Saturday, December 29, 2007

Another Walk at O'Leno

I hiked the ~4.0 mile Parener's Branch trail at O'Leno State Park with my daughters on December 27. The day was clear and warm, nearly 80 degrees. The miles rolled by really quickly since we were talking and bantering the whole way.

We flushed a trio of whitetail deer not long after we hit the trail. About a mile or so later, far from the developed portion of the park, we found some very large tracks in the sugary sand. One of the tracks had a claw-print pressed into wet soil about the diameter of a pencil. We figured it was likely a black bear track, since the only other large animal that could have produced the tracks was a cougar, and cougars are supposedly extremely scarce in this part of the state. The forested lands bordering the Santa Fe River are fine habitat and an important wild corridor for the movement of large predators between giant tracts of undeveloped wildlands in the Suwannee River watershed and beyond.

The Santa Fe River is as low as I've seen it in the park, in the decade that I've been visiting it. The river sink, where the entire river goes underground, is covered with duckweed and water spangles. During higher water, the river slowly swirls round and round counterclockwise and turtles can be seen hitching rides on pieces of driftwood that spin endlessly in circles around the sink. There was no perceptible movement of the water on this day. All the turtles that were hauled out and sunning themselves were covered in a mat of duckweed.

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