An excursion to Florida’s natural splendor: The Tibet-Butler preserve

Should you plan a visit to Orlando, consider spending a few hours at the Butler-Tibet lake preserve. Located at the shore of Lake Butler not far from Windemere, the park can be reached in twenty minutes from Orlando’s city center. A good time for a visit is in March and April when temperatures in the 60s to 80s are quite comfortable for New Yorkers and other inhabitants of low to moderate climate zone and when mosquito populations in Florida are at a tolerable level even in the wetlands. Sunscreen and a hat are always advisable, especially for people with low UV tolerance and limited exposure. An insect repellent may be desirable, too, although I did not need it during my visit.

The preserve is open from 8 am to 6 pm and offers ample parking space for those who prefer to arrive with their own vehicle. The visitor center at the entrance of the park provides information about flora and fauna with several specimens and displays and offers several brochures on wildlife for all levels of education. Thanks to state-support, the visit to the park, its center with its spotless restrooms, and the material it provides are available free of charge and may encourage you to make a donation to support this vital institution of ecology. The preserve features several trails with different vegetation zones, including dry land, wetlands, swamp, and lake. The total path length of all trails combined is approximately 2 ½ miles. On visits during the wet season, some of the trails may be closed due to flooding, which was true for two of the trails while I was visiting. The main trail, which travels through the wetlands to the lake, features an elevated wooden boardwalk and allows for hiking without getting wet feet. Equipped with my camera, I managed to capture the serene setting and its inhabitants. In addition to several magnificent dragonfly species and a black-winged damselfly, hitherto unknown to me, I saw large grasshoppers, frogs, small reptilians, several birds, and a large yellow-bellied slider turtle. The highlights of the excursion were watching a nesting sandhill crane couple: after times of tranquil incubation, the female inspected and turned the eggs, occasionally. When her partner arrived a little later, both birds greeted each other in a loud, vociferous ritual. This display of admiration was followed by a light lunch of fish and a joined inspection of the clutch.

I was surprised that just one stately blue heron approached me and apparently expected some treats. Since I wasn’t willing to offer anything appropriate, he quickly decided to leave. The flight-behavior of Florida’s animals is in stark contrast to the outright begging behavior I observed at the Grand Canyon a few years ago and also occasionally in the parks of New York City. This may be explained by the fact that Florida’s laws do not only forbid but also explicitly penalize the feedings of the wildlife.  This measure is of great importance to avoid any reinforcement that humans are providers of food, which could turn into a  lethal association if implemented in alligators – not just for the human population, but also for these reptiles, which are routinely euthanized if they show the tendencies to approach humans.

The few visitors I saw were approachable and appeared to be quite knowledgeable and respectful regarding the local fauna and flora. After stepping on a branch, I earned the disapproving glance of a little boy how hurriedly gestured me to remain silent. I could condole him by showing him a grasshopper that had landed next to me.

In a few places, nature still appears to be virtually untouched, intact, and appreciated. For me, the experience of the Tibet-Butler preserve was one of these places.

The Spanish moss is a common epiphyte in Florida, which covers many trees without harming them. Contrary to its name, it is not a moss and belonging to the bromeliad family.

A black-winged damselfly with intriguing “telescope” eyes.

Swamp and wetland areas are accessible via a wooden boardwalk.

Swamps are a paradise for amphibians which in turn appear to keep the mosquito population at bay.

A green treefrog

One of many colorful large dragonfly species in the preserve.

This sandhill crane pair was nesting on a grass island in the lake.

The only lizard I managed to capture on a photograph.

A yellow-bellied slider turtle bathing in the sun.

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