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.



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View of Quebec from St Lawrence River

We left St. John to head toward Quebec.  Oh my.  My six years of French is not adequate for this.  Once we got to Quebec, all the signs were in French.  In the other provinces, the signs are in both languages so I was practicing by reading French first and then reading the English if I couldn’t understand it.  Now, I have no English translation to fall back on.

I feel a little isolated.  Everyone around us is speaking fluent French.  (One exception I will describe later.)  I think most folks know we speak English and avoid us.  The professional tourist people are very kind, but everyone else ignores us.  It’s a weird feeling.  Dart is wearing his USA bandana, but I suspect people know we are from the US without us understanding why.

This turns out to be a decent campsite that is a short walk away from the coast.  It is an amazing view.  We can watch Beluga whales from the beach.

I immediately took a whale watch tour leaving at 9:30 am the day after we arrived.  While I was doing that Regis set about fixing our newly broken table.  This is another one of those situations where there was a lack of quality in manufacturing.  Our dining table collapsed and was no longer usable.  While fixing it, Regis determined it was not adequately glued in the first place.  Apparently, someone noticed that in manufacturing and caulked it which was a temporary solution.  This is our second season in the motor home and it was time for the caulking to fail.

While he was working, I was enjoying a 3 ½ hour boat tour on the St. Lawrence River.  The guide spoke fluent French and then gave us an English translation.  His French accent was strong enough, along with the wind, sound of the motor, and other people talking, that I had a hard time understanding what he was saying even when he spoke English.  Nevertheless, I understood some of it.

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View of port from Rivier. yes all those boats are sitting in mud
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View of port in Riviere-de-loop after whale watch tour.

Not long after leaving the dock, we saw Beluga whales.  Click here for a short video.  (It’s not great but look for the white whales.  Belugas are white.  We continued to see them.  We arrived at the whale hot spot, which I think is where the water from the Gulf of St. Lawrence meets the freshwater of the St. Lawrence River.  We saw LOTS of seabirds.  So far, on this trip, we haven’t seen that many seabirds.  I think that’s because they are all here.  My goodness.  I saw thousands of cormorants.  It was amazing.  We saw several Minke whales where the water mixes.

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Lighthouse on St Lawrence River.

On the way back, we encountered a gazillion seals.  Okay, I don’t know how many seals there were but I have never seen that many seals swimming in the water at the same time.  The amount of sea mammals and birds is astonishing.

On the way back, I felt my fingers getting numb.  I was cold.  As I was trying to get circulation back in my fingers, I saw a young boy and girl come up on the top deck with me.  The young boy was wearing a short-sleeved Toronto Blue Jays shirt.  The young girl was wearing a sun dress.  They showed no indication that the cold breeze on the top deck was anything more than lovely.  I was wearing five layers – a shirt, a polartech top, a wool sweater, a sweatshirt, and a gore-tex rain jacket.  And, I was cold.  Jeez.

There were lots of people on our whale tour that probably spoke neither French or English.  When they gave the safety instructions, they gave them in French, English, and another language.  After that, it was all French and English with an accent.  I am exhausted trying to figure out what the guide was saying!!!

I have to tell you what happened after we arrived at our campsite.  After setting up, the skies opened up and it poured.  After it stopped, Regis decided to do a bike ride through town to check things out.  Dart and I stayed behind keeping each other company.  About 45 minutes after Regis left, it started pouring again.  Dart and I looked at each other.  Should we try to rescue Regis?  We don’t know where he is.  Dart and I decided to give it a try.  We took off trying to figure out where Regis might have gone.  Miracle of miracles!!!!  We found him.  He was wet and bedraggled, but we picked him up and brought him home.  Dart was happy to get everyone back together again.

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Dart and I took a walk after dinner along the St. Lawrence River.
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Sunset over the St. Lawrence River.

Encounter with a Groundhog (Marmot)

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Groundhog in New Brunswick, Canada.  This doesn’t look like the groundhogs I am familiar with but my research on the internet indicates this is a groundhog and groundhogs are in the marmot family.  

I wish I hadn’t said anything negative about our Halifax area campground.  We arrived in our new campground this afternoon.  Although the park is nice, the campground is not very nice.  The bad news is that this is the worst campsite we have ever had.  The good news is that it has decent WIFI access that we can get inside the RV.  This is a first on this trip!!  The other good news is that there is an overlook a short distance from our campsite with views of St. John.  The bad news is that it is so foggy, I can’t see anything.

We had some nice wildlife encounters today.  As we were leaving our campsite this morning, we came across a doe with her two fawns.  When we arrived in our new campground, we took a walk through the park in which it is located.  We saw a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers.  We haven’t see Hairy Woodpeckers in years.  We saw a couple of bucks.  And we encountered a groundhog on the trail.  Dart went nuts because he thought it was a squirrel.  The groundhog paid him no mind.

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Doe and two fawns in the woods in Nova Scotia.
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Hairy Woodpecker in New Brunswick, Canada.
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Buck in New Brunswick, Canada.
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Buck in New Brunswick, Canada.

Dart is one of those dogs that doesn’t bother with most animals.  When we encounter rabbits or chipmunks, he doesn’t care.  For the first 5 years of Dart’s life, Regis encouraged him to chase squirrels.  (There was never a danger of him catching one even though he is very fast.)  Dart loves to chase squirrels.  We encountered lots of these little reddish squirrels that are not much bigger than chipmunks at many of the campgrounds.  In fact, a pair of them may have been stashing things in the RV at the last campsite.  Dart does not consider them squirrels and pays no attention to them.  At our current campsite, we encountered a gray squirrel at the beginning of our walk and that got Dart going.  He was on high alert.  Then, when he saw the groundhog, he was convinced it was a squirrel and wanted desperately to be freed for the chase.


Leaving Cape Breton

We left Cape Breton and headed to the Halifax area.  We had great luck with the weather while in Cape Breton.  The mosquito abatement plan continues to be effective.  Buy an expensive screened room to keep away from the bugs and they disappear so you never need to open the box!

We learned something from the children in the campground.  A bunch of the little boys inserted plastic water bottles between the frame of their bike and the back wheel.  When they ride the bike, they sound like little chainsaws rolling through the campground.  They call them “motors”.  It is great fun for the kids but can get a little annoying for the adults.  We noticed that the parents would step in after a while and make the children remove their motors.

As we were traveling on the Cabot Trail heading to Halifax, we put the camera in the windshield to record a view of the scenery.  When we were descending a hill we had climbed, we came upon a switchback with a large truck with heavy equipment on it stuck on a hairpin turn.  This, of course, stopped all traffic in both directions.  We got video of the situation for those interested.  Click here. The video is about 11 minutes.  If you are not interested in how the truck gets out of this mess, you should still watch the beginning of the video to see the views on the road.  (Special note to Jeff from Regis.  The hills here are massive with 13% grades.)

We also came upon this water truck transporting a small swimming pool.  Oddly, the pool was full of water.

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Water truck hauling a swimming pool full of water (sort of since it is spilling out going over bumps).

One of the things we noticed when we first arrived on Cape Breton Island was that the signs were no longer in English and French.  They were in English and another language.  We thought it was language from the First Nation people.  When we passed the Gaelic College, we realized that it was probably Gaelic.  These signs stopped our French lessons.  We thought we were doing pretty well learning French by seeing all the dual French/English signs.  Throwing in the Gaelic was too much for us to handle!

We managed to get some internet access which has not only allowed us to upload this road/truck video, but we were able to load some wildlife video.  Click here to see some video of a Guillemot with food.  Click here to see video of Gannets feeding.  They are a little hard to see against the stunning background, but if you watch closely you can see them occasionally plunge into the water.  If this video is not satisfactory, I recommend coming to Cape Breton yourself and hopping on a whale boat tour.   Also, watching on a bigger screen will help.  Here is a video of the nesting bird colony.  Click here.

Here is a video of Common Terns feeding while we were at Kouchibouguac National Park. Click here.

I came upon a mother grouse while walking in Kouchibouguac National Park.  In the beginning of this video, notice the small thing run across the path after mom crossed.  I thought it was a mouse at first.  Eventually, a few more chicks cross.  Click here.

Pilot Whales

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Pilot Whales off Cape Breton Island.

I went out on another whale tour out of Bay St. Lawrence.  I went on a boat named Oshan.  I thought it was another way to spell Ocean but it is a Gaelic term meaning “standing tall or above”.  It is operated by a family that has lived in the area for over 5 generations.

The tour was incredible.  I can’t begin to describe what the northern tip of Cape Breton Island looks like, especially from the water.  It is stunning.  The captain started the tour by giving the usual safety guidelines like how to put on a life preserver.  He demonstrated putting it on, said tie it the best you can, and then said the next step was to pray.  He told us it was the only life preserver on the boat and he would throw it in the middle of the boat and probably the quickest, strongest person would wind up with the preserver when needed.  After that he told us there were enough life preservers to probably float the boat.

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Cape Breton Island.

Okay, this captain was hilarious but he was also quiet.  Here’s my thinking.  This is a guy who was a fisherman most of his life (a life that doesn’t require interacting with people) and then turned to whale watching tours.  With fewer fish and more tourists available, it’s probably a good choice.  But, this is a quiet, introverted fisherman who has turned into a whale tour guide.  He spoke very little and once we got out to “sea” he said “okay you can start looking for whales”.  He turned out to be a great captain and we saw lots of pilot whales, grey seals, seabirds, and great coastline.

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Home on Cape Breton Island. Notice the access to the sea. It is a rope ladder.

The pilot whales were a blast.  There were many whales swimming together and coming up for air at the same time.  It was like watching a group of dolphins except they are bigger than dolphins.  It was an amazing experience for me.  I hit the jackpot on this trip.  This tour would have been amazing even without the incredible pilot whale encounter.

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Cormorants off Cape Breton Island.
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Guillemot. Look at those red feet!
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Fox crossing road on Cape Breton Island.
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Regis cannot believe this post is one block of wood. You don’t see that very often.




Middle Head

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Guillemot with a snack.

We took a hike Wednesday that turned out to be one of our favorite hikes.  It wasn’t very long, only 2.4 miles round trip.  The hike was to Middle Head at Igonish, Nova Scotia.  There were fantastic water views and wildlife.  We saw lots of Northern Gannets fishing.  We see them in Florida in the winter and I’m pretty sure I recognized one of the Gannets from Florida.  Seriously, when watching the Gannets in Florida they are way out over the water and even with binoculars they can be hard to see.  Here, we saw them fishing right along the coast line.  There was lots of splashing as they torpedoed into the water to fish.  We stayed a long time to watch them.

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Northern Gannet just before it enters into the water.

When we got to the end of the headland, we saw a seal in the water and a colony of nesting birds.  They were primarily Great Black-backed Gulls with a few Guillemots mixed in.  At first, we didn’t notice all the young because they blend in with the rocks so well.  We soon realized what we were seeing and stayed for a long time watching the activity.  Dart rested in shady areas while we soaked in the scenery and the wildlife activity.

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Hike to Middle Head in Nova Scotia.
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Hike to Middle Head in Nova Scotia. Dart found the only shade at the headland.

We enjoyed the hike so much that we returned the next day but went later in the day.  There was not as much Gannet activity and we didn’t any seals.  But, we saw a whale and my best guess is that it was a Minke whale.  We spent a lot of time watching the gulls and Guillemots.

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Great Black-backed Gull with young.

The hike starts close to the Keltic Lodge in Cape Breton National Park.  This Lodge has the most incredible views.  There is a restaurant and a golf course.  There are lots of Canada red Adirondack chairs to sit in and enjoy the view.  And, there is this incredible hike to enjoy close to your lodgings.  If I wasn’t traveling in an RV, I would fly into Halifax, rent a car, and come here to the Keltic Lodge and just chill for however long I could.

Canada has this thing going on where they have red Adirondack chairs sprinkled throughout the country.  They are located in incredible places and you are welcome to sit down in these chairs and enjoy the view.  I think it is a pretty cool idea.  We’ve seen quite a few of these chairs on our trip but the ones located at the Keltic Lodge are the most inviting we have seen.  I could spend a whole day sitting in one of those chairs.

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Red Adirondack chairs that Canada invites you to sit in and enjoy the view. These are placed at the Keltic Lodge. The far mountain has a ski slope. If I skied that in the winter, I would crash because I was too busy looking out over the ocean.