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.

Home

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Dart resting comfortably on the couch after our long trip. He slept well after this shot.

On our second day heading back to Florida from Pittsburgh, I woke up feeling like we had the day off from driving.  As I thought about, I realized that we did not travel two days in a row in the motor home except for the first two days of the trip.  It was nice always being able to spend the next day recovering from a long day of driving.

After Regis took a stroll through the last campground of the trip, he came back to tell me he saw Skeletor.  Does anyone remember Skeletor?

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This was in our campground in South Carolina. Regis says it’s Skeletor.

The campground in Virginia had a bowling alley, batting cages, a miniature golf course, and they delivered pizzas.  You never know what you’re going to find!

It’s a bit warm in Florida, but it is good to be back home.  I think Dart is very happy to be back.

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Someone told me that my last picture of the giraffe did not make it clear how big it is. Therefore, I am including this picture of Dart with the GIraffe.

Pittsburgh

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Dart was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Specifically, he was on Mount Washington (formerly known as Coal Hill).

We had a great time visiting family for a couple days.

We have been feeling like yo’s yo’s since we left New York.  We’ve been traveling through the Appalachian Mountain Range as we drove through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and now Virginia.  Up and down, up and down, up and down.  There aren’t too many flat spots to be seen.  The scenery has been beautiful.

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Back in the USA!

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View from the picnic table in our campsite in New York. Those are mountains in the distance and a small lake about mid-picture.

We are back!  The first thing I did was turn on the data to my cell phone.  The world is now at my finger tips! Then, we drove to a truck stop, pulled into the truck gas pump, and filled up both tanks.  Aaah.

The weather is wonderful.  It’s somewhat tempting to hang out in New York until the temperature drops in Florida, but I miss home and my friends and I’m looking forward to getting back.

We have some random thoughts we want to post.  We missed these in our last posts.

When we were standing in the parking lot at Peggy’s Cove, Dart started growling and barking at a tiger that was painted on a nearby RV.  He never did calm down around the tiger.  I guess he’s not fond of tigers.

When we were in Riviere-du-Loup and returning from an evening stroll along the water, a 14,000 volt fuse blew on the power pole near us.  It was very loud and scared the heck out of Dart.  These types of fuses are made with an explosive powder inside and when overheated explode to break the connection.  The volume of this explosion is louder than a shotgun but slightly quieter than the percussion explosions of a fireworks display.  I’m surprised Dart let me walk him by the water again the next morning.

While in Riviere-du-Loup, we attempted to do a hike through a marsh.  What were we thinking?  We were looking for birds, instead we found more insects in one section of trail than all the flying insects we have ever seen in our entire life.  They looked like mosquitos but they did not land on us.  If they did, our bones and skin would be lying on the trail.  I returned to the car, but Regis was so fascinated by seeing so many insects at the same time, he risked his life by staying longer to observe the phenomenon.

Regis noticed that we have not stayed in a single campground where someone’s car alarm didn’t go off.  Now, every time we arrive in a campground, he waits for it.  As soon as it happens, he yells.  This is another thing Dart does not appreciate.

Our last campground in Canada required us to wear wrist bands.  I do not like wrist bands.  I hated it.  I was happy to cut it off the morning we left.   This campground had some highlights and some downers.  Let’s start with the bad stuff.  We have been camping all of our lives and never had someone’s campfire seriously interfere with our experience.  Our neighbors built a campfire one night that was very smoky.  The smoke filled our RV.  If Regis had not removed the batteries to the smoke alarm, it would have gone off.  We had to close all the windows.  (The batteries we removed because the smoke alarm keeps going off when we cook.)  The next night, the other neighbors built a campfire and smoldered it for a long time with something other than wood.  Regis thinks it was cardboard.  Whatever it was, it smelled awful and made me nauseous.  I could even taste it, which is weird.  Two nights in a row we had bad campfire experiences with our neighbors but haven’t had that happen to us in too many years to count.

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The oldest bridge in Ontario.

The good part of our stay was that one night someone walked to the edge of the campground and started playing bagpipes.  It was awesome.  It’s the first time I saw someone play bagpipes that wasn’t wearing a kilt.  The next night, a camping neighbor started playing the guitar and singing.  I loved it.

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Yard art on a trip through Leeds and the Thousand Islands in Canada.

We loved our trip through Canada.  It is a great country with wonderful people.  But, we are happy to return to the U.S.  In a future trip, we plan to go to Banff and Jasper National Parks.

Regis went grocery stopping after we set up our campsite in the U.S.  He said he knew he was back in the U.S. because there was 50 feet of mustard choices in the grocery store.  (Yes, he exaggerated, but you get the point.)

We are staying where we are staying because I plan to visit April the Giraffe and her baby and friends.  If you don’t know who she is, where have you been?  Google it!

 

Dart – The Attractor

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St. John, New Brunswick

We are camped in St. John, so we spent the day mostly in the city.  I wanted to get my hair cut.  I tried to get it cut in Nova Scotia, but the only local hair salon said they didn’t take walk-ins and couldn’t fit me in.  I looked up local hair salons in St. John and we went to the city so I could give it a try as soon as they opened.  The first salon said they don’t take walk-ins and couldn’t fit me in.  If I hadn’t already had similar problems in the US, I would have take it personally.

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Volley ball on the beach in St. John, New Brunswick.

We started off to the second choice but had no idea  where Union street was. Regis noticed a WIFI antenna on a street pole. Out came the cell phone, open the WIFI hot spot finder app, and boom found an open WIFI. Good job city of Saint John! Free WIFI in the down town area. Next was a talk with google maps and we were off to the next hair salon place. A block this way, two that way another block to the right and ta-da! BUT looks like the hair salon has been over run by the BREW PUB next door! Not a bad use of the space, but no hair cutting getting done there.

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Fish and chips and local brews at a restaurant in St. John, New Brunswick.

We started walking around the city and came upon another hair salon.  They said they could accommodate me in an hour and a half.  I was happy with that.  But, we walked around the block and I was able to find someone willing to take me right away.  I went to get my haircut and Regis let the other salon know I wasn’t coming back.  Then, he went across the street to sit out of the sun waiting for me.  He noticed someone on an electric wheelchair at the back end of a parking lot. After giving Dart some water, he noticed she had crossed the parking lot, maybe to get a closer look at Dart. Regis crossed back to the parking lot and started chatting with Donna.

After several minutes of chit chat, a second wheel chair person arrived, Brian. Soon there were three “scooter”  people, Donna, Brian, and Barb approached and Regis began a lively conversation, while I was getting my hair cut.  When I came out, I found Regis and Dart camped out with a lady in an electric wheel chair in a deep political conversation.  Others joined before I left.  They were an entertaining and delightful group who gave us some good information on what streets to visit to see good architecture.

Regis is a great fan of what I call “creepy” architecture.  It isn’t always dark and gloomy, but often is.  Anyway, he was happy to see it.

We went to the downtown area with lots of restaurants with outside dining and found they are pet friendly.  We were able to have lunch outside with Dart at the table.  They provide a bowl and water.  We had the bowl, so we just needed the water.  The weather was astonishing and the food was wonderful.  So were the local brews!

After we left, we visited the “reversing falls”.  The St. Johns River flows into the Bay of Fundy here.  The St. Johns river maintains it’s height, but the tidal Bay of Fundy waters change by at least 24 feet between tides.  We arrived about two hours before the lowest tide.  Click here for a short video.  High tide was at dark, so we couldn’t get back to see how it works when the tide is higher than the river.

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Reversing falls in S.t John, New Brunswick.

Regis has been fascinated with watching the ship activity in St. John from the overlook at our campground.  Tonight, we both grabbed a glass of wine to go sit at the overlook and watch tugboats, ships, etc.  There was also a local ball game visible from the overlook.  When Regis took to cheering at the game, Dart was not pleased.  I left with Dart to go back to the quiet of the RV.  Regis says the red team was decimating the black team.