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.
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.
Hiking the Prairie Loop Trail, #1 of a series Eastern Meadowlark serenading
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.
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.
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