Travel

Would You Prefer Your Woods Hydric Or Mesic?

“The nicest thing about the rain is that it always stops. Eventually.”
(Eeyore), A.A. Milne

 

Florida! The Sunshine State! Except when it’s raining.

Summer. The wet season. Wait, yesterday it didn’t start raining until after 3:00. Maybe tomorrow will be like that and we’ll have several hours to explore! Hmmm, the weather forecast is for 85% chance of scattered thunderstorms. That means we have a 15% chance of NOT getting rained on! AND – the storms are supposed to be scattered! Maybe it will actually rain somewhere other than where we are!

See what a problem my poor Gini faces? I’m an eternal optimist with no common sense at all. (She thinks “common” means EVERYONE has some sense about practical matters. Please don’t tell her.)

We had been wanting to return to Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area for some time. It’s about two hours from the house and near the gulf coast. It’s easy to find as it’s just off the interstate highway. With over 80,000 acres (+32,000 Ha.) it’s also easy to quickly forget how close to that highway you are. That’s a good thing, in our opinion.

A large portion of this land was purchased by Mr. Fred Babcock in the 1930’s for raising cattle, timbering and hunting. For awhile, the area was famous for a thriving pineapple industry. The state bought the land in 1941 and somewhere along the way they added the name of one of the fish and game commissioners with Mr. Babcock’s to produce the unwieldy official name: Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area.

This vast area represents the largest tract of undeveloped hydric pine flatwoods in southwest Florida. Combined with some drier areas (“mesic” flatwoods), open wet prairies, a few lakes and ponds – it is a wonderfully diverse habitat supporting a good mix of flora and fauna. Old logging roads provide easy access to much of the management lands, but take care if it has been raining or if your vehicle has low clearance. Also, this is a hunting area, so check the on-line calendar for current open hunting times. If you decide to visit during hunting season, wear a blaze orange vest and BE CAREFUL! It’s amazing how much we humans can resemble White-tailed Deer.

We arrived shortly after sunrise and our morning was filled with breathing the scent of fresh pine, admiring an incredible variety of blooming flowers, listening to woodpeckers hammering, chasing dragonflies along the edge of the wetlands, watching in awe as a group of Common Nighthawks put on a spectacular aerial display – just for us.

Egg sandwiches along with fruit was the perfect breakfast for the outdoors. It seemed we were stopping every few yards to gawk at something new. Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. How had we lost track of time? We seem to do that a lot.

A few images may give you an idea of why we could care less about looking at a watch.

(Pssst. No sign of thunderstorms yet, scattered or otherwise.)

What’s for lunch?

 

An immature Bald Eagle soared over the open wet prairie searching for her own breakfast.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

There are around 40 species of Spider Lily in the New World and 13 of them are in Florida. This is the Alligatorlily (Hymenolcallis palmeri), fairly common but beautiful. Up close it has a wonderful fragrance.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Dragons and damsels were in abundance. Convincing them to pose for a photograph was a challenge. The colorful Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) would be hard to mistake for anything else. During the day we saw dozens floating above the reeds.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Pink seemed to be the color of the day for flowers in the flatwoods and prairie. A lovely Large Flower Rose Gentian (Sabatia grandiflora) languished right by the side of the road.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

One of the more common birds in this habitat is the Red-bellied Woodpecker. This one was busy finding bugs and hustling back to a nest cavity where junior was likely squawking “Hurry up!”.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Frequently found at commercial nurseries, American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) somehow seems more elegant in the wild.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

A common dragonfly throughout our area is Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami). This female was very patient while I knelt down to her level for a portrait.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Resembling snapdragons, the Eastern False Dragonhead (Physostegia purpurea) is sometimes called Obedient Plant for the tendency of blossoms to remain in place if pushed or twisted.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Peeking through a curtain of pine needles, a diminutive Downy Woodpecker wastes no time in checking up, down and around limbs for signs of insects.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Much smaller than the American White Waterlily above, Big Floatingheart (Nymphoides aquatica) more than holds its own in the beauty department.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Part of maintaining a healthy habitat, prescribed burns take place regularly to help reduce accumulation of hazardous fuel (dead wood, etc.), to restore some ecological communities and to improve overall wildlife habitat. In an area of a recent burn, we found this pine tree with dripping resin “frozen” on the trunk.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

A section of wet prairie resembles a “green sky” dotted with pink “stars”.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Rounding a bend on a back road, we were blessed to watch a group of four Common Nighthawks put on an impressive aerial display as they twisted and turned at high speed chasing clouds of insects. Fast birds!

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Whew! Busy morning! We’re now at the shore of Webb Lake enjoying cold chicken and discussing whether to begin the trip home or …

Next up, Part Two.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Myakka Mystique

From the misty murkiness which is my memory, visions of rain and sand appeared. Twelve years old? That’s a guess, but probably close. I don’t think my parents would have let me go camping without adult supervision if I had been much younger. Fragments of that long-ago trip include learning that if you push on a rain-soaked canvas tent ceiling it will soon be raining inside your tent. Sand mixed with scrambled eggs is not recommended. When choosing a log to climb aboard in mid-river, make sure it does not have eyes – and teeth.

Coincidentally, Gini’s childhood included trips to the Myakka River as well. Naturally, in accordance with her personality, her memories are much more detailed and filled with fishing, cold watermelon and fun. Sigh. She’s like that.

This day’s visit represented our first in a few years and arriving early on a summer’s day helped ensure we were not engulfed in crowds of visitors. Myakka River State Park is one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks. Over 58 square miles (+37,000 acres/15,000 Ha) of wetlands, prairies, hammocks and pinelands provide a lot of territory to explore.

Before 1850, English maps noted this was the Asternal River. Supposedly, a helpful Seminole Indian told a surveyor it was called “Myakka” and maps have reflected that name for this dark water river ever since. No translation of Myakka has ever been produced.

Our unofficial checklist of “Things To Do” included: check out the canopy boardwalk; try to locate Butterfly Orchids; and find the “Old Weir” area where bird reports over the past few days included dozens of avocets, stilts and limpkins.

The canopy walk was completed in 2000 and was the first in North America. It’s 25 feet above the ground, proceeds through the treetops for 100 feet and at the end has a 74 foot tower which provides a panoramic view of the park and surrounding area. My next goal is to camp within the park so I can access that tower to attempt sunrise/sunset photographs.

Once I found out what the Florida Butterfly Orchid looks like and where to search for them (think “up“), it seemed like they were everywhere! The leaves of the plant can be somewhat yellow-green and some botanist thought the wind rustling them looked like butterflies on the tree branches. Gini-with-the-sharp-eyesight found some at a lower altitude and we discovered that at close range they have a wonderful aroma!

Locating the “Old Weir” area where a creek enters Upper Myakka Lake was easy. Alas, the area was cordoned off due to maintenance today.

Two out of three goals accomplished. We’ll take that.

This park, with its vast amount of space and diverse habitat, is a fantastic birding spot during spring and fall migration. We will definitely return for more exploring. Then there is “The Deep Hole”, an ancient sinkhole to the south of the main park which, in winter when water levels drop, can attract dozens (more than a hundred have been observed) of alligators along a single patch of shoreline. THAT would be exciting to photograph!

We had a wonderful day in a gorgeous setting!

 

Large blooms of Swamp Pink Hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus) bordered a field full of wildflowers.

Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State Park

 

An Anole played hide-and-seek among palmetto fronds.

Myakka River State Park

 

The canopy walk allows one to walk in the tree tops and the observation tower provides spectacular views in all directions. (We were able to confirm that Florida is still flat.)

Myakka River State Park

Suspended Canopy Walk

Myakka River State Park

View to the northwest.

Myakka River State Park

View to the East.

The Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) is small and subtle in appearance. It added a nice touch of beauty to a lot of large oak trees.

Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State Park

 

Gini’s beautiful brown eyes don’t miss much. Through the trees she spied a huge wasp nest. This Southern Yellowjacket (Vespula squamosa) condominium was over three feet (0.9 meter) tall and at least that in circumference. Thousands of the insects, thankfully, remained busy at the nest while I took a few images and retreated quietly.

20190613 Myakka River State Park 00047

Myakka River State Park

 

The genus Coreopsis was designated Florida’s state wildflower in 1991. Here, a field of Florida Tickseed (Coreopsis floridana) blankets a field near the main park road. This particular species is endemic to Florida.

Myakka River State Park

 

State Parks offer a wonderful way to view nature at its best. Plan to visit one near you soon!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Myakka River State Park

Categories: Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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