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. ❧

Kermit’s Cousin on the Myakka Prairies

For the last couple of weeks I have been exploring the Park outside of the Park.  This is mainly prairie land located east of the main entrance to Myakka River State Park.  Since I normally drive in from the West side of the Park these areas had never really registered in my consciousness.  Another deterrent was a seemingly endless road repair process that was ongoing just east of the Park entrance.

In my quest for pine lillies a few weeks back, however, I followed a lead to one of these eastern gates and began wandering around.  I wouldn’t want to be out there in July but right now it is very sweet.  Wildflowers are everywhere in the scrub, and the wild grasses are in full “bloom.”  To those who say Florida doesn’t have a colorful Autumn I invite them to visit the Myakka prairies in the late day sun.  It is an artist’s palette.

The  tracks are mainly service roads but the pigs and other critters have made single tracks that lead off the roads and into the scrub. I was making my way through some of the scrub on Saturday, watching my step because the scrub roots are treacherous. From the corner of my eye I saw what I thought was a leaf falling… sideways.   Whoa!  Leaves do not “fall” sideways.  I looked down and saw this guy. 

A lime-green frog!  Very much the color of the scrub. He landed in a hole next to some burned scrub.  Of course my camera did not have the right lens on it for this occasion but I did the best I could, absolutely certain Kermit’s cousin would take one hop and be gone.

But he didn’t.  Turned out he was quite a poser but, alas, he had not chosen the best of stages.  He was about 3 inches below me and there was debris everywhere.  I kept snapping and clearing away…snapping and clearing away…snapping and clearing away.

He suffered this poor fool of a photographer very graciously.  After doing the best I could with the wide-angle lens I reached into the kit for my macro lens.  “This will do it,” I thought.  “He’s out of here.”

But no!  He hung around and soon I was on all fours. Well, make that all threes because one hand was holding the camera, trying to get into the right angle, feeling like a pretzel, hoping I wasn’t putting any appendage into an ant hill, and wondering if I would ever be able to extract myself.  The best picture of the day would probably have been a picture of me taking a picture of the frog.

All turned out okay and here is the best shot I could get of this wonderful treasure.  I believe he is a Squirrel Treefrog.  Just another of the jewels at Myakka. ❧

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.)

Deer Heart

It’s no surprise that I spent part of my Sunday (August 26) at Myakka River State Park. We were under a Tropical Storm watch at the time and the River was already at near flood stage.  If we had gotten the worst of T.S. Isaac I wanted to have a good record.  Isaac decided, like so many storms before him, that getting to the Central West Coast of Florida is a lot of work.  It is a whole bunch easier to cruise through the Florida Straits, ruffle the feathers of the Margarita crowd in Key West, and then use the wide open Gulf of Mexico to feed its fury before making in landfall in Mississippi or Louisiana.

Sunday was a gloomy day and the traffic at Myakka was slim.  The water is high and lots of the wildlife is either displaced or much closer to the pathways than normal.  This momma alligator is a good example.  

She was a few yards off the Power Line Road, protecting her brood with a watchful eye.  There were enough obstacles between her and I that I never felt threatened but I also didn’t feel like pushing any limits to get a clearer shot.

Most of the other trails were washed out for the day. I tried to navigate the Fox High Road but it was hopeless.  Way too much water, not to mention the mosquitos.

So, I began to make my way home and had just crossed over the Park Drive Bridge when I looked to my left and there was this deer.

He was no more than three feet from the car and I was traveling at about 15mph so it seemed as though he was keeping pace with me.  We made clear eye contact and I stopped the car.  He stopped too.  And for a moment we regarded each other.  I finally reached for the camera and was sure this would be alarming.  But he took it all in stride.  Perhaps our moment of eye connection made him realize there was nothing to fear.

He nonchalantly turned to his left and sauntered into the woods.

The next day was a working one, shortened by Isaac’s erratic behavior.  Our offices opened at noon and that afternoon I had a grief support group for mothers whose adult children have died.   It was a smaller group than normal, no doubt owing to the storm as well as summer vacations.  There was a lull in the conversation and then one of the mothers said, “Well, I have something that I need to share.”

Her son had died of a heart attack three years ago.  About a year after the event she was driving home and entered her gated community. She found the road blocked by a deer.  She didn’t know what to do and was startled when the deer walked towards the car and stood by the driver’s window.  She lowered the window and began to talk to the deer.  At one point she touched the deer’s nose.  She was convinced that her son’s spirit had somehow entered the deer.  A similar incident happened to her a few weeks later.

Naturally, as I was culling through these photos tonight, I thought of this lady. I don’t know whose spirit was in the deer that I saw on Sunday.  More’s the pity for that. But I have no doubt that this lady’s story is true. I have heard too many similar tales — stories of butterflies and orbs and lady bugs and objects that move on their own or beloved items that appear without rhyme or reason.

Shakespeare wrote, “There is more in heaven and earth than we can know.”  And while it is true that we may not be able to know it does not mean we can’t be aware.  ❧

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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