Sunday, June 13, 2010

Brooker Creek

I'm trying to come up with a catchy name for this summer season -- it will be known in the Flamingo Family History as a summer during which, when asked by her Flamingo chicks if they could do X, Y, or Z, Mommy Flamingo would always say, "Well, is it free? Cause if it ain't free, it ain't being done." (Mommy Flamingo believes that one effective way of teaching her chicks proper grammar is to sometimes be a prime example of how not to do it, thus highlighting how icky poor grammar sounds -- that, and poor grammar is fantastic for emphasis. And fun.) So I can't decide between "Summer on the Cheap" and "Where Oh Where Are Our Disney Passes."

Mace's last day of school was Thursday, so on Friday I looked up a bunch of free stuff to do in Tampa and settled on a visit to Brooker Creek Preserve. By the time I was finished with whatever it was I was doing in the morning around the house and we could leave, it was 2:00. Which means it was already 90 degrees. But I read on their web page that they have an education center, so I figured we could kill at least an hour in there and then if the trails were shady enough we could take a short hike before leaving.

The Preserve is in Pinellas County and encompasses 8500 acres. It took us about 25 minutes to get there, but only because we went around our elbow to get to our thumb. When Casey, Mace and I got there, we stuck to the plan and visited the education center first. It's very well done -- the exhibits are great for kids -- there is a 15 minute film in a theater designed to look like the inside of an old barn and is a high tech holographic extravaganza. Okay -- that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's really really good. I was impressed by all the exhibits and kept thinking, "How is this FREE?"

After spending almost an hour in the education center, Casey wanted to take one of the trails that led to the "Bird Path." We'd brought our Birds of Florida book and binoculars with us (seriously, shouldn't I be homeschooling???) and Casey was anxious to get to the Bird Path, where surely hundreds of birds were waiting to be identified. So we sprayed ourselves down with bug spray, pulled out the binoculars and set off down the boardwalk into the swamp.

We made it 50 feet from the Education Center before being attacked by these:

The Diachlorus Ferrugatus -- aka the "yellow fly" (horrid creatures sound more menacing if you use their scientific names). We have some trouble with these at our house and nothing works to get rid of them, though it does help a little if you spray pure deet around the yard (which explains why Mace has that sixth toe on both of his feet). As we were setting off on our hike Friday afternoon, we were attacked by three or four or six hundred yellow flies and I swatted and danced and ran around trying to shake them so that we could keep going before giving up altogether after about 3 minutes and making the kids run back out to the car.

I confess I felt a bit like a failure of a homeschool mom wannabe on our drive back home.

Which is why, on Saturday morning at 8:16 (exactly one minute after I'd woken up), I allowed Flamingo Joe, who had not gone with us the day before and who was desparate to crawl through a man-sized gopher tortoise burrow, to persuade me to go out to the Preserve again.

So here we are at 9:20 a.m. Saturday at the entrance to Brooker Creek Preserve:

Note that, despite Mace's sexy midriff-revealing pose, the children are in long pants. I figured that, should we be attacked again, it would be easier to only have to swat yellow flies off of the kids' bare arms and necks. Flamingo Joe was going to have to fend for himself.

We decided to take advantage of the cooler morning weather (88 degrees) and take the short Education Center Trail (can't remember how long it was, but less than a mile) before taking Flamingo Joe to see the exhibits in the Education Center.

This is the boardwalk that leads to the Education Center and Trailheads from the parking lot:

Lots of flora. The only fauna I saw were squirrels and butterflies (are butterflies "fauna" -- I suppose an argument can be made that they are actually "flora," but as this is not a nature writing piece, let's move on).

The boardwalk at the beginning of the trail takes you through the swampy creek area. It's gorgeous and on Saturday morning, all the yellow flies were sleeping in and leaving us alone.

Again -- lots of flora, no fauna. Unless you count dragon flies because there were hundreds of dragon flies. Are dragon flies fauna? I see I need to do a little research on the actual definition of fauna.

Here is Mace trying to spot some flora and fauna. He saw some flora -- there were trees with magnolia-like flowers on them about 150 yards from where the platform stood, but they weren't magnolias. We didn't bring our Trees of Florida identification guide because I don't have one. The 800 page Southern Living plant guide was too heavy to bring with us. Again, however, no fauna. Unless you count lizards, because there were plenty of lizards.

Are lizards fauna?

When we reached the pine flatwoods portion of the trail, I walked a little ahead to make sure we were on the right trail and turned around to snap this picture -- Flamingo Joe said, "pretend like you're walking" to the boys. Casey said "huh?" and Mace said "where?" and bent over to look at an ant.

Surely ants aren't fauna, though, right?

But spiders who paralyze their prey with a bite to keep them "fresh" have to count as fauna, I'm thinking.

Poor little paralyzed beetle.

We made it back alive to the Education Center, Flamingo Joe having carried Mace only halfway around the trail, and Flamingo Joe immediately satisfied his life's dream.

Casey was a little freaked out by the rattlesnake noises piped into the gopher tortoise burrow. Mace wouldn't even stick his head in there.

Which leads me, of course, to my final scientific conclusion -- gopher tortoises surely count as fauna. Right? Because we saw three of them on our way out of the park.

I'm going to get right on that "fauna" definition. A good homeschooling mom wannabe would have known the definition before leaving the house.

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