On the surface, everything seems still. The wind barely emits a rattle out of the bushes, and no sign of life stirs on the surface of the water. Even the traditional prairie house hidden amongst the foliage appears deserted, with no activity to be discerned from its curtained windows. But if you look a little closer, the marshes are teeming with life.
All of the plants and animals that were reintroduced to Robinson’s Preserve were native to the state, and while Florida might not be as well known for its swamp critters as much as its dolphins and manatees, a short time spent wandering the trails of Robinson proves it has an abundance of interesting animals worth discovering.
Yellow Sulfurs And Monarch butterflies fluttered delicately around the dense patches of orange and pink wildflowers that are positioned lowly on the ground, and a quick detour off the trail takes you to the hidden mangrove beaches, where miniscule schools of mullet and redfish dart to the mangrove roots for protection at the first sign of life. Following the trails of salt marshes inwards, the schools of fish grew in size and suddenly egrets and sandbills stood frozen on the sand bank, with only their beady yellow eyes the sign of movement from them.
The trail around the Robinson Preserve is approximately eight miles in distance, but there are many deviations, side roads and short cuts to ensure trails are not bottlenecked and can be comfortably enjoyed by walkers, cyclists, and roller-bladers alike without interrupting the animals’ natural habitat. More importantly however, these deviations provide an excellent opportunity to explore little pockets of the preserve that would otherwise be unnoticeable on the main trail.
As I meandered my way to a pocket of green shrubs, I noticed ripe red berries hanging from the thin branches, bulging from the weight of their juice. I stared hard at them for several minutes, racking my brain for some long-forgotten tip or survival knowledge that would help me identify them. Turning to my fellow hikers, I asked them if they knew these berries.
“Nope,” one answered, “but that raccoon next to you might be able to help.”
Twisting my head to my right, I drew a quick intake of breath and scuttled back as a young raccoon slouched inches from where my face had been, happily gobbling down the red berries. For what seemed like ages I held my breath and stood stock still, afraid any movement would scare him off. After eating his fill, the young raccoon waddled off into the foliage, with bits of berries still hanging from his nose and whiskers. As I watched the white tuft of his tail disappear into the tangled shrubs, I spun around, eager to find the next trail to explore.
For more information, check out this page here: http://www.floridahikes.com/robinson-preserve or the official page here: http://www.mymanatee.org/home/government/departments/natural-resources/resource-management/robinson-preserve.html.