Little Gator Creek WEA – A whole lot of stuff going on

Years ago, my husband and I visited Little Gator Creek WEA, and it was a fantastic adventure to experience nature pretty much untouched. But it wasn’t until we revisited the area with a friend that we realized there was so much more going on.

On Saturday, my friend Jeanene Arrington Fisher, and the owner of Not a Clue Adventures, met my husband and me for her first visit to the area. Not only did we add a new species to our observation list, (we are iNaturalist geeks), I finally figured out who I am- really who I am. But before we get into that, let me share with you our great adventures exploring this hidden gem.

You may have seen titles like Chassahowitzka WMA and Little Gator Creek WEA. There is a difference between those properties. WMA is Wildlife Management Area (Permitted Hunting & Fishing), and WEA is Wildlife Environmental Area (No Hunting and No Fishing)

Little Gator Creek WEA – Trip One

Little Gator Creek WEA encompasses over 500 acres of flatwoods and wetlands flourishing with flora and fauna, but most importantly, a portion of the property is a wading bird colony. 

Woodstorks and other wading birds nest in the area, and to tell you the truth, I would too if I was a bird. It’s beautiful and peaceful as well as an excellent source of shelter and food to raise their youngins.

Since the property consists mostly of mesic flatwoods and basin swamp, it excels at showcasing the diversity of nature for everyone to experience.

For those that are not familiar with Florida’s habitats, it’s hard to look at an area and say this is such and such because these areas change. Plant species, topography, and soils are significant factors of determining one habitat from another. Sometimes it can be simple, like sandhill- the soil is sandy, and it’s somewhat hilly with pines and saw palmettos, but throw in pond, it’s a whole new habitat.

So for the sake of our brains from becoming over-fried, wilted, and unusable for the rest of the day, let’s keep it simple. Uplands (sandy soils) a variety of habitats with little to no water, and wetlands (wet soils) a variety of habitats the have little water to vast amounts of it-swamps and rivers. 

The reason I am mentioning habitats is -PLANTS! By knowing some basic information about habitats, you can learn so much more about plants. You can learn where certain plants grow and what season when they are flourishing! If you love photographing plants, this is an excellent way to plan out your photo trips!

As photographers, we can all agree that winter is a great season for photographing birds in Florida, but it is also the time when some plants thrive. 

Common Bogbuttons. These are emersed (characteristic of an aquatic plant reaching above the water’s surface) plants are often misidentified with the Yellow Hatpins. Common Bogbuttons have hairy or furry, whichever term you like to use, stalks. The Yellow Hatpins stalks are smooth.

During spring and summer, the ground level is full of dense vegetation, but many plant species, like grasses, can die down during the fall and winter. As the cooler weather trickles in, this can trigger some species of trees to lose their leaves, giving a more visual depth into the forest. And that is when you can look through the trees to encounter nature’s precious moments- untouched and at its finest.

On the trail, we were glued to the wet soil spotting hundreds of Bogbuttons, and that was fun! But when I did a quick head turn to the right I felt like I was a kid in a candy store! Just over a hundred feet away (which looked like miles) was a hidden gem! A wetland area filled with Swollen Bladderworts! What a beautiful sight to see!

But that is not the only carnivorous plant around here; how did I know- habitat and soil. I knew from the soil that we were bound to see Pink Sundews, another favorite carnivorous plant to photograph. The soil was the perfect conditions-moist and surrounded by other plants that desired that same type of soil, Common Bogbuttons and Zigzag Bladderworts.

Aquatic plants are those that have adapted to living in aquatic environments (saltwater or freshwater). They are also referred to as hydrophytes or macrophytes to distinguish them from algae and other microphytes. A macrophyte is a plant that grows in or near water and is either emergent (emergent plants are rooted in the ground with their stems, flowers, and leaves rising above the water), submergent (submergent vegetation is composed of both rooted and non-rooted submergent plants, rooted floating-leaved plants, and non-rooted floating plants, or floating. In lakes and rivers, macrophytes provide cover for fish, a substrate for aquatic invertebrates, produce oxygen, and act as food for some fish and wildlife. 

Aquatic plant – Wikipedia

Sure enough, we stumbled upon a healthy patch of Pink Sundews. Ahh…It was a perfect day.

When you take the time to stop and look, there are so many things you can see. Enjoy, explore, and be amazed by how wonderful nature is.

Stay tuned for Trip Two!

A couple of very important things to know before you visit Little Gator Creek WEA

  • Public access is prohibited from February 1 through August 31
  • There are no trail signs.
  • Seriously, if you have not been here before, stay on the WIDE unpaved roads or find someone that has hiked the area before. *Hint: Not a Clue Adventures!
  • I highly suggest printing out a screenshot of the aerial map
  • Cell service may be limited 

Who am I?

While it is true that sometimes it takes years to figure out who you are, and in my case, it took about 40 years. I am sure many of us like who we are, don’t like who we are, or can’t find who we are. I have been there, and let me tell you, and it’s not easy to figure all that out.

I have been fortunate to experience so many things in life and many things I do hold dear to my heart, and one of them is wonderment. Strange but true.

It’s an incredible journey to walk in nature and see the vast amount of life. That wonderment encouraged me to learn who I am as well as what type of person I am.

On that day at Little Gator Creek, my friend gave me that Aha moment.  I can’t remember how the conversation started, but it had to do with Fitbit. There are many people that ‘hike’ or ‘walk’ these trails for their own reasons. I am not walking these trails for a leisure stroll or adding steps to my fitness goal, or hiking miles and miles. I am there to discover and learn about nature.

I see nature as a fuel for educating myself, to learn about the smallest of creatures to the strongest of predators and the thousands of plant species that give the earth beauty and life. 

You can be a nature/wildlife photographer, and thousands of people are. But what I have done is taken my photography away from just taking pictures and putting purpose behind them, a connection if you will. I do not take photos to enter a contest or get the most votes, likes, etc. I take photos to research, educate, to inspire others.

When I review my photos, I begin to fill my head with curious questions. Why does that leaf look like that? Why does that insect have those long, long antennas? What is that called? Why is that bug have three different colors? How does that bug produce that smell, and why does it make it? Why does that fern only grow on that tree, and it goes on and on. And that is who I am.

But how do you know when you are truly connected with nature as a photographer? The moment when you can look at a photo that you have taken and not only does it give you more inspiration but it brings an undeniable feeling of emotion that what you photographed is truly a remarkable part of nature so much that it brings tears to your eyes.

Wonderment at it’s finest

This is the photo that gave me that emotional connection, not only to myself but also to my husband.

I know who I am, I am a nature explorer!

I want to thank my friend, Jeanene Arrington Fisher, and all those like-minded folks, for all the hours you have and continue to trek, all the thousands of photos you take, and all research you do and share that with the world.

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