miles to the west, Lake Marian a dozen miles north and all around are the remnants of one of the largest grass prairies remaining in the  southeast United States.  The Kissimmee Prairie is quite a unique environment and this road cuts through its northernmost section.  It’s only ten miles from one end of the road to the other, but along the way several distinct ecosystems produce an astounding diversity of life forms.  The southern portion of the area is bordered by wetlands which give way to the familiar grass and scrub palmetto of the prairie.  A little over half way to the northern terminus one encounters huge oaks and other hardwoods.  Finally, there are stands of Long-leaf Pine trees among scrub palmetto (nice place in the spring for singing Bachman’s Sparrows and Brown-headed Nuthatches).

After enjoying a quick breakfast in the truck as the sky began to brighten, we ambled along the road, stopping often to listen for bird songs or look at a flower or study a track or watch an eagle, hawk or vulture soar in the brilliant blue sky.  The slow pace allowed us to take advantage of that most precious of commodities:  time.  We had time with each other.  We talked.  We held hands.  We actually looked at one another.  At the end of this ten mile long dirt road, we did not feel that we had “not been made better“.  We did not feel “neglected“.  We did not feel our time was “unused“.  Nope.  We didn’t feel “unimproved” at all.  Quite the opposite.


Here are a few of the sights we really enjoyed.  We hope you do, too.


A young male Common Yellowthroat was in constant motion on branches hanging over a canal in his search for insects.  The gray on his head will soon turn to the dark black mask of the adult.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat



It was morning and the Morning Glory announced it from every part of the roadside!

Morning Glory

Morning Glory



I guess the butterfly experts would call this Viceroy’s appearance “worn”.  We just called it “beautiful”.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)



Loggerhead Shrikes are also known as “Butcher Birds” for their habit of impaling their prey on a sharp twig, thorn or barbed wire and then dismembering it to eat a piece at a time.  The morning breeze was blowing through its soft gray feathers and it was hard to visualize this handsome fellow as a “butcher”.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike



October in central Florida is very colorful!  There is quite a variety of blooming wildflowers this time of year and everywhere we looked we found bright colors of all shapes and sizes.  Florida has over a dozen species of native sunflowers.  This one is the Narrowleaf Sunflower.  It was interesting to see even these smaller sunflower specimens all facing east toward the rising sun, just like their larger cousins would!

Narrowleaf Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)

Narrowleaf Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)



An immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron has not  yet learned that humans may, sadly, pose a threat.  His parents melted into the thick undergrowth as we approached, but Junior just stared with his bright orange eyes.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Immature)

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Immature)



This small yellow flower grows fairly low to the ground but is so bright it cannot be ignored.  It’s called Leavenworth’s Tickseed.

Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)



An opossum succumbed during the night and today is providing nourishment to a group of Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures, Crested Caracara and Bald Eagles.  Here, a young Crested Caracara instinctively knows he is ahead of the vultures in pecking order and goes in for his share.  (This is probably a first-year bird as he still has a very light-colored bill, light facial skin and light-colored legs.)

Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Crested Caracara

Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Crested Caracara



More yellow!  Common Primrose Willow grows to over 12 feet tall.

Common Primrose Willow (Ludwigia peruviana)

Common Primrose Willow (Ludwigia peruviana)



A very vocal Red-shouldered Hawk let me know she was not happy that I interrupted her search for breakfast.  I snapped a quick picture and retreated.  She continued to yell at me as we drove out of sight.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk



This Palamedes Swallowtail contrasts nicely with the pure white flowers of the Lance-leaved Arrowhead.

Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes)

Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes)


Peavine Trail



A flock of crows had been harassing this Bald Eagle who was perched on a snag minding his own business.  He shrugged it off.  Just another day on the prairie.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle



And this day on the prairie ended for us with a wonderful view of the vast grass and palmetto scrub punctuated here and there by a lone Cypress or Pine tree.

Prairie Sunset

Prairie Sunset



As the sun was setting on our trip, we turned onto the smooth, modern, “improved” highway.  As we fell in line with transport trucks and were passed by cars in a hurry to be somewhere, we knew that we would soon be searching that map for more “unimproved” roads.  There’s nothing like a bit of dirt to make a couple of kids like us happy!


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


See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 50 Comments

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50 thoughts on “Happiness Is A Dirt Road

  1. I love “unimproved” roads Wally! What a beautiful day you shared. We need to save more prairies across this country, they are home to so many species of animals and plants. Your Common Yellowthroat is absolutely gorgeous! And the Yellow-crowned Night Heron so detailed. Love the Caracara mingling with the vultures to help clean up our unfortunate opossum and I must say that one of my favorite sounds is the ever present call of the Red-shouldered Hawk 😉

    • I think you would have right at home with us, Larry! One has to go down a road like this with the realization the goal is not to reach a destination but, rather, to enjoy the journey! We did.

  2. LizSB

    WOW!! What a gorgeous series! I love the Yellowthroat and the Red-shouldered Hawk is wonderful!

  3. Wally…sorry that it took me so long to drop by to visit after you left me a comment at “I’d Rather B Birdin'” last week. You’ve shared some extraordinary bird photos here in this post!!! I still can’t get over the one photo of the vultures AND the caracara in one group. Wow.

    Hope you share some more bird photos this weekend and link up.

  4. Dirt roads normally take you somewhere interesting in Australia – and it seems to be the same for you! I missed a large group of birds of prey around a head horse (!) on a dirt road in central Australia – I was hoping to pictures like yours.

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Stewart, I remember your essay about your trip and that horse! I really enjoy your “other blog” and your excellent writing.

  5. Hi Wally,
    You had this country girl at ‘Happiness Is A Dirt Road”. 🙂
    Then I began reading your wonderful commentary that is always filled with lovely imagery and kept scrolling down to one visual treat after another. The butterflies, the heron, and the eagle some favorites; but what an exceptional shot of the open beaked hawk.
    Always a pleasure visiting here.

  6. You had a fantastic day! Love that Yellow-crowned Night Heron

  7. Well Wally I don’t think any of your blog followers would wish to “improve” you or your Gini, rather that you both stay just as you are. Like you I much prefer an unmade and less travelled road where there is much to discover for the enquiring mind. A great title for your post.

    The Yellowthroat is a fabulous shot as is the Viceroy, so different from a Monarch.

    I’m a sucker for shrikes and your picture of the Loggerhead is just great. We don’t see enough of them just here in NW England (Great Grey Shrike our name).

    A lovely sunset to end – ah Happy Days.

    • Phil, thank you for such nice remarks! We’re seeing quite a few of the first-year Common Yellowthroat males around here, with gray masks not yet fully developed into black. Although Loggerhead Shrikes are year ’round residents, we get an influx of migrants as well. Day before yesterday we covered 9 miles (driving) and counted 25 Shrikes! Fortunately, we have plenty of bugs to spare. 🙂

  8. What a successful day you had! Love the shot of the hawk with his beak open. Thank you for helping me identify the narrow-leaved sunflower – we have those here and it’s been driving me crazy because I couldn’t identify it!

    • Thank you very much, Gail! And keep in mind I am a “jack-of-all-trades” but “master of none”! My identifications are ALWAYS subject to correction! I liked that hawk, too, even if she was loud.

  9. Oh My Wally, I was going to say the Yellow Crowned Heron was my favorite and then I got to your Red Shouldered Hawk, that is a stunning image. As much as I view them, I am positive I have never taken anything that amazing before…congratulations!

  10. The hawk definitely did not look happy with you. You find the best birds, flowers and butterflies! Love that prairie sunset.

  11. So many great shots! I’ve heard of Peavine. I need to get over there soon. I still have the caracara on my list to get.

    • For us, it’s sort of a “shortcut” to the Three Lakes WMA area. Except we always dawdle and find lots of birds and things to delay us!

  12. Thank you so much for taking the time to share all of your wonderful photos. For those of us who are new to birding, posts like this help us so much. Your flowers are beautiful, too. You entire post was a treat for the eyes.

    • You’re very welcome, Genie! Your area is a wonderful spot for birding, too! The mountains, clear streams, deep forests and lots of chips, chirps and cheeps to chase!

  13. A great serie, very interesting!

  14. interesting post. Thanks for sharing your wonderful photos.

  15. a wonderful, romantic lead-in to your set of beautiful photos. your bird shots are just crisp and clear and gorgeous!

  16. That place isn’t far from me (in Vero Beach) Def adding Peavine Trail to my must see list.

    • The nice thing is, once you drive Peavine Trail from SR 60 to Lake Marian Road, you’re almost to Three Lakes WMA and you can start all over looking for neat stuff! (See our next installment…..) Thanks for visiting, Karen!

  17. Loved your title, Wally – my philosophy, exactly! You always do such a wonderful job of documenting your forays into the varying habitats of your area.. This post was no exception.

  18. A beautiful series of images!
    Love the hawk!
    Have a wonderful day!

  19. Excellent series! i love the hawk and the eagle. They’re very handsome birds.

  20. What treasures an “unimproved” track can reveal! We have a gravel road that also has served us well, as it begins a few doors from our home. It is only a matter of time (when funds become available) before it turns into a four lane parkway. We enjoy it while we can.

  21. The way to go!
    Hello Wally, what an interesting trip!
    That is the way I like to travel too… slowly!
    Your set of pics is outstanding and so diverse!
    Even with not much light you make a fantastic photo, like with the butterfly!
    Congratulations, cheers!

  22. Wonderful post! Gorgeous birds and photos! The Vultures and Caracara is one of my favorites.

    • Thanks, Eileen! There were a total of 20 vultures, 3 Crested Caracara and 2 Bald Eagles all circling above the oak trees and perched alongside the road. A dozen crows were harassing the eagles and caracara constantly. It was quite a scene!

  23. Carole M.

    Hi Wally, Love your intro para; I’m right there with you re the dirt roads and getting ‘out there amongst it all’. Your photo of the Common Yelowthroat is really lovely; yellow birds being one of my faves — well those and RED birds too. Gosh, BLUE birds are also pretty special aren’t they?! I’d never seen a Narrowleaf Sunflower before. The Red-shouldered Hawk was pretty special to capture like you did too. Well done you two!

    • Carole, thank you! After following your adventures in New South Wales, our area seems pretty tame! We are quite lucky to have so many colors in Nature.

  24. HI Gini and Wally What an adventure. You have me droooling! I just love going off the beaten track, it is much more exciting and you never know what you will find and best of all, there are not many other people dong it!! I felt Iwas on this journey with you. Beautifully written. Your photographs are superb. Lots of birds, wild flower, insects and wildlife that of course you do not see in Northrn Ireland so for me that is exciting. After reading your article, I looked up and read the articcle by Herb Hiller regarding Florida’s last frontiers and discovered that there are quite a number of places and reserves (off the beaten track) that most people do not explore. That must be wonderful for you. You don’t happen to live near the Tampa area? I have a friend who lives near there but she is not a birder. I have only been to Florida once in the 90’s but I was wowrking on a hospital ship and I was not a birder at the time.Anyhow, thanks for sharing this wonderful ‘unimproved road’ adventrue.

    • Thank you so very much, Margaret, for such nice comments! We really appreciate your visit! It was a good trip and we’re ready to do it again!

  25. It sounds like a really good day. I wish our unimproved roads were at least passable in a car – unfortunately at this time of year you need a 4 wheel drive and very careful driving! But then you say “truck” so maybe yours is 4 wheel drive also? The Bald Eagle with all its feathers fluffed up is very beautiful!

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