Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lots of Adventures!

On a recent trip to the Sarasota area, I saw this sign in a business complex and could not resist taking a picture.

Sandhill Crane Area.

Sure enough, just down the road we saw several Sandhill Cranes brunching on seeds and insects along the side of the road.

Sandhill Cranes are huge birds - over 4-feet tall. The crane in the foreground with the bright red forehead is a mature adult while the smaller bird in the back is a youngster. The endangered Florida cranes live here year-around and because they are protected, the numbers are increasing nicely.

The very endangered Whooping Cranes look like white Sandhill Cranes and will probably become extinct during my children's lifetime as there are only about 200 birds left. I would love to see and photograph one, but will probably never get that chance.

Another endangered bird is the Wood Stork. I've seen quite a few around town as they are passing through on their way to their winter breeding grounds. Last year, many storks nested at Corkscrew Swamp, but they fear the storks will not return this year because there has not been enough rain.

The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is one of our favorite places to visit. (Thank you Beth and Warren for introducing us to this beautiful place!!) The 2-mile boardwalk weaves through the largest remaining stand of ancient bald cypress trees in North America. Every time we visit we see something new - and our recent visit was no exception!

As we entered the trail, two deer crossed right in front of us. We knew this walk was going to be special!

We saw several raccoons along the trail. This one was scampering down from high in a tree.

Our goal this year is to photograph more of the smaller birds here in Florida - not an easy task. This Pine (or is it a Palm?) Warbler hid in the shadows of the tree.

I still love the larger birds - and they are easier to see, identify and photograph. This is a black-crowned Night Heron.

The Little Blue Heron is all white as a youngster, becoming blotched with blue-gray as it changes to its adult plumage. This little guy must have been bothered by the mosquitoes.

As I was leaning over the railing taking this picture, Bill yelled "There is a fox heading right at you!" Next thing I know, something runs right between my legs - hitting my ankles. It was a grey fox that was spooked by an alligator and was running down the boardwalk at 80-miles an hour! I've never seen a grey fox and would loved to have had the presence of mind to quickly get a picture - but I didn't and he was moving so fast, it probably wouldn't have turned out anyhow. He ran quite a distance before jumping off the boardwalk (obvious by the screams, followed by loud laughing and talking further down the boardwalk) and several groups got the rare opportunity to see him.

This Blue-gray Gnatcatcher has an almost comical, puzzled look.

I like this picture of a Gray Catbird better. He was definitely posing for me!

This is an Eastern Phoebe. A volunteer on the trail pointed him out to us. They are just arriving here from their summer in the northern United States and Canada.

We always see lots of butterflies at Corkscrew. This one was small - only a couple of inches from wingtip to wingtip. I may have to get more guide books so I can identify them.

The Brown Anole were everywhere! I love the way this cute little guy blends in with the lichen on the wood railing.

There were lots of Bald Cypress (sometimes called Swamp Cypress) with their round, green seed cones. Bald Cypress trees are deciduous - losing their needles in the winter - which is why they are "bald."

We did not see very many wading birds on this trip to Corkscrew - but we did see a couple of Anhinga - large black waterbirds that live here year-round. This one was drying his wings in the sun.

My book says Anhinga are usually quiet - but that is not my experience. They have a loud, raspy call - and this one was making lots of noise!

One of the guides at Corkscrew told us to look for Sandhill Cranes in one of the yards near the sanctuary. She told us the owner feeds them and they return every year. Sure enough - we found the yard and the cranes.

For our next adventure on an especially hot morning this week, we decided to find a Geocache that we knew was hidden at the Estero Bay Preserve State Park. We had a Travel Bug that we brought all the way from Colorado to put in a cache here in Florida.

Last year when we hiked at Estero Bay, the dry trails were fairly well marked and maintained and we met a geocacher locating a cache on a platform beside a huge, picturesque pond. That's where we decided to put our bug. We had already been to the gym and had our workout for the day and since it was hot, we wanted just a short - maybe a mile - hike before heading to the pool. We knew the area - so I didn't even download the trail map. I also did not look at the geocache map. All I had were the cache coordinates.

We happily headed north even though the GPS indicated the cache was west. After all - we knew where we were going and we were sure the trail turned to the left up ahead.

Long story short, we quickly lost the trail and found ourselves hiking in high weeds and black, smelly mud that made disgusting sucking sounds with each step. The black flies, mosquitoes and those nasty bugs that dive bomb into your ears were terrible! Still we figured the trail must be just ahead - so we kept going. It was hot and the humidity must have been 200%.

As miserable as the walk turned out to be - we saw some great birds, making it all worthwhile. This is a Pileated Woodpecker - one of my favorite birds and the first one I've ever seen completely in the wild - outside a preserve. He was gorgeous!

We never made it to the picturesque lake of our memory - but did see this lone Pied-billed Grebe on a smaller pond.

We often see Loggerhead Shrikes here in Florida. This one was keeping a keen lookout atop a dead snag.

We watched several Red-shouldered Hawks but they insisted on sitting between my camera and the sun (which by now was high in the sky and even hotter!) so all my pictures are dark. I removed the background in this picture so you can see the bird.

Look at all the White Pelicans - returning for the winter. It was beautiful when we looked up - but we spent most of the time looking down to make sure we did not step on any snakes.

We finally found the cache. The coordinates we had were not for the one we remembered at all - but were for an easy one just a short walk west of the entrance on a well-marked, dry trail. We placed the travel bug, picked up a Geocoin and a Jeep Bug - and headed back to the car - where we spotted a beautiful Bald Eagle. He took off before I had a chance to get a picture - but we got a great look at a beautiful bird.

By this time it was noon - we were hot, wet, dirty and tired - but I was thrilled with our glimpse of wild Florida - one I would not have seen if I had remembered a trail map. I'm taking one next trip anyway.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Harns Marsh

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny and warm day. When Bill returned from the RC flying field we decided to walk at Harns Marsh in Lehigh Acres. The marsh is a 578 acre preserve that is part of the East County Water Control District and one of the area’s major stormwater retention facilities.

Last year, we went in March (see my blog entry for March 27) and there were hundreds of wading birds, ducks, coots and shore birds - all in full mating plumage. The spring flowers added bright colors to the green grasses and blues of the water and the sky. Yesterday, we had a great walk, saw a few birds and it was still wonderful.

There was a large flock of Cattle Egret that kept landing in front of us. As we approached, the group flew as one and landed just a little further up the path.

We heard the machine-gun-like call of this Belted Kingfisher before we spotted him perched by the water looking for a fish lunch.

We call this the WalMart bird because they gather in the trees in every WalMart parking lot. It is actually a Brown-headed Cowbird - noisy, nasty birds.

There were several Great Egrets - large, beautiful birds.

This grasshopper was walking around in circles in the sand. If you click on the picture to see a larger version - you can see the tracks. He had created a large, interesting pattern while looking for smaller insects.

This is a Snail Kite - rare birds found only in a small area of central Florida. They eat the large apple snails that are abundant in the swamp.

I'm not very happy with the pictures I took on this trip to Harns Marsh - I need to remember my tripod so when I zoom all the way in, I can keep the camera steady.

We were joined on our return walk by these lively - and noisy - Killdeer.

Another uncommon bird found mainly in Florida (rarely seen further north than southern Georgia) - a Limpkin. He is probably shopping for frogs and snails.

As we were leaving, this Osprey flew over to a tall tree on the other side of the lake with a fish in his talons. He looks proud of his catch.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Back to Nature

Things are finally returning to normal here in Fort Myers after our "flood" and we have re-directed our attention to the outdoors and getting back to nature.

Earlier this week we went to one of my favorite places to walk on the beach - Lovers Key. The weather was perfect, the tide was low and the water was warm, perfect for wading. I concentrated on picking up lots of shells while Bill joined a guided beach walk led by a local Naturalist. The Sanderlings were running back and forth with the waves as I bent over again and again picking up shells - Scallops, Figs, Spiny Jewel Boxes, Olives, Tulips, Whelks, Jingles, Slipper Shells, Murexes, Cones, Nutmegs, Clams - but not one Junonia.

And Sand Dollars - I've never seen so many Sand Dollars on the beach! There were hundreds and hundreds scattered everywhere in the sand and in the shallow surf. I would have loved to bring some home - but they were dark-colored meaning they are still alive so I threw them back into the waves. It is illegal to collect live shells here in Florida. I did find one light one which was dead. I brought it home and, along with my other shells, soaked it overnight in a 50% solution of water and bleach.

Another day this week we went to Six-Mile Cypress Slough Preserve to walk the 1.2 mile boardwalk trail through the 2500 acre wetland. There were only a few wading birds - possibly because the water is too deep - but we saw quite a few turtles. We also saw lots of squirrels playing in the trees and some small birds that wouldn't stay still long enough for either of us to get a decent picture.

The pond cabbage was blooming - and it is beautiful.

One of our resident alligators napping in the water.

We had to go over to Cape Coral to register our car in Florida, so I wanted to check to see if the Burrowing Owls were still there. We only saw a couple - but they are as cute as ever sitting by their burrows.

We are back to the gym to try and lose the pounds we gained while on route and Bill is back flying with his buddies at the R/Sea Hawks Park. We had our bikes out a couple of times - riding to the store and back. The pool beckons most afternoons and we relax on the lanai in the evenings with an adult beverage and the early mornings with coffee. Life is great.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Our Cross Country Trip

We had quite an adventure traveling from Colorado to Florida via Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, back to Kansas, onto I-70 east through Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, onto I-95 and south to Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia and finally, Florida. Naturally, there we several stops along the way.

We spent the first night in Fredonia, middle-of-nowhere, Kansas. It was a nice clean small town and we wished we had more time to explore, but we needed to get on the road south to Miami, Oklahoma to visit Susan "Clare" Connell. We had a lovely visit. She took us on a tour of the historic Coleman Theatre ( It has quite a history!

Our next stop was Shell Knob, Missouri. Our good friends, Mike and Mel have a beautiful, welcoming home on Table Rock Lake. Mike took us out on his boat fishing and I caught a bass. I'm sure it was record size, but being a nature lover, I threw him back before the press showed up to document the occasion.

On the last night of our 3-day visit, the boys, Bill, Mike and neighbor Tom, cooked a fish-lovers feast. We had giant crab legs, two kinds of shrimp, catfish, salmon, baked potatoes with all the fancy toppings, salad and hot apple crisp with ice cream. There were also plenty of adult beverages. It was a fun night!

Mike, Melanie, Tom, Bill and Cathy. I am, of course, behind the camera. Mike and Mel have great neighbors and we enjoyed spending time with them.

We left the camaraderie of Shell Knob at o'dark thirty for a brunchtime rendezvous with a girlfriend from high school that I hadn't seen in over 35 years. Susan looked exactly the same - the years have been good to her. She has a beautiful home outside Kansas City but we had to eat a delicious homemade brunch and run - heading east to Pennsylvania. I so enjoyed getting together again - catching up on our lives - that I completely forgot to take any pictures!

We spent two days driving to Gilbertsville, Pa to visit daughter, Laura, her wife/partner/spouse (I never remember which they prefer) Cheryl and my eldest grandson, Zachary. The trees were just starting to change. We were there probably a week to 10 days too early for the full fall colors. This tree is in Valley Forge Park.

We saw some birds we don't usually see in Colorado or Florida. This is a Tufted Titmouse. We spotted it in Laura & Cheryl's backyard, a bird-lover's paradise. OK - I get the tufted part - but what in the world is a titmouse? According to Wikipedia, tit means small and mouse comes the Old English, 14th-century name for the bird - mase. The spelling was changed to mouse in the 16th-century - probably by Walt Disney.

This is a Mockingbird, another backyard visitor. Yes, we see them in both Colorado and Florida, but it is a good picture, so it's included. This guy was quite the singer.

Since our visit was short, I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my grandson, so we kept him home from school to go on an educational field trip to the Daniel Boone Homestead.

The Daniel Boone Homestead, located near Reading, is a state historic site which preserves a number of historic structures, most moved from other locations and not part of the original Boone farm. Daniel Boone's parents first settled the site in 1730. Daniel was born in 1734 and spent his first 16 years here before his family migrated to North Carolina.

The original Boone house (what is left of it) is to the left. Later owners added on.

The barn where two horses, a gaggle of geese and one cat lived.

There is a nice walking trail through the 579 acres of open space. This Bluebird was enjoying the nice day too.

To the left is the Bertolet House. It was built in 1737 in the Oley Valley and relocated to the Daniel Boone Homestead in 1968. The Bertolet House is an excellent example of eighteenth-century Pennsylvania German log architecture. In typical Germanic fashion, the fireplace is centrally located and opens into the kitchen, or Kuche. Behind the fireplace are two rooms. The larger is the parlor, or Stube, and the smaller is a bedroom, or Kammer. Medieval architectural influence can be seen in the building's asymmetry, steeply pitched roof, flared eaves and casement windows.

To the right is the Bertolet smoke and bakehouse.

This water-powered, vertical-blade sawmill was built around 1810 and moved here from its original site. As you can see, it was a beautiful day for a leisurely walk.

Laura and Zachary.

My grandson, Zachary.

After touring the Boone Homestead, we headed towards Zachary's school so he could take a history test. We got waylaid at this old Gilbertsville schoolhouse that is currently being historically renovated.

These are the his and her bathrooms - single seaters. At the same location was a city-owned RC flying field - which is the real reason we stopped.

We never did get Zach to school. It was much more fun playing in the backyard. Cheryl has worked hard on the landscape. They have a natural pond with frogs and plants. Their four dogs have lots of space to run and play. Zachary let me take a picture of his new friend before he let it go in the flowers.

They have a fire pit in back of the house that Laura built and we spent the evening sitting around, enjoying the company and the warmth of the fire. We had a wonderful visit.

This is my oldest son Rick, wife Lisa and grandson Dylan's home in Birdsboro, Pa. Rick has been working to renovate it and has done a remarkable job. Lisa is artistic and her creativity shows on the inside as well as the outside.

Lisa grilled some steaks and we had a delightful dinner and lively conversation. Rick was commenting that his beard is growing in grey - so he shaves more often!

Lisa does not like to have her picture taken. She was cutting apples for apple crisp. It was delicious!

The three of them obviously get along well.

Dylan loves to ride his bike and posed for pictures while he showed me his tricks.

Dare-devil Dylan: he is his father's son!

Moving further down the coast, we stopped in Silver Spring, Maryland to visit daughter Pamela, husband Orlando and their two boys. This is my newest grandson, Sebastian. What a cutie. I can't believe how much he has changed in the three months since I last saw him. He's walking -- no, running -- everywhere and just learning to go down the stairs backwards. Please notice the Denver Broncos jacket he is wearing. His father probably took it off him as soon as we left.

Sebastian's big brother, Gabriel -- mesmerized by the TV. Gabriel will be 5-years old later this month.

We got the thumbs-up! Our visit was short - just a couple of days - but it was great seeing them again. Bill took over the kitchen - much to Pam's delight - so I'm sure that we will be invited back.

We left Maryland early Sunday morning on the last leg of our adventure and made it all the way to Florida, spending the night near Jacksonville, and arriving back in Fort Myers Tuesday morning. Our adventure did not end there as I wrote in my last entry.

Our home is now back to normal. Son, John was here for 3-days of eating, sleeping, swimming, sunning and relaxing - with a short visit to NGC and lunch with David Vagi, wife, Ana and beautiful baby daughter Sabina with a little work on his computer thrown in to round out the days. We sadly took him to the airport on Friday.

Today is cool - high temperatures only in the 70's. Bill is off with his buddies flying RC airplanes and as soon as I'm done here I will straightened up the house to get ready for company this evening. Life is good.