Looking for a place to go hiking with our sweet doggy, Sadie, we visited this popular (1M visitors annually) county park in Tampa. It's a 240-acre site with hardwood swamp forests, hardwood hammocks, and pine flatlands with a paved bicycle path/jogging trail and various nature trails through the forests.
We began our visit at the Interpretive Center where there are displays about the cultural and natural history of the area. An archeological survey uncovered stone tools and other artifacts from prehistoric Native Americans. The endangered wood stork, green heron, largemouth bass and bullhead catfish are some of the wildlife that can be found here.
The paved trail runs behind the Interpretive Center and we started our exploration of the park there. Picnic shelters can be found along the trail. Sadie was thrilled to be in a new place with new smells! This part of the trail passed through a forest of hardwood trees (many oak) and cabbage palms.
The Cypress Dome is a side trail into a wetlands area where bald cypress trees grow.
We continued on the unpaved Nature Trail through the forests. I found the lichen growing on many trees very interesting. Check out this bright pink stuff...
A boardwalk provides access to the shoreline of Lettuce Lake where waterfowl and alligators can be seen (although dogs are not permitted on it). We saw many great white egrets looking for food in the shallow water at the edge of the lake. Of course, many bald cypress trees grow in this area as well.
We saw this pile of shells; noticed some attached to logs; and, still others floating in the water. We learned that these are apple snails and the primary diet of limpkins, birds indigenous to this area. The unique design of their bills enables them to efficiently pull the snails out of their shells.
The three-story observation tower provides fantastic views of the lake and wildlife in the trees in all directions.
It's always a thrill to catch a glimpse of roseate spoonbills. Also shown are white ibises in trees.
Hiking, kayaking and fishing are also popular activities in the park. At one end of the boardwalk is a picnic shelter where the kayaks and canoes are available (rentals) and can be launched into the lake.
As we walked to the opposite end of the boardwalk we encountered lots of interesting birds. The anhinga dries its wings in the sun after swimming in the water searching for fish. They hunt for food by swimming in the water with just their neck and head sticking out, earning them the nickname of "snake fish."
Below is a juvenile black-crowned night heron. Also shown is a green heron, the smallest heron here and often hard to see. They perch on a tree stump searching for food.
The white ibises and wood storks were perched in trees, while the great white egret and great blue herons prefer to wade through the shallow water.
This alligator was sunning himself on a log while others were swimming nearby.
The boardwalk ends where the Hillsborough River flows into the lake. This eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly was just beautiful!
This great white egret was not at all intimidated by all of the people on the boardwalk! And finally, we saw these large sandhill cranes when we exited the park.
Admission to the park is $2/vehicle (what a bargain). Guided nature tours are offered on weekends for $5. For additional information about the park, check them out online at the following site: www.hillsboroughcounty.org/locations/lettuce-lake-park