Sunday, January 24, 2016

Walking the Trails of Blue Run

January 10-19, 2016
Dunnellon, Florida
I have always wanted to walk a run or run a walk.  I have now done both.  I feel it is similar to driving in a parkway, or parking in a driveway. 
 I went for a 4 hours kayak trip up the Rainbow River on Saturday, January 16th. As it was the weekend, and it was 25C and sunny, the river was quite busy.  My departure was delayed somewhat as I managed to mismanage getting into the kayak and had an unexpected dip in the 22C river. Although warm, it is wet, and I was not in a bathing suit. On top of that, my digital zoom camera absorbed water (not a good thing for these digital electronic devices) and has yet to dry out.  Therefore, no long-distance bird/animal photos for the foreseeable future.

I did provide entertainment to staff member John, who regretted not having his video capture turned on for his cell phone. I imagine it looked like one of those America's Funniest(!) Home Videos. And what a good ambassador for Canada's kayaking supremacy!

For this and weather reasons, my 2.5 and 4 hour walks in the last few days have focused on botany and mycology. Though there were some very interesting bird shots before Saturday!

The Rainbow River Club is on 55 acres of bottomland, for the most part, wedged between the Withlacoochie and Rainbow Rivers.  In turn, it is next to a very large Florida State Greenway and Dunnellon's Blue Run Park, which features 3 very well planned and intelligently constructed nature trails.
 Several of my walks have started with a ramble around the large pond on the Rainbow Rivers Club property. This area is a Cypress swamp, which has "winter-dried" sufficiently for non-rubber boot walking.  One of the residents, above, a male Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), had just emerged from a fishing trip and was drying its wings. A loud "kakakakkaka" told me there was a feeding Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus).    The obscured red cheek stripe identifies this as a male.                   
 I got back in the path down to Blue Run Park.  I had seen a few of these trees (pictured above and two photos below, the last to show the leaves). This one was the largest, though not as large as the ones in coastal South Carolina. This is the southern subspecies of the Eastern Red Cedar, which is actually a Juniper!(!!).
Mature southern red cedar in forests here are much taller than the eastern, and when mature, like htis one, have droopy branches. Here is a good paper on the subspecies:
To make things even more confusing, some biologists classify this plant as a separate species (silicicola). The US Department of Agriculture, and most others, classify this tree as a subspecies (Var. silicicola).  It does look different. Aside from growing a lot bigger than Junipers in our region, the leaves are lighter green, and are fuller, possibly because they are not continually ravaged by cold. 

 As I got down to the Rainbow River, some of the usual residents were going about their day. The Pied-billed Grebe(Podilymbus podiceps)  above and the Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias)  below, in the marsh.
 Then a VERY loud screaming cry came from another part of the marsh, from a bird only heard in one state, Florida.  It is unmistakable, large and exotic.  It reaches the northern part of its range in Florida.  Indeed it lives in and its cry seems to better fit the Amazon.
It is a Limpkin (Aramus guarauna), pictured below preening, immediately after its screams scared every other living thing.
Other birds were feeding in and around the Rainbow River:  A Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)  below.
 An American Coot, Fulica Americana , is pictured above, and Great Egret, Ardea alba , hunts for fish, frogs and other marsh critters.
 What a constant thrill to see this stunning bird, White Ibis (Eudocimus albus ), in its natural habitat rather than on lawns or garbage dumps!  This one looks kind of miffed and surprised at my interruption.
 Fragile Forktail Damselfly, (Ischnura posita ), at least I believe so.  It is a bit darker than the ones I have seen. They are quite common in our area too, but you won't find them there this time of the year!!       Yes, the Forktail landed on the paddleboat.            
 A Double-crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus surveys the scene, while a Great Egret, just to be different, looks the other way.
 I drove out to Crystal River and then, via Yankeetown, to the Gulf Coast and greeted by some expect seaside birds, like the Brown Pelican,  (Pelecanus occidentalis). Yankeetown is a shrimp boat port. This one had just entered the Gulf of Mexico (about 4 PM) to catch those incredibly delicious Gulf shrimp. While in this part of Florida, I easily resist the farm-raised imports in favour of fresh caught Gulf shrimp.
 Some familiar friends appear on the coast. We last saw these birds in Myrtle Beach in March 2015.  Above  is a Laughing Gull, (Leucophaeus atricilla) and below is a Willet (Tringa semipalmata).
 The next day, January 11, I drove north into Levy County  to the Goethe State Forest in search of a very rare Florida resident, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Leuconotopicus borealis (see above).  The State of Florida and attempting to expand the range of this rare species by placing birds and artificially enhanced habitat in likely places like Goethe State Forest.  As I began the search, I saw this very large shed snakeskin on the ground.  This also enhanced my vigilance as I walked along the trails.
 The ribbon and paint on the pine  indicate Red-cockaded Woodpecker nesting areas.  I was disappointed in my search.  Only a Brown-headed Nuthatch gave me some hope.  I will return at a later date.
 In honour of my new-found interest in mushrooms, I found this gilled mushroom freshly emerged amongst the fallen pine needles. Since I did not collect the specimen, I won't hazard an identification.
 The next few days, being cool, I hiked the trails at Blue Run Park (see the intro above).  Nature trails are marked and have excellent interpretive signs, which help to reduce your blogger's ID work!
The sign above goes with the shrub below.
 Below are two plants of interest. Widespread in Florida  the four-petaled white flower below is Innocence, or Roundleaf Bluet,  Houstonia procumbens, found only in the southeast USA.
 It seems everywhere I have been in the south and east, where it is sandy and dry, I have found Prickly Pear. The genus, Opuntia, has dozens of North American species, including over a dozen in Florida.
 Above, one of the perennially flowering most common flowers in Florida, Bidens, Bidens alba. Below, the state flower of South Carolina growing, and flowering, in January in Florida, Yellow Jessamine,  Gelsemium sempervirens .
 The Briers, genus Smilax,  grow all through the southeast.  There are 12 species of Smilax in Florida. Only a few are common, like the one pictured below, which along with several related species, grow as prickly vines.  The University of Florida tells us that "Smilax species are important because they can provide shelter and food for wildlife and have provided humans with medicine, food, and dyes."  This species, easily identified by its variegated, ovate, 3-lobed leaves is Smilax bona-nox, Saw Greenbrier.
 Oaks are the dominant deciduous trees of the Florida Nature Coast.  Therefore, with the help of the Blue Run Park interpretive signs, following is a short primer of some local important oaks. Interspersed are some photos and words about other species found in Blue Run Park. The above interpretive sign describes the tree in the two photos below.
 The two photos below show the Turkey Oak described above. It is a small tree.
 Above, the dominant Florida Slash Pine.  Below, the bark of the Slash Pine features rectangular tiles, often exceeding 6 inches or 10 cms. on the long sides, which are usually vertical.
Below, the two  photos below show what appears to be very large Turkey Tails (bracket fungus).  This fungus has pores underneath, not gills.
 One of the very large dominant oaks, Laurel Oak in two photos below. Amongst some Laurel Oak leaves on the ground was another newly emerged mushroom. (3rd photo below)
 Bur Marigold (Bidens laevis) a common marsh plant is seen above. Its cousin, Bidens, shown above, occupies dry land, while this plant spreads through marshes and other wet areas.  When I first spotted the flowers, I was reminded of our Marsh Marigolds, which is also gold, but otherwise is very different looking and a northern resident.
 Breaking from the oaks, I had to photograph the unique leaves of the Sweet Gum, some gold, some still green. The trunk is shown below.
 Although the photos below are probably a Mockernut Hickory, the Florida State Botanist was uncertain enough not to name it on the interpretive sign, since, in this area, hickories often hybridize.
 I was wondering if citrus would be found growing wild in the woods in this area, since I found many on the East coast of Florida. Sure enough, I have found many trees, including Seville, Clementines and  the ubiquitous Grapefruit. Spit out a citrus seed in a Florida forest and a few years later, a tree results.
 Though not as large, and fewer in number than in South Carolina, there are some Southern Magnolias scattered in the local forests. (photo below)
Much more to come. Stay tuned.