Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

It’s All About the Sink Filling Up

Friday  Afternoon April 13, 2018                                                                       Most Recent Posts:
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park                                                            Many Trails in Paynes Prairie
Micanopy, Florida                                                                                       Without a Map – Rain on the Prairie

After spending this morning on the Cones Dike trail with the baby gators and a gorgeous blue grossbeak (see post in blue above),  we grab some lunch and take Ruby out for a spin up the road and around to another side of the Prairie, 12.5 miles.

We want to hike the 3 mile La Chua trail out to the viewing stand over the other end of the prairie.  This is a very popular trail where we’ve seen bison and wild horses on previous visits but we know that is unlikely today since we’ve heard the trail is closed at the end of the boardwalk.  Alachua Lake has expanded.  More on the lake in a minute.


A cement sidewalk leads us from the parking lot “You are Here” to the elevated wooden boardwalk that winds around the Alachua Sink.  From there we should be able to follow the sunny grassy trail through the prairie basin marsh to the observation platform on the edge of Alachua Lake. Total one way of 1.5 miles.

There are beautiful large live oaks olong the cement sidewalk and at the beginning, of the boardwalk..  This is the only shade on the trail other than a covered spot at the end of the boardwalk before you walk onto the prairie. 


On the way to the boardwalk we see what we think may be a Ribbon Snake having a bit of trouble negotiating the concrete.  He manates to make it across before the folks behind us show up.  You never know whether they will think he’s wonderful or scream and want to kill him. 


As you know, I like snakes and think this one is mighty pretty.


The Sink is just beyond me as I admire this large oak.  The water is open here but you can see the  thick green vegetation just beyond.


Walking on, the sink is on the left.


IMG_1370Alachua Sink extends for a half mile along the foot of the bluff on the prairie’s northern edge.

The Alachua Sink, a name I learn is likely derived from the Potano word meaning “jug”, is the largest and deepest of Paynes Prairie’s sinkholes and acts as a conduit for water entering the Florida Acquifer at a rate of up to 6 million gallons a day.

Near the west end of the sink is the shallow hole through which the surface water flows to the Florida Acquifer. The Acquifer is the vast underground river of water moving through caves, cracks and pockets in the limestone. Florida is totally dependent on the Acquifer for its drinking water. 

When the Acquifer is full like for the past month or more, you see open water on the prairie. It can look like a lake. When the Aquifer is low, the prairie is dry.

William Bartram described the Alachua Sink during his time on the great Savannah in 1774, when the prairie was occupied by the Seminoles. During the 1870’s-80’s the prairie was flooded and the sink was a landing site for steamboats where cargo could be loaded onto the Florida Southern Railway until Alachua Lake suddenly drained in 1892.  Imagine what a surprise that was after nearly 20 years of a lake.

Today the sink is totally covered in vegetation. It’s impossible to really see it.  It was only partly covered during our last visit. Not sure why they are allowing these invasives and others that we see later on.

Hiding out in the vegetation in the sink is what I think is an Eastern Painted turtle.  Paula??



The anhinga always amazes  me in the way it can sit on the branches of trees with its bright oranged webbed feet.  Although he has webbed feet, he isn’t a duck.  He isn’t able to waterproof his feathers as they do.  He has to dry himself off after swimming which is why he’s often seen standing with his wings spread in the sunshine.  Notice his very blue eyes.



Amazing isn’t it??


Looking out beyond the sink at the flooded prairie.


There are several moorhens with their candycane bills as well as coots with their white bills.



Egrets both great and snowy.



We’re approaching the covered area where we would leave the board walk and go down onto the prairie.  If we could that is.


There are several very noisy limpkins yelling back and forth.  It’s a loud unmistakable scream usually in a series of 4 to 10 at a time.  Sounds like someone, a woman, in serious need of help.  Interesting at first but nerve wracking if there are numerous limpkins screaming back and forth to each other as there are today.


Perhaps the osprey wanted to know what all the yelling was about.

Out in the marsh with the limpkin I see a cattle egret.


He’s quite different from the other two egrets.  Unlike the snowy egret he has a yellow bill.  He’s also smaller than the Great Egret who also has a yellow bill.  Look for the light yellow/orange cast on the top of his head.  That’s distinctive.


I love to take close ups of their faces, something about them always makes me laugh.
See the tan/yellow/gold or whatever on the tops of their heads?


“And what ARE you looking at?”


We’ve come a half mile and reached the covered information spot at the end of the boardwalk.  As you can see, David is standing in front of the closed gate.  There is not supposed to be a lake out there.  At best it would be a small stream connecting the sink with Alachua Lake.


At the bottom of the ramp, just before you would step out onto a dry prairie, another gate is closed as well.


With my camera, I zoom on to get a glimpse of the platform we would be heading to.  I can barely find it.


We turn around from our short trip and head back down the boardwalk.


True to form, we see things we didn’t see before.  Maybe he wasn’t here when we came going the other way or maybe  he was just so disguised we didn’t see him.


Giant dragon flies are all over and all around.

Everybody likes snails I think.  Something about their shape and a big golden one is even better.  This one is about 2-3”.  I hope this is the native Florida Apple Snail but I’m not educated enough to tell it from its 4 exotic invasive look alikes. They are from South America.  Brought here by, you guessed it, the pet trade.  I’d sure like to see some serious trade law enforcement on “pets” including pythons which are also invading Florida.


However, nearby I see the egg masses and they are definitely from the invasive island apple snail which is taking over and displacing the native species.  The eggs are bright pink almost like bubble gum.  I sure wish I could reach out and squash them all.  Or put them in a paper bag and burn it.


Not too far away from the snails my eagle eyed companion spots something in what looks like some dead vines.  Do you see it?  Neither did I.


How about now?   Go back to the picture above and look for the tail feathers near the upper right hand end of the “brush”.  How did he see this?


It’s a common moorhen nesting.   Amazing David, really.


Just beyond her at the enge of the sink is this little tableau of wing drying anhinga, egret and turtle.  Could be a painting couldn’t it?


We didn’t see any of the hooved residents until we were almost back to the parking lot and we caught these glimpses of a small group of wild horses in an area high and dry.


Certainly not great pictures but do you see the little foul in the middle?


One last bit of fun on a grapevine swing .


If you come to Paynes Prairie be sure to hike the La Chua Trail.  Even if you can only do about 1/3 of it, there is lots to experience.


  1. WOW! It was amazing through out your post. You have very well explained each and every thing of the picture. It seems that i also had a trip along with you.

  2. Excellent shots! Snakes in these parts tend to scatter as quickly as they can when a human is around.

    There's a kind of owl here whose call sounds very much like a woman screaming. It's a ghastly thing to hear the first time- until you realize that a woman in distress isn't flying through the air.

  3. I love this post, so many beautiful feathered friends and I enjoyed your walk. If this place is near whereever we might be this winter, I sure will visit and take the trail. Your captures and narrative made me feel I was just next to you, Sherry. Steve is also like that he can spot a snake even if it is underneath bushes or branches.

  4. Really enjoyed all the wildlife photos. Glad the sink filling up wasn't Winona's :-)

  5. Enjoyed your tour. There really are a lot of neat places to explore in Florida. Nice David is getting out.

  6. Love the birds, especially the close ups! I agree that the snake is very pretty. The snail is cool- I think they're interesting. Ditto the dragonfly. They are so pretty with their iridescent colors. Glad you had fun! xxxooo

  7. We walked that trail a couple of years ago with Dan and Tricia. It was a lot for Gin to tackle. We were lucky enough to see distant bison, horses, and a flock of sand hill cranes. Of course we saw lots of gators and wading birds too.
    Enjoy your travels!

  8. Another nice hike. I had a turle like that in my backyard about a week ago, I think he was taking a shower in my sprinklers:)

  9. Your bird photos are amazing. How do you zoom in like that and hold so still? I am still confused why the lake is so full.

  10. We love walking the La Chua trail, but it was flooded just beyond the boardwalk when we were there in February and we didn't go. Now I see that we should have gone anyway! Your wildlife photos are wonderful, and the clouds and blue sky make for such a beautiful landscape.
    Your egret close-ups remind me of Dr. Seuss characters. And that grapevine swing looks like fun!

  11. Who would keep snails as a pet? I don't get it. Don't the birds eat them to keep them at bay? Great eye David on the nesting Moorhen!

  12. Eagle eyes are always great to have along as spotters. Another nice hike.

  13. I'm a big fan of snails. Especially when they are cooked in butter... :cD

  14. Lovely hike. Great pictures! Love the turtle and snail. Seeing that moorhen. Wow-terrific eyesight!

  15. Looks like a great day!! Since living in the west I've a new appreciation for snakes.

  16. I must be the only sure that you were going to write about plumbing troubles...my friend told me yesterday that fox sound like woman screaming, so now who knows what I'll be hearing? ;)

  17. Anhingas are one of my favorite birds. Not very colorful, but I find them stunning. Love the old growth oaks. Such majestic beauties!! Wish the southwest could get some of that water (although we are expecting a decent rain tomorrow).

  18. Always a great hike at La Chua. We saw lots of wonderful things which you captured nicely in your pictures as always.


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