Redbird Creek

I stepped out of the RV our first morning and saw the sun about to rise. I grabbed my camera and hurried across the campground road, through the small park, and to the pier. As I walked to the pier I saw a painter already at work, and another photographer on his way. Whispering a quiet “good morning” as I walked behind the painter, as not to startle her or disturb her from her work, I walked out the pier. I took photographs but also just watched. Scanning the sky for birds flying by, watching the morning light as it hit the trees behind me, one day catching the full moon before it set.

This remained my morning routine for over a week as we camped at Fort McAllister State Park in Richmond Hill, GA. We chose a campsite facing the creek which we admired on a shorter trip to the area. Usually someone joined me on the pier in welcoming the new day, some days a couple with their camera phone, other times a family heading out fishing, only one day just me.

Laughing Gulls were the most frequently seen bird on the creek during our stay.

Perhaps I make it sound too idyllic. The gnats, midges, and various assorted other flying insects plagued those of us there at that time in the morning. The painter had to start a new canvas that first day as the insects embedded themselves in the wet paint on the first canvas as she worked. We all suffered in semi-silence, waving our hands frequently to disperse the cloud of them gathering around our faces. But it was worth it, and wonderful to be traveling again. We made big plans of long trips, staying only a couple of days in each location, hitting the road for thousands of miles as in the stories of our fellow campers, but find we prefer to stay long enough to get to experience an area. So for now our range remains the southeastern U.S.

Garden Surprise

When we moved into this house we found many things left from prior residents. Broken, old, or both described most of them. Three planters with dead plants lined the driveway, the soil completely dried out and the plastic planters weathered to brittleness. We planned to toss all three when I noticed bulbs in one under all the dead vegetation. Two went out, that one I moved to the back of the house near the porch and out of the direct all day sun. There it remained for the past two months, untouched.

The plant never needed my less than green thumb. After a few weeks in the new location, leaves started to grow. I asked several gardeners to identify the plant, none knew. A few days ago as I stood on the porch looking into the distance and enjoying my morning coffee a red patch caught my eye. It soon blossomed into a beautiful flower, with many more to follow based on the new growth. I tried a few standard flower shots, but none captured it properly.

Georgia O’Keeffe is one of Karl’s favorite painters and photographers, and I recently paged through some of the books we have on her work. It inspired me to try a similar view with our new flower. It definitely captured the deepness of the red, darkening almost to black, in the center.

Pithlachascotee River

We moved four miles inland from our former home on the Gulf. Now rather than the expanse of the Gulf of Mexico, our daily nature fix concentrates on the Pithlachascotee River, called the Cotee River locally for obvious reasons. The Cotee starts north at Crew’s Lake and flows 23 miles south then west through Starkey Park, Grey Preserve, and the city of New Port Richey to the Gulf. The designated easy Florida paddling trail for this river starts just west of our neighborhood at the Grey Preserve access point, and goes west for six miles to the Gulf.

As we settle into the house, I try to take a daily walk to the river near our home. This Tri-color heron greeted me one day. More correctly, he watched but ignored me as I slowly walked by on the bank. The river is narrow here, so caution is understandable. I stopped just past him and watched as first fishing (no luck there) then preening occupied him. Suddenly, something I haven’t the acute senses of a bird to see or hear spooked him, and off he went.

Another day I heard rustling in a nearby small tree. I approached carefully and took this photo of a Gray Catbird. I walked around as far from the perch as I could, but the spit of land didn’t give me many options.

The weather is past the cold, or cold for this area, phase of winter and we look forward to starting our RV road trips again in the next few weeks as we put the finishing touches on our new home base.

Bird Yawning?

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.

New Year, New Home

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.

Wishing all of you our the very best 2023!

Happy Holidays!

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.

Visit to Florida Caverns State Park

The lone tree next to our campsite. Turkey Oak turning colors.

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.

Recent Birding

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.

Walk at Sweetwater Wetlands Preserve

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.

La Chua Trail – Paynes Prairie

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.