Image #166 – Gaping Gator

Alligator at Myakka River State Park
Alligator at Myakka River State Park

I’ll be heading down to Florida soon where I plan to spend a few weeks. Looking forward to getting back out to Myakka River State Park and taking more gator pictures, like this one.  Unless there is a severe drought the odds are very good that you will see a gator at Myakka.  They are all over the place out there.  Best of all they love to congregate by the Park Drive bridge which makes getting photos like this one quite easy and safe. ❧

Eco-Burns and the Power of Renewal

Eco burns can be deeply disturbing.  For most of us the idea of starting a fire to purposefully destroy the beauty of nature is troubling.  But nature often depends on fire to renew. Long before there was man on the Myakka prairies there was lightening and through thousands of years the cycle of burning-renewal-burning constructed the unique landscape that is Myakka.

In her book, Myakka, Park Biologist Paula Benshoff has an excellent chapter called “Fire, Most Naturally.” She states that “the most intriguing and fascinating facet of my job is …involvement with fire ecology.”

Oak tree that was felled by the burn. In the foreground is an old tree trunk that had served as a bench for many years.

Last March a prescribed burn was conducted between Fox’s High and Low Roads, one of my favorite hiking areas.  It was a shock to emerge from the canopy of trees that leads from the parking area to the prairies.  The burn was about two weeks old and everything was still very black and sooty.  The old oak that had stood as a sentinel for many years  was a victim of the burn.  Its rotted mid-section could not hold.  It came down hard.  Another victim was the large tree trunk that had been there for many years and served as a useful bench.

Fox’s High Rd. area was equally shocking. One reason I like this area so much is the easy access to different eco-systems.  Fox’s High Rd. has sandy areas that make me think of our beautiful local beaches and there are pine trees dotting the landscape and framing several small meadow areas. I was worried that the pines would be gone.  But they survived, a little singed, but still strong.

Fox’s High Road after prescribed burn.

As I poked through the charred landscape my worry and despair quickly gave way to wonder as I came across strong signs of new life.

Fresh growth two weeks after prescribed growth.
The marsh off Fox’s Low Rd. looking back towards the road. This area is normally thick with vegetation and swampy but the drought had taken hold before the burn so there was plenty of dry vegetation for the fire..

It is now autumn in Florida.  There are some who will swear that Florida has no autumn.  Accustomed to the dramatic colors of tall trees, newly arrived Florida residents have a hard time seeing our Florida Fall.   But the season has been spectacular this year, especially in the burn areas.  The grasses have roared back.  They are tall, vigorous and bursting with different colors and shapes.  Similarly the wildflowers seem more abundant and there seem to be more varieties.

The old oak that stood for so many years on Fox’s Low Road is being given a beautiful salute.  In this age where we celebrate life rather mourn the dead, the oak’s pyre of  wildflowers and grasses seem gentle, supportive and most appropriate.

And along Fox’s High and Low Roads the views are wonderful.  Check out the gallery pictures below for “before-and-after” shots.  But most of all, Get Out There!  Winter will be here all too soon and this glorious season of autumn in Florida will be gone. ❧

(For best results with gallery pictures, double-click on first image and then scroll through.)

With the Myakka River running at flood stage alligators in Myakka River State Park are like kids let out for summer vacation.  Throughout the late winter and spring months, alligators were forced into smaller and smaller areas in the Park.  It was easy to spot them from the Park Drive bridge. One day last May I counted more than a dozen ‘gators visible from the bridge.  They were all pushed into a small remnant of the River.  But now!  The school doors have opened and the alligators are everywhere!  The Park is nothing but water and as you drive along the Park Drive you hear the ‘gators “talking” to each other — a strange snorting noise that those unfamiliar with alligators attribute to bullfrogs.  But make no mistake, the ‘gators have courted and the rising waters have been as welcome as Levittown was to the returning soldiers of World War II.  Nests are being made, eggs are being laid, and soon the Park will have many new ‘gators to amuse the tourists.

This handsome young gator was no more than three feet off the main drive in the Park.

Myakka River is at flood stage and it is remarkably easy to launch the kayak.  Drive to park, drive along Park Drive, stop and launch.  The water is up to the road or over it.  You can kayak through the trees and find some new surprises, like this frog from today.

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