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

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Many Trails in Paynes Prairie

Thursday April 12-Friday April 13, 2018                                     Most Recent
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park                                            Without a Map-Rain on the Prairie
Micanopy, Florida                                                                      Finally, Back to Our Original Plan


One really nice thing about Paynes Prairie is that there are so many trails available right from the campground.   At 22,000 acres Paynes Prairie also has numerous trail heads you can drive to in other areas of this vast park. 

I absolutely love when I can hike without driving to the trail head and did so in the park every day including in the rain as my last post reported.  We also went further afield.


It’s about a mile and a half from our campsite to the Cones Dike Trail.  With all the rain, most of the trail was now a lake but we saw a lot on the part we did hike.  These pictures are from two different hiking days on this trail.  It was overcast and rainy the entire time we were here so the skies are always gray.  Not the best for picture taking.

Normally Cones Dike is 8 miles round trip.  A sunny long trail through the heart of the wilderness section of the prairie marsh.  Because you are walking in the actual prairie potentially with the Bison, Wild Horses and Cracker Cattle who live here, the area is fenced and gated.  Last time we were here we bicycled but that means lifting your bike over the fence since the walk through is barely wide enough for a large person.  Check out the picture.

Signs on the outside of the fence just before the walk through.



Signs on the inside of the fence.


The Cones Dike Trail is as wide as a road although not well trimmed in some spots.  I spot a great blue heron overlooking the water.


In this picture he’s in the top right, looking down on the gator.  Two deer are on the left.  I spend a while here watching to see what they are all going to do.



The heron eventually flies off his perch and into the water for a little fishing.  I walk on.


The trail rounds a curve where I surprise these two.  Grass has grown over the road on this section but looking ahead I see what appears to be more grassless road.


Thick bushes line the right side of the road.  On the ground there I spot a chipping sparrow after hearing his buzzing call.


It doesn’t take very long to realize that the end of the grass area is not where the trail turns back to gravel, it’s the end of the trail which has been totally flooded as far as the eye can see.  Apparently the gators like it just fine.

I’d really hoped that this would be the one trail not flooded by all the rains.  Still, I’ve walked one mile at least.


Heading back, I’m walking along the edge of the trail by the water looking out over the wet prairie.   I stop to take a picture of an egret in a tree when something HISSES at me.



I quickly step back thinking snake and see that I’ve been oblivious to all the young alligators sunning along the water’s edge.   Even though they don’t appear to be this year’s young, they are easy to miss in the mud and debris.



This is the larger of the two, probably from 2016.  Very different coloring from the adults.


I move just beyond the middle of the road away from the edge and walk on.  They are even harder to see in the water.  As I was watching him, this fella sank out of sight.


As my eyes adjusted to what to look for, I spotted this among what I think is duckweed.


I’m guessing this is the 2017 Gator version.



Leaving the new lake shore and returning to the bushy area I spot a yellow rumped warbler and a swallowtail enjoying one of the last blooming thistles.


Back at what may be a gator hole the heron is gone but the gator is in the water.


He’s moving in my direction but I’m way too big to be considered a dinner for him.  As long as I don’t threaten him/her or a nest, I have nothing to worry about.


I am always just amazed at how they can be swimming/floating along and then just sink to whatever level they like including this one.   How do they do it?  If I’m in a spring and floating on my back or face down, I cannot just slowly sink under the water to whatever depth I choose.  Do they do this with their lungs?   Paula do you know??


As I round the bend near the gate, the viewing platform beyond the visitor’s center comes into view.  People particularly like the platform to see if the wild horses, buffalo or cracker cattle are on the prairie.  If they were, I’d be out here with them which is the reason for all the signs before you enter.  But becasue of all the water, they are no where around.


But I do see this group and one of the little boys asks me a question in his 2.5 year old voice.  I don’t get it all but it sounds like gator so I tell him yes there is an alligator up ahead.  They are quite excited.

In the evening on Thursday I return to the visitor center where they have a yoga class from 6:00 to 7:00.  Those who remember our visit with Mr. Bartram in a previous post will know the space inside that has a window wall overlooking the prairie.  The class is held there and a more fantastic yoga space I’ve never seen.   It’s sponsored by the Friends of Paynes Prairie and was wonderful.  Here’s their flyer.  I didn’t bring my camera to class.   What a great idea!  Wish every park had a yoga class.

Return to Cones Dike
After everything I saw, David wanted to go the next day so I went along.

Skies were better.  Great Blue was still on his perch.   I just don’t understand why all the point and shoot cameras dropped the view finder or how people can see to take any decent pictures with just an LCD screen.




The gator is still here or back again if he went anywhere.


While we watch, he backs out of his spot, turns around and moves into the middle of the hole.



Then he does his sinking trick again and I’m left with a ring in the water. 





So far I’ve seen nothing new.  But then up in a tree on the far side of the “hole” I spot a green heron.  I’m  used to seeing them camoflagued along the bank fishing.  He’s right out in the open.


In the grasses a palm warbler is singing a song very similar to the chipping sparrow of yesterday.
His yellow trim sets him off.

Walking on to the bushy section of the road we spy the Eastern Towhee and I believe his  lady fair.


Today the red winged blackbirds are out in force and singing their hearts out.  They raise their red shoulders when they shout out their song.




This time I was prepared for the young alligators.   Seems like both the one year olds and a two year old were here.



Walking back we keep our eyes on the prairie looking closely to see what else we can find.  A Florida Banded Water Snake puts up his head and attracts our attention.  He looks to be 4 feet at least.

I find the intricate markings on his face beautiful.  All the creatures are so exquisite!  I’m inclined to say humans may be the  least lovely.,  Smile


It’s clearly reptile day – alligators, snakes and now this fabulous Southern Leopard Frog hiding perfectly in the marsh.


Next we think we see another Banded Water Snake but a closer look makes us think this is a juvenile water moccasin.  The faces are totally different.



We leave the marsh and return to the alligator hole where the gator and now a snowy egret are still hanging out.


The gator raises his head, the egret flies up into a tree.


Notice his “golden slippers”.

I hear another red wing and spot him near the water.  This time both his yellow and red patches are showing.  They stand out brightly on his sleek black body.

But the best happens almost at the very end when we spot a dazzling blue and recognize a blue grossbeak.   He’s stunning and it’s just hard to believe he’s real.   What a creation!!


I’ve saved the egret’s fly off for my THE END.  We’ll fly off to some other areas of the preserve that require a car in the next post.



  1. What a wonderful hike, I felt like I was right there with you. I could smell it. Love those gators, and so many of them, and all the birds and reptiles and everything in all the photos. Sigh. Florida can be so incredibly magical. You capture the good parts, not the busy roads on a hot day in a parking lot in Ocala, which I also remember.

  2. I was going to write that the red-winged blackbird was my favorite until you showed the blue bunting. Gorgeous! (You know reptiles are not my favorites. I get nervous for you when I am reading about them which makes no sense because you obviously survived to write about it!). Sorry it's still so flooded, but it looks like you still saw so much. Thank you!

  3. Wow, some extraordinary creatures indeed. Glad you got to see some different things or your return with me. Many splendid pictures as always, but my favorites are the closeup facials and most favorite has to be the blue bunting. I don't believe I have ever seen one before.

  4. I have never seen a blue bunting before...AMAZING!! It's still cool here and we are waiting for the painted buntings to arrive. It may have been flooded, but the wildlife really seems to enjoy the waters:o))) Great photos!!

  5. Lucky you, two beautiful days in a row on the Cone Dike Trail! We enjoy biking that trail, but have never understood why it's meant to be a biking/hiking trail, but to bike it requires awkwardly lifting our bikes over the fence (just as you said). We even asked the ranger about it, and he didn't know the answer. Anyway, you had some wonderful wildlife sightings. You actually have a Blue Grosbeak there—and your photos are fantastic! Love that sweet little frog, too. Yoga at the park sounds perfect!

    1. Thank goodness for you Laurel. Of course it's a grossbeak, look at that gross beak. So why did I type bunting? I Guess Because I'm losing my mind. I'll fix it in the morning. Thanks again. I need all the proofreading I can get.

  6. Is it weird that young gators are a bit cute?

  7. I so enjoy hiking with you and seeing all the birds, bugs, and beauties. Hard for me to imagine hiking with gators.

  8. Loved the blue gross beak, wish we had time to see more of the FL state parks when we are there next winter.

  9. All those gators and snakes! This is one walk you couldn't pay Wayne to take! That is a lot of wildlife in a small place, I'm sure the little ones enjoyed their walk too.

  10. I bet you are now on your element being back to all the wildlife you have encountered. Im like you too, I like it when hiking does not require a drive to the trailhead. The Red Winged Blackbird has distinct call that always remind of a place I first heard them, and boy when they do a group dance, they are mesmerizing to watch.

  11. Wow, lots of gators! How cool that the little boys asked you about the wildlife, even if you couldn't quite understand them :)

  12. There certainly is lots of wildlife to enjoy and avoid:)

  13. Looks like the gator population is booming. I guess they do a good job of keeping people on the trails... ;c)

  14. Wonderful hike ... great wildlife sightings ... except for the snake. We're on a different kind of quest on this road trip, so I'm not sure we'll see much in the way of photographable wildlife.

  15. Great hike! Don't gators have breathing holes at the end there so they can almost completely submerge but not quite? Those little ones do blend in! The birds!! Loved the red wings and the grosbeak. Stunning! Frogs and snakes too. So intricate.

  16. Wow have I gotten waaaay behind on your adventures!! Those young gators are amazing - and you saw so many! The snake is definitely my favorite, I agree the markings are beautiful. So glad to see you back out in the wilds. Now I'll get caught up :-))


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