Sunday, June 7, 2009

Circle B Bar Nature Reserve

Something that a lot of people don't know about me is that I'm a bit of a closet naturalist. I grew up in the great state of Tennessee and remember going to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park often, sometimes every other weekend, to just explore and of course photograph what I saw. One of the places I loved to go was the Sugarlands Visitor Center as you entered the park from Gatlinburg. It was full of all kinds of fascinating information, exhibits and great people who helped expand that information. As a kid, I soaked it up like a sponge. I figured I was quite lucky to have this all in my "backyard." Well now I'm lucky once again.

Living here in Lakeland for years, I have often wanted to go out and see some of the landscape and wildlife of what in your mind's eye you think of as Florida. No, I don't mean Cinderella's Castle and the surrounding flowerbeds or the tourists getting their drink on in downtown Orlando. I mean the real Florida without high rises, the theme parks and the tourist traps. The jungle without the concrete. The Florida of the Creek and Seminole nations as the Spanish found it in the 1500s. Well low and behold, maybe if I took my head out of the computer a bit more often I would have found it sooner because it was right under my nose the whole time.

Located on State Road 540 is the Circle B Bar Nature Reserve. Its 1,267 acres of prime Florida wetlands and home to countless species of wildlife. At the visitors' entrance is the Polk's Nature Discovery Center, a Sugarlands like three building complex with classrooms and exhibits which opened in 2008. I first visited the Nature Center a couple weeks ago when I met my good friend and fellow photographer Reinier there to judge the Polk County Camera Club portfolios. I immediately fell in love with the place and I didn't even venture out onto the trails! To remedy that, my brother and I decided to go there this past Friday and do a bit of exploring.

All I can say is the place is well worth the early wake up call. With 6 miles of trails through the various landscapes crammed into this unique and special place, birdwatchers, educators, naturalists, and photographers are treated to some of the greatest imagination fueling vistas one is least likely to expect in the shadow of Orlando and Tampa. To me the Cypress swamp was the most moving as I alternately thought of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and images of Ponce de Leon pushing through looking for the Fountain of Youth. The oak hamlets were just as impressive with their boughs crookedly reaching skyward.

We ventured out on a couple of the more popular trails including Alligator Alley and Shady Oak. Even on what Reinier, who is primarily a nature photographer who volunteers at Circle B, calls the off season, we saw an abundance of wildlife and at extreme close range. This was especially good for Pedro and I as we didn't want to be too weighed down by gear and so the longest glass we had was a couple of Nikkor 70-300s. They worked just fine. The variety of waterfowl was fascinating. Not to be out done, several birds of prey, my favorites, made an appearance including a several Osprey, a hawk and a sleepy immature barred owl. Of course one can't think of Florida wetlands without thinking Gator! Circle B doesn't disappoint there either. I lost count of how many of the large reptiles we saw on Lake Hancock. We also got to see some baby Alligators in the marsh about two or three feet away from us.

Of course the real benefit of Circle B is not the photographic opportunities, the chance to offload the kids for an afternoon, or the habitat it provides for wildlife but its the wetlands themselves. They are natures filtration system for our planets water supply. Water that winds up on your store shelves in plastic bottles with such great marketing blurbs like "Natural Florida Spring Water" starts right here in wetlands filtering into the aquifer. Water is becoming an hot topic issue in our ever increasingly complex world., many places suffer from a shortage or an excess of it. When it comes to the environment, I take the same approach I take to any subject, I learn as much as possible. Circle B is a great place to start and get to learn about wetlands first hand. I can't recommend a trip there strongly enough, you won't regret it.

Thanks For Stopping By & All The Best


1 comment:

  1. You are absolutely right. Way to go! What fun…I am really tempted to leave my stressful shuttling-everyday job and just sit at home. I need to earn some money, so I think I might become a freelancer. Talking about freelancing, I came across some amazing e-marketplaces on the web planet - Freelance Work From Home, Sell Online themes, and so on. Now, I think it is time to make a change. Thank you for making me realize what I have to do.