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Florida Bike-birding: Ocklawaha Prairie Restoration Area

Anna Fasoli|

Gulf Fritillary

Today I got the bright idea to take a mid-morning bike ride. I’ve been wanting to check out a big wetland complex that I have been eyeing on google earth. But given that the loop trail around the complex is 10.5 miles (the “Levee Trail”), I wanted to have time to take my bike. The Ocklawaha Prairie Restoriation Area is a 2,500 acre wetland system that is helping restore the Ocklawaha River basin, important for both native species and flood control. This area is southwest of my house and just north of the town of Ocklawaha (to the west of 314A and north of 464C near the well-known “Dam Diner”). There is also a section of long leaf pine forest which I did not check out today.

(from http://floridaswater.com/recreationguide/ocklawahaprairie/)

(from http://floridaswater.com/recreationguide/ocklawahaprairie/)

At the trail head, I flushed this Red-shouldered Hawk when I was unloading my bike. It had prey, but I couldn’t tell what kind, as it did a great job of hiding it. This juvenile bird is molting into its adult plumage. Note the multiple adult primaries, a few secondaries, upperwing coverts, alula, scapular feathers, and two black and white inner rectrices coming in!

Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk molting into adult plumage

Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk molting into adult plumage

Out at the wetland complex, I found out the hard way that only about 4.5 miles of the loop is gravel and easy to bike (the east side of the loop). This part of the loop runs along the Ocklawaha River, and is fairly open/high with good views out into the major wetland complex and occasionally into the river. There is also a gazebo along the way for wildilfe viewing (shade!), in addition to a wooden boardwalk that extends out into the wetlands. This place reminds me a lot of Orlando Wetlands, but a bit more grown in with less open smaller bodies of water. The main wetland complex isn’t open to kayaking, but there are multiple places to drop a kayak in along the Ocklawaha River and float by this complex.

As I looked out onto the boardwalk, I was surprised to see this young bobcat was enjoying a mid morning stroll! I was happy to finally get photos of a bobcat; years ago in Nebraska, I had a beefy adult bobcat in my viewfinder, only to find out that my memory card wasn’t in my camera. Since then I’ve seen bobcats in the wild about five other times, but always quick glimpses or at a distance. This was worth the wait!

Bobcat at Ocklawaha Prairie Restoration Area

Bobcat at Ocklawaha Prairie Restoration Area

Bobcat at Ocklawaha Prairie Restoration Area

Bobcat at Ocklawaha Prairie Restoration Area

There were also a variety of butterfly species along the trail, including Black Swallowtails, Queen Butterflies, and Gulf Fritillaries, to name a few. I’ll have to go back for more butterfly photos.

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

The rest of the trail was a bit soggy. Ok, a lot soggy! The kind of soggy wet grass with enough of a sandy soil base that makes it fairly impossible to bike at more than 4 mph in your lowest gears. Is this really where you want to find yourself mid-day in Florida in mid June? Nope. I think these parts of the trail may not be so horrible in the fall and winter, however. When I go back next time, I’ll just stick to the east side. The north, and west sections of the trail though go through mostly deciduous forest with canals on either side, much different habitat than the east section of trail, so I trudged on. By around 11:00 all that was left out in the baking sun to hear were low-lying frogs and the occasional “fart” from an American Coot in the canal. Maybe there was more, but I was too heat-delirious to see it.  I think I’ll stick to kayak birding until at least October!

Here is my eBird checklist for the trip. Most birds were too distant for good photos thanks to excessive heat shimmer.  I added nine new species to my “June Challenge” list (see as many species as possible in the month of June instead of sitting at home complaining about the hot weather), including Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting, bringing my month total species up to 72.

 

About the Author

Anna Fasoli

Anna is a field biologist who has traveled all over the US working on different research projects. She has worked with Whooping Cranes, Northern Saw-whet Owls, Least Terns, Piping Plovers, Wilson's Snipe, Whimbrel, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, migrant eastern raptors, Crested Caracara, Long-billed Curlew, Florida Scrub-Jays and the southeastern subspecies of American Kestrels.

  • I’d love to have a bobcat sighting!

    Thats a ridiculously pretty butterfly as well.

  • I really need to get to Florida. Great shots, Anna!

  • Matt Hafner

    When I lived in Ocala back in 2008-2009, I really enjoyed both the Oklawaha Prairie and Sunnyhill Restoration area in that section of the county. One morning at Sunnyhill, there were 2 bears, including one in a Live Oak over the path.

    Marion County was a challenging place to county list! Unfortunately I was very bad about eBirding back then, so I don’t have many full lists.

  • Anna Fasoli

    Thanks for the great comments! Everyone has an open invitation to visit me in Florida. Lots of kayaking and birding opportunities! Most of my birding is done during work in the Ocala National Forest so that definitely gave my month list a boost.