Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Geocaching at Ross Prairie State Forest

Bill and I have done very little geocaching this season so after Bill returned from flying at the OTOW RC field (and to celebrate our anniversary) we decided to go back to Ross Prairie State Forest to find the two caches hidden there.

The well-marked hiking trails wind through some beautiful woods.

I guess this is a type of moss growing under the oak leaves.

The first cache was hidden in a PVC pipe and was hanging on a tree. This second cache was named "On Top of the H" and when I saw this tree, I understood the name. You can see the cache (a Tupperware box) sitting on the limb under some pieces of bark. I can't figure out how this tree grew - is it a conjoined twin?

After locating both caches, we hiked on to the open marsh land, around the loop and back via one of the many spurs off the main trail. We saw lots of birds in the trees, several lizards scooting across the fallen leaves, a bunny hiding from the hawks and a couple of squirrels - or as Bill calls them "Sport Model Rats" looking for nuts. It was a great walk but it was hot by the time we got back home and decided a visit to the pool was in order.

There are three pools here at OTOW - two outdoor and one indoor. The big (huge!) pool at the Health and Recreation Center is open to guests, including children. The other two pools and the hot tub are at the Arbor Club and are for adults only. After hiking, the hot tub sounded good so we were off to the Arbor Club.

As you can see, we are finding our way around and enjoying the amenities here at OTOW.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Four Years and Counting

Today is our fourth wedding anniversary. It's been 4 years since Bill and I slipped away to Las Vegas and had "Marrying Marion," the notary at the courthouse, say the words that made us man and wife. (I made her leave out the part about "obeying") It's been - and continues to be - a great adventure. I am so lucky.

We did a little more exploring this week and found a nice hiking trail just a few miles from OTOW at the Ross Prairie State Forest. The main hiking trail is a loop deep into the woods and around a large dried-up lake bed. Other equestrian trails go even deeper into the forest - but they are all sand which makes walking difficult.

We heard this Great-crested Flycatcher long before we saw him. We hunted in the trees for about 20 minutes before spotting him. We also saw a pair of Carolina Chickadees, lots of Cardinals, some tiny birds that we have not yet identified (or photographed) and a Scrub Jay. Good hike.

These are Cattle Egret and it's obvious how they got their name. They hang around cattle and eat the bugs that the cows attract. Look closely and you can see this time of year, the birds have pink on their heads and body. Love is in the air!

Our next store neighbors, Richard and Olivia, came over for wine and cheese the other evening. We had a good time visiting and getting to know them better. Like us, they are snowbirds and will head back to their summer home in Canada this coming weekend - the same time we leave.

As you can see, they are a spirited couple - which we found to be even truer the next night when we attended the OTOW Happy Hour. Olivia likes to dance and Richard couldn't get her off the dance floor. Hard to believe she is in her 70's isn't it? Bill and I danced our share - and will take some classes in the Fall so we can dance even more. Line dancing seems to be very popular at the regular Friday and Saturday night get-togethers.

Last evening we had more neighbors over for wine and munchies - Anne and Sal from across the street. Bill and Marilyn popped in later and we had such a good time talking and laughing that I forgot to take pictures.

This community is very active - and social and we are loving it! But it's time to turn our thoughts - and car - back to Colorado. I'm looking forward to seeing family and friends - Nancy & Joe at Einsteins and the girls at Bunko. Our yard, ponds and gardens are calling us so this weekend we will close up our little Ocala home and head west to the Rocky Mountains.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Whooping Cranes, Flamingos and More!

Around the time I was born, there were fewer than 15 Whooping Cranes in existence. 60 plus years of extensive efforts have raised that number to over 400; 200 - 250 in the wild and another 200 in captivity. On Wednesday, Bill and I were fortunate to see 2 of the 400.

Whooping Cranes are huge birds - standing about 5 feet tall with a wingspan of almost 8 feet. They look like Sandhill Cranes, except they are white with red forehead and cheeks.

A small population of Whooping Cranes lives year around on the Kissimmee Prairie near the Disney complex in central Florida and others winter south of Tallahassee.

Another group is being established on the Gulf coast just west of Ocala at the Crystal River Preserve State Park north of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. The story about how they are being re-introduced is amazing: http://www.operationmigration.org/index.html

Bill and I visited the park in Homosassa where two of the birds who were injured during migration now live.

The park is a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned manatees but they have all kinds of critters living in and around the preserve. Most are free to come and go, while others, like the Whooping Cranes, live in natural - but protected - settings and cannot be released back into the wild because of permanent disabilities. Many of these permanent residents freely co-habituate and breed with their wild counterparts. Main-streaming at its finest!

Here in the U.S., other than an occasional sighting in the Everglades or Key West, flamingos are usually only seen in zoos. The preserve at Homosassa Springs had quite a few - and boy are they beautiful!!

Their red-pink color comes from the pink Gulf shrimp that is their principle food.

They live and nest around the lake that is the centerpiece of the visitors area of the property. There are natural springs with water bubbling up from the ground at a constant 72 degrees - the headwaters of the Homosassa River. Most of the birds here come and go and I saw nothing that kept the Flamingos from leaving as well.

Look at those wings! The black is not visible except in flight - or when they stretch.

The breeding plumage on this Great Egret was stunning! It looks like the Mute Swan was impressed.

Two Bald Eagles live in the park. Both are unable to fly. So sad - but it's nice that people can see them. There were a few cages for the protection of certain animals like the Florida Panthers, Key Deer and Black Bears - but mostly just fences along the boardwalk.

I was thrilled to see this Crested Caracara as I've never seen one before.

Isn't he wonderful?

High in the trees, there were all sorts of nests. These Anhinga are raising their chicks right there in the park - alongside the water.

Mr. Red Fox was getting ready to take a nap.

All of the birds and animals - including this magnificent Red-tailed Hawk - are native to Florida.

Well, all but the hippo. This is Lucifer. Apparently he was left over after the State of Florida purchased the land from an exotic animal park. The plan was to convert it to a wildlife preserve with only native Florida birds and animals. Area school children petitioned the state for "Luc" - a former movie star - to stay. Since all of the animals had to be Florida residents, the Florida legislature made Lucifer an honorary Florida citizen. At 46, he is the oldest resident.

We saw several Sandhill Cranes.

The Mute Swans are beautiful.

There was a large family of White Pelicans.

I was curious about the growth on the beaks of some of the adults and learned that during mating season the male develops this fibrous plate on the upper part of the beak. I have no clue if it has a purpose.

This guy wanted to show me the black on his wings. He flew to the other side of the lake to join the ladies.

You might have to click on this picture for a larger image to see the Wood Ducks in the trees. Wood Ducks nest in trees and once all the eggs have hatched, the little birds have to jump down. Not all of them make it.

It's always nice to see a father bonding with his children.

I saw Wood Ducks in Colorado, but this is the first I've seen them in Florida.

This picture shows the beautiful setting. The boardwalk is in the background and Pelican Island is in the middle of the small lake.

The Brown Pelicans were nesting - sitting on their eggs. Too cool!

Bill and I will definitely go back - and if you come for a visit, this might just be a "must" day trip.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spring in Ocala

Ocala is beautiful! It's a different kind of beauty from that in Fort Myers - more of a natural beauty; less professional landscaping. The terrain reminds me of Pennsylvania - with hills, trees and lots of gorgeous horse farms.

These purple wildflowers are blooming everywhere.

Entire fields are alive with vivid colors.

Last Monday, our grandson, Zach, headed back home. I hated to see him leave - we had such a nice visit! Zachary, you are welcome back anytime.

During Zach's visit, we went to Cape Coral to see the Burrowing Owls and the Monk Parakeets. This is the first time I've been able to photograph the Monk Parakeets without poles and wires.

Notice the bright blue feathers on his wings.

After Zach left, Bill and I closed up the Fort Myers condo for the summer. Since it is for sale, I may not be able to go back. That made for a sad departure - but we already know that moving to Ocala was the right decision for us.

Friends from Parker Lakes, Wendy and Larry helped us move the last of our things - which was our excuse to have them come up and spend a couple of days with us in our new home. We put them to work and Larry installed a new ceiling fan and light in our Florida room (thanks Larry!) while Cindy helped me arrange furniture and accessories. She has a great eye and I appreciate the help.

Over the weekend, Bill and I went exploring. We ended up on the Gulf Coast at Cedar Key - a picturesque fishing village.

This picture was taken from the fishing pier looking across at the waterfront restaurants and stores.

This flock of Black Skimmers was gathered on the roof.

We saw lots of Pelicans on the pier. Look at the beautiful brown neck on this guy. It indicates he is a breeding adult.

And this non-breeding adult has a white neck.

But the real draw was the fresh oysters! Bill loves raw oysters so we headed to the back and sat on the rustic deck overlooking the water. Bill had a cold beer, oysters on the half shell and a couple of dozen steamed clams while I ate the best grilled grouper I've ever had. The restaurant owner stopped by the table and told Bill the oysters had been harvested earlier that day. Now that's fresh!

I took a picture of the menu so I would remember the name of the place. We will be back!

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Happy Easter. This has been a great week! My grandson, Zachary, arrived from Philadelphia on Wednesday. It was the first time he had flown alone - but he did great! I met him at the gate - his flight arriving almost a half-hour early. He has grown since I saw him in October and he has a FULL head of long, blond curly hair.

While eating our lunch on the lanai, we watched a couple of Bald Eagles catch some fish for their lunch. Zachary had never seen a Bald Eagle before, so it was quite exciting. While we watched, we also noticed a family of River Otters playing in the pond - but they were too fast for pictures.

After lunch, we headed to the pool - but had to stop and buy him a bathing suit first. (Who comes to Florida without a bathing suit??) Zachary quickly made friends with some of the other kids at the pool while I relaxed with a mediocre book.

The next day, we headed out early to do some power birding in the Everglades. Our first destination was Janes Scenic Drive in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve. We saw several alligators, lots of turtles and a couple of Red-shouldered Hawks along with Ibis, Herons and Egrets.

After our drive, Zachary took Bill and me to our favorite Cuban Restaurant in Everglades City for Cuban sandwiches and yummy french fries. Thank-you Zachary!! We spotted several curly-tailed lizards, which Zachary tried to catch - but to no avail (thank goodness!) After lunch, Zachary and I went for an air-boat ride through the Mangroves.

Friday was a beach day and Zachary and I headed out early to Sanibel. We walked up and down the beach looking for shells, checking out the birds and getting some sun. Together we worked on a sand castle and Zachary played in the surf. It was glorious but by noon we were getting hungry and decided we had had enough sand and salt. On the way back we stopped at "She Sells Sea Shells" so Zachary could but some presents for his mom, his little sister and some school friends. I was really proud of him! The afternoon was perfect for the pool and before dinner Bill took us over to Cape Coral to see the Burrowing Owls and the Monk Parakeets.

Last time Zachary was here, with his mom and Cheryl, we went to Corkscrew Swamp and Zachary wanted to go back - so early on Saturday, we headed out. We saw the Painted Buntings, a pair of Cardinals, Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Black and White Warblers, Swallow-tailed Kites, Red-shouldered Hawks - including an adorable baby still in his nest, a beautiful Little Blue Heron, a couple of alligators, a swarm of bees, lots of Vultures, brown anoles, spiders and too much more to remember.

This was a special treat - a Ghost Orchid. These rare, endangered orchids usually don't bloom until June - and they don't know why this one is blooming now - but we were glad it did. The naturalists at the preserve had a scope set-up on the boardwalk so we got a really good look at it - much better than this picture.

Today, the boys are off to Cape Coral and the R/Seahawks Flying Field. It's the first chance I've had to work with my pictures. Later today, Bill is making a rib roast for Easter dinner. Tomorrow we have to put Zachary back on a plane and Bill and I will close up the Fort Myers condo for the summer.

Zachary doesn't want to leave - so we are planning his next visit - and the ones after that.
yyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssssssssssssssssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Zachary is helping me type this last sentence - can you tell??????) haha haha