White Pelicans

White pelicans and brown pelicans on the shores of the Tolomato River (intracoastal waterway).

The white pelicans have returned to our area (St. Augustine, Florida). We heard they were back a few weeks ago but had the opportunity to see about a flock of 30 along the Intracoastal Waterway (Tolomato River) near Pine Island the other day. I have included a few pictures of them from last year that I took while conducting the annual St. Augustine Christmas Bird Count. I love seeing the brown pelicans next to the white pelicans giving an opportunity to see the difference in size.

The American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is one of the largest North American birds and breeds inland. They, like many humans, winter in warmer climates which is why we only get to see them in Florida in the winter. Their wingspan can reach 9 feet while the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) has a 7 foot wingspan. The pelicans congregate in large groups in the winter. It’s likely we will eventually see 100 or more together like we did last year. For more information and range maps, check out All About Birds.

Our book The Gifts of the Day: Florida to Cape Breton Island is now available in hard copy at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

We created a Facebook page for L and R Travels and encourage you to like it. We also have an Instagram account.

Kings of the hill – a variety of birds including white pelicans, brown pelicans, cormorants, oystercatches, terns, gulls, willets, dowagers, and others. The picture isn’t good enough to clearly identify all the species along the water’s edge.

Trip Planning Software

Route for our 2016 trip

When we started our cross country traveling in 2015, Regis researched planning software options and selected RV Trip wizard. The company continues to upgrade the software and we continue to use it. Try the FREE demo. In this post, I am going to explain some of the features that we like about the software.

In the trip settings, you can enter information about your camping set up such as the height of your rig, whether you are carrying propane, and how many miles you can go on a gallon of fuel. This aids the software in ensuring it doesn’t route you to an underpass that will remove the top of your rig or send you to a tunnel that doesn’t allow propane. By entering some of the other information, it aids the software in estimating the cost of your trip.

Another nice feature is to have the software put a driving radius on the map. I use this feature extensively to limit our driving to between 250-300 miles. We may do more than that if we are driving exclusively on the interstate, but we usually prefer to not spend all day on the road.

I have the driving radius set for 200, 250, and 300 miles. In this image, St. Augustine, Florida is the central point.

The small icons represent campgrounds. Clicking on them will give you information about the campground with a couple screen shot examples below. If you decide to stay there you let the software know where on the route to place the stop and how many days you are staying. The website link takes you to the web page for the campground where you may find additional information and can perhaps make a reservation.

There are a variety of options available to print your trip, send it to an excel spreadsheet, and more. We usually print a copy to keep with us in case we don’t have internet access.

A drop down menu with some of the options available

You can save multiple trips. On our long trips, I may create multiple alternative routes. You can also enter comments and reservation numbers into your trip so everything is in one place.

If you know of a campground that is not in their software, let them know. They will verify it and add it.

When making plans, I usually pick the key locations we want to visit and let the software plot the shortest route between those points. Then, I select campgrounds along the way. I find the software to be user-friendly.

This planning software has made our trip planning much easier. For us, it is well worth the $39 per year.

The Gifts of the Day: Florida to Cape Breton Island

Our third book in the Gifts of the Day series is now available in eBook version on Amazon for $4.99. There are over 100 photographs in the book, so electronic readers in color will provide the best experience.

The hard copy versions will soon be available through Amazon ($20) and Barnes and Noble ($12). Those versions have different ISBN numbers but the interior of the books are the same.

We found that by limiting distribution and working with Amazon and Barnes and Noble directly, we could reduce the cost of the book. We are working on book 4 now.

Tis the Season…

By Regis;

I know it’s only November but the weather finally cooled down enough to start working on RV projects. Since we did not go on any long trip this summer I had made a “to do list” for the RV. It’s been solid 80 degrees plus since mid September and hotter still all summer long. Even at 80, the inside of the RV is about 95-100 depending on how much sun shine there is. Not one thing got done from the to do list. It was just too hot.

A few days ago I woke to 63 degrees! Great, I can start on one of the RV projects. This job required several hours on the roof. It was just not possible to do till the cooler weather.

We have written on previous posts of poor campground WIFI and how we resort to using our mobile phone to upload blog posts and check weather etc. We have also written on how we improve the cell signal inside the RV using the weboost from Wilson electronics. In short the weboost uses an antenna outside and inside the RV with an amplifier in between. Bottom line for us is that the weboost turns an unusable cell signal inside the RV to a very usable one.

Since we first got the weboost we have been using a temporary tower to mount the outside antenna. I didn’t want to install anything permanent until I knew it would work for us. Well it does work and now we need a nice clean install.

I know some of you out there are starting to panic that there are not any pictures yet. Not to worry, pics are down below with the install!

My plan was to replace the low profile TV antenna with a retractable batwing type and mount the weboost to it. This would allow me to raise and lower the antenna as needed. I needed to do this because our RV is 13 feet 2 inches tall. Mounting the weboost would have pushed the hight to 13′ 8″ or so. The first bridge I went under would knock it clean off!

electronics center ready for upgrade

I thought it would be simple to mount the new antenna, use the old cable to pull the new cable through, then connect everything. No,no, no! It seems during the RV manufacturing the cable got glued between the roof and the insulation. The old cable was NOT moving an inch! I had to come up with a plan B. Why do I always need a plan B?

Luckily the roof is insulated with 5 inches of styrofoam. That should be easy to get a hole through. The problem I now had was how to drill a hole 7 feet long? The longest drill bit I could find was only 5.5 feet, a little short!

Here I got lucky again. I noticed I had three ceiling fixtures in a straight line. I had the tv antenna mount, then 18 inches toward the front a light fixture, then again 18 inches forward a speaker. After removing the light and speaker I was able to drill from the antenna hole to the light hole, then from the light hole to the speaker hole! Bingo half way there. I’ll take that as a gift of the day!

its cold here but that’s not snow it’s styrofoam

From the speaker hole I had to turn slight left and go another 4 feet. I got lucky again! The insulation ran only another 2 feet or so and then it was open space in the very front. Wow, two gifts in one day!

With all the hard parts done what remained was to mount the new antenna on the roof, fish the cable through and put everything back together. This step went very well. Everything got connected just fine, turned the power on and in fact all components worked just fine.

TV and weboost in stowed position
tv and weboost in up position

As a final note I did some signal testing. Without the weboost the signal inside the RV was -106db, a very weak signal maybe 1 bar. With the weboost turned on the signal strengthen to -70db. As we have found during past trips the weboost will allow us to have a very usable internet connect using our phone hotspot.

everything in its place. weboost is top center.

Upcoming NANPA Webinar

I will be conducting a webinar on November 5, at 5:00 ET on “Photographing While Traveling in an RV”. This webinar is being conducted for the North American Nature Photographers Association (NANPA), so you need to be a member to register at at http://www.nanpa.org. Regis will be sitting in to help answer questions.

Webinar description:
Since 2015, Linda Burek and her husband, Regis, have traveled throughout North America in their RV, taking photographs and videos daily and blogging about their experiences. In this webinar, Linda will share some of what they have learned to create better experiences and to improve their chances of getting successful shots. The session’s learning objectives include:  
• Improving your chances of getting a good shot by being ready for the opportunities that arise
• Exploring ways to get off the beaten path and get your unique shots
• Sharing some thoughts on camera gear on the road  

Linda Burek is a fine art and documentary nature photographer. She and her husband travel regularly, giving them an opportunity to take photographs and videos. They maintain a regular blog showcasing their work and experiences at www.landrtravels.com. They published their first book in 2019, The Gifts of the Day: Traveling and Camping with Dogs, which documents their experiences the first summer they traveled full time. They recently published The Gifts of the Day: Where’s Dart? documenting their second summer traveling full time.
 
Linda likes to take some of her photographs and alter them artistically to make one of a kind works of art. Linda placed in the top 100 in the 2018 NANPA Showcase Photo Competition with her Altered Reality photo “Friends.” She has won additional awards from the Florida Camera Council and recently won third place in the St. Augustine Camera Club Member Show at the St. Augustine Art Association.

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.