Saturday, December 31, 2011

Canoeing the Peace River in Search of Megladon!

The days plan was to head east to Payne Creek Historic State Park. There we wanted to check out an rv park for future trips and to launch our canoe in the Peace River. We hoped to be able to dodge alligators while searching for sharks teeth and mammal bone, and even fossilized invertebrate remains.
The drive was only about seventy miles but it was amazing as we passed groves of oranges and fields filled with tomatoes and strawberries. You hear about all the fresh fruit and produce being grown here but it still doesn't sink in until you drive by miles and miles of groves and farms.
Arriving at Bowling Green, after checking out a nice rv park, we followed the signs to Payne Creek Historic State Park. There we paid the three bucks to get in and stopped at a deserted but open visitor center that told of life here during the Seminole War.
A short drive took us to the canoe launch site and we headed upstream for the fossil beds which were shown as being out of the park. The current wasn't to bad and we didn't see any alligators. The biggest obstacle was the snags from sunken cypress. The paddle was beautiful and it reminded me of the cypress trees and Spanish moss in Louisiana. Renita took images of a juvenile white ibis and a little blue heron waded nervously as we passed.
It didn't take long before we reached a rapids, formed as the river flowed over a limestone outcrop. Beaching the canoe, Renita pointed out the numerous fossil invertebrates and she soon had a bag bulging with the days treasures.
Jenny was the first to discover fossil bones and their were really quite a few, but we had to leave them as we didn't have the necessary permit. I had brought a shovel, for digging for sharks teeth, but we didn't have a sifting screen so we spent our time surface picking.
Time passed to quickly and we loaded back up and pushed the canoe into the fast water. Avoiding a nasty snag the float down river was really a gently passage under cypress and live oaks, all festooned with their long beards. Its amazing really, how fast you can retrace your steps when floating down stream and although we stopped and looked for finds we didn't add anything to our collection.
As we unloaded our canoe three people arrived in a small flat bottom boat. They were soaking wet and had several shovels and a huge screen for sifting debris. They kindly talked of their day wading in the river and sifting mud and even showed us their treasures, including a mammoth bone and a medium size fossil megladon tooth. He asked if we had found any teeth and he gave us several small ones from his fossil cache bag!
It always amazes us how kind people are and we have been blessed with meeting so many as we have traveled as full timers. Now we know that we need a sifter, a bigger shovel, and my chest waders! It was a good first day on the Peace River. Clear skies

Connections, An Easy, but Cold, Day at Fort Desoto, Florida

We have a friend who writes a good blog,   See he and his wife, Marsha are set on one goal, to find a place where its currently in the seventies.However it seems like that were ever they go it suddenly turns cold and so I am wondering if they are headed to south Florida.
A cold front passed through on Monday and last night the low here in St Petersburg was about 40, brrrr.It had been so pleasant here that I hadn't brought any cold weather clothes, but luckily I had my gore tex and was able to layer enough clothes to head out for a day of exploring at Fort Desoto.
We plan on coming back here next year, for November and December, so we are checking out areas to camp. The campground at Fort Desoto got good reviews and it really is a beautiful place with large sites on the water, and it even had a dog area so we thought it would be a great spot. Anyway we thought that way until we discovered it costs 41 dollars a night for a county campground!
Our daughter took us next to the actual fort and as we walked through it I discovered that the troops destined for Cuba, during the Spanish American War, had all left from here. I stared at a photo of Theodore Roosevelt and it was so amazing to feel the connection as we had visited his National Park last summer. Its such a long way from North Dakota to south Florida and here we were. It reminded me of other connections, including standing at Lewis and Carks graves and earlier visiting their winter camp on the coast in Washington.
The guns here never fired in anger but the Civil War history for the lighthouse on Edgemont Key stood proud as a testimony to the Union soldiers who used it to warn the blockade ships of a contraband runner. Another place told of the three hurricanes that came ashore here in the twenties and thirties, destroying the light house and most of the forts buildings.
After leaving the fort Jenny wanted to show us North and East Beach. Both places had huge parking lots that were almost deserted as a cold wind blew from the north. We carried our easy chairs out to the waters edge but it was mainly an exercise in futility as it was too cold to do much else than watch the brave wind surfers.
Fort Desoto park is really a nice place and a place that we will enjoy when we come back next fall. It has lots of possibilities for fishing and has a beautiful bike path. Its too bad it is so expensive and so we have to cross it off the list of places to stay during next years return. Clear skies

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Manatees at The Tampa Bay Electric Company

Being in south Florida, we of course wanted to see some manatees and so we looked at several possibilities before we headed out to the Tampa Bay Electric Companie's Manatee Viewing Center.
We arrived there at the same time as a cold front and had hardly gotten our rain gear on before we were met with a tropical downpour, the likes of which we have never seen in Wyoming.
Still we had to try and see the manatees so we fought the crowds pouring into the spaces underneath the covered walkways and braved the pouring rain. They were there, a group/herd/pod of about thirty manatees basically sleeping and occasional coming up for a breath. They looked like a bunch of floating brown bags with the occasional swirl of a tail.
A volunteer was giving a lecture under a covered area so we headed there to see the display of manatee bones and to get a respite from the rain,(I was already quite soaked as my five year old rain gear had performed miserably). He had a skull and flipper bones, along with several ribs which had been broken by a propeller strike.
He explained how a damaged rib regrows badly and eventually punctures a lung causing manatee mortality. I asked him about annual mortality rates and he said that about three hundred a year died from idiot human boat operators and net and fishing line entanglements. We also learned how manatees are identified from the scars from propeller impacts and sadly all had strike marks.
With varying estimates of 2500-5000 manatees one wonders how much longer the species will survive. As the cows reproduce only every two to five years, the math doesn't seem promising and it is another case of too many humans as another species may disappear from the Florida coastal area.
We enjoyed watching the manatees as they woke up from their siesta and started to actively search for food, some even looking below the deck upon which we stood. It was amazing to see such large mammals slowly move about the restricted area. Renita told me she had read that they were capable of achieving a speed of twenty miles per hour but it didn't seem possible in such a large animal,(they can weigh up to 3500 pounds).
Later we walked down a pier that took us through a mangrove area and explained the difference between red, black, and white mangroves. It didn't take anytime really to see the obvious differences and so now we could appreciate even more the day we spent canoeing the mangrove tunnels at Weedon Island Preserve.
Another volunteer told us that the numbers at the power plant grew to as many as two hundred manatees during a cold spell and also directed us to a speaker where we could actually hear the manatees talking. Their communications sound like a series of clicks, much like dolphins, and of course it was hard not to anthropomrphize the sounds into human conservation subjects.
It was an enjoyably day, even though I got drenched, and as we walked back to our truck a lady got out of her car and asked us, "Did you see any manatees?" We told her there were lots of manatees and that she should park her car and go watch them. I wondered how many she needed to see to make the short walk to the viewing area and mused that we would have been happy if we had only seen one.
Clear skies

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas at Treasure Island

It seems surreal to be sitting here in south Florida. The temperature is eighty degrees and its simply perfect. We spend each day taking short trips and then walk to the beach to watch the sunset. The hibiscus are in bloom and the Christmas tree is lit, and what could be more normal?
People keep telling us that the place will soon be jammed with retirees. Mostly snowbirds from the east coast. They warn us of the terrible drivers, but we haven't seen any so far. We do plan on leaving for Texas on  New Years day, so perhaps we will only see the crowd as it heads south while we head north.
Meanwhile we are so enjoying it here. We even went to an art museum, where they wouldn't let you take your camera. I was really hesitant to spend the money, as the tickets were nineteen dollars apiece, but it turned out to be  some of the best money I have ever spent.
See the museum is the Dali Museum in St Petersburg and I was moved by the works of Dali as I have never been moved by art before. Sure the melting clocks and nudes would make you think I was joking but the self guided tour let us understand some of what was going on in the mind of the artist, and I never knew....., neither of us did.
I have spent my whole life dedicated to reason and logic and I now wonder if I should have instead dedicated my life to art and the world of dreams. At first I was simply overwhelmed by the visions Dali shared with us but now looking back I think I understand  that my rational thoughts have been a good part but still only a part of my whole being, and I have tried to ignore the rest.
Our jewelry making and lapidary at least lets us try to combine both, as Dali combined both science and dreams in his work. Neither of us would ever be so presumptuous to compare our work with any other artist but at least we are trying to expand our boundaries by working stone and metal. At least we have discovered the beauty while we still have some time to do so. Clear skies

Friday, December 23, 2011

Riding the tide at Weedon Island Preserve

The tide carried our canoe through a mangrove tunnel! Rarely did I have to stoke and Renita used her paddle to keep us straight as the tide flowed through the mosquito ditches. The mangroves were about twenty feet tall and their roots reached down toward the rising tide, or at least they seemed to be reaching.
Small black dots on their  bark were really small black crabs and small fish darted for the protective cover of the roots as we glided by. Periodically we reached small coves, or lakes, where we spied on rosette spoonbills and American white ibis., Of course we passed great blue herons and Renita spotted a reddish egret feeding at one of the outlets.
We stopped for lunch near marker sixteen, where the tunnel trail had taken us to the edge of Tampa Bay.Across the bay the city stood and it was so nice to be in such a peaceful and quiet setting in the middle of the metropolitan area.
Stopping there we turned back and retraced our route  encountering other kayaks and canoes. Many struggled in the narrow ditches as the mangroves seemed to grab their long paddle. One kayaker had taken his paddle apart and was wisely using half of the oar. Several sea kayaks passed us and they payed for their long narrow design, good for open water but trouble when the narrow trail  sharply turned.
Every canoe trip is special and we have been blessed with so many. The roaring rapids of the Gunnison in Colorado, the paddles along the Lighthouse Trails of Texas, the stillness of the morning while solo paddling in Ely, Minnesota..... Each has its own special merit and the memories of each are why we travel.
We didn't paddle the entire four mile loop. It had been too enjoyable as Renita took lots and lots of images and we both stopped to enjoy the solitude. I know that from now on one of my favorite memories will be of gliding though tunnels in the mangroves of Weedon Island Preserve. Clear skies.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Elmers Island and Stories from Grand Isle

There's a commercial on the television right now and its basically says that the Gulf Coast is back from the disaster  caused by British Petroleum's oil spill. The gist of the commercial is that things are all fine now along the Gulf Coast and you should return there for your vacations. By all means do go back but don't expect the same Grand Isle that you saw before, or at least don't look to close....
We are on a vacation, and I know this sounds strange as most think we are on a permanent vacation, as we have parked our house and headed to our daughters house. She is a new nurse and is working in a hospital in St Petersburg, Florida. So anyway we left Rockport and drove to Grand Isle to see our Cajun relatives and friends.
As usual the people were greeted us with the Grand Isle warmth that we are accustomed to and of course my sister Connie fed us with a weeks worth of food in two days. Oyster po'boys and pork tenderloins and cookies and candy all left me with a feeling that I might explode.
To work off some calories we drove to Elmers Island and took a walk along the beach hoping to see some birds and beachcomb and basically just check things out. It was a nice day, a little cool with a north wind, but a  nice day none the less and so we enjoyed a long walk.
My brother in law brought me a clump of sand, broke it open, and you could see the tar and smell the stink of money,(oil).  A little further I had Renita stand next to a mass of hardened oil/tar and Connie told us of a place just down the beach where the ground was saturated with so much oil that you could see it by digging down a bit.
There seemed to be a scarcity of birds. The shells, while plentiful, were all darkened and not the usual bright shades of red we expect along the Gulf Coast beaches. Connie told us of a crabber who put out a string of one hundred and forty pots and only caught four dozen, not enough to pay for the fuel and so there are no crabs for sale. The shrimping has been bad and one shrimper caught a black tiger shrimp, another disaster for the gulf coast's shrimping industry,(Some one imported the huge shrimp and had a commercial farm on one of the Caribbean Islands, Of course a hurricane happened by and now the huge shrimp are taking over  from the native species).
While fish are still being caught, the red fish runs have not reappeared or at least the ones that I fished. Gary's fishing has been nonexistent. He is taking place in an experiment where they are studying men from Grand Isle, looking for long term health problems associated with the oil spill. How nice to be part of a long term study from a disaster.
We still enjoyed our walk and we still love Grand Isle. Hopefully, time will eventually heal the wounds and the place will come back, along with the tourists that the camp owners so desperately need, as long as there are no future oil spills. Perhaps it was said best in a book written long ago, this place could have been a national park. Clear skys.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lagoons Arts and Craft Show 2011

Last year we decided to start selling our stones and and wire wrapping. After all we live in a fifth wheel and it is busting at the seams. Our original goal was to use the money to buy more rock and pay for some of the wire and so we did our first show at Lagoons in 2010.
The show went well then and it lead to custom work and more sales after, which we have been told is the main reason for doing shows, ie, getting your name out there and earning a reputation. So we decided to do the Lagoons show again this year and prepared for it by making new items, rings and bracelets, along with lots more stones/cabochons.
The day arrived and we got up early. Stopping at Whataburger for breakfast we soon arrived and set up our booth. We could see at once that there weren't as many booths as last year and we had already noticed that there seemed to be more empty spaces in the park, hmmmmm.
Last year the show opened and the place was packed until noon, this year there was a fair crowd but no where near the numbers.  We got lots of lookers and picker uppers but our sales were down. That's still ok, as we still made a little money at the show. Another dealer told us we need to start taking credit cards as our items were priced where most people prefer to pay by credit/debit card.
So the day ended and we packed up. It was fun and we were busy and it did rain all day so fishing would have been out for me. I did do a demonstration on wire wrapping a piece of beach glass. At the end of the fair another dealer came up and bought a set of adventurine cabs from us. It is always the best compliment when a dealer actually admires your work enough to buy from you. Along with the people we met we had a good day, and that's what it is all about! Clear skies

Monday, December 5, 2011

Winter Camp, A Plethera of Activities

As soon as you get into your winter camp it seems like the activities start and your writing goes into hibernation. Your surrounded by friends and parties, fishing and birding and you intend to blog but the time slips by and suddenly you see the date and realize its been two weeks. .
When we pulled into our winter spot the first thing we saw was Mike and Loretta waving a welcome back and we realized why we came to Watersedge. Val and George and Dave and Jane and Pete and Werna and Wayne and Betty, it goes on and on.
Thanksgiving was near and so of course we signed up for the dinner and it was so nice to share a meal with warmth and love. Time to give thanks for all the friends we have made and met in our travels in the past year. We have been in 29 states and so many miles....
Other days we have spent fishing and birding and for me, learning to cast a six foot cast net. I have used a four foot net for years but I am finally getting the feel of the six footer and it works so much better at getting bait. Its area is so much larger and it sinks faster before the mullet can swim away.
The biggest excitement has been the whoopers who seem to have taken over the Lamar Peninsula. We have seen as many as ten, just driving along St Charles Bay. Yesterday I had three flights of three, four, and two flying near me as I wade fished for black drum. In each case I heard them first with their distinctive call, before I turned and watched them fly near.
Last weekend we attended our first Christmas Party of the year, as the Gulf Coast Gem and Mineral Society celebrated friendships by holding a potluck diner and then exchanging gifts, mostly rocks of course! It was so nice to renew our friendships and we watched as new officers were sworn in, thankful that as travelers we didn't qualify.
Added to all the activities the past two weeks have seen us working on stone and registering for our winter shows. Our first is this weekend as Lagoons Rv Park has its annual Christmas Craft Show. It was the first show we ever sold and it hardly seems like it was only a year ago that we started selling.
All in all we have been to busy, but that's ok and how it should be when you retire. Only another retiree can understand how the time flies when you have been so blessed, and we have been blessed with so much! Clear skies.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Day on The Water At St Charles Bay

Birders say that a bird heard is a bird counted and its neat that you don't have too see them, but when your hearing is as bad as mine  I usually have to rely on my sight. So it was a real surprise when even I could hear the whoopers calling to one another.
Suddenly their calls became louder and they rose into the air flying over the levee and directly over our canoe. Renita hurried to get out her camera and actually caught two of the family. Its by far the closest we have ever been to flying whoopers and of course it made our days highlight reel.
A little later a flock of about 200 American white pelicans arrived high overhead. They tumbled down as they made their descent and finally reformed into vees as they looked for a place to set down. We watched them for quite a while before they flew out of sight, probably heading for the back end of Copano Bay.
It was our first day canoeing/ kayaking with our friend Val, and even though the wind was strong we were able to make it quite deep into the bay. We passed two fisherman by at least one hundred yards but it was still to close for one as he started to swear at us. I couldn't hear him as he was far away but Renita said he used the "f word" multiple times and so of course I then steered our canoe down his line, you don't swear at women where I come from,(At least I didn't splat the water with my paddle).
We didn't get near any rosettes but several pairs flushed as an air boat roared along the shore deliberately pushing the birds up so the riders could see them. I prefer our method of quietly paddling near them and watching them feed. Of course we saw the ever present great blue herons and some snowy egrets.
Later we fought the wind back and it was hard paddling as we gave the waders a wide berth. I cast my net for bait and caught a small white shrimp. It always neat to see the diversity that your net brings in. I didn't catch any bait but it didn't matter. We had been blessed with whoopers flying over our canoe! Clear skies

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wilsons Cut, On Mustang Island

We were finally on the Texas Coastal Bend and the wind calmed down enough for us to canoe, so we loaded the Mad River and headed for a place we had started to explore.  It was on our kayak trails map and we hoped that we could actually do a loop through the black mangroves.
Launching we paddled down the man made cut and stopped to get some bait. A little further we came to the marker and turned north but the water quickly shallowed and we ran aground. Heading for some darker water we tried and tried several places but the tide was too low and it was not to be so we returned to the cut and headed toward Shamrock Island.
It didn't take Renita very long before she had the camera out, taking images of birds. Snowy egrets, rosette spoonbills, willets, and of course the ever present great blue herons all waded unconcerned along the shore.
We never did get any mullet and so we fished a bit with some dead shrimp but dinner didn't materialize.Corn bread tastes fine as a main course, when you don't have fish!  It didn't matter really as the day was so nice and the paddling so good, and of course the birding. It was a day we really needed after so much time on the road! Clear skies.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

South Padre Island and a Quick Trip to Mexico

So Monday arrived and it was time forus  to head to Mexico. I had lost a filling and I knew it meant a crown. Now we lost our insurance this year so it had to be cheap and that meant crossing the border as the price is one hundred and seventy bucks verses seven hundred or so in the states. I can buy a lot of rocks with that kind of difference.

The trip from Harlingen was quick and we paid our quarter to get into Mexico. We were the first into the dentist’s office and in no time I was in the seat and getting comfortable. Without going into any details it actually went ok and in about an hour I had a temporary crown and an appointment for the permanent replacement.

Walking up and down the street I bought some chocolate candy and we decided to head back home as it was way to early for lunch. Not much of a trip to Mexico but we got what we came for and next time we will actually do some shopping.

The next day was a day of rest and then it was time to check out Port Isabel and South Padre Island. As  we approached the bridge to South Padre I looked at all the condos and shuddered as the development is everything I hate along the Gulf Coast.

Then we both saw the sign for the South Padre Island Birding Center and maybe, just maybe there was hope?  We parked and entered the tall building and were greeted by a very knoledgable volunteer who showed us the map of the trails and talked about all the things there were to see, and it was good.

Stepping outside we started along the boardwalk and right away we got a new life bird, a least sandpiper. A little further and we took an image of a red knot. Or at least that’s what we think it is, and so now we had another new bird for our list.

We didn’t see any more new birds but we had a delightful time at the birding center. Redheads, pintails, snow egrets and three different types of herons all entertained us on our stroll. Least grebes and pied bill grebes along with common marsh hens were abundant and completely unconcerned by our nearness.

After lunch we drove north, where sand dunes threatened to close the road and a little further they actually did!  Parking, we ignored the private property signs and walked to the gulf where I waded into the surf, and it felt so good to be back in the warm waters. The island is really little more than a sand spit at this point and I wonder who would ever build here?

Latter we drove back to town and climbed the stairs of the historic lighthouse. I had to laugh as the stair well was pretty claustrophobic and the outside platform was quite acrophobic. To have two different fears in the space of a few steps…..

All in all it was a fun day, birding, wading in the surf, a little bit of history and almost getting run off the road by a couple of idiot Texas drivers. In other words it was a typical day on the Texas Coastal Bend.  Clear skies.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Laguna Atacosa National Wildlife Refuge

Sometimes its better to be lucky then  good and I really think that goes for the luck of spotting birds. On the way to the refuge we had already bagged a new life list bird, a white taied kite. It had hovered on both sides of the road and while we didn’t get a good image we were able to clearly observe its beautiful markings.

So as we drove the sixteen mile beach access drive we stopped and glassed and just plain enjoyed the day. Renita was the first to notice a javelin, as it left it’s hiding spot in the brush to feed below us. There were quite a few long billed curlews, pintails, and the ever present great blue herons.

The visitor center feeders had been our first stop and of course the plains chacalacas fed greedily on the feeders. Grey jays were also abundant as were a couple of cardinals. An altimira oriole added to our days list and while it wasn’t a new bird,(we saw one by Mission two years ago), it was great to see it and get a good image at a feeder.

The biggest excitement was the sudden appearance of a cotote at the feeders and the chacalacas were the first to give warning. The coyote soon gave uo on the idea of a lunch and instead settled for a long drink at the feeders pool.

Several times we had spotted small flying birds and of course they turned out to be more curlews. The only other flying birds were the soaring vultures but at least they were the black or Florida vulture, instead of the usual turkey vultures<, (they are easily told apart by the white and black undersides of the turkey vulture).

Then, at mile marker 11, I saw a bird hovering, and it continued to hover as we both watched it. Renita got out the bird book, but we reallt didn’t need it as we had studied the pictures of the Aplomado Falcon. There really wasn’t any doubt, it was a female aplomado, one of the rarest falocns.

It had disappeared from the United States as a result pesticides and  of its nest being raided for the eggs. Now there is a nesting pair in New Mexico and its being reintroduced here in the Texas Coastal Bend.

Again, its better to be lucky than good and to see a wild aplomado  falcon was more then we could hope for our first visit. Now we only have one falcon left, but to see that we will need to travel to Alaska, a trip about as far as we can possibly go from the southernmost tip of Texas! Clear skies.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Choke Canyon State Park 2011

I heard the beating wings as a thousand double crested cormorants flew by the point. Turning my head I knew they would be near as my hearing is so bad that for me to hear their wings, required it. They had just flown in a little while ago and the food they had looked for must be missing as they headed for the far shore.

A greedy Bonaparte’s gull landed near by my  bait and helped himself to the sliced fresh clam, but it didn’t matter as the fish weren’t biting, at least not the drum I had hoped for to make our evening meal. A killdeer watched me as a flock of least sandpipers waded along the shore, unconcerned with my presence.

It was so quiet and I felt the peace that comes with having no place to go and nothing to do but enjoy the solitude. I watched and saw a monarch butterfly and then another reach the shore and I realized I wasn’t watching a few solitary butterflies but part of the migration. They kept coming to shore, singles and doubles and while it wasn’t a swarm it was steady and I watched them beat their wings and then glide a bit before repeating the pattern.

I wondered if this was the peak of the migration as they should be heading for Mexico right now and while we have heard of it we have always missed it. It made me feel good to see that so many have escaped the pesticides sprayed to lessen the damage caused by other insects.

Having read that the numbers have declined, a result perhaps of having to raise crops to feed the seven billion humans, I wondered if there were that many monarch butterflies. Are there any other animals that can be seen with our eyes and number as many as us?

To weighty a matter for me to ponder, I feel my goal now is to observe and record. So timing the end of the mornings migration I counted sixteen butterflies in ten minutes, all headed south as if the earth’s compass  was commanding them to follow the magnetic force lines, and perhaps it is the force they align themselves with.

A fine morning at Choke Canyon State Park, no fish but butterflies and they are as important as the rest of us. It’s All Saints Day and I am reminded of St Francis of Assai who loved the animals so much and according to legend even befriended a wolf.  I think I prefer to stick with butterflies, at least for now.  Clear Skies.