Sunday, March 31, 2019

A Beautiful Hike at Emerson Point, Palmetto FL

Sparky found another gem of a park...Emerson Point....This is a Manatee County Park that has all three designations listed in the photo above. It's a pretty special place! Sparky has been hiking all this past week at different birding spots in Sarasota, and so far, this one is her favorite. It's actually in Palmetto, but close enough and easy to get to. The actual location is the west end of Snead Island, on the north shore of the Manatee River, and Terra Ceia Bay is to the north. The address is: 5801 17th Street West, Palmetto, FL. The hours:

Terra Ceia Trail
Having been there a couple of times now, Sparky is really happy to have found this preserve....There are beautiful shaded areas to walk, a nice trail along Terra Ceia Bay, and MOST of the trails are flat except for the Terra Ceia Bay one. Lots to see along the way....The scenery changes from shady woods to open areas, to slight elevations, to wide open spaces. There are LOTS of birds in the marshes by the mangroves.....Yesterday's walk, Sparky spotted at least 20 snowy egrets, several tricolored herons, two great white egrets and several ibis in the thickets of the mangrove roots.
Emerson is evolving...they are trying to rebuild and restore the wetlands, marshes, and fields in some of the areas so there are signs saying, "STAY ON DESIGNATED PATHS" everywhere. That's ok...there are so many paths that wind in and around the preserve, it's great! There's an Indian Mound there, beautiful staircases and bridges, AND an observation tower. There are many places to sit and catch your breath and see the views of the water. Lots to learn about the local history of the area, too. This would be a great place for a family hike or get together.
Sparky is always amazed at the tangled web of mangroves in some places....Here you can really see how the mangroves' roots help protect and preserve the soil from erosion from storms.
In other spots of the preserve, the mangrove roots are more spread out.....Well, sort of....
Whoever the stewards are of this property, (owned by Manatee County) they certainly do a wonderful job of maintaining this preserve. There are other parks and preserves in the county that you cannot say the same. They even have bee boxes at Emerson! This one was very busy!
Here's a closeup with a zoom...Sparky is glad that the zoom is on her camera....Happy to see many bees from far away, knowing that colonies are collapsing and the bees are in trouble, which means we are in trouble.
It was a beautiful morning this day....If you are a birder, you would probably see many more species of birds up in the trees and canopies of the palms, but Sparky has trouble spotting birds high up. Such a wonderful place to walk and reflect!
Sparky plans to return many more times to this wonderful preserve....Bye for now....

Monday, March 25, 2019

Duette Watershed Preserve

OK, all you birders out's another suggested "hot" birding spot in Sarasota County from the little red book the Audubon Society of Sarasota puts out, (available for purchase at the Celery Fields Visitor Center). This place is called Duette Preserve, or officially on a GPS navigation probe, the Duette Watershed Preserve. It is located 26 miles east of I-75 on SR-64, north on Duette Road, 6.6 miles to the west on Rawls Rd.  There are two entrances and the preserve is open 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Fridays, Sat. and Sun. 8:00-4:00, and Mon-Thurs, you pre-register at a check station. According to the brochure put out by Manatee County, you can hike, fish, horseback ride, and view wildlife here.

about a 1/2 mile in on the trail today
Sparky is starting to think "hot birding spot" simply means there is very little shade and the trails are out in the open, so it's going to be a hot hike, haha....This is a park/preserve out in the boonies, near one of the Mosaic Mining facilities...It was a beautiful day, but this is  not a beautiful place to hike or bird watch in Sparky's humble opinion. It is 22,000 acres of pine flat woods, hardwood swamps, oak scrub and dry prairie. The preserve has 16 trails and Sparky found out later from a county worker that the trails are just roads that are go in and around the preserve. 

According to the birding book, you might see belted kingfishers, egrets, herons, white ibis, Florida scrub jays, burrowing owls, wild turkeys and sandhill cranes. Sparky saw none of those today...but she doesn't have binocs so that hinders the search a bit. And she only went down one trail, so this is not a particularly good review of this place! Sparky is just not a fan of scrub brush birding and scratchy, dry prairie. The part that Sparky explored today was boring and down right ugly looking...Burned out patches of foliage, tangly brush and not a whole lot else. Sparky thought this might be another trail, but it was probably some kind of service road, path, ATV trail?

BUT--A couple of butterflies, so that means there must be pretty flowers somewhere, right? Sparky didn't see them. Just some cool lichens (?) growing....

Oh, little tiny wildflower bush trying to survive.....

This preserve does have a nice picnicking/camping area, but it's primitive camping, no water or electric at the sites.
Overall, it just didn't do much for Sparky, so she headed out after about a mile in....It's a good thing she did. Along came a country worker in a truck, and he informed Sparky that the preserve was closed today as a turkey hunt would be going on tomorrow! There was no notice at the gate entrance where Sparky drove in, so it was a good thing she was on her way out! For some, with good eyes and a lot of patience and time, exploring this preserve further might yield some great birding experiences, but this gal will pass on this preserve for now.

If you want to see something more up Sparky's alley, come back and read about Emerson Preserve. It is now Sparky's favorite go to place for long walks and beautiful nature. See ya later, alligator!
happy to be coming out of this preserve!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Birding in Sarasota--Rye Preserve

Sparky has been on a mission this week, her spring break. She decided to try and visit several different birding sites, one each day. The sites were chosen from this book--Birding Hot Spots in Sarasota and Manatee Counties--a little red book put out by the Sarasota Audubon Society and it's available at the visitor's center at Celery Fields. Forgot what the price was, though.... It's a nice little book. It has the name of about 22 different spots to find the migratory birds that come to Florida this time of year, the best places to see the birds that stay all year round, and descriptions of what you MIGHT see when you go, depending upon the season. The back of the book has maps for each site, and a checklist/chart that tells all the names of the birds and visiting birds for this area and a designation of abundant, common, uncommon, and rare AND what time of year they might be expected in the area.

Now, Sparky is NOT a birder...she likes taking photos of birds, but she doesn't use binoculars or scopes. She just likes to get out in nature, and if she sees birds-great! If not, that's ok, too... so this is not exactly a birding's just a personal experience of visiting one of the sites in the birding book (which some people might find very helpful) from a walking/hiking perspective with a camera in tow, just in case.

Rye Preserve--145 acre property just northwest of the Lake Manatee Dam. There are 4 distinct ecosystems--sand pine scrub, oak scrub, oak hammocks, and a river community. There is a piece of history here as well, the Rye family cemetery. You can tent camp here as well, and there is a nice children's playground. No RV's permitted.

The address is 905 Rye Wilderness Trail, Parrish, FL.  Keep your eyes peeled for the gopher tortoise and the Florida Scrub Jay. There could be an Indigo snake as well...ewwwwww! No, thank you! At sunrise and sunset, sometimes larger animals are spotted such as deer, a possible bobcat or gray fox. But Sparky didn't see any wildlife today....

All the trails are very short but can be combined for longer distances...Each of the trails are less than one mile. Here is a little map of what's available, but you can download one here, using this link from the Manatee County website. Sparky was not impressed with the campsites or the trail signage. Except for the playground, the campsites were very rustic, the picnic tables looked a little worse for wear and tear, and trail areas were somewhat overgrown.

Sparky  walked one trail, the Red Trail. It was not well marked and was confusing to her, but then again, Sparky gets confused easily on lots of trails! It wasn't easy to see where the other trails were without the map. The main posting at the preserve that showed the map was clouded over and you couldn't read the map. At this point in time, Sparky was out exploring and didn't bring a map ahead of time. 

Here, she didn't know which way the red trail went. 
As you can see, it's out in the open, but later on, the red trail passes thru some nice shade. Sparky was glad for some shade along the river as the sun was quickly heating up this nice cool Florida morning.
There was a kayak launch at the Rye Preserve as well, but you had to go down some stairs and turn to get to the river bank. You might be whacking some bushes with your kayak on your way down, it looked a little tight to get down the stairs....but just a few stairs and you are there....
Overall, Sparky was disappointed with the trails and the atmosphere of the's definitely "old Florida", not in the best kept condition, except for a new playground and possible restrooms but the trails were not easily found. 
main sign at the reserve
On to the next park/preserve birding hot spot!  See ya later!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Robinson Preserve in Sarasota

It's been awhile since Eldy or Sparky has been to Robinson Preserve. So Sparky headed out there for a hike....Located in northwest Bradenton, it's a really beautiful 679 acres with a LOT of options for hiking, kayaking, and enjoying nature. There is a 2.5 paved trail, and more than five miles of shell and coastal trails. It is within the boundaries of Tampa Bay and Perico Bay, so you can kayak there as well as hike. There are lots of bridges and boardwalks there....It also has a 40 foot observation tower where you have an unobstructed view of Tampa Bay. Nice!

There are two entrances, one on 9th Ave. NW, and the other at 17th Ave. NW. The preserve now encompasses 682 acres of mangroves, coastal wetlands, tidal marshes and some agricultural land. There's a new 2.5K rubberized trail (which Sparky missed somehow), and a section called the Nest, which is an educational facility and event space.

If you are looking for a shady hike, much of the trails at Robinson are in the open, but you can find shady spots to cool down and little alcoves by the water in front of Tampa Bay as you hike. 

As Sparky walked around the perimeter of the park, she kept seeing these little underbrush trails that weren't marked. So she would follow them just a few feet, and tada! A little private beach spot with a little bit of sand, shade, and a place to put a couple of little chairs and sit and eat lunch.
There were spots that were shady for awhile, and then out in the hot sun for awhile. It seemed as though there was more open hiking than shady hiking, but that's a matter of personal preference and if you have a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen, no problem! There are quite a few little bridges and boardwalks as well.
visitor's center

The visitor's center was not open, which was a little surprising on a weekday,  and the park being busy with snowbirds, but guess they can't staff the center as much as they like. Sparky would have liked to ask questions about kayak rental (thru a separate and a few other things, but maybe next time. There are plenty of benches to sit and catch a break, and shaded benches along the trails. (There seems to be a recurring theme here of Sparky preferring shady hikes and not in direct sun would be correct!) A few beautiful little wildflowers here and there...

Sparky had not seen butterflies for awhile...but she did see this one on some pretty orange flowers on a side trail....You have to look close to see the butterfly!

A good place to see mangroves....Mangrove roots help stabilize beach sand during humongous wind storms and hurricanes and provide nutrients and safety for marine life. A wonderful preserve and a wonderful place to come-- hike or bike or come sit and enjoy Florida's coastal life for awhile!
Bye for now.....

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Rothenbach Park, Sarasota FL

Sparky has discovered a beautiful park within Sarasota...It's a true gem....It's called Rothenbach Park and is at the east end of Bee Ridge Road, (8650 Bee Ridge Rd) in Sarasota. This is a park built around a closed, capped landfill area. There are beautiful playgrounds, shelter areas and about 4 miles of trails which are for pedestrians and bike riders. The one thing this park is not, is it's  NOT pet friendly. Pets, horses, dogs and cats are prohibited. There are so many other parks in Sarasota that allow pets, that this was a refreshing change to this former dog owner. No pet poop bags left behind, no dog poop or horse poop to worry about!

It appears to be relatively new, judging by the wonderful, modern playgrounds that are there. There is a playground called "Tot Lot" for the little ones, a second playground for kids 5-12, and a third "playground" for the whole family. The sign says bring out your family teams and have a go at all the equipment stations. It would be a fun place to have a family reunion.

Look at all the cool equipment for kids and grown up kids to play on! These side panels look like you are supposed to run through the center, kicking up your feet on the side panels as you go through? Not sure about that one...

Climb up a rope ladder as fast as you can up and then back down. There are several more stations in this fun playground area, but let's get to the trails, shall we?

Sparky has hiked Rothenbach Park twice....there is a one mile trail and a 2.75 mile trail. If you do both, then you can get almost 4 miles in. The trails are both out in the sun and in the shade. Here is the start of the 2.75 trail on a cloudy, drizzly day which goes through beautiful woodlands and jungles of Florida palms.....
Nature's umbrella
According to a local birding guide, there are northern parulas, (pretty little blue birds with golden yellow & brown chests) pileated woodpeckers, barred owls, blue grey gnatcatchers and many wintering and migrating bird species, but Sparky didn't spot any. The shady parts of the long trail are through major thickets of palm trees and vines. Looks like an umbrella, doesn't it? Nature's umbrella!
Lots of flora though....
These look like little sweet pea plants....there were cool little pods right next to this pretty little yellow flower. Lots of different colors of mosses and lichens....beautiful!
Some lichen (?) beginning to spread...
Some beautiful wildflowers along the way.....

Some more epiphytes--air plants...the plants that don't need soil. They just grab onto the nearest surface and thrive...these look like horse tails, don't they? The native Americans called them "tree hair". We usually call this "Spanish Moss". It hangs all over the place down here in Florida. It's actually a member of the pineapple and succulent family. Some people think it's a parasite, and harms the trees it grows on, but it doesn't. It gets its nutrients from rain, sunlight and airborne dust and debris. The plant's tissues hold water when it rains, and then green up a bit. As the water gets used, up, then the plant turns grey again. Dried moss makes great tinder for fires, something Sparky did not know! And chiggers don't get into the moss unless it's on the ground. Sparky saw a kid one time, on a field trip, scoop up a BUNCH of Spanish moss and put it on his head. She was thinking "CHIGGERS! Ewwwwwww!" Hope he didn't get chigger bites!

Ok, enough about Spanish Moss. Moving right along....speaking of moving, all along the trail, there are exercise stations, the "World Trail" with ideas for how to use the equipment. Sparky wasn't into that today....too busy enjoying the shady forest! (C'mon, Sparky, you aren't ever into gym equipment! says Eldo). And he'd be right about that. Sparky is not a gym person, at least not in her senior citizen stage of life. She's all about outdoor moving and walking and hiking, and kayaking.

Another view from a little bridge.....

Sparky did see some wildlife, though! A herd of white tailed deer--about nine of them. They were healthy, and really big!
On the home stretch on the outer trail....passed some kind of cement factory or quarry or construction materials site bordering on the right, hiked back around to the beginning of the trail and done!

If you want to have a wonderful, long, peaceful walk, check out Rothenbach Park. Sparky highly recommends it!