South of the city of Gainesville, Florida lies a vast area known as Paynes Prairie. This is the destination of much of the water we saw in my report Sinkholes, Springs, and Waterways of North Florida; the place where most of the city's water re-enters the Floridan Aquifer.
Paynes Prairie covers a 21,000 acre area and is bordered on the northern rim by a paved, 16 mile long path known as the Hawthorne Trail.
Much of the trail follows an old railroad line and the photo below shows the remains of part of a trestle.
So, it was on a crisp, cloudless, stunningly beautiful January morning that I set out to ride a part of the Hawthorne Trail. I knew I would see many different types of trees, but was surprised to see the one pictured below looking like it had not shed one brown leaf.
And, of course, there were the moss covered varieties.
Riding down a side path towards a prairie overlook I loved seeing this beautiful wild plum in full bloom.
But, as you can see, the view of the prairie was even more stupendous.
However, it was a beautiful day and I was out on the edge of the prairie for the first time in ages... By the time I got back to the area known as the LaChua Trail, the place where we had first seen the railroad trestle, I had talked myself into ditching the bike and hiking out onto the prairie.
When you hear the word "prairie" what comes to mind? Grassland? Rolling hills? Blowing tumble weed? If that's the case, then you are in for a very big surprise.
The beginning of the LaChua Trail has a paved walkway and, later, a boardwalk to make the area more accessible.
And, then there it was....Alachua Sink. This seemingly little water hole is the spot where millions of gallons of water flow off the surface of the earth, from the city of Gainesville and its surroundings, and down into the aquifer.
Htmb, this is an absolute marvel of photographic and informational riches. The hidden power of that peaceful little sinkhole is hard to take in. The prairie shots are subtle and beautiful, but the wildlife pictures are absolutely stunning, and really, that's an understatement!
You're a real demon with that camera, bringing the crisp day, deep colors, timeless beauty, and feathered and armored creatures right to us. Thank you!
Bixa, the little camera works great, but how I would have loved to have a view finder to look through on that cloudless day! Many of my photos were shot "blind."
Mossie, alligators are indeed very prehistoric-looking creatures.
Bjd, I can assure you that I was never in any danger. Though alligators do come up on that trail, they were all safely below me a good distance during my visit. Also, since it's wintertime, the danger from snakes was diminished. No, we don't have the python problem here that they are dealing with in south Florida, but if our winters keep warming that could eventually change.
Nevertheless, this is another totally perfect thread, even though the prairie looks more like Africa than Florida to me!
The water is such an important part of the region that it is always totally upsetting when there is a drought. I drove through the Everglades once during a drought and the dried out scenery was pretty miserable. Luckily, up around Gainesville, that is usually less of a problem.
I would never really worry about the alligators because they are usually quite visible. My fear in such areas is always the snakes. Since I grew up in snake country, I know they can suddenly appear anywhere, even in the mailbox.
Thank you for your kind comments, kerouac. You are so right about the snakes. THAT was really what I was looking for as I walked. Fortunately, we've had cool nights and most snakes are not very active right now. Plus, the path was mostly dirt or low grass and visibility was excellent. I seriously doubt I'd be walking out there during the summer months.
I have to admit I am very scared of all the alligators and the possibilities of the snakes around as well. I did, however, enjoy the photos. The colors are so vibrant even during a drought, I can not imagine how bright they would be in a normal season.
Many other creatures could also be seen from the platform. In the far distance, way too far for my camera, the bison could again be seen, and there were even more wonderful birds besides the Sandhills.
This big guy was walking on top of the vegetation.
Hard to believe we haven't had rain in almost a month.
Okay, I thought you were done before. But gadzooks ~~ ~~ I think you've actually topped yourself!
This is an astounding, a stellar presentation, Htmb. Your bird pictures are as lovely as any I've ever seen. And the alligator pictures alone are worth the price of admission. You've perfectly captured their ancient armored grace and oneness with their environment.
Are the two-toned cranes juveniles?
Also, and not to derail the thread, but is your area being affected by those bad storms & tornadoes up in Georgia?
Words fail me, I'm bowled over. The shot of the stork almost standing on the alligator and the one with the warning sign and the birds practically walking into the monsters mouths is priceless. Don't the gators sometimes take a snap at them? Wonderful
Man is not lost, only temporarily uncertain of his position
I'm not sure which birds you mean and my knowledge is fairly limited. I know there some ibis that winter here known as "pink ibis."
We were at the tail end of the storm front and, to my knowledge, only had an hour of rain with gusty winds. I'm just reading about the destructive storms that wreaked havoc in the Atlanta area now and it sounds pretty awful.
Thank you, Mossie. I wondered the same about the cohabitating alligators and birds. One would think the birds would needs be fairly alert. That's a good question and I will ask one of the volunteers the next time I'm out on the trail.
I found your photo essay enchanting and, like Mossie, thought those alligators looked far from real The birds were fabulous and I think your photo of the anhinga was terrific! The cycle path looks superb but I can understand you taking a stroll around to see more. Thank you so much for letting us come with you!
Really a fantastic report. All of the birds are wonderful, but looking over all of the shots of the "alligator birds," I'm surprised that you didn't have a chance to get any "action" shots. I'm sure we've all seen nature documentaries where the "sleepy stupid alligator" suddenly flips around unexpectedly and chomps down on a feather sandwich, thereby proving the validity of the term "birdbrain."
The weather really looks like it was perfect, but your photos would have made an impression even on a grey rainy day.