Posts Tagged With: marsh

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – 1

Beginning a trip in darkness stimulates my feelings of anticipation and excitement. What will this day offer? As the morning sky begins to lighten, familiar shapes are mere shadows and it seems as if anything spoken should be in a whisper.

For some reason (deep, dark, repressed, psychological reasons, I’m sure), I have difficulty retrieving detailed memories of some childhood events. (Okay, to be fair, it was a LONNNNNG time ago!) One thing I recall in delicious, granular fashion is fishing. The announcement on Friday that we would be getting up early the next morning to go to Lake Panasoffkee ensured that I would not sleep one minute that night. Hitching up the boat, checking the tackle, pulling out of the driveway in the dark, arriving at the boat ramp before sunrise, a layer of mist on the water.

Some things don’t change much. Gini and I had mentioned more than once during the winter that we need to visit the east coast while migration was still in full swing. Thus, we set our sights on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge for a day trip. One sleepless night, coming right up.

The actual drive is not all that bad. Yes, we had to negotiate the hazards of the interstate highway through the Orlando/Disney megalopolis. Accomplishing this feat at 5:00 a.m. is much more acceptable than about an hour later. Also, once past the city center, the denser traffic was on the other side, heading west toward waiting jobs. The sky in the east was beginning to glow.

Turning onto Black Point Wildlife Drive resulted in audible sighs from both of us. Tension was released and we felt that moment of comfortable relaxation which being surrounded by the natural world produces. Sounds and sights of birds preparing to survive a new day promised adventure! We were not to be disappointed.

The refuge was established in 1963 as part of the John F. Kennedy Space Center. Consisting of more than 140,000 acres, the area contains coastal dunes, salt and fresh water marshes, scrub, pine flatwoods and hardwood hammocks. Located on the Atlantic Ocean and offering protection from adverse weather makes the refuge a prime target for migrating waterfowl and other bird species. The diverse habitat also is home to a wonderful variety of other flora and fauna.

Gini, as usual, thoughtfully prepared a light breakfast and picnic lunch so we wouldn’t have to interrupt our exploration by having to forage for food in the nearby “civilized” jungle. Munching a sandwich while watching alligators and egrets is highly preferable to clinking plates and noisy diners – in our opinion.

This post covers the first half of the day. After lunch will have to wait until next time.

 

Dawn. Always a special time. Within a vast marsh, even more so.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Ducks and wading birds begin their routine of searching for food. Light fog hugs the surface of the world.

Merritt Island NWR

 

A Green Heron perches atop a mangrove tree, knowing the intricate root system harbors an amazing array of life in the shallow water.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Blue-winged Teal are by far the most numerous duck species within the refuge today. Most of the tens of thousands of feeding ducks remained out of camera range but included: American Widgeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Mottled Duck, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Lesser (and possibly Greater) Scaup.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Break(fast) dancing performed by a Tricolored Heron.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Flocks of Glossy Ibis were active throughout the day moving from one area to another.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Killdeer seem to always have something to shout about. Usually, it’s me.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Patience is the key to a meal. Here it’s put into practice by a Little Blue Heron.

 

Merritt Island NWR

 

We saw dozens of Lesser Yellowlegs during the day and a couple of their bigger brothers, the Greater Yellowlegs. This Lesser showed off its namesake.

Merritt Island NWR

 

The feathered breakfast hunters needed to be wary of another breakfast hunter. American Alligator.

Merritt Island NWR

 

The Osprey uses keen eyes and altitude to locate a finny feast in the shallow salt water. This bird disappeared in a huge splash, surfaced with a large fish, struggled to get airborne, but ultimately had to release his catch. I’m familiar with that problem: “Eyes too big for stomach.”

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

 

Following the example of the ducks, most of the thousands of shorebirds in the refuge today preferred to stay out of range of the camera. A few strayed to within a couple of miles. This Sanderling will maintain its light non-breeding plumage for another couple of months.

Merritt Island NWR

 

 

Our day began in darkness then exploded with light as blue sky and clear water were filled with birds of infinite color and beauty! A delicious picnic, a short rest – time to race the sun and pack each minute with new discoveries!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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