A Walk in the Woods

Thursday January 19th 2023

It was a windy and warm day. The next weather front is due to pass through overnight. Today the winds of the leading edge of the front were blowing things around. Leaves, branches and other woodland materials were blowing out of the trees all day. Despite the wind, the temperature climbed into the low eighties. As I’m writing this blog entry the rain has started to fall on the roof of my RV home.

Why did the Armadillo cross the road?
The wind was really blowing these palms.

My first walk of the day to the day use area at the lake turned into a much longer hike. I continued through the picnic area on the Lake trail out into the woods. I connected up with the Jackson’s Gap trail and the Chacala Trail. Making all of the correct turns resulted in a three to four mile loop. I passed through some of the areas that have been burned over the last few days and a few areas of forest that had been thinned with a chainsaw.

Lots of big sprawling trees along my walk in the woods.

For the most part it was nice walk in the woods. I didn’t see any significant wildlife, which might be a good thing. There was a warning sign about bears at one of the trail intersections. Not to far along the trail from there I saw a foot print in the damp sand that I think might have been a bear. I imagine all of the controlled fires being set in various areas of the park have the wildlife a little disturbed.

This morning I made another attempt at booking a Florida state park reservation for next December. It wasn’t successful. I am now more convinced that the Web application is not able to handle the load at the start of the reservation window. This morning I managed to get the page to display a link for the site I wanted. Once I clicked on it everything froze until a time out message was displayed. This is the type of message that should never be seen by the user. It should be trapped by the application and translated into a graceful error handler. I’ll keep trying, but his is going to be difficult. There really isn’t much choice if I want a reservation. The telephone line has its own set of issues. Hopefully there are people working on fixing the application.

Back to Planning Next Winter

Wednesday January 18th 2023

The weather pattern has really changed from the weekend. Instead of being cold and dry it is now hot and humid. It wasn’t oppressively hot or humid, but the day began with a little fog and reached a high temperature in the upper seventies. It was an above average temperature day.

This solitary blossom on the ground gives some hope to the return to warmer growing weather.

My day began with one of my least favorite things about this life style; making reservations. This morning was my first attempt at booking a two week stay for next winter. The eleven month reservation window for Florida State Parks is now open for mid December. At 8AM I tried to book a reservation starting December 18th. I wasn’t successful. The online software interface has been recently updated. This new program has a different behavior when the window opens at 8AM. By the time I got it to accept input, the few available sites were already booked. It is not clear to me if the problem is how I’m trying to use the system or a real bug in the system. I fear a few more days of failed attempts as I learn how to use the interface. There is only one site available tomorrow, so I’ll consider it a learning attempt.

On a more positive note, this year’s reservation I feared would be canceled at the end of February is now safe. The campsites at Collier-Seminole State Park are now open. Whatever damage from hurricane Ian that was preventing the campsites from reopening have been resolved.

Here at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park the controlled fire guys are back. State Park staff were setting little fires in areas near the campground today. They were close enough that the smell of smoke was in the air. I think they are burning some invasive plant species. Most of the fires they set are very small and they put them out rather quickly. If they were doing it for fire control or thinning purposes, I think the fires would be bigger and last longer.

The fire workers had some of my access to Lake Wauberg blocked off today. This cut the length of my walks in half and my opportunities to take bird pictures was similarly reduced. There were still plenty of Anhingas to photograph near the boat launch.

A Short Hike on Paynes Prairie

Tuesday January 17th 2023

The weather switched from below normal temperatures to above normal today. It was still cold overnight, but during the day the temperature climbed to the mid seventies. The normal daily high is in the low seventies. Tomorrow is forecast to be even warmer.

View of Paynes Prairie from the Cones Dyke Trail
High zoom picture of the birds and wild horses on the prairie from the observation tower near the visitors center.

I took a hike out onto the prairie this afternoon. I wasn’t alone there were a number of other hikers taking advantage of the nice weather. I only took the Cones Dike Trail about an hour out into the prairie before turning around. It was getting a little muddy and I wasn’t wearing the right footwear. In addition to avoiding mud, I had to avoid a lot of horse excrement. The wild horses weren’t in the immediate area this afternoon, but had clearly been there recently. I also so tracks in the mud that I think were from the bison known to roam the prairie. I’m not sure if it was good luck or bad luck that the bison weren’t in the area today.

The campground was quiet today with only a small amount of turnover. During my walk through the day use area late in the day, there were very few people visiting. Most of the people I passed were campers walking their dogs.

Not a Random Monday

Monday January 16th 2023

It was a little warmer overnight, but it was still a very cool start to the day. The inside temperature was forty four at 7:30 this morning. I turned on the furnace and the little electric space heater to get things to a comfortable level, while I went back to bed. It wouldn’t be a problem if I ran the furnace all night, but I really don’t like the noise it makes. If I need it to keep the pipes from freezing, I’ll run it. That wasn’t the case last night.

Today’s high temperature was in the low sixties. Generally that is fine to heat up the inside of my RV home and maintain it at a comfortable level without running heat all day. In this location the trees keep the sun from reaching my RV home until after 3PM. That sun angle is the only one that makes it through the trees. I got all bundled up expecting cold temperatures before my first walk of the day. Once I got out of the trees I was ready to strip off layers. It really was a nice weather day, I just wasn’t dealing with it in the best way.

Yesterday it didn’t seem like this was a holiday weekend, but today it was a different story. The turnover in the park was consistent with the end of a holiday weekend. The families all packed up this morning and were gone by the 1PM checkout. At the day use area of the park there were a couple of big family picnics going on for most of the afternoon. This evening the activity seemed to transition to fishing. There was much more activity than an ordinary Monday.

Cold, Football and a Holiday Weekend

Sunday January 15th 2023

It was cold last night, but not as bad as the Christmas weekend cold snap. The temperature got down to a little below thirty just before daybreak. It climbed into the mid to upper fifties before the end of the day. Tonight’s overnight temperatures are not forecast to be as low.

I rolled over in bed a couple of extra times this morning to allow the inside temperature to get a little warmer. By the time I raised the blinds most of my neighbors had departed. I was surprised so many departed on the Sunday of a three day holiday weekend. The TV news is making a big deal about the fact that on the Martin Luther King holiday tomorrow schools and other business are closed. I assumed many of my fellow campers were here for the three day weekend. Either way the sites were filled again tonight.

There were several large groups gathering in the day use area this afternoon. It was more active than I have seen in any of my previous visits to this state park. More people were using the fishing pier as well. I think all the people kept the water birds away. Except for the Anhingas in their favorite trees, I didn’t see any of the usual suspects today. It was still enjoyable walking the trails and along the lake checking up on all the activity.

Around my RV home today, I hooked the water back up after last nights freezing weather precautions. It is nice to get water without the sound of the pump coming on. I spent most of my inside time watching the football games on TV. The games I’ve watched have been competitive, but not the best quality football. I don’t really have a favorite in the quest for the championship, but I have a few teams that I don’t like for no rational reason. It makes watching the games interesting.

A Cold Day Followed by a Cold Night

Saturday January 14th 2023

This is the second significant cold spell I’ve experienced this winter. The temperature only got up to fifty today. Two or three short stretches of cold weather are normal during December and January in Florida. Most years I’m further south on the peninsular so it isn’t as big an impact. In this area, near Gainesville, it is a bigger issue. Tonight’s temperature is forecast to be in the twenties. I’ve disconnected the outside water for the night so it won’t freeze.

Outside activity today was very similar to Friday. While you were back in the woods sheltered from the wind it was possible to stay comfortable. Out in the open, particularly along the lake shore, it could be very chilly in the wind. Along the shore of the lake there was a Great Blue Heron that demonstrated the weather perfectly. It was scrunched up in a little ball standing in an area protected from the wind in the bright sun. I walked by the area several times today and the bird only moved about six feet. It just looked cold and never seemed to extend its neck to look around. At least it was photogenic. I’ve included several pictures in this blog post.

Since it is a weekend, the park including the tent camping area is full. Since it is necessary to reserve sites well in advance, I’m sure none of the tent campers expected to have such a cold night to deal with. When I walked by the area just before dark most of the sites had big fires going in their fire pits. It isn’t bad when you are bundled up for the cold, but do they have warm sleeping bags? I sure hope so.

The only people that didn’t seem to mind the cold were the college students using the University of Florida’s recreation facility across the lake. There were sailboats, kayaks and powerboats all over the far side of the lake. It couldn’t have been very comfortable in the wind while in the middle of the lake and possibly wet.

From Warm to Cool Florida Style

Friday January 13th 2023

Today’s high temperature was at midnight before the storm front arrived. There was heavy rain overnight. I slept through most of it, but the puddles on the ground this morning provided plenty of proof of the deluge. It was a very windy day. Clouds dominated the sky most of the day. The sun tried to make an appearance a few times, but it was soon replaced by more dark clouds. The daytime temperature made it briefly to sixty. It was more than fifteen degrees cooler than Thursday. Tomorrow is forecast to be even cooler.

Cold wind coming across the lake.
There were plenty of leaves down from the wind and rain to line the walkways.

The cool weather had an impact on my activity today. I had intended to drive into Gainesville on a grocery run, but stayed at home instead. It turned into another two hike day, but I needed to bundle up a little more than usual. In the woods of the campground and along the trail the wind doesn’t reach the ground. It is clearly present in the tree tops. They are waving back and forth along with a howling sound. In the open, near Lake Wauberg, the wind is at ground level and very uncomfortable. There were very few people enjoying the day use area of the trails today.

On my late afternoon walk there were a few brave soles out on the lake. Across the lake is a University of Florida recreation area. Students can checkout kayaks, sailboats and other recreation equipment. This afternoon there was a couple of people in a sailboat that really got moving in the strong wind. There were also a group of three kayaks on the lake with the sailboat. I think they could have picked a better weather day for their fun.

Boating from the University of Florida Recreation facility.

A Day Filled with Anhingas

Thursday January 12th 2023

This was the last sunny warm day for a while. A cold front is due to pass through the area overnight. By Saturday the daytime highs are forecast in the fifties. Today was in the upper seventies with a strong wind out of the northwest.

A White Pelican in the middle of the lake.

The wind brought lots of dead leaves out of the trees overhead. The small leaves land on the roof with a sound similar to rain. It takes real concentration to know it is not rain. Some people really seem to get annoyed by the leaves. One of the campground hosts was walking along the campground road with a leaf blower this afternoon attempting to clear all the leaves. An hour after he passed by the leaves covered the road again.

The state forest service was conducting controlled burns in the park today. These small fires to clear out dead materials and underbrush really got in my way today. My attempt to drive to the visitor’s center parking lot at the prairie was blocked by thick smoke. A park ranger advised me to wait a couple of hours. Although she didn’t say I couldn’t drive through the smoke she strongly implied I’d be better off waiting until tomorrow.

Armadillo in the brush.

I returned to my campsite and set out on foot in another direction. I found all of the forest service vehicles staging at the day use area. As I continued on the trail toward the picnic area, I found the trail blocked by caution tape and a sign. I had once again managed to find the area they were burning. My understanding is this is a one day event, but I’m surprised they picked the windiest day of the week.

Today’s bird sightings were mostly Anhingas, but out in the middle of Lake Wauberg there were several large white birds swimming. Using maximum zoom on my camera and a little additional cropping on my computer it looks like they were White Pelicans. It is to bad they weren’t closer to my side of the lake.

Lazy Day and Chores

Wednesday January 11th 2023

The day started cool and ended seasonal. The overnight temperature got down into the forties. The day was bright and sunny resulting in a high temperature in the low to mid seventies. It was a nice weather day.

A beautiful sunny January day on Lake Wauberg.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog entry my campsite is in the trees. It is a very nice shaded and quiet site that I like very much, but this morning it worked against me. I got up at 7:30 and turned the heat on to raise the temperature from the overnight fifty degrees to a comfortable level. Once the heat was on I got back under the covers to stay warm and watch the morning news on TV. That didn’t happen. I woke up a little after 10AM. The darkness and quiet worked against me. It was clear today was going to be a very lazy day.

Today was a chores around My RV home kind of day. I needed to work on eliminating some of the dust and dirt that had built up over the last few weeks. The transition from needing to cool the interior to heating it, seems to expose or maybe create dusty areas that need cleaning. Nobody who knows me well would call me a clean freak, but I try to keep up with the accumulation when I find it. The next cleaning chore I’ve been ignoring that really needs help is the microwave oven. Soon.

It was another two walk to the day use area day. The first was around the noon hour and the second as the sun was setting across the lake. Each time there was a fare amount of activity. On the early walk there was a lot of boating and on the second trip most people were waiting for the sunset. The view of the sun setting across the lake is perfect.

Sunset and a bird through a dirty lens.

Exploring Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Tuesday January 10th 2023

The temperature got down into the forties last night. My campsite at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is in the trees. While I prefer this type of site, it doesn’t allow the sun to warm the inside of the RV quickly. I have to help Mother Nature with the heater. Overall it was a sunny day with a high temperature just shy of seventy degrees.

A lonely swim.

Today was a park exploration day. I was last here in February of 2021. Not a lot has changed in two years. There has been some maintenance and repairs to benches and walkways along with a few cut up trees. More people seem to be using the day use area as well.

View across Lake Wauberg in the morning.

I took two walks to the day use area from the campground. The first was in late morning and the second was around sunset. I wasn’t dressed warm enough for the morning walk. I needed pockets or gloves to keep my hands comfortable. There were a lot of fishermen out in boats on Lake Wauberg this morning, but none in the late afternoon.

View of the prairie through the hanging Spanish moss.
Flock of very noisy birds on the prairie at maximum camera zoom.
A couple of wild horses.

During the afternoon I drove the approximately two miles to the prairie and visitors center. The prairie observation tower was busy this afternoon. With the unaided eye it was possible to make out a flock of very loud birds near the water several hundred yards out in the prairie. With the my camera zoom it looked like they were primarily sand hill cranes, but that is just a guess. A couple of wild horses were near the birds grazing under a big palm tree. Even further out on the prairie there were blobs of black and brown visible with the aid of the camera zoom that were probably cattle and bison. Knowing that they are inhabitants of the prairie is the only way one could possibly identify them at long distance. I’ll return to the observation tower many times over the next two weeks and will probably hike out onto the prairie a time or two to get a better view of all the creatures.

The only wildflower blossoms I found all day.