During our recent stay at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, we hiked at Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Our trips in this area always include at least one morning hiking at this park. I did confirm that they were open on their Facebook page before we traveled since places just started re-opening. The Facebook page told us that the usual $5 fee must be paid via a phone app as they removed the usual envelope and cash system for health reasons. Karl and I discussed it, and decided to buy a season pass instead. We camp in that area at least three times a year, and visit this park often. We wanted to have the pass not only for convenience, but to further support a park we enjoy so much. A special thanks to the Gainesville city employee who helped us. She was very helpful, very friendly, and very efficient.
We started our hike on an overcast morning after three days of rain and more rain forecast for the afternoon. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the entrance moved from the usual place to an entrance near the overflow parking. Signs everywhere encouraged distancing ‘to help us keep open’. We completely understood the request. Upon arriving in the area two days before, we heard on our first local newscast that infections were up in the area. The boardwalk had the spur areas blocked, and arrows showing a one-way path.
We found ourselves thankful for the cloud cover. The trails are open with little shade, and the high humidity and temperature made it a very warm walk even without sunshine. For those who have never visited, this is a birder’s paradise. We recommend it to all the birders we know, and some who come from out of state now make it a regular stop on their way to visit us. Our list included both the Purple Gallinule and the Common Gallinule, herons including many Green Herons and Tri-color herons, Red-winged Blackbirds everywhere flying and calling, Limpkins, and many others. Of course we also saw alligators, turtles, and dragonflies everywhere.
The ability to stop and observe makes this park special among places we bird. The boardwalks keep people far enough away from the birds that they go on about their business. Watching them catch and eat fish, swim with their chicks, and interact with each other provides that added dimension that birders love. Those same things make it a challenging and fun place for nature photography.