There's so much to share about the trip, but I will just do a quick recap and say GO. Thanks to Misti Little over at Oceanic Wilderness for all the recommendations.
We arrived late in the evening to the Ocala National Forest and right away we found this super cool Spinybacked Orbweaver and heard frogs and insects singing. Oh my word...our winter starved hearts cracked right open and we felt like our normal human selves again. Long, cold winter does something akin to freezing us mentally and emotionally.
Hopkins Prairie in the Ocala National Forest is magnificent and the campsites here were only $10 so we landed here and stayed for a while.
Our campsite abutted this prairie/wetland view so every morning we took our coffee and went out and sat on the margins and soaked up the sunshine and the oodles of migratory birds congregated here before heading our way in a few months. (Think catbirds, white-eyed vireos, common yellowthroats and hundreds of yellow-rumped warblers.)
Longleaf Pine Forest is COOL. So damn cool. Let's just leave it at that. We didn't see the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker that calls these trees home, but saw dozens of red-headed woodpeckers and know that this forest, just like almost all other forests we know and love needs some help in protection. Vote for the forest and please, please spread the word how important it is we integrate into wild space and preserve the native vegetation instead of clearing it out and planting non-native/non-ecologically connected plants.
Hiking the path we spotted this eclosed polyphemus moth cocoon and I, of course, stopped because INSECTS, you know? I love them!
Now it's time for just a few thoughts to share directly with the life we saw:
Spanish Moss...you enchant us.
Saw Palmetto...so do you.
Lichen forest...absolutely 100%.
Christmas Wreath Lichen, too? Um yes! Pink lichens? Wow!
The Florida Trail goes through the Ocala National Forest so we day hiked and backpacked on this trail and met so many super nice people, several whom are starting the AT this spring...we wish you all luck!
Bears are abundant in this area so we saw lots of scat and lots of...
beautiful prints. We recently learned the Juniper Ridge Wilderness area in the Ocala National Forest is currently closed to people because there is so much bear activity and officials are trying to avoid a conflict. Smart.
Evening bats and Brazilian free-tailed bats call this maternity bat house home. We watched thousands and thousands pour out of the house at dusk with a small group of other wonder-struck observers. (Make sure to check out Steve's video of the first wave of bats flying out at the end of this post.)
I tried to learn from Steve about the soil in these areas. Soil is the foundation for life and is not easy for me to learn, but I am quite easily enchanted by the many textures, colors and plants that call each type home. This world is a fascinating place.
Juniper Prairie Wildnerness exceeded our expectations and we were so glad to leave the camper for a few nights and sleep on the ground, under the stars and embrace the simplicity of backpacking. It can be so hard and sometimes we wonder why we do it and then we do it and then we remember: life is distilled to its most beautiful essence - nature, observation, focused attention, movement and meeting bodily needs of survival. That's it. We need more of this in our lives.
Steve spotted several of these Two-striped Walkingsticks along our path as we hiked and I am very grateful I was so gentle in my movement of them (out of the path of foot traffic) or I might have hurt for a few days. I had a hunch so caution saved the day. I really fell rather in love with these insects upon our first meeting.
Our Florida made Zpacks tent...
Water, water everywhere....
The water supports these Sundew and there were HUNDREDS in this area. That little sticky plant waiting for insects is always endlessly fascinating. I had a hard time gathering my gear and leaving this spot.
Juniper Springs made up for the departure though with all the seeps and springs oozing from the Earth seemingly everywhere in this land of water. What a gift to witness clear water, all the sediments held in place by vegetation and forest. We humans have so much to learn from this planet from which we are a part. Our systems can't compare to the natural cleansing process of a forest.
The adaptations of this tree in the buttressing for support in this land of water stopped us both in our paths. We've seen buttressing before. We've seen grander buttressing before. Will we ever tire of it? Never.
We, of course, had to go see the mighty ocean, too, so we visited Canaveral National Seashore and all the life immediatly evident. This Herring Gull likes people, not surprisingly, so I just chatted with him for a while.
We both were wowed with the power of the ocean and dug our feet into the sand, watched the shorebirds running around everywhere and let our spirits soar out over and amongst that mighty body of water that enchants.
An armadillo visited us on one of our last stops in Florida; this is the first we've seen one alive and not hit on a road crossing his or her homeland. We were thrilled!
This rotting log illustrates the magnificence of decay and the resulting fertilization and regeneration of surrounding plants. Look how wonderfully happy this log made these ferns...
All processes of decay remind us that our last three chicken girls, whom we lost to a predator while we were gone, will soon grow into beautiful flowers and new trees and offer sustenance to so much life in the soil. Ivy, Aster and Fern are supremely missed by us, but our pain is eased a bit in knowing we lost them because we have created wildlife habitat here and wildlife has returned.
Our game cam confirmed my thoughts based on the clues; yes, my friends - we have mink and s/he used rat tunnels to access our coop and dine on our girls. 2' deep 1/2" hardware cloth was undermined by those tunneling rats. Impressive, really.
Steve found a mink latrine in our wood pile and I just had to pull it out to photograph it. I wasn't sure which weasel at first, but size confirms it.
Just for fun, look who else the game cam showed in just one night:
A family of raccoons:
An adult opossum:
and our first documented red fox. We are truly in awe of all this life and feel so grateful and humbled to live amongst such magnificient beings.
Wonder Wednesday Videos
The Super Cool Wild Turkey
Bat House at Hopkins Prairie
Canaveral National Seashore
Here's our new method for overwintering our native plants. It's working great so far!
More later our sweet friends,
j and s