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  • I’m taking this week to move into a new house so new writing is scarce. I thought I would find some long-lost posts from before I moved my blog to its current format. This one is from early 2009. Enjoy!

    This past weekend we ventured up to Gainesville to meet Marc and Eliana since they had made it back to Florida. Chris and I had been wanting to go up to Payne’s Prairie for awhile and so we asked them if they would like to meet us and check it out. Our main reason was that we wanted to see some whooping cranes. Whoopers are highly endangered birds, with only about 500 or less existing in the wild or captivity. There are breeding programs out there and the birds in Florida do not migrate and stay in Florida year round.

    So, we drove up late on Friday night, about 4.5 hour drive, and reunited Baloo with Eliana. Baloo was slightly confused, I think, which ‘mom’ does he go to? He went to Eliana and licked and loved on her, but it was a little confusing for him to figure out which bed he should jump on. We hit the sack since we planned on getting up early on Saturday morning. The early bird catches the worms around Payne’s Prairie! And, that is an understatement.

    sandhill4

    It was very foggy when we arrived at the entrance and the large live oaks were draped with Spanish moss which created an eerie, peaceful feeling. As soon as we got out of the car we heard the sandhill cranes in the distances. We weren’t the only ones there, many other birders and photographers were already on the trail that passes the Alachua sink and on to where a huge sandhill crane rookery exists. In the fog we were spying sandhill cranes flying, trying to decide if there were any whoopers in our midst.

    sandhill3

    This is one photo, but there were thousands of sandhill cranes in the rookery. They would take off for another area, land to check out what was good to eat in another, fight over territory, honk to the others and it was a sight to see.

    sandhill2

    Now, I’ve seen maybe 10 to 20 cranes together before, but never this amount. It was truly awesome!

    mande

    Marc has influenced Eliana in birding and so they were spotting all sorts of birds and crossing off some from their life lists.

    mandm

    We walked to the end of the trail (yep, I’m wearing my dorky Bolivia hat finally!) and looked on the overlook trying to spy wildlife. Just before the overlook was a huge pile of buffalo dung. Yep, there are buffalo in Florida! Payne’s Prairie also hosts wild horses left over from the cattle ranching days of the area. More on those later! We didn’t see buffalo that day but on Sunday we spied some in the distance!

    whoopers2

    We had been looking all morning for whooping cranes, knowing they would be distinctly different from the sandhill cranes, but still thinking we would see them when the light would hit the grey feathers of the sandhills just right. I was holding the camera when I looked to the northeast and saw these two coming my way. I couldn’t believe it, whoopers! Now, I am fairly certain I have seen them before at Aransas Wildlife Refuge when I was younger, but I am not sure. At least now I can say I’ve seen them!

    whoopers1

    They flew right in front of us, and I was snapping as fast as I could, hoping my shutter speed was right and that I was getting a good photo!

    whoopers3

    And then they dissappeared off behind some marsh plants.

    We decided to leave and get some lunch and on our way to lunch we spotted a pond in front of a hospital that had hooded mergansers. I’ve always wanted to see these birds!

    hoodedmergansers

    After lunch we went to the pond to check them out. They were kinda shy and kept swimming to the opposite side of the pond, unlike the ducks and geese which were very human friendly (looking for handouts probably!), and so I snapped some far-ish photos. I zoomed in on Photoshop on this next one.

    closemergansers

    very interesting aren’t they???

    paynestrail

    After our bird adventure we went to pick Baloo up from the hotel room and take him for a hike. We hit the Chacala trail at the main park entrance and did about 5 miles, which was paired with the 3 from the morning, making a long 8 mile day for us. Baloo had a good time, only picked up a few ticks and enjoyed chasing many large sticks! He loves sticks!

    On Sunday morning I was the lone person to sleep in. The other three got up even earlier than the day before and went out to see if they could get more photos. Here is what I missed:

    Paynes Prairie Wild Horse

    Wild horses. I did see one the day before after we’d left the main entrance and were about to cross the Prairie on 441.

    morningsandhills

    Worthy of a calendar, eh??

    horsies

    Sandhill1

    Chris took this one and turned up some color in Photoshop to create this morning sunrise look. It turned out pretty cool! If you look you can see through the nostrils!

    After a lunch at a pizza place in Micanopy (Mick-an-opie) we said goodbye to our North American traveling friends so they could finish their last week on the road before arriving back in SoFlo.

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