Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hiking Long Branch Preserve

Trailhead and SignIt was good to get out again this weekend. The skies were clear, the trails dry and the temperature was perfect!  Today I went out to Long Branch Preserve to hike the red trail loop and see a few other things in the area. 
The parking area for this trail is on the small side (and there is a good sized canal on either side, but there is enough room for three or four cars to fit comfortably.  I was the only one here today, but I still paid pretty close attention to where the canal was when I pulled in and out. 
Bat houseAt the start of the trailhead, there is an information kiosk that describes a little about the area.  I thought it was interesting that the mention of wildlife mainly described gopher tortoises; I didn’t see any on this trip, but I did see a lot of deer, raccoon, wild hog, and other  tracks.
The trail here was recently mowed, which made it a very easy hike.  There were several small canals that crossed under the trail, but the water levels were low enough that they didn’t get in the way.  Shortly after starting out, I noticed a couple of bat houses tied to trees; these are just like the ones at Pine Lily Preserve which is almost across the street.
Overgrown side trail heading south
Before heading out, I looked at this area on Google Earth and saw what appeared to be a lot of side trails criss-crossing the area.  Many of those trails are either old routes, or simply game trails.  As you can see in the photosphere, the main trail is very clear and well marked.  It was around this spot on the trail where I realized that the mouthpiece on my CamelBak had fallen off.  I was a little bummed at first, but it’s nothing that can’t be replaced.  Really, it was more of an inconvenience than anything.
Witness PostA little further along the trail, I came up on the spot where it crosses Partin Farms Rd.  I followed the road for a very short distance and the trail picked up again, still heading west.  It was here that I found a witness post.  I’ve heard of these, but have never seen one (or at least recognized one) so I did a little searching to find out what they are.  I was surprised to learn that searching for these is a popular hobby. 
Start of balloonJust past the benchmark / witness post, is the start of the balloon portion of this trail.  I took the northern path to head out towards the river.  The Econlockhatchee River flows on the western edge of the preserve just past some forest and swamp, but the trail doesn’t quite go that far.  Instead it wraps to the south just on the edge of the trees.
There are a couple of side trails and game trails that go out towards the river, but they were a little too boggy, and I really didn’t feel like goin’ muck walkin’ today.  There are a few ponds along the way though; they are probably fed by rain and the river when the water levels are higher.
Pond panorama
Marked woodpecker tree-2A little beyond this pond, the area on the east side of the trail has only a few trees, and they still show charring from the last controlled burn that was done back here.  What really caught my eye though was in an area where the balloon loop turns back to the east.  There were at least three woodpecker nesting study trees.  They’re easy to recognize because of the large band of white paint that wraps around the tree at about eye level.  If you zoom in on the picture, you’ll see that the entrance to the nest has been protected with what looks like a piece of PVC pipe.  You’ll also see that the bark around the nest has been removed and there is a grate of some sort below the nest entrance that allows the tree to be easily gripped.  Pretty neat find!
Once the trail took me back to the start of the loop, I decided to head south and do a little exploring.  The trail followed under some power lines with.  I could hear the static electricity along the lines buzzing and crackling – it took a minute to figure out what the noise was, but once I realized what it was there was no mistaking it.
Missing microwave towerI followed this path south for a bit and then back to the east and north again where I found, or rather didn’t find, something new.  If the date on Google Earth is accurate, back in January there was a government microwave tower in this spot.  There is also a photo of the tower on Panoramio that was taken back in 2012.  Now there is nothing there besides a patch of gravel… no tower, no fence, just gravel.
Found my mouthpieceFrom here it was time to wrap up the hike for the day, so I headed back to the truck.  I normally don’t spend much time looking at the ground while I’m out hiking unless I need to watch my step.  On the way back, I had a pleasant surprise.  I happened to look down at just the right time to see my mouth piece sitting in the grass.  Nearly a 5 mile hike and I look down at just the right time to see a one-inch long piece of plastic… What are the odds of that!
As always, if you’d like to see where the photos were taken, just click on the “Trip Details” link at the bottom of the map.
Info Kiosk
Trail-view1
Small Canal
Trail continues past gate
Oak Tree
Sun reflecting in pond
Side trail to river
Old barbed wire fence
Scorched trees
Marked woodpecker tree-1
South under power lines
Heading north again
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