Monday, June 15, 2015

30 Days in June: Day 14, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Under the Oaks
I had a lot of great locations to pick from this weekend for my farewell tour, but it seemed like a trip to the main entrance of Paynes Prairie was long overdue. I live close to La Chua Trail, on the NE end of the park, so that is my "go to" trail. But there are upland trails, Lake Wauberg, and the visitor's center on the other side and I always enjoy myself when I can get past the half hour trip vs 10 minutes to La Chua, so it was time to make this happen.

Swamp Trail
I got to the park soon after the gates opened. Even though it was supposed to be clear, sunny and very hot, I drove through thick fog as I crossed the Prairie to the entrance. The fog burnt off quickly, though, and it was plenty sunny and hot by the time I walked along the short trail through the dark swamp and arrived at the fishing bridge on Lake Wauberg. I always hope to see an otter there, but it never happens. This morning there were very few birds on the lake, just a couple of Anhingas and a Great Blue Heron. And the sun was right in my face as I looked back into the woods to try to see if there were any small birds in the trees. But luck was on my side and I was rewarded with good look at a Yellow Billed Cuckoo. Another for the list!

Lake Wauberg from the Fishing Bridge
I heard Northern Parulas, Cardinals and Red Bellied Woodpeckers in the trees, but didn't see much more. I didn't even see Green Treefrogs, which is unusual, but there were Bullfrogs a-plenty, Dragonflies and many, many Argiope Garden Spiders sitting in their giant orbed webs behind a filament screen.

Big Argiope Spider with a Katydid
I trotted on down the road before it got much hotter. The temperature was supposed to be in the 90's but feel like 100. The Lake Trail takes you over the fishing bridge and through some huge old live oaks before it enters a sunny, sandy field--often a good place to find Gopher Tortoises. Walking past those magnificent trees, I had a sense that I was in the presence of a Council of Elders. They are ancient oaks. If trees could talk, they could tell such tales.

Council of Elders
Just as I was exiting the oak grove, I saw a young White Tailed Deer. We looked at each other for a few minutes before it leapt into the bushes. I walked the short trail through the sweet meadow and did not see any Gopher Tortoises, though I did see several burrows. I passed tracks in the sand showing me what I had missed all the other times I hadn't been on that path--Armadillos, hopping birds and Coyotes. I saw Tufted Titmouse, Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, White Eyed Vireo and Summer Tanager. Vultures wafted overhead. It was getting hot and I needed to hurry if I wanted time to go to another trail. On the way back to the parking lot I surprised a fawn hiding behind a Palmetto. It shook its leg, trying to decide if I was dangerous and whether or not it should run. I guess I didn't look scary and it stayed put, munching and watching.

Deer Encounter

Armadillo Tracks

Hopping Birds

Sweet Meadow Trail

Summer Tanager

Floating Vulture

White Tailed Fawn
The other trail I wanted to see was Cone's Dike Trail. It was far too long, and far too hot for me to walk the entire trail, but I wanted to get out and see at least some of it. I have not spent much time on that trail, but the few times I did were memorable. Access to the trail is through a wooded area near the visitor's center. There is an Eagle's Nest near the trail, but I couldn't see if the Eagles were still there. It is also possible to see Great Horned Owls perched on the giant oak limbs near the visitor's center, but I didn't see them either. It was pretty late in the morning at that point.

Two Good Trails

Down Through the Woods and onto the Prairie

I walked until I got far too hot, about 30 minutes, and decided I had to go back. But the trail was nice. I saw butterflies, Eastern Towhees, Snowy Egrets, Blue Grosbeaks, Great Crested Flycatchers, heard White Eyed Vireos everywhere, and caught a Wood Stork flying over. I also found a mother Alligator and 7 of her babies. A good place to turn around. I hope to get back again.

June Challenge Count: 84, and 18 Natural Areas visited.

Wood Stork

Gator Family Swim

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