Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park

Even though I do enjoy my adventures, I tend to be more of a homebody. Kind of a contradiction, I know. Most of my hikes and photo safaris are no more than a half hour drive from my house. But I know there is a lot of great stuff out there. The world is huge, the country is huge, Florida is huge and I've hardly seen any of it. I really need to expand my horizons. So I'm always eager when I get a chance to explore outside of my normal comfort zone. Last week I had a chance. My husband had a meeting in Tallahassee and he asked me to come along to keep him company on the 2 1/2 hour ride up and back again. I thought it would be a chance for exploring, so I said yes. I asked our friend Kim, a botanist who works all over the state, if she could recommend a nice place in Tallahassee where I could hike and explore and she suggested Elinor Klapp-Phipps park. I looked it up online and read a nice review of it on Florida Hikes, so I was excited to check it out. If I'd had more time, or if we hadn't been in the midst of a government shut-down where all the national parks and wildlife preserves were closed, I would have wanted to venture a little further outside of Tallahassee. But I needed to be ready to pick up my husband in the afternoon at the end of his meeting and didn't want to be hours away. Phipps Parks sounded perfect.

We headed out for Tallahassee at 6am. It was dark for the first hour of driving, but the sun came up after an hour or so, and it was quite bright and cheery by the time we pulled into the FSU campus. 15 minutes later I was pulling into the parking lot at Phipps park. This park is operated by the city of Tallahassee and includes large recreational facilities for baseball, football and soccer. I unloaded at the Redbug Bike Trailhead and found several well marked trails for hikers, horse riders and bikers. I headed out for the Coon Bottom Loop trail and decided to just go as far as I could in 4 hours. It was very nice. As I mentioned, the trails were really well marked. It would have been very difficult to get lost out there, which was a comfort to me, because I have a terrible sense of direction. But there were very abundant trail blazes and frequent lettered signs that told you how far you had progressed along the trail.  Overall, I ended up walking about 4 slow miles and I had a wonderful time. In the first 10-15 minutes I was passed by a few friendly hikers with dogs, but otherwise I had the place to myself. Closer to the parking lot I could hear the cheers of families and friend urging on the various sports teams, and the cars pulling into the complex. But as I walked further out their voices gave way to birdcalls and frog chirps.
Well-Marked Trailhead
The walk takes you through heavily shaded forest, and along creeks and swamps, eventually ending up at Lake Jackson. I didn't get nearly that far. I walked the Coon Bottom Loop to the Big Tree Cutoff and took the Creek Forest Trail. I encountered birds, frogs, butterflies and fungus, but very few mosquitos or mammals (other than squirrels) and no reptiles. I was a little surprised at the lack of lizards. Here in Gainesville, I always hear the scratching and scurrying of lizards in the leaves. But I didn't see a single one in Phipps park. The periodic information kiosks told me that I might see turtles or Grey Ratsnakes, but, alas, I did not. I did see a lot of birds, thought I only identified a few. I am really not that skilled at birding. I get distracted by all the other things out there. I was able to list some, though. My wimpy list included: White Eyed Vireo, Carolina Wren, Northern Cardinal, Barred Owl, Red Shouldered Hawk, Black and White Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Blue Jays, Wood Thrush, at least 4 Hooded Warblers and a whole, loud community of Northern Flickers.
Barred Owl

Hooded Warbler

Wood Thrush

Black and White Warbler
The frog population was healthy and happy. I'm still not exactly sure what kind of frogs they were, because they would leap into the water with a loud "meep" as soon as I got within 25 feet of them. At one point, I was walking along the edge of a swamp and for every step I took there was a corresponding "meep" and splash, like I was stepping on squeaky toys. I got one shot and maybe someone can help me identify the frogs. I'm guessing River Frogs, but I can't tell.
Frog Swamp

Skittish Frogs
The trail was heavily forested with large pines, oaks, magnolias and sweet gums. There weren't too many wildflowers because of the thick forest canopy, but the trail opened with a nice bed of Blue Mist Flowers.  There were also a lot of Southern Grape Ferns. I saw quite a bit of poison ivy and there was an unfortunately large infestation of Coral Ardesia. Many natural areas have to deal with this menace. I saw at the end of the hike that some good samaritan had pulled a big pile and left them at the side of the trail. (Great, as long as they removed the berries!) There was also a very healthy assortment of fungi, and I wished I had my friend Maralee with me to identify them. I saw red, yellow, green and blue (which she taught me was the Indigo Milky), as well as lots of brown and white fungi of every shape and size.
Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

Southern Grape Fern (Botrychium biternatum)

Yellowish Mushroom

Indigo Milky

Orange Mushroom

Tiny Mushrooms Decomposing Magnolia Cones

Green Mushroom

Clusters Like Silver Bells!

Tree Fungus with Spore Print
I think my best find of the day was the Purseweb Spider tube web. I had seen them in my Florida's Fabulous Spiders book, but never in person and I've been looking for them for a long time. As I walked on the trail next to a stream, I saw something that looked like a vine or root growing about 1 foot up the side of an oak tree. It looked familiar. Could it be? I reached over and touched it and it was soft and silky. Finally! But the funny thing is that after I identified one spider web, I realized that they were everywhere! I counted at least 20 right around me. It was very exciting. I never saw the spiders, but their webs we enough for me.
Purseweb Spider Tube Web (the large vine-like structure, center, left)

Southern Pearly-eye Butterfly
The park was very well maintained. I didn't see trash and the trails were in great shape. And the City orchestrated the whole trail system so well that the bikes, horses and hikers only rarely overlapped. No watching over your shoulder for someone who might run you over or dodging horse poop. There were single beam bridges with handrails and long boardwalks through swampy areas. The boardwalks were simple, with a rough non-slip surface. Lots of trail blazes, kiosks, benches and mile markers.
It's Hard to Get Lost Here
Simple No Skid Path Through the Soggy Ferns
Meandering Stream
Unfortunate Ardesia Infestation
I really recommend visiting this park. I enjoyed my peaceful and beautiful day. There were no ticks as far as I could tell (and if they were out there, they would have found me) and the mosquitoes were not too bad. I wonder if there is a correlation between low tick population and lack of lizards. I understand that here in Florida, lizards and skinks are the host for young ticks. Without the host, maybe there was a smaller tick infestation in this park. This is just my theory. I didn't see deer, either, so that may have had something to do with it, too. In any case, I would like to go back sometime and hike all the way to the lake, or at least get closer. So if you're in Tallahassee and have a few hours to spare, go check out Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park!
Mossy Tree Trunk

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