Last Day at Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park

Thursday February 28th 2019

Today was another nice day. The temperature got into the mid seventies under a mostly sunny sky. Once again the forecasters called for a chance of rain, but it never materialized.

This is my last day at Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park. I rode my bicycle down to the visitors center observation tower again today. There were not any wild horses or bison in the area. I guess I’m lucky to have seen them at a distance on other days. The people looking for them today were just disappointed. Later in the day near the Lake Wauberg recreation area I saw a couple of deer.

There is no problem seeing squirrels. They are everywhere.

On the errand side of the day’s activities I made a drive over to Green Cove Springs to pickup my mail before I leave the north central Florida area. It was about a sixty five mile drive one way, but still easier than finding a general delivery mail post office. On the way back I stopped at Walmart to stock up on groceries. My next stop is in the middle of nowhere.

She is waiting for her smaller, possibly younger companion. Together they continued into the bushes.

Tomorrow I have a three hundred and fifty mile drive to the Big Cypress National Preserve. It is basically in the Everglades just north of the National Park. The campground I’ll be staying in for the next two weeks is in the middle of state on the Tamiami Trail. It is about fifty miles from civilization on the east and the west. I don’t expect to have over the air TV service and I’ve read reports of very poor to non-existent Cell Phone Service.

I don’t know if I will be able to publish the blog every night. If I don’t have cell phone data service I’ll prepare the blog entry daily and publish when I travel into cell range. I suspect I’ll be closer to the coasts where the service is every couple of days. Any Email or phone messages will be similarly handled.

My plan is to get an early start tomorrow. The trip shouldn’t be difficult. It is mostly on Interstate 75. If I don’t encounter any traffic issues I should be on the road from six to seven hours which is longer than I like to travel, but necessary tomorrow.

One more sunset over Lake Wauberg.

What Rain?

Wednesday February 27th 2019

Either I can’t understand a weather forecast anymore or the forecasters are getting it wrong. The forecast for one hundred percent chance of rain turned into a half an hour in the middle of the afternoon. I think the weather forecasters are fascinated with the extreme. They implied it would rain all day all across the region. What we got is a fast moving front that lasted less than half an hour in many areas. The temperature peaked in the mid seventies under a mostly cloudy sky.

Paynes Prairie from the Observation tower at the visitors center. The bison and wild horses are way out near the tree line. There seems to be more water on the prairie than before yesterday’s rain.

Since it was dry this morning I resumed my search for wildlife in the park. I drove the car down to the observation tower at the visitors center. My bicycle seat was a little wet to ride the mile and a half. The visible area in front of the observation tower didn’t have bison or wild horses to see. With the help of binoculars it was possible to identify moving large animals to the far right of the visible prairie. They were too far away to be sure if they were horses or bison, but I think there were both. Overall, I think there was more water in the prairie after yesterday’s rain.

One of many wild flowers in view today.
Wild water flowers.
Wild flower blossom of the day.
A perfectly formed blossom that fell to the ground.

Back at my RV home I got hooked on watching the congressional committee show. It really was a political show. Each “side” had a prescribed order and scripted text. The TV networks had there spin catchers ready to turn any new or slightly different information into headlines along the bottom of the screen. Channel surfing brought all kinds of conflicting perspectives based on the headlines. The whole thing reminded me of watching the Watergate hearings when I was in High School History class. I didn’t know what to make of the process then and I sure don’t now.

Yesterday there was only one bird swimming in this location. A few seconds after this picture all but three of the birds dived underwater in unison.

After the brief period of rain I took a walk down to the Lake Wauberg recreation area. There wasn’t anyone around except all of my bird friends. I took some more pictures of what are probably the same birds.

Egret in the weeds.
Frozen in place.

A Surprise Rainy Day

Tuesday February 26th 2019

The last week of great weather turned sour today. Around 9AM it started to rain. In rained at a steady medium pace until late afternoon. I didn’t expect much rain today. The forecast called for a low chance of rain today with a higher chance tomorrow. Now the forecast calls for a one hundred percent chance of rain tomorrow.

I watched TV and researched travel plans while I waited for the rain to let up. It was after four before I ventured out into the campground. I still needed my raincoat for protection from the residual rain in the trees, but I got in some exercise. There was one lone fisherman out on Lake Wauberg judging by the single boat trailer in the parking lot. Even the bird life was very lethargic after the rain. One little diving bird was swimming in a large circle in the calm water. It would dive occasionally only to surface and continue its circuit. A Great Blue Heron was calmly standing on the rail of the fishing pier ever vigilant. I think it’s the same one I’ve seen the last few days. All of the sightings have been in the same area. Today I didn’t spook it. I was able to take several pictures from different angles.

Swim, Dive, repeat.
“I’m king of the pier!”

There have been more showers since I got back to my RV home, but it hasn’t been as continuous as earlier in the day. Knowing that it will be rainy tomorrow, I’ll probably be out driving around looking for something dry to do.

Another Hike at Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park

Monday February 25th 2019

The weather pattern has changed. Today was a sunny day with a high temperature around seventy. It was a nice day, but so different from last week. Tonight, I need the electric fireplace on for a little heat in my RV home.

Today’s wild flower blossom.

This morning I hiked the Bolen Bluff trail. It is located in a part of the state park accessed from the trail head a couple miles north on US 441. A loop trail goes from the highway to the edge of Payne’s Prairie where a spur trail goes down onto the prairie. The loop trail was through a heavily forested area that overlooks the prairie. I didn’t see any wildlife on the loop trail although there were signs that the bison and wild horses have been in the more open sections of the forest. The spur trail onto the prairie was a disappointment. The water level is so high that only a few hundred feet of the path were accessible before it became covered with water. I didn’t see any of the big three of prairie residents; wild horses, bison or alligators.

View of Payne’s Prairie from Bolen Bluff.
The trail into the prairie became flooded after a very short distance.

After the hike I drove around the area for a while before returning to my RV home for lunch. Toward evening I took a bicycle ride to the Lake Wauberg recreation area. I found my day’s supply of wildlife on the excursion finishing off with a deer sighting on my ride back to camp. The deer and I were within fifty feet of each other when we both stopped to stare at each other. I tried to get a picture or two but they came out blurry in the low light. After about a minute the White Tail Deer took off into the woods.


More Pictures of the Wildlife around Payne’s Prairie Preserve

Sunday February 24th 2019

The weather roller coaster that has been in place in Florida this winter has spent the last few days at the top of a high hill. This area has been experiencing ten to fifteen degree warmer than normal days. Today the roller coaster car has passed the peak. It wasn’t a bad day, but it wasn’t as nice as the last few. The day was mostly cloudy and much windier than any other day I’ve been in the area. In the middle of the afternoon a line of showers moved through. It didn’t last long, but dropped a lot of water. All of the pollen that was blanketing the flat surfaces ended up in green slimy puddles. The low eighties temperatures prior to the rain dropped into the mid seventies for the rest of the day.

The strong wind pushed the sailboats on Lake Wauberg around at a very fast pace.

The campground emptied out this morning. All of the weekenders departed by the 1PM checkout time. As the afternoon progressed new residents arrived, but it was a much quieter set. There weren’t as many gatherings around campfires or loud conversations going on. Saturday night, I had neighbors still talking around the fire at 2AM.

Egret on the boardwalk railing looking for its next landing spot.
The tree branch was a little less stable than the boardwalk, but the food was better.
Still trying to stay on the branch.

I was busy hiking, biking, taking pictures of wildlife and watching TV today. The bison were nearer the observation tower this morning. I was able to get a little better picture. During the afternoon rain storm I got hooked on watching the NASCAR race from Atlanta, so it wasn’t until near sunset that I got back out with my camera. The wind had gone down considerably and the birds seemed to be hanging out around the lake.

Great Blue Heron in the swampy weeds.
Same Blue Heron a few minutes later “hiding” in the brush. During the couple of minutes I watched it didn’t move a muscle. Is it sleeping?
A Little Blue Heron in the water along the lake front.
Bison on the prairie this morning.

More Exploring and More Pictures

Saturday February 23rd 2019

The above normal weather continues in this area. It was a partly cloudy day with high temperatures in the upper eighties and a high dew point. The TV news reported that Gainesville FL had the highest temperature in the country today at a record 91 degrees. I continue to resist the urge to turn on the Air Conditioners in my RV home. So far the fans have been enough, but from the sounds I’ve been hearing my neighbors haven’t all taken the same course.

I was back to riding my bicycle around the park and hiking some of the trails. The bison were visible from the visitor center observation tower this morning. They are far enough away that I still need to zoom and crop my pictures to really identify the objects as bison. In general, my camera was very busy today. Bellow are some of the pictures I took.

Blossom of the day
White Pelican and a few friends in the lake.
Bison in the tall grass of the Prairie. This is a cropped version of a well magnified picture during a cloudy part of the day.
Great Egret coming in for a landing.
I startled a Great Blue Heron into flight.
Heron picking up speed and gaining altitude.
Great Blue Heron reaching cruising level.
One of many Turkey Vultures in the area.
Sunset over Lake Wauberg.

No Horses or Bison just Squirrels

Friday February 22nd 2019

Today was a cloudier version of Thursday. There were very few periods of sunshine, but the temperature still managed to set records in the area. It was in the mid eighties here.

Wildflowers line the path to the observation tower.

I completed Thursday’s grocery shopping today. With my cell phone in my pocket I drove into Gainesville and found the Walmart Super Center. It wasn’t far from where I gave up my search Thursday. This Walmart gave me a new experience. I’ve commented in the past that Walmart is turning checkout clerks into online order fillers. Today I found out what they do when there aren’t any online orders to fill. While I was waiting in line to check out in a long line at one of the only open checkouts, I was approached by one of the order fillers to check me out. Provided I was paying with a credit or debit card, she was prepared to use her remote scanner to check me out. She proceeded to scan and bag all of my purchases. It was faster than waiting in line, but slower than it would have been at a dedicated checkout counter. At least Walmart doesn’t have the staff sit around and wait for an online order to arrive.

There is a population explosion of squirrels. Every little noise I hear coming from the woods seems to be a squirrel.

Back at the campground this afternoon I didn’t do a lot of exploring. I was still feeling the after effects of my Thursday bike rides and hikes. It was a little more activity in hot humid weather than I’ve had in a while. Using the car, I stopped at the visitor’s center observation tower to check for interesting wildlife on the prairie. Other than a few white birds way out in the water, it wasn’t a very successful observation. Toward evening I walked over to Lake Wauberg in search of another nice sunset. The cloud cover didn’t make the prospect look likely and the bugs were out in force. I let the bugs chace me back to my RV home before I got eaten alive.

A late afternoon swim.

Cone’s Dike Trail Hike

Thursday February 21st 2019

The beautiful warm weather continued today. Once again there were record high temperatures in the area. Gainesville reached a high temperature of 89 degrees. For a change today was mostly sunny rather than mostly cloudy.

Wild Flower Blossom of the day.

Around noon I kicked my self into gear and left the campground heading for Gainesvile about ten miles north. I left so quickly that I didn’t remember to take my phone off the charger and put it in my pocket. This is the second time in a week that I’ve left home with out it. On Sunday there were no consequences, but today it caused a minor issue. When I got into Gainesville I had no way of finding the Walmart Super Center or any other grocery store unless I stumbled on one. I suppose I could have asked some one, but that would be cheating the adventure. I drove around for half an hour before deciding to try again tomorrow. There was better adventure available back at the state park.

Two of about five wild horses in front of the observation tower at the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park visitors center.
Two horses from the same herd visible from the Cone’s Dike Trail out on the prairie.

Back at the state park I got on my bicycle and set out for the trails around the visitors center again. The fire service was doing a controlled burn on the mile and a half road from the campground to the visitor center. It was an education to ride my bike right through the middle of the activity. They had people setting fires, people controlling the fire and people putting out fires. Most of the fire service people were on foot, but they also had a huge tracked vehicle. I didn’t stop to take any pictures. It was smokey and looked a little dangerous, so I kept riding through the area.

Once I got to the visitors center area, my first order of business was to climb the observation tower and check on any visible wildlife. Today I saw about five wild horses close to the observation tower. I understand there are several small herds of horses and two herds of bison that can occasionally be observed.

Young alligator in the water along the side of the Cone’s Dike Trail.

From the visitors center I took the Cone’s Dike trail out onto the prairie. You need to pass through a gate in the fence around the prairie after reading big signs warning that you are entering an area with wild animals that you shouldn’t disturbed. You are warned to stay away from any bison, horses or alligators that might claim the trail for themselves.

The trail runs out of dry ground in the middle of the prairie.

I didn’t find any animals on the trail. The horses I saw from the observation deck were visible in the tall grass and I saw a small alligator in the water beside the trail. There was plenty of signs of previous animal presence. The horse droppings were rather fresh, but most of the bison scat was a few days or more old. The trail goes about four miles out into the prairie, but was much shorter today. The high water level closed the trail long before I’d walked four miles.

Sunset over Lake Wauberg. The dark spot in the lower right quadrant of the picture is the head of a good size alligator.

Another Satellite Dish Repair

Wednesday February 20th 2019

Today was a cloudy day with a few brief periods of sunshine and a few quick rain showers. The temperature approached and broke records in the area. It topped out in the mid eighties here.

Today’s sky was a mixture of clouds and blue sky.

It turned out to a perfect day to fix my satellite dish. The roof was dry, there wasn’t much wind and the sun wasn’t beating down on the white surface. The wire to the receiver head that I replaced in November broke again. I need to be more careful about asking the dish to lock into satellites when it is too close to tree branches. In this case it was Spanish Moss that got caught in the cable as the dish rotated that caused the wire to pull loose from the connector. It broke in January, but I haven’t had a chance to fix it when the conditions were good. It only took half an hour to disassemble the receiver arm and thread a new cable to the receiver head. As I was finishing up the first of the day’s brief rain showers was just starting. I managed to get off the roof before it got slippery. The bottom line is I have DirecTV service again.

Satellite Dish antenna locked in the service position waiting for me to start disassembly of the receiver head at the top in this position. Notice all the little leaves on the roof. A little water and the leaves and fiberglass would be very slippery.

For exercise today I road my bicycle to the Lake Wauberg picnic area a couple of time. On the first trip I took the park road and managed to catch a glimpse of a deer as it rain for cover. I had a similar encounter yesterday in a different area of the park. If I get lucky the next time I may see the deer before it sees me. The most entertaining wildlife I actual got to watch on the first trip to the lake were the little geckos or lizards like creatures of some variety. They were all over the boardwalk.

The boardwalk had many of these miniature dragons.
A bird in the grass.

My second trip to the lake was an attempt to get a sunset picture or two. The clouds didn’t cooperate. It was sunny a half an hour before sunset, but as the sun got lower in the sky the clouds moved back in to completely block any chance at a red sunset. An hour later there were stars in the sky. One of these days I’m going to get the sunset picture I’m looking for. I hope it’s worth it.

Blossom of the day.

Exploring Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Tuesday February 19th 2019

It was a better day than the forecast. The temperature was in the mid seventies and it didn’t rain. The day started cloudy and ended cloudy but the sun was bright in the sky during the middle of the day. The bad weather is staying north of here.

Panorama of Paynes Prairie from the observation tower near the visitor centers.

I set out on my bicycle to explore this part of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. There are other parts that you need to enter from other directions that I’ll get to another day. This morning I road my bike about a mile and half further into the park to the visitors center. It resides on the southwestern edge of the prairie. A number of hiking trails depart this location that I will explore in the next few days. Today I walked a short loop trail and climbed the fifty foot high observation tower.

The view from the tower is vast. The large birds flying about the prairie are easy to see, but trying to make out detail is difficult. I needed my binoculars. Another person on the observation platform with binoculars declared that there was a bison standing in the water to the left of the tower. All I could make out was a little brown dot a half a mile or more away. I took a picture at 12x maximum optical zoom of my point and shoot camera to get a better look. I still needed to do some cropping and digital zooming to really see the bison. The full story of why there is a small herd of bison here is still a mystery to me. That is just one of the many things about this park I hope to learn in the next ten days.

View of a bison at 12x magnification. The brown dot in the middle of the picture is really a bison.
Cropped version of the previous picture showing the bison.

Late this afternoon I was back on my bicycle for a ride to Lake Wauberg. A boat launch and picnic area are about half a mile from the campground. My hope was to catch the sunset over the lake, but the clouds were too thick. The clouds also mean I won’t be able to see the full moon tonight.

Water Flower Blossom of the day.