Last Full Day at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Sunday January 22nd 2023

Saturday’s rain continued last night. I woke up a few times overnight to additional noise on the roof. Possible it was debris from the trees falling on the roof that caused me to wake up. When I woke up this morning it was dark and cloudy. The darkness was very similar to Saturday, but the similarity ended there. The temperature climbed to near eighty despite the cloud cover. Saturday peaked in the fifties.

Anhinga in a bush

The campground really emptied out this morning. By the 1PM checkout time there were only a handful of sites still occupied. As the afternoon progressed the empty sites were all filled. I will be among the departed tomorrow. This was my last full day at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park for this visit. I’ll be moving north another forty miles for a few days. My next state park reservation doesn’t start until Thursday.

Today was a two walk and one drive day. The walks were to the day use area along Lake Wauberg. The wind off the lake was very strong out of the southwest. Finding the birds was a challenge. The change in wind direction changed the birds hiding places. My search was also complicated by trying to keep my hat on my head. The wind was real challenge. Walking through the woods I had to dodge falling debris all the way. Spanish moss, small branches and palm fronds were among the items I needed to dodge.

Wild horses on the prairie.

The drive park of the day was to the visitors center on the side of the prairie. The climb up the observation tower revealed the wild horses in a new place. They were grazing off to the right on the southeast side of the prairie. They still weren’t close enough to be easily visible, but I could count nine horses. The bison were still nowhere to be found.

When I got back to my RV home, I loaded the bicycle onto the car for tomorrows travel day. Most of my outside tasks are completed, so I can take my time tomorrow morning. Checkout time is at 1PM, so I will have plenty of time. It should be a cooler day tomorrow. As I’m finishing up this blog entry a thunderstorm is passing through the area. The sound of rain on the roof has completely blocked hearing the TV.

Sunset

A Rainy One Heron Day

Saturday January 21st 2023

I woke up to a cloudy and dreary day. I needed the lights on inside RV home just to prepare my morning coffee. Instead of getting brighter as the morning progressed it got darker. Shortly after noon it started to rain. Most of the time it was only a light rain that barely got through the trees, but from time to time the rain fell at a moderate level. The high temperature for the day was in the low fifties.

During a brief break in the rain, I got in my one and only walk of the day. The campground was mostly full, but the day use area was empty. On the fishing pier a solitary Great Blue Heron was watching the world go by. It didn’t seem very interested in me as I stood about forty feet away taking pictures. I might have continued taking pictures, but the break in the rain came to an end. I made my way back to my RV home during one of the moderate showers. The trees protected me from getting drenched on the half mile trek.

Most of my day was spent inside watching TV and doing a few chores around the rig. Once the NFL playoff game started at 4:30 the TV had my full attention. I watched the first half of the Jaguars vs. Chiefs game. At half time my attention got diverted to NCIS reruns and I never got back to the game. As I write this blog entry the Giants vs. Eagles game is on the TV, but it hasn’t really got my attention yet.

A Few Plans Made

Friday January 20th 2023

After a short period of rain last night today was a little cooler than Thursday. The wind was calmer and out of a more northerly direction. The mercury climbed to the mid seventies. The rain returns tomorrow afternoon for real.

Out for a sunset swim

This morning I made another attempt at navigating the morass of the Florida State Park reservation software. Once again when 8AM rolled around everything went south. The new software just can not handle the rush of people trying to book a few available sites. If there is a better or more optimal way of using the interface, it sure isn’t intuitive.

I really can’t keep trying to get a reservation at Myakka River State Park for the end of December. It is the hardest park to book, so I need to book it before I book the time leading up to that reservation. Unfortunately, the longer I wait the lower the chance I can find a reservation where I want. Later this morning, I bit the bullet and change my approach. I now have reservations for the last six weeks of the year. Starting before Thanksgiving I have three two week reservations at Jetty Park on the coast, Lake Louisa State Park in the Orlando area and at Lake Manatee State Park in Bradenton. In this set, Lake Louisa State Park was the difficult park to reserve. The only two week stay I could find was a few days earlier than I wanted. The result is I’m moving on Sundays rather than a week day. This may be a problem when I try to book the next two weeks during the winter. Finding a reservation starting on Sunday December 31st, New Years Eve, may be a real challenge. That challenge starts at the end of this month.

Great Blue Heron going for a swim after trying to steal a fish from a Anhinga.
Drying off after the swim.
Is this the same bird? It was in the same area later in the day.

All of the research and planning took a good chunk of time out of the day. Most of the things I had considered doing today were put on hold. I still managed to get my two walks in. The first was in late morning and the second was at sunset. With the wind speed down a little the bigger water birds were back in view. I even saw a Great Blue Heron land in the water and swim for a couple of minutes. I didn’t know they did that.

A couple of University of Florida students out for a sail.

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.