During a lovely respite from the Floridian winter chill, on 04 January 2015 I headed east a few miles to the Colonel Thomas H. Dummett Sugar and Rum Processing Factory Ruins on the southern end of Bulow Creek State Park (and just north of Tomoka State Park in Volusia county). The ruins are located on the edge of the Old Dixie Highway — a part of the “Ormond Loop” (as locals refer to it). This is one my favorite local spots to hike and explore from. I often use the Dummett Ruins as a sort of homebase and work my way out and about from there.
The landscape in this area is just terrific. It’s classic Volusia county territory. Lots of pines, plenty of palmettos, and texture damn near everywhere. Some areas are tangled messes of confusion while others are wide open and easy to navigate through. Occasionally, you’ll come across a small creek cutting through the foliage. In other spots, you’ll find a mild depression still saturated with the last storm’s rainfall. In some places, you can see residual controlled-fire signs. Regardless, damn near everything is alive and active in one fashion or another. In other words: This is paradise. This is what I think of when I recall the central Florida of my youth.
My first find for the day was a familiar little critter: Schistocerca damnifica, the Mischievous bird grasshopper. Not knowing what I’d ultimately find during the entirety of the hike, I wasn’t going to pass by this lovely little grasshopper without framing a few shots. I love love the sleek elegance of a delicate-yet-hardy grasshopper (click images to enlarge).
As I moved deeper into the thick, farther and farther from the road, I again started to appreciate the intricate details of the foliage and vegetation. In ecosystems like this, anything and everything serves some kind of purpose, and almost anything can become a habitat for something else. When a tree falls over and raises a stretch of soil with it, a shaded crevasse of sorts becomes a new hot spot for critters. Or, long after a tree falls and withers away, a remaining hollow left over from an eroded trunk becomes a kind of natural pot from which other plants emerge. Nothing is wasted; everything can and usually does serve a purpose.
Continuing deeper into the marshy, wet thick of Bulow Creek, I came across another familiar sight: Eleutherodactylus planirostris, the Greenhouse frog. A small species not native to Florida, I see far more Greenhouse frogs than I do our local cricket frogs nowadays. Of note, I often see Greenhouse frogs quite far from human buildings and development. This is not a species on the edge of being established. For better or worse, the Greenhouse frog is firmly established in this part of Florida. They. Are. Everywhere.
Januaries in central Florida can be unpredictable and wild in terms of air temperature. We can suffer some fairly rough cold fronts (by southern standards, at least), but we can also climb up to and through the mid-70s. Such was the case this week in early January 2015. For a few days, we had strong sunshine and temperatures in the upper-60s to mid-70s. The biological randomity of Bulow Creek was particularly gorgeous to me in the context of it being January.
Fungi and mollusks are all well and good, of course, but I was really hoping to find a snake out during the outing. Sure enough, I eventually did fine one: An Eastern garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis.
I found the young Garter basking atop an old, hollowed log. Were it not for the chance encounter with the lumbering Nikon-carrying hominid, the Garter snake really did have a perfectly calm and peaceful perch. Of course, and with all due apologies, I interrupted the snake’s calm for a round of photographs. As with other garters I’ve photographed in Volusia, Flagler, and Brevard counties, this was a lovely blue-toned garter. Truly spectacular.
I must admit that it felt really, really good to find this garter snake. I’m not sure I can articulate exactly why, but I always feel a bolt of energy –a soul infusion, if you will– whenever I encounter a snake or spend some close time studying a lizard. Because the feeling isn’t quite mutual, however, I soon enough returned the garter to its hollowed-kingdom and went on my way, leaving the snake to acclimate back to surviving into the future sans-Nikon macro action. It was finally time to start heading back to the Jeep.
I’ll certainly be spending quite a bit of time at Bulow Creek this spring and summer. Once you move somewhat off the beaten path, it’s a wild and pristine stretch of tangled land and water, a mixture of so many things I love about Volusia county, Florida.
Among my questions-list in this area are Glass lizards and Watersnakes. I’m quite curious which species of Glass lizards inhabit this area, and I’m wondering how well the watersnakes fair along these, dark, mucky, waterways so close to the salt marshes. I’ve spotted both in this area, though I missed catching (and thus identifying) the glass lizard. Heh. I’ll find more.