Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tracking Paynes Prairie

View from boardwalk, La Chua Trail 
I LOVE tracking Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park! Located on the southern end of Gainesville, Florida, it is one of those local treasures that really gives back to the community. The whooping cranes are often found off of the La Chua Trail, so I pay my $2 entrance fee and set off with body loaded down with tracking gear. Luckily the trail is only a mile and a half long, so in all, I'm only carrying 30-40lbs of gear for 3 miles. I think I had heavier backpacks in college.
La Chua Trail
There is SO MUCH wildlife along the trail it's hard not to stop and take pictures so I'm unloading them all in the next couple paragraphs. I'm really excited about this trail, because it's the first time I saw a live, wild alligator up close. Yeah, I was a zookeeper and had very intimate experiences with captive gators, but seeing a wild one is WAY cooler! There are hundreds of them along the ditch banks, so it's hard not to see at least one or two being active/doing something interesting.

my first alligator sighting
 So many trees are covered by spanish moss. When I came to the South, I was saddened by how well the moss is spreading. It seems as though the moss is killing the trees, but after a fellow hiker at Paynes Prairie disagreed, I thought I should look into it. Turns out the spanish moss doesn't necessarily kill the trees, but when it gets really heavy and thick, it blocks the tree's leaves from the light they need for photosynthesis. So now every time I go there, I think, "The South, where spanish moss makes all the trees look like weeping willows."

Giant Oak weeping with spanish moss

There are thousands of birds at the park, and most of them are doing cool behaviors (but I couldn't capture the behaviors without uploading way too much video, so you just get snapshots)
Boat-tailed Grackle, mating call/posture


Grey Heron

Whooping Crane (figures this is the one bird I want to see clearly)

American Coots (or Cutes! seriously, they're adorable)

Turkey Vulture (I love this bird)

American White Ibis

Cattle Egret

There are hundreds of turtles along the trail, too. I'm not positive, but I think the turtles are Florida Cooters. I learned on the Daily Show that there is an annual Cooter Festival down here, very close to Chassahowitzka NWR.

Turtle sunning in his algae bath
Turtle sunning mid-morning
Don't forget about the mega vertebrates! There are free-roaming herds of American Bison, Horses, and Wild Boar on park grounds. I haven't been lucky enough to see the horses, but I've seen the Bison several times. In this bison photo, you can see a little white cattle egret that kept jumping up onto his back and then dropping down to the ground; very entertaining.
American Bison, EAT IT!
This is the first time I've ever seen wild boar. I guess some would think I'm lucky not to have seen them yet. As an avid wildlife enthusiast I think I'm lucky to finally see them. Even better; I saw them with pig-lings.

As you can see, there is a LOT to see at Paynes Prairie. If you're ever in the Gainesville area, please stop in and support this awesome resource.


  1. Hi Jen,
    I was sad to hear that I missed your trip back to Paynes Prairie. Maybe next time. Thanks for the info on Spanish Moss.

    I have pictures you may be interested in mant of which were taken at Paynes Prairie. You can view them at this link: If you want copies let me know which ones and I will forward them.

    Your friend,
    Bill Black

  2. Bill! I love your photos!! Especially that buffalo in the water greens!

    Have you been back down to Paynes Prairie recently? I hear there are still some crazy whoopers down there.