Saturday, June 6, 2015

30 Days in June: Day 5, La Chua Trail

Rain Clouds over the Prairie
I almost gave up on getting out at all yesterday. Errands in the morning and a dinner engagement in the evening with rainstorms in between made the day nearly impossible. But when the rain cleared at last, my husband saw my fretting and wisely suggested that I take a quick trip to La Chua Trail in the couple of hours before dinner. It was a great idea.

I pulled into the park and the sun was just starting to shine through the clouds. Everything dripped and steam was rising from the pavement. It was so green and glorious. I almost cried with relief. It felt so good to be out. This past week of daily trips has made me realize how much I enjoy hiking and exploring. I also realize that my life has been out of balance for the past few months, or even the past year. I missed it so much. Those "Forest Baths", as my buddy Maralee calls them. It's almost like an addiction. Once I get started, I just can't get enough, and it is so satisfying. When I miss a day I feel anxious and pace around the house, not knowing what do do with myself. Soon that pacing turns to resignation and then lack of motivation and next thing I know, I have spent a perfectly beautiful day inside, at home, working on the computer. These 30 Days in June have reminded me what really matters to me. Feeling the air on my skin, hearing the birds and buzzing cicadas, smelling the fresh rain or the musty swamp, seeing fields of yellow American Lotus and wafting butterflies. That's living.

Viceroy Butterfly
The rain had cleared the park of visitors and there was only one other car in the lot. This wouldn't last long, but for now I was in glorious solitude. I headed down the path in search of great things, passing first a beautiful Tree Snail on the sidewalk, and then a Black Vulture that seemed to be guarding the entry to the tunnel.

Tree Snail

I tried a quick walk out to look for the Yellow Breasted Chat, but realized that I wasn't dressed for the tall grass. I made the mistake of wearing shorts and was just not in the mood to pick up ticks. Ask anyone and they will tell you that I am a tick magnet, and I am trying very hard not to get any more bites. I did not find the Chat from where I looked, but I heard lots of Cardinals and Towhees in the bushes and the Ospreys chattering from the electrical towers. On the way back I found this large and interesting Bagworm cocoon. I actually saw the caterpillar come out for a few seconds. I'd never seen one before.

"Sparrow Alley"

Big Bagworm Cocoon, about 2 Inches Long
After looking for the Chat, I reversed course and high-tailed it down to the observation platform because I didn't have much time before dinner. Of course, when you're in a hurry, nature throws things in your way. This time it was a herd of wild Spanish Horses. They stood in the path and grazed for 10 minutes or so, then ambled off into the brush, finally allowing me to pass. While they blocked my way I searched for the Bobwhite Quails that I could hear calling across the canal. I did not see them but heard 2-3 of them. Of course. I'm starting to think of them as $*&@# Bobwhites. I need to get a grip.

Horses in the Bush
Red-Winged Blackbirds and Grackles were probably the most common bird along the trail, and I heard their gurgling and grackling the whole way. There were quite a few Common and Purple Gallinules and dozens of Green Herons. Surprisingly, I saw not one single Least Bittern. I passed a pair of Snowy Egrets and heard Black Bellied Whistling Ducks fly over to their roost across the lake.

Green Heron
The water flow in the Prairie is different this year and I am not sure if it is because of the new sheet flow restoration project or because there has been less rain, or both. But I am happy to see the change. For the first time in years you can see water flowing through the culverts into the Alachua Sink area and the sound of roaring water is nice. The alligators used to hang out near the culverts for easy fishing and they have returned. I think it's good to have higher banks along the canal, too. It may keep visitors away from basking gators. Human/gator encounters was a big worry for me during my years as a trail volunteer. Further down the trail is a bend where we used to find alligator nests. I thought of it as the gator nursery. Over the last few years, when the water levels sank due to drought, then rose with rain, and then the vegetation took over, I stopped seeing alligators there. But there was a great big one in the well defined pool, waiting near a culvert for fish. I hope that maybe we'll see baby gators there again.

Water Coming Through the Culverts Again

Gator Hole
Now, if I felt felt tough and brave walking past the gator warning sign at Possum Creek, this sign makes me feel like Indiana Jones or Wonder Woman. Or something like that. I know why the sign is there, but it just makes me want to flex my muscles when I walk on.

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here

The flowers on the Prairie have been magnificent these last 2 years. Fields of American Lotus and Pickerel Weed stretch across the horizon. Patches of White Water Lilies float on open patches. It's just stunning.

American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea)
Around the bend from the fishing gator I startled a trio of Black Vultures. They did not fly away as I neared because they had a real prize to guard and they didn't want me to take it from them--a dead Florida Softshell Turtle. It smelled pretty awful, but they looked eager and excited and I left them to their work.

Black Vultures and Their Prize
At long last, I reached the platform. The famous Phalarope was long gone, but that didn't matter. Some of the birds I had missed on Monday were still there--Black Neck Stilt, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Black Crowned Night Heron, Pied Billed Grebe.

Black Necked Stilts in the Mud

Wood Storks, White Ibises, Roseate Spoonbill

Purple Gallinule

The scene from the platform was utter beauty. Deep dark mud flats and soft green grasses, open Prairie and water reflecting endless blue sky. The muffled sound of thunder in the distance. It was just what I needed and I breathed in the peace and wellbeing. Maybe what I have is not so much an addiction as a strong abiding love. This place feeds my soul. I know I will be back.


Deep Dark Mud

Slender Green Grasses

June Challenge total: 72 (73) and 10 places.

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