We visited Brooker Creek Preserve in Tarpon Springs, FL for a walk, some photography, and to talk to the people we know. Our recent move kept us from our usual activities, and it felt wonderful to be back in the woods. The temperatures remained cool all day in spite of the sun, so we didn’t see much wildlife. January in central Florida varies in temperature from very warm to quite cold, often in the same day.
We stood on the bridge near the parking lot that leads to the trails, observing this juvenile Black-crowned night heron. It stood so still as to be barely visible, still very brown though starting to get the black adult color. It occasionally moved its head very slightly, until suddenly the beak opened and it gave out a big yawn. Wait a minute, do birds yawn? I checked, and yes apparently birds do yawn, and for a similar reason as humans and other animals, to expel carbon dioxide and take in additional air. I read several reasons for this, but suspect as we had been observing this bird for some time that the period of inactivity triggered a need for more air in the lungs.
The bird went back to just sitting and we waited a few more minutes before leaving, pointing it out to a couple of people walking by looking for wildlife to point out to the children. It is always fun to see a child look into a tree and initially not see the bird against the similar background, then suddenly see it.
Note: The boardwalks around the Education Center at Brooker Creek Preserve are under construction. It is still possible to get to the Ed Center, but some areas are blocked. The signage is great and you won’t have any trouble finding your way.
As we unloaded the trailer containing our furniture and carried the various items into our new home, Karl looked at the house just across the narrow street and saw this guy watching us. Some of my first nature photographs feature Red-shouldered hawks, and I still love watching and photographing them. We took his presence as a good sign for our move, though in critiquing this photo I would point out the visible wires and crowded background. Hey, it was a quick shot in the middle of a move, and with a camera in my hand I wasn’t doing my fair share of lifting so had to make it quick!
Real estate in Florida is crazy, and has been crazy for several years. The house we bought in the 1990s and fitted to us not only started to need more expensive maintenance and repairs due to age, but also took more of our time. We like to travel in the motor home more now exploring other places, the cost of living in view of the Gulf of Mexico increases each time a hurricane hits just about anywhere, and our lives changed in many other ways. We loved it all those years, but realized it was time to move.
After looking not only all through Florida but also other states we have lived in and loved over the years we became discouraged. Then small place came up for sale in a community just four miles away. We weren’t sure but decided to look. It seemed a nice compromise between a small house on its own lot and a condo/villa community, so we took the plunge. Our house sold quickly, and the buyers asked for a fast close, so suddenly it was packing and sorting and downsizing time after twenty four years in the same house.
Yesterday marked two months from the day we looked at this place and made an official offer. Today I sit on the porch and have time to write for the first time since I signed my name to that offer. My camera and binoculars are just inside the door ready to be grabbed if needed, I now have a portable indoor/outdoor writing area, and within another week or so we will resume our photography, hiking, exploring and traveling.
Happy Holidays to everyone. Our two month absence from this site is the result of us moving. We finally found a smaller house we liked, and things moved much faster than we anticipated after that keeping us busy buying, selling, packing, moving, and unpacking in six weeks! We are in our new home for the holidays, and look forward to resuming our travels, photography, and this site in January.
Hurricane Ian passed us by, in spite of the prediction of a direct hit on our area. We looked at the photos and videos from the areas that did suffer the direct hit, and realized what could have happened in our are. Three days after returning from our evacuation (under mandatory evacuation for 1.5 days, stayed away an additional two days to avoid traveling in the storm), we headed out on our long planned October trip.
Coincidentally, we went to Florida Caverns State Park, devastated by Hurricane Michael in 2018 and just re-opening for camping about a year ago. We visited this park several times before the hurricane, and wondered what we would find. The changes stunned us. It destroyed the beautiful tree canopy that shaded the campground and we camped in an open field-like grassed area with a few young trees planted to eventually replace that shade. With cold clear nights, and warm sunny days, we enjoyed walking around the trails and visiting the museum. We didn’t stay long enough for a cave tour. We took the tour several times before, but saw a notice that the lighting in the caves was updated to LED. We will time our stay to take the tour next time.
The town changed, and some small businesses we frequented in the past were no longer there, but a favorite family owned restaurant still operated (Mashawy) and we had a wonderful meal.
The beautiful sunny and warm afternoons generally found us sitting out under the RV awning, watching the clouds flowing across the blue sky, reading, talking, and relaxing. Just the break we needed after rushing preparing the house for the hurricane and then evacuating, not knowing what might happen. Our thoughts are with those people who ended up in the direct path, and we wish them speedy recovery from the devastation.
I took a lot of photographs on the last couple of birding hikes we took. Though I try for the more modern bird photos of birds in action, I still like taking portraits. Recent Portraits: Some later migrant warblers heading for warmer climates, though that day our Florida climate certainly didn’t need to be warmer! A Tri-color heron on a boardwalk rail, watching me approach and pass by without flying, just giving me “the eye”. And what I believe is a juvenile Gallinule foraging in a bush.
We visit Sweetwater Wetlands Preserve in Gainesville, FL at least once every time we visit the area. This 125 acre man-made wetland with wide trails and boardwalks attracts wildlife and people. Originally created to improve the water quality of Paynes Prairie, it became a favorite of ours when we discovered it a few years ago, and a favorite of many of our friends as we recommended it and they visited. We often see people taking their morning run or walk through the Preserve, a wonderfully scenic way to exercise.
Our latest trip included watching an alligator glide through the water with a large piece of vegetation attached to its tail. Perhaps it heard us laughing, as suddenly and smoothly without a ripple it did an S-type maneuver and left the branch behind.
As we walked along the boardwalk a Little blue heron popped up from foraging in a clump of grasses, stared at us for a moment, then disappeared, going back to work. We were obviously not of interest, or of concern.
We walked by this juvenile hawk or kite, not sure which, in the grass on the side of one of the trails. I slowly walked by as far on the other side of the trail as I could. Even so, it saw me and didn’t take off. I wondered about injury, but it settled my fears by hopping once or twice then taking off.
Our casual walk resulted in a respectable field list of bird, butterfly, and reptile observations, and a good time. We used to end our photography presentations and classes with the observation that even if your foray into nature did not result in a photograph you liked, you still had the experience.
We headed out for a hike along La Chua Trail at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Paynes Prairie has two main hiking trails accessed from points outside the main park, La Chua is one of them. We expected part of the trail to be closed due to high water as it rained in the Gainesville area most of the prior week, but found it even more restricted that we anticipated. The trail ended at the end of the boardwalk, only a short hike. I checked the website a few days before, but didn’t see anything about the closure, and didn’t see anything posted on the board at the ranger station. Lesson learned: next time look at the websites more closely AND ask the rangers directly!
The short hike only affected the amount of exercise we got, not our wildlife enjoyment. We saw a lot of birds, but the Snail Kites really caught our attention. Several years ago a larger invasive species of Apple Snail began to populate the area, out competing the small native snails and consuming large amounts of aquatic vegetation. Based on our observations over the past few years, first the Limpkin population increased. Recently we noticed that the Snail Kite population also increased. Seeing one Snail Kite used to be a treat, this trip we saw several and watched them flying about, preening, and catching and eating snails. Nature re-balancing I guess.
We decided on a museum day to escape the heat of this record breaking summer, and went to the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. The Butterfly Rainforest, a major attraction at the museum, became our first stop due to the weather forecast. Located in an outdoor, screened area, the admissions person advised us we may get wet if we delayed. (It did start raining just after we left the butterfly area)
Entering through the double glass doors (to avoid butterflies leaving the enclosure) we immediately found ourselves surrounded by an incredible dense landscape with colorful butterflies of all sizes all around us. We walked along the narrow path, and several large butterflies raced by and around us. Looking in the lush vegetation on either side we saw more butterflies flying, landing, and perched. Looking up at the high screening we saw the outlines of many more.
Like everyone else, we marveled and clicked our cameras and cell phones cameras, and watched. Small birds ran in front of us, and others (finches I think) flew overhead. We stopped and gazed at the small waterfall ending in a pond with Koi fish of various coloration. The butterflies land on people, and for a brief time I seemed very popular as two or three landed on my shorts and stayed. Karl sat for a bit on a bench providing a nice butterfly perch for a beautiful large blue butterfly.
Leaving the butterfly area we walked down the hallway with information on butterflies, conservation efforts, and large windows looking in on working labs. Interpretive signs described the purpose of each area, and in a couple of them we watched as people worked.
There is much more to the museum. Wonderful exhibits with dinosaur skeletons found in Florida, and entire section of the native peoples of Florida and their lives before the Europeans arrived, and much more. We spent a few hours exploring the various exhibits and then exited back into the heat and promised rain.
This small gopher tortoise made a home near a much larger tortoise in a wildflower garden. Seeing the size of the two burrows, side by side, makes for an interesting comparison. The larger relative next door did not make an appearance in the three days we checked. This one appeared on two of the days, briefly. They enjoy the hot, humid afternoons in the direct sun far more than us less heat tolerant humans.
We escaped the summer heat of a central Florida August by volunteering for a few days as gallery guides at a local exhibition of photography. The garden is directly in front of the entrance. Three of our photographs hung there by invitation. As guides we rarely mentioned our own photography unless asked, preferring to remain anonymous and watching people as they meandered through gazing at all the photographs on display. We did notice when they looked at ours, while keeping what we hope was a low profile. Too far away to hear comments, we observed how long they looked and on a couple of occasions how they came back to one or two. Yes, we gave in to our egos and enjoyed seeing people enjoy our work. The photographs will be offered at the store of a non-profit after the show, with 50% of the sale price going to the non-profit.
We walked out to see the morning sun lighting up this large anvil shaped cloud in the sky, offshore in the Gulf. I took two photos, then just watched it for a bit. This scene lasted a few minutes, then the color faded and the shape began to dissipate.
I went back to carrying my Canon SLR with the 24mm to 70mm lens as my daily camera after experimenting with lighter weight options such as a point and click or phone. I think the photos I take with it have more depth, and my composition seems to come out just that much better. It is a lot more weight to carry all the time of course, maybe I can count it toward my daily exercise!