Thursday, December 28, 2017

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

Live Oak Landing
Freeport, FL
December 14, 2017

Topsail is a popular destination for many who come to visit the South Walton Beaches...whether for a day trip or an extended stay at the RV park or a cabin.  

Florida purchased the 1,640 acres in 1992 and boasts it is the most intact coastal system in all of Florida with 14 identifiable ecosystems including five freshwater coastal dune lakes, longleaf pine forests, wetlands and 3.2 miles of unspoiled sandy white beaches. 

There are over 10 miles of hiking/biking trails throughout the park.  Motorized vehicles are not allowed outside the camping/cabin area making for a nice quiet outdoor experience.  Joe and I enjoyed a nice 3.5 to 4.0 mile (roundtrip) hike/walk through a longleaf forest to Campbell Lake.

Topsail Hill SP is one of 510 sites listed on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trails webpage.  Eyes and ears were wide open in hopes for bird sightings. 

Our big excitement for the day was a pair of Florida Bald Eagles nesting in a tree top about a half mile away on the other side of Morris Lake. Way to far for a closeup picture...still a very special sighting for us!

Walking around the lake were lots of little interesting things to see...

This was a surprise find.  It's a little late in the season for lilies.  Did you know that when the lily closes up for good after a few days, the underwater stalks curl up and the lily becomes submerged.  Inside the closed petals, the pollinated flower develops seeds and the petals turn into a pod to protect them.    

This little guy was about the size of a quarter.


Something tiny burrowing under the sand made for interesting mounds above ground.

Not sure what these are...
The sparkle caught our eye.

On our way back to the day use parking area, we met an interesting gentleman who works for The Longleaf Alliance.  

His name is Bob Wilken.   He is a 36 year veteran of Wildlife Fire Management as well as related habitat restoration and protection.  

His winter job finds him in the south restoring longleaf pine forests and his summer jobs finds him restoring prairie land near Mt. Rainier.  He did such a great job explaining how controlled fires are beneficial to this particular type of pine tree and that burns are necessary to ensure a sustainable future for the longleaf pine and wiregrass forests. 

Bob told us how "burning" at Topsail is tricky because they can not burn if winds are blowing north.  

South blowing winds occasionally happen in the spring so most of the year, scrub oaks and other pines and small trees have to be removed manually.  For more information check out The Longleaf Alliance.

We enjoyed our day at Topsail.  Until next time...


Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Hike at Grayton State Park

Live Oak Landing
December 10, 2017
Freeport, FL

Grayton State Park is located between Panama City Beach and Destin on CR 30A.  It's 2,200 acres first opened as a state park in 1968.  Joe and I enjoyed a few miles of this gorgeous park on a hike that took us through a forest, a salt marsh, and over the crystal white sands along the Gulf.  

The hike we chose was Hobbit Hole so called because the trail leads you through the dunes where you find yourself inside an alcove of sand live oak trees. 

 Slivers of light and shadows danced on the sandy trail as we meandered quietly enjoying the chatter of birds and soft whispers of the leaves.   

The next section of trail took us beside Western Lake. It's the largest of the coastal dune lakes at about 220 acres.    

Eyes and ears were open wide hoping to see some of the shore birds that live in/visit the marsh year round.  Maybe next time...insert sad face !

Salt grass as tall as I am lined a lot of the lake.
Then came the section of trail through a Slash Pine forest.  I would have mistakenly called these long-leaf pines.  It seems these trees have been quite beneficial over the years producing pine sap.  

Turpentine was a chief source of income here many years ago.  There were remnants of dead trees with "slash" marks along the trail. 


Scattered among the pines were magnificent southern magnolia of my favorite trees.  Of course there were no sweet smelling, huge white blooms, but I was surprised there were just a few of the pods with the brilliant red seeds...I guess the birds and squirrels have been busy !   
Lots of berries from Yaupon Holly trees...

... Dahoon Holly trees... 
...and an unknown bush added lots of pop along the trail.
Last, we enjoyed a nice stroll on the beach which we had all to ourselves except for a few Snowy Plovers.

Grayton SP is a gem that showcases natural beauty and diversity.  

What a great day of exploring !  The trail was easy and we walked about 4 miles with a lunch stop on the beach.

So until next time, 

HAPPY TRAILS !         

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Happy Puppies and Deer Lake

Live Oak Landing
Freeport, FL
December 11, 2017

The natural beauty here at Live Oak Landing is not the only reason we choose to stay here.  

The doggie park is awesome.  After being cooped up most of last week, the puppies were excited to get out and run. 

 The girls had lots to check out...

and Jack was totally focused on playing ball.

 We were thankful for the sunshine, but temps were cool and the wind had a bite.  So, what to do?  We decided on a short walk to one of the coastal dune lakes.  
 Deer Lake was our destination.  Deer Lake State Park is located along Hwy 30A.  The entire park is approximately 2,000 acres mostly on the north side of 30A. 

On the south side, a
very nice elevated walkway takes you through a wooded area, over sand dunes and down to the Gulf.  

The dune ecosystem all along Hwy 30A is fragile and is protected with signs, fences, ropes, and/or walkways.

When we descended the stairs to the beach, we made a right turn (west) and headed toward the lake.  It was just us and a few plovers !  Looking left...   
 looking right.
The waves were rolling onto the beach one after another...

and the few plovers that were there were very busy.

Deer Lake is one of 15 named coastal dune lakes along a 26 mile stretch of coastline on Highway 30A.  They are said to be as much as 10,000 years old.  The lakes were formed in shallow basins created when winds redistributed sand and created depressions to collect fresh water.  The average depth of these lakes is about 5 feet.  The mostly fresh water is within a few feet of the the Gulf's salt water. After a heavy rain, the fresh water pours into the Gulf...called an "outfall"...and the salt water can flow back into the lake creating a brackish ecosystem.  Coastal Dune Lakes are a very rare natural phenomena that only occur in a handful of locations around the globe, including New Zealand, Australia, Madagascar.

Leaves, pine needles, and other organic matter fall into the lake.  Over time, the matter breaks down giving the water it's tea color...called tannic water. 
 Until next time,