Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
Florida, the Outer Banks, and Chincoteague road trip, April through early August 2012In 2012, I spent about four months traveling in the eastern United States. Going south, I traveled quickly and then spent a couple of months in Florida exploring the Everglades, the Gulf Coast, central Florida, and some areas I missed last year. I returned by following the southeast coast and spent a lot of time in the Outer Banks, an area I missed last year when Hurricane Irene tore up the coast. I also fulfilled a childhood dream of seeing the annual Pony Swim on Chintcoteague Island. There are a lot of birding reports this year as well.
April (Boston to Florida and the Everglades)
May (Florida’s Gulf Coast)
June (Central Florida and Dare's wedding)
July (Outer Banks, Chincoteague and the Pony Swim)
August (The trip home and trail magic in New Hampshire)
Well, I've been on the road for almost three weeks now. Here's the first week or so. Mostly I made beeline for southern Florida, stopping for only one night at each place, visiting friends as I went.
With my fatigue problem, it's been an exhausting trip. I've taken days "off" here and there, but I think I need a few days in a row off at some point.
That said, it was worth it to rush down. Being in southern Florida in April is so different than when I was here last year, in June. I did get to paddle in the Everglades and the birding has been great. There are a lot of migratory birds coming through and I got out there the day after a big storm that probably had many of them stressed after crossing the Gulf from Central and South America.
I just wish I was a better birder. I see a lot of movement and little birds that I just don't manage to ID.
More birds in my next email...
Sunday, April 08, 2012: Boston, MA to King of Prussia, PA
I didn't get on the road as early as I had hoped but I still got to Hartford around lunch time. I stopped to visit with my mother and ate lunch with her.
Moving on, when I realized my route went over the George Washington Bridge, so close to my friend Michele's place, I stopped in and visited for an hour or so.
Continuing, I was surprised to see a solar cell farm from the NJ Turnpike. It was also interesting to see the Meadowlands from the highway. I had visited the area last year to go walking, birding and for astronomy classes a number of times. Then, thinking gas on the Turnpike would be expensive, I didn't get gas, forgetting that NJ turnpike gas is still a great deal less expensive than anything I would find in Pennsylvania. Oh well.
Monday, April 09, 2012: King of Prussia, PA to McLean, VA
I got up early to go to breakfast with Camo when he got home from work. We went to Michael's, our usual breakfast place, and I got potato pancakes after ordering matzo meal pancakes. I think the waitress just didn't know the difference. They got the order right on the second try. I think they were a bit underdone but they tasted good with sour cream and sugar. For what it's worth, I think this is the first time I've ever seen matzo meal pancakes on a menu - albeit a holiday special menu.
I tried to nap a bit back at the house but only dozed a few minutes before giving up and making my way to McLean. Getting onto I-476 was interesting. At the highway entrance, the green triangle of grass had a bunch of foot long Easter eggs. My I-476 stretch was only 10-miles-long but the electronic sign indicated it would take 56-minutes so I pulled out my map, got off the highway at the next exit, and 45-minutes later, including a stop for gas, I got on I-95 southbound.
I stopped at the McLean library, took care of a lot of emails, and realized there were nice walking paths there that would wait for another visit. At Ruth's place, I kept Dan, David, Howard, Dena, and Ben company while dinner was being prepared. Howard, as it turns out, works for the current rendition of BBN, the company I worked for when I started working in 1987. Ruth and Mark came in later. Dinner for eight was kosher and with a full house, I couch surfed.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012: McLean, VA to Barker Ten Mile, NC
Continuing south, I stopped in Richmond for a tour of the State House. It's original building was designed by Jefferson and inspired by a Roman building in Nimes, France. My timing was a bit off so I caught the end of one tour and the beginning of the next. Relatively recent renovations have put the tourist entrance underground where there's a museum on the way into the building.
Where I had park, a friendly guy at a street sandwich wrap stall offered to put quarters in my meter if needed. How nice. It was unnecessary though.
The rest of my drive that day was uneventful with the usual stops at rest areas, for naps, and for lunch from a supermarket salad bar with matzo from my car. Hmm, not the best call. Matzo leaves lots of crumbs.
The Walmart had 12 to 15 RVs staying here. It's perhaps the most or second most I've seen in my travels. Looks of suspicion turned to understanding after explaining to one couple that my station wagon was my "RV" and I would be spending the night, too. Otherwise, I get glances from those worried I might be scoping out the place.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012: Barker Ten Mile, NC to Beaufort, SC
I was up early and stopped at "South of the Border" when I entered South Carolina. Growing up, I remember having bumper stickers from the place but I don't remember going there. It's possible my family stopped there the only time we drove to Florida, when I was two and a half. All subsequent trips, we flew. This time, I was so early, everything was still closed.
Today's drive was an easy one. I stopped for a nap at one rest area. When I got off the highway to head towards Beaufort, I was reminded why I usually avoid highways. The surface roads are so much more interesting. I ate a Walmart salad for lunch.
I got to Betty and Sy's place to a nice afternoon of catching up.
Thursday, April 12, 2012: Beaufort, SC to Ocala, FL
Sy and Betty indulged me this morning so I made matzo brei (fried matzo) for the three of us. I consider it a treat and am lucky to have it once or twice a year, always at Passover. I didn't dawdle much after breakfast and was on the road by 10:00am or so.
Wanting to make time, I managed to get through Georgia without stopping. I have nothing against Georgia, it's just the sooner I start taking breaks, the more breaks I take, and the longer it takes to get anywhere.
I stopped at the Florida welcome center and got some orange juice and flyers for places that might interest me as I travel in the state.
I then went to Gainesville to visit Payne's Prairie Preserve State Park. I had gone there last year and was hoping for a repeat of the alligator "soup" I had seen last year. This year, it was even drier but there were fewer alligators. Still they numbered in the tens rather than hundreds. I also took the time to walk the 1.5 miles to the wildlife observation platform. Along the way, I passed a small herd of feral horses that call the area home. And from the tower, another herd, this time larger, and a mother and baby bison.
There was a little blue heron near the pond and an anhinga swimming underwater. Then near the platform, a tri-colored heron posed, mouth open, its sharp tongue visible.
I was about to leave the area when another 'gator caught my eye. Something was strange and I soon realized it had a large turtle in its mouth. It was obviously eating the turtle but it was a slow process. Each time the turtle moved, the alligator would mouth it some more. But when the alligator moved, the turtle would freeze for a while. As I watched, the turtle went from right side up, to upside down, to right side up but longways in the 'gator's mouth, and then across again. At one point, there was a very loud, double crunch as the 'gator bit through the turtles carapace. Also, the 'gator almost lost the turtle at one point but caught it again.
Last I saw, the 'gator took the turtle into the pond and under the vegetation.
Moving on, I met up with Jojo and Nomad in Ocala. It's great to see them. I'm constantly amazed at how big and comfortable those large RVs with the extendable sides are. I've stayed in smaller, less well appointed apartments than their RV.
I had dinner at huge "Chinese" buffet with Jojo and ate almost all sushi. This buffet offered a full sushi menu including unagi, one of my favorites. Stuff I mostly ignored included a Mongolian barbecue, lots of Chinese dishes, a ham, a roast, various other fish and shrimp, raw oysters, pizza, salad bar, and more. I think this buffet was $11.
Friday, April 13, 2012: Ocala to Pompano Beach
Today's drive was mostly uneventful. I stopped to get a Sunpass Mini for $5 plus tax. It's the Florida equivalent of EZ-pass or Fastlane. Currently, it's a completely separate network but there's hope and plans for the Sunpass network to join the EZ-pass nework. When I called to initialize my Sunpass, there was a special and they added $5 to my account. So, it was basically thirty-five cents (the tax) to get a pass. Not bad. I hadn't been sure I would use it enough to be financially worthwhile but decided it would be close enough and make things so much easier so I decided to get one anyway. Instead with the refund, it was worthwhile on my first day.
I contemplated stopping at Green Cay or Wakodahatchee on my way to Dare's but extremely heavy rain in the area brought the highway to a crawl and put the kibbosh on my plans.
I stopped at a local AAA and got replacement maps for my maps from last year which were falling apart. I also got a few local maps for areas I expect to spend time. I stopped to deposit a check that I should have deposited a month or more ago. As much as big banks can be annoyingly impersonal, it's nice to be able to bank at "my" bank wherever I go.
I got to Dare's place just long enough to settle in a bit and start a book while sitting on her balcony. I didn't get past the introduction before Dare got home.
We went to dinner at CPK (California Pizza Kitchen). I got a quesadillla and shared some delicious roll up thingamajiggies with Dare.
Saturday, April 14, 2012: Pompano Beach
I spent the day with Dare, dropping stuff off at Goodwill and picking up a few odds and ends here and there.
We went to dinner at Bonefish Grill with Dare's friend Eva. I recommend the Bang Bang Shrimp or Chicken there. Yum!
During dinner, I managed to stick my foot in my mouth when indicated the regressive attitudes of the state that just mandated the teaching of creationism as an alternative theory alongside evolution in science classes. Eva apparently believes in creationism, not evolution and I didn't pick up on that until it was too late. Oops! Our conversation continued and I think things were left OK.
Sunday, April 15, 2012: Pompano Beach
I apologized to Dare in case I put her in an awkward position yesterday. She was OK with it though and would mention my apology to Eva just in case.
I took a much needed easy day. Dare left around lunch time.
Then I took the afternoon to prepare for a two-day paddle trip in the Everglades. I had called the Everglades Hostel in Florida City and let them know I was interested in finding someone to go on a paddle trip. They put a sign up for me on their bulletin board and I soon heard from Stijn, a guy from the Netherlands. He was interested in joining me and so we made plans for a two-day trip.
I shopped for food for a couple of days and picked up a book in case we had a lot of down time.
I had dinner plans with my Aunt Natalie and my cousin Sherel. I had last seen my aunt last year but I hadn't seen Sherel for maybe twenty or thirty years. What a change. She's selling diabetes testing devices and agreed that the market is rather booming these days.
It turns out it was my aunt's birthday today so we celebrated at her favorite Mexican restaurant.
I finally got to the Everglades during a season when I could actually deal with whatever mosquitoes I found. What follows is my time in Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, and other nearby wild lands.
I'll send a relatively comprehensive bird list for southern Florida including some observations about behavior that were interesting to me in a separate email.
One thing's for certain, I'm feeling quite inferior carrying my camera around. Granted it's very lightweight and it's got a great zoom for shots of wildlife I can't get near, but it's slow to focus so I miss a lot. When I see what all the other birders are carrying and the type of shots they are capable of, I wish I had a faster camera. It makes me wonder... If I'm no longer able to hike and get into the backcountry, would I be willing to carry a heavy dSLR with long lens? My camera has been showing signs of failure for years now and when it goes, I'm going to want to buy something else. I usually think I would be happy with an updated version of what I have now but the speed of focus with an SLR holds appeal.
Of course, I've been intending to take a photography course for years now. I just haven't held still long enough to do so. I would have to if I move to an SLR.
Monday, April 16, 2012: Pompano Beach to Pearl Bay, Everglades National Park
I got up early and made it to the hostel by 8:30 or so. I met up with Stijn who looked to be a tall strong guy. It took a couple of hours but we finally got on the road with the canoe on his car - the one without the rack instead of mine with the rack as we had originally planned. It's apparently easier to load canoes on cars without racks than with racks according to Erik at the hostel.
We got to Flamingo a bit past noon and soon had a permit for an overnight trip to Hell's Bay. Then went in search of the crocodiles. We definitely saw one, and maybe two. We also saw two chicks in an osprey nest. We stopped at the store to buy toilet paper, the one thing I forgot when shopping yesterday.
We were running so late, we stopped for lunch at West Lake before putting in. The weather was beautiful but breezy enough to be glad to be doing a protected canoe trail rather than one in more open water.
The trail twisted and wound through narrow mangrove trails. We often had to duck under low hanging branches. Stijn was fairly new to paddling and in some cases, the paddling would have been easier alone. But he soon started catching on and things went better. Especially once we realized I couldn't see the markers when he could and it was useful to me to have him call out our next turn.
We took a break at Lard Can, a land based campsite, and decided that we would consider stopping at Pearl Bay rather than the further Hell's Bay that we had a permit for. In reality, we could both claim limiting injury should a ranger inquire and figured we would be OK as long as nobody else came by to claim the chickee.
Stijn was dealing with an aggravated neck injury and I had slept funny a couple of days earlier and though I had been feeling better, the paddling did seem to be aggravating my sore neck and shoulder.
We got to the chickee, a double platform raised off the water, connected by a walkway with a chemical toilet in between the platforms, designed for boaters to camp on. They require a free standing tent or at least someone comfortable with tying non-freestanding tents in place since stakes were out of the question. Since Stijn had rented a huge tent, I had left mine behind. We got all our stuff out of the canoe and relaxed a bit. Then we set up the tent, a two person job if only to have one person hold it in place so it wouldn't get blown off the chickee. Stijn held the tent while I used my 50' bear cord to tie it down on the chickee. There was just enough cord to get three corners tied and the two windward upper tie points tied to the chickee. That would make sleeping a lot more pleasant.
Hanging out on the chickee, I think Stijn was a bit bored and didn't know what to do with himself now that our world was shrunk down to the size of our chickee.
Nobody else showed up so we soon relaxed. Thankfully, there were no mosquitoes or no-see-ums to deal with. Unfortunately, there were deer flies. Not a lot, just enough to be an almost constant annoyance though. We killed quite a few of them.
As much as I would have preferred to sleep out, teh flies made that impossible so crawled in when it started getting dark. I journalled for a while while Stijn listened to his iPod. When I turned my light off, Stijn was a bit shocked at how dark it got. But we were soon looking at the stars through the netting and after a few minutes, I told him to look around. Even without a moon, once our eyes adjusted, there was enough light to take the edge off the darkness and see shapes inside the tent. Stijn was OK again.
Sometimes I forget what I take for granted given my time spent outdoors. I'm comfortable in pitch black environments, even in caves. Most others have never experienced that. I can also get used to new outdoor environments quickly. I learn what's new, adjust, and know that I can adjust in other environments, too.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012: Pearl Bay to Florida City
The wind had calmed by morning. The two mosquitoes on the outside of the netting were gone before I left the tent and were never a bother. The deer flies were still an issue.
As the sun rose higher, we realized the breeze was getting stronger so we took the tent down before it got bad and then had breakfast and finished packing up.
The return trip was uneventful. Stijn really got it today and needed almost no direction. He also kept us going in the right direction by letting me know where the next marker was. We skipped Lard Can on the way out and got out much faster than we had gotten in.
We stopped at the Visitor's Center so I could get some ideas of what else I might want to do. Then stopped at the Ranger Station for more information. Few National Parks allow hitching and there was one trail I was tempted to hike but I would have wanted to hitch back to my car. There's no hitching allowed in the Everglades but as one ranger had put it on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I was allowed to stand on the side of the road looking pathetic. If someone offers me a ride, that's OK.
By the time we got back to the hostel, unloaded the canoe, and sorted our stuff into our respective cars, I was exhausted. I did a Walmart run for a salad and brought it back to the hostel to eat. I was hungry but so tired I only picked at it. I managed to get most of the way through it when I got a call.
My friend Tom called. I had traveled with him last year in Florida. He was calling me from Istanbul. How cool is that?
He completed a certification program (?) and is helping transport boats from one port to another now. I think he's now qualified to captain them himself but so far is working with others, mostly transporting boats from ports around the Mediterranean, I think.
By the time I got back to the last few bites of my salad, the flies had made it their own so I trashed it.
I met Clausine (sp?) a French woman about to embark on a one and a half year job as chef on a yacht and Fannie, a Quebecois caricaturist traveling in southern Florida for a month or so. There were others hanging about, too, but I didn't get to know them much at all.
Clausine made crepes for everyone after dinner. Nutella, banana, and ice cream. Yum! That turned into dinner for me. I was still too tired and beat to care about going for or preparing anything for dinner. I was too tired to be particulary hungry. The crepe was all I needed.
I planned to sleep in the gazebo, but there was too much going on in there and too many others making noise in the yard so I slept in my car. My $15 hostel fee paid for a shower, the use of the bathroom, and the wifi I guess. One of the other hostelers pointed out a better place to park than the hostel parking where it was darker, further from the street, and still unlikely to be rousted. That worked for me.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012: Florida City
I got up early and was hungry so I made pancakes with ingredients supplied by the hostel. There were a few finger bananas available, too, so I made a couple of banana pancakes, a la Asian hostel breakfasts. When others arrived an hour later, I made them pancakes, too.
Went to John Pennekamp State Park with Fannie. They had stopped giving the snorkel tours a few days earlier following the rain but today would be starting up again. It wasn't as good as last year but we were in a shallower area called Grecian Rocks that's protected from rough waters by the reef which protrudes from the surface.
Because it was so shallow, we were supposed to stay only over the sand, not the grass or reef, and not touch anything, including the sandy bottom. I got annoyed at the number of people standing on coral or not paying attention to their feet and kicking at the reef. I said something a number of times. We went back to the boat at one point so Fannie could put on her wet suit and when I asked the captain if there was a good way to tell people, he said to just yell at them. I pointed out that coming from another paying passenger, it lacked the authority that he had as captain but that I would keep saying something where appropriate.
Fannie and I didn't return to the boat until the horn sounded. We were two of only four people still on the reef but could have stayed for hours longer. She was disappointed that we didn't have more time but understood when I pointed out that most people were out of the water after only 30-minutes or so.
After the snorkel trip, Fannie snorkeled off Cannon Beach while I took it easy. I was still exhausted from two days of paddling and didn't want to overdo it yet again today.
We went to Robbie's for dinner. I had delicious fried shrimp and fries. Our entertainment at dinner were the Great Egrets. Robbie's is where people go to feed the tarpon. They buy buckets of herring, walk out on the pier, and find schools of the very large fish just begging for handouts. The tarpon even follow you when they see you walking along the pier.
The Egrets have learned that the buckets contain fish. So they wander up to the counter where the buckets are sold and if there's nobody there to chase them away, they jump up onto the counter and steal fish from the buckets. I watched one steal a fish and then swallow it whole. You could see the fish stuck in its throat and only very slowly make it's way down. As a matter of fact, the one we watched still had the fish in its throat an hour later when we left.
At one point, I watched one egret steal a fish only to have a gull chase it. The egret dropped the fish into the water and a pelican snapped it up. It was all too easy to see what was going to happen next. When an egret stole another fish and got chased by a gull, it dropped it over the dining area. Thankfully, it landed on the deck, not someone's plate, but still, it was a bit surprising to see it raining fish.
After dinner, Fannie bought a bucket of fish to feed the tarpon. I just watched and took a few pictures and videos. I just don't feed wildlife if I can help it so I'm not crazy about the concept.
We stopped at a number of motels to see if we could find anything reasonable to no avail. Back in Florida City, we found a motel for $52 and split it. It was less than a bed at the hostel ($28) but a bit pricier than I was hoping for given sleeping in my car is free, but it was really nice to have a bed and a shower.
Thursday, April 19, 2012: Florida City
Breakfast at the motel was nothing to speak of. Blueberry muffins cut in four or white toast. I needed a down day so planned to check out at 11. Fannie changed her plans so stuck around, too. We had lunch at Denny's where we met Amanda and her five-year-old daughter at the next table. Her husband who had been injured in the service got out of hospital in November and between then and now, was killed by a hit and run driver when he stopped to help someone change a tire at the side of the road. Both he and the driver of the disabled car were killed by the hit and run driver. They know who the driver was but haven't found him yet.
Amanda's husband was killed just two weeks after his 33rd birthday and two weeks before his daughters 5th. The story was incredibly sad. Amanda's doing what she needs to for both herself and her daughter. She's sad but thinking about going back to school to get a master's degree in criminal justice.
With only one power outlet at Denny's and me not being able to connect to their wireless, I said good-bye to Fannie. She did a quick caricature of me before I left. I wouldn't have recognized myself in the caricature though the others I saw of hers certainly looked like the people she caricatured. I wonder if people who know me would see me in the drawing.
I spent the rest of the afternoon at the library in Homestead.
When it got dark, I read for a while and eventually went back to the vacant field near, but not at, the hostel. The guy who had told me about it is actually working in the area and choosing to sleep in his van rather than get a hotel room. So, his van was still there when I pulled in.
Friday, April 20, 2012: Florida City
I got up early and went back to Flamingo by way of all of the little walks dotting the way along the road. There were few bugs though Mahogany Hammock was pretty bad. It made me rethink taking the longer trails I was hoping to hike.
At Paurotis Pond, there was an alligator with a unusually bulbous nose. I questioned it and even a guide thought it might be a crocodile but he didn't think crocs got that far inland. I pointed out a water path to the lake from the ocean. Later on, with a better look at a picture, it was determined to be an alligator but the rangers also confirmed that the lake with its brackish water has both alligators and crocs frequenting it. There were lots of wood storks, roseate spoonbills, vultures, swallowtail kites, ibis, and a common moorhen. The frogs were contributing to the orchestra, too.
In Flamingo, I went lookinng for, and found the crocodiles. The oprey nest was still occupied though the chicks kept their heads down this time. The parents were obviously feeding them, though. There seem to be red-bellied woodpeckers everywhere in southern Florida.
I missed the Royal Palm 2:30 talk which happened at 1:30. I was given bad information at the gate. So I stayed for the 2:00 crocodile talk in Flamingo and was able to point out two crocodiles to the ranger who had almost given up on seeing one today. The one I saw from where he was giving the talk looked the same as the one I had seen with Stijn - confirming we had seen a croc. It just poked the top of its head up for a few minutes before submerging again. The other crocodile was a much better sighting but required walking around to the far pier. Thankfully, the croc was still there. It was the one I had seen an hour earlier and it wasn't fully submerged so we could clearly see its scutes down the length of its tail.
Here are some interesting statistics from the talk: There are about 1,500 crocodiles in the Everglades but only about 150 breeding females. Most of the females are too young to breed so far but they expect the numbers to climb in the coming years.
Later, at Royal Palm, I did both the Gumbo Limbo walk with lots of namesake trees exhibiting their other moniker - tourist trees, so named for their peeling red skin, like many Florida tourists. The Anhinga trail had many namesake birds. There were also quite a few alligators, turtles, vultures, ibis, a coot, green herons, catbird, and a moorhen.
Back at the Visitor Center, I ran into Phil, a photographer with an dSLR and long lens, and we got to talking. A Purple Galinule came to visit and we started snapping pictures of the beautiful bird. I ended up walking and talking with him as he did his evening rounds. The birds were surprisingly absent this evening.
Saturday, April 21, 2012: Florida City
I woke up at 2am to rain so closed my windows and went back to sleep. I woke up again at 5am to a violent thunder and lightning storm. It was so bad, I wasn't sure if the area I was parked in would get waterlogged and turn soft so I decided to move my car. My car was also being buffeted by wind so I wouldn't be able to sleep much anyway. I drove to the nearby Walmart where I realized the lights in the parking lot were out. They came back on within half an hour or so.
After a full day yesterday, I was beat again today and given the weather, and all day rain with just a few breaks, I was happy to spend the day in the library. When the library closed, I sat watching birds from the parking lot. There was a Loggerhead shrike, and a mockingbird that held my interest. The Mockingbird would run a few steps, stop, slowly bend forward while stretching its wings up exposing its white patches, and then repeat. It did this over and over again. I assume it was some sort of mating behavior though there was no other mockingbird visible. Maybe it was watching from a tree. I later found some youtube videos of this behavior.
The after hours guy who cleans the library came over the say 'hi'. He spoke less English than I did Spanish so I got to practice a bit.
Sunday, April 22, 2012: Florida City
I woke up at 5am to more rain so closed the windows and went back to sleep and finally got up at 7am. I got some ice and heard that there had been a tornado warning somewhere in the stations listening vicinity but that the warning had been cancelled at 7am.
I headed back towards Flamingo but turned off before the Everglades National Park to follow a Birding Trail sign. I found a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers bringing food to a nest in a telephone pole, and bringing the scat from their young out. I could hear the young ones calling. As I watched, there was a Red-bellied woodpecker hanging out at the next telephone pole over. At one point, both pileateds were away from the nest and the red-bellied went over to investigate. I thought the babies were goners. Just when the red-bellied started poking its head into the hole, one of a pair of red-shouldered hawks flew overhead. The hawk wasn't at all interested in the goings on of the woodpeckers but it was enough to scare the red-bellied woodpecker away from the pileated woodpecker's nesting hole. Phew!
I took a walk around the borrow pond and saw a bunch of black vultures in one tree. I tried to enter the hammock but got chased out by the mosquitoes.
I spent the rest of the day at Royal Palm. Glauca "G" was my guide last year as well. He's about to graduate and his next assignment is at Sequoia/King's Canyon. We got to see a large green water snake and a small black racer as well. The alligators were extremely active and posing right next to the trail. One crossed the trail. One yawned.
I got caught in three showers and took refuge under the shelters along the Anhinga Trail. In addition to the many anhingas, there were quite a few green herons. The water level is so much higher today than just two days ago. The canals are full and both sides of the main trail are now wet. The far end of the trail was riddled with about 25 alligators. There were fewer birds there today.
Monday, April 23, 2012: Florida City
I grabbed an unfortunately cold shower at the YMCA this morning.
I went back to the birding trail this morning. At another stand of trees that birders I met were calling Lucky Hammock, I saw a flock of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. They're migrating now. I also saw a Tennessee Warbler. After the storms of the last couple of days, there's a good chance that I'm benefiting from the "fallout" that happens after birds get caught in storms on long crossings over the Gulf or from the islands.
Neither of these birds are local but their migratory routes likely take them over this area.
I met up with a couple I had seen at Royal Palm yesterday and after a tip from another birder, we parked at the gate and continued walking past it. We found a pair of Common Mynas nesting in a telephone pole.
Almost every telephone pole along this route has holes drilled into it from the birds. Many are large holes. Some go all the way through. I suspect it won't take a big storm, but at some point, these poles are all going to break.
I took the time to view the displays at the Coe Visitor Center and resisted the urge to go back to Royal Palm. For lunch, I ate in the car and then for $5, had a huge Strawberry Key Lime milkshake from "Robert is Here," a local landmark. They gave both a straw and a spoon with each shake. I found the straw useless and ate my shake with the spoon. I wandered the grounds and looked at the macaws (both a blue and gold and a scarlet), cockatiels, tortoises, emus, goats, donkeys, and more.
I spent the afternoon in the library. Today was a bad allergy day and I'm just hoping it is allergies and not a cold. I've been pushing too much - still. I was exhausted and went to sleep just after 9pm.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012: Florida City to Pinecrest Campsite, Big Cypress National Park
I woke up feeling much better this morning so it was my allergies acting up, not a cold. Woohoo!
I spent the morning at Chekika. I had read that it closed at the end of March for the season but then the sign on the road said it was open through April so I turned in. This former resort is now just a picnic area. As I walked around, there were signs of its former status. I noted a line of floats at what used to be a swimming hole that is now completely filled in with plants.
At the picnic area, vultures roosted on the buildings. They were mostly Black but with some turkey vultures mixed in. There was also a turkey there. I suspect it's been fed. It chased away a cattle egret and then approached me. I tried to do the nature walk but the mosquitoes chased me out of the hammock so I went back to the car for my bug spray and sun/bug shirt.
A volunteer said his wife was the "bird brain" in the family but that we might be interested in the bunch of bluebirds hanging out in the area. Upon further inspection, I saw no bluebirds but did see a flock of indigo buntings. Sure enough, they are blue and they are birds. There was also a blue jay in the area. Another blue bird but not a bluebird. LOL
There was a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers nesting in a tree. No chicks yet. They were just bringing in nesting material. It was fun to watch them flying back and forth. They didn't seem particularly concerned with my presence as I watched.
I did the nature walk. As I've found, in the dense hammock, I can hear birds but almost never see them.
Another birder, Homer, came by and I got amusing shots of him trying to take pictures of the turkey. The turkey, approaching for handouts apparently, was too close for Homer to take pictures.
In another tree, there was a flash of yellow. The warbler stuck around and gave us good views of its markings. It was a Black-throated Green Warbler.
We avoided the alligators in the pond and moved on.
At Shark Valley, there were a lot of Green Herons, last years baby gators still with the striped markings, big gators, and turtles. I walked with a French woman now living in Miami. Looking at her camera and those of the other birders I'm meeting, I have to wonder if my lightweight camera is worth it given the slow speed of focusing. For carrying a camera in the backcountry, yes, the weight is more important. But, I'm not getting out there any longer. Sigh. Will I again? I don't know.
I tried the nice campsite but it was infested with thousands of huge horseflies. I couldn't even open my window much less get out of the car. It was like something out of a Hitchcock film.
I went back to the other campsite. It's one big open field. There was one other person camped there, probably for the same reason I was. He kept to himself.
I was happy to see a flock of indigo buntings here along with more rose-breasted grosbeaks, cardinals, a catbird, and a few bobolinks.
Rather than set up my tent, I opened the rear window of my car and put my mosquito netting over it. It's been cool the last few nights and it's expected to fall into the 50s again tonight. I'm glad I have my warm sleeping bag.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012: Pinecrest campsite to Bear Island campsite
I was glad to have my 20-degree sleeping bag last night. It got cold. I woke up to no insects.
My first bird of the day was an indigo bunting. So cool!
Driving the rest of the way down Loop Road, I stopped to see the southernmost Florida Trail trailhead. Last year, the road was closed and I couldn't get there. The sign board was covered in plastic that was covered in condensation so I couldn't read anything. The sign had also been used for target practice and had a few bullet holes in it. I had considered taking a walk along the trail but with the hoards of mosquitoes, I quickly gave up on that idea and moved along.
As I drove, birds on the road would take off and fly in front of my car. Great Blue herons led me down the road as did Great Egrets, and even Indigo buntings at one point.
I found a large open area covered with straw and there was yet another flock of indigo buntings there.
I circled back to the Oasis Visitor Center. Last year, I saw a bunch of male gators bellowing and got to see the water dance on their backs. This time, I got to see two mating, nose to nose, caressing, and eventually submerging together. There was a third gator involved but the two just seemed to ignore him.
At the Clyde Butcher gallery, I hoped to walk the trail in back of the building but it was closed as they cut invasive species back. Oh well. I spent some time at the pond in the front and saw some gators, a little blue heron, and a baby cottonmouth, about a foot long and maybe only half and inch wide. There were a couple of tour groups there at the same time so after they left I took the time to get some pictures of the snake.
Just before I got to the Monument Campsite (closed) turnoff, I noticed hundreds of wood storks roosting in the trees along one side of the road. I parked and walked back. It really was amazing. There was also a few ibises mixed in and an assortment of herons and egrets in the canal next to the road.
Moving on, I had lunch at the Kirby Storter chickee and then walked to the pond. The photographer there was just waiting knowing that birds usually flock to the area. I waited for a while, too. There was an ibis changing color, a piper type bird, and then a flash of red landed in a nearby bush. Everyone dismissed it as a cardinal but it didn't look right to me. With binoculars, I could see it was nearly solid red. No crest, no mask, no black wings. It was a Summer Tanager. Cool. There were a couple of red shouldered hawks. They're as common - or more so - than the red tailed hawks are at home. There was also a large, mostly obscured snake in the bushes.
I gave up after a while. Back at the parking lot, I talked with the photographer's wife for a while. It turns out he's still shooting with film, the first photographer I've met on this trip who is sitll doing so. It explains his using the camera to look at things but not taking pictures like everyone else does.
At the Visitor Center, I looked for the manatee that had been seen earlier in the day. but, it was no longer in the area.
It was about 4:30 when I made my way to Turner River Road. It was about 20 miles to my campsite at the end of the road and it took me about 2.5-hours to drive there. Mostly I just had my car in gear but the foot off the gas allowing it to roll along slowly. This area is known for its wildlife. There were a lot of gators sunning themselves on the far bank of the river. It was here I saw a large juvenile cottonmouth last year and a large gator hauled up on my side of the road.
This time, there were no snakes, just gators on the far side of the river and plenty of birds flitting around. I found a meadowlark and a bluebird - for real! Now I wonder if maybe the volunteer yesterday had seen bluebirds. Hmm. Also bobolinks, indigo buntings, red shouldered hawks, swallowtail kites, boat tailed grackles, redwing blackbirds, cardinals, ibis, wood storks, and a variety I couldn't ID or photograph. Sections of the road also had lots of horse flies.
On the northern portion of the road, I had to run a gauntlet of vultures. There was an area where many hundreds of vultures roost. When I approached, there were maybe 100 or so on the road. I drove past slowly and while some flew away, most just hopped along and slowly moved to the side so I could pass. There were two that seemed like they might have been a pair doing a mating dance. Almost all were Black but there were a few turkey vultures mixed into the crowd.
I drove under I-75 and soon got to the campground. The campground was mostly overgrown but I found a site where the grass wasn't too long. After more bouts with horse flies along the road, I'm very glad to find no insects here at all. Well, I was able to sit out at 7pm and the only bugs I saw at the picnic table were a few ants. My site was also conveniently located between the bathroom and the trash bins. I was the only one at the campground. This really is the off season.
I listened to an interview with Hugh Laurie on Fresh Air. A rabbit wandered through my campsite. A whip-poor-will threatens to keep me up all night. Thankfully it wandered further away as I read before bed. One of these years, I will actually see a whip-poor-will.
Thursday, April 26, 2012: Bear Island campsite to Naples
I got up with the sun and was on the road by 7am. It took 3.5-hours to get back to Route 41 by way of Turner River Road, Wagonwheel Road, and Birdon Road. I had to run back through the gauntlet of vultures but stopped and saw a downy woodpecker in their midst. There were lots of red shouldered hawks along the way and an immature blue heron changing from white to blue.
I got into Everglades City and found lots of mosquitoes. Not like last year, but still enough to be annoying and a harbinger of things soon to come.
My stop at Big Cypress Bend, impossible last year, was possible this year but I was glad to be fully clothed in jeans and my sun/bug shirt. I tried mosquito repellent but ended up using my headnet. Others, slapping at mosquitoes, commented how smart that was. There was one other visitor wearing a headnet, too.
I could hear birds and even see flitting every now and then but I couldn't ID a single bird by sight in the dense hammock.
The boardwalk at Collier-Seminole State park had some mosquitoes but not like Big Cypress Bend. There was a huge change from last year. In June, except for the raised levees, the entire area had been covered with water and the wading birds were generally up close and personal. Now, the water has receded to shallow pools far away from the viewing platform and the birds stuck with the water. There were grackles nesting in the eaves of the platform. The parents were none too happy to have people invading her nesting site but while noisy, they still managed to feed their nestlings.
I left the wilderness and arrived in Naples in time to get all sorts of samples of food at a local Publix supermarket. They were giving out tastes of pork chops and cole slaw, shrimp, watermelon, caprese salad, and for those that wanted, even wine. I talked for about an hour with a woman, about to turn 93 (looks 73), who laments she had to give up golf a few years ago. We should all live so well and long.
Friday, April 27, 2012: Naples
I didn't sleep well last night. I think I parked in the wrong park of the Walmart lot and there was just too much activity around me.
I spent the entire day, 9-5, at the library. I needed an off day. I'm glad I wasn't doing much when the migraine hit. I grabbed Excedrin from the car and soon banished the headache.
In the evening, I did laundry. I felt like I was back in a small town in South America. I was the only "white" person there and I seemed a curiosity to everyone else there. They looked at me and seemed to wonder why I, a stranger, maybe a white person, a gringa, would need to be doing laundry at a laundromat, or maybe it's at "that" laundromat. Given the neighborhood, I have to wonder if there's a class and income difference that mostly falls along the lines of white or Hispanic.
Saturday, April 28, 2012: Naples to Pompano Beach
I slept very well in the darker, more remote, part of the Walmart lot last night. Then moved onto the library lot for breakfast and was rewarded with a sighting of a Red-headed Woodpecker in addition to a Loggerhead shrike and a couple of mockingbirds harassing a crow.
I spent a couple of more hours in the library before setting out for alligator alley. I stopped first at the Panther Preserve. It's not that panthers are restricted to this area, it's just known that there's a concentration of them here. I did the 1.3 mile walk that I couldn't do last year. This year, with bug spray and my head net, I was able to do the long trail. I knew I would be incredibly lucky to see a panther but I still kept turning around to see if I was being stalked. There was plenty rustling in the scrub but it was mostly anoles, little lizards, scrambling for cover that made so much noise. Sadly, I saw no panthers.
I ate lunch in the car and then moved on, stopping at the various rest areas along the way. Many yielded alligators and birds to look at. One stop kept me for a long time. There was a territorial Tri-colored Heron fighting off and then chasing snowy egrets away. Watching the heron fishing was interesting. It seemed to spread its wings, possibly to ward off glare, and jumped around to scare up fish - an interesting hunting method I hadn't seen before. There were seemingly full grown though juvenile boat-tailed grackles demanding food from their mothers. Fish were teeming under one of the gangways. Moorhens and a green heron were also feeding in the area.
The weather wasn't the greatest and it rained on and off for the remainder of the drive. I got to Pompano Beach at 5 o'clock, right when I expected I might make it here. There was an airshow just south of here so I took a route that would allow me to avoid traffic assuming the airshow had gone off given the weather. I might try to go to the show tomorrow.
At Dare's place, it was good to see Trent again. I met him last year when I was visiting Dare and I'm back in Florida partly because they're getting married in June. The three of us caught up again over dinner at a Ferdos Grill, a Mediterranean restaurant, complete with belly dancer.
So, on any given day, I saw many of the same birds. It wasn't until I picked up a checklist of birds in Big Cypress National Preserve that I realized the number of birds was adding up, at least for me. I also realized that I pay very little attention to little brown jobs and gulls, so many birds I've obviously seen are just not listed here because I never really took note of them.
Here's the listing of birds I know I've seen in South Florida. Most I saw both this year and last year. If there's one I haven't seen this year, I noted it. I also noted birds from the Keys and Dry Tortugas as well as a few I saw in the upper Everglades, near places like Lake Okeechobee and Loxahatchee. My included birds from last year may not be complete. There are 76 birds listed here.
I added a few notes on color and behavior at the end.
* Bird list of those seen in 2011
Color notes: Quite a few birds have colors that change in the spring or from juvenile to adult
Sunday, April 29, 2012: Pompano Beach
Monday, April 30, 2012: Pompano Beach
Tuesday, May 1 2012: Pompano Beach
Wednesday, May 2, 2012: Pompano Beach
Thursday, May 3, 2012: Pompano Beach
Friday, May 4, 2012: Pompano Beach
Saturday, May 5, 2012: Pompano Beach
I spent time with Dare and Trent the first couple of days I was in Pompano Beach. After they went their respective ways, I used a few days in the apartment dealing with personal administration issues. Solving problems with insurance companies, going greener with bills, tax returns, and doing an initial, very rough, culling of pictures. I also ran a lot of errands.
It was nice to have some alternative foods given the kitchen in the apartment. Things that wouldn't keep or fit in my cooler, wanted to be warmed up, etc.
The ocean has been rough following all the storms circulating through the area. The wave action has washed up some nice shells. I took only one long walk on the beach and yet came back with some nice shells and coral.
Sunday, May 6, 2012: Pompano Beach to Bear Island Campsite, Big Cypress Preserve
I got up early to take a short walk on the beach where I picked up a few more shells and some nice small pieces of coral. I almost ran back to the apartment to change and go for a swim. The water had been rough the entire time I've been here and today, it's almost placid. But, I knew I would overdo it and I really wanted to get back on the road today.
So, I got on the road around 9am and went back to the Tamiami Trail (I-75). I stopped at whatever Rest Stops or Recreation Areas I passed. They're good places to see wildlife. I got off the highway at the exit for the Seminole Indian Rservation. As I got off, I noticed a woman carrying a gas can heading back towards the highway. Not being in a rush, I did a U-turn and offered her a ride. It was considerably out of my way to head back east to the next place I could turn around and then back to her car. Wouldn't you know, the 1.5 gallons she had weren't enough to get her car going. So I drove her back to the station and repeated the loop back to her car. Then followed her to make sure she could make it to the gas station and fill her tank.
With a double dose filling my personal karma tanks, I filled my own gas tanks and took a circuitous route for the rest of the day. I stopped at one point to see what some vultures were eating (a raccoon) only to realize that there was a Crested Caracara in the group.
I continued to the Seminole village and thought about visiting the Ah-Ta-Thi-Ki museum again. I visited last year and missed out on the villagers doing the crafts projects at the end of the boardwalk. I decided not to enter the museum but found the Florida Trail leads right past the museum.
My map showed back roads leading to route 29 but the roads ended at private ranches. So I backtracked and went the long way around. I'm glad I did. At one point, I got to see a flock of about 15 Roseate Spoonbills. While watching them, an alligator got bogged down up to its armpits in thick, sticky mud. But, with such short arms, it was eventually able to pull itself through the mud to the canal.
Moving on, I stopped at Oil Pump Park, near the site of where oil was first found in Florida. There was a full-sized, now disused, pump there. Finally, I got to Wagonwheel Road and found an adult Cottonmouth sprawled in the road. I stopped my car where others would have to go around and not over the snake then got out to take pictures and try to encourage it off the road. But, it got defensive and showed no signs of leaving the road. I tried using one of my hiking poles and dragged it to the snake, wanting to make sure I didn't poke it, but the snake was too heavy and it mostly ignored the pole.
After one car passed with a lady who probably would have tried to run it over. She was speeding my way so I motioned for her to slow down. I really didn't want to get dusted. She stopped and had a few words to say about the snake and cautioned me to be careful before speeding off. Then, a guy in a pickup stopped. He saw what was going on and said it was "his job" which I thought was a very strange statement. Turns out his name is David Tetzlaff and he's the Executive Director of the Naples Zoo. He even had his snake hook with him. Fantastic! I took pictures of him with the snake. He took pictures of me with the snake. Then I documented him dealing with the snake.
Right after we each went our own way, I watched a hawk eating a rodent on a power line.
I camped at Bear Island again. This time, there were some mosquitoes there. I'm not sure if it was because of my choice of campsite - more grass but closer to a clean outhouse - or just because it's that time of year.
Monday, May 7, 2012: Bear Island, Big Cypress Preserve to Naples
I got up early and ran the gauntlet of vultures again. I saw some deer, one of them gave me a show. At one point, it looked back at me, then soon after, left some scat behind, and then allowed a red-winged black bird to pick bugs off its back. I saw a juvenile little blue heron changing colors. Great crested flycatchers, meadowlarks, and a few of the usual wading birds.
I rescued a burger-sized turtle crossing the road. I knew from previous experience to move it to the side of the road it was already heading for.
Then I stopped for another adult cottonmouth in the road. It looked like a twin of the one from the night before and wasn't all that far from where we had seen the other one. I think my pictures of the two confirm that they were different snakes. This time, there was nobody with a snake hook to rescue the snake so I gave it another try but like yesterday, found the snake too heavy to move by dragging it with the pole and I was too concerned I would injure it if I tried to pick it up with the pole.
I eventually gave up and hoped it would finish crossing the road before anyone with misguided intentions comes along. As I drove away, I pulled up alongside the snake wondering if I could get a better angle at moving the snake from the safety of my car. At that point, the snake moved off into the grass of its own accord. Unfortunately, it went back the way it had come so I'm guessing it would have crossed the road again later in the day.
Driving along, I soon saw something else blocking the road. From a distance, I couldn't tell if it was a downed tree or a large palm frond. As I got closer, I realized it was one of the largest alligators I've seen sprawled across the road. I judged that I could get around it if necessary but hoped the alligator would move before I got there. Thankfully, it finished its nap as my car approached, got up on all fours, and did the high walk off the road. I stopped to get a picture of the gator trail only to realize I could still see the tail. But the gator didn't want to be around me so off it went into the canal. This is one animal I would not have tried to encourage with a hiking pole or anything else.
I wasn't sure if I wanted to take Jane's Scenic Drive again. It's 17-miles long and you have to come out the way you went in. But since so many other aspects had changed since my time last year, I thought I would give it a go. Not surprisingly, it had changed. There were many fewer Lubber grasshoppers and it wasn't yet mating season. There still wasn't much to see along the road but there was a pretty butterfly at one point.
At the other end, I was surprised to find out that the Picayune Strand State Forest was now open and it was possible to drive through. It was nice to avoid backtracking Jane's Scenic Drive. I would have camped in the strand but the timing was all wrong. It was much too early in the day.
In one way, the Strand reminded me of the Mojave Desert. I walked across the Mojave on my PCT section hike and was bemused at the grid layout of the roads. The large tract had been planned for settlement but the people never came. Picayune seems to be the same. There is a large grid layout of roads and canals but the people never came. Unlike the Mojave which was desert with vast viewscapes, here, the Strand was jungle and though the jungle was pushed well back from the roads, there wasn't much to see beyond the road in front, behind, and cross streets and canals. I didn't see any wildlife here other than some soaring birds flying overhead.
I found my way out of Picayune Strand and stopped at the Golden Gate Library. A large dumpster for recycling cardboard gave me a chance to get rid of some recycling I had in my car. Then I ate lunch in the car before heading in. I spent the rest of the day there.
Tuesday, May 8, 2012: Naples
I ran to the Post Office in the morning then hit another library to take a day "off". I'm not regulating my activity level well and find I often overdo it. So after a half day in the library yesterday, I took another full day today. I used the time to figure out a bunch of travel destinations for the next week or so. I could see Muscovy Ducks from my table in the library and when I ran to my car for lunch, there was a Great Egret strutting its stuff in the parking lot. It was hunting for anoles and insects in the lot-side vegetation.
Another library patron pointed me in the direction of Freedom Park. Like Wakodahatchee and Green Cay in Boynton Beach, it is a tertiary water treatment facility turned wetland. The walkways were nice but there wasn't nearly the number of birds there.
I saw a rabbit, a pair of Florida Ducks (Mottled Ducks), an Anhinga, a Little Blue Heron, and an egret or two.
After, I ran an errand in a mall and was curious at the activity at the local Haagen Daaz. It turns out it was Free Cone Day. Woohoo! So, I had one.
Then I stopped at the Humane Society shop in the mall and had my heart melt at the cute kittens and puppies. Aww!
Wednesday, May 9, 2012: Naples to Fort Myers
I got up early and made my way to Six-Mile Cypress Slough (pr. slew) by about 7:15am. One of the volunteers was at a dumpster and called me over. It turns out there is a small raccoon that frequently finds its way into the dumpster at night but can't get out. So, each time that happens, the volunteer gets a step-ladder and puts it in the dumpster so the raccoon can climb out on its own. It was so cute.
They refuse to put a weight on the lid to keep the critter out for fear that someone might drop it and injure themselves.
This area has a long boardwalk, one large lake, and three smaller ponds. I saw no gators at Gator lake but did see a Tri-colored heron, turtles, a green heron, and lots of fish. I saw no Wood Ducks at Wood Duck Pond but did see an incredible array of egrets, spoonbills, herons, a red-shouldered hawk, and a river otter, the first I've ever seen in the wild though I've seen many sign of them, especially while paddling.
This small pond kept me engaged so long that I had to rush back to take the naturalist tour at 9:30. On the way, I got distracted by Arnie, another one of the volunteers. Finally, I made it back for the tour, only a little late. The Volunteer who gave this tour gets kudos for trying but didn't really have any in-depth knowledge. She would point out various plants but couldn't answer questions that went beyond what she gave us to start with. Her knowledge of birds was also limited.
At Pop Ash Pond, where there are no pop ash, we spotted a Black-crowned Night Heron among the few other birds there. I may have seen a Carolina Wren here, too, but it was in the woods and I didn't get a good look. Then a beautiful swallowtail butterfly posed for us. At Otter Pond where there were no otters, another volunteer had a spotting scope set up so we could look at some of the baby gators in the pond. There were only a few birds there. It was here a bunch of feral pigs had been spotted this morning by Arnie. They are invasive, bulldozing the earth in so many places. They are currently being trapped and removed but there are plenty left to trap.
After the tour, I ate lunch and then perused the offerings at the Interpretive Center. I ended up talking with Bill Sanders, another volunteer and editorial cartoonist (sanderscartoon.blogspot.com) for an hour or two. I took a break from the Slough and went to Sun Harvest Citrus to sample their juices, fruit (wrong time of year for most), and eventually got some orange ice cream after sampling (and rejecting) the Key Lime ice cream.
Back at the Slough, I spoke with another volunteer and then took a break in my car. I was parked where I could see the dumpster and was surprised to see the raccoon heading for the dumpster at only 4:30pm. If it went in now, it would have a very long wait for a rescue. I chased it away once. Then not 10-minutes later, it was back so I chased it away again. The next time, I was out of my car and I waited until it had actually climbed the dumpster and was about to go inside. Then I ran at it, yelling, and scared it. It took off so fast its feet slipped on the top surface of the dumpster, it fell off the other side, and raced for the woods. I was hoping to spook it away from the dumpster for a long time.
I then went back into the Slough knowing that birds would gather again closer to sunset. It looked like the same complement of birds from Wood Duck pond were now at Pop Ash pond. I watched for a while, but got chased out by no-see-ums.
At Otter pond, I watched five small gators try unsuccessfully to eat a fish that was just too big. It look like the fish got caught in a shallow stretch of pond where these little gators could easily catch it - over and over again, taking turns, mouthing the poor fish that they just couldn't swallow.
I was on my way to Wood Duck pond where I ran into Everett who had just left Wood Duck Pond because nothing was going on there. So back to Otter Pond we went and I'm glad I went back. While there this time, five adult pigs and one adorable piglet came out. Like the otter, this was the first time I've seen feral pigs in the wild though I've seen sign of them many times while on my hikes along the Appalachian Trail.
Moving on, we spotted a huge moth. I have pictures but no ID as of yet. Everett and I went to Pop Ash Pond but the bugs were getting worse so we went and sat by the lake until it started getting dark.
Thursday, May 10, 2012: Fort Myers
I got up early and drove MacGregor Drive, known for being lined with Royal Palms, down to Sanibel. There are two man-made causeway islands which support the bridges to Sanibel. Both islands have parks space with picnic areas. I stopped along the way and at the second one, found a striking bird. I pulled out my bird book and found it was a Black-bellied Plover in mating plumage. Gorgeous.
My goal for the day was the Wildlife Drive in Ding Darling National Park. But, there wasn't going to be low-tide today due to the lunar cycle so I was rather disappointed at the lack of bird life though I did see my first Reddish Egret of this trip. I did stop to take all of the various walks along the way and saw an immature little blue heron, that was still completely white.
I drove up to Captiva Island. Then down to the lighthouse where from a pier, I watched a pod of dolphins, including two babies, fishing. At one point, they had corralled a school of fish and ran it straight for shore. Everyone on the pier watched as a family with young child played along the shore oblivious to the hunting dolphins coming straight at them. They looked up startled at the last minute but were OK when the dolphins broke off their pursuit much faster than that family could have reacted.
I missed out on the Mangrove cuckoo that has been hanging out here for a few days.
At the Bailey Tract, I saw some bobcat footprints, confirmed later by a couple who actually saw the bobcat. I wanted to return later so left my car, walked to the beach, and had a swim. When I got out, I saw another type of striking bird. This time, they were Ruddy Turnstones. So pretty. Having found out that the outside showers along the beaches all drain into the sewer system, I felt OK using shampoo. Hmm, I may end up stopping for showers at more beaches now.
Back at the Bailey Tract, I spotted a small snake. It was about the size of a garter snake but had no stripes. it was headed for the water so maybe some sort of water snake. I also saw a gator, a turtle, and for birds, black-necked stilts, Florida ducks (mottled ducks), osprey, and the usual waders. On my way out, a gator was pulled up, nose towards trail, and showed no inclination to move. I maneuvered past it though I did not stop to take pictures from in front of it.
I stopped for supper on the Causeway B island.
Friday, May 11, 2012: Fort Myers
Back to McDonald's for breakfast where I had a parfait for the first time. I got more water to soak my finger and the sat for a while. The fruit in the parfait was frozen so it was a good excuse to sit for a long time, waiting for it to thaw. It was delicious once I could eat it.
I spent the day at the library. The folks at the library gave me some hot water to soak my finger when I went out to my car for lunch.
Went to Burger King for dinner, internet, and to soak my finger. Glad to be inside this evening. A violent storm raged outside for hours, pouring down rain with thunder and lightning.
Saturday, May 12, 2012: Fort Myers
I spent the day at the Ford-Edison winter estate. It's a beautiful area where both Ford and Edison spent time. After touring some of the grounds in the morning, I took a break and enjoyed lunch on a bench overlooking the Caloosahatchee River. It's a beautiful spot. I even got some hot water from the information desk to soak my finger.
The grounds are like a botanical garden. Almost every plant and tree is labeled with the name of the item and it's native land. Many of the plants were planted as part of an effort to find a source of local latex after WW I.
The buildings' rooms all open to exterior. It reminds me of the estate I visited in Georgia last year where they did the same thing but mostly in order to avoid paying taxes on interior hallways that were considered rooms. I wonder if that played a role here, too.
I think the most beautiful plant on the grounds today was the pineapple. They were bright pink with touches of green and yellow. I imagine they will settle on yellow once they fully ripen. The banyan trees, one so big it covers an acre, have signs to watch for falling figs. But figs aren't in season so there's not much to worry about with them. Unfortunately, the fruit that is in season now are the mangoes. And there are no signs to beware of falling mangoes. At first, I only saw short trees that we would walk around, anyway. But then I saw a huge, towering mango tree. There was no avoiding that one so I just didn't dawdle. Can you imagine getting beaned by a mango? Ouch!
The buildings included the Ford and Edison houses, the guest house, the caretaker's cottage, Edison's office, the laboratory, a museum, and a few more. There was a swimming pool on the property long before people owned private pools. It was small but there were two diving boards, a one meter and a three meter (I think).
I did the museum last, during the worst heat of the day and then left at closing.
I planned to drive through downtown but was stymied when it was completely blocked off. I could see a bunch of canopies set up and a bunch of motorcycles. I found a place to park and joined the party. It turns out it was Fort Myers Bike Night, a night they have every other month in winter and spring. There was live music on four stages, all loud, there were old bikes, new bikes, trikes with two wheels in front and trikes with two wheels in back.
I meandered for a while and continued my fascination with animals and got pictures of a Yorkie/Chihuahua mix sporting leather and cool sunglasses with flames, a cat sporting a Harley bandana, stuffed rabbits and tigers, painted spiders and more.
I stayed just long enough to see some of the early arrivals to the Arts building next door. The senior prom was also that night. It was surreal to see the young men in tuxes and the young ladies in colorful gowns strolling the sidewalks past beer guzzling men and women wearing lots of black leather. I guess if they don't like the music at the prom, they can always wander out to the Bike Night stages.
Sunday, May 13, 2012: Fort Myers
I got up at 5:45, did some shopping and got on the road by 6:15. I got to Ding Darling by 7:05. It was 1.5-hours past low tide already but I wanted to see if there was anything left of the crowds of birds that might usually gather.
One area didn't have a lot of birds but had a nice variety of birds including short-billed dowatchers, dunelins, willetts, spoonbills, and the usual waders. I also saw an oystercatcher this morning along the causeway. I watched pileated woodpeckers at a hole at the mounds area. I went for a walk at the Pond Apple trail and found a bald eagle nest and with a mature eagle nearby. At the ponds, there was a pair of blue-winged teals.
I do enjoy watching the silly dance of the tri-colored herons as they fish - wings outstretched, prancing through the shallows.
I soaked my finger at Tarpon Bay, a nice place to hang out for a few hours, waiting for low tide again.
I took two turns around Wildlife Drive this afternoon. A quick one to figure out where best to go and then a slow one. This time, the drives were bookended by yellow-crowned night herons. One near the beginning of the drive was eating crabs and didn't mind an audience. There were a few spoonbills out, too.
The second time around was special. The sun was in the wrong place, but to see a gathering flock of 50 roseate spoonbills in one place was a treat. Saw a frigatebird flying overhead both this morning and in the evening. The rookery was far off, but the egrets and spoonbills painted a picture of light against the dark green vegetation.
Monday, May 14, 2012: Fort Myers
I was surprised to find that Kohl's opened at 8am so I went in and did some much needed shopping. They had a dress I wanted but not the size I wanted. A nearby store had it in their computer but couldn't find it on the racks. I bought the wrong sized one knowing I could do an even exchange and still get the sale price if I found it at any of the other Kohl's I was likely to find along the way.
I spent the morning in the library but it was very busy so I left at 1pm and decided to go to Pine Island to visit the Calusa Mounds. This mounds site had three mounds. Stairs led up two of them but the third, a funeral mound was off-limits and rightly so. This part of Florida is very flat so like other places I've visited, all hills are man made. This is the most vertical relief I've seen in a month The mounds used to be higher but the materials used to build the mounds, mostly shells, were carted off for use in other construction by later settlers.
Driving back to Cape Coral, I stopped here and there to take pictures of a few of the telephone poles. Many had been painted appropriate scenes for a coastal community. I also stopped for a few minutes on Matlacha Island to take pictures of the colorful businesses there.
The Cape Coral Kohl's is the one that couldn't find the dress I was looking for on the rack but I stopped in anyway and found it. So, I was able to do an even exchange that day. Perfect.
Back at the car, I had missed a call. I had apparently dropped one of my credit cards on Sanibel yesterday and someone turned it into the bank. They would hold it until the end of the day. It was 5:30 but I called back right away hoping I could just go pick it up. I left a message hoping tomorrow morning wouldn't be too late.
I then grabbed something to eat and headed for the library on Cape Coral. The Cape is known as a preferred nesting place for the Burrowing Owl and the library is a good place to see them. So I headed for the library. Sure enough, as I got closer, I started seeing the man-made roosting bars people have been putting up at the burrow sites.
When I started going around to the sites, I couldn't tell if they were occupied or not. Two gentlemen in a golf cart passed me, went up the road, and then came back. They said there were owls with young at a nearby site so I walked up to the next house and sure enough, in their front yard, was a burrow with four chicks and two parents.
The adorable chicks were just as big as their parents. Bigger maybe given the puffy down that covered their chests. They bopped along the lawn and jumped over the burrow every now and then. Disturbances would chase them down the hole and then they would poke their heads out again. I knew to watch for signs of stress, bobbing and calling but I didn't seem to be causing any. The boy on the bike did. The woman with a dog - even though the dog was calm. The noisy pickup truck.
The iRobot electric lawnmower didn't seem to affect them at all. It was very quiet and when I was there, it didn't go near the nest but it was obvious that it sometimes does. The lawn around the burrow was equally well mowed as the rest of the lawn. I suspect that lawnmower is less disruptive than a noisy gas mower being pushed by a big human being.
I did watch the parents getting harassed. On the roof, one was being harassed by a loggerhead shrike. Later on the ground but away from the burrow, a mockingbird was attacking it.
I stayed at this one burrow until dusk then drove around the neighborhood and found a few more.
Back in Fort Myers, I found out my old, long disused hotmail account had been hijacked, that is used to send out spam to everyone in my address book. There was nothing I could do about it at this point and I was planning on going back to the library tomorrow anyway so I would deal with it then. Sigh.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012: Fort Myers
I spent the morning in the library changing passwords to all of my accounts and sending out apologies. I couldn't send them all at once for fear google would think I was spamming people, too. I was surprised how many people I heard from who actually clicked on the links that got sent out. Only one person that I know of actually figured out the mail was from my old, long disused hotmail account that I no longer use.
I ended up sending out the apology email for three reasons. One, I was truly sorry that people got spammed from my account. Two, I realized it might be a teaching opportunity. I never click on links I receive from others unless I know what it's for and why I might be interested. I also never send out email without some sort of relevant subject line. I encourage others to adopt the same habits. And three, it ended up being a nice opportunity to connect with some people I hadn't heard from in a very long time, some as long as ten years or so.
After a few hours, I was burned out and took the afternoon off to go to Fort Myers Beach. I missed the tour of the mounds there so didn't get to see the cutaway mound but thought I might return the next day.
I tried calling about my credit card a few times today but ended up stopping at a bank to find out what was going on. It was too late. My old card was destroyed and my new card with new number had already been mailed to Massachusetts.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012: Fort Myers
It was a very rainy day today so I skipped going back to Fort Myers Beach and spent the day in the library. I sent out the last of the apology emails and sent more replies to those I heard from as a result.
I spent time perusing my maps and finding a lot of things to do along the way north.
Thursday, May 17, 2012: Fort Myers to Englewood
I finally moved north again today. I also bought gas for less than $3.50.
I passed a "Shell Factory" today. When I was a kid, my family was in Florida one winter and we went to a Shell Factory. One of the lights in the sign was out so that one side read "Shell Factor" and the other "Hell Factory". It was pretty amusing given that my family "collected" relatives - basically any unusual name that ended with "Factor". Plus the hell factory side was funny, too. Either this wasn't the same place, or if it was, they have a new sign now.
A local YMCA kindly let me use the shower. No charge. And the place was very nice, new, clean, etc. Much different from the last YMCA I used with the terrible shower heads and cold water.
My goal this morning was the Peace River Wildlife Center. I got there early so wandered around the Ponce de Leon Park. There was a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron there and a duck that was too far out for me to ID yet. I'll have to take a look at the photos and see if that helps. [It’s a Horned Grebe.]
At the center, I helped the vet unload boxes of fruits and vegetables from her car. They had just been donated by the local Sweet Bay supermarket, the Florida name for Hannaford's. When the facility finally opened, I toured around. It's a rehab facility that does its best to help injured wildlife heal and then return them to the wild. Those that aren't able to be returned get housed at the facility. There are some "wild" birds that have learned to stick around, too. They sometimes get fed, too. One Snowy Egret followed a woman feeding the birds and would have walked right into the cage if the door hadn't shut in its face. A Great Egret walked the path ahead of me, grabbing anoles when it could.
This facility had quite the crowd. There were many wading birds, turtles, rabbits, owls, hawks, pelicans, crows, and even a pair of bald eagles. They also had cages for smaller birds and had some resident blue jays, grackles, sparrows, and more.
I grabbed lunch at my car then explored more of Ponce de Leon Park. After talking with some folks pulling their sailboat out of the water, I realized it was almost feeding time at the Wildlife Center so I returned to watch dead fish being fed to the pelicans, dead mice to the hawks, dead rats to the owls, dead chicks to the turkey vultures, and already skinned and diced rats to the blind black vultures that get fed by hand - or at least the hand puts the bowl to their beaks so they can eat.
Many of the injuries were obvious. Missing wings or malformed or broken wings were common among the birds. Some still manage to lay eggs and raise young. Efforts are made to ensure those young can eventually be released. One of the owls that had a chick is currently at a different location where they have less contact with people and more space to fly. Once her chick has fledged and can hunt for itself, it will be released and the parent, unable to fend for itself in the wild, will be returned to the Wildlife Center.
Friday, May 18, 2012: Englewood to Venice
I had checked out Manasota beach yesterday and went back this morning for a swim just a few houses from where Bobby Vinton lives. I found a set of keys with a lot of key tags on them from various stores. I figured I would make some calls when I got back to my car. After my swim, I looked around for some shells and after getting clued in from a local, started picking up sharks teeth. I got 20 in just a few minutes. This was much easier than on Cumberland Island.
I’m finding that most beaches have outdoor showers. After using bug spray and sun screen yesterday, the swim and shower felt good. It now seems most if not all beaches have their showers drain into the sewer system so I've been using shampoo, washing as best I can given my bathing suit, and often forgoing my usual search for YMCAs and fitness centers. Still, showering two days in a row was nice. This is a big change from last year where it seemed most east coast beaches were just too crowded.
I then made my way to Venice and sought out the Clyde Butcher Gallery and Studio. Here, I was able to tour the facility where he prints his huge format images. He uses pool noodles to manipulate the paper in the trays that are too small for his larger works. His enlarger is huge. And I got to see some of the tools he uses to manipulate the pictures - overexposing here, underexposing there, etc. If working with film is considered old school, then his manner of manipulating images is also old school photoshop.
I then drove into town. I think West Venice Avenue should be nominated as the most (or one of the most) beautiful roads in Florida if not the United States. One stretch was wide, with a park in the middle with paths, benches, a monument or two, and a beautiful mixture of palms, live oak, and banyan trees. MacGregor Ave in Fort Myers did nothing for me. There are a lot of palm lined streets in Florida. This street made me want to move here.
I spent yet more time in the library, slowly catching up with email following the spam incident.
Then upon the suggestion of one of the people at the Gallery, I drove out to Casey Key Road. If I thought the houses along the beach this morning were large, these are huge. This is the one percent (or maybe one one-hundredth of one percent) that the Occupy movement is talking about. The one thing that I still don't get is the people that build these huge mansions, just feet from their neighboring mansion. If I were to build a big home, I would want some elbow room.
For my evening's entertainment, I went to the Venice Rookery. It's an Audubon site with a small island in a fairly small pond where hundreds of birds come to nest and to roost at night. This was the place with the most Glossy Ibis I've ever seen. The sun was in the wrong place so I'll return in the morning. As it got darker, a large bird flew overhead. When I saw where it went I got excited. One of the regular birders mentioned Great Horned Owls had nested on a tower in the area and sure enough, it was an owl. I was thinking too bad it was so far away. In the meantime, I was so excited about seeing the owl, I was ignoring a very loud mockingbird complaining about something overhead. I figured it was me. But, when the owl I had been watching flew off to an even further tree, I looked up to see another owl, much closer to me. It was that owl that the mockingbird was complaining about. When this owl flew off to a lamppost, the mockingbird chased it. The owl just sat there while the smaller bird repeatedly attacked it. It would look at the smaller bird as if to say "I eat birds like you for lunch" but then did nothing.
Later still, another owl came and roosted on the same post. Knowing the owls had nested in the vicinity, this was probably one of the juveniles. I feel lucky to have seen three in one night. I think these are the first Great Horned Owls I've ever seen in the wild. And seeing two types of owls new to me in just a few days was fantastic, too.
Sunset came and went and the bugs came out. Nearby bat boxes housed bats that started flying as we watched but they didn't do enough to keep me from slapping. I gave up knowing I would be back in the morning.
Saturday, May 19, 2012: Venice
I got up early and went straight back to the Rookery. I avoided the guy sleeping on the picnic tables and just went to the edge of the pond to admire the rookery. In the morning sun, it was much more interesting. I could see nest on top of nest in back of nest, etc. One area had a large Great Blue Heron nest flanked by three Snowy Egret nests, another area had many Anhinga and Glossy Ibis nests.
I spent the day at the library only to find ants in my car at the end of the day. Sigh. I spent the evening doing laundry, something I had planning on before I knew about the ants, then went and vacuumed out my car, and then bought some ant bait and put those on the floor in front of the passenger seat and under my seat. I spent the rest of the evening online in McDonald's.
A couple of hours later when I went back to my car, there were no ants to be seen. I'm hoping the problem is solved. Many web sites suggest misting or fogging the car and letting it sit for 24-hours but since I'm traveling and sleeping in the car, that's not an option for me.
Sunday, May 20, 2012: Venice to Saratoga
I got up planning on heading straight to Myakka State Park but got sidetracked yet again. This time, it was Historic Spanish Point that caught my attention. I knew it was the only other place in Florida with a cutaway of an Indian mound. It had been recommended to me by the folks on Fort Myers Beach. So I changed my plans and spent the day at Spanish Point. This is where the Palmers lived. They are the ones who gave Myakka State Park, their former ranch land, to the state. There is a chapel on the premises, a few outbuildings, their house, beautiful gardens, and an aqueduct. I spent an hour or so talking with one of the volunteers on the porch to the house. In the shade, with the breeze off the water, it was perfect porch sitting and reminded me of the ranger station on Cumberland Island.
That evening, I went to Siesta Key for a drum circle. Siesta Key is known as the nation's #1 beach. It's huge, wide, and the limestone sand is fine, soft, and white. The drum circle is the largest drum circle I've ever seen with a couple of hundred spectators, some belly dancers, hula hoops for all to enjoy and a few folks with devil sticks.
On the way in, I heard someone call my name. Now hearing "Mara" being called is not the same as hearing "Mike" being called. I almost never hear my name unless someone is referring to me. This time, I saw the woman calling out the name and the other responding. I had to ask to be sure I heard right and sure enough, her name is Mara. Cool. And at just a few years older than me, it's even more unusual. Most other Maras I know of are younger. I ended up hanging out with her group a bit at the circle.
At around sunset, I decided to take a bit of a walk on the beach. It was then that I met Hans and Eva. They're from Germany and he comes here each year to fly stunt kites. And he's extremely good at it.
I found one ant in the car today. I hope just one is a good thing.
Lots going on in space these days... For those on the west coast, check out the partial lunar eclipse this evening. Tomorrow or the next day, we can all watch a transit of Venus.
Check this web site for the appropriate transit time for your location: http://transitofvenus.nl/wp/where-when/local-transit-times/.
And how about the Space X mission? It's nice to see it successful.
The queen celebrated the 60th Jubilee anniversary of her coronation.
And I'm glad to get through the Tampa area long before the RNC comes to town.
Hopefully I’ll be getting caught up soon on my journal but hope doesn't often win out.
Monday, May 21, 2012: Tallahassee
I went back to the beach this morning and found no wind whatsoever. I took a short walk and was surprised to find lots of holes dug on the beach. These are horrible traps that sea turtles, trying to nest on the beach, may fall into. It seems other areas may do a better job of educating the public about such hazards. The lights in the parking lot are kept off here and the street lights are well shaded but I haven't noticed signs about the turtles here that I've seen at other beaches.
I made my way to the Ringling Museum. It's free on Mondays and though I wouldn't be able to see the circus museum, I would be able to wander the grounds and see the art museum.
At the entrance I ran into a group of people all sporting buttons. They were a group from Columbia on a Friendship Force trip. I hadn't thought about the Friendship Force in many years. It was in 1979 that my parents and I joined a Friendship Force trip to West Berlin, Germany. We stayed with a family there and I hung out with the kids for a good portion of the week. It was during that trip that it finally sank in that the way I live in the U.S. was not how other people lived. While that wasn't so evident with our friends in West Berlin, it became obvious when I visited their friends in East Berlin.
It was interesting to see how those Friendship Force trips have changed over the years. Then, a chartered planeload of people from one area in the US would go elsewhere and the plane would return with a planeload from there. Now, a smaller group of maybe twenty-five people will go to another local and there isn't necessarily a reciprocal group. In the case of the group I met here, there was a three way exchange going on. While the Columbians were in Florida, there was a group from Florida going elsewhere, and from there, going to Columbia.
After a tour of the Art Museum, I went to see the historic theater, grabbed lunch and then returned to the museum to see it at my own pace and to see those elements the tour didn't cover. I wandered the grounds a bit, too. The buildings are amazing. Ringling took lots of pictures of the types of architecture he liked when overseas and had his architects emulate the buildings in those pictures. The house (or mansion) looks like a desert castle. The art museum, a Greek temple, etc.
Then I spent a couple of hours at the library before heading for the beach again. This time, I joined Hans and flew my kite a bit but my kite is small and there wasn't enough ground wind for it. Taking off was an exercise in frustration, waiting for the right gust of wind. Once up, it was OK but anytime I tried to do stunts near the ground, like a controlled landing, I just couldn't get it to work. Oh well.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012: Sarasota to Mossy Hammock campsite, Myakka River State Park
I finally got to Myakka River State Park today. I've heard rave reviews from my sister for years now. Of course, this is the dry season and the river in places is merely a chain of ponds. Any hopes of paddling have been dashed. They are still renting kayaks but only for paddling in the lake where the still shallow water and bright sun wouldn't make for pleasant paddling. So I decided to give paddling a pass.
At one bridge over a shallow pond that had been and soon will be a river, there were five gators, a great blue heron, and a few soft shell turtles. I met a couple of men there and we talked turtles and trees for a bit. I took a walk in the woods along the river and then moved on to the canopy walk where I ended up meeting the same men. We sat and talked for a while. It turns out they're a couple but I didn't think anything of it until a few minutes later.
There were two 20-something women there, too. A little while later after saying good-bye to the men, I was talking with the women as we walked along the nature trail and soon realized they were a couple as well. What were the odds that the first four people I talked with in the park would be homosexual? I might not have even thought about it at all except I'm traveling in Florida with no statewide recognition of any sort of same sex union, just after Obama came out in support of gay marriage. There has been a lot of talk about that and how it will or won't affect this next election.
I met a couple of rangers: one with a weed-whacker; one with a sprayer. Surprised to see the chemical sprayer, it made sense when I found they were out battling invasive species. They were also able to confirm the extent of the feral pig damage I was seeing. It was extensive. What I had seen was rather alarming and they alluded to the fact that it was even worse in other areas of the park.
I made my way to the concessionaire where I sat to eat lunch while enjoying an expansive view of the lake. An enterprising crow and pair of squirrels also enjoy the deck. They eat any crumbs left behind by the others who lunch on the deck and even go so far as to beg from those eating there, too.
While sitting there, I managed to keep a boy out of trouble. He sat down on a table to wait for his parents in the store and then left without his binoculars. I didn't realize right away, thinking they might be grabbing food inside and returning to the table having used the binoculars to reserve the table but I didn't see the boy inside the store. I caught him in the parking lot and he was able to retrieve the binoculars. No harm, no foul. I stopped at the old shop and talk with a woman who works there. We were looking out over the nearby pond when some ducks landed. I didn't recognize them immediately. Turns out they are Texas Whistling Ducks. They’re pretty birds and well outside their normal territory.
I went back to the entrance to grab a backcountry permit to camp at the Mossy Hammock campsite and then made my way to the northern part of the park. It was still too early to head out to the campsite so I took a walk out onto the Birdwalk, a long boardwalk extending into the lake. The view of the birds was good from there and among other birds, I was treated to the sight of a sandhill crane with two chicks. Sandhill Crane chicks are large but they look funny when such big birds are still downy. More birds other than the usual egrets and herons and pelicans: Lesser Yellowlegs, turkeys, and lots of Mottled (Florida) Ducks.
I ate dinner at the northern picnic area, watching a limpkin also forage for food. Then I parked and made my way into my campsite. The trail was horribly destroyed by the pigs. I've never seen such extensive damage before. I had been warned not to try to go in at night. Now I know why. For a Florida trail, it's dangerous. For the types of footbeds I'm used to in the Whites, it wouldn't be so bad.
I first heard and then caught a glimpse of one of the culprits. Thankfully, the pig was going the "other" way. Moving on, I found an armadillo. I know to those who live in the south, they are a dime a dozen, but to me, they are still rather cute. And finally, I caught a glimpse of a raccoon that saw me before I saw it and was hightailing it back into the scrub.
The trail map I had been given left a lot to be desired. There were more trails and trail junctions on the ground than on the map and there weren't enough details to figure out which way to go at junctions. I finally gave up and was about to just camp in any one of the suitable areas I had already seen when I met a couple out for an evening hike. Turned out Caitlin and Mike were locals and knew the area well. They were headed in the direction of the Mossy Hammock campsites so walked with me and showed me the way. There was nothing difficult about it once you knew which turns to take so I knew I could get out easily in the morning. I just wish the trail map showed the trail junctions.
Sunset was coming fast so we cut our conversation short so they could get out before having to use their headlamps.
The campsites were large and nice, with fire rings and poles to hang gear. I set up my tent quickly, took a few shots of the setting sun, and crawled in just in time. No sooner had I crawled in than mosquitoes found the tent. It was early to be in the tent but I just spent time writing and reading before calling it an early night. There was a lot of noise nearby and I'm assuming it was mostly the pigs digging around and causing more damage. Something was whistling. Do pigs whistle? Something else?
Wednesday, May 23, 2012: Mossy Hammock Campsite, Myakka River State Park to Sarasota
No mosquitoes when I got up this morning. That made packing up a lot more pleasant than I had feared. I was cold last night. Pants, fleece jacket, and sheet weren't enough when camping though that was usually enough in the car. I'll keep that in mind for future camping opportunities.
Shortly after 7am, I was on my way out and I got back to my car by 7:30 or 7:45.
Back to the Birdwalk, I found Roseate Spoonbills including two juveniles so pale they were hard to find among the white pelicans. Egrets, Herons, yellowlegs, sandhill cranes with chicks, otter, two pigs, ducks, turkey. On a trail near the concession area, I ran into a small group of travel writers getting a tour. They had two rangers, one with a scope to lead this small group. I helped ID some birds and mentioned the ones I had seen at the birdwalk. The ended up changing their plans to go there instead of the canopy walk.
They were occupied at one point, looking for a limpkin well hidden in a tree when I went ahead. I was treated to two sandhill cranes mating while the group still looked for the limpkin. It was interesting to see such a large bird carefully mount and balance on another for its copulation period, as short as that was.
I ran into someone from the Friendship Force group again. The main group was on an airboat tour but she had declined so we chatted for a while.
As I was driving though the park, I heard about some happening at Tampa's McDill Air Force base. It turns out an international group of Special Operations forces were putting on a demonstration today at 1pm. Tampa, being only an hour away, quickly replaced my plans to spend another full day at the Park. I had breakfast on the deck overlooking the lake. It really is a nice place to hang out. There's shade, a great view, and a breeze.
I was leaving the park by 11 and soon driving north. With construction, it took a little longer than expected but I was pulling into a parking spot by 12:30, just a block from a good viewing area where a lot of people had already gathered. It seemed the parking spot was too good to be true so I just chalked it up to my good parking karma and walked over the area where I would get a good view. I was just finishing lunch when the first action started. Perfect timing.
First, an Osprey in forward flight mode came up the channel, swept past the official crowd on the other side of the Convention Center, and flew off almost directly overhead of where I was standing. This was to set the tone for the full half hour.
A few minutes later, the same craft, in hover/helicopter mode, followed the same path. The gathered crowd was then treated to Chinook helicopters dropping rafts and crew into the water, lowering personnel on cables to landing sites, picking up personnel from the water with ladders, performing a mock hostage rescue with the Tampa mayor playing the role of hostage, and some troops parachuting into the water and being picked up from there. It only took 30-minutes for the entire show but it was one thing after another with very little down time in between. Almost every aircraft that came down the channel left by swinging around near where I was standing so I got great views of everything. I was glad to have my binoculars as the main action was on the far side of the water by the Convention Center. Some of my pictures of the helicopters flying overhead came out great.
I was exhausted by the time it was over. I stopped at a McDonald's on the way back to the highway for a break. Then back to Siesta Key for some more kite flying with Hans and Eva. It wasn't good flying for me again but I find I enjoy talking with Eva just as much as flying my kite.
For those unfamiliar with stunt kite flying, it's not necessarily a high energy sport. Unlike single string kites, there's not a great deal of running involved. To launch, you just pull back on both kite strings. Sometimes you have to take a step or two back, or forward, but that's about it. The most exercise is usually the setup. My kite strings are 80' long so I have to walk that distance from where I place my kite to letting out my kite strings before launching. Then sometimes if I crash and have to setup for launch again, I'll walk back and forth.
Also unlike a single string kite, you can never stop controlling a stunt kite. If you don't actively fly it, it will crash.
Thursday, May 24, 2012: Sarasota
I spent the morning in the library. Then in the afternoon, I picked up some mail at a local post office sent to me c/o General Delivery. It was obvious at the Post Office that they only rarely get General Delivery mail. ("Oh, was that THE General Delivery letter?" one employee asked another.) I stopped for a shake at Steak and Shake. They still have the happy hour, half price beverages deal that they had last year.
Then I drove Longboat Key and took a shower at Lido Beach. Sketchy kite flying at Siesta Key with light and variable winds had Hans letting me use one of his kites. I could definitely see the difference the larger kite area gave but without the kite handling skills Hans has, I was too nervous flying one of his kites to enjoy it. I gave up quickly and talked with Eva. That didn't last too long either. A thunderstorm was moving in and neither of us had any desire to do a Ben Franklin.
Friday, May 25, 2012: Sarasota
I spent the morning at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. They are known as having the world’s leading collection of epiphytes and as having one of the world’s greatest collection of orchids, many of which are also epiphytes. They are a research and educational institution so while they have a very large collection available for the public to see, they also have a large collection the public does not have access to.
Having been to the Singapore Botanic (sic) Gardens, a short comparison would have Singapore having a much large collection of orchids available for public viewing, along with a greater collection of hybrids which is not a focus of Selby.
I got splashed by the Mottled Ducks taking bird baths in the gardens small pond and marveled at the sizes shapes, and variety of the plants at the gardens.
I drove back to Spanish Point thinking I could pick up my membership materials and read on the porch only to find it closed. Sigh.
There was excellent kite flying for me today. I got there early and flew almost non-stop for an hour, with only four landings in that time. It was tiring and I was ready for a break when I noticed Hans flying down the beach. So, I stopped to talk with Eva for a while. My kite is smaller than many of Hans’ so I need more wind than many of Hans' but with 16 kites here, Hans always has something to fly including a four string which flies with as little wind as a butterfly’s sneeze. At home, Hans apparently has hundreds of kites. He has been encouraged to participate in competition but never has.
Saturday, May 26, 2012: Sarasota
Last night there was a bit of the telltale signs of a fire in the distance. I-4 had been closed in Orlando due to heavy smoke yesterday. This morning, I woke to heavy smoke and lots of smog. I didn't even want to open my car windows. I wasn't sure the smoke was from Orlando and I had seen a small fire closer to town yesterday, but nobody else had heard of any more local fires. So, I'm pretty sure the smoke came from the Orlando fire, about 120 miles away. In any case, the smoke didn't keep me from going for a long swim in calm waters off Lido beach this morning before grabbing a shower.
I spent most of the day at the Mote Aquarium. The touch tanks, mostly designed for kids were interesting for adults, too. Plus I was there early enough before they were overrun with the kids so I could ask a few questions of the volunteer monitoring the tanks. The rays, in their own round tank, were incredibly soft and smooth and seemed to enjoy being handled. They had plenty of room to avoid outstretched arms but often chose to come close and would often turn toward you when you put your hand in the water. In the other tank, the sea cucumbers felt like rubber and the one large whelk type animal that moved surprisingly fast was amenable to crawling over the two fingers I put on the bottom of the tank. I was surprised how heavy it felt even underwater.
There was a shark tank that also had barracuda, and a variety of other fish. Indoors, there were smaller tanks with a variety of displays including one of a dead giant squid. Across the road was the facility to house the turtles, manatees, and spotted dolphin, the only spotted dolphin in captivity in the US and one of only two in the world. These are deep sea dolphins but this one had beached itself and was found with a severe sunburn. After it had been nursed back to health, it was found to have a liver problem and deemed unfit for release. So, it has a large tank all to itself and does enrichment activities with its human handlers a number of times throughout the day.
Like the turtles and manatee, only those deemed unable to survive on their own in the wild are kept in captivity.
Kite flying was bad today so I talked with Eva. We were both surprised to see the drum circle in full swing today. It's supposed to be a Sunday institution but maybe during the holiday weekend, they’re having an extra one.
Sunday, May 27, 2012: Sarasota
I got to the South Florida Museum at 10am knowing that's when most museums open but on Sunday, this museum doesn't open until noon. Oh well. I ended up finding a McDonald's to get online for a while.
Back at the museum, I found there were a few planetarium shows to attend, manatee feedings to observe, and a small museum to peruse. It turns out there's a whole gallery of Clyde Butcher's photography here. I've seen most of the prints at his other studios but perused the gallery anyway. His stuff is worth an extra look or three. The presenter at the planetarium, Howard, was interesting to talk with. He clued me in to the transit of Venus that will happen on June 5th.
Snooty, the resident manatee is 63-years-old and the oldest known manatee ever. It was born in captivity and has never lived in the wild so its age is well documented. The average age manatees live in the wild is five. There are so many threats to their survival now, mostly in the form of boaters. It's rare to see a manatee without scars. It's thought that before human pressures, wild manatees lived to their 40s on average.
While Snooty can never be released back to the wild, the two other manatees in the tank will be. They were rescued and rehabilitated elsewhere and are here to finish their convalescence. It turns out the facilities at the museum aren't all that good for treating manatees but for those that just need to grow up a bit or need a bit more time without a lot of medical attention before release, the museum is a good place for them to be. Plus it frees up space at other institutions for rescues in need of more attention.
I stayed until closing, having gone to three planetarium shows (all different), talked with Howard for perhaps an extra half hour or more outside of the planetarium side, seen Snooty eating lunch, and perused the museum, finding at least one error in the Clyde Butcher Gallery (an unfinished sentence).
There was great kite flying today though with very strong winds so I got quite the upper body workout. I was a bit shocked when a wedding party asked it I could stop flying for a while. They chose to have their wedding on a public beach, on one of the busiest holiday weekends and expect others to stop what they're doing on a public beach? What were they thinking? Or perhaps, they weren't thinking. I moved down the beach a bit and kept flying. I've been here for over a week already, seen plenty of weddings on the beach, and have never been asked to stop flying. I checked with Eva and Hans and they were just as flabbergasted, having never heard of anyone being asked to stop or move for such a reason. I was flying my kite before the set up. Why didn’t they set up somewhere else? Oh well.
The wedding folks did their thing and then packed up and left. I continued flying for a little while longer. My flying came to an abrupt end when my left kite string gave way. All of a sudden, I only had one string to manage the kite in very strong winds. The kite immediately started spinning out of control. The wind was so strong there was nothing I could do to land the kite. Idiots on the beach just beyond my kite stopped to watch the spinning kite, ignoring my pleas for them to move out of danger’s way. I was concerned my other kite string would give way. I tried to move to one side or the other, but there were too many people around. The wind was blowing too fast for me to run forward to try to get it to fall to the ground. The only thing I could do was reel in the remaining kite string under heavy pressure. I finally reached the kite and the only harm done was to my overworked adrenal system.
Surprisingly, my kite string hadn't broken. Apparently, after nine years, the knot holding it onto my handle came undone. I retied it, wrapped it up, and rewrapped the other string so it wouldn't be stretched so tight.
Monday, May 28, 2012: Sarasota to St. Petersburg
I started the day at Lido beach, hoping for a repeat of the nice swim I had a couple of days ago. No such luck. Strong easterly wind, probably on the outer bands of Tropical Storm Beryl off the Florida and Georgia coasts, generated huge waves. I went in anyway but only for a few minutes and then grabbed a shower before heading north.
As I left Longboat Key, I saw the sign for G.WIZ, the Gulfcoast Wonder and Imagination Zone, a mostly hands on science and technology museum for kids of all ages to play and learn. It's the kind of place I would love to bring my niece and nephew. I took a quick perusal around but found I was all "museumed" out for the time being.
I stopped at the kite store I had seen north of town but found they just had a few kites and no kite expertise in the store. It was more a kayak and kite surf shop than stunt kite shop.
Then a quick treat as I was passing near a Steak and Shake during their half price happy hour.
In St. Petersburg, I went to the pier for their annual Sunday of Memorial Day weekend Salsa Festival. This wasn't chips and dip festival, this was dancing from 4:30pm to 9pm. There was lots of salsa, pachanga, merengue, cha cha and more. I mostly watched but got up for a few dances. As often seems to happen with me, when I dance with a new crowd, I always seem to find instructors to dance with. Three of the people I danced with ended up being instructors tonight, too.
I took a break every now and then to get into the breeze at the end of the pier and got treated to some frolicking dolphins at one point.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012: St. Petersburg
I spent another day at the library. I was tired after yesterday and a day of doing nothing is what I needed. On the road, the easiest place to do nothing is in the library. The library west of town associated with a local college that opens at 7:30am and stays open until 9pm. That was perfect for me.
I took a break at lunch and when I returned, the new power adapter that I just got last month did something funky and I got an error message to the effect that my computer didn't recognize the adapter. But it seemed to power the computer but only when I had a battery installed. Anyway, I checked my Amazon account and I had two days to return it. So, with the help of the folks at Amazon, I was able to get a return authorization, and after a few phone calls to get potential addresses where I could have a new one mailed, I ordered another one. For some reason, I couldn't just exchange the one I had.
The library printers were having problems but they allowed me to use the staff printer so I could print the return authorization. It's amazing how helpful everyone at both Amazon and the library have been. Amazon is even overnighting the adapter so I'll be able to get it at my friend's house on Friday and they're not charging me for shipping on the new one so that I don't have to bring my order up to $25 - again. I'll hit the UPS store in the morning after one last gasp at using this adapter.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012: St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs
My early morning library visit went a lot longer than expected but I still got to the UPS store by 11am or so.
I drove up the beach to Clearwater and then inland to the Moccasin Lake Nature Center. The folks here were friendly but seemed to know less about their wildlife charges and less inclined to share what they do know than most staff at other such facilities. I perused the indoor displays and saw a poster with a picture of a snake like animal called a caecillian that looked like the dead snake I found on Wagonwheel Road in Big Cypress. But google research shows there are none living in North America. So I’m back to square one trying to ID that animal.
The shell pathway, very much the standard footbed material in Florida, looked like it was new, with many shiny and uncrushed shells. The interpretive displays looked the same and gave very much the same information as the others I've seen in Florida. Some of the information is beginning to sink in but a lot just continues to slide right past me without me learning more. They do a bit of rehabilitation here but most of the caged wildlife here are deemed unfit for release.
It was interesting to watch one captive Fish Crow after it was given its evening meal. It ate a couple of pieces itself and then took some and started feeding a wild crow that came to visit. Apparently the keepers never know what they'll find in the cage. The crow's "friends" sometimes reciprocate and bring the captive crow gifts. The keepers never know what they'll have to clean out of the cage, and they certainly know it's a lot more than one bird’s worth of scat that has to get cleaned up.
Moving on to Tarpon Springs, this town is known for its historic role in sponge diving. They have a statue of a sponge diver on the docks reminiscent of the Fisherman in Gloucester, MA. Both honor those that lost their lives while working in their ocean-based industry.
Historically, the sponge diver industry here in Tarpon Springs was dominated by Greek men. When the industry started, they were the only ones, brought in from Europe, who could or would do the job. The town is still dominated by Greek culture with about 25% of the town being of Greek heritage.
With Greek culture dominating the tourist trade, the restaurants in town are primarily Greek. This is one time when it's frustrating to travel alone. I would have liked to sample more of the food here, but since I really wanted some Taramosalata, a Greek dip or spread of fish roe, potato, olive oil, vinegar, and lemon, I ordered that and made it a meal. I even had leftovers. Then I got some Galaktoboureko for desert. This is layers of Philo dough with egg custard/cheese filling and honey. Delicious.
There were plenty of sponge diving boats along the dock but only one with a sponge diver, Larry, on board. I stopped to talk with him a bit. He had harvested four different types of sponges. He seems like quite the character, with long, scraggly gray-streaked hair in a pony tail, a toothy grin, missing quite a few teeth, and a Canada Goose t-shirt.
Thursday, May 31, 2012: Tarpon Springs to Weeki Wachee
I went back to Dodecanese Road for a Double Chocolate Kok (kok means round in Greek) for breakfast. It was two round layers of chocolate cake layered with chocolate mousse, and enrobed in chocolate and sprinkles with curls of marbled white and milk chocolate. Delicious.
There was activity at Larry's boat again. This time, he and his partner, Matt, were sorting their take from the day before. Only wool sponges are sorted by size. They are the more valuable than the others.
I took coastal roads north from Tarpon Springs and found the Linda Pedersen Park at Jenkins Creek (formerly Hernando Beach). There are ponds and a swimming area (swim at your own risk? alligators?), a tower to get a birds eye view of the area, and some bird life.
There were two Muscovy Ducks hanging around. I can't figure out if they are pretty or ugly. I'm leaning towards ugly. I took pictures anyway. Then there were two Sandhill cranes hanging around the picnic area. They not only tolerated my presence but often came towards me and were very close to me at times. At one point, I thought one way aiming at my toes. I got a little nervous so moved my feet and it still seemed focused on the same area. A few seconds later, it grabbed a grasshopper than must have been right next to my sandal. I don't know about other birds, but the nostril holes on Sandhill Cranes go straight through their beaks. I could see the picnic area when looking through their beaks.
Weeki Wachee sounds like a curious name but the State Park there seems more like an amusement park with kitschy entertainment than a natural attraction. I think they have performing "mermaids" and I don't mean the manatee that were once though to be mermaids. The natural springs there just don't sound all that natural any longer.
The nearby library was closed so I went to another only to find it was a Little Red Schoolhouse that had been converted into a library but is now a used bookseller for the local library system. There were no library services there any longer. They pointed me to another library a few miles down the road. I pulled out my old adapter knowing that it might be difficult but I could usually manipulate the cord and it would eventually connect. This time, it took a while, but I realized that while my computer indicated that my battery was charging, it was actually draining the battery and not getting any power through the adapter. I put the computer away, knowing I only had about an hour's worth of battery time left, and read for the rest of the day.
If the problem happens to be with my computer, then after using that last hour of battery time, I may just be traveling with a laptop shaped brick in my car.
Friday, June 1, 2012: Weeki Wachee to Homossasa
I woke up at 4:30 when huge gust of wind shook the car. That was the prelude to a storm and just seconds later, a torrential downpour began. The wind calmed immediately with the rain and I was able to go back to sleep to the sound of the heavy but steady rain on my car.
I finally got up at around 6:30 and managed to get in and out of Walmart between showers. I drove back to the nearby schoolhouse area to have breakfast in a nice park-like setting. There were more torrential downpours as I ate.
When the downpours stopped, I moved on and found the trailhead for the Weekiwachee Preserve. There was another birder there heading into the preserve. Inspired, I gave the ominous clouds a quick glance, grabbed my rain jacket and headed in after him. I could hear a lot of birds and occasionally got a glimpse of a little birds flying from tree to tree but never really got my eyes on anything but a Carolina Chickadee. A rumble of thunder and the other birder who I had almost caught up with and I both looked skyward. He was ahead of me by just a little bit so I waited and we walked back to the cars together. One minute earlier and we would have stayed dry. Instead, we both got drenched as the next downpour let loose on us.
I sat in my car, updating my journal until the rain let up and then continued. I went back to the Linda Pedersen Park and was amused by the soggy mohawk the Muscovy Duck was sporting today. No Sandhill Cranes today so with the rain, I called my friend in Homossasa and was soon on my way there. The Old Ridge Runner, Smith, and his wife Jan live in Homossasa.
Saturday, June 2, 2012: Homossasa
Kept busy this morning at the Flea Market with $2 Ben and Jerry's (but we left that behind as we weren't going back to the house), and plenty of interesting characters trying to earn a buck whether selling vegetables, guns, books, plants, costume jewelry, lawn mower blades, or more.
Moving on, we stopped at the Sugar Mill Ruins. Sugar cane used to be grown here and they would bring the cane here to be pressed, boiled, reduced, cooled, and packed as cakes for transport.
We then perused the river area and stopped at the Printing Museum. It was a small museum of items collected as a labor of love. The printing items here are kept in working order and students from nearby schools and colleges come here to learn about printing. I even recognized a typesetter's tray like I used in middle school when I took a printing class.
When the proprietor of the museum and associated cafe noticed me looking at a poster for a free Blues concert in Inverness that night, he gave me a CD. It turns out it's his group performing in Inverness.
Stopped at the store and picked up some fried chicken for lunch. Spent the afternoon installing AVG and Malwarebytes on Smith's computer. Lots of problems there but the software should and did help.
Sunday, June 3, 2012: Homossasa
I spent the morning transcribing my journal with the backdrop of never ending sports TV. Smith and especially Jan are big sports fans. So, I heard the one of the primary contenders in the French Open was knocked out of the running and Tiger Woods won his first tournament in the years since his personal troubles began.
I took a break to go to Dames Cave with Smith. The walk there was nice though I got bitten by a couple of deer flies. I hadn't thought to bring my insect repellent though I'm not sure that works against deer flies. Once at the caves, it was interesting to crawl down into the largest and walk the outer perimeter of the others. We set off to find one other smaller cave and I was beset by deer flies. I don't think Smith realized how bad it was until I insisted we start back. At one point, I went ahead and Smith finally saw that there were times when I had multiple flies on me at once. I saw three on the front of my legs once while Smith was telling me about some on the backs of my legs. For some reason, they didn't bother him at all.
Not realizing what was happening, I was slapping at these flies until we got back to the trail out of the area and then they subsided a bit. I was bloody from the bites and in pain from them as well. It was only in the car that I realize things were a bit worse than I had expected while walking out. I had at least twenty bites and in my frenzy to try to keep them from biting, I slapped myself so hard and so many times that I literally bruised myself.
I ended up with a huge black and blue lump on the inside of my left thigh and a hand-sized lighter bruise on the outside of my left calf. There is also one small bruise on my other calf but it's inconsequential given the size of the others. It looks like I've been beaten. And I have. But it's all self-flagellation, albeit unintended.
The big trick now is to avoid scratching at the bites.
We enjoyed Chinese take-out for dinner and then watched non-sports TV including Criminal Minds, Glades, and Longmire.
Monday, June 4, 2012: Homossasa to Bushnell
Oh, my bites are ITCHY today. Argh! I don't dare take anti-histamines until ready to go to sleep. Argh! They're painful, too, but not so bad that I want to take ibuprofen.
While transcribing more of my journal this morning, I found out that Homossasa is where Florida's migratory flock of Whooping Cranes spends the winter. But they're long gone to their summer grounds already this year. But, there's a non-migratory flock that lives in Florida and it'll be near where I'm going to be in the next week or so. I'll be keeping a look-out for them.
After leftovers for lunch, it was time to hit the road again.
I drove to Bushnell and visited the Dade Battlefield Historical State Park. It was interesting to see a site where the Indians actually ambushed and won against a group of US armed forces thus starting the Second Seminole War.
I stopped in the library and then found my way to the local sports complex. It was huge and reminded me of the sites I was finding in the US southwest. There were many baseball fields, all (or most) of which were well lit for night games. There were also soccer fields, basketball courts, and a skateboard park. There was not however, a rodeo arena. Surrounding this all is a one mile long walking (and running?) path. After I ate supper, I took a very nice walk around the perimeter and then went to watch the skateboarders. I find them much more interesting to watch than the team sports.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012: Bushnell to Orlando
I brought breakfast back to the park and took a walk after eating. I was considering walking the trail twice but a pair of Texas Whistling Ducks near the parking lot caught my eye and interrupted me.
Moving on, I got to the area near Orlando and stopped to get online at the library only to find they charge $10 for a seven day pass. No options for those of us who only want a few minutes. So, I went to the local McDonald's. They had power but it was in the ceiling so I climbed the chair to plug in.
Moving on, I grabbed lunch and then visited Trotters Park, another extensive sports complex and Fairview Lake Park, mostly a put-in for the lake. I hung out there for a while until a thunder got me moving. So I made my way to my next host's place.
Ira and Marion, parents of a friend from college, offered to put me up when they found out I was traveling around Florida.
I got to their house just as Ira was getting home and made it inside with him just as the first few raindrops fell. It was only minutes before a torrential downpour let loose. I had better timing today.
We mostly spent the rest of the day catching up while the rain went from light to heavy and back, only occasionally letting up all together. Our goal for the evening was to attend a Transit of Venus party but the clouds were heavy enough that we didn't even try to go. Not only that, but another thunderstorm moved in and it started to rain even before sunset. So, we watched online from home, finding coverage from NASA and other interesting sources.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012: Orlando
Thursday, June 7, 2012: Orlando to Sebring
I finally bought a new Light My Fire spork today. There was a Dick's Sporting Goods on my way out of town so it was easy to stop and pick one up. It was yet another rainy day. This isn't typical Florida summer rains where it rains every day for an hour or so in the afternoon. These last few days have had many hours of rain.
Today, I had on and off showers all the way to Sebring. It slowed me down a bit but I still made time. The roads were slick though and on a 60mph road with stoplights, that meant for a couple of interesting lights. I slipped to a stop at one and at another, I decided I had better just go right through. It was "orange." Oops! Part of the problem is that I was going slow. So the light cycles were timed for faster drivers and if I had been going 60, I would have made it through that other light with time to spare. Oh well.
I made it to Sebring in time for lunch. Marilyn was busy so it was just Sherman and me. Then we went to a nice restaurant for a steak dinner. I took half mine home and was still stuffed with what I had eaten.
We watched War Horse. I'm not sure what it was rated, but it was well done and though it took place on battlefields, it left the gory parts to the imagination and I'm sure more kids were able to see it as a result. There were parts that were predictable but like the Titanic which sinks at the end, the outcome here is likewise predictable. Or maybe I thought so because I had heard an interview with one of the filmmakers on the radio a while back.
Friday, June 8, 2012: Sebring
We visited some other relatives today, Marlene and Murray, Sherman's brother and sister-in-law. I hadn't seen them since I was a kid but I always had fond memories of them. Murray was one adult who always had time for the kids even when the other adults weren't so inclined.
It wasn't an easy visit. They are getting on in years and dementia is an issue. I'm very glad I went though.
Afterward, we went to a local art gallery, then to an exhibit of Haitian Drapo, sequined temple flags. The flags were quite unusual and each was full of symbolism. We made it home before the rains came and it was a great day for another nap.
This is the worst weather I've had since leaving Boston. I just happened to have visits planned with people in their homes. It's a good time to have a lot of rain.
Saturday, June 9, 2012: Sebring to Okochobee
I intended to spend time at the library but since I didn't have that much to do and they charged as well, I got the information I needed from the wifi available in the Lowe's parking lot before moving on. I was much earlier than expected and arrived at the site for which I had a permit to camp for tonight by lunch time. I went to take a look and it was a very nice facility for those with horses but I didn't want to kill the rest of the day there. I did note a badly spelled sign along the Florida Trail that runs through the area. Bridge has a "d" in it, after all.
Moving on, I kept stopping at all the boat ramps and trailheads along route 98. The Florida Trail parallels the road for a good portion of the way north from Lake Okochobee.
I killed time at the library downloading pictures but not getting online. I had dinner in the library parking lot when I left. It poured and I had no reason to get on the road. After dinner, I went to Wendy's for a Frosty and to get online. Walmart for the night. The campsite would have been a nicer place to spend the night but it was back too far to bother. I went to sleep very early knowing I wanted to get up early the next morning.
Sunday, June 10, 2012: Okochobee to rest stop on the Florida Turnpike
This is one of the few times I set my alarm. I got up at 5:00am in the hopes of getting to my destination by sunrise or not much later. With stops in Walmart and then at a gas station, I got on the road by 5:30 or so and headed north. The going was slow though. I was traveling past fields and with all the rain we had been having, they were very wet so the fog was thick along the roads. Other cars may have been willing to go the 60mph speed limit but I slowed down, not knowing the road.
It was after 7am when I got to the boat ramp on Lake Kissimmee having already seen a raccoon and a dead hog. With all the sod farms in the area, someone probably swerved to hit the hog. Judging from all the damage I've seen the hogs do to the wild lands I've visited, I can only imagine what they do to sod farms.
The boat ramp area at the Lake is known for the bird life. With the highest concentration of Bald Eagles in the lower 48 centered in the area, I was almost guaranteed to see some and was not disappointed. I saw three adults and one juvenile. The rest of my bird list for the morning was long* but didn't include anything new.
I spent the morning here and then moved on to the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area. Along the way, I was really hoping to see Whooping Cranes in the fields adjacent to the road but while I did see quite a few Sandhill Cranes, and there were fields where it seemed almost every cow or steer was assigned a Cattle Egret (most had one, some had none or two), I saw none of the Whooping Cranes. They were known to hang out there at times but you just can't rely on that.
At Three Lakes, I quickly realized exactly where to look for the Red Cockaded Woodpeckers. The trees with their holes are well marked with white band painted around the trunk. But the birds are best spotted at dawn and dusk. So, I did the 10-mile drive with the interpretive displays and associated pamphlet then found a shady place park for a while. It was at the group campsite. I was killing time, reading the in-depth flyer about the woodpeckers when I looked up to see a deer cross the road in front of me. It looked at me or rather the car but wasn't alarmed and kept going.
A little while later, at about 4:30, I looked up again to see something else cross the road. I couldn't believe it. It was a cat. It stopped while still in the road, sat down, scratched, and then got up and left showing me its distinctive bobbed tail. For the second time in my life, I got to see a bobcat. Woohoo! At this point, even if I got to see none of the three endangered or threatened birds I was hoping to see in this area, the day would be worthwhile. I waited a few minutes and then went to where I had seen the bobcat. I was hoping to get pictures of its footprints but the road was too hard and when circling around where it had to have gone, it apparently kept to grass or hard surfaces. There were plenty of deer tracks but none of the cat.
As a matter of fact, a deer, possibly the one I had seen earlier, started snorting when I was looking for the cat tracks and it eventually spooked and ran, jumping, across the road again. For all I know, it was the bobcat that spooked it though I suspect the bobcat was long gone. Besides, bobcats go after smaller prey.
I spent some time at the Sunset Ridge portion of this WMA and walked the 2.6 mile trail to an overlook over Lake Marion. Near the blind near the trailhead, I saw a turkey. As I was approaching the lake, I looked up and saw a Great Blue Heron fly overhead. Right about then, I think I spooked a Bald Eagle out of a nearby tree. Then as soon as I got to the lake, I looked out just in time to see an adult successfully grab a fish out of the lake. Then not more than a minute or two later, I watched a juvenile grab at a fish and miss once, twice, and then it just landed and floated on the water. A nearby adult swooped down as if to lend some encouragement (or to attack it) but the juvenile took off and they both flew off together. Once again, I got to see three adults and a juvenile. That makes eight Bald Eagles for the day. The thunder started right as I was the furthest I could get from the car. So, I beat a hasty retreat. I passed the pen where the non-migratory whooping cranes had been released years earlier. Many of the online sources I had read had put the release site at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve but those sources were wrong.
My next wildlife encounter was with a pair of Northern Bobwhites. They gave me a start that wasn't quite as adrenaline inducing as when Spruce Grouse rise up from underfoot but it was still somewhat like that.
Then, I scattered a flock of about eight young turkeys. At least I think they were turkeys. I never saw the adults which is unusual in my experience. This was probably a mile or more from where I had seen the adult turkey an hour earlier.
I got back to my car without getting wet so I went back to the portion of the Three Lakes WMA where I hoped to see the woodpeckers. I still watched for the Grasshopper Sparrows known to live in the area but didn't spot any. I saw another pair of Bobwhites and eventually made my way to pine forest where the Red Cockaded Woodpeckers roost. It's just past the time when the woodpeckers fledge but the family groups stay in the area for another month or two. The RCW cavity trees are marked with paint so I was hoping to see some around sunset when they are most active near their trees. Of course, a thunderstorm was moving in then so even though it hadn't started raining yet, visibility got bad quite early and I gave up at the point when I realized I wouldn't be able to see the birds well. Just as I left the area, I did see one bird, about the right size, flying by. It even had the distinctive woodpecker flight pattern but I couldn't make a positive ID.
All told, I added about four or five deer to the wildlife sightings for the day, too.
It still hadn't rained but the lightning show was beautiful and the thunder was nonstop. It seemed like it wanted to rain but didn't for the longest time. I stopped at a crossroads to figure out where to go for the evening and then hopped on the Florida Turnpike knowing there was a rest stop just a few miles down the road. It started raining after I got there. Perfect.
* Bird list
Monday, June 11, 2012: Rest Stop to Stuart
Driving south along South Ocean Drive, I ran into park after park and conservation area after conservation area. Many were "mitigation" sites but the signs didn't say for what. I also noticed a large number of roadside horns on towers. They type typical of tornado alley communities. They had signs indicating to tune to your local radio or TV station if they went off. I still wasn't sure what was going on. You don't need horns for hurricane zones.
After taking a walk at Bear Point and continuing south, the reason for the horns became apparent. There's a Florida Power and Light nuclear power plant on the island.
Moving on, I passed the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center. I stopped in to what appeared to be an educational facility but didn't pay the entrance fee. They have some indoor aquariums and a lagoon outside of their building.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012: Stuart to West Palm Beach
I ran across the Hobe Sound Nature Center this morning. The Center building has a few displays and a couple of owls that one of the employees has a permit for. They are rescues which cannot be released. As I arrived, some of the snakes were being removed from the displays temporarily. They were being brought to the kids who were there for the summer camp program. I took a walk with Pheobe, one of the mothers, on the trail they have there. We walked to the river bank and then back to the parking lot. She had once spent two years in Africa with the Peace Corps. It was interesting to hear about her experience.
Moving on, the Nature Conservancy's Blowing Rocks Preserve was a site I had missed last year. It was too low tide to see anything blowing but it was nice to be able to see the exposed Anastasia Limestone rocks and "caves" along the shore. Known elsewhere as coquina, I've seen smaller versions in other places. Having been told that the couple of hours before high tide were the best time to be there, I planned to come back later that afternoon.
I took a tour of the Jupiter Lighthouse. Being on an active US Coast Guard station, the only way to see the lighthouse was with a guide. Thankfully, we weren't hurried and had plenty of time to see the lighthouse, inside and out. I then took some time to visit the Museum.
Back at Blowing Rocks, it was a bit early and the tide wasn't all that strong but some of the rocks were blowing. The wave action through the holes that have been undercut send plumes of water high into the air at times. Unfortunately, the Preserve parking area closes early so I couldn't stay until high tide but I got a good idea of what could happen.
I stopped at McDonald's for dinner and for internet access. I went back to the bridges near the lighthouse thinking that the sunset would look nice on this red lighthouse but clouds in the western sky obscured the sun. They were the only clouds in the sky that night. Sigh.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012: West Palm Beach to Delray Beach
Back to the coast to drive south to Boynton Beach and then inland to Green Cay. Quite a number of people were there having struck out at Wakodahachee so I decided to skip Wakodahachee today and spend more time at Green Cay. In the afternoon, I went to Gumbo Limbo, yet another Nature Center. Each one seems to have their theme. This one was the coastal hammock. The boardwalk wound through the forest and had a tower so it was possible to see the canopy. They have fish tanks and I caught the afternoon feeding.
Thursday, June 14, 2012: Delray Beach to Ft. Lauderdale
Back to the beach to find wonderfully calm waters so I took a relatively long swim of about maybe half a mile. I showered and found a laundromat that happened to be a 24-hour place. The Publix here has a salad bar, probably the first one I've seen since I last went to this one over a month ago. It's a hot day and the first library I went to was closed but the second one I went to was not only open, but had covered parking.
I made it back to Dare's in time to hang out on the beach for a while and get to meet many of her family and friends. After moving to the pool area and then eventually into the apartment, we had pizza for dinner.
With all of Dare's family and friends in town for her wedding, I was staying at my aunt's place in nearby Fort Lauderdale. It was raining as I left Dare's so I stopped at the parking garage for Publix and got my stuff ready in the car where I could without getting rained upon.
Friday, June 15, 2012: Fort Lauderdale
I went with my aunt to her eye appointment so she wouldn't have to drive with her eyes dilated. The wait was incredibly long but the boredom was mitigated by the presence of at least five feral iguanas living just outside the office. Three were very large and two were smaller. They are invasive species here in Florida. Unfortunately, they are doing well and their territory is spreading north. Some of the occasional winter cold snaps seem to limit their northward expansion and they have been known to literally fall out of the trees when it gets too cold.
Smokey Bones for lunch was a treat. I had a salad with a loaded baked potato - loaded not only with sour cream and bacon, but with pulled pork and cheese, too. It was delicious.
Today's pre-wedding festivities were a cocktail reception on the 28th floor of Dare's building. The function room on the 28th floor has an expansive view from Fort Lauderdale to the south to well past Pompano Beach in the north. It also had great views of the lightning lighting up the sky on and off all evening.
Saturday, June 16, 2012: Fort Lauderdale
I spent a good bit of the day at the library today.
In the evening, Dare and Trent tied the knot on the beach. The blustery wind made my dress do a Marilyn Monroe on the pool deck but thankfully it was OK on the beach. The reception inside was very nice and it was great to see Dare and Trent as married couple.
Sunday, June 17, 2012: Fort Lauderdale
One final event for the wedding... The crowd gathered for dim sum at a Chinese restaurant half an hour west of town. By now, it felt like all the friends and family from far flung places had become good friends. And by far flung, I do mean far flung. There were people here from Australia, Indonesia, Colorado, Kansas City, my friends Ruth and Marc from Maclean, VA, and people I had met through Ruth and Dare when I was in Bangkok. I guess that's what happens when you work for the State Department.
Monday, June 18, 2012: Fort Lauderdale to Lake Park
Panera for breakfast with my aunt. Then back to her place to finish Letters to Juliet, a movie that I was watching at her place. I finally started moving on and moving north. I found the Hagen Ranch Library and spent the afternoon there. Then I went back to Green Cay to spend the early evening and was rewarded with a bunch of Roseate Spoonbills. Also saw baby limpkins. I stayed until closing, talking with the county parks ranger. My car was being sprayed by the water system as I left. I'm glad my windows were closed.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012: Lake Park to Viera
I got up early and made it back to Blowing Rocks for the high tide which occurred about when they opened at 9am. One of the locals was amazed. Apparently, the wave action was more typical of winter and was unusally high, the holes weren't blowing because the waves were splashing over all along the limestone formation. My camera was getting sprayed every time I tried to take a picture with the onshore breeze. The holes actually were blowing, they were just hard to see with the backdrop of waves crashing. The holes blow tens of feet high and today was no exception.
I took some time to get pictures from the steps leading down onto the beach and some of the blows were higher than I was standing on the boardwalk over the dunes. I only left when I ran out of space on my camera's memory cards.
I stopped at the Hobe Sound library to upload those pictures and clear off my memory cards.
Torrential downpours slowed me down as I drove through Stuart. I didn't mind though. My car needed a good rinsing after the spraying it got yesterday. Apparently, Green Cay uses the water from the wetland, a tertiary water treatment facility, to water with. Essentially relatively clean gray water, it still wasn't as clear as rain.
North of Fort Pierce, I went back to A1A having missed the coastal route through this stretch last year. I stopped at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. It was the first refuge in the NWR system, set aside at a time when lady's fashions dictated plumage that decimated the wading bird population.
I took a short walk along a boardwalk that commemorates the timeline of all the NWR sites. It leads to a tower that overlooks Pelican Island. I would have liked to go for a longer walk but it looked like it was going to pour.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012: Viera to Titusville
I got up early and still I wasn't the first to arrive at the Wetlands. This wetland area, like many of the others I've visited, is man made. It has four cells, with varying water levels. One had very little. One was a deeper lake, and the others were typically shallow and the type preferred by many wading birds. Unlike other wetlands, the road system through this wetland is designed for vehicular traffic and it is even suggested that when driving and using your vehicle as a mobile blind, the wildlife are less likely to be scared off. I did a combination of driving slowly and leaving my car and going on foot at times. There were times when I could get closer with my car but also times when I was glad to have a little elevation. Plus, I visited the towers in the area and drove around the area with the rookery.
I went for an hour or two and stayed for four hours, only leaving when it started raining. I know they close the roads to vehicles if they get too muddy and I didn't want to be the one to wreck the roads. Plus, you can't see the birds very well when it's raining.
Another McDonald's stop to deal with recharging laptop, camera, and cell phone batteries as well as uploading my pictures to my computer. It had stopped raining when I continued my trip up A1A stopping just long enough to shower at a beachside shower opposite Patrick Air Force Base. I finished just as it started raining - again. That's OK, I really needed the shower, whether natural or otherwise, after yesterday's visit to Blowing Rocks. I had been feeling rather salt-encrusted and really needed to get the salt out of my hair and off my skin. It felt good to be clean afterward.
It was still rainy when I got to Walmart so cool enough to take a nap in my car before meeting Sandy and John. I hadn't seen Sandy since last year when I visited her in Ocala. She, a prolific author of guidebooks among other types, had marked up a map of Florida for me so I would have good ideas for places to go and things to see. Her suggestions were right on the mark and I had enjoyed my trip last year and again this year as a result. Even when I had stopped looking at the map, I often ended up in the places she had marked anyway.
This year, she and John had just gotten back from hiking a long section of the Appalachian Trail. It was good to see them again and compare some trail stories and Florida stories. We had dinner at Corky Bells Seafood Restaurant. We had a terrible waiter but the food was pretty good. I would go back if I were looking for seafood.
Thursday, June 21, 2012: Titusville to West Melbourne
Well, I went backwards today.
After spending the morning at the library, I went for an oil change only to find out I need two tires and an alignment. Having already had an alignment this year and only having 20-25,000 miles on my tires, I was surprised. So I backtracked to W. Melbourne where I could go to the nearest Meineke in the morning. My last alignment was at a Meineke so I was hoping for some help from them.
Friday, June 22, 2012: W. Melbourne to Rest Stop south of St. Augustine
The shop called back and forth to my old Meineke shop as well as a nearby tire shop. I ended up with front brake pads, two new tires, and no new alignment. It turns out my car probably wouldn't take the alignment as the frame is rusted. I'll limp back to Boston, probably sticking to slower roads, all the while keeping my AAA card handy.
Saturday, June 23, 2012: Rest Stop south of St. Augustine to St. Augustine
The local library wasn't open early in the morning but they had a bench near a working power outlet and their wifi was working just fine. So I spent an hour or so there before moving on to Fort Matanzas. At the Fort, I took in the Scat and Tracks talk. As it was just me, it was an informal presentation by the Ranger. I did pretty well identifying both the scat and tracks though it helped to have a finite list to match with. While I speculate when in the woods, I'm not sure my record would be as good there.
I took another trip to the Fort on the free ferry they have to cross the river. It was a gray day and I wasn't nearly as inclined to take pictures like I had last year.
Returning, I didn't dawdle all that much and made my way north, running a few errands, and then going to Fort Mose in time for a reenactment they were having. As I parked the car, I heard a metallic thud. I was already going very slowly so I just stopped and found my muffler dragging. Argh! I don't need more car repairs. And I didn't want to think about it right away. So I just finished parking and went to the reenactment leaving the muffler for later.
The reenactment was rather lame but they did what they could given the space available. It tells the story of the local Yemassee Indians and Spaniards winning a battle over the British and Scottish Highlanders along with Creek and Cherokee Indians at Fort Mose.
I would have liked to stick around and talk with some of the reenactors but my mind was on my car, more than local history. Back at the car, once I was able to lie down on the ground by the rear end of the car, I was able to see the damage. The pipe leading to the muffler had rusted and the front of the muffler was dragging on the ground. The back end with the tailpipe was still attached. I was able to maneuver the muffler off the hook and it was undamaged. I'm not sure if it's any good but I put it in a plastic bag and stowed it in my car.
I was surprised that during the entire time I was lying on the ground near my car, not one person asked what the problem was or if they could help. I'm one of those people that usually does stop and ask if there's anything I can do. Often there's not but I know it's still nice to be asked.
Yesterday, I hadn't been gone from the shop long when I realized my car sounded a bit loud. I had had a flex pipe installed earlier in the year so just thought that the weld may have been failing. Now I know it wasn't that at all. This failure was much further back in the car.
After yesterday's repairs, this was rather disheartening and not something I could deal with today. So I drove downtown, found a place to park, and started wandering around. I went to the pedestrian zone but couldn't deal with it. I did force myself to take the long way back to my car and I'm very glad I did. As I passed the big catholic church, I noticed a sign. There was to be a free classical concert that night sponsored by the St. Augustine Music Festival. I had a couple of hours to kill beforehand so I went back to my car, had dinner, and then took my book to the church.
The group was already practicing and they were very good. When I got the program, I realized these weren’t just local musicians, but a group from all over brought together to perform for this series.
The concert was two hours long including a 15-minute intermission. It was fantastic.
The program for the evening:
“Grace and Beauty” Saturday, June 23, 7:30 p.m.
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968)
Francois de Fossa (1775-1849)
Antonin Dvorak (1882-1949)
Sunday, June 24, 2012: St. Augustine
I got up early and tried to catch sunrise from the bridge to get it shining on the Castillo. I made it to the bridge for sunrise but the drawbridge went up and kept me from getting to the far side in time to get the shot. By the time the drawbridge went down, the sun had risen behind a cloud.
I gave up on the bridge and wandered around town. It's nice to be here before the primary streets get clogged with vehicles and the cobble-stoned streets clogged with pedestrians. The Romeo and Juliet balconies beckon to all who walk below. A talk with a local photographer made for a nice interlude. He pointed out that it was Sunday and no meters were in effect today. Great. No need to rush.
Back to the river where I parked my car, I sat overlooking the river to read until it started raining. Then back into my car to finish reading "The Worst Journey in the World" by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. It's about Scott's mission to the South Pole which he successfully reached one month after Amundsen. Unfortunately, he and four of his men did not make it back, getting stopped by a blizzard just 11 miles from a depot that could have kept them alive.
Unlike Amundsen, Scott's mission was scientific as well as exploratory and the wealth of knowledge collected during the mission was huge.
The rain had ended so I explored the Government House Museum. After lunch back at my car, I then took a tour of the Pena-Peck House. Knowing that the Pecks were from Connecticut made me wonder if the ones I grew up with were related.
I also explored the Photios National Greek Orthodox Shrine. Surprisingly, there is very little connection between these early Greek immigrants and the later Greek immigrants to Tarpon Springs. While there it started raining so I sat in the shrine's covered patio and caught up with my journal. When the rain got heavy enough to leak through the roof, I went back in and sat through their interpretive movie a few times. I finally gave up and slowly dodged raindrops to get back to my car. It was nicer at the car at the river than anywhere I was going to kill time so I had dinner there and read some more before making my way to Walmart.
As an aside, last year, when STS-135, the last US Space Shuttle was going up, most of the people I saw being interviewed lamented the US losing its ability to venture into space. I was one of the few people who recognized and hoped that space was now a multinational venture and that the US would benefit from involving the wider international community rather than be outpaced by it.
Today I read a particularly interesting passage in "The Worst Journey in the World." Try reading the following passage replacing references to Antarctica with Space. It's amazing how well Cherry-Garrard's attitude still tracks - one hundred years on - regardless of the current status of Antarctica. I suspect Cherry-Garrard would feel the same about space exploration as he did about Antarctic exploration.
"Modern civilized States should make up their minds to the endowment of research, which includes exploration; and as all States benefit alike by the scientific side of it there is plenty of scope for international arrangement, especially in a region where the mere grabbing of territory is meaningless, and no Foreign Office can trace the frontier between King Edward's Plateau and King Haakon's. The Antarctic continent is still mostly unexplored; but enough is known of it to put any settlement by ordinary pioneer emigration, pilgrim fathers and the like, out of the question. ... The establishment of such stations and of such a service cannot be done by individual heroes and enthusiasts cadging for cheques from rich men and grants from private scientific societies: it is a business, like the Nares Arctic expedition, for public organization. "
Monday, June 25, 2012: St. Augustine to Jacksonville
One more breakfast at the river and then I started driving north again.
The radio was reporting tornado warnings and watches for the area I was heading towards so rather than continue into the path of danger, I stopped at the Ponte Vieda Library. It was a nice stop last year with its Bird Park behind the library. This time, it was raining so once the library opened, I went right in. This library is by far the coldest place I've been since arriving in Florida. It was far colder than any other library or store I've been in so far. I ended up going out to put jeans on and grab my filled jacket in addition to the fleece I was already wearing. I even draped my legs with my skirt after I had changed as I was still cold.
At lunch, I went outside to grab some lunch in my car and warm up. It had stopped raining so I took the time to wander the Bird Park. With all the rain we've been having the water level was high. The rookery island was somewhat flooded as was some of the marsh area bordering the pond. There was a great deal less bird life here today that I remember seeing last year but with the weather being off, I can't say I'm surprised.
The worst of the storm warnings had passed so rather than head back into the uncomfortably cold library, I continued my way north to the Beaches branch of the Jacksonville Library system. It was much more comfortable here though there was some water infiltrating the wall of windows. Small portions of the carpeting under my table were wet.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012: Jacksonville
It was supposed to either rain or pour all day long. The forecasters weren't wrong. I spent the day at the Pablo Creek Regional Library. This one also had walls of windows but the one I was sitting next to didn't leak. I watched small puddles on the lawn outside grow wider and deeper, merging as they grew, into a large puddle that grew too fast for the already thoroughly soaked ground to absorb. Thankfully, this window didn't leak and the floor stayed dry.
There are non-stop flood warnings for multiple counties in northeastern Florida all day long and well into tomorrow. Portions of I-10 were closed due to flooding. Some bridges were washed out and others were closed due to winds as high as 74 miles per hour.
We did have one power outage at the library that lasted maybe 30-45 minutes. Everyone who was there for the internet access went home. The rest of us found other things to do until the power came back on and the wifi was restored.
As I left, I realized that the rear windshield wiper assembly in my car had leaked. This had happened one previous time with this car, years ago, after a protracted heavy rain. So, during a lull, I just lifted the rear hatch and let the water drain out, using my sleeping pad as a guide so it would drain out of the car and not onto my other belongings.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012: Jacksonville, Florida to St. Marys, Georgia
I managed to wash my hair at the beach today but it was too blustery to take a full shower. The wave action was fantastic with Tropical Storm Debby now sitting off the Atlantic coast having crossed from the Gulf yesterday and last night. The rain was in front of the storm and the wind behind. I've never seen so much sea foam blowing around the beach. There would be no swimming allowed at the beaches today.
It looked gray this morning but there was no rain for a nice change of pace.
I followed A1A north, took the ferry, and continued to Fernandino. There, I sat by the beach for a while and then had lunch at T-Rays, the burger place in the closed gas station that I had found last year. It was worth going out of my way yet again. My loaded burger had lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions, pickles, ketchup and mayonnaise. I skipped the mustard and decided against the cheeseburger. It and the fries were delicious.
Continuing on to St. Marys, Georgia, I was able to get reservations for a campsite at Sea Camp for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights as well as a spot on the Friday van tour to the north part of the island. So, I spent the afternoon at the library and the evening doing laundry and shopping.
Thursday, June 28, 2012: St Marys to Cumberland Island National Seashore
I did some last minute shopping this morning and even managed a return at Walmart. The woman who handled the return found out I was going to Cumberland Island and told me to watch for her grandson, Jeff, who works on the ferry. And to tell him that his "Nana" said "hi." I thought that was cute but had to wonder if that would embarrass him.
For most of the trip, I've been buying 10-pound bags of ice for about $2. This morning, I bought a 16-pound bag of ice for $1.50. My cooler doesn't even hold eight pounds if there's anything in the cooler so I put what I could in the cooler and just put the remainder of the bag on top knowing it would melt quickly but every little bit would help.
At the ferry, they offered to put my extra ice in their freezer and I could pick it up the next day. Fantastic.
We had an uneventful ride over and I was soon settled into the same site I had used last year. It wasn't too big for one person, it had some privacy, and the food cage was accessible and had no vegetation brushing against it.
Unlike most campers, my cooler fit inside the food cage with all my other food and toiletries so I didn't worry about the pole most use to hang their garbage.
I settled in but soon realized the bugs were biting after Debby dumped all that rain on the island. I used my bug spray, made my lunch, and brought it to the Ranger Station to eat where I wouldn't be pestered by mosquitoes. I met a local woman who lives in the north part of the island and as we were talking with the Ranger, the Ranger noticed an unusually strong delineation between river and ocean tide moving along the channel. I raced out to get some pictures.
After lunch, I made my way to Dungeness for the tour and recognized the same woman who had given the tour last year. Sure enough, when she got to the part about the Timucuan Indians being very tall, with the women over 6' and the men often more than 6'6", she asked how tall I was. We had the same interchange last year.
As we walked and she talked, she would occasionally point out sharks teeth fossils along the road. How she saw them as she walked, I don't know. I got one of them, and the other two were given to others in the group.
Before dinner, I went out to the beach. To get there, I had to cross a long stretch of the boardwalk that was under water. Then, there was a large pool with knee deep water to cross as well. You had to get wet just to get to the beach. Once on the beach, I was shocked. The tide was fairly high and it seemed the entire beach was covered in wrack. There was nothing beautiful about the beach today.
I tried going swimming to cool off but the waves were still full of seaweed so I gave up and just took a shower. With the biting bugs, I quickly made it back to my campsite and put on long sleeves and pants to keep the bugs off as much as possible. I made quick work of my dinner and crawled into my tent. There would be no sitting out at my campsite to read this weekend.
Friday, June 29, 2012: Cumberland Island
After going to sleep early last night, I was up early. So, I packed breakfast and some snacks and made my way to the Ranger Station. I ate breakfast and enjoyed the breeze on the porch.
After the first ferry arrived, those of us on the van tour gathered. Our tour stopped at the Stafford Cemetery where we could get out, the Stafford House where we stayed in the van, Plum Orchard where we had a 45-minute tour and then time for lunch, too, the Cumberland Wharf Ruins where oyster beds sprout from the old pilings like flowers, and finally, The Settlement where a free black community lived. It was here at the First African Baptist Church that John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married in 1996.
On the way back, we stopped to get pictures of a 400-year-old live oak tree. It's a massive tree.
And all along the way, we watched for wildlife. We saw plenty of horses, a couple of raccoons from very far away, a deer, and some saw an armadillo though I didn't get to see it from the van.
After the tour, I ran back to my campsite to grab my cooler. When the ferry arrived, my ice was missing from the freezer so they just told me to grab a bag. They were selling eight pound bags and the entire bag would likely have fit in my cooler if I didn't have anything else in the cooler. But, I wanted to keep my food and at least one soda at a time cold.
Back at the campsite, I sprayed up and joined a family group of eight that had invited me for dinner of hot dogs and hamburgers. We enjoyed visiting for the evening, and played a guessing game to figure out the name of the person, place, or animal on a card.
Saturday, June 30, 2012: Cumberland Island
I got up early and went out to the beach. I ended up walking nearly 7 miles round trip to the jetty at the southern end of the island and back. It was a long walk and having started in my bare feet, my feet hurt at the end. There was a good variety of birds out including oystercatchers and a willet. There were tons of shells washed up in the wrack from the storm though trying to pick them out of the seaweed meant getting badly bitten by the flies. I gave up after that endeavor and just walked closer to the water.
By the time I got to the jetty, I was too hot to look for the horse conch shells that were supposedly easier to find there. I stuck to nearer the water where the breeze was strongest and made my way back more quickly than I had my way out.
I went for a short swim and though the water was somewhat cloudy, at least there was no longer suspended seaweed. If I wasn't so tired, I would have gone for a longer swim. Back at camp, I applied bug spray, got my lunch and dinner ready, as well as anything else I thought I might want to have with me for the rest of the day while at the Ranger Station, and then showered quickly. Before the bugs could do too good a job, I grabbed my stuff and made my way to the Ranger Station. It was here, last year, that I discovered how the wide porch, with comfortable rocking chairs, and a nearly steady breeze that was enough to keep the bugs away but not enough to be uncomfortable was the most pleasant place to hang out. I came back to the island knowing I would spend a lot of time on the porch, but I was sorry the bugs were so bad that being in camp was almost impossible.
I stayed either on the porch or in the Ranger Station (air conditioned) all afternoon and evening, having lunch and dinner. Once it got dark, I grabbed a cart and went back to camp not stopping to do anything before crawling into my tent to get away from the biting bugs.
The heat index was 106 today and I spent nearly the first hour in my tent sweating so much that my sheet was soaked. I kept moving to dry portions and finally I stopped sweating and could fall asleep.
Sunday, July 1, 2012: Cumberland Island to St. Marys
Almost a reverse of last night, I got everything packed and on my cart. Then I grabbed a shower and made my way directly to the Ranger Station, not stopping along the way so the bugs wouldn't catch up to me. I really did not want to have to spray bug spray today.
I got to the station at 7:45. I could have taken any of the ferries back but chose to stay for the later one even though it got fairly hot in the afternoon. The heat index today was 110. Ugh. I just figured it would be worse on the mainland. It was.
I spent the evening in the local Burger King. I had been wanting to try their Sweet Potato fries. They are delicious. I stayed until nearly 11pm and went out to my car. A line of thunderstorms was making its way through. At first, it was only lightning, then enough wind to shake my violently enough to make me worry about tornado warnings. I turned the radio on and forced myself to stay awake for a while. Finally, it started raining and the leading edge of the storm had passed. The wind which had caused a short-lived blackout in the nearby shopping center lessened a bit so I turned off the radio and went to sleep.
Monday, July 2, 2012: Florida St. Marys to Savannah
After doing laundry and getting another 16 pound bag of ice, I made my way to the Richmond Hill library, just outside of the Savannah area. It was here last year that when faced with heading out into a torrential downpour when the library closed, the librarians took pity on me and let me stay in the attached community room where I would have access to a table, the wifi and restrooms but not the books. There was no such rain today so when it got close to closing, I left to seek out a long anticipated dinner.
Last year, I "discovered" the Sisters of the New South restaurant. It had been recommended to me by a number of locals after I had heard mixed reviews of the more well known Paula Dean's and Mrs. Wilkes restaurants. Sisters is a typical meat and three sides type of place. I think I got the same thing I got last year - fried chicken, candied sweet potatoes, corn, and mac and cheese. The corn and mac and cheese were good but nothing all that special to write home about but the candied sweets were delicious, made with pineapple and the fried chicken was also delicious and I'm not a particular fan of eating chicken on the bone.
Tuesday, July 3, 2012: Savannah
I was woken up at 2am to a loud conversation on one side of my car and an argument on the other. At one point, the argument was getting so heated I thought I might have to call 911. Thankfully they calmed down but still continued their noisy conversation. I was hot so turned on my car to run the air conditioning a bit. I doubt they even knew I was in the car until I started it but with the noisy muffler, they probably figured it out pretty quickly. I cooled off, they left, and I finally got back to sleep around 3am and slept until 6:15. I made my way to Fort Pulaski for the sunrise and hung out there and at the bridge watching birds for a while.
I then made my way to town to get some information about the 4th of July festivities which I decided not to attend. I found a good parking space on the cobblestones off River Street and spent the day exploring the shops, taking the free ferry boat on its circuit, hitting the local library that's only open a few hours a day, and then taking the DOT, a free bus on a complete circuit around town. I also was surprised to find not a single recycle bin throughout the downtown and River Street areas.
Being another very hot day with temperatures in the mid-90s, I hit the larger library, open until 8pm and stayed cool for the rest of the day there.
Leaving the library, I grabbed a 1/2 price Sonic Milkshake (after 8pm) to go with my dinner. The milkshake was OK and the whipped cream was surprisingly thick, not aerated from a can.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012: Savannah, Georgia to Beaufort, South Carolina
I spent the morning in my car driving at a snail's pace, taking hours to go the four miles through the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. There were quite a few sightseers out but very few other birders. Too bad. I saw three Roseate Spoonbills and more Purple Galinules with chicks than I could shake a stick at. I even got video of a possible mating dance though no consummation act. Unfortunately, it was through my dirty car windshield so not very good.
There was one large gator there which submerged and caused lots of bubbles to form on the surface. It was like a water dance but the gator was completely submerged so I'm not sure what was going on. One juvenile gator in another area was the only other gator I saw. Then there was the usual complement of wading birds plus a pair of black necked stilts which I recognized first in flight, rather than on the ground.
Then I made it to Betty and Sy's place. We took a swim at their complex's pool. While some of the kids cleared out soon after we started but one kid insisted on swimming laps across the width of the pool. It was an obstacle course but still nice to get in a swim.
Thursday, July 5, 2012: Beaufort
Friday, July 6, 2012: Beaufort
Saturday, July 7, 2012: Beaufort
Highlights: Farmer's Market. Dragon Boat practice with Betty. She paddled. I sat, read, and talked with others who weren't paddling today or who support paddlers. Dragon boats have 20 paddlers, one drummer, and one sweep or steerer who controls the rudder in the back. This team comprises cancer survivors and supporters. Beaufort got their boat just 1.5-weeks ago and they're already talking about getting another.
Cold Cuts for lunch. Leftovers for dinner.
While here, I took the opportunity to clean the shells I collected on Cumberland Island and let them soak overnight in a bleach solution. They dried odor-free. I have one lightning whelk which pairs well with my largest knobbed whelk. Now I have to figure out what to do with them.
Betty and Sy have a bunch of bird feeders in the backyard. I've been enjoying watching the birds that come to feed. Among the more common cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, and wrens, are a pair of painted buntings. These are only the second and third I've ever seen and though it's still amazing to see the vibrant colors of the male, I now know that I have also seen a female, a much more drab green bird.
Sunday, July 8, 2012: Beaufort to Charleston
I got up before 5am for an early morning turtle walk. It was on one of these walks last year that I met Betty and Sy. We've been in touch ever since.
This morning was uneventful with almost no turtle activity. There were no false crawls. No nests. And no hatchings. We did see another mud sculpture on the beach - this time, of a fat and happy Buddha (ie. Chinese, not Thai) and a chainsaw carved trunk of a palmetto tree. Our group was just Betty, Sy, Samantha, and myself. Others took other stretches of beach but seemed to have about as much luck as we did. Very little chatter over the radios from the others' areas, too.
After doing a load of laundry, I hit the road and found the Donnelly Wildlife Management Area. The self-guided driving tour there was 11-miles long. There were a lot of Whistling Ducks, many with chicks, and more gators in one place than I've seen since southern Florida. The habitat was varied and it's been changing since I left Florida. I'm also seeing changes in the types of birds I'm seeing. I noticed a bird rehab center wanted reports of any Swallowtail Kite sightings. Though always spectacular to watch, they were rather common in Florida. This is apparently the northern edge of their territory.
Moving on, I made it to Charleston. I parked near Battery Park to eat dinner and noticed a bird land in a tree. It was a Yellow Crowned Night Heron. When I finished eating, I got out to take a closer look. It was up a tree and as I looked, another landed in the tree. This one looked to be a juvenile. Looking around some more, I found a nest. There was a nestling in it. And then a fourth night heron landed in the tree. Wow! At one point, I thought one had flown away into the park but since all four were in the tree, it must have been yet another night heron. So, I wandered into the park and started looking around. It didn't take long before I realized that there were a lot of Yellow crowned night heron nests sprinkled throughout the trees in the park. The herons were coming back into the park to roost for the night. Many of the nests had young in them but they seemed fledged if not independent yet. The young haven't gotten their adult colors yet.
While taking pictures, I realized I hadn't recharged my camera batteries and was on my last, barely usable battery. I was also forced to put in my last memory card. I needed to find a place to plug in for a while. The McDonald's I was directed to was perfect. They had renovated recently and unlike some that had chosen to cover their power outlets, this one had installed power outlets to the point that almost every table near a wall had access to power. Fantastic. There was one other person there also to use the power and wifi. He said he was there because his apartment was too hot. But he was conducting business there, quite loudly, and when he started pacing as if he was in a private office, I thought that was a bit much.
I went back to the same Walmart I had used last year. It's near the airport and I was sort of looking forward to seeing some of the huge C-17 transport planes taking off or landing but either I was too late and they had stopped flying for the day or they just weren't flying tonight.
Monday, July 9, 2012: Charleston to Honey Hill Campground, Francis Marion National Forest
I slept well for the first night in three nights. I got up early and walked up the Ravenell Bridge. Then I spent the day in the library. I left before closing to find the Francis Marion National Forest, Honey Hill campground, a free campground with maybe eight sites and a surprisingly clean outhouse. I put the mosquito netting up on my car, read, and crashed early.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012: Francis Marion National Forest, SC to Southport, NC
I had another good night's sleep. Lightning last night never materialized into rain. I stayed at the campground until a "reasonable" hour and then moved on.
I stumbled upon the Hampton Plantation State Historic Park. There was a Mississippi Kite wheeling overhead as I was walking through the parking lot. I walked to the house to take some pictures but didn't stay long enough for them to open the house. There were also a lot of bugs there so I was glad to make a quick exit before getting chewed up too much.
I bought gas in Georgetown for $2.88, probably the least expensive I'll see on this trip. I had torrential rain going through Myrtle Beach. It got bad enough that I pulled off the road. The road was flooding and I couldn't see anything when passing cars sent curtains of water onto my windshield. Having everything I needed in the car, I ate lunch while it poured. Once it slowed down and the water had a chance to drain off the road a bit, I moved on to the North Myrtle Beach library. It was while I was here last year that the earthquake struck.
I stayed for a few hours and then moved on to North Carolina, hoping that no hurricanes would materialize this year like they had last year. I got some good information and then set out for Southport. I found the Waterfront Park and settled in for the evening with a nice view of the area including both the Oak Island lighthouse and "Old Baldie," the Bald Head Island lighthouse.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012: Southport
The information I had indicated that the Oak Island lighthouse was off limits to the public so I drove there expecting to take some pictures and then move on. What I found when I got there was that the lighthouse was open for tours to the second level only on Wednesdays. Perfect! So, I decided to stick around for a few hours to take the tour even though I wouldn't be able to go to the top. So, I drove back to the beach and went for a walk. It was here that I ran into a few people who told me that if you signed up a couple of weeks in advance, they run tours to the top on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That got me thinking...
It was obviously too late to sign up with two or three weeks notice, but with large groups signing up, there was a pretty good chance that someone wouldn't show up without giving advance notice. At the 10am tour, I asked the volunteers if they were able to fill spaces on tomorrow's tour if someone was to just be there, ready to go. They said "yes." So, now I knew I would be hanging around for another day.
After lunch, I intended to go visit the Bald Head lighthouse. But when I realized it was going to cost $10 to park, $24.75 to take a 20-minute passenger ferry, and another $5 to climb, I decided against visiting the lighthouse. $40 was just too much to climb a lighthouse. So I satisfied myself with pictures from Southport and spent the afternoon in the library.
Once the library closed, it had cooled off a bit so I took a walk around the waterfront area. I got stopped at a road block at one point. I found out that Julianne Hough was filming Safe Haven, a Nicholas Sparks novel being turned into a film. I got back to Waterfront Park and found it too windy to sit and read so I got back in my car and faced the waterfront from the car. My timing was right on. It started raining and then pouring for a while.
Thursday, July 12, 2012: Southport to Wilmington
I got to the beach early and then made sure I was at the Oak Island lighthouse half an hour before the first tour. I let the volunteers know that I wasn't preregistered but was willing to wait and see if there were any no-shows on the list. I was told there was space on the first of the tours so changed into my sneakers as there are no sandals allowed on the ships ladder-like steps of this lighthouse. The information part of the tour was largely the same as the tour I had taken yesterday.
Then came the climb. I think it was eight levels of climbing ladders to get to the top. This lighthouse is the only one I've seen constructed in this manner. It was a cost savings measure at the time it was built. As a tourist, the ladders were easy to climb, perhaps even easier than the stairs in most lighthouses.
As is always the case, the breeze at the top of the lighthouse was so pleasant and a great break from the heat of the day below.
After not taking the $24.75 passenger ferry yesterday, it was surprising to take a $5, 25-minute car ferry to Fort Fisher. Once at the fort, a peal of thunder kept the employees inside so I toured the fort on my own, staying wary of the storm that was still far off. I didn't dawdle in the open areas. The storm seemed to have passed so I took a short walk across the road from the fort along the water and saw a lone willet poking along the beach.
Friday, July 13, 2012: Wilmington to New Bern
I took an early morning walk along the riverfront boardwalk. The Coast Guard Cutter Diligence was in town and giving tours in the afternoon so I decided to stick around a bit longer. I went across the river to check out the USS North Carolina and get pictures back across the river.
I was too tired to enjoy $12 worth of self-guided tour of the North Carolina so spent the middle of the day in a local library while it rained. Once again, I had perfect timing. It didn’t stop raining until I was in the library and it stopped before I wanted to make my way back to the Cutter for the very informative tour. I learned a lot about the cutter as well as the people who man it.
Saturday, July 14, 2012: New Bern to Cedar Island
I was up early enough to take in the sunrise over the Neuse River. I saw a ruby-throated hummingbird while on the beach. It's unusual for me to see them away from feeders. I took a short swim at Atlantic Beach and then grabbed a quick shower at the beachside showers. I continued through Beaufort, this time in North Carolina and pronounced as expected.
I took a $10 passenger ferry, an open skiff, that held about 12 people to Cape Lookout National Seashore. We went near Shakelford Banks and got a look at the "Banker" ponies that live there. I would have liked to spend more time there but transportation didn't include a stop there.
Once on Cape Lookout, I took in a couple of ranger programs, visited the little museum in the lighthouse keeper's house, and eventually climbed the lighthouse. I took a short walk on the beach but it was hot and there was no place to shower so I didn't want to go for a swim. There were a couple dozen willets on the beach. I had never seen them in such numbers before.
Moving on, I drove north to Cedar Island. I met Velvet, the woman working in the market there. She was working but invited me to go to the finger docks behind her house to watch sunset. It wasn’t far and her directions were good so I hung out there, and watched dolphins jumping and for the first time, Black Skimmers skimming. Watching them glide with their longer lower beak cutting through water for maybe 100 feet at a time was truly surprising. The bugs were vicious though so I was wearing jeans, socks and sneakers, long-sleeved shirt, and headnet though I didn’t need it over my face while on the dock.
When it got dark, I drove back to the market to share some of my pictures with Velvet and then made my way to the ferry. It wasn't running at night but I had been told I could sleep in my car at the ferry line location.
Sunday, July 15, 2012: Cedar Island to Ocracoke
An extremely buggy sunrise forced me back into my car rather than allowing me to explore the ferry landing area. I knew there were more Banker ponies here but I got my best look only when the ferry took off for Ocracoke and I could look back to see them. The two hour and fifteen minute ferry was a nice ride.
On Ocracoke, I took in a couple of ranger talks (I could probably give some of them by now) and went to visit the lighthouse. This one isn't open to the public so I just took pictures, slapped a few mosquitoes, and explored the island some more.
The ponies on Ocracoke are feral but penned. In the 1950s, the Boy Scouts on the island domesticated the ponies and rode them, sometimes in races, used them for honor guards, and so on. When the National Park came in the 60s, the other domesticated animals were forced off the islands but public pressure allowed the horses to stay. They were however, penned. Unlike the other Banker ponies, these no longer roam free but stick to pens. They get fed, get medical attention, and are barely feral now. Sometimes visitors are even allowed to feed them a bit of hay.
At one of the talks this morning and again at the pony pens, I met up with a mother, Maried, and her two teenage daughters, Clarissa (I think) and Mara (the second I've met on this trip). It was so nice to meet some other people who were more interested in learning about their surroundings than shopping and laying out at the beach.
I've been pushing and was exhausted. I found a place to park in the shade and napped and read for a few hours. I took in sunset and then took photos of a duck and her ducklings. They didn't seem to mind the flash at all and the watchful mother didn't mind when her ducklings came close to me.
Monday, July 16, 2012: Okracoke to Buxton (Hatteras Island)
I splurged on breakfast at a cafe this morning. I spent three hours there using their wifi, downloading pictures from my camera, and recharging batteries. This cafe is popular but the limiting factor wasn't the seating, but the speed of the line and how quickly they could serve everyone.
Back at the Visitor's Center, I took in a history talk and then drove the length of Okracoke to catch the 40-minute free ferry to Hatteras Island. At the lighthouse, I signed up for a snorkel trip for tomorrow, ate lunch, and then toured the museum/lightkeeper’s house and the lighthouse. They were listening for lightning and at one point, I thought I was about to be kicked down off the top. But they held out and though we could see storm clouds over the mainland, we saw no lightning so the lighthouse stayed open.
As usual, I spent a lot of time up top, enjoying the cool breeze, knowing that I would be going down into the heat. Once down, I took in talks about pirate history, the lighthouse, creatures, and I watched the video of the lighthouse move in 1999.
I ate dinner and watched kite surfers achieve amazing heights
Tuesday, July 17, 2012: Buxton to Avon
I woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the ocean. It wasnt long before a surfer came by and just a few minutes later, a ranger came by and drove up onto the beach. Unlike beaches in California and Oregon, the beaches on the east coast that allow people to drive onto them require permits and 4WD vehicles. The sand here is much softer and deeper. On the west coast, with wider beaches of very firm sand, I was able to drive onto any number of them without worry in my front wheel drive car.
As I’ve gotten further north, the turtle nests get more and more protection. The nest near this beach access is about to hatch so the beach has been closed completely and a black "chute" leading towards the water has been erected to help guide the hatchlings in the right direction and prevent any extraneous lights from distracting them.
I saw a bird in the surf and it didn't seem to be a cormorant or anhinga and sure enough, it turned out to be a loon.
At 8am, I met a group for a bird walk. We spent a couple of hours at both fresh water and brackish water observing a variety of birds.
My 40 strong bird list for the morning includes:
Additionally, I heard Eastern Towhees but never saw them.
At the parking lot, there were frogs in the portapotty though I never went to look for them. A couple of deer foraged nearby as well.
I visited Graveyard of the Atlantic Maritime Museum in Hatteras. The building, built to resemble a ship, was more impressive than the contents. They have a pirate exhibit, small exhibits on some of the local shipwrecks, and an exhibit of early scuba diving gear.
Moving on, I spent a short amount of time in the library before needing to meet up with the snorkel program. I met the same Mom and daughters here as the programs on Okracoke. The program, with a few too many little kids was a bit disappointing. The water was too shallow and murky to see anything with the snorkel gear.
I watched an Osprey (the military kind) fly by. I spent the evening back at the Haulover Day use area watching the kite boarders again.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012: Avon to Manteo
I started the day at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. There was a bird walk meeting there at 8am. It was very buggy so I changed into jeans, long sleeves, socks and sneakers, and brought my headnet with me. I was glad to have it. This time we had no fewer than three scopes on the walk.
It was another good morning of birding with mostly the same birds.
Today's 41 strong bird list:
I then went to the Chicamacomico US Life-saving service station but got turned off by the political flyers there advocating beach access without regard for endangered species.
Bodie (pr. body) Lighthouse was next on my list. It's never been open to the public to climb but the scaffolding currently surrounding the structure are testament to the extensive renovations that may allow it to open to the public for the first time next year. I signed up for a Coast Guard Station tour so killed time with a ranger program and with a walk along the boardwalk in back of the lighthouse. There was great bird life there, too, though I think I only added Little Blue Herons to the above list.
After the tour of the Coast Guard facility which was much like others I had been on, with tours of the buildings and opportunities to climb on board some of the vessels in dock.
Moving on, I went to Manteo and found the Umstead Bridge, known for being a favorite roosting spot for upwards of 100,000 Purple Martins in July and August. It was incredible to see all the birds swarming and circling around before landing. I may be a little early for the peak which occurs in a couple of weeks, but the number of birds even now coming in to roost was still huge. They speed limit on the bridge around dawn and dusk is reduced to try to limit the collateral damage. These birds, like the bats from the bridge in Austen, TX, also show up on the local Doppler radar.
I did something unusual tonight. I found a dark spot to park on a side street where there were other cars parked on the street and I wasn't likely to draw attention. I've always though of doing this but never found just the right combination before though I haven't really spent time looking when easier options were present.
Thursday, July 19, 2012: Manteo to Kitty Hawk
I woke up early in order to get to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, about ten miles inland from Manteo. One of the Pea Island rangers suggested it as a good place to see wildlife.
Sure enough, it didn't take long at all to see my first bear. Over the course of the next couple of hours, I saw twelve more bears, mostly on River Road. I was mostly driving so didn't get out all that often to look into the canals. There are alligators in the refuge but I didn't see any. And as for the bears, I would have traded all 13 sightings for one of the resident red wolves. No complaints though. In just two hours, I had nearly doubled my lifetime sightings of bears.
For bird life, I saw a number of killdeer, cattle egrets, and a pair of indigo buntings.
I made my way to Fort Raleigh and found out about the first English colony in North America and Virginia Dare, the first English child born in North America. The colony, established with over 100 people, was left to fend for itself for over three years. When another English ship returned, the colonists were nowhere to be found. It's now known as the Lost Colony.
The Visitor's Center across the street for the local wildlife Sanctuaries was useless in terms of volunteers. The displays were mainly for kids and offered little for adults.
After an afternoon in the library, I visited the Roanoke Marshes lighthouse. It has a first order Fresnel lens, typical of harbor lighthouses. I wish I had known about it earlier. It looks like its open to the public during the day.
On my way to Kitty Hawk, I was surprised to pass four Food Lion supermarkets but ended up finding a 24-hour Harris Teeter supermarket for a place to spend the night.
Speaking of supermarkets, I seem to have left Publix territory back in South Carolina. I passed through Bilo territory and I'm not sure if Piggly Wiggly is still on my route or not.
I see changes in the natural environment, too, as I travel. All epiphytes but Spanish Moss petered out ages ago. Even Spanish Moss is a rarity here. I saw nesting season for many species get later and later in the spring and even into the summer for some birds. The number of turtle nests on the beaches is dwindling as I go further north. I'm out of Swallow-tailed Kite territory and drove into and out of Mississippi Kite territory in just a few days.
I've been having problems with my car fan. Sometime it just doesn't come on. Infrequently it comes on after the car has been running for a few minutes. When the fan works, all speeds work, the AC, vent and all other aspects work. It seems like a loose connection somewhere. Sigh. Yet more signs that my car is ready to be replaced.
Friday, July 20, 2012: Kitty Hawk
Up early and drove north to Currituck. A deer and twin spotted fawns crossed the road in front of me at one point. I stopped first at the lighthouse to get some pictures and was surprised to hear bagpipes. It didn't take long to find the source. There was a man there practicing. I guess there aren't too many places that are far enough out of the way not to disturb too many people.
I continued up the road and parked at the boardwalk. Beachgoers aren't supposed to park there but there is no parking on the street or anywhere else near the beach. I was early so figured my car wouldn't draw attention. I walked up to the Currituck/Corolla beach. I was shocked at the large number of vehicles driving on the beach in the morning. I had hoped to see some of the Corolla Banker ponies on the beach and realized that wasn't likely to happen with all the traffic.
I saw a member of the turtle patrol and found out that they send out turtle watch volunteers each time one of their nests is about to hatch. This is close to the very northern edge of their range and there are so few nests that they are willing to spend nights at the nests when they are about ready to hatch. There was a chance I might be able to meet up with them this evening. I would have to visit the Wildlife Center to get more specific information.
Even with the traffic, I still wanted to see if I could "find" horses in the dunes so I started walking.
I walked through the Nature Conservancy area and saw a woman who had walked up a road towards the southernmost houses. She indicated there were no ponies to be seen but she hadn't gone very far. I decided to see if I could walk further than she had. It didn't take long before I saw one group of five ponies. Sure enough, they were right near the first houses, where I had heard they are often seen. Then I soon saw three others. I had to stick to the road so couldn't get any closer than a few hundred feet but it was still nice to have seen them.
With all the traffic on the beach, I got a hitch back to my car. My driver was John Piero (sp?), an Italian professional ballroom dancer from New Jersey. He had just been to Boston, I think giving a workshop. We probably know some of the same people.
I returned to the lighthouse which may be the only one I've been to that either allows or has parents ascending with small children. Most others have height and/or age requirements. This lighthouse is unpainted brick with 217 steps.
After cooling off a the top of the lighthouse, I descended and walked across the parking lot to visit the Wildlife Center. I took a picture of a dragonfly on my way in and once inside, found out that the person I wanted to talk with about the turtle watch tonight was giving a dragonfly workshop just in back of the Center. So I joined the group and learned a bit about dragonflies and even managed to catch a Halloween Pennant, its orange and dark brown wings lending to the name. After we caught them in a net, the Center employees wrangled the dragonflies very carefully so we would have an opportunity to see them up close.
The women giving the dragonfly program weren't all that forthcoming with details about the turtle watch tonight but they did give me an approximate location of the nest so I could find the group if I were to take a walk on the beach in the evening.
I returned to the Wildlife Center to have a look around. While many such facilities include information pertaining to hunting and/or fishing, I was surprised to find this one seemed to be mostly hunting and fishing "propaganda." There were very few displays that were about just the animals and/or environment.
I stopped into the local library and was given my own private room as it was the only place where I could use wifi with a power outlet. I got a lot done without the distractions of a typical library.
Saturday, July 21, 2012: Kitty Hawk
After getting up early and grabbing breakfast at Harris Teeter, I was surprised to find the gates open but nobody at the gatehouse at Kitty Hawk well over an hour before they were supposed to be open. So, I drove around and found the stabilized dune with a large monument on top. There were others there, mostly out for exercise, who had parked at the airport. I took a walk up the hill with the monument and then started around the hill when the rain started. So, I returned to my car to read for a while, hoping the rain would pass.
At a lull, I tried to take in the full-sized steel replica of the scene of the first flight. But, the lull didn't last long so I crawled back into my car.
When the Visitor's Center opened, I took in the displays, including the million dollar plus centennial replica. It made me remember the replica I had seen in the Smithsonian when I was a kid. I also took in the site of the first flights and a documentary about the Wright Brothers. By the time I was done seeing the historic elements of the site, the rain had stopped and Kite Festival was in full swing.
Unfortunately, for the first time since I've been traveling up the coast, the wind died down. The lighter kites were flying and those single string kites on strings long enough to get into a stronger layer of wind. I mostly walked around and marveled at the kites that were flying. Some were huge. There was a scuba diver kite, a snorkeling woman, both airfoils many times life sized. With stronger winds, there were apparently quite a few more, even larger kites that would have been flown. I saw a huge 15'x75' kite up but only for a few minutes. The wind just wasn't strong enough to keep it up.
The four string kites were going well and I even had a chance to fly one. If I ever look for another kite, I may go for one of them. They fly in light weather. But they fly almost "backwards" from two string stunt kites. It would take some getting used to to retrain myself. Of course, they're pricey so I'm not sure if and when I would bother getting one.
A few of the more energetic flyers were creating their own wind to keep their kites afloat. One man was even doing 360s with a very large airfoil. This is a stunt probably only possible in light wind.
When thunder rumbled in about half an hour before the festival was scheduled to end, the organizers called it immediately. Everything was packed up in record time, kites were pulled in, and everyone stayed safe.
I ran some errands at the Tanger Outlet Stores and then found the beach access with a shower that one of the kite festival organizers had directed me to. I spent yet another night at McDonald's, recharging batteries, checking email, and glad I wasn't trying to camp anywhere tonight while torrential rain raged outside. The rain calmed down by the time I went to sleep.
Sunday, July 22, 2012: Kitty Hawk, NC to Virginia Beach, VA
A repeat of the kite festival. This time, I had time to peruse the steel reproduction of the first flight scene in the morning without rain. I even walked around the dune. Yesterday I had seen one deer on the hill. Today, I saw a small herd and then a doe and fawn. They mostly faded back into the woods as the number of people wandering around increased.
There was even less wind today so once again, I didn't get a chance to fly my kite. I did try a fire kite at one point. This is not a kite on fire. This is a tiny kite and wind isn't really necessary to fly it. Just pull when the kite is facing up and when it's facing down let out string and it'll turn as it drops so you can pull it up again.
I left around lunch just as Terry, our DJ, got up to delight some unsuspecting passersby. Terry flies a four string kite and had his "walking" along the sidewalk with some of the people on the sidewalk. If they stopped when they noticed, he would land on an outstretched hand or on a signpost. Children would chase the kite and their parents couldn't help but laugh. I finally tore myself away from the delightful spectacle and got back on the road.
I took the Knott's Island ferry to go north and spent some time at the Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge. Dragonflies abounded but not too much bird life in the heat of mid-afternoon. In addition to a Great Blue Heron, an Egret or two, and a couple of birds flitting through the trees, I was lucky enough to see a King Rail and chick. I had been clued into their potential presence by a trail head flyer about a King Rail study going on in the area.
I then passed the last of the Charles Kuralt Trail sites I'm likely to see. I've seen other elements of the Charles Kuralt Trail at many of the other Refuges I've visited in northeast North Carolina.
Monday, July 23, 2012: Virginia Beach
My sleep was interrupted when the sprinkler system went off. I went back to sleep after a 2:30 am Walmart bathroom break.
I started the day driving along Virginia Beach, past the statue of Neptune, to Fort Story. Vehicle registration, insurance card, and government ID are required to drive onto the base. Since Massachusetts insurance companies do not issue insurance cards, I ended up parking outside the gates and walking onto the base. This also got me out of the vehicle search which, given the manner in which I'm traveling, could have been interesting. Not only that, I think I still have leftover oxycodone (or whatever it was I got after my appendectomy) in the car and drugs, including opioids would likely be frowned upon.
It was about ¾ of a mile to the old lighthouse which wouldn't be open to visitors for another hour. I went across the street to the new lighthouse and found it is no longer open to visitors. I killed the hour perusing an amphibious fireboat, different but reminiscent of the DUKW boats I've seen and been on as part of the Boston DUCK boat tours. I spent time looking at some of the monuments honoring the First Landing, and from the boardwalk, I watched the many dozens of dolphins feeding on the Cobia which were reported to be running now. They were fun to watch as many were jumping and twisting. There's also a statue of French Admiral François Joseph Paul comte de Grasse who, during the Revolutionary war, helped the Americans prevent the British from reaching Yorktown.
I climbed the old lighthouse, one of the shorter ones I've climbed. Since the Fresnel lens has been removed, the top was open to tour but with no catwalk on the outside and no ventilation, it was an oven inside with the sun shining right in. They stop tours once the temperature inside reaches 110 degrees. I’m glad I was there when it opened.
After climbing the lighthouse, I managed to get a ride back to my car and spent the afternoon in the library.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012: Virginia Beach to Chincoteague
I started the day with a load of laundry and as with almost every other time I've done a load, I managed to forget one item. Sigh. At least it'll be nice to have clean clothes to wear in the crowds I'm expecting on Chincoteague tomorrow.
I topped off my gas tank knowing that crossing the bridge tunnel could mean an additional $.15 to .30 per gallon. I stopped at the fish pier on island one. Noticing a trio of balloons floating towards the pier, I enlisted the help of the fishermen and one managed to snag the balloon strings and fish them out of the water. Another offered a knife to pop the balloons and I ensured they were safely deposited in a trash can where they wouldn’t blow out.
I watched large ships cross between islands knowing they were traveling over the tunnel I was about to travel through. I also saw three US Navy LCAC (Landing Craft Air Cushion) hovercraft pass through the area.
I had done this trip through the bridge tunnel once before, many years earlier, before the 1999 opening of the new southbound bridges. It was nighttime then so I don't remember much of that trip.
I did have one strange thing occur on this trip over the bridge. The local public radio station I had been listening to faded out so I started searching for another. I happily found one but was then surprised to hear the station had the call letters WLRN. That's a Miami, Florida radio station. Sure enough, they said southern Florida so I hadn't just heard the call letters incorrectly. I stopped at Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center and someone else had also had that experience so I know it wasn't just me.
I took a drive and a walk at the Refuge. From the Marsh Overlook, I could see the Cape Charles Lighthouse. I knew that was as close to it as I was going to get. There were numerous butterflies flitting around and I saw a 24-30" Northern Watersnake along the path.
At the town of Cape Charles, I took pictures of the water tower there, painted to look like a lighthouse. I then visited the Bay Creek Resort gated community and got permission to visit the Old Plantation Flats Light Station Replica. The replica station looks like it has a Fresnel lens in it.
I spent some time at the library, in a building converted from an old church. It smelled musty but the stained glass windows were beautiful though some aren't original to the church.
Continuing to Chincoteague I was reminded to check out the NASA Wallops facility. With no time today, I'll return in the next couple of days to check it out.
The causeway passed over a marsh with huge numbers of birds but no place to stop. It was just a bit frustrating.
Once in town, I stopped to pay homage to the Misty of Chincoteague statue. It was reading Marguerite Henry's book as a child that sparked my interest in the barrier island ponies. It was only years later as an adult, that I realized first that the tradition of the pony swim still continued and later still, that there were other barrier island with ponies on them.
Continuing my drive down Main Street, I began to wonder if I was in the right book after all - or if I had wandered into some sort of wormhole that had brought me back to Boston. All of a sudden, I was in "Make Way for Ducklings." There were families of ducks in town that could care less if they held up traffic. “Make Way for Ducklings” took place in Boston where the tradition of a Duckling Day parade takes place every Mother's Day. Bronze statues of the ducklings are worn shiny by the multitudes of children who climb onto and pet the bronze ducks each year.
Continuing my survey of the island, I found one park from which to view the crossing, sat there and ate dinner while a lightning storm passed through, and got my first glimpse of the lighthouse on Assateague Island. I meandered through the carnival and got my first glimpse of some of the few ponies that had been brought over early. Some of these were ill, injured, too small to swim, or too pregnant to take chances with. The rest will be forced to swim the channel between Assateague and Chincoteague Islands tomorrow morning at slack tide.
At the information booth, I got a lot of good information for my time on the island. I found out about the shuttles that are available, a better place from which to see the ponies swim - assuming I don't mind getting a bit dirty, and a spot to park where I'm unlikely to get kicked out if I try to stay overnight.
By the way, the radio station weirdness has continued... In addition to the Florida station, I've gotten public radio stations from Iowa, Kansas, DC, and Philly. This must be some weird NPR vortex. Wild! Not surprisingly, WAMU from Ocean City, Maryland won out as the most reliable station.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012: Chincoteague
After a good night's sleep, I woke up at 4:30 and was in line for the first shuttle at 5am. The first one passed by without stopping but the next stopped. We were let out at Memorial Park and had to walk to Pony Swim Lane which we found only after a few false starts. The crowd had already started to form but I managed to get a spot along the fence with a family that clearly knew a bit more than I did. This spot is so much better than the spot at Memorial Park I had scouted yesterday. This is where the ponies actually come ashore. I arrived at 5:30 in the morning. Slack tide was going to be around 8:30 so there was only about three hours to wait. It was also early enough to not have to deal with the worst of the summer sun beating down on us in this unprotected area.
I took a break and managed to get on the pier to get a few shots back at the crowd in the marsh. But I had to vacate quickly as the pier is reserved for the press, event staff, and families of the firefighters for which this whole scene is a fundraiser. The event staff kept the crowd riled up by occasionally tossing frisbees, water bottles, and t-shirts into the crowd. I caught a frisbee to keep and another to toss further into the crowd.
The salt water cowboys came out and prepared to help out as necessary. Three stayed on our side of the channel. Then some of the cowboys that had been on Assateague were brought over on a small barge. The cowboys on their horses don't swim with the horses, but are there to drive them into the water where Coast Guard and other boats ensure their safe passage and are then used to form a human/equine moving fence to parade the horses through town to the pony penning grounds at the fairgrounds.
The tide finally went out but they delayed the swim because of high wind. They were going to delay longer but the tide had started coming in fast and the longer they wait, the farther the ponies would have to swim. There was a pause as the herd of ponies became visible lining up along the shore of Assateague Island, reluctant to start the swim, but once one started going, the rest followed. Usually a three and a half minute swim, this year it took six and a half minutes, likely due to the wind and the fact that the delay meant the ponies had to swim further. During their swim, we could only see heads and noses out of the water.
The first foal out of the water is named King or Queen Neptune and granted special status. We watched carefully but missed it in the mass of larger horses exiting the water. The ponies are allowed to rest for an hour or so after arriving on Chincoteague. Some say it's to allow them to relieve some of the stress from the swim, but in retrospect, I think the crowd is more stressed than the ponies. As soon as they were out of the water, they shook off their coats and immediately started grazing. Some of the foals and dams that got separated whinnied for each other but they readily found each other and once the stallions that had a few scuffles separated out their harems, calmness prevailed.
The break gives the gathered crowd time to take all the pictures they want and then disperse along the parade route. This makes space for the cowboys to line up to wrangle the ponies into position for the walk through town.
I left with the majority of the crowd and took advantage of the one house that for $1, allows you to clean off your feet. While I hadn't had to get dirty on the way out to the marsh, I had to walk through the muddy marsh smelling of rotten eggs to get out. With no shower facilities within easy reach, it was well worth spending the money to wash off my feet, not knowing where else I would have the chance. It was only when I got in line that I realized the smallest bill I had with me was a $20 bill. I started asking the people near me if they had change and without skipping a beat, the woman in front of me said "here's a buck." I tried to protest knowing that I could definitely make change but she seemed happy to have helped so today, rather than "trail magic," I received some Pony Penning magic.
I then walked the route almost all the way back to the fairgrounds. It didn't take long before the parade followed. First the motorcycle police. Then the police cars. Then the horse trailer. The cowboys followed riding their horses five abreast. Then nose to tail along the outside, more saltwater cowboys formed such a complete circle around the feral ponies, it was hard to see the ponies. Every now and then, we could see them through a break in the mobile fence. Towards the end, the stragglers, usually the younger foals, went slow enough that the cowboys had to open breaks in their barrier. It was there that we could see the foals trying to keep up with their dams.
Following the horses, was an Indian (or someone dressed as in Indian) in full headdress atop a Percheron draft horse, a few more vehicles, and then the crush of spectators that had been lining the road and were now forming the tail of the parade. The horses were corralled into the pens in the back of the fairgrounds so after dropping off my chair back at my car, I made my way to the pony pens and went to visit the ponies. The stallions would occasionally get into scuffles here even in this larger pen but for the most part, they kept the harems separated and life was mostly peaceful. The horses were given plenty of hay and fresh water. The foals were feeding and laying down for naps.
Those of us who gathered around the pens oohed and aahed at the foals. Many of us were taken with two in particular... One was a blondie - a very pale palomino with a coat to match the light colored mane. The other was a paint with a perfectly formed heart shaped blaze on his forehead. All foals had been given a number worn on a tag dangling from a string around its neck. Most strings were white but there were some with red strings.
I eventually tore myself away to spend a couple of hours at NASA Wallops. I watched some of the summer camp kids fire off rockets and then went inside. They were nice enough to allow me to use their power to not only plug in my phone to recharge but to power up my computer so I could download pictures.
Their flag was at half staff to honor the loss of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space who had just died the day before. They also had a special exhibit and documentary about her. The facility closed before I had a chance to finish looking around so if I'm still around, I may try to return on Saturday when they'll be celebrating their 30th Anniversary with an Open House.
Back at the fairgrounds, the colt with the heart was being absolutely adorable. It was nibbling and pawing at another foal trying to nap. It seemed like it was just looking for a playmate. Many of us were trying to find King Neptune but were unsuccessful.
I played a few games of $.25 bingo before heading back to the car for the night. For what it's worth, all proceeds from Pony Penning auction, the carnival rides, bingo, and maybe some of the raffles go into funding the firehouse and firemen for the next year. They get no tax dollars. This is their only source of funding for the year.
Thurssday, July 26, 2012: Chincoteague
Not quite as early, this morning I got up at 6:30 and claimed a spot in the stands for the pony auction that would be starting in a couple of hours. I was sitting next to one of the many Amish families that were in town for the event. Some are here to buy ponies but this family, like me, was here just to take in the festivities. Everyone was friendly and we took turns making sure our seats didn't get taken if one or the other of us left for a bathroom break or to get one final look at the foals in the pens with their mothers.
I wasn't at all sure I really wanted to be here for this part of Pony Penning. But, I knew I would be sorry if I didn't stay and watch. So, I got up to watch a bit of the saddest part of the week. Before they could auction off the foals, the foals had to be separated from their mothers.
As a herd, they were moved to a smaller pen and then a few at a time were herded into chutes. It was there that the foals were herded into stalls and the rest of the horses were herded back into the large pen. Fillies and colts squealed for their mothers and mothers paced the fence frantically looking for their foals.
For the most part, the foals were ready to be separated from their mothers. We had all observed them eating grass and drinking water on their own. That didn't make it any easier to watch.
It would have been nice if the foals could just stay with their herds but the Firefighters have to keep their herd to a maximum of 150 horses as mandated by an agreement with the National Park Service and the National Wildlife Refuge which now oversees the Virginia portion of Assateague Island. More ponies than that overly taxes the natural resources of the barrier island. Culling the herd each year with Pony Penning is a way to keep both the island and the herd healthy.
Each year, a small number of foals are selected to go back to the island to help maintain the herds over the long term. They are called "buy backs." But they are not immune from the auction. As a matter of fact, it is many of these foals that bring in the highest bids - upwards of $7300 this year and more in past years. It was Blondie that brought in the high bid this year but she was returned to the herd to live out her life on the island. Genetics, lineage, and coloring all go into deciding which foals stay and which go.
The auction is a fund raiser and the bids on these buy backs just go to maintain the firehouse. Many "owners" of the buy backs come back year after year to visit "their" ponies. They see them grow up and have foals of their own which then get sold at auction.
Stallions tend to bring less than fillies so the $3700 for Heart was a very good price. But his spirited antics had caught everyone's eye and his markings were beautiful.
A few foals are too young to be separated now but they are sold anyway and the new owners pick them up in the fall after their medical check. Because the island herds are owned, they get a bit more attention than many other barrier island ponies. They get health checks two or three times a year and in the winter, if food is scarce, they may be fed. So the fall check is an easy time to separate out these tiny foals which will be ready to feed on their own by then.
So, after the foals were separated out, the mares eventually settled down and I returned to my seat. The Pony Center Drill Team rode out on their Chincoteague ponies. It was hard to imagine them as the same stock I had been watching in the pen. They were significantly taller and very well groomed, of course. Good nutrition will do that and those that take home ponies from the auction can expect their ponies to look this good if well taken care of. Some of the ponies looked like they might not even be ponies. I think they may exceed the 14.2 hands that define ponies.
Finally the auction started and I was very careful with any motions I was making. I didn't want to bid on a pony by accident.
Each foal was brought out by two wranglers. They are not halter broken yet so they have to hang on tight and guide the foals around the ring so people can see what they are bidding on. Most know in advance based on the numbered tags around their necks. So, since yesterday morning, everyone was able to observe the foals in the pens and make decisions about which they wanted to bid on my number. But, it was still nice to be able to see some of these foals out in the open even if mostly blocked by the wranglers.
Some foals were content to be maneuvered around the enclosure. Others, like Heart, put up a fight, kicking and bucking or sitting back on their haunches. Handlers would get knocked down, a third or fourth wrangler would enter the ring to help. The smaller foals would be brought out by a couple of kids.
At one point, the vet got up on the podium. He started explaining why a couple of the smaller foals were being auctioned for take home now. Their dams (mothers) were sick and couldn't provide the nutrition they needed. But, the vet broke down while trying to explain this and needed quite a bit of time before he could explain the problem fully and what it meant for those that might get the winning bid on one of these foals. They would need to be bottle fed and given special medicine for a while. It was very emotional for both him and the crowd.
Some of the townspeople donate handmade crafts or artwork to be auctioned off. They would take breaks between foals to auction some of these items. If the artist was there to describe the work, so much the better. So, when a local artist got up to describe the scene in a painting he was auctioning off and started with how he had just lost his Chinconteague pony, Cezanne, that he had had for years, both he and much of the crowd broke down again.
And then there were the tears of happiness from both parents and their children when they won ponies in the auction. Surprisingly, I didn't see any from those that left empty handed.
For those that know me, it was no surprise that I couldn't write this journal entry without crying and now transcribing this is bringing back all those same emotions.
As each foal was auctioned, the winners had to come up immediately and pay for their foal. If it was a buy back, they would come up, pay for their foal, get a picture with it, and then the foal would be returned to the herd immediately.
Friday, July 26, 2012: Chincoteague
Yet another early morning. I had no idea how early people lined up to see the herd returned to Assateague Island. I ended up first at the dock but unsure whether I was allowed to go across or not. The next group of people included one woman who had done this many times so we followed her across and I set up right next to her. Two other women joined us and we formed a small circle of chairs reserving our space along both the corridor where the ponies come from as well as along the fence. It was 7:15.
I did a bit of birdwatching until the crowds grew big enough to chase away both the green heron and the black crowned night heron that had posed so beautifully for me.
We defended our little space from would be interlopers and got to know each other a bit.
By 10:30, we were on our feet knowing the ponies would be arriving any minute. The herd going back was much smaller. Not only had 67 foals been sold, but the northern herd had been taken back yesterday by truck. Only the herd going to the southern part of the island swims back. The saltwater cowboys did their thing and brought them in their movable corral to the waters edge and then said goodbye as the boaters took over. The cowboys stayed at waters edge as there are always a few mares that try to stay behind to go look for their foals.
The horses do swim back and forth between island on their own at times. Just last week, a family group swam across looking for better grazing. They were herded back to Assateague only to have to take part in Pony Penning this week.
After the swim, there was no one available with hoses to clean off. I got a ride back to my car with my new found friends and then drove across to Assatague Island to go to the beach showers to rinse off my feet. Back across the causeway, I grabbed a bite at McDonald's and then back to Assateague to climb the lighthouse. I had hoped to see some horses from the top but the horses had all moved out of sight behind trees from this perspective.
I went to the aquarium talk, mostly to have some down time for myself. I ran into the family I had been next to for the first pony swim. Later, I took part in a marsh walk. Thankfully clouds had moved it to temper the otherwise brutal sun. We saw Periwinkle snails, fiddler crabs, one of which drew blood when I tried to pick it up. There was a sulfur smell from all the decomposing material, Salt Cord Grass, raccoon prints in the mud flats, myrtle and more. Once again, my feet needed a good rinsing. Actually, my whole body did so I went for a swim and then rinsed off at the beach side showers. No soap here though as the water drains onto the sand and into the bay.
Saturday, July 28, 2012: Chincoteague
Finally, I had a morning where I didn't have to set my alarm. But I was up early anyway and made my way to Assateague, stopping on the causeway between the islands to catch the sunrise.
Once on Assateague, there was a mare on the road, possibly separated from the northern herd in an effort to find her foal. She wandered by the National Wildlife Refuge sign and eventually made her way to the fence keeping the southern herd at bay. But she was on the wrong side of the fence and traveled along the fence unsuccessfully looking for a way in.
There was lots of good birding of larger shorebirds along the road.
I spent time in the lobby of the Refuge Visitor's Center, sitting in comfortable rocking chairs while taking the time to transfer pictures form my camera to the computer and recharging my camera batteries. The one of the mare at the sign was pretty good.
I spent the afternoon at NASA Wallops, finishing seeing what I had missed last time and attending one talk on the history of Wallops and another on the impending Mars Curiosity mission, due to land a relatively large vehicle on Mars on August 6, 2012. This vehicle has a much larger array of scientific equipment than the earlier Mars landers one of which, the Opportunity, continues to send back data almost 3000 Mars days longer than its original 90-day mission.
I returned to Assateague to drive the loop road but with the marsh being as dry as a desert, there's not much wildlife to see.
Back at the Carnival ground, they closed early due to lightning in the area. My car is acting up again and it's hard to get it cool enough to sleep in the evening without the fan working to circulate the air conditioning. Sigh.
Sunday, July 29, 2012: Chincoteague
I’m getting used to these early mornings. This time, I went back to Assateague but took a slightly faster drive through the park to meet a 7:30am bird walk. The two hour walk returned on time but continued from the deck of the Visitor's Center for another hour. With a good hint from the ranger, I then "found" about six Clapper Rails poking around under the bike bridge along the causeway. I could see movement in the grass so knew there were even more there but they didn't make an appearance while I was there.
I visited the Museum of Chinconteague Island to see the large first order Fresnel Lens that used to be in the lighthouse but have been superseded by drum lights. This is also the museum that houses both Misty and Stormy, stuffed, or course. I thought it might be creepy to see such childhood favorites stuffed but it was merely weird.
After that, there was an archery program running for a couple of hours at the Wildlife Refuge Visitor's Center. In reality, it was a taste of archery and most people just came, learned a bit, took a few shots, and after 10-15 minutes, moved on. I had always wanted to try it as a kid but never had the chance.
So, I signed up, learned the proper stance, donned a wrist guard, learned how to position the arrow on the bow, and took a few shots. I surprised both myself and those putting on the program with how well I did. Granted the targets were not very far away, but I still did much better than most other first timers.
They were amenable to my sticking around and taking more shots when there weren't others waiting to learn so over the course of the two hours, had plenty of time to practice in between others. I got "bit" twice when I locked my "bow" arm by accident. I had to remember not to do that. I knew those bites would be good for some ugly bruising.
I experimented a bit and came up with a pretty consistent way of shooting. I even had a chance to move back a few meters to try some longer shots and did just as well there. I'm not sure I'll ever take up archery as a hobby but if I'm ever given the opportunity to practice some more, at least I’ll have some idea what I'm doing.
After the archery practice, I took a two-hour kayak tour of the marsh. We did about 10-minutes of paddling, sat in the kayaks for about an hour while the ranger spoke about our environment, and spent about an hour on the shore sort of repeating much of what had been done in my marsh walk a couple of days ago. Oh well.
After all that, I was beat. I tried to get online again at the gazebo behind the library but got to talking with a couple sitting in their sailboat docked in town. Over an hour later, I didn't even try to get online and just went back to the carnival parking lot. With the carnival closed on Sundays, the lot was darker than usual. Unfortunately, my car fan didn't work at all today so it's hot in my car tonight.
Monday, July 30, 2012: Chincoteague, VA to Ocean City, MD
Sunrise wasn't as pretty today so I went back to the gazebo to download pictures and recharge batteries. The couple on the boat were just getting moving as I finished up so I bid them good-bye and went back to the park to pay for my kayak trip yesterday. I had been a stand-by participant so hadn’t paid yet. I also went to participate in the 9:30 porch birding session.
I finally left the area and drove to Berlin, a quaint town where Runaway Bride was filmed. I stopped for some food and spent the afternoon in the library.
After checking out the local Walmart, I found a supermarket with a salad bar and brought my dinner to the Ocean City boardwalk. It was a bit cool and the crowds were annoying so after eating and checking out the huge kites a local shop had flying from strong anchors on the beach, I left the area and went back to a 24-hour supermarket parking lot for the night. The market was loser to the beach.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012: Ocean City
I woke up to a 6am thunder and lightning storm. After grabbing a yogurt for the first time in days, I made my way to the Maryland side of the Assateague Island National Seashore. It was raining so the views weren't great but rabbits bounced around, turkeys gave me suspicious glances, and the horses couldn't even be bothered to look my way. It's nice getting to the park so early and in suspect weather. There's almost nobody else here. Once the Visitor's Center opened, I took in a talk about owls, and watched a movie about the horses that didn't pull too many punches given that children were a primary part of the audience. Birth control to ensure genetic diversity and the natural death process were all part of the video.
I ate lunch on the porch and then visited the Rackliffe Plantation, a short walk or drive from the Visitor's Center.
I drove back into the park and got a rude awakening at the traffic jams each time a harem of horses saw fit to graze the short grass at the roadside.
I went for a swim and ended up giving curious tourists an impromptu lecture about riptides. This National Seashore is north of the mandatory riptide talk I had heard many times on the Outer Banks. Hopefully, the information will help keep them safe. I was also able to grab a beachside shower with shampoo. We're back in the land of sewer or septic systems so it's safe to use soaps.
I had dinner with a Tri-colored Heron and some ponies while waiting for sunset on Old Ferry Road.
I reminded myself to be careful with my optics. It's OK to look at the sun with my camera and its electronic viewfinder but not OK to use my binoculars. Both are often strung around my neck at the same time so I didn't want to grab the wrong one by accident.
I was tired on the way back to Ocean City but didn't find an alternative parking spot so back to the supermarket lot I went.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012: Ocean City, MC to Harpers Ferry, WV
I got up at 5:30 so I could get back to the park for sunrise. I may have gotten some good pictures before rain set in yet again this morning. I went back to Old Ferry Road because I could hang out in my car, out of the rain, and still have a view.
When the rain quit, it was still cool enough to do two short walks. It was necessary to wear jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and head net due to mosquitoes prevalent in the trees. Along the dunes walk, I saw rabbits, turkeys, and deer which sounds like a Thanksgiving meal to me. Part of this trail went along portions of an old road that used to connect with Ocean City. It's now mostly gone but with a stretch of blacktop raised above the dunes here and there. I actually walked along one short stretch.
The second walk was through the woods near the Old Ferry Road. I got to see the horses and bay from a different perspective.
On my drive out of the park, I stopped at one point to view horses in the marsh. When they had moved into the brush and out of sight, I decided to change back into my shorts while sitting by the side of the road in my car. Little did I know, the horses were on their way roadside and came out of the woods right where I was parked. I had to change quickly because people were getting out of their cars and walking up to mine to get better pictures. I wouldn't have normally stopped so close to the horses but they came to me, not the other way around.
I never even got out of my car. I just took pictures of them emerging from the scrub from my driver's window.
Then it was a long drive to Harpers Ferry. At only four hours, it may not have been a truly long drive, but it was probably the longest I had done since my drive south in April. Harpers Ferry is well out of the way for me but it's a nice opportunity to see a bunch of friends I don't often get to see, all in one place.
I stopped for breaks a couple of times including one stop at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy office. I found out I had missed my friend Husky at the ATC office by less than an hour. Argh! I haven't seen him in years - perhaps since 2003 or 2005.
It was so nice to catch up with Mark and John. Arthur and Chase came in soon thereafter. I hadn't seen Chase since I traveled south along the Blue Ridge Parkway last year. A few weeks earlier than that had been the last time I had seen Mark and John. I get to see Arthur at home quite frequently but it had been since early April of this year so it was good to catch up with him, too.
As usual, the food was scrumptious, too.
Thursday, August 2, 2012: Harpers Ferry
I drove with Arthur and Chase to Roanoke. We stopped at the Daleville, Cloverdale, Troutville exit for lunch at the Mexican restaurant often frequented by thruhikers. There were none to be seen today as it's much too late for northbounders and too early for southbounders. When we dropped off Chase, we got to see Woodelf, his brother, and Rose, Woodelf's wife. It had been even longer since I had last seen them.
We were most of the way back when Arthur's car overheated. We managed to limp to an Autozone where after everything cooled down, Arthur realized that not only was the fluid low in the radiator, but the oil was low, too. We added three quarts of oil and a gallon of water and drove straight back to John and Mark's.
Friday, August 3, 2012: Harpers Ferry, WV to McLean, VA
I stayed long enough to let Arthur and John determine that it was an oil pressure sender that caused the problem with Arthur’s car yesterday. So I ate lunch with them and then got on the road.
I stopped at Trader Joe's and then started the last couple of miles to Ruth and Mark's place only to watch my car start to overheat. Sigh. Was it sympathy pains for Arthur's car. He's got the Mercury Sable and I've got a Ford Taurus. They are essentially the same car.
I made it to my friend's place, waited for the car to cool off, and then put in a few quarts of water. It didn't immediately pour out so that was a good sign. I had plenty of oil in my car so I knew it wasn't the same problem.
I was planning on dancing at Glen Echo tonight and maybe tomorrow night as well, but with my car being in such bad shape, I decided to just start my way back home without too much extra mileage.
So, I hung out and caught up with my friends. Ruth will be moving to Germany soon. So along with Dare who may be there in a year or so and my friend Ebi, perhaps that'll be the excuse I need to revisit Europe again. It's been more than 15 years since my last visit to the continent.
Saturday, August 4, 2012: McLean, VA to Edgewater, NJ
I woke up relieved to find the water still in my car. It hadn't leaked out overnight. A quick visit to a local garage yielded an Inca Cola drinking mechanic who took a look at my car and thought I would be able to make it back to Massachusetts. He of course, admonished me to make sure I carry plenty of water in my car in case I ran into problems along the way. I already had about six quarts in my car, just in case.
I spent the rest of the morning back at the house and then had lunch with Scott, another friend from the Trail. We went to Moby Dick's a local kebab chain.
I hit the only pocket of really bad traffic just as I got hungry for dinner so I managed to eat during the stops between the goes.
I arrived at Michele's place just as she was putting the kids to sleep. It didn't take long to realize things were a little different around the house. The kids were potty trained now so the diaper table was gone, one of the previously off limits areas was open, and the accoutrements of potty training in the bathroom were no longer anywhere to be seen.
Sunday, August 5, 2012: Edgewater, NJ to East Hartford, CT
I started the day with my usual New Jersey bagel run. It's a treat for those of us who don't regularly get New York style bagels so I bring some back for both of my sisters in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
I stopped for a fast food lunch with internet access. Then I visited with my mother. I picked up my family's favorite pizza at Anna's in a torrential downpour. Thankfully, my towel was handy in the car and the rain had mostly stopped by the time I got to Rocky Hill. I spent the evening catching up with my sister Sharon, who is laid up with a broken foot, and watching the Olympics. This is the first opportunity I have had to do so.
Monday, August 6, 2012: East Hartford, CT to Malden, MA
I did some shopping for my mother before breakfast which was at my sister's place. I then dropped off the shopping and got on the road back to Boston.
Arriving at my sister, Lori's, place, I found I had won the 2012 Olympic Gold medal for Traveling. My niece and nephew had put a welcome sign up on the door, added the Olympic rings, and made me my own medal. How cool is that?
Tuesday, August 7, 2012: Malden
Wednesday, August 8, 2012: Malden to Crawford Notch, NH
I met Arthur in the morning and together, we drove up to Concord, NH to meet Shannon at the supermarket. With about $200 worth of groceries, we caravanned up to Crawford Notch to do trail magic and celebrate Arthur's 60th birthday. Unbeknownst to Arthur, Shannon and I had talked beforehand and Shannon managed to buy a birthday cake on the way to meet us.
We ran into our first hikers, southbounders, at the lower trailhead even before we parked the car. When we got to the upper lot, it didn't take long to erect the tarp with the help of the hikers and when Arthur (Rockdancer) took Shannon to set up his tent, I pulled out the cake and got it ready for Rockdancer's return. By the time Arthur and Shannon returned, we had been joined by more hikers and nine of us made quite a Happy Birthday chorus when we surprised Arthur with the cake.
We've celebrated Arthur's birthday doing trail magic in the past. It was nice to do so again.
For dinner, we boiled up hotdogs for dinner.
Thursday, August 9, 2012: Crawford Notch
It was a slow day with surprisingly few hikers. Shannon and I did a run to the Irving gas station/convenience store in the morning. On the way back, we found Crawford Depot has a great outdoor water source now. It was perfect for refilling the gallon jugs we keep handy for hikers who may want some fresh water.
Shannon said good-bye in the afternoon and we settled in under the tarp for the afternoon.
The weather had been deteriorating all day. I managed to crawl into my tent just before rain really let loose. It was only then that I realized my tent now leaks badly. I managed to find a way to divert the leaking water so I could get some sleep.
Friday, August 10, 2012: Crawford Notch
We had a brief respite from the rain this morning. There were beautiful cloud formations in the Notch when we did a Depot run.
Back at the Park, we ran into our first hikers of the day. These early hikers intended to hike on but settled in for quite a while. More hikers came. Bad weather came. It just got worse and worse. At one point, we had twelve people under the tarp this afternoon. One hiker tried to leave and came back an hour later when he thought better about climbing Webster Cliffs with lightning around. Smart man.
With my tent leaking like a sieve, and a lot of hikers with very wet gear, Arthur, myself, and one other hiker took off to see if Dickerman cabin would be a suitable refuge given the conditions. Arthur, a member of the Sub Sig Outing Club, was hoping other club members might have opened the cabin for the weekend. The cabin was open and when the three members who were there realized what was happening with the hikers, they welcomed us and made us feel right at home.
Two of us settled in while Arthur went to pick up the remaining three hikers who would also be joining us. It was raining so hard when Arthur got back to the other hikers, that they just loaded up the hikers and a minimal amount of trail magic gear and beat a hasty retreat back to the cabin. Arthur ended up leaving his personal gear behind so had minimal stuff to get through the night. By the time they got back, I and the other woman had settled in, gotten our stuff out of the way, and were ready to help out or just stay out of their way as they settled in. The weather, already bad beforehand, had gotten worse and it was pouring. Everyone who came in was wet, as was their gear. There was limited space to leave items to dry but we all managed.
The club members declined any payment from the thruhikers but I paid minimal guest dues. With the forecasted dismal weather, many club members who had planned on attending for the weekend canceled so we were treated to a delicious hot meal of chicken, rice, and veggie sauce that would have otherwise fed the club members.
Saturday, August 11, 2012: Crawford Notch, NH to Belmont, MA
There was no need to rush this morning. Arthur made two trips to get everyone back up to the Notch.
I was with the second car. When we got back to the Notch, we found that the hikers enlisted by Arthur to help clean up the garbage that had gotten strewn about last night after Arthur had been forced to leave the garbage behind yesterday, had been joined by two hikers who had just hiked into the Notch this morning. I'm not sure how bad it had gotten, but they had cleaned up most of the garbage by the time I had gotten there. Normally, we would never leave the garbage bag out overnight but in order to get everyone to the cabin last night in only two car loads, the garbage had gotten left behind yesterday.
The hikers from overnight had moved on and the two hikers that had hiked out this morning joined us for a bit, enjoying some trail magic before moving on. Other hikers came and went through the morning and Arthur and I finally took off for home in the afternoon.
Thus ends yet another U.S. Road Trip.
Last updated, July 4, 2013
Tips and Tricks
Gear Reviews and Discussions
AT FAQ and Stats
Trip Reports Gear Lists Mail Drops About Me Acknowledgements Photos Updates Fun Email Mara