Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Enjoying the beauty of the Withlacoochee River

Living so close to the Withlacoochee River is such a blessing and it offers an opportunity to see such a wide variety of Floridian nature. Nothing says Florida better than the knotty roots of the Cyprus tree. The bald cypress, often overgrown with Spanish moss, is the tree that gives the Louisiana bayous and the Florida everglades their exotic atmosphere. Despite its association with the South, the bald cypress is hardy and adaptable to many parts of the continent. The bald cypress has a pyramidal shape similar to other conifers, with a broad buttressed base. It reaches up to 100 feet in height in its native environment, but rarely more than 70 feet in culture. In wet situations it develops 'cypress knees': curious growths which rise out of the ground or water and are believed to help the tree breathe in swampy conditions. The short green needles turn brown and drop off in the fall. Its bark is fibrous and an attractive reddish brown. The small, rounded cones are of little decorative effect.

The Withlacoochee River which is one of the few rivers that flows north,originates originates in central Florida's Green Swamp, east of Polk City. It flows west, then north, and then turns northwest and finally west again before it empties into the Gulf of Mexico near Yankeetown. The river is 86 miles  long and has a drainage basin of 1,170 square miles. "Withlacoochee" probably stems from a Muskhogean dialect. It is compounded of Creek we (water), thlako (big), and chee (little), or little big water. This word combination signifies little river in the Creek language, and as we-lako or wethlako may also refer to a lake, it may signify a river of lakes, or lake river.

A wide variety of wildlife lives along the shore or in the Withlacoochee River including the short tailed hawk seen here. The Short-tailed Hawk is a small hawk of grass and woodland habitat in Florida and it occurs in two color morphs. The light phase is dark above and white below; the dark phase (more common in Florida) is black above and below except for the light bases of the primaries. Both phases have banded, black-and-white tail, yellow cere, and yellow legs and feet. Immatures are like adults, but with more numerous tail bands. The rare and wary short-tailed hawk is easily identified in either color phase, as it is the only hawk in the area that is pure black or pure white below. Although not designed for speed, the Short-tailed Hawk is a habitual bird hunter, preying on medium-sized birds of open country, such as Eastern Meadowlarks and Red-Winged Blackbirds.

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