Friday, March 28, 2008

Florida Faunal Showcase

I've been extremely lucky over the past few weeks to have had the opportunity to both observe and then successfully photograph some beautiful animals in their native Florida habitat. The gorgeous natural backdrops and brilliant sunlight sure make the job of wildlife photography a joyous experience for this confirmed amateur.

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

Royal Terns
Water Sound Beach, FL

Huge fresh water mullet
Wakulla Springs State Park

Bald eagle in a tree above the Suwannee River
Dixie County, FL

Close-up of bald eagle

Green anole in my backyard
Osceola County, FL

Friday, March 14, 2008

Rock Springs Run State Reserve

This delightful park is located about an hour north of Orlando in the thickly wooded wilds of eastern Lake County. Rock Run Springs State Reserve is 8,750 acres of sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, bayheads, hammocks and swamps. Several artesian springs come together to form the waterway of Rock Run and it is a very popular destination for canoe and kayak enthusiasts.

Along Florida Hwy. 46 near the park entrance

This park attracted my interest because it is a well known habitat for the endangered Florida black bear. Although primarily a nocturnal animal I still wanted to set out deep into woods of this park to see if I could catch a glimpse of this magnificent and elusive critter. Alas, all that we found were some very old bear droppings scattered along the trail but the beauty and quiet of this pristine sanctuary was well worth the trip despite the lack of any encounters with a bear. Better luck next time.

Prime bear habitat deep in the pine scrub

Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus)

Bottom land swamp forest

Tracking my quarry through the brush

Swamp cub

Monday, March 10, 2008

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

The Kissimmee Prairie Preserve presents an opportunity to explore the last large chunk of undisturbed Florida dry prairie, an ecosystem that once covered millions of acres across the central part of the Sunshine State. At 54,000 acres this is one of the largest nature preserves in Florida and is well worth the effort to make the journey on rural back roads into the far hinterlands of Okeechobee County.

It looks just like Africa.

In this park you are encouraged to explore on foot, bicycle, horseback or by guided swamp buggy. Private vehicles are forbidden from venturing beyond the beautiful oak draped campground near the entrance to the preserve. With over 100 miles of dirt roads and trails this place is a hikers paradise.

Slough in the middle of surrounding prairie


The park offers excellent seasonal birding opportunities and is home to the endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow, as well as the crested caracara and sandhill crane. We encountered the largest alligator that I have ever seen in the wild (see photo below) as well as deer and many different species of raptors and aquatic birds. Kissimmee Prairie is also a well known spot for astronomers because it is located in one of the most remote areas of the Florida peninsula with very few urban lights to obscure the dark night sky.

Approaching a thickly wooded hammock

Gigantic leaf-footed bug (Acanthocephala terminalis)

The terrain is characterized by vast open plains dotted with hammocks of palm and oak that is interspersed with shallow waterways and sloughs. The western boundary of the park is the Kissimmee River, which eventually empties into Lake Okeechobee, and links the waters of the Floridian Aquifer in the northern part of the state to the drainage system of the Everglades in the south. The Kissimmee Prairie is an excellent place to experience the subtle transition from swampy forests to grassy open glades which takes place in this part of Florida.

It's located in an extremely remote area so bring plenty of food and supplies before you set out and make sure to stay for at a least a full day to absorb the beauty and majesty of this incomparable landscape that is unique to Florida and a treasure for us all.

A truly monster-sized gator (click on the photo for a better look).

Primordial Florida