Wild observations

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By Nancy Oakes

Well we went from humid and warm to cold and windy to cool and rainy. Welcome to Florida.

On the home front, I continue to find mysterious mushrooms, thanks to the rain. I'll even put a specific to one: green headed jelly club. Several of these small dark green mushrooms popped up in one of the trails in the next-door wood. Their color, scalloped caps and gelatinous texture helped me to match what I observed in the field to the picture in the guidebook. I also saw at least one violet-colored mushroom that may be the purple-bloom russula. According to the book, this mushroom is edible, but since there was only one, I didn't pick it.

The area where I live has soils that support a good number of puffballs, in particular earthstars. In general the earthstars I've observed were old and dried out, but I found a fresh one after a rain. A fresh puffball has solid spores that become powdery as they mature. Anyone who has tapped a mature puffball probably remembers the "puff" of colored powder that comes out. That's the spores being distributed. Earthstars get their shape because the outer surface splits and folds back, while the spores remain protected in the center. Another mushroom I stopped to admire turned out to be a type of stalked polypore I observed this unusual shaped, dark red-brown mushroom on a walk in Prairie Creek Preserve.

This 319 acre wildlife area was opened to the public this fall. It's located east of Gainesville off State Road 20. The Gainesville-Hawthorne Rail Trail runs along the border of one side of Prairie Creek Preserve. On a rainy weekend day, I joined a group of like-minded folks on an Alachua Audubon walk. The land manager of this preserve introduced us to this new acquisition of Alachua Conservation Trust. Part of the property has several houses on it, the one an older early Florida structure. We got a tour of the house, now being restored. Several trails loop through the lands around the house that have acres of slash pine plantations.

Despite past logging activity, numbers of impressive hardwood trees grow in the moist soil. We walked past young chestnut oaks, tupelo, red maples, water oaks, sweetgum, cypress and large laurel oaks with spread-out trunks called buttresses. Our guide told us most of the live oaks are dead, probably killed by the pine tree harvesters. Bushes we saw included wax myrtles, gallberry, sparkleberry and blueberry. Tiny white violets bloomed in wet grassy areas. We saw deer tracks on the ground. Pileated woodpeckers flew about the trees near the old house. We heard a flicker calling, and wood ducks startled away as our group approached a wet place. Bright red cardinals chipped around the house yard. We heard about observations of woodcock and turkey. I found out that although some quail may be in the preserve, they more generally hang out in drier places like my favorite upland turkey oak, long leaf pine terrain.

The trail we followed came out by Prairie Creek, a quiet curving waterway that crosses under SR20. Besides the network of looping trails that can be accessed from the old house site, there are two other trails, one that starts off of county road 2082 near SR20 and the other further down CR2082. This second trail has a small parking area, the other doesn't. Both trails meet and intersect one of the loops that comes from the house. The house can be reached from CR234, just around the corner from the second trailhead on CR2082.

For more information about Prairie Creek Preserve and other Alachua Conservation Trust Wildlife areas, call 352 373-1078 or look up www.alachuaconservationtrust.org. Until next time, good observing.