Posts Tagged With: bald eagle

51st Anniversary Road Trip

“Listen.”

“I don’t hear anything.”

“Exactly.”

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – II

The day continued to be near perfect. Sunshine all day, not hot, a light breeze and a few clouds now and then. Spring was in the air. We spent the afternoon with the birds of the refuge. They rested, chased away trespassers, bathed, preened, flew to and fro and always hunted. The ducks, especially, were almost in constant motion as they must gather enough energy for returning north in the coming weeks.

With the sun dropping toward the horizon, we reluctantly headed in the same direction. Stopping at the bridge connecting the refuge to the mainland, we enjoyed a Florida sunset and agreed, once again, that we are two of the most blessed individuals on the planet.

 

Images of our afternoon.

Watching a Reddish Egret chase a meal would make Baryshnikov blush with envy. I had to literally run along the shoreline to keep up with this racer. He would stop suddenly only to burst out running again. Finally, he stabbed the shallow water and came up with a minnow which seemed too small to even consider as a meal for this large wader. It’s gonna take a lot of those to fill up Big Red!

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

 

Lesser Scaup were plentiful in the marshes and this one found a piece of quiet beach to enjoy a nap in the Florida sun. Just as soon as the pesky paparazzi leave.

Merritt Island NWR

 

As breeding season approaches, the plumage of the Roseate Spoonbill begins to brighten. Watching these large birds sweep their namesake bill back and forth in the shallow water is fascinating! Gini spotted an enterprising female Blue-winged Teal taking advantage of some shade provided by a tall pink tree.

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

 

Blue-winged Teal were the most numerous duck species at the refuge today. This male finished bathing and preening with a wing flap showing how it got its name.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Late afternoon and the salt marsh stretches in all directions.

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

 

Strong sunlight about an hour before sunset puts a spotlight on a freshwater hammock.

Merritt Island NWR

 

This Bald Eagle takes on a golden glow from the setting sun.

Merritt Island NWR

 

A pause at the bridge to the mainland as we reflect on our very special day and sigh heavily as the sun sinks beyond the St. Johns River.

Merritt Island NWR

 

The beginning and end of our journey today were in darkness. In between, we were in the full light of Nature as she shared a small bit of beauty with us. Come visit this special place if you have an opportunity. It is worth the time.

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit.

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

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