Rare Species and New Friends – Ochlockonee River State Park
Snagging a reservation at a Florida state park during the winter months is like winning the lottery, and odds are you won’t get in if you don’t reserve far in advance. We thought booking nine months ahead would be enough, but it wasn’t for most of them. If you’re setting your sights on staying at Florida state parks next winter, now is the time to reserve.
We did manage to get reservations at two parks, one being Ochlockonee River State Park. Ochlockonee means “yellow waters”, and is a mix of brackish tidal surge and fresh water. This river is pristine and deep, and it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
Ochlockonee State Park is located 38 miles south of Tallahassee, in the town of Sopchoppy. It encompasses 543 acres along the banks of the Ochlockonee and Dead rivers. Getting Betsy in there wasn’t easy (see Steve’s review here). However, once we were settled in we fell in love with this very secluded park. There are only 30 spacious campsites nestled in the shady wooded trees, surrounded by a beautiful pine woods forest.
Our site had its own path leading to the Ochlockonee River and Pine Flat Woods Trail. It runs along the river, then winds through picturesque pine flat woods. Since the access was right in our back yard, we walked it every day when it didn’t rain.
The peaceful atmosphere here made our walks very relaxing. On days when I walked alone, the solitude I felt beneath the tall canopy of longleaf pines was very refreshing. The splendor of the longleaf pine habitat, the array of bird calls (lots of them) singing/chirping, the woodpeckers hammering away and the rustling of the wind made me feel blessed to be here. Very tranquil!
I learned that three of this park’s local residents are rare species. One is the white squirrel, whose coat is a product of a rare genetic mutation of the Eastern gray squirrel. I saw it darting and leaping along the branches of the live oaks but couldn’t get a picture. Fortunately, Steve was also on the lookout and he caught a glimpse of this fellow in our neighbor’s yard.
We had another rare sighting as we were walking along the trails. It was a Piebald deer, which is white and brown. I learned that a genetic variation (defect) produces the piebald condition in some white-tailed deer. It certainly ruins any chance of camouflage for this poor guy, he’s so easy to spot!
But my most exciting sighting was the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species since 1970. The park hosts several of them, due to its mature pine forest. In fact, during registration we were told to take note of some pine trees that were marked as the homes of red-cockaded woodpeckers, which only nest in old-growth trees. Looking closely at one tree, we saw the candle-wax effect of sap spilling down its trunk. The woodpeckers drill into the tree just under their nest to make sap run down and ward off snake invasions. How cool is that?
Finally, we had a human sighting as we met some new friends – not in the park, but in the town of Apalichicola. Being the social butterfly that I am, I never pass up an opportunity to meet other like-minded folks, especially bloggers. So when I realized that Laurel and Eric of Raven and Chickadees were only a few miles away, I quickly set up a get-together. They are full-timers from southern Oregon who have covered a lot of ground here in northwestern Florida. Their blog is full of “Real Florida” adventures, complemented by great photography. Our time together flew by as we shared stories of our adventures, and we hope to cross paths with these fine folks again.
Typical of late, we were homebound for two days as the rain just kept coming down. But as soon as the sun peeked out again we had a campfire. It had been a while, and we started early so we could enjoy the fire before the pesky skeeters could come out to get us. Steve and I usually read while enjoying our fire, but the abundance of birds made me forget about my book as I started snapping pictures once again. I didn’t have to walk far, as my feathered friends were hanging out right around our site. Some of them were challenging to get shots of, but here are my latest sightings.
All of those three types of woodpeckers could be heard pecking nearby. If you’d like to see more of my bird pictures, click here.
I really loved sitting outside first thing in the morning, enjoying the serenity and beauty of this park.