Turkey Talk Turkey displaying in recently burned prairie.
With the holidays approaching, it is a good time to talk about turkeys.
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve's turkeys are one of five subspecies found in the United States. Smaller and darker than its much more numerous Eastern cousins, Florida's Osceola Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo osceola) were named for the famous Seminole Indian chief, and are only found in the Florida peninsula.
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."
Rare Wild Turkeytail plants
Baby turkeys (poults) follow their mom. They can fly at just two weeks.
I see you
While the Preserve's turkeys are (thankfully) protected and not going to end up as Thanksgiving dinner, don't think they are living the carefree life! Wild turkeys are a major prey species -- which means their role in the ecosystem is to provide food for a whole lot of other animals. Raccoons, bobcats, striped and spotted skunks, coyotes, owls, hawks, crows, and snakes are just some of the animals that prey on turkeys, their eggs and their young. It should be no surprise that they have developed great eyesight and have a reputation for being extremely wary. They have also evolved to produce many young and will re-nest if their eggs are destroyed.
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!
Turkey heads change color with emotion/excitement, and can be red, white, or blue.
Gobble, gobble, gobble!
Fire On The Prairie, by Jen Benson-Hughes Nighttime Prairie Wildfire, ©Jen Benson-Hughes
An insider view of fire and friendship at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve
During the warm months, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve focuses on resource management. The most influential component in managing Florida’s ecosystems is fire. Historically, lightning-created fires sustained ecosystems. The plants and animals in the prairie adapted with frequent fire. Fire is essential to this landscape, and it offers fire personnel a means to be ecologically productive, get dirty, and maintain friendships.
Prescribed Fire in Zone 14, ©Jen Benson-Hughes
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.
The Florida Park Service tries to mimic the timing of nature with controlled burns because the prairie responds differently to fire depending on time of year. Winter fires favor trees and shrubs because many of the grasses are dormant. Trees that encroach into the prairie push out plant species that require open spaces. But the response from plants and animals after a transition/growing season fire is remarkable: prairie grasses and forbs, bountiful butterflies
, Burrowing Owls, Northern Bobwhites, and many other species that rely on the open ground of the prairie flourish and reproduce. This includes the endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow (pictured)
, which uses patches of open ground as ‘run-ways’ to search for food and evade predators.
Smiles After a Job Well Done, ©Natalie Carlson
© C. Evans
Fire is inherently dangerous. As Florida park rangers and land managers, it is our duty to ensure that controlled burns and wildfires are managed in a safe and responsible manner. Living and working in the most frequently burned ecosystem in Florida, we have to be well-versed in the techniques, preparations, safety protocols, laws, and equipment needed to conduct a controlled burn or contain a wildfire. All of this knowledge is not gained overnight. It requires years of training, on-the-job experience, support from the public, and cooperation among many agencies. The camaraderie among the fire crews is encouraging and supportive. Burn one time with a fire fighter and you’re friends for life! Birthday parties are more fun with fire fighters!
In the prairie, fire equals life! It is a beautiful relationship that inspires many of us to capture the prairie’s beauty with our cameras, and we keep it in our hearts and minds. One of the greatest joys in this profession is watching the prairie and all its inhabitants thrive after a growing season fire. Oh, and autumn—you have to see the prairie wildflowers in September/October
Guest blog author, Jen Benson-Hughes, is Burn Boss and Park Service Specialist at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. Jen's favorite part of her job is prescribed fire.
NOTE: A complete version of this article, with more images, will be published in an upcoming Kissimmee Prairie Star newsletter.
Hiking the Prairie Loop Trail, #1 of a series Eastern Meadowlark serenading
Article and photos by Donna Bollenbach
If you really want to experience Kissimmee Prairie Preserve, take a hike.
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is the largest remaining tract of Florida dry prairie, a habitat of sweeping grasses and saw palmetto where plants and animals are as diverse as they are plentiful. While hiking in the preserve you will experience a very unique and pristine habitat that is unlike any other in the state or country.
There are over 100 miles of multi-use trails in the park that can be travelled by foot, bike or horseback. The most popular hike is the Prairie Loop Trail. Approximately 4.6 miles, it traverses a variety of natural habitats including the dry prairie, moist wetlands, and shady hardwood hammocks.
The trailhead is adjacent to the last campsite in the equestrian campground. Here you find the first of many metal poles with blue blazes that mark the trail. As you head out on the first leg, watch for wild turkeys, which are often seen emerging from the brush.
In fall, the prairie is washed in yellows.
An 8-point buck spotted along the trail.
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.
As you head west, listen for birds in the oaks. Among the birds I have seen are White-eyed Vireos, Palm Warblers, Loggerhead Shrikes, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and a pair of Great-crested Flycatchers with an active nest in the cavity of a snag.
After awhile, the trail will divert slightly southwest. As you approach the first hammock you may startle a grazing deer grazing under the live oaks. This is a good place to stop and enjoy the shade before continuing your hike in open prairie where you will hike about 3/4 of a mile to the next hammock.
Look to the skies over the prairie for Red-shouldered Hawks, American Kestrels, Crested Caracaras, Swallow-tailed Kites, and Vultures. These predatory birds may be spotted soaring over the landscape or perched atop snags. A rare White-tailed Kite may also be spotted from the trail.
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.
Inside the Palm Hammock
L to R: St. John's Wort, Fetterbush. Pickerelweed, Sabatia, Bachelor's Buttons, Yellow-star Grass, Pipewort, Whitetop Aster, Lyreleaf Sage, Black Swallowtail/Goldenrod, Ladies' Tresses
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.
Your hike ends at the Equestrian Campground, but your experience will last forever.
The best time to hike in Florida is the fall, winter and spring, usually October through April. But even in the winter temperatures on the open Prairie can be very hot, so always carry plenty of water
, sunscreen and bug spray. Start your hike in the early morning, just as the sun starts to rise if possible. Not only are the temperatures cooler, but you are more likely to see wildlife. The Prairie Loop Trail is well marked, but in case of emergencies you should carry a cell phone and a GPS. Cell service in the prairie is spotty, but possible on some sections of the trail. Donna Bollenbach, a nature photographer for over 10 years, spends her leisure time hiking, camping and photographing nature in parks and preserves throughout Florida. She first discovered Kissimmee Prairie Preserve in 2005 and has since hiked over 50 miles in the park. In addition to being a published photographer, Donna is the author of an e-book, The Art of Nature Photography, available on Amazon.NOTE: A longer, complete version of this article, with more images, will be published in an upcoming Kissimmee Prairie Star newsletter.
Night Sky Watching at Kissimmee Prairie, by Bill Nigg
Dark skies make the Kissimmee Prairie central Florida's premier location for stargazing.
Kissimmee Prairie Night Sky ©Judd Patterson
When you come out to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve to observe nature you are not limited to one planet. The dark night sky is one of our natural resources and allows observers to see the nature of the whole universe. Most constellations can be remembered when all the dim stars make a picture of ancient or mythological characters. These stories add fascination to the beauty of a dark sky view. Ancient observers had no city lights to interfere. As their culture developed they created legends—the Big Dipper is an ox cart in China; a funeral procession to plains Indians; a useful kitchen tool to Europeans. Modern astronomy is international. Latin names and mapped areas now define the 88 constellations such as URSA MAJOR which includes the big dipper and contributes to the picture of the great bear when all the dim stars near it are visible.
Bubble Nebula bi-color. 5 hours ha, 3 hours OIII, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve, (Click to enlarge) ©Charles Lillo
California nebula, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve, (Click to enlarge) ©Charles Lillo
- The California Nebula (NGC 1499) pictured above is an emission nebula located in the constellation Perseus. It is so named because it appears to resemble the outline of the US State of California on long exposure photographs. It is almost 2.5° long on the sky and, because of its very low surface brightness, it is extremely difficult to observe visually. It can be observed with a H-Beta filter (isolates the H-Beta line at 486 nm) in a rich-field telescope under dark skies. It lies at a distance of about 1,000 light years from Earth. —Charles Lillo, www.theastrogeeks.com
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.
Equipment set up on the KPP Astronomy Pad, ©Bill Nigg
Brevard Astronomical Society (BAS) members at the KPP Astronomy Pad, ©Stan Czaplicki
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.
Our guest blog author, Bill Nigg, spends his winters in Florida—telescope observing on every clear night from state and national parks far away from city lights. He recently retired from 13 years of teaching college astronomy and a daytime career servicing physics lab instruments. Bill is an honorary lifetime member of the Kalamazoo (MI) Astronomical Society. He always invites nearby campers to view interesting space objects through his telescope and will explain how it fits into the Nature of the Universe. www.kasonline.org/profiles/nigg.html
We're young, but see a great future ahead.
Friends of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve now has membership available online—and we need you! Your membership will include our email newsletter, The Kissimmee Prairie Star, invitations to special events such as a members' sparrow drives, and access to our new members' pages, where soon you will be able to interact with other members, share your photos, and stay informed about the Preserve and member events. As we grow, we expect to provide more benefits and member content to you, but the main benefit of membership is being a part of the effort to support and benefit Kissimmee Prairie Preserve and its unique, irreplaceable ecosystem.
We can't do it without you. Join us now. Click on the button below to go directly to our membership form and member pages:
Thank you for your support!
Please also consider making a donation to the Friends of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve by using the button below:
Fall Color in the Florida Prairie, by Tim Kozusko
Kissimmee Prairie wildflowers give autumn leaves a run for the money.
Kissimmee Prairie in the Fall
The changing seasons in Florida are subtle at first, but once you know what to look for they are easy to notice. As late summer turns to autumn on the Kissimmee Prairie you will not see many leaves change color, for there are few deciduous trees in this part of Florida. There are few trees of any kind; it is a prairie after all! What you will see is the blush of color from the autumn-blooming asters and grasses.
Fueled by a nutrient flush from early growing season fire, and quenched by summer rains, the Prairie comes alive in color, adding the yellows of goldenrod and goldentops to the blues and purples of the gayfeather and paintbrush.
Red-banded Hairstreak on Yellowtop
Catesby's Lily with treefrog
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.
Lopsided Indiangrass ©Tim Kozusko
Eastern Meadowlark in the Gayfeather
Have you visited the Kissimmee Prairie lately? Now is the perfect time to see its beautiful fall colors.
NABA Butterfly Count at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve
July 14th, by Linda Cooper
Berry's Skipper—© Linda Cooper
Way back in 1996 we began counting butterflies for the North American Butterfly Association’s Fourth of July Butterfly Counts. This was prior to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve becoming a state park. This count actually began at National Audubon’s Kissimmee Prairie Sanctuary, now a part of the Preserve. Over the years, this count has grown into one of the Florida counts with the highest or nearly-highest number of species seen during the all-day event.
Participants are divided into teams — one covers the old Audubon part, one covers the road to the Visitor’s Center and Kilpatrick Hammock, one covers from the hammock to near the Kissimmee River. We even have a team that covers the roads outside the park. When you consider that Florida has 41 summer counts you can see how productive the prairie habitat is for butterflies. In good years we expect 55 to 60 species here and a large number of them are skippers.
Monk Skipper—© Linda Cooper
By now you are saying…“but I can’t identify skippers.” Don’t worry, you will be with a team that has experienced leaders. It is a long, hot day, but very rewarding. You will be with enthusiastic people eager to share their knowledge with you. The quietness and beautiful scenery of the prairie contribute to making this a memorable day even when butterflies are few.
White Peacock—©Linda Cooper
Palatka Skipper—©Linda Cooper
| |We meet at the parking area at the Preserve entrance at 9 a.m. on Saturday, July 14.
You need to bring LOTS
to drink, a lunch, closed-toe footwear that can get wet, sunscreen and close-focusing binoculars if possible. Digital cameras are encouraged. That is how we identify skippers if there is a question. There is walking involved, but not over great distances. The end of the count depends on if we have rain or not, but is officially over by 5 p.m. Preserve entrance fees are waived that day for participants. Lake Region Audubon
in Polk County sponsors the count so there is no fee. Participants receive a copy of the count after it is tallied and entered into the NABA
web site.If you want to participate or have questions, please email us at LCooper298@aol.com
Where the Rare is Commonplace... or not.
Florida Grasshopper Sparrow
As mentioned in February's post, here
, there are many uncommonly seen species that can be found with relative ease at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. But the Preserve also protects and harbors some species that are not commonly found anywhere in Florida — or even in the world.
The most notable of these is the federally endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum floridanus), a subspecies of grasshopper sparrow endemic to Florida's fire-dependent dry prairie habitat. Loss of habitat and other stressors (such as exotic, invasive fire ants) have reduced the population of this secretive little bird to where only a few hundred are believed to remain. Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is among the very few places where it is making its last stand.To learn more about the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow visit the FWC website.
One of those more "commonplace" birds that is often seen in the summer flying gracefully over the Preserve is the beautiful and elegant Swallow-tailed Kite. And while they always provide a thrill, there is another kite seldom seen in Florida—the White-tailed Kite—a spectacular raptor known to nest in the Preserve. A very lucky summer visitor might spot one hovering while hunting above prairie, or even perched on a snag.
White-tailed Kite in its nest tree.
The Preserve's unique habitat harbors more than rare birds. It is also a place where one might find a threatened or endangered plant species, including the rarest of the grass pink orchids, the Manyflowered Grasspink (Calopogon multiflorus), which appears in the prairie shortly after a fire, or the aptly- named Bog Torch, AKA Snowy Orchid, (Habenaria nivea).
Snowy Orchid or Bog Torch (Habenaria nivea)
Manyflowered Grasspink (Calopogon multiflorus)
Florida Brown Snake
Not to forget reptiles and amphibians — the Preserve is habitat for the extremely rare South Florida Mole Kingsnake, for instance (no photo of that!). Florida Panther tracks have been seen there as well. Rarely seen butterflies and other arthropods also have been recorded in the Preserve (some of which may be covered in a future post from Linda Cooper).
Stay tuned for the next post —I have another guest blogger in mind to talk about crucial role of fire at the Preserve. (with some great photos).
Zebra Swallowtails and Palmetto Skippers by Linda Cooper
Way back when Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park was a brand new addition to our state park system, manager Parks Small saw large numbers of Zebra Swallowtails and wondered what other species this new park harbored. He contacted us because we were doing the North American Butterfly Survey’s Fourth of July Butterfly Counts at the property next door — Audubon’s Kissimmee Prairie Sanctuary. What began as a simple butterfly survey in 2001 expanded to two years of surveys and after a brief hiatus, another year was done beginning in May 2005. My name is Linda Cooper and along with husband Buck and a cadre of enthusiastic volunteers, we put this park ‘on the map’ for butterflies especially skippers.
I will be doing a guest blog post here occasionally and am excited to tell you about KPPSP’s butterflies, a few at a time. Let’s start with the most obvious butterfly --Zebra Swallowtail.
Zebra Swallowtail nectaring on Frog Fruit (Lippia nodiflora)—Photo by Linda Cooper
Netted Pawpaw (Asimina reticulata), a host plant for Zebra Swallowtail
Zebra Swallowtail is the most numerous swallowtail at the prairie and is a true harbinger of Spring. Though it begins to fly in January in small numbers, by March there is a large flight when Spring pops out prairie flowers such as thistle. This large white and black swallowtail is unmistakeable and easy to see as it flies across the prairie. Its host plants are paw-paws Asimina species. Flight time is January through October.
Other swallowtails seen regularly here are Black and Palamedes (shown at left on thistle flower) mostly in the open prairies. Giant Swallowtail is mostly restricted to hammocks with citrus trees. Spicebush Swallowtail can be found in open prairie and hammocks. Tiger Swallowtail is the least common of the six swallowtails regularly seen at KPPSP. Polydamas and Pipevine Swallowtails are very rare and are never expected in a visit to the prairie.
Palmetto Skipper is the iconic prairie skipper. Photos by Linda Cooper
This time I will cover only one skipper - Palmetto Skipper. We consider this skipper the iconic prairie skipper. Its presence signals prime undisturbed habitat. Habitat that harbors Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is perfect for Palmetto Skipper too. This medium-large bright orange skipper with its bright orange head literally shouts “You thought skippers were all small and brown. Well, you were wrong. Come look at me!” It is named Palmetto Skipper because females use Saw Palmetto Serenoa repens as host plants. Just because you have palmettos though it doesn’t mean you will have Palmetto Skippers. They are absent from much of Florida but can be abundant at the prairie in good years. Flight time is February through October with the largest numbers seen in summer and fall. If you type ‘Palmetto Skipper‘ into your search engine there are numerous photos listed that were taken at KPPSP.
Though the yearly butterfly surveys are finished, we are still at KPPSP each year for the NABA Fourth of July Butterfly Count. In 2012 the count is on Saturday, July 14. We welcome anyone interested in butterflies. It is a long, hot day but we usually end up with one of the top counts in the state. If you are interested in participating or have any questions about butterflies you can email me at LCooper298@aol.com.
Where the Rare is Commonplace... (part one)
Looking for a reliable place to see a Crested Caracara or Bachman's Sparrow?
Do you thrill at the sight of a Zebra Swallowtail, have a thing for Skippers, or wish to add lep species to your life list? Or perhaps you are a long time Floridian, nostalgic for the days, years ago, when Northern Bobwhites used to frequent your neighborhood. You have come to the right place.
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve harbors and supports a vast number of species of both fauna and flora that have been overrun or pushed out by development and the loss of habitat in Florida. A few examples:
Northern Bobwhites, Eastern Meadowlarks, Eastern Towhees and Wild Turkeys are abundant here. Common Yellowthroats and Common Ground Doves live up to the name "common". Even Bachman's Sparrows—a species of conservation concern throughout its dwindling range—can often be heard and seen from the main road during their spring breeding season and into the summer. Most visitors will be lucky enough to see one or more of the Preserve's resident Crested Caracaras, a rare Florida specialty that breeds in the Florida prairie habitat.
The Preserve is known by lepidopterists everywhere as a place to find a wide variety of butterflies—even the casual observer can't miss the spectacular Zebra Swallowtail (photo on our Home page) in the late spring and summer months—at times it is the most common butterfly around.
Non-native, exotic (and sometimes invasive) plants—sold in vast quantities in the big box stores and now ubiquitous in Florida subdivisions—have supplanted many of "La Florida's" (flowery land in Spanish) true wildflowers in much of the state. Our unique and beautiful flowers can still be found and appreciated in the "Real Florida" habitat of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve.
Shown here—brilliant purple/magenta Blazing Star and Florida Paintbrush flowers in the fall season put on a display that cannot be adequately described or photographed.
Rough Green Snake
Island Glass Lizard
Threatened Gopher Tortoises
and small, beautiful Rough Green Snakes
are a frequent sight on and alongside the road, and very careful watching, especially at dusk, may offer a view of a legless Glass Lizard
. (please see the Road Rules
post below — they are much more beautiful and interesting if not flattened under car tires).While the rare truly is commonplace in Kissimmee Prairie Preserve, it is also a refuge for some species that are not commonplace anywhere. Stay tuned.