Sweetwater Wetlands

Tri-colored heron ((Egretta tricolor)

Regis and I left Dart behind and went to Sweetwater Wetlands in Gainesville, Florida on our second day of camping in Starke, Florida. The wetlands were created to improve the water quality of wetlands in Paynes Prairie and the Floridan Aquifer. It is an amazing place with lots of birds, butterflies, alligators, horses, plants and other animals. There are gravel trails and boardwalks that allow visitors to get great views of the environment.

We were not disappointed. The place is amazing and easy to visit. We saw many Common Gallinules while there. I bet it would have been great to visit when many of those birds were chicks earlier this year.

Black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) and common gallinules (Gallinula chloropus)
Common gallinules

We had the most fun watching a double-crested cormorant that caught a large fish. It was having difficulty swallowing the fish and some other birds took advantage and tried to steal its catch. Two more cormorants and a great blue heron showed up and there was a struggle. One cormorant wound up with the fish and swallowed it but with all the activity, we don’t know whether the original cormorant kept its catch or another cormorant stole it. Unfortunately, I was struggling with the focus settings on my camera which is new to me and I didn’t get any in focus shots. Everything happened too fast and too far away.

Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auratus) with a might big fish.
Double-crested cormorant and great blue heron (Ardeas herodius) trying to steal the fish from a cormorant.
A double-crested cormorant and great blue heron having a dispute over a fish.
The winning double-crested cormorant eating the large fish.

My favorite gift of the day was an Anhinga that wanted to stay on the railing on the boardwalk in spite of the human activity. You could walk by it slowly and it would not leave. I was able to take many picture from both sides. Because of the way the sun was shining as the bird opened its mouth, its possible to see the veins in the skin.

Anhinga
Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)
Lily pads with water puddles on top.
Cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis)

La Chua Trail

An oak draped in Spanish moss on the La Chua Trail in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.

We arrived at the KOA Campground in Stark, Florida late Tuesday afternoon. I leveled the motorhome, as usual, while Regis hooked up the water and electricity. After trying to level the motorhome, it indicated there was an excessive slope. There isn’t a spot in Florida, except for the Apalachicola region, that could have an excessive slope. Florida has to be one of the flattest states in the country! Who knows why that happened, but Regis pulled out his electronic leveler to take a look and found out the battery was dead. Not only did he need a new battery, but he needed a tool to replace the battery.

The campground was located next to a Tractor Supply Store which is one of Regis’ favorite places. Regis stayed to visit Tractor Supply to get what he needed to fix his leveler and I headed to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Gainesville about 25 miles away. Paynes Prairie is an outstanding wetland with lots of wildlife including a large variety of birds, bison, and feral horses. We had a great experience walking the La Chua Trail in the late afternoon early evening in January 2017 (blog post here), so I headed for the La Chua Trail. It includes a boardwalk over the wetland, so it is a good opportunity to safely view alligators.

I read that the trail was closed after the observation platform but did not fully appreciate what that meant until I walked it. When we were there last time, we were able to walk out into the wetland and get on an elevated observation platform where we saw numerous sandhill cranes, white pelicans, horses, and one lone whooping crane. The platform mentioned on the park website was very early into the trail. I was disappointed to not be able to go out further but I was rewarded with some close up views of a limpkin, so I did not have much time to be disappointed.

Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)

There were numerous limpkins but one particular limpkin wanted to stand on the rail of the boardwalk and allowed me to get very close. Many of the limpkins were making their raucous calls, but I was so close to this limpkin, I got to see its tongue. It was very rewarding to get so close.

Limpkin making its call and showing its narrow tongue.

I saw three northern harriers actively hunting over the wetland but the low light conditions made it impossible to get a clear photograph of them flying. I also saw an anhinga waving its wings as it was drying out. I have seen many anhingas drying out after coming out of the water, but I have never seen one moving its wings like that. Anhingas swim under the water to feed on their favorite prey, fish, and then dry out afterwards.

There were lots of water hyacinths in bloom.

Common water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes)

I got to see some baby alligators with mom. Unlike most reptiles, mother alligators actively take care of their young after they are born.

Mother alligator with her young.
Baby alligator. They have yellow markings when they are young but they will fade as they age.

Splish Splash, Taking a Bath

Male eastern bluebird (Sialis sialis) taking a bath.

I’ve been healing nicely after my surgery to have cancer removed from my face. I stayed home most of the first week and tried to organize my photos. I made great progress. We had a particularly nice sunrise at the beginning of this week, so I put on my long sleeve shirt, long pants, and snake boots and walked out to the marsh to get a picture. Regis made a nice path for me to do this, so it wasn’t too bad. The mosquitos managed to get through my shirt and suck a couple pints of blood out of me while I watched the sunrise. At one point, I heard a rustle behind me and turned to see a possum. The possum didn’t seem disturbed that I was there and just kept about its business.

Sunrise over the marsh in St. Augustine, Florida.

Regis noticed a lot of activity at the bird bath later in the day. He counted at least 8 bluebirds coming and going and got several pictures.

Female eastern bluebird (Sialis sialis).
Male and female eastern bluebird taking baths.
Male eastern bluebird drinking.

Shortly afterwards, he saw a bald eagle flying over the house and got this picture after it landed in a tree down the street.

American bald eagle near our house in St. Augustine, Florida.

Hanging around the house all week was productive but I got antsy. We decided to go camping in Stark, Florida which is about 25 miles north of Gainesville. That will be covered in the next two posts.

Female eastern bluebird bathing.

NANPA Blog Post

Three juvenile double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) standing on a log on the Silver River in Florida.

I wrote a blog post for the North American Nature Photographers Association that came out today entitled: “A Favorite Place to Photograph Wildlife: The Silver River in Florida”. It can be seen here.

The Gifts of the Day: Where’s Dart?

We just published our second book The Gifts of the Day: Where’s Dart?

The eBook and paperback versions are available on lulu.com.

The book is an adaptation of travel blogs we posted on landrtravels.com while making this journey.  On seventeen occasions, we placed Dart, our blue-merle sheltie, in or near a national park, took a picture and asked our readers to guess where he was located.  We and our readers had fun with that, so we included those pictures in this book.  Dart gets around!

Book Description: Linda and Regis believe that life brings gifts every day. A gift could be seeing swallow-tailed kites as they gather in large numbers before their journey to South America, enjoying a pleasant rain, watching Native Americans dance at a powwow or viewing salmon jumping over waterfalls on their journey upstream. While traveling and camping around the United States, they keep their eyes, ears and minds open looking for those gifts. In this second year of travel, they exchanged their truck and 5th wheel camper for a motorhome and a Jeep Cherokee and went from St. Augustine, Florida to Seattle, Washington and back during the summer of 2016. This book, with over 100 photographs, is about their journey.

Route of our 2016 Adventure. Campgrounds are listed in the book.

Sups and Pups

Dog surfing.

The Guy Harvey Resort in St. Augustine, Florida sponsored a Sups and Pups event today which was a dog surfing contest to benefit K9s for Warriors. Dart would never do this.

My favorite was this young man bonding with his dog while waiting their turn.

Young man and his canine surfer friend.
Young man and his canine surfer friend.
Dog successfully surfing.
The end of a successful surf.
This pup is getting a little help from his friend.

I walked the beach in Anastasia State Park with a friend earlier this week and saw this sailboat that unfortunately did not make it successfully through the inlet.

My friend checking out a beached sailboat.

Momma Squirrel

Squirrel carrying her baby up a tree to her newly made nest.

Yesterday, Regis noticed a squirrel frantically making a nest during the day. Later in the afternoon, he saw a squirrel running across the back of the yard with what looked like a boa around its neck. He realized it was a squirrel carrying a baby squirrel in its mouth. He watched the squirrel deposit her baby in the new nest and then return in the direction she came. Regis figured she was getting another baby so he got the camera ready and was able to capture a picture of the mother squirrel climbing the tree with the baby to the new nest.

This morning, she was back at it and took at least two more babies into the nest. It was my turn to get the photograph.

Squirrel carrying another baby to the nest.
After the mother got the one baby to the nest, she stopped to watch me take her picture while her little ones climbed all over her. Very cute!

What a gift!