Two weeks before Christmas I found myself sitting in the Okeechobee County Courthouse, serving as a juror on a criminal trial. It was a complicated case, with no clear right and wrong, and the only thing that kept me sane was knowing that we had reserved ten nights camping at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park.
Dec 23 couldn’t come soon enough. Since we were planning to be there for so long, we set up two tents – one for sleeping and the other as our “commissary.”
We fell asleep that night to the hoot of owls while coyotes howled in the distance.
Christmas Eve morning I went for a bike ride and TG worked on photos.
I was happy to spy a beautiful, black-crowned night heron
And a female northern harrier enjoying the early morning sun.
Later I hiked the Prairie Loop Trail and managed to capture a belted kingfisher, notorious for flying off the moment you even think “camera.”
I was almost to the campgrounds when I came upon an 8-point buck, far more interested in grazing than in me.
One of our favorite things to do while camping is late afternoon drives around the park. The day visitors are mostly gone and the animals are beautiful in the golden light.
This crested caracara loves this spot and more often than not you can find him sitting here in the late afternoon.
That evening I drove the park road again. An owl swooped in front of me, and I spied a second one in the trees, too far away to even think about getting a shot.
Christmas morning, we woke up early to enjoy the peace and quiet before heading back home to Okeechobee.
We were invited to spend Christmas evening with our neighbors and we chose to sleep at home rather than drive back out to camp that night.
We had already noted that the campground was more crowded this year than in the past, and the vibe was different. Oscar and Maddie were stressed, which was stressing us out. We didn’t dare leave them alone in the tent, even inside their kennel, as the park was full, including several loose dogs.
That night we drove to our favorite spot for a star stack. We set up our camp chairs by the car while O and M slept inside and our cameras clicked away. We could hear, but did not spy, barred owls hooting in the trees above us.
On Monday morning we decided that TG should take O & M home while I stayed at the camp. Since we live only 45 minutes away, he would make the drive 2 times a day to spend time with me, enjoy the morning and dinner together, and build a nightly campfire.
As a bonus, my friend Tim and his 7-year-old son were staying two sites away beginning that night. I’ve known Tim for over a decade and we were looking forward to spending time with them.
Later that evening Tim sent me a text “You have a macro lens?”
They had spied a black widow spider in the bathhouse!
TG came back early the next morning and the four of us went for a hike.
We didn’t see a lot, but we did spy a beautiful buck bounding through the prairie
And a big banana spider.
When we got back to camp a large tom turkey was pecking on the hubcap of our car – he could see his reflection in the chrome and was not backing down!
After TG left that evening, I intended to go for a hike but only got as far as the Prairie Loop trailhead when I heard the snuffle-grunting of a wild pig. By the light of my flashlight, I spied a mama with three babies. She snorted at me and I decided it was best if I turned around.
Wednesday morning, we said goodbye to Tim and Carlyle and took a drive with the pups. After TG left that evening, I went looking for owls.
Much to my delight, I found one,
Then his mate.
And they even “bonded” a few times!
Thursday morning TG met me early. We had been contacted by a local rancher to take photos for their new website and we wanted to walk the property together.
That night I shot another star stack at the corner.
Friday morning, I hiked the Prairie Loop Trail again. There was a nest in a tree I wanted a better look at but the fog was so thick I couldn’t see much of anything!
I still managed to spy a grumpy yellow-rumped warbler,
An eastern meadowlark,
Several more deer and some wild turkeys.
Later I went for another bike ride and noticed a huge wolf spider sitting in the middle of the road. When I stopped to move him out of harm’s way, he got mad and charged me! I jumped back and he climbed into the spokes of my bicycle tire. I walked a short distance away and he climbed down and moved off the road. I was only trying to keep you safe, not-so-little guy!
TG returned that afternoon with the pups. We wanted to spend New Year’s Eve together as a family and figured Kissimmee would be far quieter than our neighborhood at home in Okeechobee. We took a short sunset drive around the park
And then enjoyed a quiet dinner while a little owl kept watch from a branch above our heads.
Later we sat by the fire, burning the last of our “lighter wood” – logs from a tree hit by lightning. The crowds had left the park and there were several empty sites. The only sounds we heard were the crackling of the fire and the occasional hoot of an owl. It was the best New Year’s Eve we’ve had in a long time!
Although we had made our reservations through Sunday the 3rd, we decided to pack up Saturday after the tents had dried. Mornings had been so damp and foggy we did not want to pack up wet gear. We took our time breaking down and pulled into our driveway at Casa Mini around 2:30 that afternoon.
We’ve decided that tent camping with the pups must be in measured doses, and only when the campground is relatively empty. But me staying solo, with TG driving out for a few hours each day, proved to be a very workable solution. When all was said and done I was by myself for four of our ten nights, and I can’t wait to do it again!