Saturday, February 25, 2017

2/24 Myakka Again & Softshell Turtle

I decided to get out and go for a bike ride today.  This is a very big state park, so you really need to drive or bike to the lake area and concession stand from where I am camping because it is 3-4 miles. 

I stopped at the bridge to see who was hanging out there.  No birds, but some hopeful alligators.  They like this area because fisherman use the bridge for fishing, and you never know what might fall from their hooks.

This part of Florida had rain earlier this week, so the resurrection fern no longer looks dead and have revived.  It will stay green for a couple of weeks until it gets really dry again, and then it will go back to looking like just some old dead leaves on tree trunks.  

They have been doing some burning in the prairie area.  Most state parks will occasionally set controlled fires to encourage the sprouting of native plants and to control the invasive species. 

Just as I approached the lake and concession area, I saw something moving just off the road.  Got off my bike, and there was this female softshell turtle.  I know it was a female because she was huge, but also because she was digging around, testing for soft soil to lay her eggs.  Her back was about 18" across and from nose to tail, if stretched out, she would have measured about 30".

My, what a long neck you have!  Softshell turtles spend most of their life underwater and use their long neck and snorkel-like snout to breathe. 

She is digging here.

What a strange-looking face!  And see the long nose?  She can stick it out of the water and leave the rest of her head and body submerged.  Pretty clever adaptation.

She is really throwing the dirt around here, and she may have laid a couple of eggs, but I am not sure.
Check out this video I took of her digging: 
I hung around watching here for at least 15 minutes, then went to shop at the gift shop.  Half an hour later, she was still looking for a spot to bury her eggs.

Friday, February 24, 2017

2/21 Highland Hammocks State Park

This is a very busy family-oriented state park, and being President's Day weekend, it was packed, so I was happy when yesterday came and some of the crowds left. It is still very busy in Florida, but mostly with quieter old folks like me.

There is a very nice Civilian Conservation Corps museum in the park.

I picked one of the very few spots that were open enough to get satellite TV.  I DO like my TV!  And this was one of the larger spots with nice grass.

The nicest part of this state park is the two-mile loop drive through the swamp and hammocks.

This sign tells you what a hammock is.

Part of this land was originally a privately owned ranch that had orange groves.

I like the warning on this sign that you should not swim with alligators.

Very nice boardwalk.  There was not much water, however, so almost no water birds.  Winter is the dry season in Florida, but it has been especially dry in Florida this year.

The bald cypress got their name because they lose their leaves in winter.  These have still not yet grown their new spring leaves.

Even this pond was shallow.

Now, this is a scary boardwalk.  Not only was it narrow with a railing on only one side, but the boards were very old and some were loose!

This area had some nice ferns.

Love the tree limbs hanging over the loop road.  I was riding my bike, but when I first came here two years ago, I accidently took my motorhome down this road.  Very scary with the low-hanging branches.

Here is a wild orange tree.  It was amazingly tall for an orange tree.  No oranges within picking height, unfortunately.

This is the stump of a very old cypress tree.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

2/19 Nine-Banded Armadillo

I arrived at Highland Hammock State Park yesterday afternoon.  It is in the center of Florida, and its main attraction, at least to me, is a three-mile loop scenic drive that goes through an old-growth bald cypress swamp.  There are also several hiking trails and a couple of raised boardwalks.  

As I was hooking up my electric connection, I heard rustling in the leaves and found this little fellow snuffling along looking for bugs and worms.  There was a small, mostly dry, drainage ditch next to my campsite and lots of leaf litter on the ground, hiding insects, I assume. 

Armadillos do not pose for pictures, so it took at least twenty shots before I was able to get one fairly good photos.  I still could not get a good view of his or her face, but you can see the huge ears and tiny eyes of this comical animal.  They also have a long, pinkish nose, but he kept it close to the ground, so I could not show it.
Armadillos are common in Florida and several other Southern states. They carry leprosy, so you should not let children touch them or animals to get too close.  (The two that were wandering around campsites were causing the neighbor's dogs to bark furiously.) 

Interestingly, armadillos almost always give birth to identical quadruplets!  And they do have some fur on their undersides, but it is not enough to keep them warm in cold weather, so they can survive only in very warm places. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

2/18 Shark Valley Loop Again

Yup, I return to a lot of places more than once.  This area is one of my favorites because it has a 15 mile paved bike trail where you can be alone in the river of grass--even if only for a few minutes until a tram or other bikers come by.  Otherwise, it is just you, the alligators, and the birds.  AND, if you have a senior pass and bring your own bike, it is free.  Can't beat that. 

So, this time it was especially fun because my younger cousin who lives in Florida met me here.  She had never been here, while I have been here at least 6 or 7 times. 

I actually have five cousins who live in Florida with their families, and I doubt if any of them have ever been here.  Wow!  You Florida folks are missing some of the best places in your state, so get out there!!!  Shark Valley is part of Everglades National Park, so it requires a pass, and if you are at least 62, you can get one for $10 that is good for your entire lifetime--much better deal than Disney! 

Here is my cousin taking some photos of alligators at the beginning of the western part of the loop.

The rest of the photos today will be birds and alligators.  One of the best parts of this loop is that you can get so close to all of the wildlife.  This is a black-capped night heron.

This one is a real puzzle.  It looks maybe like a juvenile something--maybe a black-capped night heron? If not, it might be a blue heron with its neck tucked in.

I counted about a dozen baby alligators, but they are so curled up together, there could be more.  Mama was about 6 feet long, and hanging around a few feet away.  Alligators are excellent mothers and guard their babies for several months or until they get big enough to not be such an easy snack for birds and male alligators.

Another mystery bird.  Wish they would pose better.

Nice, empty road!

One of the many alligators warming up in the sun right next to the bike trail.  We easily saw 40-50 alligators this day even though I took photos of only a few.

Mixed flock of birds.  The small ones are ibises and the bigger ones are word storks.

Close-up of the ibis and wood storks.

Black asphalt is warmer than green grass.

At the far end of the loop, there is an observation tower, with a terrific view of the road we came up on. 

Here comes the tram!!  It's a good alternative for people who cannot ride bikes.  You also get a running commentary on the ride.

Lots of alligators sunning themselves below the tower.

Another mystery bird.

Looking south into the heart of the Everglades.

Tomorrow I start heading north, very slowly, to Michigan and Ohio, arriving by Easter.  In early May, I will be heading west and will probably be staying there for at least the next couple of years. However, I will miss this place and all the other critter places in Florida.