Shift Your Paradigm or Shift Your Venue (And a Very Mowly Owly Christmas)

TG and I have visited Fisheating Creek Outpost on daytrips for both kayaking and hiking.  We’ve always enjoyed ourselves so it seemed like a good spot to book for three nights over Christmas.  

Fisheating Creek campground

Water levels were up and air temps warm enough to enjoy a good day on the water and another exploring the trails and campground.

we were looking forward to an afternoon kayak on the creek

But we were barely set up before we started having second thoughts.  The campsites are located within 100 yards of US27, a major north-south trucking route and the constant roar was disruptive, to say the least.   

the campsites are very close to US27 and a lot of truck traffic!

As if that were not enough, everyone was packed together in the sites closest to the entrance, leaving the bulk of the sprawling campgrounds empty.  We felt like we were on top of our neighbors and worried about Oscar’s ability to handle strangers and dogs walking directly under Terrapin’s windows.

we worried about how the dogs would handle being so close to other campers, and Maddie wasn’t too keen on the “Studio 54” wristbands

But we were willing to give it a try.  TG built a nice fire and before dinner we played a rusty, but competitive, game of Scrabble.

Pat, I’d like to buy a consonant!

Neither of us slept a wink that night.  The following morning, Christmas Eve, we went for a hike on the Knobby Knee Trail. 

Knobby Knee Trail entrance

Within the first few yards we accidently flushed a great horned owl and spied a beautiful, red-shouldered hawk. 

a beautiful red-shouldered hawk in the morning sun

It looked to be a wonderful walk, the “alligator nest close to trail” warning notwithstanding.  But the further along we went, the wetter and muddier it became.  We thought it best to turn around before thoroughly soaking our hiking boots.

the trail is lovely but too wet for us to enjoy on this day

As we headed back towards Terrapin, we could hear Oscar barking.  Oh-oh.  So, we took turns walking along the creek.  The sky was an impossible shade of blue, reflected in the calm-as-glass water and TG got some beautiful panoramas.

the sky and water were an impossible shade of blue
Fisheating Creek

Multiple herons, vultures,

a pair of vultures

cormorants, and ibis sat basking in the morning sunlight.

ibis high on a snag

TG and I have never been ones to wallow in misery for the sake of a few dollars.  He likes to say, “shift your paradigm or shift your venue.”  So, while I hiked along the creek he hopped on-line and found two nights available at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State park beginning that afternoon. 

We pulled up stakes and were set up in site #32 at Kissimmee by 1:30pm. 

#32 at Kissimmee Prairie

We’ve been there enough times now it’s starting to feel like home and I took a short hike while TG started the fire.  The forecast that night called for temperatures to dip and we wanted to be ready for the cold front. 

TG starting the fire

I walked the Prairie Loop Trail into the oak hammocks.  As I was about to head back to camp, I heard the unmistakable call of a barred owl.  I stopped still in my tracks, waiting to hear it again. 

I could barely spy him hidden in the palm fronds

Sure enough, I was able to follow the sound to a cabbage palm just as two burst from beneath the fronds and flew to a nearby oak tree.

barred owl in an oak tree

By the time I got back, TG had a roaring fire going and we enjoyed our Christmas Eve dinner by firelight.   

Christmas Eve dinner by the fire
TG’s campfire

After dark, the owls started calling from the hammock so of course I went to look for them.  I was past the slough when I heard, then saw, two large wild hogs.  They stopped their foraging long enough to growl at me and since I didn’t fancy them coming between me and my way home, I turned around and headed back as quickly as possible.

night sky through fire smoke haze

Christmas morning, we woke up to cold and I’m not talking Floridian warm-weather-wimp cold.  It was 38 degrees!  We had planned on a sunrise hike but decided on a drive instead.   We did not see much in the crisp, clear air but enjoyed it, nonetheless.

O & M wait patiently in the back seat!
kestrel on a snag

After we got back I wanted to look for “my” owls again, so I headed out on the Prairie Loop Trail.  On my way I spied a pair of red-shouldered hawks

red-shouldered hawk pair

And an Eastern phoebe. 

eastern phoebe

It took me no time to find the owl, sitting quietly in a tree above me, but the midday sun made photography challenging.  I simply admired his beauty and tried instead to capture one of the three species of woodpeckers that were busy pecking away:  pileated, downy, and red-bellied.

red-bellied woodpecker

I came home to a roaring fire and deer wandering around our campsite.

TG, don’t look now but …
young buck grazing in our campsite

After lunch I wanted to share the owls with TG, so we walked back to the spot.    It took us a few minutes but between the two of us, we managed to spy one yet again. 

our Christmas afternoon hike to the owl spot

As we watched in the golden afternoon light, two men came along the trail, speaking very loudly in Spanish. I whisper-called “Senores, tranquilo por favor, hay un buho!!” They stopped and looked where I pointed. Turns out it was a family from Miami: a dad, mom, daughter and son-in-law and the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.

barred owl in the golden afternoon light

They were as thrilled as we were to see the owl and like me, tears filled their eyes as together we marveled at this beautiful gift. To spy an owl in the daylight is rare and this was their first trip ever to KPPSP — and the first trail they had chosen to hike!

how do you say “tushy” in Espanol?

What a Feliz Navidad it was for me to share this, not only with TG, but also with this wonderful family.

together we watched as he flew away

Later that night the sky was filled with stars and the air filled with a cacophony of owl hoots and calls.  I set up for a star stack, a continuous set of photos shot over an hour or more and then “stacked” together in a special program.

Christmas night: 342 images shot over approx one hour and then stacked together in the (free) Star Stax program

While my camera clicked away, I walked in the dark back towards the calls while also on guard for any lurking hogs. 

little bunny on the trail

I thought I saw the silhouette of an owl on a tree limb just above the slough.  A young couple happened to be walking towards me and I called “guys, I don’t want to be rude and shine this flashlight in your eyes but I think there’s an owl right above your heads.”  “Oh! Shine the light,” they said, and sure enough there he sat, looking down at the three of us before flying off into the darkness.

Saturday morning TG was up for the sunrise.

sunrise at Kissimmee Prairie
deer at the park office at sunrise

Later we took another drive on CR724, the “Magic Road,” and happened upon a northern harrier.  This medium-sized raptor is extremely hard to spy, let alone photograph, as it flies low and swoops across the fields. 

northern harriers are so hard to spy!

But this one was close to the road and TG was able to capture a wonderful set of images.

northern harrier in flight

Back at the campsite one last chance to say Thank You and Good-bye to the owls before packing up to head home. 

Good-bye, Thank You, and Mowly Christmas!

As we drove out of the park, a caracara was on the platform near the entrance

caracara from the rooftop vantage

And it was my turn to climb up into Terrapin’s rooftop basket to take a few shots.

taking advantage of Terrapin’s rooftop basket!
TG down below, checking for cars

We pulled into our driveway around 1:30pm.  This was our longest trip in Terrapin to date, and we can’t wait to get back on the road again!

one tired Oscar!

Author: TG&jet

Nature photographers - wildlife, landscapes, underwater; travelers; bloggers

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