Every time I visit a Florida State Park, I learn something new. While some parks commemorate events in Florida history, other places are well known for their diverse plants and wildlife.
Recently Herb and I drove to the panhandle of Florida towing our little Viking camper behind us. When we pulled up to the Ochlockonee entrance, we were greeted by a smiling volunteer. “You’re going to love this park. Be sure to watch for our white squirrels. You might even see our piebald deer during your visit.” The nice volunteer marked the place where and when we might see the beautiful deer on our park map.
“Thanks.” Herb took the map and we drove off to find our campsite, wondering if we heard her correctly. “White squirrels?” We found our site and busied ourselves setting up camp before sunset.
The next morning we were blessed with good weather and decided to take Buddy, our beagle on a short hike along the river. Herb took hold of Buddy’s leash. “Today is white squirrel hunting day. Buddy should be able to help us find one.”
We hiked a little over a mile, but saw very little wildlife. Even so, the view of the river was gorgeous.
When we returned to the campsite for lunch, I saw something white running on the ground. Is that a cat? I looked closer and saw another furry white animal. “Herb, come quick. “The white squirrels are here.”
Herb grabbed his camera and took some great pictures. Buddy stayed asleep in his doggy bed. I’m glad he didn’t scare the squirrels away.
Our story doesn’t end here. At dusk we drove our jeep to the pine flatwood area to look for the unusual deer. We waited and waited but had no luck. I rolled down the window and peered out into the thicket. “Maybe the joke is on us. Maybe the volunteer sent us on a snipe hunt.”
On our third day in the park, we left the campground and set out to see the Gulf. As we were driving I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Look!” A large white animal was grazing in the open meadow by the road. “Could that be the deer?”
Herb pulled the car over and got out. I followed along with my binoculars. “I don’t believe it. I’ve never seen such an unusual deer. The animal’s head is brown and its body is white.”
Later I read a park brochure which described the white squirrels and the deer as “piebald.” Although these animals are mostly white, they have some patches of color. This is due to a mutant gene which regulates melanin. The piebald animals are very rare, and are different from albinos since they do not have pink eyes.
White squirrels and a white deer living in the same park. Wow! Well, at least these animals are safe from hunters as long as they stay in the park. After all, they’ve lost their camouflage.
After enjoying a few days at the park, we started the long drive back to Orlando. “Stop!” I shouted.
Herb slammed on the brakes of the jeep. The piebald deer was only ten feet from the front of our jeep. Once it safely crossed the road, a brown deer followed close behind.
I caught my breath. “Boy, that was a close one. We almost killed the park’s mascot. While the piebald deer is safe from hunters, cars still remain a problem.”