Ichetucknee Springs and O’Leno State Parks, Florida

Back in late March of 2016, Melissa and I drove to Florida again to visit our son and his wife and their newborn twin girls. While we were there, I took the opportunity to do some hiking in a couple of nearby state parks. The first one I visited was Ichetucknee Springs S.P. near Ft. White. I arrived fairly early on a cool, mostly cloudy day and decided to follow the Blue Hole Spring Trail. The first part of the trail crosses a nice long boardwalk and then follows along the heavily wooded edge of the Ichetucknee River. There were many bird species, including Barred Owls and Pileated Woodpeckers.

Blue Hole Spring Trail Boardwalk, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Florida. Copyright (c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

When I arrived at the Blue Hole Spring¬†I immediately heard several Carolina Wrens making pretty loud agitated calls. Scanning around, I quickly discovered the reason for the ruckus–a Red Shouldered Hawk perched in a nearby tree.

Red Shouldered Hawk, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Florida. Copyright (c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

I watched for a few minutes until he left his perch, giving his characteristic kee-yer kee-yer call, made a wide circle around the area, and flew away.

26,668 gallons of pure clear 72 degree water pours out of a cave entrance at the bottom of Blue Hole Spring every minute. It is a favorite location for cave divers (including my son.)

Blue Hole Spring, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Florida. Copyright (c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

A couple of days later I returned to Ichetucknee to hike the Trestle Point and Pine Ridge Trails. Along the western side of the Trestle Point Trail, near some old phosphate mine pits, I thought I was hearing a Northern Parula Warbler. A little later, I met another birder who said he had heard it also. Unfortunately, I never actually saw the bird to confirm it.

The Pine Ridge Trail branches off of the Trestle Point Trail and enters a hardwood hammock of Laural Oaks, Sweetgums, Pignut Hickories, and Southern Magnolias.

Hardwood Hammock, Pine Ridge Trail, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Florida. Copyright (c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Shortly, the trail leaves the hammock and crosses an ecotone or habitat boundary and enters a dry sandhill forest of Longleaf Pines and scrubby bushes. Millions of years ago, this area was actually Florida’s coastline. The sand is very deep here and does not hold moisture well.

Sandhill Forest, Pine Ridge Trail, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Florida. Copyright (c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

After following the loop of trail through the Sandhill Forest I reentered the hardwood hammock where I came across a Barred Owl monitoring my hiking progress.

Barred Owl, Pine Ridge Trail, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Florida. Copyright (c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Coming back to the Trestle Point Trail, I took the eastern loop and followed the cool and shady path back along the Ichetucknee River to the parking lot. Looking forward to a return trip sometime in the future.

Ichetucknee River, Trestle Point Trail, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Florida. Copyright (c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

The day after my Ichetucknee trail walks, I visited nearby O’Leno State Park. I hiked the River Trail loop which mostly follows the Santa Fe River out to the “River Sink” where the water flows into an underground passage for about 3.5 miles until it resurfaces at “River Rise.” The trail begins at the suspension bridge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938.

CCC Suspension Bridge over Santa Fe River, OLeno State Park, FL. Copyright c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Crossing the bridge offered a nice view downstream toward the River Sink.

Santa Fe River, OLeno State Park, FL. Copyright c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

As I walked the trail upstream for a short distance I stopped several times to view the river through the lush greenery.

Saw Palmettos along the Santa Fe River. Copyright c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Moving away from the river, I entered more of a sandhill forest again. Here there were dense thickets of Saw-palmettos beneath pine trees.

Saw Palmettos in a Pine Barren. Copyright (c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

As I wound my way around the trail loop, I came across a leaning tree with Resurrection Fern growing on it. The fronds of this fern roll up when conditions are dry and revive when wet conditions return. (Hence the name.)

Resurrection Fern. Copyright c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Approaching more of a wetland area near the river again, I found a small patch of Baldcypress trees and knees.

Cypress Knees. Copyright (c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Although the intent of my walk was to hear and see birds, I came across remarkably few this time. Instead I came across some beautiful flowers which I believe to be Wild Azaleas.

Species uncertain – Shrub – Wild Azalea? Copyright (c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

I finally arrived at River Sink to the call and circling flight of a Red Shouldered Hawk and later, a Swallow Tailed Kite. The river strangely comes to a dead end here like a slowly swirling clogged drain and disappears into an underground passage.

River Sink – Santa Fe River, FL. Copyright (c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Finishing the River Trail loop, I arrived back at the parking lot where I was honored by the presence of a foot-long Ringneck snake. A pleanant end to a pleasant walk.

A small Ringneck Snake. Copyright (c) 2017 Robert D. Vickers, Jr.

Category(s): Other Nature Studies

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