Kissimmee Prairie State Park, Okeechobee, Florida
Friday morning started out with sunshine, but later in the day we got some pretty hard rain and it rained off and on the rest of the day.
Saturday morning also started out clear, and we were able to go on our Swamp Buggy tour through the prairie. This is actually not a prairie “tour” as was pointed out to us, but a bird watching trip to see a very specific and rare bird, a White Tailed Kite. There was a nest deep in the prairie so this trip allowed birders from all over the state a chance to see this bird.
We paid our $11.40 and got onto the swamp buggy.
Paul the park biologist led the tour. He has been living and working on this prairie for 10 years. He pointed out a pair of Swallow Tail Kites along the trail.
This guy was fluffing his feathers, I guess. This was not the bird we were searching for. but you don’t see a lot of them either.
The prairie was beautiful and we could have spent the entire day there.
Pitcher plants growing in the prairie.
Blue skies….can you believe it?
Paul was a wealth of knowledge and he made the trip very interesting. We learned the difference between a wet and dry prairie is just a difference of a few inches of elevation on the land.
In the picture below Paul is standing between some dry and wet prairie. You can see the difference in vegetation that grows on each type. That’s the wet prairie behind him, and the dry prairie in front of him.
Florida is the only place where the nearly extinct Florida Grasshopper Sparrow lives. Paul has been doing research on why their population is declining and he has a theory.
Most birds that nest on the ground nest on the dry prairie. The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow nests on the ground of the wet prairie.
Florida has gotten a large population of non native Fire ants. They do not seem to build their colonies in the dry prairie, only the wet prairie where the sparrows nest. The other species of ground nesting birds that nest on the dry prairie are thriving, so Paul thinks the fire ants are killing the young birds. The park has started an attempt to control the non native fire ants with pesticides. Florida native fire ants do not bother the birds and have natural predators.
They are also studying the feasibility of using another control method of a “decapitating fly”. This particular non native species eats the heads off fire ants. Of course you have to be careful how you introduce non native species to an area because of the unintended consequences. Paul will only be working on the prairie another few years and he feels either the Florida Grasshopper Sparrows will be extinct, or they will be saved by that time. I’m rooting for the sparrows. We didn’t’ see any.
The following picture is Paul standing in an “old growth Oak tree hammock.” He was looking for acorns to prove to us that these little plants in the foreground were actually old oak trees. They are some sort of miniature oak trees, and he did find some miniature acorns to show us. These are the only type of oak trees that are native to this prairie. The plants in the back of the photo are Palmetto, which are all over Florida. This is where they get the herb, Saw Palmetto, which is good for prostrate health.
The purpose of the trip was to see the rare White Tailed Kite. The only known nest in Florida is in this park. Unfortunately, the birds hadn’t been spotted near the nest. Paul felt the nest failed and the adult birds were elsewhere on the prairie.
The park leases part of the land to farmers for cattle. Along one part of the cattle lease land is a fence that makes a nice roosting spot for the rare Burrowing Owl.
Paul took us to this area where we saw 3 separate colonies of owls.
We didn’t get to stay long as the birds were getting agitated. Paul was very sensitive to their needs and didn’t let us stay too long.
The rains came back in the afternoon. We had to stay inside most of the rest of the day, so we watched more of “24.” Boy was it getting intense!
We took a drive before dark since we were getting a little stir crazy. Some clouds were kind of ugly.
I thought the sun was pretty reflecting on the wet roads.
You don’t go far here before you see deer and turkey.
Sunday morning brought clear skies and sunshine. I think our rain pattern is trying to end, so hopefully today will bring more sunshine.
Before I even got out of bed, I opened my eyes and saw three deer and two turkey right outside the window. Now, isn’t that a nice way to wake up?
We took a drive and saw these beauties.
And and something else unusual.
These people each had horse drawn carriages and they were going to tour the prairie. Wish we were going with them. You can walk the prairie, but it’s kind of hot now for long walks.
We saw this Swallow Tailed Kite by our motorhome.
And this turkey vulture drying his wings.
It’s another wonderful day on Kissimmee Prairie. We paid for another week….we’re just not ready to leave.