Header Image: Park Road
We didn’t have much time to spend exploring today, but at Myakka River State Park, any time at all is well worth the trip.
This is one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks. The river for which the park is named is not very long, only 72 miles. Typical of Florida rivers it also is not very deep and can be narrow at several points along its length. It flows from near Sarasota generally south and west where it empties into Charlotte Harbor at the Gulf of Mexico.
There is not any agreement on the origination of the name “Myakka”, likely a Seminole Indian name. Early Spanish explorers around the Charlotte Harbor area in the 16th century labeled it “Big Creek” on their charts. In the early 19th century, English maps called it the “Asternal River”. Around 1840, the first reference to the “Miarca” River showed up and is likely the root of its current name.
Myakka River State Park consists of over 37,000 acres and opened to the public in 1942. It was constructed by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a group of young men organized under President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930’s to provide employment for millions adversely affected by the economic depression of 1929. A large chunk of land was gained by a proposal from Sarasota’s first mayor to convert it to public use instead of losing it all to bankruptcy. An additional large parcel was donated by the sons of a Chicago businesswoman, Bertha Palmer, who had moved here to go into cattle and sheep ranching.
Today, visitors can enjoy a wide selection of adventures in the park. Camping, hiking, fishing, biking, boating and some of the best birding in the area. A unique experience is a canopy walk which allows one to wander in and above the treetops and provides outstanding views.
Gini and I enjoyed breakfast overlooking a creek which flows into the river and found early blooming flowers and plenty of birds feeding in the oak and palm hammocks. At Upper Myakka Lake, we could see quite a few shorebirds and waders on the far shore, too far for photographs though. A pair of Swallow-tailed Kites are among the first arrivals we’ve seen this year of this migratory raptor. They will stay here and breed before returning to South America in August. The banks of the river were lined with dozens of alligators who, like us, were happily soaking up the sun’s rays.
We’ll be back soon and try to find a few birds willing to pose. Beginning in May, this park is filled with one of Florida’s native orchids, the Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) and dry prairies teeming with wildflowers.
A few images of our morning.
Upper Myakka Lake provides good fishing, fine boating and is a magnet for bird life.
Savannah Sparrows were very active as they’re fueling up for their return to northern breeding areas.
Slow moving streams such as Clay Gully feed the river throughout the park.
One of the many epiphytes which can be found here is the Southern Needleleaf (Tillandsia setacea).
A look up into the canopy gives you an idea of what the epiphyte population is like.
A dead tree stump provides a roadmap of sorts depicting the life of this particular tree.
Regular old fungi thrives here as well. The trunk of an oak tree is decorated with a nice selection of growth.
One of the first wildflowers to poke up from the brown of winter is the Canadian Toadflax (Linaria canadensis). Soon, this little species will cover roadsides and fields in a lovely lavender blanket.
The Myakka River moves very slowly, has plenty of fish and its banks are typically muddy and weedy. Perfect habitat for the American Alligator.
But wait! What’s that?
Photobombed! I didn’t see this hitch-hiking damselfly until post-processing. The image is not clear but the colors and patterns are unique enough to narrow down the species to two possibilities: Florida Bluet (Enallagma pollutum) or Orange Bluet (Enallagma signatum).
On the way home, we stopped at a roadside stand to find a few red jewels for the kitchen treasure chest. It’s getting late in Florida’s strawberry season but we have been enjoying these wonderfully sweet morsels since late December.
A short adventure certainly beats no adventure! We hope you have a park or special place where you can visit and go birding, exploring or simply be still and enjoy the peace and quiet. We’ll leave you with a bit of verse written about the Myakka River at the turn of the 20th century.
The Spell of the Myakka
There are fish and they are jumping and flaunting
and luring me on as they wish;
But it isn’t the fish that I’m wanting
So much as just catching the fish.
It’s the great, broad Myakka out yonder
With its palms where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder
It’s the stillness that fill me with peace.
Neal Wyatt Chapline, 1914
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!