Tuesday, June 30, 2015

30 Days in June: Day 29, Morningside Nature Center at Dusk

Yellow False Foxglove (Aureolaria pectinata)
I've been trying to get to some of the parks in the early evening as well as during the day. The atmosphere is so different from what you see during daytime hours. Fewer people, softer light, different and more relaxed animals. It's really nice. I love that the parks have later hours now. When we first moved to Gainesville this was not the case. Way back when, you had to be out of La Chua Trail and the City nature parks at 5pm or you would be locked in. I know people who were ticketed for trespassing when they stayed to watch a sunset in the summer. If you wanted to go to the park after work, or wanted to try to see some owls or bobcats in a nature park, you were just out of luck. It was kind of frustrating. But people asked and times changed and now the parks close at sunset (around 8pm) during summer hours and at 6pm in the winter. This seems like a reasonable arrangement. People staffing the park need to go home and it's not a great idea to have visitors roaming the parks at all hours, anyway. For several years, until the city hired a contractor for the job, I was one of those people who had to lock the gates at Morningside. I would always get a sinking feeling when I needed to go home and there were still cars in the parking lot. I would yell and honk my horn and try to get their attention, but Morningside is a big park. We would wait around for a while and would sometimes even walk out on the trails a bit to try to find the people. In the end we would leave a note on their windshield giving them the police non-emergency number and lock the gate behind us, hoping that the person wasn't lost or hurt. I no longer work there, and the contractor probably still has to lock cars in the park, but I think that extending the hours has to help keep the numbers down. Most people will leave on their own before dark.

Morningside Farm Gates

I was thinking about this when I was at Morningside on Monday evening, remembering the many times I opened and closed the park, and those big farm gates, all those evenings in summer waiting for the last camper to be picked up, sitting in the parking lot in the early morning in my 1870's clothes waiting for a school bus to arrive, walking the trails with a group of children who were looking and listening for signs of habitats, walking the trails to get to know the wildflowers, perching on top of the "Paha" (the Native American replica structure) tying palmetto fronds for new thatching. I have lots of great memories of Morningside.

Securing the Poles on the Paha

The Paha

My plan on Monday evening was to walk the park until sunset and maybe see owls and bobcats, or at least coyotes, but I was thwarted by yellow flies. They were biting hard, despite my DEET. So I left before it got dark and the rest of the bugs came out. But in the time I was there, I managed to see a Northern Flicker. Finally! I think it was because I was wearing my lucky flicker shirt. Or, more likely because I played a flicker recording. When it heard me, the flicker came tearing across the sandhill and circled around to see who this invader was. I felt a little bad disturbing it, but I have been looking for a couple weeks and I just had to call it.

Wearing My Lucky Flicker Shirt! (From Target, FYI)

I also saw a lot of deer. The herd at Morningside is large and healthy. At least twice, in different sections of the park, I was startled by a snorting deer. They sound to me like they are coughing, and it's not scary, but sometimes I mistake the sound for another person and it can be a surprise. I counted about 10 deer in total.

Velvet Antlers

Just as I was nearing the NE sandhill area, I saw a Gopher Tortoise grazing on the path. At last! It has been a very long time since I've seen one at Morningside. I was starting to worry. It saw me and ran back to the safety of the tall grass. They can move faster than you'd think for a creature with such short legs.

Gopher Tortoise Running

I looped around the sandhill and saw that the vegetation is growing back quickly after the prescribed burn of about a month ago. The Paw Paw is flowering and it's almost hard to see where the Wiregrass was burned back. I love how the pines look in fire maintained sandhill. It is a beautiful habitat.

Slimleaf Paw Paw (Asimina angustifolia)

Twinflower (Dyschoriste oblongifolia)

Wiregrass (See the blackened base?)

Life in the Lovely Sandhill

From there I walked over to the Education Building, listening for Yellow Throated Vireos. I didn't hear any, though the White Eyed Vireos, Towhees, Red Headed Woodpeckers and Brown Nuthatches were all quite vocal.

Red Banded Hairstreak on Sowthistle

Red Headed Woodpecker Diving

Carolina False Vervain (Stylodon carneum)

A trip through the Cypress Dome did not yield any new birds but I remembered to look up and saw the beautiful tops of the Cypress Trees. I'm glad I spent the evening at Morningside.

Bird Count: 94, Natural Places: 28

Remember to Look Up

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