Picnic and Birding

We had a busy week that involved a lot of driving. Florida’s seasonal residents, called snowbirds by nearly everyone, start arriving in October and usually arrivals peak around January. This year we think a lot of them are arriving a little earlier that usual, so traffic is already very heavy most of the day.

Since we suspected our morning trip might extend to early afternoon, I suggested I pack a picnic lunch just in case. We used to picnic quite a bit, but eventually morphed into leaving wherever we were and finding a restaurant. It happened so slowly that we suddenly realized we never took a picnic anymore.

We did end up longer than we thought, and since we were close to Crystal River we stopped at the archeological park. Some Moms and kids were packing up their picnic and leaving as we arrived, otherwise we had the place to ourselves. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch, surrounded by butterflies and birds. The park is along the river, and as we ate this sandpiper walked along the wall.

Bluebirds, warblers, and various other birds flew from tree to tree, and the flowers attracted numerous butterflies. As we walked back toward the car, I tried to get a shot of a small Metal Mark butterfly, without success. A woman and her young son saw me and asked what I was doing. I talked about all the birds and butterflies we had seen, and suddenly the boy looked around and started noticing the butterflies all around. He got excited and started looking for more. I’m glad I missed that shot, it was worth it to talk to them and see him start noticing the butterflies around him.

We decided to start taking a picnic with us again, we forgot how nice and calming that break can be during the day.

Breakfast on the Beach

Last week I celebrated a birthday. It was one of THOSE birthdays, you know, the ones that make you realize that yes, you may feel physically good and not old but the rest of the world now recognizes that you are old.

Karl and I adopted a low key approach to birthdays after our marriage. In the beginning it involved an expensive meal and drinks at a nice restaurant. Then it evolved into making a special meal for each other at home as our corporate careers involved eating out a lot, then back to restaurants when we became self-employed/semi-retired, and starting last year back to the special meal at home again just because we enjoyed it more.

This year I wanted different, I wanted to spend an early morning on the beach having breakfast and enjoying the quiet, the scenery, and just us. We made some breakfast sandwiches the night before. We woke the next morning to cool air and low humidity, a treat as we waver between that and summer like weather during October. We heated up our breakfast and packed it in a thermal carrier, filled a thermos with hot coffee, and drove off to a local beach. At 7:30 a.m. we shared the beach area with one photographer, two birders, one sleepy looking park employee cleaning up, many shorebirds, a boat in the distance with the moon still up and the sun rising.

Breakfast on the beach provided a special start to the day, and to the next year of my life. Karl still cooked that special dinner for me, and I am a year older, but eating a picnic breakfast together while watching the shore, popping up to check out a bird or take a photograph, that was really magical.

First REAL Autumn Day

Autumn officially started on September 22 this year, a hot, humid day in the 90s for us. We woke Wednesday morning September 30 and stepped outside to temperatures in the mid 60s with a strong north wind and little humidity. Knowing the hot and humid returns quickly this time of year, we drank our coffee, grabbed our binoculars and cameras, and headed out for a hike at Brooker Creek Preserve.

Early morning brings some of the best light for photographers, but for nature photographers it also means more wildlife. We saw one person on this early morning walk along the entrance road but no one else and no other cars in the parking lot. We had the trail to ourselves until three women still wearing their biking helmets walked by near the end of our hike.

Three deer moved slowly away from us, and remained grazing as we headed toward the bridge. At the bridge, the quiet made us stop to look at the water. We heard a sound and saw a Black-crowned night heron watching us, partially hidden in a tree.

As we moved along, a hawk gazed at us from a snag, and suddenly took off. We passed by some beautyberry bushes and saw activity. Our first of season Gray Catbirds raced in and out. One finally stopped to peer at me and I did get a shot of him. Eastern bluebirds played up in the pines. One stopped finally to look at us, and at that point I had the camera rather than binoculars on him. Small birds moved back and forth between the tree tops. I managed to get a couple in the binoculars, and saw a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher and several Tufted Titmouse. A warbler hid among the leaves and though I tried I never did get identification on it.

As we came to a small wetland I heard a movement below. This frog looked up. We were birding, but I counted him anyway.

Silver Springs in TV and Movies

We took the glass bottom boat tours at Silver Springs State Park many times over the years. A concession now runs them but when we started enjoying the tour the boat captains worked for Silver Springs. In addition to all of the interesting facts about the spring itself, and the local wildlife, this spring and many of the springs in Florida served as movie stages for numerous movies and television programs.

The boat captain talks about many of these pointing out where various scenes took place. They always point out the wooden dock where the dock scenes and some underwater scenes for the television adventure series Sea Hunt filmed. We often saw the dock as we floated by in the boat so this last trip we decided to walk down and see it land side. If Sea Hunt doesn’t ring any bells, don’t feel lost. The series ran from 1958 – 1961 and starred Lloyd Bridges as a former Navy frogman who ran his own diving business. Each week he took on a new challenge. As it was a bit before my television viewing time I asked Karl if he remembered the program, and he said it was “required” viewing each week. As a 12-year-old boy when the show debuted he and his friends definitely fit the target audience.

I checked the history of the show, and apparently Lloyd Bridges appeared with a message at the conclusion of each show on the importance of the marine environment, making it an early nature show.

You may wonder just how many adventures (the show ran 155 episodes) one might encounter in a spring in Florida. Well, the actual location of the business of this television freelance diver was supposed to be somewhere in California and the adventures taking place in the Pacific Ocean. The clear water of Florida springs makes filming underwater more straightforward. Of course, like most movies and shows, filming took place in a number of locations including sound stages.

“Move around, up, down, forward, and back while photographing a subject” remains one of the frequently repeated suggestions on our hikes and in our classes. The different angles and points of view can change the perception of the subject quite a bit. That applies to everything, whether photography or just observing. This hike made a dock pointed out on tours and passed by to see the next thing into an interesting location on its own. Recalling the show brought up interesting memories for Karl, which I never heard before. And we have been married a long time!

Silver Springs State Park Visit

We started camping again the beginning of September as usual, heading off to Silver Springs State Park, and hoping that a bit of cooler weather works its way down from the north. No such luck this time. Tropical Storm then Hurricane Sally passed by well offshore but still the system influenced our weather. And by influenced I mean a lot of rain starting early to mid afternoon most days, and lasting all night in one case. Morning temperatures did stay comfortable because of all that rain.

We love visiting the original park of Silver Springs State Park, the tourist attraction from the 1920s until the state purchased it in 2013. A 2.5 one way trail leads there from the camping and history outdoor museum part of the park, but we choose to drive along US 35 and enter from the US 40 entrance. Due to Covid, we expected parts to be closed. A sign on the door announced the museum with the history of the Silver Sprints park closed, but in the windows all along the sidewalk and around a corner the windows contained exhibits to peruse while walking in open air. The glass bottom boats ran on a limited schedule, and we watched as one went out. We saw the family groups on the boat nicely spaced, a far cry from the usual shoulder-to-shoulder experience during other years. Many people kayaked by as we walked around the trails near the water proving what we read, that the kayak concession remained open.

We walked the Ross Allen Island trail, all boardwalks. On our last visit we saw the wild rhesus monkeys from the boardwalk, but even though several signs warned about them, we saw none this time. The very wet, tropical weather of the past week and the large leaved plants and flowers gave a real jungle flavor to the walk.

We arrived early to avoid the heat of mid-afternoon, and of course the rain. Very few people walked about, and several obviously stopped for food or brought some from home and sat relaxing along the water enjoying their meal. We knew the restaurant opened later. We took the boat tour many times, so this trip we walked the concrete path along the spring and out to the river, enjoying the plant and animal life to see the sights from land. More about that next post…

Anhingas Calling!

While walking along Silver River, I watched an Anhinga that sat on a branch just over the water. Obviously he saw a lot of people, I moved slowly and he stayed put. Suddenly he turned, looked right at me, moving his head back and forth.

Then, he put his neck up and head back, and began calling loudly. I took several photographs as he called. Then I started hearing an answer.

Karl looked around and pointed toward the other part of the river, in the middle. Sure enough, someone answered.

We watched the conversation for a minute or two, then both Anhingas settled back to their respective branches, apparently have passed along whatever information they needed.

Hmmm…since he looked right at me before, was it a comment on my hair? my outfit?

In Between the Rain

We went to Brooker Creek Preserve this past week, early in the morning as it rained off and on during the night and the forecast predicted more rain. As we pulled in we saw this Sandhill Crane family so Karl stopped far enough away for me to take a few shots without disturbing them too much. “Junior” is as tall as his parents, but doesn’t have all the coloring yet.

We walked over the bridge at the main channel. The Dahoon Holly are already showing their berries, and this year they are close enough to the bridge for some photographs. The mosquitoes found me as I stopped to take this shot, get my settings where I wanted them, and then wait for the drop of moisture to get to the right spot.

We took a walk along the boardwalk, and finally Karl said he was tired of being a mosquito ‘blood donor’ so we hurried back to the car. The mosquitoes obviously needed food, they bit me a couple of times through my shirt!

On the way out we saw this doe feeding. She stopped to look, but since a lot of people pass through the Preserve cars rarely cause them to flee.

September tends to be a little better than August for heat and humidity, but realizing that our best time of year comes soon makes it seem much better.

BTW: I am having some issues with the new editor. It is not at all intuitive for me. I am sure I will get better as I go along.

White Peacock Butterfly

We took a short walk near the Osprey Trail at Honeymoon Island State Park. I saw a lot of butterflies as we walked along the boardwalk over the wetland area and as I watched I realized they were the White Peacock. I love their coloration this time of year as during the wet season, our summer, they are smaller and darker in color.

Even though still early morning, they flew quickly back and forth. The only shots that came out were those from the very infrequent times one of them would slow down and land for a bit to take up the sun.

On the Fence, Over the Fence

I looked in the back yard and something caught my eye behind the fence. I didn’t think too much of it at the time. Later I noticed again and decided to in investigate. Standing on the lowest vertical bar of the wooden fence, I looked and saw the two Spanish Bayonette plants which I had noticed before among the thicket of trees along the creek, fully in bloom. I took several photos, balancing on the bar, twice that day due to the light. The blossoms are beautiful and short-lived. The plant itself has long, sword like thick leaves tipped with a sharp needle. on-the-fence-juv-yvnhSeveral days later as I walked by the back window I noticed a larger bird sitting on the fence. I went up to the window, nearly scaring it away. Cautiously I watched as it sat there preening its feathers. I took these shot through the house window and through the screen surrounding the pool area, so I am surprised they even came out. The bird is a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron, identified with the help of my Sibley’s guide. We see the adult herons on our neighbor’s roof frequently. They stand there very still, driving our cats who are in the pool enclosure area and can see them clearly, crazy. The neighborhood birds all seem to realize that the cats can chatter and pretend to pounce all they want, they don’t go outside of the house or screened in pool for their own safely (there are coyotes living along the creek) and the safety of all the birds who live in the area.On the Fence 2 Juv YCNH

Looking Toward the Gulf

Toward the Gulf 2

We drove north of here for a short day trip last week. We visited small, local parks that we normally visit a couple of times a year for birding, photography, and to take visitors. The humidity and heat, plus a recent rain which saturated the trails meant shorter walks and more driving. But, that is August here.

Fishermen and women lined the boardwalks in one park and launched small fishing boats and fishing kayaks in another. The small beach area stood empty, not surprising considering the sun and temperatures.

Beach Park

As we drove along we looked out over the grassy prairie toward the Gulf, and saw the clouds already building for the nearly daily afternoon rain. Karl stopped so I could take a few photographs. The trees in the distance provided the scale showing to show the towering clouds.