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!
Of course the damselfly is a lovely little bit but I was struck by the beauty of the closeup look at the alligator’s eye and lids. Not a view many of us northerners have ever seen before.
Thank you very much for dropping by, Steve!
Thank goodness for l-o-n-g lenses!
Have a great weekend.
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I love the poem you ended with. I would like to fish but all of my gear is in disrepair now. I loved to fish in the streams of NC before we moved here. Well, the weather is changing and we are enjoying it. And the FL strawberries have been excellent this Spring. How neat to sit and watch the wildlife while you eat a meal. It’s one of our pleasures here too. Love the Sparrows and the wildflowers! Enjoy your weekend!
Thank you so much, Diane!
No worries about no fishing gear. Why, our Florida fish can’t wait to jump into your boat!
Those Sparrows will soon be gone, the berries are ready to be plowed under but Spring is here and there is color bursting out all over!
We appreciate your visit!
I’m sorry to hear of your problem with the wind Wally. Perhaps mention it the next time you go for a check up?
I must say that Myakka Lake has a better and more original ring to it than “Big Creek”, but it does rather explain how those Seminole Indians didn’t get around much. It does appear to be the most splendid place, made all the better by the brilliant blue of the skies and the creatures of the waterside as so beautifully described in the verse.
Yes, even the alligators loafing around in such charming and non-threatening ways.
I think we could do with a few FDR job creation schemes in the UK for the adversely affected – mainly those disabled by not wanting to work or having newly described 21st century ailments.
Those strawberries look superb. Months to wait for our own unless we but imported from Spain or Morocco – not quite the same I’m afraid. Enjoy your weekend both.
It’s looking like Tuesday for me. Unless the wing takes hold again!
Some winds are more beneficial than others. Sometimes it can blow down trees or prevent ringers from doing a job. Other times it can clear a room, which is not always a bad thing.
It’s a great place and we’ll return in late spring to try and report on the Butterfly Orchid bloom.
The berries, like life, are sweet.
Gini and I hope your own problems with the wind will soon be – well – “Gone With The Wind”.
Compared to Colorado’s, Florida’s vegetation seems so exotic to my eyes. I would definitely check out the canopy walk to help get an overview of this rich environment.
I imagine that finding the damselfly in the close-up of the alligator must have given you a nice little jolt–don’t you just love discovering heretofore-unseen details in your photos once you download them?
Florida’s sub-tropical climate allows us to enjoy some quite unique habitat compared to other parts of the U.S.
That canopy walk is, indeed, a lot of fun. There is a platform from which we can look “down” on vultures and raptors as they soar below.
Yes, processing the photos yields occasional surprises. Fun!
Thank you, Tanja, for visiting with us.
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It’s always a true pleasure! 🙏
Obviously a wonderful place to visit, especially in spring before temperature and humidity makes it unbearable. There are no Savannah Sparrows here yet, Wally, but Song Sparrow are already arriving and we even heard one singing on Saturday. Each day the temperature gets above freezing and the snow is melting quickly. Signs of spring are all around. Keep sending those migrants north!
This park will be really teeming with birds, bugs and blooms in another month! It’s a great combination of upland woods, bog, dry prairie and river/lake habitat.
I’m shooshing all the winter visitors northward as fast as I can. I’ll try to do the same with the birds, too. 🙂
Nice collection of photos from your outing. Love the photo-bombing damselfly shot!
Thank you, Donna.
A nice morning at a great spot!
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I had the same experience with an alligator and a dragonfly; the dragonfly was perched right behind the gator’s eyes, which probably was a good thing. Your Southern Needleleaf stopped me cold. It’s so different from the other Tillandsia species I know, and quite striking. The view of it in the canopy is cool, too. Those limbs look furry; they remind me of our oaks when the resurrection fern is green and thick. You’re reminded me that it’s time to begin looking for Toadflax; it may still be a little early here, but we have a close relative: Linaria canadensis var. texana.
This certainly is a beautiful place. The canopy walk sounds marvelous — such a creative way to offer a different view of the world there.
From an insect’s point of view, I reckon an alligator is just another perch.
Among all that canopy are plenty of resurrection ferns! Should begin turning green any time now.
This really is a special place to explore. Can’t wait to return soon!
Wonderful photos, and so evocative of the spring day. You got me with the close-up of the epiphyte… followed by the whole tree canopy full of them! What a great visual surprise. The poem was a nice addition, fit perfectly. Thanks!
Thank you, Sam. It’s a great place to explore.
Sorry for the late visit, Wally – I’m away from home for a few days. On my tablet I can’t see this post in it’s full glory, but it still looks like a fabulous place, even if the birds weren’t very cooperative. I particularly liked the ‘gator shots, and to find that damselfly on the head of one was very special. That shot of the strawberries rubbed it in that we bought strawberries this evening and our granddaughter decided that they were all hers!
Take care and stay safe – best wishes – – – Richard
Thank you Richard.
Alligators can look a lot like floating logs!
Hope your berries were as good as ours.
Enjoy your trip and have a safe journey home.
Very nice, Wally. This brings back memories. I’ve only been to Myaka a couple of times for short visits and couldn’t explore as much of it as I wanted to.
I’m looking forward to any sequels you publish!
Thank you, Ed.
We used to go camping there when we were kids. Not much development in the park then. Plenty of sand, mud, yellow flies, no-see-ums and ‘gators.
The good old days!
The damselfly on the alligator is an amazing capture intended or not!
If I had known it was there, the photo would probably be even MORE blurry!
My best photography strategy continues to be “luck”.
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Thanks for these great photos and wonderful summary, history and review of this location! I’ve lived in Florida for less than a decade, and had never heard of this one… Will add it to my collection!
If you have a chance, it’s definitely worth a visit. Easy access from I-75. The state road between the park and Arcadia to the east has several fields where Burrowing Owls nest as well.
Thank you for stopping by!
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Thanks, Wally !