Posts Tagged With: brown-headed nuthatch

Sabbatical – Part The First

“I got a piece of land out in the countryside

 Lay back and smell the Sun warm up the Georgia pine

 Feels so good to be taking it easy

 Why would I ever leave?” 

(Homegrown, Zac Brown Band)

 

“It’s really dark in the swamp at night.” Gini made no comment on the deep philosophical profoundness of my utterance. To be fair, I think she was asleep. We were hurtling through the inky blackness of central Florida’s Green Swamp, the car’s bright headlights struggling to illuminate the oncoming asphalt as far ahead as possible. One could be tempted on this 30 mile straight-as-an-arrow stretch of road to test the limits of acceleration possible. One, thankfully, also recalls how many times in the past a full-grown deer or wild pig has materialized from the misty marsh and stopped to stare into the mesmerizing brightness of halogen. I ease off of the accelerator a wee bit.

 

Gini’s brother has been working very hard over the past several years to transform a large tract of land in western Georgia into a homestead suitable for retirement in a few years. He and his gracious wife invited us to visit for a few days and we were looking forward to a change of venue. Eschewing the always busy interstate highway, we opted to travel along the coast road which would keep us near the Gulf of Mexico, allow us to enjoy picturesque small towns and force us into a more relaxed driving mode.

 

About an hour after sunrise, we left the highway and poked along through the salt marsh to a small park situated on the Gulf. There we breathed salty air in huge gulps while mullet broke the water’s surface and herons probed the shallow water for a breakfast crab. Gini had made egg salad sandwiches and along with some fresh orange slices we had a sumptuous, leisurely breakfast and watched as the sun’s early rays lit up the entire scene to our west. Simply beautiful!

 

Following a plan to avoid higher traffic areas, our route took us through rural north Florida into the pecan groves and cotton fields of southern Georgia. We found a small family-owned barbecue place where we got sandwiches to go and had lunch at a park filled with over-wintering Canada Geese. They “serenaded” us while we ate. Loudly.

 

The next couple of hours offered up scenes of bucolic central Georgia. Vast fields being plowed and preparing for spring crops, huge warehouses and silos where peanuts are stored for shipping, swift-flowing creeks flowing through pine forests, manicured groves of pecan trees which produce the sweetest nut imaginable, remnants of old cabins made of board and stone succumbing to over a hundred years of use, a friendly wave from a farmer on his tractor. Truly, a special place.

 

We arrived a little before dusk. Happy to not be driving for awhile, we enjoyed catching up with family news, had a light meal and just before bed I stood outside for a bit. No city lights visible, no traffic noise. A sky full of stars and the smell of pine. As I turned to go inside, a coyote announced to the pack that it was time for the hunt. I drifted off to sleep with the “song-dog’s” voice echoing in my head.

 

Early morning! A kiss and a cup of coffee for my sweetheart (in that order), and I was off to explore. A large grove of young Longleaf Pine, a vast area of mixed hardwood, a couple of grassy fields – a lot of potential. I was not disappointed! This was early spring and there was a nice mix of migratory songbirds as well as residents. The walk included some wary White-tailed Deer, a large covey (20+) of Northern Bobwhite, a Great-horned Owl calling in the distance and, not surprisingly, fresh coyote tracks from last night’s adventure.

We had a wonderful visit and will be returning soon. In the meantime, a couple of photographs may provide a sense of the homestead. Stay tuned for more …

 

A section of woods which contains huge pine trees, oaks, bay, hickory, wild plum – smell those pine needles?

Chancey Mill Road

 

With so many pine trees, I was happy to discover Brown-headed Nuthatches. True to form, they spent a lot of time running down tree trunks head first and hanging on to the underside of branches while they probed for bugs.

Chancey Mill Road

 

A lot of color in the tree tops with so many songbirds and warblers. Bright Pine Warblers were a common sight.

Chancey Mill Road

 

The property has a few huge pecan trees which will soon be covered in fresh green leaves.

Chancey Mill Road

 

Gini’s brother has placed a few nesting boxes around the property for Eastern Bluebirds. And here is one who appreciates his efforts!

Chancey Mill Road

 

American Goldfinches are in transition to their breeding plumage and the males will soon be extremely bright in their yellow and black suits. They don’t breed here and it won’t be long before they head a bit further north.

Chancey Mill Road

 

The diminutive Carolina Chickadee does breed here and they will soon be pairing up to build nests and will be loudly scolding anything that moves.

Chancey Mill Road

 

Some old buildings have been left standing and offer great exploring opportunities. This small barn is well over 150 years old and was constructed with boards from pine trees that were on the property. Foundations for some of the buildings were made with large rocks from the nearby Chattahoochee River.

Chancey Mill Road

 

We enjoyed noisy flocks of 20-30 migrating Chipping Sparrows while we were there. Although this species may be found here year round, most of these large groups will migrate on soon.

Chancey Mill Road

 

House Finches breed here and it was wonderful to hear their burbling song each day.

Chancey Mill Road

 

Birds aren’t the only critters that love the lush growth of this area. Here, a Cloudless Sulphur sips nectar and adds even more color to the landscape.

Chancey Mill Road

 

A pair of Common Ground Dove probes the clover and will soon make their loose grass nests in the nearby understory of the young pine grove.

Chancey Mill Road

 

More migrants! One morning a group of over 40 Cedar Waxwing descended into the yard. They hung around a couple of days before swooping northward.

Chancey Mill Road

Chancey Mill Road

 

Pine trees, a blackberry bramble, a path. Is there time to explore before supper?

Chancey Mill Road

 

 

Gini and I are truly blessed to live in an area we think is close to paradise. Even so, it’s nice once in awhile to explore new spots. How lucky to be able to take a vacation from paradise and visit – another paradise!

 

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

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

The Unforgettable Coast

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

We have been planning an extended visit with my brother in Florida’s panhandle for years. There were interruptions. Finally, we decided to just do it or else we knew there would be more delays. He lives in the town of Apalachicola, a small community located at the mouth of the Apalachicola River which empties into Apalachicola Bay. The huge estuary is protected by a couple of barrier islands between the shallow nutrient rich bay and marshes and the vast Gulf of Mexico. The seat of Franklin County, Apalachicola is about an hour and a half southwest of the state capital, Tallahassee. Population is less than 3,000. Over 80% of the county is environmentally protected state or federal land. The chamber of commerce has coined the term “The Forgotten Coast” in an effort to attract tourism. Please don’t tell anyone about this place.

It takes about five hours of easy driving to reach Apalachicola from our house. We made it in about nine. There was stuff to see along the way. Trees, creeks, birds … you know – stuff. The drive was by way of a four-lane divided highway in great condition and we often drove for miles without seeing another car ahead of us or in the rear view mirror. Thank you, interstate super-highway system. It took most of the traffic away from some of these formerly major travel arteries. As we approached the “big bend”, where Florida’s coast line begins to curve westward, we saw huge thunderheads building over the Gulf of Mexico. About 30 minutes from our destination, drops of water the size of pancakes crashed onto the windshield.

I wanted to find “something different” from a standard hotel room during our visit. My search uncovered a nicely furnished place with two bedrooms, open living area with a fully stocked kitchen, screen porch and a balcony, all with a view of the Apalachicola River and extensive marshes. And only a few blocks from my brother’s place.

“A HOUSEBOAT???”

I could tell, Gini was excited at the prospect….

….until we pulled up to where our accommodation was moored. It was getting dark, the torrential downpour showed no sign of easing, the water level had risen with the high tide and gusting wind, the gangplank of the floating dock was fixed in mid-air at a 45 degree angle. We have both been in hurricanes before. This was eerily reminiscent.

My brother pulled up and was prepared to help me hustle our provisions on board but suggested since the town’s eateries would all be closing soon it might be a good idea to find some fresh seafood and wait for a break in the storm. “Fresh seafood.” What storm?

After a very enjoyable platter of sweet shrimp, the clouds parted long enough for us to scurry on board and secure our belongings. I promised my brother a pot of fresh coffee at sunrise and Gini and I surveyed our shelter. The rain began again and the wind literally howled around the rope lines holding us fast to the dock. Thank goodness the hallway was narrow or else we would have been thrown to the deck several times. I was going to recount the experience of someone being actually thrown off the toilet seat, but who would believe such a tale? As we pulled the covers up tight, we could hear the waves breaking over the dock, the rain pelting the side of the boat, the palm trees bending to the wind and their fronds sounding like one long, loud “sssshhhhh”. It brought us a whole new meaning of “rock and roll”. We held on to each other in order to keep from being thrown out of bed. Things were looking up.

The coffee was brewing as a steely-gray bay tried to calm itself after a restless night and the sun found a hole in the remnants of storm clouds through which it illuminated our surroundings. Shrimp boats returned from a rough night in the bay, visiting yachtsmen checked their moorings along the dock, dark clouds scuttled northward across the extensive marsh, seagulls screamed, pelicans grunted. A new day was ready for us to enjoy.

And enjoy it we did. Along with several others. The rest of our stay was filled with blue skies, calm waters, birds galore, fresh seafood and just plain visiting. To add to our joy, my sister and her husband arrived and for the first time in at least 25 years I sat in the same room with my brother and sister and our families and talked and listened and laughed and – lived.

This trip was all about me but I took a couple of tourist snapshots for those who might be curious what another part of Florida looks like.

 

Dawn following a stormy night. This is the view from our back porch looking eastward where the Apalachicola River flows into Apalachicola Bay.

Apalachicola

Sunrise – Apalachicola River

 

A shrimp boat returns to port after spending most of the night in the bay. We were moored at the entrance to Scipio Creek and many shrimpers dock up the creek at a city marina which is in protected waters.

Apalachicola

Shrimper

 

From our back porch we had a great view of the expansive salt marsh north of Apalachicola Bay. Many of the shrimp we enjoyed during our stay were born in this area. This was, thankfully, the last we saw of any storm clouds.

Apalachicola

Storm Over The Marsh

 

One of the large barrier islands, St. George, is home to a large state park and offers fabulous birding, especially during fall and spring migration. We were a bit late for the height of fall migration but we managed to find a few birds hanging about.

Saint George Island

House Wren

Saint George Island

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Saint George Island

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Saint George Island

Eastern Phoebe

Saint George Island

Downy Woodpecker

 

From the upper deck of our floating hotel, moonrise over the bay was heavenly, even if it was obscured by clouds.

Apalachicola

Moonrise-Apalachicola River

 

After more coffee and a leisurely breakfast, we were treated to a spectacular sunrise over the western part of the bay with another barrier island, St. Vincent, in the distance.

Apalachicola

Ten Mile

 

Hard at work as the sky begins to lighten, oystermen ply the shallow bay for some of the world’s best oysters. This is a tough job and has usually been passed from father to son. With an onslaught of natural and man-made disasters over the past several years, this may be a disappearing vocation.

Apalachicola

Ten Mile – Oystering

 

There are many unique features along the stretch of coastline between Apalachicola and Indian Pass to the west. This whole area bears many geological features more typically found further north.

Apalachicola

Ten Mile

 

At the western boundary of Apalachicola Bay is St. Vincent Sound and one can transit Indian Pass into the Gulf of Mexico. A beautiful side trip into the quiet waters of Indian Lagoon is very rewarding.

Apalachicola

Indian Lagoon

Apalachicola

Indian Lagoon – American White Pelicans

 

 

A popular spot for beach-goers in Cape San Blas jutting into the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, there are extensive salt flats and marshes begging to be explored and fished.

Apalachicola

Road To Cape San Blas

 

Returning to Apalachicola, Lafayette Park near the public marina and historic residential district has a terrific pier from which to fish, crab, watch the bay or enjoy a little sunshine under whispering palm trees.

Apalachicola

Lafayette Park

 

Fiddler crabs hunt from a tidal pool.

20151030 Apalachicola 00234.jpg

 

In a dramatic change from our first evening, a more typical Apalachicola sunset highlights the grasses of the salt marsh. A trio of Black-crowned Night Herons flew by our screen porch at eye level grunting to each other along the way. This was to be a nightly occurrence as up to a dozen herons followed the creek as it opened into the bay and promised a successful night of hunting.

Apalachicola

Scipio Creek

 

As we lay in bed the second night and the boat moved gently with the incoming tide, I was happily surprised to hear my bride gently sigh:  “I could get used to this.”

Stay tuned! Coming next, Chapter Two of our Exciting Excursion: “Into The Forest”!

 

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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