It is late December 2016 and I am in the vicinity of approximately 8,000 (thanks Gainesville Christmas Bird Count) Sandhill cranes. These cranes are easily heard before spotted, but please keep watch of where you are walking and your surroundings here at the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park! The La Chua trail, where you will find the cranes is also a popular spot for alligators, and hopefully you will realize that after walking past the many warning signs on the walk in. See below! The easy 3 mile roundtrip takes you around the Alachua Sink, through the basin marsh, and onto an observation platform.
Now that you understand how dangerous the trail could be, it is also very awesome. The majority of cranes are here for the winter, migrating from Michigan, Wisconsin, and even into Canada. In addition to cranes,
How do they stay safe from all the alligators? They roost in deeper water of ponds or lakes, where they are safer from predators (I believe we counted about 80 alligators that day). Surprisingly, you may also have to worry about the herd of cracker horses, who can beat up on an alligator! This was the same trail that a video of a horse stomping on an alligator went viral earlier this year. The cracker horses are here because of the cultural value and wildlife lifestyle they represent. The species of horse came over to Florida with the Spanish more than 500 years ago. Side note: Despite all the claims of bison on the prairie, I still have not seen them!
Visit Alachua Audubon Society for local birding information and programs.