A Fluttering Question


Question Mark, Polygonia interrogationis

Question Mark, Polygonia interrogationis

Question Mark, Polygonia interrogationis

Question Mark, Polygonia interrogationis

Question Mark, Polygonia interrogationis

It seems the lepidopterans are ready, they are beginning to emerge from their various states of overwintering and become a little more active. We were camping at Huntsville State Park last weekend and we noticed several species out flying but I wasn’t able to get photos of any but this question mark, Polygonia interrogationis. The three of us took a 7 mile hike around Lake Raven and I opted to put my 75-300mm lens on for the duration of the hike just for this reason. Plus, it alleviated my need to bend down and take flower photos. And while I wasn’t able to get any other butterfly photos I was quite happy that this sweet butterfly thought warming up on the side of the tree for a few minutes was a good idea while I paparazzi’d it.

Onward to more butterflies—and soon, monarch season!

Flora, Fungi, and Fauna along the Florida Trail in Bronson State Forest


Let’s wrap up my Florida trip with this final post from my hike at Bronson State Forest.

Sand Heath Ceratiola ericoides

Sand Heath Ceratiola ericoides
Sand Heath, Ceratiola ericoides

Rosemary scrub habitats in Florida are considered to be a particularly endangered habitat. It thrives in sandy, old inland dune habitats and prefers to have a good burn once in a while—and well, you can imagine that sandy habitats and burning can be in short supply when people build homes right on top of and up next to the perfect habitat.

A few sites with more information: Scrub Rosemary via UCF Arboretum, Endemic Florida Rosemary via Florida State Parks, and Rosemary scrub via Florida Hikes.

Deer Moss Cladonia evansii

Deer Moss Cladonia evansii
Deer Moss, Cladonia evansii

Sometimes the sand can be covered in deer moss and while the sand is fluffy and white, this makes it look even more like snow at times.

Sand Spike-Moss Selaginella arenicola
Sand Spike-Moss, Selaginella arenicola

This Selaginella just needs a bit of rain to plump up again! This species is also showing up as having a range into Texas.

Shelf Fungi
Shelf Fungi, Order Polyporales

Christmas Lichen
Christmas Lichen, Herpothallon rubrocinctum

Vanillaleaf Carphephorus odoratissimus

Vanillaleaf Carphephorus odoratissimus
Vanillaleaf, Carphephorus odoratissimus

Vanillaleaf is a plant I’ve only become familiar with in the last couple of years after seeing people post it online. Unfortunately it isn’t in its lilac blooming glory and I didn’t crush its leaves to get the signature vanilla scent. A bit more info here

Golden Polypody Phlebodium aureum

Golden Polypody Phlebodium aureum

Golden Polypody Phlebodium aureum
Golden Polypody, Phlebodium aureum, with shoestring fern Vittaria lineata, at the bottom of the palm in the second photo. Gotta miss the epiphytic fern diversity.

Chocolate Tube Slimes, Stemonitis sp.
Chocolate Tube Slimes, Stemonitis sp.

This was probably one of the cooler finds along the hike. Originally I thought it was a fungi, kinda like the ‘fungi’ I saw at Lake Livingston SP a few weekends ago, but turns out this was also a slime mold. Now I’m really on the lookout for slime molds!

Monk Orchid Oeceoclades maculata
Monk Orchid, Oeceoclades maculata

Monk orchids are terrestrial orchids that were originally from Africa, later naturalizing in Brazil and since the 1970s they have taken root in areas throughout Florida. I enjoy them but we’ve also been known to pull them up when we’ve found them in natural spaces.

Golden Silk Spider Trichonephila clavipes
Golden Silk Spider, Trichonephila clavipes

Always one to give you a giant leap back or a fumble on the trail if you stumble into their web at the last minute on the trail! So creepy and yet beautiful!

Lizard's Tail Saururus cernuus
Lizard’s Tail, Saururus cernuus

Oyster Mushrooms
Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus sp.

Habenaria sp.
Ground orchid, Habenaria sp.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit Arisaema triphyllum
Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum

Finding an early harbinger of spring—well, one that was right on time for this area of Florida—was a delight to find on the trail. We’re just coming into their season here in Texas.

Habeneria sp.
Another ground orchid, Habeneria sp.

Hooded Pitcher Plant Sarracenia minor
Hooded Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia minor

Pink Sundew Drosera capillaris
Pink Sundew, Drosera capillaris

Yellow Milkwort Polygala rugelii
Yellow Milkwort, Polygala rugelii

Pond Pine Pinus serotina
Pond Pine, Pinus serotina

Fetterbush Lyonia Lyonia lucida
Fetterbush Lyonia, Lyonia lucida

Southern Needleleaf Airplant Tillandsia setacea
Southern Needleleaf Airplant, Tillandsia setacea

Unknown fern

Unknown fern
An unknown fern…

If anyone can tell me what this is that would be great! I’m sure it is a desiccated version of a common fern, I just can’t figure it out!

Golden Club Orontium aquaticum
Golden Club, Orontium aquaticum

Bracket Fungi, Florida Trail
Bracket Fungi, Family Polyporaceae

Viola sp.
Viola sp.

Spurge Nettle Cnidoscolus stimulosus
Spurge Nettle, Cnidoscolus stimulosus

And that’s a wrap! Great hiking, great company, and great naturalizing!

Raptor Leftovers


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Every now and then a hike gets you a glimpse of something wild and interesting. In some areas maybe you get to encounter a large mammal—a bear, maybe a panther or bobcat. Sometimes you just get really cool animal interactions like the time we watched a bald eagle steal a fish from an osprey on the last day of our Florida Trail thru-hike.

Occasionally you come across the weirder but still interesting animal presence such as this dead opossum we found on a hike at Huntsville State Park over the weekend. Since we travel at a 5.5 year old’s pace these days we had been stopping and slowing down, and then speeding up, and looking up and then looking down—and it just so happened we’d paused for a few moments and looked up at this dead tree with a limb hanging across the path and found the leftovers from a raptor’s dinner the previous night. Poor thing didn’t know what was coming when it went out to scavenge!

Life Lately | Late February 2020


Black-billed magpie, Pica hudsonia
Thinking:
+About getting back into processing Alaska photos…
+Super Tuesday–Go EW!
+Trying to decide how panicky we should really be about Covid-19. I can’t help it, I keep wanting to call it Corvid-19. See corvid above. Really sounds like a Michael Crichton thriller.
+Where did February go? If January was 10 months long, February was a week long.
+I barely got anything done in February I wanted to do get done and I’m just now working on the major project I wanted go work on which was go through the pile of papers we had “to file” and figure out what really needed to be shredded and what needs to be filed. And then go through the filing cabinet and shred what is ancient and get re-organized. AND THEN—move everything out of our closets and get a steam cleaner to clean the carpets. We only have carpet in our closets and then in my studio and all of them need to be steam cleaned—something we should have done when we moved in but just didn’t. Oh, we moved in 8 years ago this coming June. Very past due for this to happen.

Gardening:
+I moved more mulch earlier in the month but Chris needs to weed his bed and we can mulch that. We need to clean up the beds around his man-cave building and mulch those and figure out what we wanted to plant there as everything we planted there 7-8 years ago never thrived.
+I’m ready for this mild to warm then swinging to chilly weather to stop so I can just plant my tomatoes and get that going. I’m putting the tomatoes in the ground this weekend whether the weather agrees or not. I’m done waiting.

Loving:
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Celebrating my friend Stephanie’s 40th birthday!

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Getting a hike in with my dad over the weekend.

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A couple of years ago my dad left one of his hats at our house for Forest to have. Forest refused to wear it for a long time because it made him sad that Pawpaw wasn’t there. Well, I asked if he wanted to wear it the other day and now he’s very into it!

Reading:
+I’ve read 18 books so far this year. Yes, that’s right. Most of those are thanks to audiobooks! The secret is to listen to 4-7 hour length books at 1.5 to 1.75 speed—especially the books where people are t-a-l-k-i-n-g s-l-o-w-l-y. Speed those suckers up! Your brain takes a few sentences to catch up and then Bam! you’ve got the flow and can focus. Plus, I’ve been listening at the gym while I work out and that has helped a lot. Naturally since I’ve read so much I’m hitting a wall this week and my desire to read or listen has gone drastically down.
+Favorites so far include: The Last Butterflies by Nick Haddad, The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher, The First Emma by Camille Di Maio (based loosely on true events surrounding the Pearl Brewery in San Antonio), Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, and Cat Tale by Craig Pittman.

Making:
+I’ve still been making my monotype prints in the studio but I’m also working on a painting and drawing, albeit slowly. I need to work on cleaning the studio up because Forest made it an epic disaster earlier this month but I haven’t had the energy to deal with it.
+Still working on Forest’s blanket and am super ready for that to be done.
+I made lemon curd with the rest of our lemons!
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Oh, here are some of the prints:
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Watching & Listening:
+Wayyyyy too much. Everything started back up again at the end of January or early February so there is a lot on right now. I finished The Man in the High Castle on Amazon and I do recommend it. But now we’re back to This is Us, Homeland (final season!), Good Girls, Better Call Saul, and Outlander. Oh, and PBS had an adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished book Sanditon that I have been enjoying. Considering she barely wrote a quarter or a third of the book, most of the series has been made up by the writers. I’ve enjoyed it for what it was!
+Listening wise, mostly those audiobooks but I have been keeping up with two political podcasts for updates on the primary season, Pod Save America and Pantsuit Politics.

Looking Forward:
+A couple of camping trips in the next month.
+Maybe getting Forest into swimming lessons or gymnastics soon.
+A possible get together with some friends later in the month.

What’s up with you???

Forest Friday | Was he really that small? Edition


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It’s been a hot minute since I’ve done a Forest Friday here. And seeing as the kid is nearly 5.5 and heading for 6 very quickly, I’ve been reminiscing over his baby and toddler days a lot the last few months. He’s hurtling for the bigger little kid era, ditching the preschool years and tendencies slowly but surely. All of this is good, of course, he’s acting age appropriate, but I’m still a bit wistful for the baby and toddler era in many ways…of course in other ways I’m thankful we’re past those—nursing, diapers, whining without saying what he wants—oh wait, scratch that last one, that still goes on! There’s always something funny coming out of his mouth, usually it is a phrase that isn’t a kid phrase at all, something an adult would say or just a unique way of saying something that will make Chris and I look at each other and smile because he’s so darned cute! And I can’t go and pinch his cheeks nearly as much anymore or heaven forbid smother him in kisses because I get told “Mom, don’t kiss me!” *sigh*

Today he is having his last set of photos done at daycare/preschool which will also include his preschool graduation photos. I know a lot of people roll their eyes at kids graduating from preschool or kindergarten but when you’ve got a kid in it, the transition is real. We’ve been talking a lot about his “big kid school” and trying to get him ready for that in some kind of manner. He’ll be making a completely new set of friends because many of his friends will be going to a different school in a different district. And his very best friend is moving to Tampa soon. Oof, it is hard being a 5 year old!

How close and how far those baby years are now. Impossibly long back then and now a mere blip in time!

A Hike in the Chuluota Wilderness | Florida Trail


Florida Trail Chuluota Wilderness
On the Sunday of the short weekend in Florida, I went on a hike with Sandra of Florida Hikes and Kate Dolamore, an artist friend in central Florida I’ve gotten to know the last couple of years. I wanted to hike on a section of the Florida Trail that was new to me, a piece in the Bronson State Forest that was in the process of being re-routed when we hiked in 2011. During our hike we had to road walk a large chunk of this section. So, after breakfast with some of the crew from Billy Goat Day at the Townhouse Restaurant, I met up with Sandra at the Joshua Creek Trailhead, so we could hike a section she had recommended for my final day in Florida.

Florida Trail
If you are wondering how on earth to pronounce Chuluota, it’s Chew-lee-o-tah. You can get some background information here about the history of the town and the meaning of the name.

I told Kate to meet at the Chuluota Wilderness Trailhead on Curryville Road while I met up with Sandra at the Joshua Creek Trailhead where she would leave her car and I’d shuttle us back to the CWT and meet Kate. Considering it had been 9 years since I had been in this particular area of Florida it took me a few minutes on the drive between trailheads to realize where I was at—the roadwalk Chris and I had done between the Orlando Wetlands Park and Chuluota! You could see faded orange blazes on the poles and memories of that post-rain walk that turned into a beautiful afternoon came back to me.

Florida Trail Chuluota Wilderness
Kate was already at the trailhead when we arrived and she was scoping out little scenes along a side trail. Kate is known for taking a lot of macro shots of insects and fungi—she moves slow and takes her time poking around! After everyone had their packs situated we took off down the trail through the Chuluota Wilderness.

Sand Heath Ceratiola ericoides
Florida rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides) scrub.

Having Sandra along for the hike was basically like having your own personal tour guide for the Florida Trail! It was great to hear what she knew about this section but to also hear about other goings on surrounding the FT. At the same time I was also trying to get to know Kate a bit since this is the first time we’d met in person! And actually, this weekend was the first time I’d met Sandra in person as well, and after hiking with both it felt like I’d been friends with them for forever!

Resurrection Fern
Resurrection fern

Florida Trail Chuluota Wilderness
We set off down the trail late morning. It had been slightly chilly in the morning but the days were warm, just like the Florida I know in winter! I was thankful I’d brought my hat because the traverse across the rosemary scrub had been quite open and exposed. While it wasn’t a summer sun beating down, the reflection of winter sunlight off the sand was a bit blinding.

Kate Dolamore

Florida Trail Chuluota Wilderness
Along the way we noticed several off-road trails and two-tracks that the FT crossed several times. This area looked ripe for exploring off the FT as well!

Florida Trail Chuluota Wilderness
Christmas lichen with an orange blaze. Sometimes Christmas lichen can be shaped like a blaze and in the distance you might mistake it for an actual blaze!

Sandra Friend, Florida Trail Chuluota Wilderness
Sandra led the way, stopping to get new beta on the trail as we hiked and taking photos along the way. I joked with her about that and well, because she is pretty much the authority on trails in Florida it is pretty much in her bones to always be scouting and get new information to update her website!

Florida Trail Chuluota Wilderness
When we left the rosemary scrub the trail turned into an oak/saw palmetto scrub that was just gorgeous to walk through. I was in heaven!

Kate Dolamore

Florida Trail Chuluota Wilderness

Floodplain Forest, Chuluota Wilderness
The trail then began sloping downward slightly and we entered into a floodplain forest that would eventually lead to the floodplain itself. This scene reminded me of Texas! In Texas this would be dwarf palmetto instead of saw palmetto or cabbage palms mixed with the hardwoods. I thought it was funny that I was stopping and saying that it looked like Texas when typically when I see a scene like this in Texas I say that it looks like Florida!

Kate Dolamore
Kate peering around for something tiny to photograph.

Sandra Friend, Florida Trail
Ah, the floodplain was beautiful—my kind of place to be! I wouldn’t have minded jumping off and walking around to poke around a bit! Unfortunately that wasn’t the goal of this hike.

Kate Dolamore looking at fungi

Kate and Sandra scoping out an orchid
We left the wetland area for a trail along a fenceline. Checking out the map for this, the line is also the Orange county/Seminole county line and the boundary for the Chuluota Wilderness area. Kate and Sandra were photographing a ground orchid here.

Chuluota Wilderness
After a short break here we continued our way south along the trail.

Chuluota Wilderness

Forested Wetland, Florida Trail

Forested Wetland, Florida Trail

Forested Wetland, Florida Trail
We’d managed to keep our feet dry up until we passed into the main area of Bronson State Forest, the previous floodplain included, due to the nice boardwalk through it. This time we managed to meander our way around the edges of this soggy area that was growing some beautiful moss.

Florida Trail
Soon we intersected a blue blaze that I think Sandra said would take you out to the St. Johns river floodplain.

Pine scrub Forest, Florida Trail
And then it was back into uplands again, this time through a burned pine scrub that might have been slightly too burned!

Sandra Friend, Florida Trail

Wetland, Florida Trail
Our next wetland crossing was at Buscombe Creek, another lovely area that was ripe for exploration with the fascinating plants living around it.

Buscombe Creek, Florida Trail

Joshua Creek Campsite
Soon we came to the Joshua Creek campsite which was a rather lovely spot and not terribly far from the Joshua Creek trailhead, if you wanted a short overnight in the woods.

Joshua Creek Campsite

Joshua Creek, Florida Trail
The fern lined Joshua Creek shortly after the campsite.

Joshua Creek, Florida Trail
I knew we were getting close to the end of the hike once we crossed Joshua Creek but I wasn’t ready to leave. I had to, though, to make time to pack up and get to the airport in time to return my car and get on my flight home. But I really could have kept on hiking.

Joshua Creek Trailhead

Joshua Creek Trailhead

Joshua Creek Trailhead
And then we found the blue blaze to the trailhead and our hike was soon to be over.

Bronson State Forest

Sandra Friend, me, Kate Dolamore - Chuluota Wilderness to Joshua Creek Trailhead, Florida Trail

We shuttled back to the Chuluota Wilderness Trailhead and got a photo of the three of us together. It was a wonderful hike and a great way to cap off the short weekend. It really made me miss Florida so much more. I’ve officially been out of the state for 10 years now—longer than I lived in it—and most of the time it feels like yesterday and not a decade. Driving back to the airport afterwards, it felt like I could easily just turn off the highway and drive into the ‘burbs to our house and get ready for the work week instead of flying back to Texas.

Chuluota Wilderness to Joshua Creek
This is a screen shot of our path via what my Garmin watch tracked. Do check out the trail info here for the hike. If you need a good snippet of what the Florida Trail is like and are in the Orlando metro area, I would recommend this section!

Thanks Sandra for being game to hike with me and guiding us down the trail and thanks to Kate for coming along and meeting a fellow internet nature nerd!

And of course I’ll have another post to follow-up with that includes flora and fungi–I don’t think I took any fauna photos this time around. You know me and my too many photos! So, another post will follow soon!

Weekend at Lake Livingston


Lake Livingston State Park
We kicked off February with a camping trip to Lake Livingston State Park. It is one of our closer camping locations and thus allows for easy access on weekends when we don’t feel like trekking across the state.

Lake Livingston State Park
In the past we’ve tried to take off work a bit early on Friday to make it a longish weekend at the campsite. We weren’t really able to leave that early this time and so when we arrived it was nearly dark. We would end up setting up the tent in the dark as well as making dinner in the dark. This was something we really couldn’t fathom doing a few years ago with a baby and then toddler, but Forest is now big enough to follow directions and to also hang out by himself while I help Chris with getting things set up. I don’t really enjoy doing the camping set up in the dark but it is nice to know that the option is there for us now! And with the days getting longer it will be less worrisome for awhile.

Lake Livingston State Park
On Saturday morning we did our typical hike on the boardwalk trail, taking it slow to see what early spring ephemerals might be out. It was rather quiet and still feeling a bit like late winter. Forest found a tiny, not fully formed pinecone here and kept it before he ended up losing it sometime later that weekend.

Goldenrod Gall Fly
Goldenrod Gall Fly, Eurosta solidaginis

Lake Livingston State Park

Candleflame Lichen Candelaria concolor

Candleflame Lichen Candelaria concolor
I was stopped in my tracks by this neon-yellow/green on a tree and had to take a few photos. I thought I had seen something like it before on iNaturalist and turns out it is Candleflame Lichen, Candelaria concolor. You may recognize it in smaller doses—the other photos of it on iNat show it how I’ve seen it in the past with little splotches in pieces of wood or cement, but this entire side of the tree was covered in it.

Lake Livingston State Park

Lake Livingston State Park
This log with these strange formations on it stopped me in my tracks. Initially they looked like eggs but I got off the boardwalk and inspected and thought they were fungi. Nope, someone on iNat identified them as a slime mold, Trichia decipiens!

Lake Livingston State Park

Bushy Beard Lichen Usnea strigosa
Bushy Beard Lichen, Usnea strigosa

Lake Livingston State Park
Don’t ask me—he found a sunny spot and just laid down in it. You’ll see that spot again soon.

Lake Livingston State Park
Chris found a woodpecker and was trying to show Forest where it was off in the trees.

Red Admiral
A butterfly! We spotted this red admiral flitting about. Not too much butterfly activity right now but with the warming days I think that will change soon.

Lake Livingston State Park
He just really loved this little spot and wanted to hang out there.

Possumhaw Ilex decidua
Possumhaw, Ilex decidua

Prairie Phlox Phlox pilosa
Maybe someday I will figure out the difference between phlox and mock vervain…Glandularia sp. mock vervain.

Lake Livingston State Park
I just loved this scene with the dwarf palmettos, Sabal minor in the foreground.

Lake Livingston State Park
We hiked, Chris fished, Forest and I attended a honeybee talk by a ranger in the nature center/gift shop, and did more hiking, playground-ing, a bit of bike riding. We packed it in!

Lake Livingston State Park
I chose the same site we had the last time we were here based on the wide play area behind the camp site. Forest really enjoyed it this time around (he was a little over 4 last time) and walked on the logs like a balance beam and there was another tree that was leaning over far enough he could ‘climb’ across it. Definitely a play spot for an adventurous 5 year old!

Lake Livingston State Park

Lake Livingston State Park
We closed out the weekend with a hike on a loop we hadn’t hiked before and then went back to camp to pack things up. Another weekend camping trip in the books!

A Hike at Split Oak Forest


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As I mentioned a few posts ago, when I flew into Orlando I went for a hike over at Split Oak Forest WEA. After I made my flight plans a few months ago I knew I wanted to hike somewhere, probably on the Florida trail, and I had thought I’d likely hit up Tosohatchee WMA. But over the last few months I began seeing a lot more press about a potential toll road proposal going through the southern portion of Split Oak Forest.

In late December, Osceola county commissioners ended up approving the toll road plans which was seriously disappointing to hear. Then, late last month a commissioner asked her fellow board members to rescind the vote based on being misled and being filed under a wrong state code. I’m not sure where things are on that currently but Friends of Split Oak Forest are fighting it as much as they can.

I could see evidence of road construction along FL-530/Boggy Creek Road but that appeared to be just a widening of that road. Along the way to the park I did see two sandhill cranes by the side of the road which delighted me. Once I got to the parking lot for the WEA I sat in the shade near the information kiosk and chowed my Publix sub and relished in the wonderful weather. As I was rearranging my luggage from the flight, packing up my backpack and putting my boots on, I noticed an animal wiggling along the ground across the street in the pasture. As I focused in I realized it was a river otter undulating around to a better area to access the creek that bisected the pasture. Score for a second wildlife sighting!

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So, the Florida Trail has an unconnected section routed through the park, which is also unfortunate because of the potential road construction. Right now this is not on the main thru-hike path but part of a long proposed re-route that will eventually see that roadwalk dotted area on the eastern corridor around Orlando being shifted west to those conservation lands in the middle. About 20 years ago that dotted line (the eastern one—the one on the bottom left is the western corridor route and I don’t think there are really significant plans for that at the moment) actually went through private property but for some reason the FT was kicked off the land and access hasn’t been renegotiated since. A majority of that roadwalk isn’t horrible and is on a rather quiet road but a portion of it along SR-520 is pretty bad as the area sees very high traffic. Honestly, I don’t know that this will actually ever be completely re-routed. At the glacial pace that trail acquisitions take place it will probably be several decades before it would be finished.

So, in some aspect, I was hiking on the Florida Trail for this hike!

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Shiny Blueberry, Vaccinium myrsinites

Right off the bat it was clear that spring has arrived to central Florida. Many plants were blooming and the air and light had that sign that things were changing.

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Ah, I wanted to soak in this scene. Spanish moss draped oaks, saw palmetto understory, a wide sandy trail—yep, this was hiking in Florida!

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Fetterbush Lyonia, Lyonia lucida
The trail opened into a scrubby area filled with the blueberries, lyonia, and saw plamettos.

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Waterspider Bog Orchid, Habenaria repens

There are multiple trails, old road-grades, traversing the property. While there are several main trail routes, you could easily choose your own adventure and head off and explore where you pleased. I dipped down to check out a pond and see what it had to offer and found this ground orchid.

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Coastal Plain Staggerbush, Lyonia fruticosa
Back on the main trail I found this stunning lyonia blooming a few feet off the trail. I will admit that a lot of my flora knowledge in Florida was based primarily in south Florida and I’ve gotten exponentially better at taxonomy in the 10 years since I’ve left. I wasn’t familiar with a lot of plants I was seeing—well, I was familiar with them in that I’d noticed them before but I had never gotten around to know them previously.

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Hooded Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia minor
As I was planning my hike here, I hopped onto iNaturalist to figure out what I might see. That included several locations of pitcher plants and many of those locations were not obscured. I knew I was close to a patch of them when I had stopped off at the lake so I opened the app and it lead me right to them. It was easy to see because they were also about 20′ off the trail and people were visiting them frequently as a small path had been worn down into the woods to see them. Very cute little plants, if I may anthropomorphize for a minute!

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Roundleaf Bluet, Houstonia procumbens
I found these bluets a little further down the trail and knew they were some kind of bluet right off the bat but wasn’t sure what species. Also very cute and I saw them several other times in the next few days.

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Eventually the trail T’d and I chose to head north towards the Split Oak that the park is named for. The habitat changed to live oak canopy instead of scrub dominated and the oaks did not disappoint.

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Common Bogbuttons, Lachnocaulon anceps

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As I was oogling this gorgeous oak tree I noticed a squirrel bounding off about 50 yards to the west. It stopped and I got a good look at it—it was a Sherman’s fox squirrel! I didn’t have time to get my long lens out and switch before I lost track of it but I was super stoked to have seen one!

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I was incredibly disappointed to figure out onnce I got home that I had not managed to find the main Split Oak at the park. I had used this map which had the oak labeled near the intersection of a trail junction. And when I had arrived at that junction there was a small sign saying “Lake Trail” and then under it “Split Oak” pointing down the trail, right towards this smaller split oak. The entire time I was at this oak I thought, well, this isn’t as big as I had imagined or remembered seeing in photos and wow, there’s a lot of young pine around it, but well, I guess this is it??

Nope. So sad. I should have followed Sandra’s directions which as it turns out, the oak is on the Lake Loop and I completely bypassed that loop because my own loop was going to be 4 miles and I had somewhere else to be. And there wasn’t another sign pointing out that the oak was down that lake trail. Argh. Oh well.

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Zebra Longwing, Heliconius charithonia – I miss these! They are transient here in Houston, seen every so often and more prevalent towards Corpus Christi and south to the border.

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By this time I wasn’t in the stop and wandering stage, knowing I really needed to get back to the car so I could stop back at Publix for a few items for the weekend. However, not far from here I did see another Sherman’s fox squirrel which also evaded my ability to get a photo of it!

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I did allow myself a few minutes to get off trail when I saw silt screen 100 yards back into the woods. I couldn’t figure out what was going on over here as a lot of it looked on the old side.

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But it was adjacent to this gorgeous cypress dome!

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Just happy with the sunshine and lighting and the hike so far and wishing I had another few hours to spend here.

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This cypress dome had a bit of water in it and I poked around for a few minutes to see what was going on.

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Florida Pennyroyal, Piloblephis rigida

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Gopher Tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus
I’d spent the entire hike wondering where the gopher tortoises were! This ended up being the only one I saw the entire weekend!

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Late afternoon glow in the Spanish moss…*sigh*.

It was an excellent 4 mile jaunt for the afternoon and really made me miss how much public land access Florida has to offer. And someday I will have to return to actually see the real Split Oak at Split Oak Forest!

Scenes from Billy Goat Day 2020


First, I’m going to share the photo from FT ThruHike comparing the group in 2014 versus this year’s group. To recap for those who are reading and utterly confused—in 2011 we thru-hiked the Florida Trail. Only a handful of people were hiking that year and the trail community was pretty quiet except for a couple of people, namely Randy and LuAnn Anderson, aka: Chuck Norris and Tigger on the trail. They were running a shuttle to help hikers along the trail as a method of support, both morally and physically, and started their hike with the main group, again just a handful of people, about a week before us. By the time we reached the Orlando metro area we had caught up to the group and got to meet them at David Miller’s (AWOL) house where the group of thru-hikers had convened for a night or two as they worked on the road walks around Orlando. We ran into the group again when we reached the Lake Mary area of Orlando and after that we separated from the group and continued our hike ahead of the pack. Our friend Speaker had been hiking around that group and we knew him from the Appalachian Trail and he ended up catching up to us, after we passed the group, in Ocala National Forest. We’d heard about a day off to celebrate some guy named Billy Goat but at that point we were ahead of the group by a day or two and weren’t really keen on getting off trail to socialize. Speaker was going to get picked up at the southern entrance to Osceola National Forest which is where we split off for a few days so he went to one of the early Billy Goat Days. And of course, it turns out that Billy Goat is very well known in the hiker community, particularly on the PCT, but we weren’t that entrenched in the hiking world at that time.

Cue years later as the Florida Trail community slowly began growing—really 2014 and 2015 started seeing an increase in thru-hiker awareness and with the help of social media the boost was slowly coming. That small gathering began to form at a park instead, in a more mid-way point where thru-hikers would be getting by the end of January, the Orlando area. I had been watching this gathering grow over the years and especially when I started the podcast I had inklings in the back of my head that I wanted to attend someday. So, this summer when the date got nailed down I looked at plane tickets and knew it would be worth the trek to Florida for a few days to camp, meeting folks, record some interviews, and really just be a part of the trail community when in actuality I’m several states away from the trail. That’s one thing about this podcast that I wanted to be different from some of the other long trail podcasts—I wanted it to be more encompassing than just a thru-hiker podcast. Of course thru-hikers are an integral part of the podcast but so are section hikers, day hikers, trail angels, volunteers, FTA reps, land owners, etc, etc. I wanted to represent the whole picture as best as I could.

It may be Billy Goat Day this year, and maybe one year it will be the Kick Off or an FTA event, of which there are many throughout the year, but the goal is to keep in the actual community as best as I can from afar. I love the FT!

Alright, on to some photos of the celebration!

Sandra, Lotus, Jupiter, Denali - Billy Goat Day 2020
Sandra Friend, Lotus, Jupiter, Denali – Sandra is the author of all of the FT guidebooks and proprietor of Florida Hikes; I just met Lotus who is hiking with and is the significant other of Jupiter, and Jupiter is known for his FKT of the FT a few years ago as well as an ECT southbound hike at the same time—plus the many Ocean to Lake hikes he’s undertaken; Denali is the first woman southbound FT hiker back in 2015 and also has some extensive trail background.

Grits and Frosty - Billy Goat Day 2020
Grits and Frosty – Grits is a hoot and has hiked the trail 3 times plus mostly the entire trail another 4 or 5 times. He spends part of the year hiking on the FT and AT and the other part at home in southern Georgia. Frosty is also known as Kelly and lives in Crestview, FL, where she is a trail angel. I talked to her and her partner Flattop on episode 8.

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Early in the gathering before a lot of the crowd arrived. A few people I can point out here, from the left: The guy in the hat is Larry Boy, I can’t remember the name of the woman he’s talking to but we chatted for a while and she had an extensive hiking background and was planning on hitting the FT right after the party, Nimblewill Nomad in the plaid, the woman looking towards me is Vera Hurst who is a trail angel and very active in ALDHA and AT hostels, and the woman sitting down is Joan Jarvis and is a trail angel in the Orlando area and active in the FTA. We had a brief encounter with Joan on our urban hike through Orlando back in 2011. We were going through a crosswalk on the Cross Seminole Trail and she had pulled up to the stop sign to wait while we crossed. She yelled out the window to ask if we were FT thru-hikers, to which we said yes, and then she asked if we needed anything and said she was sorry she didn’t have any trail magic to give us at that moment. It was a quick moment in time but I have always remembered that. She does a lot for thru-hikers as they come through the area.

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Lotus, Jupiter, and Denali

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Chris aka: Water Bear from the Sunshine State Seekers

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Billy Goat and Tigger—not sure who the woman is with her back turned to me.

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Steps, Frosty, and Flattop. Steps and Flattop are currently thru-hiking right now. Flattop had been caring for his ill father for the last few years and he passed away and now Flattop is able to get out on the trail.

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Nimblewill Nomad chatting with a group of hikers.

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A few of this year’s thru-hikers: Hannah, Will, Philly, Lite Brite and Hulkspiration. The latter two have a blog here: The Gypsy Itch.

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Nathan Wright is with the Pinhoti Outdoor Center. He’s talking with Steps and someone I can’t identify here.

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Two groups of folks here, the far left: Jim Kern, I think Betty Loomis an FT Trail Angel, Sandra Friend, and not sure on the other man.
The other group is Lotus, Jupiter, and Poet. Poet is the current owner of Shaws Hiker Hostel in Monson, ME and he thru-hiked the FT last year with his family following along in a van.

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Trucker Bob, an FT Thru Hike board member, and Chuck aka Duck and Madeline. I first came to know Madeline through a running blog she kept about 10 years ago where she chronicled her runs through Florida wilderness. She’s also an artist and became an elementary art teacher in north Florida. It was really great to finally meet her after all these years! She was on episode 4.

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Turtle and Pup (pup is not pictured) and the woman I met but her name is escaping me now. She was very friendly and had hiked the AT and was investing a possible hike of the FT.

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Chris Bell and Eleni—Chris is the president of the FT Thru Hike group–formerly Florida Trail Hikers Alliance—and Eleni was the secretary but has resigned due to a pending move out of state. Eleni has become a good friend of mine through the last few years. Episode 14 with Eleni and episode 27 with Chuck, Tigger, and Chris.

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Jim Kern being recognized for his part in starting this whole thing, the Florida Trail.

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Nimblewill Nomad being recognized for his extensive hiking life.

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Birthday wishes for Billy Goat!

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I took this photo for Vera of the folks present who were members of ALDHA.

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Vera and Mosey—Mosey was a sweet lady from somewhere in the southern portion of the state who had section hiked the trail over a few years back in the 2000s. I would have loved to have recorded some audio with her but I don’t think she quite knew what a podcast was and several of the older folks I talked to were more hesitant to share their stories than the younger ones.

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The Sunshine State Seekers (Water Bear and Honeybee) with Jim Kern.

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Chris giving the trail legends their Billy Goat Day shirts.

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Billy Goat

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Me with Jim Kern!

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I missed this shot and had to snag it from the Sunshine State Seekers—but these three, the third being Josh Johnson with Hike with Heart, were Granite Gear Groundskeepers for the FT last year. The Sunshine State Seekers were chosen as legacy Groundskeepers for 2020 and will be representing them again this year. Episode 16 with Josh and episode 13 with the Sunshine State Seekers.

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And a selfie with Nimblewill Nomad—which might be my most favorite memento from this entire trip!

Eventually I’ll get a podcast episode up of my viewpoint from the weekend as well as other audio I recorded. Overall it was an exhausting and whirlwind event and I was extremely tired when I arrived back in Houston late Sunday evening but I was so glad to have made the trek out there!

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