Sandhill Serenade: Split Oak Forest

Hi and welcome back. If you stay with me over the next few months, you’re going to be seeing this name a LOT, because Split Oak Forest is one of my favorite places on Earth. A few miles southeast of Orlando, it’s a 2000-acre oasis nestled up against one of the most rapidly growing areas in the county, Lake Nona. It’s one of the few local nature areas that actually feels a bit (dare I say?) wild.

And of course it’s being threatened (more on that later).

Split Oak is such an awesome place that sometimes you can barely get out of your car before the wildlife shows up. On this particular morning, four sandhill cranes crossed the road into the parking lot just as I got there. (Q: Why did the crane cross the road? A: To pose for a blog that didn’t yet exist. They’re very forward-thinking, sandhills.)

“Hmm…I think I should invest in Zoom.”

They’re also quite vocal.

I call them Elton and Kiki.

I love these fearless birds. You can hear their calls echoing from marshes and piercing the sky during flight. They’ve passed me on trails just inches away, not bothered in the slightest by the guy…er, gator with the camera. And their chicks are adorable! (As you’ll see in a later blog. You should probably subscribe so you don’t miss it.)

WARNING: There are a couple of spider pics coming up. If you’re one of those folks who get wigged out by them, scroll quickly! As a buffer, here’s a photo of my human companion (who I’m going to devour someday, when I no longer need him for this blog. Don’t tell him).

Showing off his lousy opposable thumb.

Not far down the trail from the singing sandhills, I passed what I think were tarflower bushes when something on one of the blossoms caught my eye:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…yup, it’s a spider alright.

A green lynx spider. Look at that coloring. Are you wondering, as I am, why the legs are reddish if it’s called the green lynx spider? Here are some educated guesses:

  • It’s a British tourist on their first Florida vacation.
  • Camouflage for hiding in a bag of Skittles.
  • It spoke to our crane friend about appearing in this blog and wanted to look its best.

I’m sure any one of those could be true. But if you have another explanation, feel free to leave it in a comment. Especially if you have a degree in arachnology or something.

Moving on to the next round of “Stop Creeping Me Out, Professor Gator” we have a striking golden orb-weaver (or “banana spider” if that sounds more a-peel-ing):

Just like an old banana: yellow, black, and not something you’d want to put in your mouth.

I don’t see nearly as many of these as I used to. I’m hoping that I’m just overlooking them in my old age and that it’s not indicative of the the impending ecological disaster we’ve brought about. That would be nice for a change.

Let’s leave the spiders behind and welcome back the people who ducked out into the lobby for a moment. Hi guys. Thanks for your patience. Here’s an artsy photo of a tree.

Black and white = artsy. Don’t @ me.

Moving on: one of the most common birds I see/hear in Split Oak is the eastern towhee:

“Guys, what’s a blog?”

Which I’ve just found out through research is actually a member of the sparrow family?? I didn’t know that. Research also says that they scratch the ground with their feet while foraging. That I did know; I’ve mistaken their rustling for an armadillo a few times. And apparently the eastern towhee refuses to talk to the western towhee because of a centuries-old feud which neither side remembers the cause of. (I’m a bit skeptical of this one. I mean, surely it’s written down somewhere…?)

Oh, and I also snapped pics of two deer butts.

Was it something I said?

Split Oak Forest is a magical place, with a wide range of habitat. From the Florida FWC Website:

“Split Oak Forest WEA was acquired in 1994 with funds received through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Mitigation Park Program. The now-defunct Mitigation Park Program was established in 1998 as an off-site alternative to on-site protection for rare species impacted by development. When developers eliminated habitat for an endangered or threatened species, they paid fees that were used to buy and manage high quality habitat elsewhere.”

So while not a perfect solution to habitat destruction, at least something was given back to nature…something that still perseveres and will continue to give wildlife a safe haven from now until the end of time…

LOL, just kidding. They want to put an expressway through the middle of it.

That’s right. Land set aside to make up for bulldozed trees is now being threatened by a highway–a highway whose sole purpose is to open up even more land for wanton development and urban sprawl. That’s just plain wrong.

To read more about this (and join the fight to stop it) check out the Friends of Split Oak Forest Facebook Page. There are some amazing heroes in that group.

Next time, I’ll be sharing my second-favorite place in the Orlando area. (HINT: Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way…)

One thought on “Sandhill Serenade: Split Oak Forest

  1. I really enjoyed reading your blog! Very entertaining. If I ever get down to the Orlando area again I will be sure to check out Split Oak Forest. That is unbelievable that land set aside for mitigation purposes is now at risk of a highway!!!! đŸ˜¦


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