The afternoon light had already begun to dim as I set foot on the Royal Palm Nature Trail near the Collier-Seminole State Park boat launch. I have become used to the pine and scrub vegetation of the Florida Panhandle, so the trees and bushes bordering the gravel trail and boardwalk seemed absolutely tropical. Upon researching the park, I realized my initial impressions were correct - the trail does cross through tropical ecosystems!
Identification signs pointed towards Wild Coffee, Gumbo Limbo, and more ferns than I could count; many of these species can also be found in the Caribbean. Water consistently sat or flowed beneath the boardwalk, and here the deep green ferns reached nearly to my head. A deep, earthy smell permeated the wetlands, a chorus of insects sang their high-pitched songs, while woodpeckers and songbirds occasionally crossed the sky.
The trail was not the only aspect of the park that captured my attention. The boat launch opens to a pool, calm in the afternoon and reflected the hazy sky. Great Egrets and even a Roseate Spoonbill passed, gliding over a nearby salt marsh.
Some of the largest mullet I have ever seen (some up to two feet long!) lept out of the water and landed with a giant splash. I tried in vain to catch one on camera, but when I waited for one to emerge, another - in the very corner of my vision- would erupt! Though I whirled around as fast as I could, I could never be quick enough to capture the mullet on camera. A couple fished from the edge of shore for other species, and if other fish were present like the jumping mullet, I’m sure they had great luck!