St. Augustine

By Linda

I think I might have a problem sitting still too long, so we recently put our house up for sale.  We plan to travel in the motor home and ultimately settle somewhere in Washington State.  Our son lives there and we’d like to be within driving distance of him so we can visit more often.  We’re not waiting until the house sells to get going.  We can’t sit still long enough to do that!  So, we’re leaving on our trip and hoping it sells by the end of the summer.  If it does, we’ll put our household goods in storage and travel around until we find a place to put some roots in Washington State.  If it doesn’t sell by the end of the summer, we’ll come back and spend the winter in St. Augustine.  Either outcome is workable, so it’s all good.

As a result of this plan, we don’t really know where we’ll be at the end of the summer.  Our Adventure 2018 plan currently terminates the end of August.  At that point, we either head back to St. Augustine or start thinking about where we want to spend the winter.  Because we don’t know how things will work out, we have to pack as though we won’t see our household goods for awhile.  I also have to say good-bye to the wonderful friends I have made since we moved here and visit some of my favorite St. Augustine spots one more time.

While I am running around with my friends and visiting favorite spots,  Regis completes his motor home projects.  More planning is required regarding what to take since we don’t know whether we’ll be living in Florida next winter or somewhere else.  Also, knowing that we could be living in the motor home for over six months has given Regis an excuse to embark upon more projects than you can count regarding the motor home.  He is obsessed with improving this or that and spends more time at the motor home than he does at the house.  Oh, wait, he spends a lot of time at the local hardware store also.  Thank goodness they opened a new hardware store between our house and the lot where the motor home is stored.  It has greatly reduced our fuel consumption!

As I met up with some good friends recently to explore the GTM Research Reserve, they told me about a portion of an old ship that washed up on the beach near the Reserve.  One of the interesting things about living by the ocean is seeing what washes up on the beach.  Lots of times it’s garbage, but can be interesting nevertheless.  Months after hurricane Matthew visited the area, it was possible to see the objects from people’s lives continue to wash up on the beach.  It was very sad and made the ocean a dangerous place to swim.  Sometime we find cool skeletons of now dead creatures.  Having a portion of an old ship wash up was very exciting, so we had to checkc it out.  I took a couple pictures.  Here is a link to one of the many articles about the ship.  Click here. 

 

I saw this gopher tortoise at the GTM Research Reserve which is one of my favorite places.

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Gopher tortoise at GTM Reserve.

I also visited the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine.  This is a favorite place to visit while the birds are nesting in the spring.  The birds are wild but learned that the Alligator Farm is a relatively safe place to raise their young.  The many alligators keep other predators away.  Of course, any chick that falls out of the nest won’t have to worry about hitting the ground.  It will become a tasty snack first.  Those alligators are fast.  The birds are used to people watching them in this area, so you can get some very close views of them.

When I visited the other day, the alligators were restless.  While you are watching the birds, you stand on a boardwalk over the water where there are LOTS of alligators.  When the alligators start bellowing and thrashing around, you hope desperately that the boardwalk is well built!  Click here for a video on our youtube channel of some of the nesting activity and the restless alligators.  The alligator farm is a great place to visit any time of the year.  You can zip line across the alligators.  If you are visiting the area in the spring, it is a must see.  For more information click here for a link for the Alligator Farm. 

Following are some still pictures of the birds.

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Feeding time for a baby Great Egret
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Great Egret family picture. As usual, the kids are squabbling!
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Tri-colored heron nesting pair.
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Tri-colored heron scratching an itch while protecting his/her eggs.
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Cattle egret.

 

How to Know When the Gray Tanks are Full

If you have been following our posts, you may recall me whining about how the gauges on the gray and black tanks don’t always work.  Therefore, you never know when they are full.  Regis tells me that I will know when the gray tank is full if I’m taking a shower and the water starts to puddle at my feet and stop going down the drain.

At the Koreshan campground, we have water and electricity but no sewer.  We were only planning to stay 4 nights, so that should not have been a problem.  On our last morning, prior to leaving, I took my shower and lo and behold, the water began to puddle around my feet.  Thank goodness I was almost done.  There was a dump station in the campground, so we didn’t have far to go to dump the tanks.  Jeezy peezy there has to be a better way!

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This is our shower. The reason you can’t see the drain is because the shower is full of soapy water that will not drain because the tank is full!
While hanging around the campground, Regis made friends with this little anole.

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Anole in Koreshan State Historic Site.

We spent our last full day here going back to J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  I love the place and cannot get enough of it.  Since the tide was in, we didn’t see as many birds.  It is easier for them to fish when the tide is out.  Nevertheless, I got some more video of a Reddish Egret fishing.  Click here.

Here are some more bird pictures.

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Birds at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
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Birds at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

We checked out the Bailey tract at the refuge.  We didn’t see many birds, but we saw this little guy hanging about.

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Alligator at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

In Search of Florida Panthers

Let me start off by saying we never saw any panthers.  We didn’t expect to see any panthers.  They are very elusive.  But, we camped not too far from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Sanctuary.  There are some trails there, but pets are not allowed on them.  Also, you can’t walk alone and must keep a close eye on your children.  Hmmmm.  We thought a drive through the area would be pretty cool just to see where panthers hang out.

On the way to the refuge, we went to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.  According to the sanctuary literature, the sanctuary was “established to protect the largest remaining stand of ancient bald cypress left in North America.”  National Audubon had been protecting wading birds nesting in the swamp since 1912.  In 1954, the Corkscrew Cypress Rookery Association was formed and purchased the property and the National Audubon Society manages the area.  There is a visitor center and 2.25 mile boardwalk trail through the sanctuary.

Since pets are not allowed, Regis and Dart went for a walk outside the sanctuary and I went inside the sanctuary.  There were lots of Wood Storks flying overhead, so I think Dart and Regis saw as many birds as I did.  The sanctuary is amazing and the boardwalk makes it possible to visit a swamp that would normally be inaccessible.

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Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
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Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
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Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
I expected to see mostly wading birds, but saw many birds flitting through the forest.  I couldn’t identify most of them but I know I saw an Oriole.  I also walked right under a hawk.  One of the coolest things I saw was a ghost orchid.  This is a very rare orchid that looks like a ghost.  There are people who visit the sanctuary just to see this orchid.

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On the left side of the trunk is a rare ghost orchid.

After visiting the sanctuary, we took a ride by the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.  There are several signs along the road nearby warning of panther crossings.  I regularly get email from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (myfwc.com) on happenings related to panthers, so it was thrilling to see the area where these events take place.

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Nesting Anhingas at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
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Red-shouldered Hawk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
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Wood Stork outside of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The Sanctuary has the highest concentration of nesting Wood Storks in the U.S.

Koreshan

It was time to move the motor home to keep every lubricated properly.  We took advantage of that need to head on a short adventure to southwest Florida.  We wanted to visit J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge again and chose Koreshan State Park in Estero as our campsite.  It was considerably less expensive than the local private campgrounds and it was very nice.  It is located on the Estero River, so we brought the kayaks.

The drive to Estero from St. Augustine was awful.  It’s rough getting through the Orlando area and Routes 95, 4, and 75 are always congested.  After we set up camp, we took the dog for a walk and I’m surprised that Dart didn’t wear out his sniffer on the walk.  It wasn’t long but Dart sniffed every square inch.  I was beginning to think we wouldn’t get back to the motorhome until nightfall.

The next morning we went on a hike through the historic site and found the biggest bamboo we have ever seen.  It sounded a little creepy with the wind blowing through the bamboo and causing them to make creaking noises.

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Linda and Dart with large bamboo in Koreshan State Historic Site.

After Dart’s walk, we put the kayaks in the Estero River at the campground and headed down river.  There are lots of houses along the river.  The river looks very dirty.  We only had to step in it to launch and then take the kayaks out of the water, but we hated stepping in it.

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Launching kayaks on the Estero River at Koreshan State Historic Site. That’s Linda checking out down river and Mango and Tango in the lower left corner.

It was an okay trip.  We saw someone paddle boarding with a beautiful husky.  We were hoping to kayak all the way to Estero Bay but it turned out to be further than we expected.  I was concerned about having the energy to return up river.  There isn’t much of a current, but you still have to paddle against whatever current there is.  We didn’t see many birds on the way downriver, but saw some on the way back.  The tide was lower on the way back, so it would have been easier for the birds to fish.

After we got back, we ate lunch and then headed to J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  It is only 18 miles from our campsite but took an hour to get there.  It was worth it!!  There were lots of birds.  There were also lots of no-see-ums. Those are bugs you can’t see but when they bite you, you can feel it.  I find their bites itch more than mosquito bites.  Since we left the bug spray in the motorhome (of course!), we didn’t do any walking.  My favorite bird to watch was the Reddish Egret.  I love watching them fish.  I got some video (see here) of one fishing.  If you have never seen them fish, you should watch.  I was using my regular camera with the long lens when I saw the Egret and it is hard to handhold and video with that lens so it is a little shaky.  The tripod was with the bug spray back in the motorhome!!

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Birds at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
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Gull bathing at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
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Ibis at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
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White Pelicans at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
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Roseatte Spoonbill preening at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. A lot of people mistake them for Flamingos.
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Yellow-crowned Nigh-Heron at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Sampling of the Southwest

I recently went on a trip to the desert southwest with my mom and sister.  They are from Maryland and I am in Florida, so we all flew to Las Vegas and met up there.  My plan was to show my mom as much of the southwest as I could in a week.  We spent a night in Las Vegas and lost some money in the slots before heading to Utah.

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View of Las Vegas at night from our room in the Palms Place Hotel and Spa.

While in Utah we visited Zion National Park, Grand Canyon National Park (North Rim), Bryce Canyon National Park, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  It was a whirlwind tour!

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The Vermillion Cliffs.
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All American Highway 12 running through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

The scenery is stunning.  This was my first time in the area in the fall and I loved the colors.  There were a lot of golds.  We also saw a lot of Mule Deer.  You must be careful driving anytime but they are more on the move in the early morning and late evening.

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Mule deer mom and her young one.
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Fall colors in Utah.
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Fall colors in Utah.
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Fall colors in Utah.

While in Zion National Park, I saw a large bird, much larger than an Eagle.  I learned that there are California Condors in the area.  We spoke with a Utah state employee who had a station set up to help hunters save condors.  He said the condors fly from Zion to the Grand Canyon and there was a nesting pair in Zion, although the chicks didn’t make it.  He provides non-lead ammunition to hunters. If they use lead shot, then he requests they bring the guts to him for proper disposal.  The condors get poisoned if they eat the remains of an animal killed with lead shot.

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A program to help prevent condors from getting poisoned by lead shot.

I  prefer to visit the area in a motor home and spend more time hiking or sitting still, but we were trying to get a sampling of the southwest and only had a week to do it.    It was a lot of driving but worth it.

We spent the last night in Las Vegas on the strip and it was a big contrast between the wide open, sparsely populated spaces in Utah with the congestion in Las Vegas.  We had a great hotel room and enjoyed the food.  My sister was the only one who came out ahead after visiting the casino.  At least one of us did okay!

Dart was my best friend when I got home.  Regis said he was happy that his “toy” came back.

Dolphins and a Tortoise

We are enjoying being back in Florida.  We are catching up with friends and enjoying the natural environment.  We went kayaking today and encountered some dolphins.  That’s not unusual around here, but these dolphins came close to Regis’ kayak to check him out.  It looks like one pair of dolphins was a mom with her young one.  Click here to see the video of our trip highlights.

We also found a gopher tortoise floating in the water.  At first, I thought it might have been a terrapin because I knew it wasn’t a sea turtle.  Regis figured out it was a gopher tortoise, so we rescued it and placed it back in the sand dunes.  We don’t know how this little tortoise wound up in the water, but we know that sometimes well-meaning people think they are sea turtles and put them in the water.  Gopher tortoises live in the dunes by the water (and other places in Florida) and they cannot survive IN the water.  Hopefully, this little tortoise will be okay.

On the way back, I noticed a large animal surface in the water and then drop back down but I couldn’t figure out what it was.  Regis and I were headed that way, so we watched for it as we got in the area.  Suddenly, something large moved in the water beneath Regis’ kayak and stirred up a lot of silt.  We discussed this for about 5-10 minutes and decided that it was probably a manatee that I saw and Regis probably moved over top of it and startled it.  If that is the case, he is lucky to not have been upended.

We don’t see manatees in our area as we kayak, but we know they are around in the summer.  We’ll have to pay more attention!

When we got back to the boat ramp, Regis got a cute video of a hermit crab.  It’s on the end of the video mentioned above.

I’m also very excited to find that 3 Black Skimmer pairs have nested on the beach in Anastasia State Park.  These are the first Skimmers nesting on this beach since at least 2005.  Mostly, the Black Skimmers nest on rooftops because there is insufficient habitat for them on the beach.  That is not ideal since rooftops get too hot for the eggs and chicks and they can get washed off the roof in the many rainstorms that hit Florida in the summertime.  I was told by a Florida Wildlife Commission employee that these are the only Black Skimmers nesting on a beach in all of Florida that they know of.   Let’s hope this is the beginning of a recovery since Black Skimmers, among other shorebirds, are threatened.

Animal Adventure Park

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Tajiri at the Animal Adventure Park.

I visited the Animal Adventure Park today and saw April the Giraffe, Oliver (dad), and their baby Tajiri.

The Park is nicely done.  The animals look healthy, the environment is well maintained, and the animals have enrichment programs.  There is also nice landscaping around many enclosures.  I was impressed.

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Animal Adventure Park

The highlight, of course, was seeing April and Taj.  I was one of the millions who watched April give birth to the calf.  Therefore, it was very special to see the giraffes live.  There is an interesting set up that allows the park visitors to feed carrots to April and Taj.  This allows for some intimate contact which was thrilling to the visitors young, old, and everyone in between.  I was able to touch April and it was incredible to be so close to such a beautiful animal.

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April and Tajiri at the Animal Adventure Park.
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A woman feeding April a carrot from her mouth. Animal Adventure Park
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Tajiri at the Animal Adventure Park. Look at those eyelashes.

My favorite animals turned out to be three young bears.  I got a short video of one of the bears licking peanut butter off a tire.  Click here.  The park keepers brought some apple tree branches into the enclosure and two of the bears had a blast playing with them.  Who knew how much fun branches could be?  The bears were just too cute.

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Mom and baby at the Animal Adventure Park.

The park runs a live cam of the giraffes on Sunday through Friday 4-8pm.  See it here.

I brought home a giraffe and Dart has been wary, but curious about it.  It’s a lot bigger than he is!  Regis almost broke a rib he laughed so hard when he saw me bring the giraffe out of the car.

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My new giraffe.