Paynes Prairie Wild Bison Adventure

Sunday, March 13, 2016

If you are looking for a unique wildlife experience, Paynes Prairie Preserve is located in Micanopy, Florida and offers eight different trails including a 16 mile long trail providing many opportunities to get up close and personal with Florida's wildlife.

We grabbed our bug repellent, bottled water and cameras and hit the trails hoping for a glimpse of some wildlife and we were not disappointed! We saw everything from bald eagles to wild horses. Came face to face with deer and took a walk with wild bison.

First stop, the observation tower for a bird's eye view of the prairie. We were hoping to see some herds of wild horses and bison and get a general idea of their location before braving the wild open landscape.

50' high observation tower
We climbed to the top deck, doing our best to ignore the slight swaying of the tower in the wind, and spotted two herds of wild horses far off in the distance. Sadly, we didn't spy any buffalo.

Not to be deterred, we headed back down and followed the signs to Cones Dike Trail. We stop at the gate and this large warning sign. From here on, there is nothing between you and the alligators, bison, bobcats and countless other species roaming free.

The first thing we noticed on the well maintained trail was the abundance of hoof prints and manure from horses, bison and deer. The trail itself is in constant use by people and wildlife. After about a mile's hike we spotted a dark dot on the trail far up ahead moving toward us.

The moving dot kept growing and growing as we got closer and we realized, this dot had horns. This was our first glimpse of a wild bison. He kept an eye on us but didn't stop his leisure stride. He seemed to be alone and in no hurry at all.

We stopped walking and waited to see what this lonely bison would do. We didn't want to get too close to this beauty or agitate him but he just kept coming closer. To our right is a barbed wire fence and to our left is alligator infested marsh so walking off the path is not a good idea.

Just as he was getting a tad too close and we were turning to head back the way we came the bison politely veered off into the marsh and, to our relief, walked along beside us keeping a safe barrier of marshy wet land separating us.

We were so thrilled to have an encounter with a wild bison but nothing could prepare us for the sight of the entire herd resting peacefully in the tall grass. They were blending in so well it wasn't until we were beside them and started counting heads that we even knew they were there. 
Herd of over 30 bison blending with their surroundings
 An agitated bison can be a very dangerous animal so we quietly observed and took some pictures before moving on. A couple of them glanced in our direction but the majority ignored us completely. Just passed the herd we had our next wildlife encounter. Lounging right along our path was an alligator. He saw us before quickly making his way into the water and swimming off.

 Not long after, we spot a much larger alligator sunning himself between the trees. He was a good distance from our path but we noticed slide marks going down into the water which was a good indication he uses the trail on a regular basis.

 All along the trail we started to see racoon tracks, coyote prints and large cat prints. We found animal remains, some bone fragments, a jawbone and what used to be an opossum. We could hear the grunts of wild pigs but they were too far off the trail to see.

There was a hawk circling above us on our journey and at one point we caught sight of a large bald eagle's nest. The eagle was perched in the tree nearby. We saw countless varieties of birds making this place a bird watcher's dream.

We hiked a total of 6 miles and only saw a small portion of this place. Heading back I had a wonderful encounter with a young deer.

 This baby stayed on the path and snacked away allowing me to walk right by. Mom was in the bushes keeping a close eye on me.

Checking with Mom to make sure all was safe

 One of the sweetest sounds I have ever heard was this deer sneeze.

On our way back to the parking lot we accidentally startled an armadillo who gave us the perfect tail end to our journey.

 This had to be one of the best hikes we have ever taken. There is so much to see and we didn't even see half of it.

If you plan to visit here are some tips:

Take bottled water.
Bug repellent is your friend.
Bring binoculars for the observation tower.
Try to visit during the cooler months because it gets incredibly hot during the summer.
Take your bike. Those on bikes managed to make it much further than we did on foot.
Try to get an early start because the park closes at sundown.
Avoid weekends if you want to have the trails to yourself. The less people the better your chances to see wildlife.
Don't forget your camera.

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