Mammals may also be seen along the trail. Armadillos, like the one below, are often active toward dusk. They use their snout to find invertebrates on and in the soil.
Ferns grow prolifically, more than 70 species in Florida. Sword ferns are often seen in thick clusters along the trail. The native sword fern, shown below, is the Nephrolepis exaltata. Back in the 19th century, an entrepreneurial pair of Floridian brothers brought this fern into horticultural production. Eventually, the horticultural variety became known as "Boston Fern". The great botany bloggers George Rogers and John Bradford tell the story here:
George has helped me a few times over the years. He writes in a most entertaining and educational manner. A personal note: back in 1977, I visited Fern City (Apopka), as I was in the tropical plant business. I had a personal tour of the Boston Fern production facility mentioned in George's blog.
This January, Jan and I also walked a few miles of the neighbouring 46 mile portion of the paved Withlacoochee pedestrian and bicycle trail at Citrus Springs. It is surprisingly different from the Dunnellon Trail as the following photos suggest. Both the Dunnellon Trail and the Withlacoochee Trail merge with hiking (only) trails which take you into the splendid Rainbow River State Park and the very large Halpata Tastanaki Reserve (which protects many local lakes and the north shore of the Withlacoochee over a large proportion of its length). Together, these trails are hundreds of miles of Florida nature, rarely interrupted by traffic or other human influence.
The beginning of the Withlacoochee Trail features uplands, with oaks and pines dominating the forest. Several of these large pines were a Turkey Vulture roost (above and below).
"I am SOOO pretty, don't you think so?"
Several of these shrubs were filled with white blooms. I have yet to identify them, as I have not seen this kind of shrub anywhere else. If you have an idea, do let me know. UPDATE, March 27, 2017: Ignore my previous update. This is Chickasaw Plum, Prunus angustifolia. It is an interesting and useful NATIVE shrub.
Read more about it here:
Back on the Dunnellon Trail, there is a lot more moisture, from springs, the rivers and many cypress swamps. The Slash Pine (above) rules here, whereas Longleaf and Loblolly Pine is more dominant on the Withlacoochee Trail.
an adult and juvenile (white) Little Blue Heron in one of the marshes.....
and if you are very fortunate, a Limpkin might yell out its loud screech.
Jan and I hear Pileated Woodpeckers doing their "Wipeout" call constantly. I took a photo of this one last year:
Yesterday, while paddling in the Rainbow River, right beside the Trail, I saw this bird taking a drink. I wonder if the bill deformity will shorten its lifespan? I have seen deformities such as these in fish-eating birds in the Great Lakes. They are said to be caused by toxins. I wonder if there is something similar going on here?
Pileated woodpeckers love the oaks and pines of the Nature Coast. There are many species of Oak along both trails, but the Water Oak is found in numbers only along the rivers of the Dunnellon Trail. It is distinguished by its spoon-shaped leaves.