Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thanksgiving Fishing, Getting Our Etsy Store Ready for Christmas, Birding at Sawgrass Lake 2016

We really did put the turkey in the oven and then went fishing. It was easy as we just hoped on the elevator and walked to the fishing dock at Jen and Eric’s Condo. I had left my old cast net back in Wyoming and so I had to purchase a new one. Not sure of the size I bought a seven footer, oops!
It took me a few casts before I actually made a good one. The first six caught a few unlucky fish, only because there were so many greenbacks down there that a few had to get tangled in the net. Jen took one of the first ones, cast out, and caught a puffer on her first try. It blew itself up like a football and just as fast deflated.
My turn came next and of course I caught a lizard fish. It’s an ugly skinny fish that has the head of a barracuda and the body that is long and narrow. We kept getting bites from little fish and so we decided to head back along the sea wall. I made one last cast and threw the net right, filling it with enough green backs to last till the turkey was done.
I never caught another fish but Jen caught two undersize gag groupers and several ocean bream. Three hours later we went upstairs and the turkey was done to perfection, talk about being lucky. Eric came home from work and we celebrated being eating as much as we possibly could.
After dinner, we flopped down on the sofa and Renita checked our email. She told me that we had sold some jewelry on our Etsy store! The next day, we shipped the item and then spent the next three days posting new items on our online store.
Finally, we were caught up and so we decided to go birding at Sawgrass Lake Park. It’s right next to our rv park and after a ten-minute drive, we reached the park and headed down the boardwalk. It was immediately obvious that the drought has hit the area hard. The water level was down and the vegetation choked most of the canals. We only saw one fish and there seemed to be a dearth of wading birds.
Turtles were in abundance and we did see a few alligators. Walking the boardwalk, it took us about two hours as we stop and bird, provided us with the chance to spot the usual wading birds. I did get an image of an adult palm warbler in non-breeding plumage, and that’s about the only way we can id such a little bird, from an image!
There were quite a few American white ibis, a little blue heron, quite a few marsh hens and coots so we did see birds. The gopher tortoises did not make an appearance from their dens, you may recall their scandalous behavior from last year’s visit.

Still it was a nice day in the park, even with the roar of the traffic. There are about three million people in this area and another million and a half after the holidays. As we live near a town of 300 people, well I don’t do crowded cities well. Clear skies

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Day Three, Big Cypress Preserve: Kirby Storter Park

It was our last day at Big Cypress Preserve and we decided to go birding along the Kirby Storter Roadside Park. Its right alongside Highway 41 and has a raised boardwalk that is about a mile long, roundtrip. We arrived early and were the first ones that day so we were excited about the birding possibilities.

The first section of the boardwalk passed through short cypress and tall sawgrass. The Cypress are about one hundred years old but are stunted due to the lack of nutrients. A ranger told us that the limestone was very near the surface. We did see a palm warbler flitting through the underbrush, but it’s the dry season and so the ground was dry and barren. A large spider appeared to be motionless on its huge web and I played with the focus trying to take a decent image.
A little further we entered a cypress strand. This is an area were more nutrients are available and water is in the deeper holes. Alligators, fish, turtles, and birds. Lots of birds, are concentrated. It’s like walking into an aviary. The walk turned into a crawl as we were treated to so many birds.
A crow landed below me and deftly caught a live bow fish in its beak. It then devoured the fish in little fillet size bites while watching me like a, well ravenous crow. There were so many large cypress trees and brush that the autofocus didn’t work and so switching to manual I tried to image individual birds. Renita meanwhile was using the little camera and concentrated on landscape photos.
I especially concentrated on getting a good image of a wood stork. They are plentiful here and feed on the same way as ibis, swinging their beaks back and forth through the water. The motion contacts fish, crustaceans, and worms, all tasty tidbits for a wood stork.
Great egrets dominated the flooded woodland, waiting patiently for a fish to appear. Occasionally one would thrust its beak into the water, often grabbing a fish which was quickly swallowed. A vulture spotted some food and landed before hiding the food from other vultures with its outstretched wings.
From Storter Park we drove to Everglades City. We needed to fuel up for the drive back to St Petersburg and as we passed thought the town found a great seafood place, called City Seafood. We had grouper with fries and a plate of conch fritters. I hadn’t had any conch in forty-five years, and it was till as tough aa I remembered.
A cow and calf dolphin provide the tourist draw and fourteen guided airboats took turns showing them to their clients. Finally, the dolphins left the area harassed by steady parade of boats. It was a classic example of unscrupulous guides caring more about their profits then the welfare of the dolphins, (at one time three airboats surrounded the two dolphins).
Renita wanted to find a souvenir so we stopped at a couple of gift stores but their selection was limited to t-shirts and small cheap items. She didn’t find anything to buy, an unusual occurrence for a master shopper!
Returning to camp, we arrived just as rangers were capturing an alligator. It had been fed by people and no was chasing fishermen on the bank, hoping for a handout. A fed gator is a dead gator, the same as bears in Wyoming, (this last summer two black bears were put down near in the town of Alpine after they became aggressive while searching for food.
It was obvious that people had been feeding alligators in lots of places we had visited. Signs were up stating it’s against Florida law but as usual many ignore signs. I wish they could have seen the alligator being carried away hog tied and duct taped. Clear skies.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Day 2:Big Cypress Preserve Shark Valley

We left our campsite early and headed for Shark Valley. There we had made reservations to be on the nine thirty tram. Of course, we ran into construction delays but we still made it on time. The park interpreter informed us that we were the only ones signed up for the tour. Luckily a few more arrived and I for one was glad, (I had taught for thirty years and once had a small class of only two people, it had been difficult to keep myself concentrating when the class was so small).
The first leg of the tour was along a roadway that took us to the observation Tower. The road itself had been made in the thirties when Humble Oil had drilled a discovery well. They did find oil but at the time it was so little that the land was eventually donated to the Federal Government, (as a tax write off in which both sides were grateful).
As we drove along the tour guide talked of the ecosystem, the Cypress Swamps, the Sawgrass Prairie, Gator Holes, and Woodland Hammocks. She told us of the forty different kinds of mosquitos and natural plants that kept them away, (another way to view the road is to rent a bike and pedal the thirteen mile length, next time
Herons flew and Renita captured a great shot of a Great Blue Heron in flight! We had to stop occasionally to flush a gator off the road She told us that often bikers would run over the slow moving alligators and that one had crashed only to be bitten by the surprised gator.
The tram operator stopped when ever he and the guide saw wildlife and that meant frequent stops. I spotted a green heron and they stopped so all could see, (I really doubt many saw it as it was back in the shadows). Along the way we came across alligators with their mouths wide open. It was just like a dog panting and was a way for them to get rid of excess heat.
At one stop a mother gator guarded her offspring and kept a wary eye on the tram. We passed quite a few bikers and they all stopped as they were required to, the tram has the right of way. Near the end the guide told us of some of the invasive species that had been released by pet owners. The worst one is the boa which has decimated the mammal population. Sure enough, we have yet to see a single mammal.
We never saw any orchids, the tour guide told us that most had been poached, and that they were now rare. Too quickly the two hour tour ended. Everyone was glad they had taken the tour and we highly recommend it!
The rest of the afternoon found us driving the Loop Road. It’s a gravel road and again the way was filled with gators, herons, and egrets. There were many culverts where the water flowed under the road and each one had a resident gator. It was pretty obvious that they had been fed as they approached and seemed to beg food, much like a troll would guard a bridge, (feeding a gator is a violation of state law). A fed gator is a dead gator and so we resisted any urge to satisfy their hunger.
It was a good day filled with more gators and birds then we could count. Unfortunately we never did spot the one bird we hoped to see, the endangered snail kite. The bird only feeds on a snail called the apple snail and its only found in one special habitat, (most of its habitat has been destroyed by development). Perhaps tomorrow as we plan on taking a hike in the right habitat for the snail kite. Clear skies

Friday, November 18, 2016

Big Cypress Preserve, The Western Everglades, Day 1

It can get pretty easy to just sit in place and get lazy. The whole world is out there waiting and yet you watch television and grouse about unimportant things…. So we decided to head further south and go birding at Big Cypress Preserve.
I, for one didn’t know that the Preserve was the western extension of the Everglades. Composed of cypress strands, pinelands, seas of sawgrass, and inhospitable swamps, and thousands of islands, Big Cypress Preserve immediately impressed us with the magnitude of its size.
It was obvious we wouldn’t be able to see everything and so we divided the three days we will be here into three distinct field trips. Our first excursion was to the very western edge where we would see the Thousand Island Area, The Turner River-Wagonwheel-Birdon Loop, and birding at some of the other campgrounds.
As usual, when visiting a National Park, our first stop was at the three visitor centers. There we talked with Park Interpreters and their infomation caused us to adjust our new plans. The Rangers, and I know they are now called Park Interpreters, told us of the different birds we could see and with these insights decided to spend most of the time getting an overview while still attempting to add some new birds to our life list.
The first day found us heading to Everglades City. It’s a small community but one of the gas stations had diesel fuel at a good price. We also found a fresh water container we needed and with our to do list done we headed to the Park Headquarters. Here besides a very helpful ranger, one can access the Thousand Islands Area.
However, we decided our time would be best spent by birding along the loop road and so after taking a few images we drove up the first road, the Birdon Road. Not far up the road we passed a canal/waterway that was filled with feeding long legged waders.  Wood storks, rosette spoonbills, snowy egrets, and others all feed in the muddy shallows. An alligator slept peacefully besides them all, probably dreaming of a bird sandwich.
Just past a house, there are many private inholdings, white lilies bloomed among the saw grass. I carefully stepped into the dry swamp and keeping an eye out for threatening critters, and took images of the Sting Lily. A deputy sheriff stopped and asked up if we had seen any of the deer. I am sure he doesn’t see too many truck with Wyoming plates.
We pulled over along the Wagonwheel road and watched for birds hoping of course to see a snail kite but it’s the wrong habitat, we plan on visiting that tomorrow. No kites appeared so we continued on and found a birders paradise along the Turner River Road.
Of all the images we took Renita got the best one! She was focusing on a snowy egret and just as she snapped the image a little blue heron photobombed the image of the snowy. You can see the snowy is looking at the Little Blue Heron with a look of disgust/fear/hate, (these similar size birds often fight for roosts).

Our last stops of the day were at Burns and Monument Lake campgrounds. At the very last one Renita spotted a black ibis, and after quite a bit of study of its eye color, brown verses red, we decided we had a new bird for our life list. It’s a glossy ibis and is very similar to a white-faced ibis.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

An Election Day Fishing Trip, 2016

After voting last week, the plan for today was to go to Fort Desoto, laze away the day on the beach, fish a bit, and have a beach picnic. So I packed the truck, while Renita made a lunch and after stopping for bait we made it to our favorite spot.

I quickly baited up, with a piece of frozen shrimp and made a cast. The tide was going out and just as quickly my bait weeded up. Moving down the beach I cast another bait when a man walked up and asked me how the fishing was. I told him I had just cast out and that’s when the fish hit!
I had a pretty good suspicion it was either a shark or a sting ray but as I fought the fish in it continued to make several good runs and sure enough I saw the shark’s dorsal fin break the surface. It was a bonnethead shark, which is a type of hammerhead, and it was a big one at that, (a large adult bonnet head is three to four feet)!
Bonnetheads, which are a very common shark, are good to eat and so I normally would have kept this one. However, it was just my second cast and I didn’t want to bother with keeping it fresh for the whole afternoon. Besides you can only keep one shark a day.
Surely I would catch another so I released the fish. and cast back out to the same spot. Time passed and more time and no more bites. A willet feed in front of us and I tried the old trick of eating lunch. Now that usually brings a bite, but nothing happened.
Sanderlings played in the surf, a great snowy egret tried to steal some food from some other fisherman, and jet skis raced past. It was a beautiful day and a nice breeze kept us cool. A couple walked by and the man and women had on matching thong swim trunks. Renita and I aren’t used to such sights in Wyoming and we agreed that those swimsuits were not for us.
I guess I could drag this out some more but you have surely already figured out that I never had another bite. So no grilled shark for dinner. Doesn’t matter as we have plenty of cornbread. Cornbread tastes as good as grilled shark, when you don’t have any shark!

At least I will remember this day as the election day on which I caught a really nice shark! Clear skies

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Crystal River, 2016

We said our goodbyes to Bob and Sue, and their new puppy, and headed south to Crystal River. Its been a long trip but we are a few days early so we stopped at Rock Crusher Rv Park, deciding to check out the manatees.
After resting a day, we decided to return to Crystal River Archeological Park. There we discovered they had redone several of the exhibits and were now showing a new film of the park. We also walked the paths outside hoping to see some wildlife and after climbing the largest mound, Renita heard the sound made by an aquatic mammal spouting.
Sure enough, there were three manatees swimming in the river, heading towards Three Sisters Springs. Even though they were quite far away but we were still able to see them as they came to the surface to breath.
The next day we packed a lunch and headed to Fort Island Beach. The area was damaged from the Hurricane Hermonie. As we drove in we saw a few palm trees that had not recovered their fronds from the high winds but the beach and parking lot was open.
Walking along the beach a large flock of black skimmers rose in alarm before circling and landing in the same spot. The tide was out and there were quite a few seaweeds rising from the ocean floor. A little further we saw the boat ramp and a boardwalk were closed from the surge.
On the fishing pier a couple checked their crabs traps and put a nice blue crab in the bucket. Another fisherman cast his net trying to catch some bait but the bait kept just far enough from the pier and he didn’t have any luck.
I waded out and the water seemed quite cold, but it was still warmer then the cold trout streams of western Wyoming. It’s definitely a place to kayak but we didn’t bring the kayaks, (we are in the process of looking for shorter kayaks and not quite ready to buy).

So today we are driving to St Petersburg where we will spend two months. We do hope to make a trip to the Everglades and of course search the beaches for sharks teeth, shells and beach glass. Clear skies