Audubon Florida's Dr. Paul Gray recounts his experience retracing the steps of Edwin Way Teale on Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee Prairie. Enjoy:
Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980) won the only Pulitzer Prize in history for non-fiction nature writing, for his book entitled “Wandering Through Winter” (1965). In 1951, he published the first book of his “Seasons” series, “North with the Spring,” that recounted a 1947 visit to Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee Prairie among the 17,000 miles he traveled that spring. Teale visited several Audubon sites on his journey and recounted how Rod Chandler, future Audubon Okeechobee warden, and nephew of then-warden Marvin Chandler, took Teale and Dick Pough onLake Okeechobee to see the Glossy Ibis roost on King’s Bar.
Professor John Harris, Director of The Monadnock Institute of Nature, Place and Culture at Franklin Pierce University in Connecticut came to retrace and research Teale’s travels and I accompanied him on the lake and prairie. His goal is to visit the same sites on the same days as Teal did, so we took an uncomfortably-cool Lake Okeechobee trip to Tin House Cove,Eagle Bay Island, and King’s Bar, as Teale had. When Teale visited, they counted some 2,307 Glossy Ibis, which was labeled as “virtually the entire population of the continent.” Today, Glossy Ibis are more abundant and wide-spread and although we saw many Glossies and visited nesting colonies, we found lower numbers than Teale did.
Teale’s trip to the prairie was highlighted by sighting three of the endemic dry prairie birds, Audubon’s Crested Caracara, Florida Sandhill Crane and the Florida Burrowing Owl, and we were fortunate enough to find all three as well at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. We found a Caracara nest along the entrance road. Preserve Manager Charlie Brown took us on a half-hour ride to find the Owls, and several Cranes were seen.
Professor Harris has moved on, following the rest of Teale’s journey. You can follow his blog at retracingspring.blogspot.com, where he narrates his adventures and makes assignments to students.
Teale’s visit presaged much Audubon work in the region--Rod Chandler and Dick Pough later teamed to buy the Ordway-Whittell Kissimmee Prairie Sanctuary for Audubon, that lead to eventual acquisition of the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, that now is a focus area for the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge efforts. For more history on Audubon's work in the area, please click here.
For a brief write-up on Teale and his work, see http://naturewriting.com/edwinway.htm.