Posts Tagged With: lighthouse

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

Sturm und Drang

Last month was pretty wet, even by Florida standards. I gave up on “water resistant” boots and just wear what are marketed as “all-terrain running shoes”. Not that I am likely ever to be caught running. Even in bear country, I’m sure to go with someone likely to be slower than me. (No, not my Gini! No critter would ever challenge her!) This type shoe at least dries fairly quickly. The “water resistant” footwear gives up resisting sooner than later and never dries out as long it’s on your foot. So you walk around with your feet encased in little air-tight hothouses. Fun.

As native Floridians, we are required by law to visit the coast often. Usually, for us, this means salt marshes, river mouths, mud flats – you know, the good spots! We avoid most sandy beaches as they are littered with bodies greased up and turning over regularly until well-toasted on all sides. This trip, however, we specifically targeted an area described as one of “America’s Most Beautiful Beaches!!”, Fort DeSoto Park in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

Why would we be so insane as to go to a popular beach, on purpose? Storms. There had been three days of large, rolling thunderstorms moving across the state from the Atlantic Ocean and marching westward out into the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes, such weather confuses birds and one can spot some unusual species on this piece of land jutting into the gulf. Such sightings are much more common during migration, but even in summer, we have been surprised.

Alas, no surprise species today. We did find a few shorebirds busily probing the tide and wrack lines as ominous clouds formed, dissipated, re-formed and thunder rolled. It was nice to see the beach with nothing but breakers and birds!

Fort DeSoto is located on Mullet Key, an island at the entrance to Tampa Bay.

(From an unofficial website about the fort. See Additional Information.)

 

Much has happened on this tiny island:

 

  • during the Civil War, Union troops had a detachment on both Egmont and Mullet Keys. Union ships were looking for blockade runners
  • during WWII the island was used for bombing practice by the pilot who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima;

 

 

Fort DeSoto is a premier birding spot during spring and fall migration. Its location serves as an important rest and refueling point for a very diverse group of birds. To appreciate how significant this park is, show up any day during the height of migration and try to find a parking spot!

Also, the park has terrific fishing from shore or from two long piers as well as a very large and well maintained boat ramp. Boaters can easily access the Gulf of Mexico for deep water species, Tamp Bay for excellent flats fishing or simply enjoy probing myriad small islands, sand bars or cruise along the beaches. Camping is available (reservations recommended) and there are several nature trails for those who just want to hike. Use the park’s official website (see Additional Information) to check the calendar for special events (runs, biking, tournaments, etc.) as the park will fill quickly at these times and there are likely to be road closures.

We accomplished exactly what we had hoped on our short evening visit. Saw a few birds, enjoyed the salt water environment, watched stormy weather from an empty beach and can’t wait to do it all again.

 

Red Knots are in transition from breeding to non-breeding plumage.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

The Least Sandpiper is North America’s smallest shorebird (5 inches/13 centimeters).

Fort DeSoto Park

 

With its substantial black bill, a Wilson’s Plover stands out in a group, or in this case, all by herself enjoying a stretch by a rain puddle.

Fort DeSoto Park

Fort DeSoto Park

 

One of our larger shorebirds, a Willet, is in hot pursuit of a small crab. He caught it, crunched it to disable it and swallowed it whole – without any garlic lemon butter!

Fort DeSoto Park

 

“You look f a b u l o u s!” A Snowy Egret admires the handsome creature staring back at him from one of nature’s mirrors.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Large Gray Kingbirds breed along many of Florida’s coasts then retreat to warmer climes for the winter.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Fort DeSoto is a fairly reliable location to find Reddish Egrets. Watching them hunt is an amazing experience as they engage in what seems at times to be a very choreographed dance. Incredible birds!

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Thunderstorm activity is prevalent in August and this evening’s sunset was mostly obscured as clouds moved along the horizon and along the beach. The large stone slabs in this image used to be a support for a gun emplacement, from what I understand.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Weather can change quickly along the coast and the pastel reflection from the setting sun belies the black stormy sky which just preceded this photograph. Across the channel is Egmont Key and its lighthouse marking the entrance to Tampa Bay for ships arriving from and departing for the Gulf of Mexico.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Beaches are for more than sizzling your skin! Storms, shorebirds and sunsets are for all of us!

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

 

Additional Information

Fort DeSoto Park (Unofficial Website)

Fort DeSoto County Park (Official Website)

Categories: Birds, Florida, History, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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