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Area Profile: Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

02 Mar

On the East bank of the fertile Kissimmee River there is a statue. This statue is of a bird: the Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis). Not many know it, but the Carolina Parakeet was once the sole parrot species native to the eastern United States; with the last known wild individual dying in 1904 in Okeechobee County, Florida. It is here, in Okeechobee County where this statue stands, in a place that once harbored Carolina Parakeets that one can find Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park (KPSP.)

 

Not typically as high on the list of “must visit” sites for herpers as Everglades National Park: it can match neither the size or herpetological accessibility of ENP, but KPSP should never be dismissed as a fulfilling and enjoyable place for wildlife viewing, camping and hiking. The habitat, as one might guess, is mostly dominated by dry prairie habitat: stretching on as far as can be seen. It is this dry prairie habitat that is the preferred home of the South Florida Mole Kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster occipitolineata), which was not even known to exist until the 1980s due to its secretive, fossorial (subterranean) nature. In addition to herps, the park provides for excellent bird watching, as well as much better-than-average mammal viewing: the spotted skunk, a sought-after prize for mammal watchers, is not impossible in this neck of the woods.

 

The camping area is some of the most relaxing in southern Florida: though the park does have a good number of people at times, the clientele is generally relaxed and I have never had problems with “rowdy” neighbors. One can choose from the Kilparick Hammock Campground, with 35 full-facility sites as well as an equestrian loop. For those who want to really get away; there are three primitive sites available 2 miles out on one of the hiking trails. The trail to the primitive sites brings you through some beautiful mesic oak hammocks and some nice prairie as well.

 

One of my favorite features of KPSP is its isolation: at its entrance you pass through a small grid of houses and whatnot, but the nearest town is Okeechobee, about 20 minutes away. This, combined with obstruction/tree free viewing allow for some great star watching – in fact, KPSP has some of the lowest light pollution in peninsular Florida. It’s possible to find good areas for mammals, herps, birds, and star viewing in Florida; but few places excel in all these categories:  Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is one of them.

Need I say more?

 

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6 Comments

Posted by on 02/03/2012 in Area Profiles

 

6 responses to “Area Profile: Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

  1. T. Borski

    03/03/2012 at 12:09 am

    The Prairie is beyond special.

     
  2. Scott Anger

    04/03/2012 at 6:52 am

    Thank you for mentioning the Carolina Parakeet sculpture located at the park headquarters building. The artist, Todd McGrain, found it to be the most relevant location for the memorial because the birds likely would have nested in nearby Gum Slough, which is worth hiking to in good weather. Some of the specimens housed in Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology were collected along the Sebastian River east of KPSP.

    I helped produce a documentary film, The Lost Bird Project, about the placement by McGrain of this sculpture and four other memorials to extinct North American birds. Our website, http://lostbirdproject.org, has more information about the Carolina Parakeet, the Great Auk, Heath Hen, Labrador Duck and the Passenger Pigeon.

    The last Carolina Parakeet died in captivity in the Cincinnati Zoo on February 21, 1918.

    Scott Anger
    The Lost Bird Project

     
  3. Christina

    04/03/2012 at 5:13 pm

    Thanks for your very fine post on my favorite place — Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. I have linked your post to the Facebook page for Friends of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve, our recently incorporated Citizens Support Organization to benefit KPPSP and its unique habitat.

    I have seen a spotted skunk there, (along with hundreds of other amazing creatures and native plants). More recently and more toward your interests, I saw and photographed a Florida Brown Snake there — a species which is probably well known to you, but was new to me.

     
  4. Josh

    05/03/2012 at 4:50 am

    Tim – Most certainly. If my March wasn’t packed a prairie camping/herping trip would be beautiful.

    Scott – thanks for commenting. I’m not much of a bird person (though I probably be eventually) but it would be nice to have a native parrot still.

    Christina – Thanks; the Prairie is one of my favorite spots for a good variety of herps and mammals. I’ve only seen spotted skunks outside the preserve under artificial cover (tin, boards, etc.) and on the hoof at night, but they are certainly much more common in the area than most other places in Florida. Florida Brownsnakes are cool snakes: they like flooded pasture and prairie quite a bit. The South Florida Mole Kingsnake is one of my favorites from up there though: less than 100 have been found alive. I’ve only found one road-killed before, despite several hundred hours of looking.

     
  5. Evan

    23/05/2012 at 3:53 pm

    Josh, as a former Park Services Specialist at KPPSP, I seem to recall a spotted skunk wandering into the shop office one hot day and deciding to set up residence in the AC. Until we got close enough to get a good look at him, we thought he was a juvenile striped skunk. We left the door open and he decided he had enough of us and eventually wandered out.

     
  6. Josh

    23/05/2012 at 5:10 pm

    Evan,

    Very cool – I’ve only seen one striped skunk in the area, and it was certainly an interesting one. It was completely black save for a white patch on his head. Spotted skunks seem to be much more abundant throughout Okeechobee county, which is quite extraordinary.

    -Josh

     

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