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Last weekend was a beautiful day for a hike and it had been quite too long since I had had a good one. I wanted to return to a state park, as I haven’t been in a while, so I chose Hillsborough River State Park. It’s one of the oldest in Florida’s network with tons of evidence of the CCC and it is the closest to my residence.

I traveled with my son, as it was the “Fun Day With Dad” since mom had to work. It costs $6 per car load to get in the park. The ranger provided us with a map. Driving through the park feels like entering a whole other world. Gone is the Florida I’m familiar with and all of a sudden I’m in a deep palm frond jungle from a couple hundred years ago.

We parked in lot #3 near a playground and the bridges that span the river. We chose “The Florida Trail” to hike, a three mile loop trail. Much of the trail follows along the north bank, giving plenty of opportunity for a four year old boy to stop and chuck nuts and sticks into the water. We also had to take a lot of side excursions to track deer prints. Being unable to find the deer my son suggested that perhaps an alligator got them. That may be, but we didn’t spot any gators either (they tend to hide underground during the colder months). We did spot plenty of canoers though and even met a Boy Scout troop that was on the trail.

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Birding is my newest obsession and I am now armed with the wonderful Birds of Florida Field Guide. I take it with me wherever I go. We heard lots of chirping and twittering. There was a woodpecker hammering away from somewhere across the river.

I spotted this White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) on the south shore hunting for crayfish. It’s a bird commonly seen in Southern Florida and prefers the fresh water of lakes and rivers over the salty water of the ocean.  They stand about 25” tall and have a wingspan of up to three feet. It’s all-white and has a long curving bill, changing from orange to red. Males and females appear the same, except that females have a smaller downward curve of the bill. Juveniles are brown in color. I strained the zoom on my IPhone for this shot.

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Later, along the bank we found several remains of the Florida Shiny Spike (Elliptio buckleyi), a common and abundant Florida mussel. They filter Florida’s freshwater ecosystems by removing bacteria, algae, and other organic material and are an important indicator as to the overall health of the ecosystem since they are sensitive to poor water conditions. They serve as a food source for fish, birds, and mammals too, which was most likely the fate of this Florida Shiny Spike that we found.

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Once the trail left the river bank and began looping back my son grew weary and I had to carry him the rest of the way, so I don’t have any pictures of that section of the hike to post. However, I will say this: it was a pleasant experience.

At the end we hit up the playground with the other families and saw a Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus), AKA the Black Buzzard, lingering near the garbage cans. We called it a day when a rainstorm rolled in.

Until next time…

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