Wednesday, June 10, 2015

30 Days in June: Day 8, John Mahon Park

John Mahon Park Kiosk and Trailhead

What do you do if you only have an hour and you want to get away from it all? You go to a City Nature Park! And that's just what I did on Monday. I have a limited schedule this week and so I saved some of my favorite City nature parks on my "must visit list" for just such an occasion. Gainesville is very fortunate to have 20-plus public nature parks.  I discovered John Mahon Park, a sweet little sanctuary just off of a busy road, a couple of years ago when my husband broke his collar bone and had to have a lot of physical therapy. The park is located behind a medical complex, right in the heart of Gainesville, but as soon as you walk through the gates all connections to city fall by the wayside. If you walk slowly and stop to enjoy the inhabitants, a visit to this park can easily fill an hour and then some. But the trail is only about a half mile long, so you can walk through quickly if you want. I enjoyed my past times there so much that I wanted to be sure to go back again. And also, I thought my chances of seeing a Barred Owl there were pretty good because I'd seen them there before. My target list for John Mahon Park was small. I hoped to see a Summer Tanager, an Owl and a Red Tailed Hawk. Things were looking very promising for the Tanager when I saw the sign at the trailhead, but in the end I did not have any luck. I did see Cardinals, Bluejays and Carolina Wrens. Zebra Longwing Butterflies were everywhere, probably attracted to the Yellow Passionflower that was twining all through the woods.

Yellow Passionflower (Passiflora lutea)
A Walk in the Woods

The park honors several people who were instrumental in its creation and in protecting Gainesville's natural wonders. It is named after Dr. John Mahon, an environmentalist and advocate who helped preserve land for Paynes Prairie and San Felasco State Parks. And there are 2 benches in memory of Susan Wright and Dr. Kathy Cantwell, who both fought fiercely to protect the natural spaces in Alachua County from development. I feel a great sense of reverence each time visit the park or see these benches. I sit and look out at the beautiful space and I am inspired to be an advocate and protector, too. When I die, I think a bench or beautiful natural place would be a nice thing to leave behind.

Memorial Bench

As I walked I saw the remnants of spring wildflowers, Green Dragon and Trillium, as well as early summer flowers like Ironweed and Beautyberry. I was surprised to find a flower I'd never seen growing in the wild before--Carolina Scalystem. I have a lot of it growing in our yard, but they are plants I bought at the native plant sale. Thinking back, I seem to recall that my plants were part of a big group that had been rescued during the construction of the medical complex next door, so maybe ours were related to this one! In any case, it was nice to recognize it.

Trillium, or Spotted Wakerobin (Trillium maculatum)

Beauty Berry Flowers (Callicarpa americana)

Carolina Scalystem (Elytraria caroliniensis)
I found a big Carolina Mantleslug on a rotting log. These slugs can get impressively huge but they are mostly harmless, preferring to feed on fungi.

Carolina Mantleslug

Then, walking around a bend, something big and quiet flew low through the trees and up into a tree behind me. A Barred Owl! Hooray! I never get tired of seeing owls. They fly so quietly and rarely make a sound, at least during the day. But then when spotted, it is not uncommon for the owls to just sit and stare back. This owl and I watched each other for a while, until I felt like I had bothered it enough and walked on.

Barred Owl

Near the end of the loop I saw this tree. My first thought was that the gash looked like a funny, open mouth, and then I saw the stick that looked a little like a cigar hanging off the lip. I couldn't help myself and picked up some Sweet Gum Balls for eyes and created a little forest jokester.

Nature Humor

With just 5 minutes left before I had to leave, I walked out of the park to a pond in a sunny open space. I'm not sure what I hoped to see, but I looked up just as a juvenile Red Tailed Hawk flew over. And I caught this dragonfly perched on a branch over the trail. It was a nice way to spend an hour.

Red Tailed Hawk

Great Blue Skimmer Dragonfly

June Bird Count: 79 (80). Natural Places Visited: 12


  1. Great shot of the dragonfly. Love your Nature Humor and the owl shot.

    1. Thank you, John. Sometimes those opportunities just put themselves right in your path!