Science Chase Ends Up in Kissimmee Prairie
Deflated helium balloons sometimes end up in the prairie. Preserve staff have a chart on the office wall keeping track of how many balloons each person retrieves. It's a competition of sorts—to rid the Preserve of these potential hazards. But on Sunday, April 17th, Park Services Specialist, Chris Clauson, and three Friends of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve board members and their spouses brought in an entry like no other: A weather balloon carrying a GPS tracker and GoPro camera launched by eighth-grade student, Chase Wiley, and his two friends, Parker and Austin.
Chase’s mom, Lisa, answered a call from the Preserve. Cheers could be heard in the background as she relayed the message that the balloon and contents had been recovered. The package was delivered the next day by Friend's board V.P., Christina Evans, and husband, Stan Czaplicki. As luck would have it, they live only three miles from Chase’s home!
Jan Allyn, Largo: “It was wonderful! Love the Prairie! The buggy ride was great, the grasses and wildflowers beautiful. Dr. Paul Gray's intro was very informative. Craig and Roger were great guides, very personable. Providing everybody a checklist of wildflower species was a great idea. I cannot wait for the spring walk! Wildlife we saw: black snake, kestrel, loggerhead shrike, white-tailed deer, turkeys, caracaras, lynx spider, red-shouldered hawk, white ibis, common egret.”
Photo by Jan Allyn
Photo by Jan Allyn (click on it!)
Green Lynx Spider
Paul Strauss, Stuart: “As an IFAS Master Naturalist and long-time Florida Park Service volunteer, there are only a few can't-miss events for me during the year. Roger & Craig's Wildflower Walks at KPPSP is one. These two are not stiff ivy-league professors, but passionate & colorful advocates for the amazing array of wildflowers & natural communities found in Florida. Whether a seasoned naturalist or first-time visitor, everyone walks away well-informed and entertained. Don't miss the next opportunity to spend a morning or afternoon walking among vibrant red pine lilies, magenta blazing stars, purple drum-heads and delicate marsh pinks. You'll come back—and back again.”
Roger Hammer, Walk Co-leader: "That was a swell time at the prairie. I got this picture (below) with my 105mm macro lens!"
Photo by Roger Hammer
The earliest species of butterwort to flower in the Preserve is the delicate Small Butterwort (Pinguicula pumila). As you might guess from its common name, of the three species of pings in the Preserve, this is the smallest. Interestingly, Small Butterwort blooms in the fall-winter in Florida but in April-May in the rest of the southeast. In November 2013 the species was observed flowering in an area where the ground orchid Fragrant Ladiestresses (Spiranthes odorata) was blooming. (More on ladies tresses in a future blog post!)
As January rolls into February, and on into March, a real treat occurs. Two species of butterwort, both listed as threatened in the state of Florida, begin to reveal themselves with very beautiful and showy flowers: Yellow-flowered Butterwort (Pinguicula lutea) and Blueflower Butterwort (P. caerulea). In one location, ‘Butterwort Marsh’, they even occur together, making a subtle, yet stunning display.
Turkeys are usually seen on the ground walking, but they can run up to 25 mph, roost in trees at night, and are said to be able to fly up to 55 mph! Kissimmee Prairie provides very valuable habitat for turkeys, particularly during the time they are rearing their young. This description from a Florida Fish and Wildlife pdf clearly sounds like the prairie:
"Brood rearing and summer foraging habitat are similar and are generally the habitat components that are most limiting, especially in Florida. Hens seek grassy, open areas with abundant insects and nearby escape cover for raising their broods. Good brood habitat generally consists of open areas with a grassy or herbaceous groundcover 1 to 3 feet in height within relative close proximity to escape cover. The vegetation should allow the poults to move unimpeded, but allow the hen to see over the vegetation to detect approaching danger."
When you visit the Preserve, you have a very good chance to see these iconic, interesting birds most any time of the year. Good places to look are near the office, and in both the campground areas. From spring into summer their gobbles are often heard -- especially in the early morning as they come out from the night's roost. If you gobble at the toms, they will stick their necks out and gobble right back at you, providing plenty of free entertainment. As the Preserve biologist Paul Miller says, "It never gets old".
Happy Thanksgiving from Kissimmee Prairie Preserve!
Most lightning strike wildfires occur during the transition season—the time of year after the winter freeze and before the rainy season when dead vegetation is cured and the soil is dry. Most thunderstorms in Florida are generated by convection, the result of instability in the atmosphere. Our area of Florida receives 8-16 flashes per kilometer per year! Lightning strike wildfires may be extinguished by the next thunderstorm cell, but in the past when left to their own devices, wildfires could continue to burn for days or weeks (maybe months). This rarely happens today due to roads, canals, and human activity. Controlled burning (prescribed fire) is a safer, cheaper way to restore and maintain an ecosystem than allowing wildfires. Controlled burns are simply fires that are thoughtfully planned with proper preparation on the ground, and skillfully executed by trained professionals to produce the desired effects for the land. Wildfire has the potential to do extreme damage if the wrong conditions exist, such as severe drought and high winds.
About 1/8 mile into the trail you will come to a small stream. After crossing, take a moment to scan the prairie on the left. Depending on time of year, the landscape may be painted with bushy yellow golden rod, tall stalks of purple blazing star, nodding pink meadow beauties or the silvery leaves and creamy white flowers of the pawpaw plant.
As you walk along the stream, look for deer. While deer may be seen throughout the park, I have seen an eight-point buck and several herds of does from this spot. In spring, you may even be rewarded with the sight of a doe with a spotted fawn.
Turn your eyes closer to the ground to see the multitude of wildflowers in the prairie. From delicate Lady's tresses orchids, to blue-eyed and yellow-eyed grasses, to a colorful pallet of sunflowers and asters, many flowers can be seen from the trail. You may also see many butterflies, including a variety of swallowtails, skippers and hairstreaks.
The next hammock is filled primarily with tall palms. The ground, which receives little light, is mostly bare except for the litter of dead palm fronds. Look straight up into the palms to admire their height and stature.
At the trail's mid-point is a primitive campground with a few picnic tables and a covered pavilion. This is a great place to stop and eat a snack or lunch. From there, you will head north. For the next 3/4 of a mile the prairie will be on your right and a strand of trees along a natural slough will be on your left. This is another place to look for deer.
When you reach Military Trail you are 2/3s through your hike. You will head east, back toward the campground. This part is over shell road, and can be very hot, so make sure you ration water to have enough. Military Trail is a good place to spot snakes sunning in the road. Most snakes in Florida are harmless, but the prairie is also home to Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes, so be cautious.
The real beauty of this part of the trail is the landscape: Note the contrasting colors and textures of the landscape: The points of the fan-shaped Palmetto leaves, the sweep of the wiregrasses, the silvery soft leaves of the pawpaw and the shiny green dwarf oaks. As the park literature suggests: Enjoy the prairie by looking into it, not at it.
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Amateur astronomers come to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve from more than a hundred miles away to do serious imaging with the latest astrophoto equipment— which often costs more than their car. Computer controlled electronic cameras and image processing allow them to find and take observatory quality pictures. Inspired by the Hubble, and in a quest and challenge to collect similar images for self education, they camp for several nights prepared for a clear sky. The new moon week is chosen each month to avoid the moon's natural light pollution. Dark sky is needed to find most unique objects between the dim stars and allow maximum exposure success. the Preserve has "the Astronomy Pad"—a separated site designed for astronomers, to minimize light from campers and campfires.
When you get the opportunity to camp overnight at KPPSP, bring a star map. You can print one from your local astronomy club website, at the public library, or from an astronomy magazine. You will get to see the nature of the universe in a dark sky environment.
Where fire has triggered flowering, wiregrass and lopsided Indiangrass will “tower” over the palmettos and impart a look reminiscent of wheat fields. As autumn progresses you will see the fluffy seeds of the groundsel bush and the broomsedge grasses mature and take to the air on the breeze as the first cold fronts move through.
But there is much more to this display. Many of these plants are annuals that grow through the summer, flower, and die, leaving seeds behind to brush next year’s pastels over the landscape. The plants have captured sunlight and stored it in tissues, pollen, and fruits that either feed migratory songbirds or the insects that the birds eat to replace energy spent flying south.
Random thoughts on and pictures of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve.
unless otherwise noted
(Blog images may often be viewed larger by clicking on them)
Florida Brown Snake
Florida Grasshopper Sparrow
Prairie Loop Trail