Posts Tagged With: gulf of mexico

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

A Beach for the Birds

Black Skimmer

Ruddy Turnstone

Willets

Sandwich Tern

Crystal River is fairly short as rivers flow.  Only about seven miles long, it travels from the town of Crystal River to the Gulf of Mexico.  It’s fed by numerous fresh-water springs and in the winter the water is significantly warmer than the Gulf or other nearby rivers.  This makes it a haven for the warm-blooded manatee which can be seen here in great numbers when the thermometer takes a nosedive.  As you travel along the river towards the Gulf, there are two sizable man-made earthen mounds on the shore.  They were most likely built for ceremonial purposes by some of Florida’s earliest residents.  Middens and relics at this site have proven the area was settled over 2,000 years ago.

In 1867, the naturalist John Muir described this area as:  “A string of counties studded with emerald-like gulf waters, deep springs and rivers, stretching along the same Florida coast.”   

Not a lot has changed.  Thanks to the unique environment of this area, there are no sizable white-sand beaches; the swamps are too dense (and protected) to develop into condo complexes; Disney World is an inconvenient distance away (whew!); therefore, we are left to contemplate nature in the raw.  Trees with no zip-lines to offer a thrill ride.  Water, water everywhere but not a single giant slide or wave machine to enhance our experience.  No trendy shops in sight, we must console ourselves instead in the infinite beauty of a flower we’ve never seen before.  Video games pale in comparison to watching a tern wheel, dive, climb and glide above the waves.

We discovered a nice road which basically follows the path of the river all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.  At the end of the road is a nice county park with a few covered picnic tables, a boat ramp and a fishing pier.  A small beach beckoned us to rest under the shade of one of the shelters where we enjoyed a great lunch.  It’s amazing how a sunny day, waves breaking on the shore, the salt air lining your lungs and the cacophony of about a thousand shorebirds enhances one’s appetite!

The fall migration has begun and millions of birds will pass this way to their wintering grounds in South and Central America.  I’m not sure if any of our lunch guests were migrants as most of the species we saw can also be found here all year long.  It was great fun to watch a bird try to land and almost sit on someone else’s head!

We were welcomed (at least, we interpreted it as a welcome) by Royal Terns lifting their heads to the heavens and singing our praises (okay, so they were screeching at us to get off their beach!).  The uniquely designed Black Skimmer also chimed in with a song of his own.  Singing is not easy for a bird with a lower mandible so much longer than the upper.  Maybe singing isn’t his strong suit, but when he flies low over the water and dips that bill just under the surface he’s quite adept at scooping up a fresh fish dinner.   The Wilson’s Plover is often a loner and is somewhat uncommon.  He uses his relatively large black bill to probe the sand for tasty morsels.  The calico pattern of a Ruddy Turnstone’s breeding colors will soon give way to an overall drab look during the winter.  It’s hard to believe most of them breed in the Arctic tundra and fly such enormous distances to their wintering grounds.  They use their short bills to flip over stones (thus their name) and other debris looking for food.  Willets try to take a nap but it isn’t easy amongst all the noise from the gulls, terns, turnstones, plovers and a couple of human children nearby (no, not us!).  A young Royal Tern begged his mom for food and yelled incessantly.  I guess kids are pretty much the same no matter the species.  “Feed me!  Feed me NOW!”

Lunch was wonderful.  My beautiful partner and I breathed in as a single entity and together sighed in satisfaction.  It’s a good day.

Our lunch finished, we enjoyed a few more scenes before heading away from the shore.

–        A willet in the surf scratching an itch.

–        The graceful flight of a Royal Tern surveying the beach for a place to land.

–        White Ibises, likely a family group (the darker birds are juveniles), headed for the marsh to probe the soft mud for goodies.

–        Taking flight can be a bit awkward when you have a wingspan over 50 inches wide.  The Great Egret usually squawks as he attempts to gain altitude.  He looks quite ungainly as he flaps and pumps his legs.  Once airborne, though, he is truly magnificent.  Small wonder the National Audubon Society adopted his image for their symbol.

Great Egret

It is now mid-afternoon.  We explored a swampy forest early this morning (see the post “Pumpkin Hanging Place”), enjoyed a beach-side lunch with a few feathered-friends and inhaled a whole lot of fresh air while gentle waves broke along the shoreline.  “Ready to head home?” I asked.  My Sweetheart sighed heavily and in her true native Florida woman manner answered:  “Y’know, a bowl of clam chowder sure would be good while watching the sun set.”  I really like her.

To be continued in our next post:  “The End of the Road”.

For additional images, see “Fort Island Gulf Beach” in the Gallery.

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

Additional Resources:

Fort Island Gulf Beach, Crystal River, FL

A Thousand Mile Walk To The Gulf, by John Muir

Categories: Birds, Florida, History, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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