51st Anniversary Road Trip


“I don’t hear anything.”


We were on the deck immediately outside the back door of the cottage. The dark waters of the Aucilla River swirled past us toward the Gulf of Mexico about three miles away. Straining to hear, Gini (the one with good ears) could not hear any traffic noise at all, no sirens, no dogs barking, no neighbors slamming doors. Sigh.

Phil, of the internationally renown blogging phenomenon, Another Bird Blog, recently asked why we would want to take a vacation since we live in Florida? The answer is, we did not take a vacation “from” Florida, but “within Florida”. Our Sunshine State has an incredible variety of adventure to offer. Even for a couple of natives such as us.

It’s amazing to think we have been married 51 years. Gini makes it seem like yesterday when we were running barefoot along the beach. We still do that, except for the running part. Thanks to her, every day is fresh, new, exciting and filled with anticipation!

Our road trip began at the southern boundary of Dixie County at the town of Suwannee, where the scenic river of song empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Winding our way northward through the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, we passed through hardwood hammocks, vast marshes, tidal streams, beaches (not the touristy white-sand type, the muddy reed and cabbage-dotted wildlife-filled ones), pine uplands and fishing villages. The day began with a thick sea-fog which didn’t begin lifting until almost noon.

A small cottage on the Aucilla River near the eastern boundary of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge was our home for a few days of exploration. Located at the end of an old logging road, the small house has a solid wall of glass at the rear offering an unobstructed view of the beautiful dark river and wild western shoreline. Three other houses are nearby, only one of which is occupied but only on the weekends. Nightly concerts were provided by Eastern Screech, Great Horned and Barred Owls. Dawn was announced by noisy flocks of Double-crested Cormorants flying low and heading down river.

We spent a lot of time at nearby St. Marks NWR where the birds are abundant and people are not. Local seafood was fresh, abundant and inexpensive. Back roads produced even more bird life and superb scenery. A comfortable bed was welcome at day’s end and it was refreshing to peek out from the covers each morning and see the river come to life in the predawn light.

A few images are provided to give you a sense of our adventure. Also, see Additional Information below for a link to a map giving an idea of where we traveled.


Just north of the town of Suwannee, the Dixie Mainline Trail winds through vast swamps and hammocks and crosses a half-dozen tidal creeks. Side trails offer great views of the salt marsh bounded to the west by the Gulf of Mexico.Lower Suwannee River NWP

Lower Suwannee River NWP


With all the water, fungus is plentiful. Why does it grow on a particular tree but not on others immediately adjacent?

Lower Suwannee River NWP

Lower Suwannee River NWP


Tidal creeks beg to be explored.

Lower Suwannee River NWP

Lower Suwannee River NWP

Lower Suwannee River NWP


This beauty may be a Gulf Hammock Rat Snake, a hybrid of a Gray and Yellow Rat Snake. Any expert opinions are welcome.

Lower Suwannee River NWP


This vast marsh is part of Shired Island which has a very nice campground, picnic area and fishing pier. I have flagged this spot to return for some night photography later in the year.

Lower Suwannee River NWP


We spotted a large piece of driftwood covered in shells. Combined with the texture of the wood, this collection seemed almost like a painting.

Lower Suwannee River NWP


The old logging road leading to our cottage was long and straight.

The Moorings At Mandalay



The Moorings at Mandalay. Serene, scenic, soothing.

The Moorings At Mandalay


As you step out the back door, you are on a deck above the gorgeous Aucilla River.

Aucilla River

Aucilla River


On the deck, a Green Anole and a kitten.

The Moorings At Mandalay

Aucilla River


Around midnight, we discovered what we thought was a bird feeder was actually a raccoon feeder! (And opossum feeder, too, but he was camera shy.)

The Moorings At Mandalay


At St. Marks NWR, a Red-bellied Cooter almost got hit by a speeding truck so I moved him to the safety of the water. As I turned toward the car, I spotted a Vermilion Flycatcher, uncommon in Florida. Thanks, Turtle!

St. Marks NWR


Vermilion Flycatcher. A male and female spent the winter here, from birding reports. We got good looks at the female, but she would not pose for any pics. The male had no problem doing so.

St. Marks NWR

St. Marks NWR


This Great Horned Owl appropriated an old Bald Eagle nest to raise two owlets, one of which can be seen here.

St. Marks NWR


Gini said during her early years, one of her favorite beach activities was collecting Fiddler Crabs. We found a few to add to her memory bank.

Bottoms Road


A sub-adult Bald Eagle found a great perch to keep watch over the marsh.

St. Marks NWR


The lighthouse at St. Marks is the second oldest still standing in Florida.

St. Marks NWR


The vast marsh disappears into the Gulf of Mexico.

St. Marks NWR


Not far from our cottage is the Goose Pasture campground on another of Florida’s scenic dark rivers, the Wacissa. It is formed from and fed by a series of a dozen clear springs.

Goose Pasture


One final sunset on the Aucilla River near where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Aucilla River


We had a wonderful vacation, even if we didn’t leave the state! Both of us agreed to do this again in another 51 years.


Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!


Additional Information

Florida’s Nature Coast

St. Marks NWR

Lower Suwannee NWR

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “51st Anniversary Road Trip

  1. Stewart M

    Wow! What a great post – so many things to see. We often wonder why we go elsewhere when we have the whole of Australia to look at. But I suppose I can explore my own backyard more once I can’t go overseas!!

    Hope all is well.

    Stewart M – Melbourne.

    PS: there does not seem to a link to your blog on you blogger account details, which means I had to come back to here via Google. SM

    • Thank you, Stewart! I often wonder what treasures we drive right by on our way to a more “iconic” location. It’s part of the reason we started this blog, exploring closer to home and offering information to others.

      I regret having been away from Wild Bird Wednesday and your “Other Blog”. Hopefully I will be more attentive as time permits.

      All IS well here! Take care.

  2. Hi Wally. Thank you for the slightly optimistic “internationally renowned blogging phenomenon”. If only.

    I’m sorry to have to tell you that you and Gini SWMBO are mere beginners as me and beloved Sue approach 53 years in October (I think). Let me check with her. But, like you we no longer run along the beach, just look in envy at those that do.

    And, it is possible to learn every day, especially since I discovered that Suwannee is the real name featured in that awful song. That fungus is amazing and suggests a more than healthy environment as well as looking strong enough to climb the tree next time you’re there.

    It’s interesting that the Great Horned Owl looks positively minute next to the mammoth nest. I wonder how many sticks and days/weeks of labour that took? Love the raccoon picture – a much maligned creature from my viewpoint over here in the UK and out of harms way perhaps.

    What a shame we didn’t see the splendid cottage as I’m guessing it’s a little more luxurious than a garden shed? Young lovebirds – have fun in your all year playground.

    • “Young lovebirds …”

      I do believe you just rocketed to the top of Gini’s most favored people on the planet list.

      I hope to canoe a portion of the Suwannee soon, hopefully in the fall, as it has some of the most massive cypress trees in the state along its banks.

      That owl’s nest was actually constructed over a period of several years by a pair of Bald Eagles who added to it each year. According to local birders and reserve rangers, there was a very intense fight this past winter which the owls obviously won.

      Congratulation to you and Sue, no matter how many years it has actually been! We are quite jealous of such longevity and hope to equal your achievement.

      Up next – Texas!

  3. My congratulations to you both on your 51 years (plus a few days, now!). And there was me thinking that, with all that romance going on, you must be newly-weds! What a wonderful place to celebrate your anniversary. My very best wishes to you and Gini – – – Richard

  4. First – congrats on your anniversary!! Then – what a fantastic place to have a holiday with so many beautiful places and creatures to see. Some of it (especially where there are tall trees) looks very exotic to me but where the waterways go through the salt marsh and there are all those palms around looks very similar to places close to where I live. The beautiful little flycatcher with the insect in its beak is just perfect! I hope you can return and share some more of the beauty with your readers.

  5. Beautiful shots! I love exploring rural Florida. You really captured the serenity. Congrats on 51 years. Wow! Brett and I are at 25 this year.

  6. edro123

    First of all, congratulations on 51 years together!

    It looks like you had a wonderful vacation – maybe I can talk Lynn into going up there with me. We have our 45th anniversary coming up soon.


    • Thank you! There are some unique spots from just north of Clearwater all the way to Pensacola. Fun to explore!

  7. Oooh. And ahhh.
    Echoing dinahmow. And grateful for these glorious images.

  8. Deep sigh….

    Thank you for a lovely beginning to my day.

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