Paynes Prairie State Park

Payne’s Prairie State Park lies along the shores of Lake Wauberg in north central Florida, 10 miles south of Gainesville. The lake is populated by alligators, herons, egrets, eagles, and other wildlife.

Deer, bison and wild horses roam 22,000 acres of park around the lake.

When I began kayaking on Lake Wauberg twenty years ago, alligators 10 to 12 feet long or were common.  From a distance, those in the water looked like big floating logs. As the kayak approached, they sank slowly beneath the surface—their eyes disappearing last.

Those sunning themselves on the banks or draped on tree limbs fallen over the water were harder to spot as they were as motionless as statues, not even blinking. They blended in with the surroundings.

When the kayak drew close, they suddenly came to life and splashed into the water. Now these large adults are gone, leaving only small, shy gators. According to park rangers, the adults were relocated because they frightened swimmers and boaters.

Flocks of black vultures (American vultures) sit on the highest branches of dead trees around the lake—often hundreds of them. In the early mornings, these silent birds perch on limbs with their wings outspread to let the dew evaporate. Others soar overhead in circles, catching wind currents and staying aloft with no apparent effort.

Great white egrets and herons wade onshore, walking slowly through the water on stilt-like legs.  They’re looking for small fish to spear with their long pointed beaks.  As the kayak approaches, they squawk loudly—an unseemly sound for such lovely birds. They spread their enormous wings and lift off to find more privacy further down the shore. Click the link to see an  egret lifting off.

The Anhingas, also called snake birds, gather in large groups at the end of the lake where it’s most quiet. When they’re paddling on the water, only their curved necks and heads are visible. Occasionally they dive below the surface to hide or look for food, flashing their tail feathers skyward as the last thing to be seen of them. Where their heads will bob up again no one knows.

A lone eagle may be stationed on a treetop at the water’s edge. With their excellent vision, eagles can spot fish a considerable distance from shore. As the eagle swoops down to the water, ruffly legs and talons are extended downward to take deadly purchase on the fish they’ve spotted. Then, off they fly with several pounds of thrashing fish in their grip. Click here to see an eagle fishing (Eagle Fishing).

On rare occasions, the kayaker can see a male and female eagle performing an aerial ballet of courtship, diving and soaring around each other. They mate for life.

For a brief kayak tour of Lake Wauberg with Trudy (my dog), go to Kayaking with Trudy.

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