florida

Strutting With the Turkeys

Strutting With the Turkeys

Guest Post by Nancy Dobias

Talk about strutting your stuff.  That's exactly what I witnessed when I came upon a flock of turkeys at Myakka River State Park.  I had just gotten to the split and turned in the direction of the boat launch/canoe livery when several hens came trotting out of the field, across the road and into the campgrounds.  By the time I stopped my car, they were gone, but still in the field was MR. HOT-TO-TROT and a few of his lucky admirers.

He must have been feeling pretty good as he strutted magnificently in and among the girls.  I could see them whispering to one another how cute he was. Dropping his wings down to allow his primary wing feathers to touch the ground and then lifting his tail and fanning it out in all its glory was broadcasting to the ladies, "I'm the MAN!"  This is also called a STRUT and is how a male turkey meets his women.

It was certainly evident that this was one turkey who knew how to "work it" and since I was standing between him and his harem on my side of the road, I felt it best to leave so he could take his strut and work his magic among interested parties on my side of the road as well.

My next stop was the weir and a kindly woodstork was the first to announce my arrival. A snowy egret wasn't at all interested in making my acquaintance and in fact, gave me a rather "chilly" reception.

However, the roseate spoonbills looked as though they might be in a playful mood and appreciate some company but they were so far away that it wasn't practical to engage with them.  Who knows, maybe it was all just an act anyway.

It was getting too busy to find out, so my last stop was to at least check on the alligators along my favorite trail.  It was still early in the morning and I wasn't sure if I'd find many out on the banks, but I did see a few.  Because I had noticed an alligator swimming down the river, I knew I could get a nicer vantage point with the sun in a better position if I just went up a few more yards and photographed the other one already out on the bank.  I continued down the trail another ten to twenty yards and took the next cleared area to the river.

It's not a launch area for a kayak.  It's just a viewing area to better see the river or any alligators which might be out and about.  To my surprise, there WAS one out and about and he was NOT on the other side of the river.  He was RIGHT BELOW ME!  At first I thought it was a log.  My second look said, "Whoa....Alligator...."   I managed to get 2 quick shots before I high-tailed it out of there--no strutting for me!!

Sure was glad this alligator did not feel threatened.

Only in Florida

Only in Florida

Guest Post by Nancy Dobias

When you think you have heard everything, there is always one more story that blows your mind.  This past weekend Larry was at a NEST meeting and while there he talked with a man about the Circle B Bar Reserve.  The man grew up in the area and was quite familiar with this park.  He recalled being at the park one time when the weather had turned cooler and the alligators were acting rather dormant.  In fact, they were so lethargic, that some tourists thought an alligator they encountered was FAKE.  When he saw the tourists, they were attempting to take pictures with the supposed "fake" alligator.  He told them to get away from the animal, that it was dangerous what they were doing.  The tourists ignored him and continued posing with the alligator, leaning their elbows on the alligator.  As far as they were concerned, the alligator was not moving; therefore, it was fake.  He again told them that this is Florida.  This is the swamp.  Florida doesn't need fake alligators.  This alligator is REAL.  They continued to ignore his warnings.  He walked away shaking his head.  He did not want to be there when that alligator warmed up.

Today I went to Myakka River State Park to see how the alligators were doing, whether they were hanging out on the banks of the river or whether the river was still too flooded for that to happen.  The river is starting to recede and since it was a humid day, the alligators were taking advantage of every dry area they could find.  Basking in the sun was high on their list of priorities.

Although they're generally on the other side of the river, one had even found his special place on my side of the river.  Naturally a limpkin forewarned him that I was coming and I guess that is why he was not startled when I came upon him.   (I appreciated the warning too!)

A few still hadn't found their perfect spots and were still cruising the river waiting for one to magically appear. I did see a cluster of four or five up around the bend on the other side of the river, but in trying to get a better picture of them, I ended up spooking them and scared all but two back into the river.  Too bad that Spanish moss interfered with my shot.  When I tried to get a better shot, even these two wanted nothing to do with me and they too entered the water.

Because I had screwed up their day in the sun, I figured I should just leave them alone and wait for a warmer day.  Then they might not mind an unexpected dip in the river.

Weird Things at the Weir

Wild Things at the Weir

Guest Post by Nancy Dobias

A most unusual thing happened when we met our out-of-state friends and former Ohio neighbors at Myakka River State Park.  Because they had heard so much about the park from me, they wanted to experience the park first hand.  We first took them on our favorite trail and although I wasn't hopeful we would see many alligators since the river was up, the alligators must have heard that Steve and Marilyn were visiting and of course they came out to say, "Hey!"

The landscape was as beautiful as always whether we were on this trail,

at the Bird Walk, at the very top of the Canopy Walk,

or taking in the lovely views along the weir on the Upper Lake.

It was while we were at the weir that I encountered the strangest thing I ever saw.  An alligator who had been tucked into the island grasses in the middle of the "canal," made a typical alligator croaking sound.

One of the visitors along the shoreline responded with the exact same sound.  He mimicked it PERFECTLY.  I did NOT expect anything to happen, but something did.  The alligator immediately got up from his slumber, left his hiding place, entered the water and swam to our side of the water!  When I first heard the crowd saying there was an alligator coming, I figured they meant the alligator was swimming past them, on down the "canal" and further into the lake.   I did NOT expect to see the alligator making a bee-line to our side of that water.  My instinct was to look at the man to see if he had anything in his hand that he was using to entice the alligator.   He wasn't.  It was his VOICE that was the draw. 

This man had the ability to mimic an alligator perfectly.  The alligator did not care that there were 10-15 adults clustered in front of him.  He had a "special friend" he wanted to meet.  Naturally cell phones were all aimed in the direction of that alligator.   As I watched the alligator from a safer vantage point and  through a telephoto lens, I wondered what he might be thinking.

Because our Ohio friend was an expert at wild turkey calls, he naturally decided he would try his hand at calling an alligator using his turkey call.  Although it WAS very good, it did not meet the alligator's discerning taste.

But the park DID meet the approval of our friends and former neighbors from Ohio.  They loved it.  Now, when they think of Florida, it won't be just her beaches and baseball that draw them back.  The memories of what they experienced at Myakka River State Park will also be part of that allure.   What a jewel it is!!!

Never Too Old To Learn

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Never Too Old To Learn

Guest Post by Nancy Dobias

Saturday I asked Larry to go with me to the Myakka State Forest so he could show me where I might have gone wrong in my inability to retrace my steps back to the picnic tables that I figured had mysteriously "disappeared" in the few hours I had wandered around taking pictures.  For my second foray into the wilderness, I now had my pockets stuffed with brightly colored red/yellow trail markers with which I intended to practice.  Well, we parked the car, walked past the 4 picnic tables, out to the main path, turned left, walked a bit and then I remembered I was to tag one of the bushes.  Larry patiently waited until the task was completed.  Off we started walking.  Surprisingly we soon came to the gathering place for meetings and I couldn't figure out how that happened so quickly.  "It wasn't near those picnic tables!" I protested to Larry.

"Don't worry about it.  Just show me where you went," said Larry.  Then back and forth I led him on the various paths I took, but this time I must not have made the same first turn because the animal track was not visible right away.   I showed him both muddy trails which caused me to turn back.  Larry decided to venture forward on the longest of the paths to see where it would go.  He had to turn back too because it led to one of the highways that borders the forest.  Of course I NEVER would have continued walking in mud that got that DENSE...NO WAY!!! 

Because we were still looking for all the trails that I followed, at every turn Larry would ask, "What did you do here?"  I would take off and he would patiently follow and of course I snapped a few more pictures along the way.  "Hey is that one of those crop circles?" I asked.  

After we walked the trails in a more precise manner than I would have walked them, eventually I finally found the tracks that I should have found right away.  Larry asked me if anything looked familiar about the place and of course, I said, "YES!  There are lots of tracks here!" 

Being the analytical type, Larry put his Buck knife down so we could have a comparison on the size of the track.  The length of the knife was 5 inches....  Because our neighbor thought my other picture resembled the track of a coyote, Larry and I discussed whether a coyote would have a track of this size.   We both thought it resembled a coyote's track in pictures we had seen but are they this big??  We didn't know.

Once more Larry returned to his earlier question.  "Nanc, look around.  Does anything look familiar?"  he asked.  

"I already told you," I answered.  "What more can I add?  Animal tracks...Tracks of animals!"

Then Larry pointed on the other side of the track.  "Look there!" he said.  "What do you SEE?"  Larry asked.  

Wondering what on earth he was talking about, I looked in the general direction he was pointing.  I looked again....  

"A PICNIC TABLE!  THERE'S A 5TH PICNIC TABLE!!!"  I exclaimed.  "Who would have thought??!"  I said.  "You can even see it from the trail!  AND IT'S RIGHT NEXT TO THAT GATHERING PLACE!!  I had the way out if I only would have noticed....

I guess there's more to hiking than just following a trail.