Look up, look down, try viewing nature from a different angle. That was the challenge given to OLLI-USF’s Better Composition for Outdoor Photography class at their field trip to Trout Creek Conservation Park located in Hillsborough County northeast of Tampa.
Using the composition techniques discussed in a prior online seminar, the class spent the morning looking for subjects to improve their photo skills. We started by taking a leisurely stroll along the short boardwalk which leads along the Hillsborough River to the canoe launch. Trout Creek Conservation Park proved to be a gem, offering a variety of ecosystems to explore, including the shorelines along the Hillsborough River, pine flatwoods under tree canopies and the edges of a floodplain forest. The zig-zag boardwalk and early morning dew provided many subjects for creative nature shots.
Located near the mouth of Trout Creek where it flows into the Hillsborough River, the park is popular for fishing, canoeing and picnicking. Colorful kayakers are framed by overhanging cypress trees and mangroves as they float downriver and disappear into hidden inlets. I am sure they are not aware they are providing great subjects for our photoshoot.
After taking our photos along the boardwalk, we explored the 0.7-mile loop nature trail which loops through a shady oak hammock with an understory of saw palmetto. Hoping to capture walking water birds, we went on to explore several of the ponds and lakes in the park.
The lakes east of the entrance road are all man-made, either the result of borrow pits where fill dirt was removed to help build the levee and park facilities, or mitigation for road work that impacted wetlands. The Southwest Florida Water Management District operates an adjacent water-control structure on the Hillsborough River under agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Trout Creek Conservation Park is on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, and it offers several important bird and wildlife ecosystems that make it a favorite for bird watchers. Audubon recommends stopping just after the bridge at the park entrance to scan the wetlands for waterbirds like the little blue heron, great egret and ibis. Birders can then proceed to the parking area to explore the trails that go along the river or through the woods to several ponds to look for active bird sites.
Crossing the levee, you can take the trail along the dike that connects to Flatwoods Park. Bluebirds, passerines, raptors and nesting bald eagles can often be found in this area. While we did not see a bald eagle on this outing, we did spot an osprey, a very colorful roseate spoonbill, and a little blue heron.
Trout Creek Conservation Park is a unique spot to relax with family and friends because of the variety of things to do. You can enjoy the easy nature trail and boardwalk, cast for fish along the river, launch a canoe, and then have a picnic. Sheltered pavilions which are equipped with grills may even be reserved. Then, besides boating, birding, and hiking, off-road cyclists use the park which is part of the larger Wilderness Park Off-Road Trails System. The 20-mile main trail and 15 miles of side trails traverse the Trout Creek, Morris Bridge and Flatwoods areas. The bike trails are well marked and maintained by volunteer off-road bike enthusiasts.
While important for recreation, Trout Creek also is one of eight parks that make up the Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve (LHWP) whose primary purpose is water storage, water supply and natural resource conservation. Not unlike photo composition, you can see that many elements of the LHWP – recreation, water conservation and nature – are brought together to create a whole system to preserve this special area.
You do not have to be a photographer to see nature in new ways. Take some pointers from the OLLI photography instructors, Donna McGrew and Diane White. The next time you are outdoors, stop and look all around you. Look up, get up close, or even get to the ground to appreciate nature from new angles.
Better yet, join an OLLI-USF class to learn more about nature, photography, and a variety of other subjects.
If you go: Trout Creek Conservation Park is located at 12550 Morris Bridge Rd, Thonotosassa. There is a $2 entrance fee.
This is the second of three stories Diane originally published in Bay Soundings. We’ll share the the third one with you in a later issue.–Editors
Diane White, MA, is an OLLI instructor who earned advanced degrees in information technologies from George Washington University and education from USF. Donna McGrew and Sheryl Long, also OLLI instructors, contributed photos for this story.