Rare Species and New Friends – Ochlockonee River State Park

Ochlockonee River State ParkSnagging 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 River
Fire at a distance reflected on the Ochlockonee River

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.

#6 Ochlockonnee River State Park
Betsy stands alone in site #6 at Ochlockonnee River State Park

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.


Ochlockkonee River Nature Trail

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!

Pine Flatwood Trail, Ochlockonee River State PArk



Ochlockonee River Trail

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.

Raven and Chicadee
With Laurel and Eric

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.





  1. Sure looks like you had the place to yourselves. Your MH looks isolated, nice. Too bad it was so difficult to get to your spot. Hope you didn’t get much damage.

    How nice to have a trail right out your back door!

    Great job capturing that reflection in the river from the fire.

    Interesting that the rare bird was your favorite, mine was the white squirrel and the deer is so adorable.

    Always fun to meet fellow bloggers with common interests:)

    • Steve gave this park a very low rating due to access and narrow road, but other than that, the park is by far the most quiet and peaceful we had been to even during the weekend when the park was fully booked.

  2. It was so much fun meeting up with you two — you inspired us with your travels to Alaska and Nova Scotia, both of which we hope to do. Loved hearing your stories! So happy that you enjoyed the Ochlockonee — it’s one of our favorite parks. And you even managed to see (and photograph!) the red cockaded woodpecker! We’ve been trying in vain to find it on three separate trips to the park this winter. Hopefully we’ll get a sighting next week as we return to Apalachicola from Cedar Key. Safe travels, and we look forward to meeting up with you again!

    • Interestingly I sighted the RCW behind our site. I compared it with my other woodpecker picture to make sure its the one. Good luck to both of you on your RCW trek.Of course we will meet again and should have a happy hour

  3. What a beautiful park to sit for a bit and such a treat to be able to spot, much less photograph, endangered species. We were wondering if you were being hit with some storms, given what we had recently read. Yesterday was our day, with lots of rain and wind.

    Wonderful that you were able to meet Laurel and Eric. I would love to meet this couple someday. I love their blog just as I do yours. 🙂

  4. What a wonderful park! I’m a wee bit envious in that Joe and I have no idea where we will be this time next year so trying to plan a stay in one of those lovely parks is hard to do for us. We usually fly by the seat of our pants!
    As always, your photos are crystal clear MonaLiza…What an incredible display of rare species. The white squirrel sure peeked my interest!
    I will check out Laurel and Eric’s blog. Its so much fun to meet fellow RVers and bloggers!

    • Thanks Gay, we were warned last year to book a year ahead if wintering in FL so we did. As we move north this year we will be flying by the seat of our pants as I have no plans of traveling abroad this time. Last year we were moving fast for we have to be in SC to catch my flight to Phil.
      Those rare animals gave me a work out. They hid from us for a few days.

  5. The squirrel, the deer and the birds…oh my! Beautiful pictures. The reflections in the river of both pictures… caught my eye!

  6. I can see where getting into that site would be a bit of a challenge but what a beauty it is. And a private trail to boot…jackpot.

    I have never hear of a white squirrel. How cool.

    Making more memories with blogger friends. Looks like a wonderful time.

  7. I felt a peace and calm come over me just reading your post. After last weekend here at Lake Pleasant (carnival) I would’ve given anything to be in such a serene spot with amazing wildlife. Beautiful captures and always fun meeting fellow bloggers.

    • Ingrid, I am sure you will like it here. Your 5ver can easily navigate here. So should you decide to swing by the panhandle, make this one of your stop, you will love it.
      By the way, I used my GH2 for those woodpecker pictures.

  8. You so make me want to be back there Mona Lisa. What a beautiful post. And Steve got a great photo of the camera shy squirrel! All your photos are lovely. Interesting that you met up with Laurel and Eric. I just visited their blog for the first time yesterday! Happy travels and keep that shutter finger going!

    • Carol, when I read about the white squirrel I went to your post right away for that is where I first saw it. If we come back this way again, i will surely make a stop here again. We just love its tranquility.

  9. Thank you for this beautiful post. We have camped in quite a few Florida State Parks but somehow have missed this one. It’s just the kind of place we love. I’m adding it to my list of “must see places.”

  10. Wow, that is a beautiful place! Very interesting to also learn how far out you have to reserve the parks in Florida, too. Will definitely keep that in mind for future travel, if needed. Great photos!

  11. Darn it, I saw some woodpeckers when I hiked the waterfall in Santa Barbara. I couldn’t get a good clear shot of it like yours. You do incredible, incredibly outstanding job capturing wildlife and birds. That squirrel looks pale. 😀

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