Posts Tagged With: fiddler crab

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 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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