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Christmas in Florida

Part 4:  Hillsborough River Area

I'm finding that I can get away with getting up later here, as sunrise is so late (by San Diego standards) and if I happen to be going to a state park (which all appear to be gated in Florida), when they say they open at eight, they open at eight, and not a minute sooner!  So the next day I decided to start exploring the Hillsborough Wilderness Areas sections along Morris Bridge Road first, seeing as they open at dawn.  Started at Flatwoods Park, where a Catbird mewed at the parking area.  Headed out on a little trail that opened up at a "T"; besides the usual suspects in the pine/palmetto stuff, the best bird was a flyover Wood Stork.  On the way back ran into a feeding flock that included a Black-and-white Warbler, and I could have sworn I heard a Yellow-breasted Chat doing it's thing, but since they're not supposed to be here now I later concluded that I must have heard a combination of a scolding Blue-headed Vireo (which is unfamiliar enough to me to be confusing) and something else making a single whistled note.

 

   Scenes along the Flatwoods Trail 

   

Flatwoods pine habitat with a Black-and-white Warbler

A lot of these places had terrific paved bike trails, making me wish I had one (a bike, that is)!  Flatwoods had a great bike loop, but I took the little nature trail, picking up a Phoebe for Florida and another "mad flock" consisting mostly of chickadees and RC Kinglets.

                           

Carolina Chickadee and Blue-headed Vireo

The next place was Morris Bridge Park, which had a terrific little boardwalk with a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks practically within touching distance!  (They must have been used to people, as they were still in the same spot on the return trip...)  This spot and the next two all had wonderful little boardwalks that overlooked the Hillsborough River, and honestly the scenes in my head are starting to meld together, so I can't remember if it was this place or Trout Creek Park, but at one spot at the river there were just tons of Turkey and Black Vultures both airborne and clumsily clamoring around in the trees, plus Anhingas yelling back and forth, a pair of Belted Kingfishers chasing each other, White Ibis adorning the trees, and a Tricolored and Little Blue Heron together.  At Trout Creek (for sure) a wonderful pair of Pileated Woodpeckers was whanging away on that boardwalk!  And at John Sargeant Park, it was rather quiet except for the Gray Squirrels that seemingly wanted a handout!

     

Boardwalk at Morris Bridge Park where Red-shouldered Hawks were guarding the bridge!

        

Scenes along the trail

               

Boardwalk at Trout Creek Park, with said Trout Creek

          

Acrobatic Pileated Woodpecker and Turkey Vultures lining the limbs to warm up!

   

Alligator along the riverbank...

                

Gray Squirrels hoping their "cuteness" will warrant a handout...

After that headed up to Hillsborough State Park (missed the entrance because of some bridge construction and did a U-ie, only to see two police cars posted there--thankfully they were more interested in catching speeders coming into the construction zone than hare-brained out-of-staters who didn't know where they were going!) and checked out as many of the trails as I could; most of them went along the river where it was much narrower than at the wilderness parks (although you could put in a canoe at any of these places).  By this time the birdlife was rather quiet, but the trails were fun: the River Rapids Nature Trail showed off just that: the rapids in the river!  The Baynard Trail was closed due to hurricane damage, but I hiked a little of the Florida Trail and enjoyed a landlubbing family of tourists (with two canoes) trying to make their way downstream without falling in!  Also hiked a bit of the Wetlands Restoration Nature Trail, but it was pretty quiet bird-wise (scared up a couple of White-tailed Deer, though...)

      

Scenes along the Rapids Trail at Hillsborough State Park

       

Wetlands Restoration Trail

        

Florida Trail and put-in spot on the river

          

Various fungi

I stopped at the gift shop to use the restroom (and walked out with three literally hot-off-the-pan chocolate chip cookies) and wished I hadn't left my camera in the car: a squirrel had gotten up under Jip and was sprawled out on top of the left front tire!  He and his buddy were obviously looking for handouts (I caught one of them almost sneaking into the car to get at the cookies), but they were quite pretty with their gray and rusty coats and neat white underparts!

    Another moocher (Gray Squirrel)

Headed down to Venice after that, sweating about the crazy drivers all the way (even the semis were playing "bumper cars"), worried that someone was certainly heading for an accident, and sure enough, one vehicle overturned in the median down around Sarasota.  And people think California is bad??? 

Continue to Oscar Sherer State Park

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