The Nature Conservancy logo. Protecting nature. Preserving life.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit and bird at a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time: the Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve near Orlando, Fla.  I highly recommend this as an alternative “natural theme park” to the more famous tourist attractions in the area. When I went, I was promptly met at the entrance by wild turkeyssandhill cranes, and a gopher tortoise — those are my kind of greeters!

The preserve was established in 1992 and is now covers 12,000 acres. It is literally a laboratory for wildlife habitat restoration, including habitats such as wetlands and longleaf pine woods and natural processes such as fire. Going there, you get a close view of what the natural Florida is really about.

As a bird guy, I was perhaps most intrigued by the ongoing efforts at the preserve to reintroduce the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker to the preserve. Historical evidence suggests that this very intriguing species used to be present, but was lost due to historical logging activities. Several groups of woodpeckers, translocated from other sites in the Southeast, have been released on the preserve, and they appear to be doing quite well. You can follow the interesting social dynamics of ”woodpeckers gone wild” at this site.

So, next time you are tempted to visit Mickey and Minnie in their Florida home, consider a visit to the free, natural and pretty wild theme park called Disney Wilderness Preserve. You won’t regret it!

-- Text by Dave Mehlman, Cool Green Science Blog