We were not able to sit still in one spot in St. Augustine and wait for our 2017 travel adventure. We are planning a trip to the Atlantic provinces of Canada this summer. In the meantime, we decided to take a week and explore part of Florida.
We started by visiting Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park which is next to Gainesville. Many Northern Sandhill Cranes, from the breeding grounds in Michigan and Wisconsin, come to southern Georgia and Florida to spend the winter. According to Park literature, about 1500 to 2500 migrants from the eastern population of Sandhill Cranes stay through the winter at Paynes Prairie. There are about 25 to 30 breeding pairs of Florida Sandhill Cranes that are non-migratory and raise their young at Paynes Prairie.
We walked on the La Chua trail to see the Cranes and could hear them long before we could see them. On the way to observe the Cranes we saw numerous alligators basking in the sun. We have never seen that many alligators in the wild. Some of the alligators were wearing a variety of vegetation. Very interesting. There were numerous signs warning about the dangerous wildlife, so it is important to be very careful that you don’t wind up becoming a meal on this trail.
There is an observation platform at the end of the trail that allows for a great view of the prairie. At this point we could see thousands of the sandy-colored Sandhill Cranes everywhere. But, most exciting, was the one white endangered Whooping Crane in the midst of all those Sandhills. What a sight to see. I didn’t think I would ever see a Whooper in the wild. According to Wikepedia there were 603 Whooping Cranes in February 2015 including 161 captive cranes. Perhaps this Whooping Crane was raised by Sandhill Cranes and thinks it’s one of them. During a visit to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in the past, I learned that biologists attempted to have Sandhill Cranes raise Whooping Cranes as part of the effort to rescue them from extinction. Most Cranes lay two eggs but often only one of the young makes it. To increase the whoopers chances of success, the biologists would take one of the eggs and swap it out for a Sandhill Crane egg. The Whooping Cranes grew up thinking they were Sandhill Cranes and would not mate with their own kind.
There was a small group of White Pelicans in the middle of the Sandhills. When we were in North Dakota and Montana in 2015, we saw White Pelicans. The ones we saw here in Paynes Prairie probably came from there.
We also saw some feral horses. These horses were left from when the Spanish arrived.
Although we couldn’t see them well, there are also bison here. Bison originally inhabited this area but were wiped out after the Europeans arrived. Bison were reintroduced and there is a herd that is resident on this Prairie. They were too distant for us to get a good look but it is comforting to know they are back.