The Myakka River
You'll fall in love with these bird-filled wetlands.
Story and photos by Gary Burdette, Sarasota, Florida
As dawn breaks, I've almost reached my destination. Just a few hundred more feet of sloshing through waist-deep grasses, and I'll be at the muddy edges of the wetlands along the wild and scenic Myakka River.
A half hour ago, all was still and quiet, with only the occasional sound of a pig frog. But as the morning light grows stronger, nature begins to wake up to a new day.
Sounds of the beautiful waterbirds that inhabit this incredible ecosystem begin to fill the air. The black-necked stilt echoes through the land with its sharp "pleek, pleek, pleek." Meanwhile, the great blue heron begins its deep croaks, and the limpkin resounds its haunting wail.
My heart quickens in anticipation of another day filled with wonder. The evolution of life and its daily struggle to survive is about to play out in front of me as I capture it in the crosshairs of my lens. It's days like this that I remember how fortunate I am to be a wildlife photographer.
The Myakka River experience is amazing, and its beauty is timeless. Like a magnet, it pulls you back again and again for yet another encounter.
When Henry David Thoreau wrote, "In wildness is the preservation of the world," he probably had never seen the Myakka River. Yet, these profound words certainly capture its essence. The river is wildness. It's the real Florida-the wild Florida-by which the great Seminole tribe named it.
Coming Back for More
For the serious birder with an adventurous spirit, the Myakka becomes your passion. The magnificent specimens of waterbirds that inhabit its wetlands, marshes and swamps are addictive. As you traverse the calm waters and two lakes of this majestic river, it will have you asking for an encore.
Under a canopy of blue skies, palm trees and moss-laden live oaks, nature's artists constantly paint priceless cameos for your viewing pleasure.
Sandhill cranes nest along the riverbanks while black-necked stilts court at the edge of the wetland. Nearby, limpkins search for apple snails, and egrets validate their reputation as fishing masters. Above, bald eagles and ospreys fish from the sky, and the list of activity goes on and on.
Just north of Sarasota County, the many tributaries in the river's watershed merge to form the main body of the Myakka and the jewel of the area. Here lies Myakka River State Park, one of Florida's largest and best managed parks.
The Myakka flows through 58 square miles of the wetlands, prairies and hammocks. The river and its two lakes attract a multitude of birds, making it a hot spot for wildlife enthusiasts everywhere.
During the peak breeding season, bird naturalists volunteer their time to assist the many visitors who come here from all over the country. They are experts in bird behavior and species identification.
A 34-mile section of the river that lies within the park and Sarasota County is a very important habitat. So important that, in 1985, the Florida legislature designated the Myakka as a Florida Wild and Scenic River, one of only two rivers in Florida to receive this distinction. The act provided for the protection and preservation of this portion of the river.
Choose Your Own Adventure
The park has two sections, the upper and lower Myakka. Upper Myakka is the place for first-time visitors to begin their river adventure. More than 39 miles of hiking trails and many miles of dirt roads provide access to the remote interior.
The banks of the river and upper lake are never far away. Park rangers will head you in the right direction, and give you all the necessary information up front.
Lower Myakka is not for the fainthearted. Located in the Wilderness Preserve, it's completely wild and you can only access it by obtaining a permit at the ranger station.
I first encountered the river when I was 10. That was more than 50 years ago, and it's been calling me back ever since. I hope my photos inspire you to see the river for yourself. If you do go, I believe the love affair will begin, and the Myakka will have you returning for yet another river adventure.