As you can see from the dates above, I am a month behind in posting these blogs. But that’s what happens when you spend two weeks in Florida’s most remote state park and your internet service is so weak that when you try to post, all you can get is a 401 error. Time to catch up.
The park is 31 miles outside of the closest town which is Okeechobee Florida. This is the dirt entry road which is 5 miles long with a speed limit of 15mph and you’d better be strict about it if you don’t want to have things falling all over and breaking inside the house you are driving. In fact, for much of the drive, I was at 5 or 10 mph.
My site was wonderful as you can see. The view out the front window was of the Prairie as far as I could see. I had great visitors to my site. More about them later.
Not by a long shot. The park is nearly 100 miles south and worlds away from there.
The Kissimmee River begins not far from the namesake city and is the starting point for the drainage system that passes through Lake Okeechobee before ending up in the Everglades. It drains an area of 3,000 square miles and the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is part of that system.
The preserve protects 54,000 acres of the dry grass prairie interspersed with sloughs and occasional live oak and cabbage palm hammocks. This is the habitat that once covered much of central and southern Florida. There is less than 10% of it left and that includes the 54,000 acres here.
The park has many trails to hike. Most of them, of course, are out on the Prairie where the sun shines brightly which is great on cool days and not so much when it’s hot.
This trail going out from right near my site was called the Hammock Trail and has both a slough and a hammock. A hammock is a term used in the southeastern United States for stands of trees, usually hardwood, that form an ecological island in a contrasting ecosystem-in this case a prairie.
The trail lead me from the hammock in which the campground is located, across the prairie to the hammock where the walk in tent site is located and back through the prairie to Winnona. Here is some of what I saw on my hike.
Among the reasons I wanted to spend some time here were the unique birds I might see including the Caracara, the Eastern Meadowlark and if I was really lucky, which I was not, the Burrowing Owl.
I found the Eastern Meadow Lark singing on nearly every hike I took. He is SO attractive.
He just sings and sings.
The trail leads out of the prairie and into this hammock which contains the tent site where someone was camped when I hiked by.
I admit to being surprised at how many “water” birds I found hanging around the little ponds and wet spots in the prairie. This killdeer was my first surprise.
The live oak trees in the hammocks and shading the campgrounds are beautiful. This one was so tall, I couldn’t get it all in my camera without being so far away its size couldn’t be appreciated.
On my many hikes through the prairie, I nearly always saw the Eastern Meadowlark and sometimes a few prairie flowers.
The skies were wonderful.
I was thrilled but surprised to see the Crested Caracara among the grasses.
On another day I heard a familiar voice and looking around spotted this singing Easter towhee. If singing means happy then the birds of the prairie are just that.
These sorts of spots would show up without notice.
This red winged blackbird got himself all ruffled up to sing.
Would you expect to see an anhinga in a tree so far away from any place with fish? Or at least these ponds don’t look big enough for fish.
Ibis flying overhead.
Most days when I would come back from hiking, I would sit in my antigravity chair and watch those visitors I mentioned earlier and read. Here’s some pictures from those pleasant afternoons. The turkeys would parade.
Even the head man was checking out my chair one day when I came out.
Over and over again he strutted his stuff but the girls paid no attention to him. Poor guy.
Here they are ignoring him just beyond Ruby.
A closer shot of one of his ladies. Aren’t her subtle colors beautiful?
I was also visited by several deer who seemed to be out there every time I was outside. There couldn’t be that much to eat among the leaf litter I didn’t think.
This visitor was the most skittish of all. I guess because he’s the littlest.
Across from me and up a ways was what I called the buzzard tree. I am not fond of buzzards though I understand how necessary they are and what a great job of being a clean up crew they do. But they also like to land on your car and tear apart the rubber around your windows. So this picture of tree and buzzard are for my friend Pam, postal checker extraordinaire, who likes buzzards without qualification.
Here you go Pam a turkey vulture just for you.
When it rained, I took care of bothersome chores. One was my bedroom sliding door. The stop had pulled out of the floor and the doors were now just hanging and flapping around. I tried to just screw the metal plate back in but the hole had gotten too large and the screw would not hold. I suppose this was due to 16 years of rough opening and closing.
Missing David who would have had it fixed in a minute, I had no idea if he had what I needed somewhere here. I looked in all the little parts bins for one of those things they sell that you can tap into the screw hole and make it is smaller. I had no idea what they are called but I couldn’t find them. In order to go to the hardware store I had to know what they were called but no amount of googling could give me the name so I called my friend Keith who told me to ask for anchors. With that I was in business. I got them, pounded them into the wood under the carpet, inserted the L shaped plate into the slot on the bottom of the door and screwed it into the floor. Not much for most people but a real accomplishment for me. The picture is me looking down at the metal plate with flashlight and screwdriver.
A more loathsome chore is dealing with all the papers I had collected. I do nearly everything electronically but somehow . . . . Those are all piles for this and that and trash. The empty spot on the throw rug is where I was sitting until I got disgusted enough to take this picture.
It’s so nice to be in a place for days after I’ve done my original exploring. I can develop a rhythm to my days and revisit spots I particularly like to get a feel for the life of the place over time. I came to have 4 favorite trails that I walked multiple times. Two of them led to water spots.
One was often covered in birds who flew before I got anywhere near. A few less fearful hung around and I saw a couple of resident gators.
Here are the birds flying away before I’m even in sight of the water.
Sneaky wouldn’t you say?
Seeing a wood stork in the grass was very unusual for me.
Not wanting to spook anybody, I never got close enough to the water to see what this and other herons might be looking for. Seemed a small water body for fish. Maybe frogs? Tadpoles?
How does such a big bird perch on such flimsy branches?
Sunning and keeping an eye on things.
For me, a water bird flying over a prairie seems incongruous.
One day, on the way back from the above spot which I had to walk on the road to get to, I saw this
dune, swamp, prairie buggy with a ranger and a group of volunteers.
They stopped after they turned the corner and I walked toward them and they toward me.
Ever the educators, they wanted to show me this tiny terrapin they had rescued from the road. I guess if you are up that high, going as slowly as the road requires, you’ll see things like a turtle about 1/4 the size of your hand. They took him off to the shallow stream that feeds the slough I had just visited and went on their way.
Another water spot I often visited was smaller. I never saw any birds there probably because it seemed to be the home of a couple generations of a gator family.
I guess you could call this a pile of gators. Don’t know if that’s mom looking on at the top of the screen.
This picture doesn’t really give an indication of how small the little gator was but think less than 2’ including tail.
This fella was smaller still and seemed to be sleeping “standing up” as he thrust himself into the sun.
I was amazed at how common my sightings of the Eastern Meadowlark were. I didn’t remember this from my last visit which I think was in 2015. I’m assuming this is a pair. I have read that the male often has two females but seldom three.
A beautiful day for a hike down the lane to the pond just mentioned. Most of the trails through the prairie have been mowed and are the width of a vehicle. Those in the hammocks are usually traditional trail size.
One morning on my way over to what I called the bird pond as opposed to the gator pond, the way was lined with web after web after web glistening in the sun.
Doesn’t the center look like a spiral? So much work goes into something so ephemeral.
Diamonds? Or pearls??
It is difficult to find a location in Florida further removed from light pollution than Kissimmee Prairie Preserve which in 2016 was recognized as Florida’s first Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Federation.
In non covid times, the park does many astronomy programs and professors come and set up great telescopes on the astronomy site pads which are out in the prairie and away from the campgrounds. In the Astronomy pad sites which can be booked on line, you can have no campfires and only red spectrum lights not regular flashlights.
This was one of the ways in which I was unlucky in this visit. The skies were so cloudy and rain in the evening so frequent that for the entire 14 nights of my stay there was no star gazing. There was also only one person with a scope at the Astronomy pads. They are all probably much better informed about the potential for clear skies.
The skies are big, the clouds are beautiful here but the skies were not clear over night and often looked like this during the day.
This is the sort of thing that happened at sunset. The clouds regrouped and closed in.
It rained frequently during my two week stay and mostly at night. Here’s a look at rain approaching at sunset. It’s one of my favorite pictures.
On this day at the largest slough I spied the caracara hanging out with the some of rest of the gang in the top of the grasses and bushes.
I was sorry I did not get to see either the endangered Grasshopper Sparrow or the Burrowing Owl but my sightings of the Caracara were always great including this one when I caught him heading out for another spot.
Here is my very best picture of him. Isn’t he something!
I had hoped for starry skies but like the sparrow and the owl, that was not to be. Fortunately, there were a few pretty sunsets.
On another visit, after covid, when their visitor center is open, there will be guided walks and astronomy programs to enjoy. But even without them, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is a unique state park in Florida. I was too early for a ‘Friends of Kissimmee Prairie’ wildflower walk to be held on March 20.
I’ll close this post with a memory for those of you who knew Judy Bell or read her great blog ‘Travels With Emma’. In her honor, this is