Myakka’s Wonders

In central Florida there is a very special state park called Myakka River. While it’s known by visitors as a place to see alligators, it holds so many more wonders of nature. Its beauty is breathtaking. It’s the type of place that holds you entranced even without the multitude of birds and other creatures that call it home.

The wide array of greens and blues in the scenery are magnificent to behold on this late January day. Dried grasses rustle softly in the wind. The waters are calm, with mirror reflections of the sky.

The slow-moving waters of Myakka River meander between narrow banks. Shorebirds hunt peacefully nearby. Like this Great Egret with its recent catch. I was told it may be an armored catfish, which are considered invasive in Florida, and sometimes challenging for a bird to swallow (depending on the size of the fish).

Quite often you will see birds of different species hunting or abiding peacefully together in the waters. Like these Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks. Roseate Spoonbills are interesting to watch when feeding. They swing their wide bill back and forth beneath the water, literally mining for food.

On this late afternoon/early evening the Wood Stork decided it was time to bathe (or was it just playing?). He was pretty interesting to watch him splash about, totally ignorant of its audience.

One shorebird which is usually quite reticent to have its photo taken is the Green Heron. But when they’re on the hunt, their single-minded focus is second to none.

There is one bird I think is rather peculiar looking with its red legs, large curved bill and pale blue eyes. The White Ibis are all white except for their black wingtips seen when flying. They roost in trees and shrubs and are native to coastal states from North Carolina to Texas and even further south.

This year, we were fortunate to see a multitude of Glossy Ibis. You would definitely not mistake it with the white one! The Glossy Ibis has dark bills and legs, and the most miraculous looking wing feather colors when the light strikes it just right.

Herons of numerous species abound in Myakka River state park. There never seems to be a shortage of Little Blue Herons. Like this one. It’s coloring is blue-gray with maroon around the neck. It’s a quiet bird you see frequently by itself, wading in and amongst the greenery near shore.

The juvenile Little Blues are not blue at all, but are white. Their legs and feet are a greenish yellow. I’ve read their coloring will change to a mottled white/blue in a sort of “molt” before they become adults and develop their blue/gray/maroon coloring.

And then, of course, there’s the Tricolored Heron which is white and blue/gray, although there appears to be some maroon coloring around the neck as well. Their behavior is comical to watch, with their quick movements, sharp stops and starts as they run after prey. This one is in a more relaxed pose with its neck tucked in.

We would be remiss if we didn’t include a photo of a Great Blue Heron. It’s a much larger bird. This one we see in Ohio quite often along shallow streams. The Great Blue emits a loud, almost prehistoric cry when disturbed. It’s something you won’t forget when you hear it.

The Black Crowned Night Heron is a much stockier heron than the ones preciously shown. As the name implies, it is active at night and roosts during the day. Usually you might get a photo of one sleeping in a shrub, although the one in the photo below was awake and watchful.

This year I also managed to get a photo of a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron – a first for me! It’s smaller than its cousin the Black-Crowned Night Heron. This photo was not taken at Myakka, but I couldn’t resist showing a photo of my “new” find.

And we mustn’t forget Sandhill Cranes. You hear their melodious calls early in the morning and in the early evening as they fly high overhead to or from their roosting areas. They’re beautiful creatures. If you ever get a chance to see their mating dance, it’s something you won’t forget. They jump and spin. Sometimes toss up a clod of dirt into the air while they perform.

But birds were not the only winged wonders at Myakka River state park. One of the most beautiful butterflies I found was this White Peacock, with it’s exquisite brown/tan/white coloring. It’s native to Florida, southern states and central America. It’s landed on a Spanish Needle flower in search of nectar.

Some of the equally beautiful creatures at Myakka are small. Very small. Like this Great Pondhawk dragonfly which landed amongst the dried Live Oak leaves. Again, another “first” for me. According to iNaturalist, it is prevalent through South America and is primarily found in the southern regions of the U.S. although there have been a few sightings further north. Its vivid green coloring is spectacular.

This is the second time I have seen a Bobcat at Myakka River state park. I apologize for the poor photo but it caught me unaware. This photo was taken early one morning along the main roadway through the park. We must have been walking very quietly because the cat didn’t seem to realize we were there.

And to end this very long blog, I have to include a photo of what most visitors seek when visiting the park. Alligators. Some are just babies, like this one on the log. It was perhaps a foot and a half long.

While some gators are pretty large. This big boy could easily be 8 feet in length, or more. I was very content to guess its length from a distance…a great distance.

If you find yourself in the Sarasota FL area, consider visiting Myakka River state park. Explore more than just the 7-mile drive through the park. Take some hikes. It’s well worth it. You will discover so much more than you expected. The natural wonders at Myakka are varied and plentiful. It can enrich your life as it has done mine.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.