Baby Gators and Thunderstorms

Over the years, I’ve written a number of blog posts recounting my adventures at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Florida.  It’s an absolute favorite spot of mine and, on most visits, I am usually blown away by the fantastic wildlife sightings and encounters I have there (especially during the more active gator season!).  When I first moved to Florida a few years ago, I thought my hiking days were pretty much over – I was used to hiking mountain ridges and dense forests and Florida didn’t really have any of that.  But Circle B Bar Reserve has proved to be one of my favorite hiking places of all time.  On my penultimate trip there (…I recently moved house and no longer live near it! So sad!!) I got to see some baby alligators, got super close to some wildlife, and outran an incredible thunderstorm. Of course, I took pictures 😉

When I arrived at Circle B, I immediately noticed the posted signs indicating that the major trail, Alligator Alley, was closed.  There wasn’t a specific reason given for the closures, but my assumption is that it had to perhaps do with the many alligators and sightings there recently.  With the main trail closed, I decided to just head up the trail that leads to it, which fortunately still offers incredible views and opportunities for wildlife spotting.

The trail I walked up sits in the middle of a large wetland area.  I had my infamous massive-gator-encounter here (see the gator here!) and was hoping to actually see another.  There weren’t any large gators this time, but I did spot a number of baby ones! So cute!

It was gorgeous and sunny as I headed down the trail in hopes of some more wildlife sightings, as evidenced by this lovely photo here (lol):

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Perfect skies, perfect temperature! It was seriously gorgeous.  I continued my way down the trail and even explored part of the Alligator Alley trail until I was met with the closed-off area and warnings not to dare attempt entering it (which I did not).  I did, though, make friends with a brave and fearless squirrel!

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After becoming acquainted with my new squirrel friend, I began making my way back and, for the first time, noticed how extremely dark it had gotten.  The sky was no longer a beautiful and clear blue, but a dark and storm grey.  Thunder sounded in the distance.  I was standing in an open wetland… So I booked it back to my car.

The storm that rolled through was impressive.  The wind gusted so hard, Spanish moss rained down from the trees and large branches fell to the ground.  I had a hard time keeping to the center of the trail as I headed back, the wind was that strong!

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I made it back to my car just before it started down-pouring.  The whole experience was a reminder of just how powerful mother nature can be, and how quickly a really nice day can turn really dangerous in a matter of minutes (weather in Florida is so fascinating this way!).

So, although my hike didn’t include my favorite trail and was cut short by the extreme weather, it was still an eventful and worthwhile adventure! I’ll certainly miss you, Circle B!

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A Wild Gator Encounter!

I decided to go for a hike at one of my favorite places to spot wildlife in Central Florida, Circle B Bar Reserve.  I’ve written a number of blog posts about my animal encounters there and, each time I go, I am never disappointed.  My most recent visit this past weekend was certainly no exception.

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I began by walking down the Heron Hideout trail. This trail is accessible directly from the parking area and leads to the biggest trails on the reserve.  It has very little shade (wear a hat or sunscreen!) and so it gets pretty hot.  The trail is surrounded by marsh on both sides and offers prime viewing for birds, small fish, and gators.  The Heron Hideout trail eventually reaches a crossroads, where you can opt to continue forward onto the Eagle Roost trail, right to the Marsh Rabbit Run trail, or left (most popular) to Alligator Alley, which parallels Lake Hancock.  I decided to continue forward on the Eagle Roost trail.

The Eagle Roost trail has marsh and ponds bordering both sides of it before the trail turns farther up and becomes more open and sandy.  While walking up the trail, I noticed a gator moving nearby in the water.  It was pretty cool to see! I turned around at the bend in the trail and, on my way back, I became absolutely startled.

The gator I had seen swimming in the water suddenly popped its head out of the tall grass to the side of the trail just five feet ahead of me.  He was huge!  I immediately backed up, mentally running through the list of all the safety tips I had learned in the Everglades.  The gator proceeded onto the trail and I was in awe at his size – he stretched the whole way across! It was certainly a sight to see.  His gait was slow and almost crooked.  When he made it to the water on the opposite side of the trail, I waited a minute before quickly passing.  I was still catching my breath!

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Perhaps almost ironically, I turned onto the Alligator Alley trail next.  I didn’t have any more personal gator encounters, but I did see a bunch more! Along the trail were beautiful birds, rabbits, and turtles.  There were some baby alligators sitting in the marsh off to the left side of the trail, and larger gators swimming around in the lake to the right. There was just so much wildlife to see!

Circle B Bar is one of my favorite places for wildlife sightings and this visit definitely tops my list.  That alligator encounter was incredible! I’m glad I went when I did! 🙂

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Hiking with Florida Wildlife

It’s a balmy 60-some-odd degrees in central Florida currently and that means it’s officially winter.  These lower temperatures are perfect for going outside and doing some sightseeing.  Recently, I visited the Circle B Bar Reserve and saw some fantastic wildlife!  I had never seen so much wildlife in one trek before!

It began as I was driving into the Reserve.  Off to the side of the road in were a few wild boars grazing in the grass.  I stopped and watched for quite awhile.  I’ve seen wild boars before, but generally super briefly as they scurry through orange groves.  This was my first time truly getting a good look at them up close!  There were two “adults” and two younger boars.  I was amazed how close to my car they got.  After spending a few minutes admiring what was only to be the first of many wildlife sightings that day, I continued on into the Reserve to begin my hike.

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I decided to hike my normal route in reverse to change things up.  I’m definitely glad I did because the timing was perfect!  I spotted many birds and waterfowl on the first part of my hike and even some fish in the water that parallels the trail. It was partly cloudy with perfect temperatures, so the walk alongside the water was rather enjoyable!

The “main” trail provided me even more opportunities to see some incredible wildlife. On one side of the trail is Lake Hancock; on the other, marshy wetland that is full of waterfowl and alligators! Although I only managed to glimpse partial gators on this hike, I did get pretty up close and personal with some other animals.  A raccoon decided to hang out right in the middle of the trail and search for food and was completely unfazed by me approaching it and spending some time photographing it up close.  I didn’t interfere with the raccoon, though – I simply photographed it and let it alone to continue its search for food 🙂

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The scenery along the trails is always breathtaking, particularly in the late afternoon and early evening as the sun starts to set.  The hanging Spanish moss always looks more magical during this time, as if the scenery is more from a fairy tale than real life.  It’s incredible!

Circle B Bar Reserve is a place I love to revisit because the experience is always new.  I never know what I’m going to see and come across on my hikes!  If you’re looking to visit it for yourself, it’s located right off Route 540 between Lakeland and Winter Haven.  You can even bring a lunch and picnic at the tables near the parking lots.  It’s a great way to spend a day!

 

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Monty Python on a Hilltop

I decided to do a second visit to Catfish Creek Preserve State Park on a cooler day so that I could complete the hike I had intended to do originally (see previous post!).  Although this time wasn’t nearly as hot and humid, it rained the entire time.  I was fortunately able to get away with just wearing a hoodie (rain jacket, shmain shmacket) and found that I didn’t even feel warm in it – a huge difference compared to a couple days prior.  When it comes to hiking in Florida, it really is all about the weather conditions.

Knowing my way around the trails this time, I found myself advancing much more quickly to the shrine in the park I wanted to reach. And, to my enjoyment, there was much more wildlife out and about!

ImageI even found many turtle egg shells along the sides of the trails near the large ponds.  My only concern was that perhaps raccoons had dug up the eggs and eaten them, leaving the shells scattered around on the ground.  I am hoping that the turtles made their way safely.

ImageMy search for alligators on my previous hike proved unsuccessful, but not this time!  As I walked around the edge of one of the large ponds, I heard a sudden rustling noise and a large splash – I scared one of the alligators into the water! I wasn’t able to get a good look at the size of him, but I did capture a picture of his eyes and snout above the water.

ImageI enjoyed walking around the large ponds and through the grass and sandy paths much more this time.  I came across one of the campsites on my way to the Allen David Broussard shrine and was pleasantly surprised to find well-kept picnic tables, a fire pit, and even a shovel. There are two campsites in the park, but the second one was farther than I had planned on going.

To reach my goal of getting to the shrine, I had to make my way up a rather tall (for Florida, that is) hill.  At the top was quite a view (again, for Florida, that is, haha)! I could even see the fire tower that I noted on my last visit off in the distance.  And the shrine was quite impressive!

ImageThe shrine to Allen David Broussard (from whom the park gets its name) features his bust with a perching bird and lovely quotes from his family and famous inspirational persons.  As I was reading the quotes around the shrine, I came across one I know only too well…

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On the side of the shrine is a quote from Monty Python reading, “Life’s a silly, silly game… so always look on the bright side of life.”  I absolutely loved this.  I found myself standing at the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere with no one around, laughing, and somehow connecting with a man I have never met and has been gone for more than 20 years.  I couldn’t stop smiling, and I found myself singing that Monty Python song as I made my way back down the hill 🙂

I decided to take a different route back toward where I began my hike and walked past a few more ponds. While walking, I saw something jump up out of the tall grass and run away.  I immediately recognized the white tail before even seeing the rest of the animal – it was a deer! I’ve never seen a deer in Florida with the exception of a spotting key deer while in the Keys, so this was very exciting!  I never thought I’d be so excited to see a deer in my life.

Now that I saw the shrine in the park and adventured around a bit, I would definitely like to see the rest of the hiking trails in the park.  There are pictures I found on the park’s website featuring more swampy habitats but all I came across were scrub habitats, so perhaps adventuring further into the park would offer me those sights.  I’d love to spend the night at one of the campsites, too – would be great to have a bunch of people together!

Always looks on the bright side of life!

Exploring Circle B Bar Reserve

In central Florida, there’s a pretty awesome nature reserve that I’ve driven by a dozen times and finally just got around to checking out.  It’s called Circle B Bar Reserve and is located off route 540 in Polk County.  It is definitely one of my new favorite places!

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The reserve has a bunch of great trails through marshland, dry brush, waterfront, and sandy ecosystems. There’s a center near the entrance that offers a TON of great information and you can even sign up for some cool classes (there was a pastoral painting class going on when I went!).  The whole atmosphere is wonderful.  I headed right for the “shady oak” trail which followed part of Lake Hancock and eventually led into the “Heron Marsh.”  I saw a bunch of great stuff that I’ve really been wanting to experience since coming to Florida!

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As soon as I got onto the trail and began exploring, I came across some really cool sights.  Florida has amazing water fowl and I couldn’t believe how big they were! And how close I got to them! Then, after disregarding a “no trespassing” sign and walking out onto a small observation dock, I was soon gazing upon more gators than I ever imagined I would at one time.

I counted no less than 12 gators just in my close vicinity. Having never seen gators like this before, I was really excited! A bunch a huge cranes flew by, too, scooping up fish and eating them right in front of me.  Definitely some amazing sights!

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Farther along the trail, a marsh opened up on the right hand side, with the trail still following Lake Hancock on the left.  The marsh was home to some great wildlife – from gators to raccoons!  There was a raccoon family that wandered out into the open for a bit.  They always look cute, but can be quite fierce.

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I also spotted turtles, baby gators, hawks, and some really big snails (at least, that’s what they looked like – couldn’t get close enough to see completely).  Even the vegetation was cool.  Things are starting to sprout in Florida already so there’s a lot of new growth and flowers (the orange blossoms smells AMAZING.  Unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before!).

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A lot of neat little critters kept to the shallow water on the lakeside.

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As I made my way toward the end of the trail, I came across a ton of black vultures and turkey vultures.  It honestly looked like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock film.  I later saw about twenty of them tossing around a turtle shell on the ground.  They’re quite intimidating birds, but they were everywhere.

I feel like my first venture to Circle B Bar Reserve just scratched the surface of the things that are there and I am definitely looking forward to making another trip back!  I think as the season heads further into spring, I’ll be seeing a lot more interesting things outside.  And, having never experienced a Florida spring before, I’m curious to see what they’ll be!

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