On Saturday I went to Myakka River State Park with a small group of students and two kind Student Life employees. We saw some interesting things, and I thought it might be nice to write about them as well as the Indian Beach trip.
Click under the cut for birds, reptiles, amphibians, and everyone’s favorite mammal (spoiler: it’s a dog.)
(Note: all or most animal identification is from the park rangers and volunteers.)
We arrived at Myakka around ten in the morning and got right to exploring.
Our first destination was the canopy walk. This is a photo of the park canopy from 71.something feet up. You can see that there’s a large variety of tree species, though I couldn’t name them.
Next we took this walkway over the squishy wetland to a designated birdwatching hotspot.
We met Buddy the Deputy Dog, who belongs to one of the park volunteers. He must have already been petted half to death by tourist children, so he ignored us for the most part.
The park volunteer had fixed a long-distance viewer upon this Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus.) She said it was uncommon for these birds to sit still for a long time, as this one was doing. It was scanning the area for potential prey, waiting until some smaller animal popped out of the ferns. Looking through the lens was like being within arm’s reach of this beautiful bird of prey — we could see every feather. Sadly my camera zoom could not get the same effect.
Here is a Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)…
…and some female Red-Winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus.) As with many bird species, the females lack their male counterparts’ striking coloration. The males need to stand out to scare away competitors, attract mates and reproduce. The females, on the other hand, have to be discreet so they can care for the children and protect the nest.
The following photos are from another wetland observation spot. This was my favorite place I saw on this trip, because…
…it was literally crawling with snakes! (Look at that little guy! Look at him! He’s sticking his tongue out! What a scamp!)
I googled Florida water snakes and, according to this site, the snakes at this spot look like… well… the Florida Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris.) That’s convenient. Also known as the Florida Banded Water Snake, these guys are nonvenomous and about four feet long when fully grown. There was a bunch of them in this one spot. We counted at least six. I took tons of photos — the snakes account for probably 90% of my memory card from the trip — but I’ll try to contain myself to just a few.
The snakes were all chilling or going about their snake business right next to one another. Some snakes are known to sometimes eat smaller members of the same species, though these guys usually eat things like fish and frogs. Either way, since these guys were all close to the same size, they left each other alone.
Wild snakes, on a whole, tend to hide as soon as a human enters the scene. It felt like a rare honor to see these ones move around, unconcerned, under and around our wooden platform.
We even got to watch one of the snakes as he caught, killed and began to eat a fish. The following image shows this. It’s nothing too graphic, but don’t look if you are squeamish.
He wasn’t having the easiest time swallowing his catch, but he didn’t give up. We did not stay to see if he made it, but snakes can sense if something’s the wrong size to eat. If the fish had been too big, the snake would have given up sooner.
A Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) was nosing around the same area, adding an element of suspense. It didn’t harass any of the snakes, at least while we were there.
It did, however, have a very brave spider sitting right on its head. I like to imagine all kinds of adventure stories to explain why it was there.
This alligator was lurking off to the side. It might have thought he was better-concealed than it really was.
We saw some cormorants, an ibis, and some turkey vultures all goofing off (like birds do) on this concrete thing.
Then we moved on, leaving the magical snake place behind in body — though in my soul, I am still there. Still there, and possibly cuddling snakes left and right with wild abandon.
This toad went back into his burrow before I could get a decent photo.
We spotted a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) on the other side of the river.
Crows ruled the more populated areas, like the picnic ground by the park’s main gift shop.
After the lunch rush, they set about eating the food bits careless humans had left behind.
This was probably a very ordinary lizard, but I found its pattern striking and took a photo.
Finally, here is another massive gator. The park gators are so docile and well-fed that they are relatively harmless, and it’s common to see fishermen wading in the river mere feet from a full-grown alligator.
Myakka Park is a beautiful place. I hadn’t been for four or five years, and seeing it again was a wonderful experience. I recommend it to anyone who wants to camp, hike, canoe or simply get up close and personal with staggering amounts of nature. There’s just heaps of nature lying around all over the place!