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.
It was morning and the Morning Glory announced it from every part of the roadside!
I guess the butterfly experts would call this Viceroy’s appearance “worn”. We just called it “beautiful”.
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”.
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!
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.
This small yellow flower grows fairly low to the ground but is so bright it cannot be ignored. It’s called Leavenworth’s Tickseed.
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.)
More yellow! Common Primrose Willow grows to over 12 feet tall.
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.
This Palamedes Swallowtail contrasts nicely with the pure white flowers of the Lance-leaved Arrowhead.
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.
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.
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.)