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Nature's Best by Elma Chapman - Floral City

Nature’s Best

By Elma Chapman

Floral City

Our final week in the sunny south was spent in and around Floral City, a small historic city in Citrus County. The big draw here was the Withlacoochee bike trail which stretches for 46 miles near the Withlacoochee River. Actually the sunny south got a little wet on several of the days, which is unfortunate when most of what you want to do is outdoors. But we had the warm temperatures to make up for the rain.

The Withlacoochee trail is similar to our Pumpkinvine Trail in that it is paved on a former railroad bed. It connects several small towns, passes through some agricultural areas, and follows the course of the Withlacoochee River. The trail is lined with live oaks, palm trees, pines and cypress. There were a couple swamp areas off the trail that looked promising for alligator sightings, but we never saw one. Most of the wildlife we encountered were squirrels, mockingbirds, and cardinals.

 Another day we drove up to Rainbow Springs State Park and canoed. It was a place that we had visited last year, and we looked forward to seeing it again. We saw lots of cormorants, anhingas, and turtles. We also saw lots of large blue fish, but unfortunately I have no idea what they were. They swam around our canoe seemingly unconcerned by our presence. They looked to be about 12 – 14 inches long and had a decidedly blue cast.

Our final day was spent near Tampa at Honeymoon Island State Park. The island is a barrier island. Originally it was a much larger island, but a hurricane in the 1920s split it into two islands, and a later hurricane reattached the second island to the mainland. Honeymoon Island was named by an enterprising businessman who purchased the island, previously called Hog Island because of a hog farm that had been there. He created a contest and invited honeymooners to spend a week or two there. The contest for the first people to stay there involved writing an essay about why you should be chosen. There were also rules about how long you could be married and still be eligible as a “honeymooner.” It became quite well-known with national magazines and newspapers writing about it, but shortly after it opened, World War II intervened. The island was sold again, plans were made for further development and eventually it was decided to make it a state park. The beach is a big draw for many, but what was most interesting for me was the two mile long Osprey Trail. Along the trail we saw so many osprey nests and osprey that we should have counted them. My guess is that we saw 15-20 nests. Gopher tortoises also find suitable habitat here, but we didn't see any of them. A pair of bald eagles have been nesting here for the last few years, also. One sign pointed to a great horned owl nest. Luckily for us, some birders had seen the owl in a nearby tree, and when I asked what they had their binoculars trained on, they pointed the owl out to me. It was the first great horned owl I have ever seen in the wild.

Another first sighting was a diamondback rattlesnake. It was crossing one of the paths between the parking lot and the beach area through the dunes.  Many signs warned that rattlesnakes were common in the park. I preferred seeing the owl, and was glad when the snake moved off the path and into the dune!

Now we're home, after dealing with snow flurries as we crossed the mountains in West Virginia along the way, so we are getting re-acclimated to the cold weather. Here’s hoping we have some more spring-like weather soon! Happy Easter!