Posts Tagged With: bayport

Mellow Marsh

(WARNING: In this post to what is usually a “birding” blog, there are NO photographs of actual birds. Maybe next time.)

We turned onto Pine Island Drive just as the sun was beginning to rise above the distant line of tall trees visible across the vast salt marsh on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. This causeway connects Cortez Boulevard (County Road 550) to Hernando County’s only public beach. Although the beach was on our list to visit this morning, the causeway itself was our initial destination. Finding a safe spot to park along this drive is dicey as there is no shoulder between the asphalt and a drop-off into the black mud of the marsh for most of its length. Tidal creeks snake through the marsh grass and provide food and shelter for fish, crabs, insects and a diverse population of birds. The marsh is dotted with tree islands, commonly called hammocks. These oases have little tolerance for salt and grow only where the elevation is high enough to prevent flooding during high tides. The most common tree species on a coastal hammock are sabal palm, red cedar, pine and live oak. Beyond the marsh, creeks and hammocks to the west is the open gulf.

After wandering along Pine Island Drive and enjoying the golden glow of sunrise across the marsh,  mosquitoes and no-see-ums found me and I retreated to the car. Gini and I drove the short distance to the beach at Pine Island. Our breakfast of fruit and granola was enhanced by a wide-open view of the Gulf of Mexico across sugar white sand with palm trees swaying in a gentle breeze. We almost felt like tourists. But this is home.

Wading in the warm water of the gulf had a therapeutic effect and it was difficult to head back to the car. An incoming tide obscured a line of oyster-covered rocks which made walking in the shallows a little tricky. In a few weeks, migrating shore birds will cover this beach and the adjacent mud flats. We shall return.

Motoring back across the causeway and the expanse of cordgrass, we turned west onto Cortez Boulevard and followed it to its end at Bayport Park. The boat ramp was busy with fishermen launching skiffs into the Weeki-Wachee River. The mouth of the river is an excellent sheltered spot from which to begin a day of cruising the Gulf of Mexico for some of the area’s finest fishing. This whole area is quite shallow for several miles into the gulf and care must be taken or one could lose a propeller to the large rocks prevalent along this stretch of coastline.

The public fishing pier was closed due to severe damage last year from Hurricane Irma. A small park offers an elevated walkway over the marsh, a nice picnic area under huge hardwood and palm trees, a canoe launch and more tables along a seawall with terrific views of the gulf.

With its protected bay and navigable river inland for a few miles, Bayport has had a colorful history. In the early part of the 19th century, Florida exported large amounts of cotton and cattle. As the War Between The States destroyed much of the cotton fields in the southeast part of the country, Florida became a major supplier for domestic and foreign mills. Union forces blockaded Bayport and similar ports along the gulf coast and fierce naval battles were common.  After the war, Bayport became an important port for shipping lumber from the large tracts of cypress and pine that flourished here. During the Prohibition era, rum runners from Cuba made a very good living smuggling the demon liquor into America and Bayport was one of their major points of entry. Tales from that time describe barrels of rum stacked as high as a small house. The alcohol was packed into railroad freight cars and hidden by hay. Invoices were forged to indicate Irish potatoes were the cargo. A thirsty America was thankful.

Once railroads were constructed in the late 1800’s, shipping at the small port ceased and Bayport almost disappeared as a community over the next few decades. Fortunately, a few stalwart pioneers hung in there and today the area is a wonderful place to visit for birders, fishermen, photographers and anyone wishing to experience what Florida was like in the past.

Gini’s radar spotted a new entrance to another of our favorite places to visit, Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, about a dozen miles north of Bayport. She suggested we check it out and see if we could find a suitable lunch location. As usual, her instincts were spot on. We explored a couple of the old logging roads, found some wildflowers blooming and enjoyed our veggie sandwiches on tomato basil bread under a small grove of oak trees overlooking a seemingly endless forest. Black bears are known to have a robust population here but we didn’t see any today. (Gini has added, “and we better not ever, either!”) So there.

Lunch was over. Thunderstorms were forming in the gulf and heading inland. Time to go to the house.

Postcards from Florida. Just for you.

Just after sunrise, new growth of cordgrass (Spartina spp.) seems to flow through the salt marsh like some bright green stream.

Pine Island Causeway

 

A coastal hammock is likely to hold small pools of fresh rain water which attracts all manner of life. The shade provided by a few trees in the open marsh is a welcome relief to wildlife, especially in the heat of Florida’s summers.

Pine Island Causeway

 

Palm trees lean over a tidal creek which winds through the grass toward a distant hammock with the Gulf of Mexico beyond.

Pine Island Causeway

 

At Pine Island, high tide has almost covered a line of oyster-encrusted rocks leading to deeper water.

Pine Island Beach

 

Gini thought this palm tree was dancing the rumba on the beach while the little tree watched to see how it’s done.

Pine Island Beach

 

The full rays of the morning sun were hitting the eastern side of this hammock as we made our way through the salt marsh.

Pine Island Causeway

 

The dark water of a canal reflects the beauty of the cordgrass with lines of green pine and palm trees as a backdrop.

Pine Island Causeway

 

To safely navigate from the Weeki-Wachee River to the open Gulf of Mexico, simply follow the signs.

Bayport

 

Our search for a place to have lunch revealed beautiful blooms along the way. The lavender Spurred Butterfly Pea (Centrosema virginianum) is a woody vine and depends upon other plants for support. I don’t know which plant is providing the support here but I hope to find out as it’s very attractive.

Chassahowitzka NWR

 

When the magnolia trees are blooming, one can almost get dizzy at the overwhelming fragrance in the forest. Blooms can be up to eight inches (20 cm) across and after a day or two will close at night for another day or two. Once they re-open, they will drop their stamens (as the one in the image has done) and then turn brown as they expire. Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), is almost synonymous with America’s southern culture.

Chassahowitzka NWR

 

Florida is home to three varieties of yucca (of more than 20 worldwide). This one, Adam’s Needle (Yucca filamentosa), produces clusters of large bell-shaped white flowers. As the blooms mature, they become too heavy for the stalk to hold upright and are often seen bent over to the ground. The green fruit of the plant is said to be edible but I’m happy knowing that and don’t intend to test the theory personally.

Chassahowitzka NWR

Chassahowitzka NWR

 

We left home early, enjoyed the post-dawn salt marsh, relaxed at the beach, wandered a river bank, gawked at the gulf, smelled the flowers, picnicked bare-footed (but found no bear feet), dodged lightning bolts and arrived home safe and sound before dark. Life is good. Find a marsh. Be mellow.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Alfred McKethan/Pine Island Park

Bayport Park

Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge

Categories: Florida, History, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

After The Storm

There are times, more and more frequently lately, I sound like an old person. Not the wise old person of biblical or vintage movie standards. More like the pessimistic curmudgeon we all encounter at some point and vow to never, ever become. Driving in darkness the other morning towards the salt water should have filled me with joy and anticipation. However, I heard myself declare, to no one in particular: “I really don’t like technology sometimes.” From the other side of the vehicle I heard a little sigh. Gini was pretty sure I would be following up with more information and knew she didn’t need to prod any further. That little sigh was enough encouragement for me to bemoan the invention of intermittent windshield wipers. “Used to” I continued, “you could just turn ’em on and hum any song you wanted and match the beat to the steady rhythm of the wipers.” “Now you not only have to fiddle with the things constantly, they never match any tune at all.” Newer cars even have moisture sensors and the blame things spring into life the moment a Hummingbird breathes on the car and the driver is so startled it’s a wonder there aren’t more single-car accidents at the sudden surprise.

The weatherman promised the thunderstorms would move inland shortly after sunrise. I kept seeing flashes of lightning to the west and the rain along our journey was light (resulting in the wipers having to be set on the slowest setting, not suitable for humming even a dirge). By the time we crossed the last major highway and eased onto the quiet stretch of backroad to the coast, the rain had stopped and the sky was beginning to lighten with the coming dawn. That weatherman is a genius.

This particular backroad is better than many. Its serpentine design won’t allow one to travel very fast and punishes those who try with a saltwater and mud car wash. Salt marsh on either side of the road for miles with an occasional hammock of oak and palm trees – all roads should be like this! Everything seemed fresh after the cleansing thunderstorms roared in from the Gulf of Mexico during the night. We had hoped to spot a Clapper Rail as we have previously but it was high tide and there was too much water for wading birds. We would return later in the day as we planned to enjoy Gini’s picnic lunch on the small beach at Pine Island at the end of this road. In the meantime, we savored the salt marsh and were treated to several rainbows celebrating the passing of the storms, delicious cloud formations, a Bald Eagle welcoming the rising sun, the salt air aroma and warm, moist breeze moving across the marsh.

We visited nearby Bayport Park and found a few warblers in the picnic area, Belted Kingfishers, more Bald Eagles, gulls, terns and an amazing variety of fungus. By the time we eventually hit the beach for our picnic, a few clouds gathered overhead and a small shower accompanied our lunch. As we relaxed under a covered table, the Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns treated us to a loud chorus while we ate and the rain and lunch were over at the same time. We explored a couple of parks we had not been to previously and as the sun headed to its resting place so did we. It was another Good Day!

I know you keep thinking if a picture is worth a thousand words why doesn’t he just skip all those unnecessary words?? A good question. As I ponder the answer, here are a few of those pictures.

 

As the clouds began to clear just at sunrise, the early morning light confirms the Bald Eagle is not a bad looking bird at all.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

 

The vast salt marsh, an island hammock, lingering storm clouds and a rainbow. What a way to start your day!

Morning On The Marsh

Morning On The Marsh

 

Salt Marsh

Salt Marsh

 

A fishing boat heads to port bathed in multi-colored light.

Rainbow Boat

Rainbow Boat

 

True to their name, these flowers declare: “Morning Glory”!

Morning Glory

Morning Glory

 

An immature Royal Tern begs for food. I think Mom flies away often not so much to search for food as to get a little relief from that incessant whining.

Laughing Gull, Royal Tern

Laughing Gull, Royal Tern

 

A Willet scans the edge of the tide for anything that looks like breakfast.

Willet

Willet

 

This Least Sandpiper appears to still be leaning against the wind of last night’s storm.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

 

Size, large bill, black and white plumage – all help to identify the Black-bellied Plover.

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

 

At Bayport Park, every few feet we found a new variety of fungus. (Please tell Gini that I completed this entry without any reference whatsoever to anything resembling a pun. She still won’t believe you, though.)

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

 

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

 

During our rainy lunch, a Laughing Gull dropped by in anticipation of a handout. He was quite disappointed to discover we were not the tourists he is used to hassling for a bit of hot dog bun.

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

 

After the rain, a Snowy Egret really stands out against the wet bright green foliage.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

As we departed Pine Island for home, we enjoyed a view of the Gulf of Mexico and a Great Blue Heron shopping for supper.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Long ago we learned to not let the weather interfere with our exploration. We hope you will discover that some of the best memories occur after the storm. Just try to drive with your wipers set on one speed so they can keep up with your singing!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Bayport Park

Alfred McKethan/Pine Island Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

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