(by A.A. Milne)
She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
“Winter is dead.”
Once upon a time, I went fishing. A cheap rod and reel, a black plastic worm with a red tail. Slowly winding the reel and “tug-tug”! Largemouth bass were put on a stringer and placed in the water to keep them alive until it was time to go home. Dinner was good.
Florida’s phosphate industry is a multi-billion dollar a year business and helps supply the world with fertilizer to help feed its inhabitants. The process of extracting the minerals from Florida’s earth is not a pretty thing to watch. The land is severely damaged.
Kudos to the companies for their substantial commitment to reclaiming mined lands. Their efforts through the years provided recreation (and dinner) for my family and friends all those years ago. The same is true today.
The reclamation process includes water and land restoration. Native flora and modern water filtration techniques help ensure Floridians and visitors have access to a diverse habitat where they can pursue many outdoor interests.
Gini and I recently visited two areas which have been restored over the past several decades from previous mining activities. Mosaic Fish Management Area, south of Fort Meade in Polk County and Mosaic Peace River Park, south of Bartow at Homeland, also in Polk County. (Mosaic is a company formed in 2004 from the merger of IMC Global and Cargill fertilizer division. They produce more of the world’s fertilizer than the next two largest companies combined.)
Our visits were in late February and early March. Warm, humid mornings signaled a probable ending to what Floridians refer to as “winter”, or as we like to call it, “the brown season”. It’s a wonderful time to be out! Many trees and plants are sprouting new growth, flowers are forming, insects are becoming more active and birding is transitioning from enjoying our northern visitors who remained all winter to the excitement of migrants returning from Central and South America.
Mosaic Fish Management Area
An abundance of water with thriving fish populations attracts all sorts of predators. Humans, alligators and a diverse selection of birds. This is the Osprey’s element. A large number of Osprey nests give the area an appearance of a sort of avian suburbia.
Warmer weather begins reproductive cycles for many species, including dragonflies. One of our early dragons is the brightly colored Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis).
Claiming territory and attracting a mate. A male Northern Cardinal showed off his scarlet plumage, sang and generally let us know this was HIS patch of woods!
We will soon bid farewell to many warbler species who have been so kind to grace us with their presence throughout the winter months. The Palm Warbler with its pumping tail has tried to eat as many mosquitoes as possible over the past several weeks. Who wouldn’t love this bird just for that?
The Black-and-white Warbler and its nuthatch habits will likewise head for home soon. A few of these bright wood warblers have found some areas of the Sunshine State to their liking so we’ll be on the lookout for them throughout the year.
Joining the throngs of Palm Warblers in the skies, Yellow-rumped warblers are also busy fueling up with as much protein as possible to better endure their long journey. We’ll miss those bright “butter-butts”.
Skulking in the foliage, a Gray Catbird was part of a group of four we found in one spot. They typically form loose groups from a few birds up to a couple of dozen in preparation for heading home to breed. No more “stray kittens” in the woods until fall.
Mosaic Peace River Park
The Peace River is at a typically low level during the dry season. Cypress tree roots are exposed along the bank. The river winds through swamp and hardwood forests and will eventually empty into the Gulf of Mexico about 100 miles (160 km) west of here.
A Cypress tree reveals how high the water has been. The ground here today is damp but in a couple of months one will need a boat.
All sorts of creatures make trails through the low, lush vegetation.
Nearly all of Florida’s Cypress trees were cut for lumber by the 1930’s. If left alone, these relatively young Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) can grow to 150 feet (46 meters) tall and live for over 600 years.
The rich, damp soil and diffused light provided by the dense tree canopy makes swamps a great place for ferns to flourish.
Roots of a Bald Cypress tree probe deep into the mud along the bank of the Peace River. The surface of the still water reflects the tree’s upper branches reaching toward the sky.
Mining. Fertilizer. Destruction. Renewal. Fishing. Birding. Exploring.
The verge of Spring. Life is a cycle. We are blessed to be part of the process.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!