Upper Hillsborough Preserve is 9,961 acre water management district and conservation plot near Zephyrhills, FL. The Preserve is broken down into two tracts that include the Alston Tract and the Upper Hillsborough Tract. Today I did a bird census in the Upper Hillsborough Tract. The tract offers a decent hike. There are a bunch of trails that wind around the park, but as usual I think the best stuff to see is nowhere near the trails. I started at a parking lot on the western side of the tract (28°13’22.64″N; 82° 8’45.96″W). The first thing I would like to say is that the area is bird poor. I have had far better birding days in downtown Houston, TX. So, if you are going there to bird, I would suggest looking somewhere else unless you live very close to the preserve. The hiking was fun and a mild challenge. The most challenging thing about the hike was the variable density of the vegetation. Sometimes you would have a clear lane of travel and then suddenly you would be boxed in by thick, nearly impenetrable fields of saw palmetto. The name of the plant sounds ominous, but if you are outfitted correctly for your hike, then you’ll have no problem punching through the densest of saw palmetto stands. The second most challenging thing about the hike was the pterodactyl size mosquitos that swarm your head and threaten to exsanguinate you at any moment. A head net, long sleeves, and some bug spray kept them at bay for the most part. I would suggest wearing looser clothes to help avoid being bitten. The mosquitos are very large and can bite through clothing. My hiking partner was wearing a tight shirt and discovered this the hard way when about 100 mosquitos descended on his back and started sucking blood straight through the cloth. He said, “My back is tingling and burning!” Well, that is what happens when 100 hypodermic needles are jabbed into your back.
Our hike proceeded on a west to east transect that took us toward the Hillsborough “River.” Along the way we found numerous creatures that caught our attention. Some of the creatures were a huge banana spider that was far larger than a silver dollar, a 6-inch long stick insect that was in the process of mating, and several wild boars. The boars rutted and tore up several areas along our path of travel. If the area we hiked is any indication of the boar population in the tract, then the population must be quite large. The vegetation is also very nice in many areas. The saw palmetto fields have undergone recent fires, so be prepared to be covered in soot by the end of your hike. Some of the mixed forest areas make you feel as though you are in a primeval forest where no humans have tread. That is far from the truth, of course, but it’s the feel of the forest that counts. The forest has a mix of cypress, oak, maple, and several other trees. The trees are covered in thick lichens and moss and some have huge buttresses that drape to the ground. Along the way, we encountered an orange tree growing in the middle of a swamp. The tree was pretty healthy and was bearing fruit, so we decided to partake of it. Now, I have had a few run-ins with wild-growing oranges in Mexico and they were the bitterest fruit that I had ever eaten. So, I was wary of this tree as I was pulling fruit from it. My suspicions were confirmed by the newly formed black hole in my mouth that threatened to suck my entire face in. It was very bitter, but it was also very good. So, give it a try if you find it and can stand bitterness. After the orange tree, we discovered the Hillsborough River. The river is very small and hardly warrants the title. It is easy to cross if you don’t mind getting a little wet. We didn’t see any alligators. However, it is Florida, and I am certain they are there. Overall, I enjoyed my hike into the Upper Hillsborough Tract. I would definitely go exploring there again.
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