Saturday, December 30, 2017

Manatees, Tarpon, and Jack Crevalle

We have been extremely lucky this year, as we have been able to spend a lot of time with Jen and Eric. Eric has been busy working but Jen is currently applying for a job as a nurse practitioner. So, we never know which day she is available as the job interviews, and call backs can be very sudden.
It has been a few years since we had last gone to see the manatees, at the power plant on the east side of Tampa Bay. One of the local news stations had shown a vast number of manatees by the power plant, and so we decided to make a manatee trip!
Jen had the day free and, so she drove us in her new car around the bay and to the power plant. As we approached the first parking lot we saw that it was full and, so we drove past the second and third lots before finally finding a parking spot in the overflow area.
Shuttles were available, but we decided to walk the short distance and return by walking to the distant observation tower. As I am counting my daily steps on my Fit bit, I always appreciate a nice walk! The trail took us to the manatee viewing headquarters and what t a crowd of people!
A warm front had returned and so there were a lot more people than manatees! In fact, the manatees, were quite some ways away from the viewing platform. You probably know why they are there as they come in from the bay to keep warm in the water discharges.
In the above image you can barely make out their resting shapes as they are so far away! A sign was posted stating that he best place to see the manatees was out on the long viewing pier and, so we walked out there stopping almost immediately to see that the warm water had not attracted just the manatees but huge schools of tarpon and jack crevalle!
I started to take images as every now and then one of the tarpon would jump. If you look carefully you can see the huge silvery fish, and I so wished fishing were allowed, (I have tried fly casting for tarpon before but have never had a pickup)!
To give you an idea of size the large tarpon are over six feet in length. They can grow to over eight feet and can reach weights of over three hundred and fifty pounds.
Imagine hooking one while in your kayak! The tarpon was intermixed with schools of large Jack Creville.
That’s another fish I have yet to catch and I have heard that they are almost impossible to land on a flyrod!
We watched the fish for quite a while and I caught the end of one of the jumping tarpon. Not a great shot but it was clear across the bay. Schools of sheepshead fed on the posts, and Renita and Jenny spotted a black tip shark.
Occasionally, a deep brown shape would appear as a manatee swam by in the deep water, and I did catch one that had just broached the surface taking a breath. Less often an eagle ray would jump but I never got an image of one. So, the day was a success! On the way back, we walked to the Observation Tower and I got my daily steps!
An extremely harsh cold front is forecast for next week, (highs in the fifties), and so that should make for excellent manatee viewing. We however, will be driving back to Texas, where our parked fifth wheel awaits. Its been a relaxing time here, and we may have to rent a place on the beach again!  Clear 

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Day at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo

Our son-in-law, Eric, suggested we might be interested in spending a day at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. Now we hadn’t been to a zoo in quite a while and so not knowing what to expect, we made the forty-five-minute drive to the zoo.
Parking was free, and plentiful, we got there early, and buying tickets we entered the zoo. The rhino exhibit was nearby, (white rhino?), and we were amazed at the size of the animals! It was covered with the thickest hide I have ever seen, and the horns were missing. The park had cut them off to stop scum from killing them for their valuable horns.
The white rhinos are currently holding their own and are one of the most magnificent animals I have ever seen! I quickly realized the cost of the ticket was well worth the price, (the zoo is a nonprofit).
We strolled a little further arriving at an enclosure with two large tapirs. These animals are endangered in the wild as they are hunted for their meat.
Exhibit after exhibit was filled with rare and threatened animals, the orangutan enclose was no exception! These are expected to go extinct in the wild, in the next three years, their habit will disappear dur to illegal harvest of coconut palm oil.
Stopping to enjoy the orangs, a large dominant male moved around the large enclosure, while a lesser orang hid behind a waterfall.
It was peeking out from a face covered by its hand, and was obviously having a very bad day, (I have felt like that myself at times). Another orang hung from a rope while its baby hung next to her!
There’s nothing like hanging out with mom!
Strange monkeys and other animals passed by and I made a major mistake.
I had our large lens on our best camera and I didn’t take images of each enclosures inhabitants, (so now I have a whole plethora of animals and the only name I have for them is africa1 and africa2 etc.…).
Strange armored reptiles with long skinny snouts, storks, and so many others that I never knew existed!
I did remember the red river hog, which is not from the Americas’. Another large ungulate cleaned itself with it sixteen-inch tongue.
It had short horns and looked like a cross between a zebra, eland, and who knows what else. Why didn’t I take images of their names?
Finally, we reached the end of the exhibits and looked at one of the newest babies. This was baby pygmy hippopotamus born December 1st! It mother kept next to the newborn as they floated in a small pond with the mother keeping herself between the baby and the fence we peered over.
Leaving the zoo, we all agreed that the price of admission was money well spent the cost of keeping so many rare and exotic animals must be enormous!
Oh and of course there were African Elephants and Giraffes, Black and Sloth Bears besides other more well know creatures.
If you’re in the area I highly recommend a day at the Lowry Zoo!  Clear skies

It took us about three hours to walk the boardwalks, and we still missed some of the exhibits

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Treasure Islands Christmas Boat Parade, 2017

One of our highlights of our time here, is to watch the annual Christmas boat parade. This year the Treasure Island Boat parade consisted of over forty boats! Our daughters friend Mike invited us over to his condo where we could view the parade from his fifth-floor condo balcony, and we got there in plenty of time to relax before the show.
It was a beautiful warm night with very light winds. A slight tide was flowing into John’s Pass. There are shallow islands in the pass and so the boats had to follow a narrow-defined channel to prevent them from running ashore.
The parade started at other end of the island and, so it took about an hour before the lead boat, rounded the bend. The lead boat is always a police boat and the flashing red lights cleared the way as boats full of watchers scurried to find a place to anchor.
The first few boats were somewhat small and, so it gave me some practice as I took some shots with our good camera. I thought I would try the thirty-five to seventy-five mm lens hoping that I would get better detail using the night setting.
Trying to take three images of each boat I managed to blur quite a few, but enough of the images worked out. The main problem I had was when boats used their spotlights as the bright white light made taking a stacked image almost impossible. The boats were moving as the camera took four images in a row before stacking them together.
Enough with the details, the boats arrived and passed below us. The people on board yelled Christmas greetings. Santa Clauses, reindeer, Christmas trees, menorahs, and lots and lots of icicles went by.
Several of the boats were business’s that had the name of their establishment displayed on the boats side.
There were boats of all sizes and some of them were quite crowded with party goers. To give you an idea of their size some had four outboard engines mounted on the back, and each one of the engines was over four hundred horse power!
We yelled and waved back at the parade boats and everyone had an enjoyable time. None of the boats collided and the boats stacked up at the end of the parade inside John’s Pass. The last boat passed by and the boats started to disperse.
Mikes place is an ideal spot to watch the parade and we thanked him for his kind invitation! It seemed like it was the biggest and best boat parade we have ever watched. We would also like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and of course Clear skies.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Different Take in Florida. Renting a Beach Bungalow

We decided to try something different this year. Instead of pulling our fifth wheel to Florida, we rented a beach bungalow on St Pete Beach. Now we are only a few minutes from Jen and Eric’s condo on Treasure Island, so we don’t have a forty-minute drive through heavy traffic.
It took us three days to drive from Texas, (where we parked the rig), and of course I came down with the flu, so Renita ended up driving most of the way. We also ate out and rented motel rooms, so it was a far cry from our usual travels. Kind of a like a vacation really.
Arriving at St Pete Beach, we found the address and Renita followed the instructions to unlock the lock box and get our key. It was a nice two-bedroom place, about three blocks from the beach. I went to bed and didn’t move much for the next four days. Of course, as I got better, Renita got sick, and so the first ten days were mostly spent taking turns with naps and taking care of each other.
I did get better and was able to take daily walks on the beach, much like we do when we go to Grand Isle. Armed with my Fitbit I can easily get my steps and exercise in, so I am meeting my goals.
Renita was recovering, and she suggested she was well enough to do some shopping at Madeira Beach. A strong cold front moved through, plunging the temperatures into the fifties and so we bundled up, drove to Madeira Beach and went shopping.
The best part, for me anyway was watching the activity in the pass. Three Kayaks rowed hard out into the Gulf, braving the high waves and fierce winds. I thought they were insane and a little bit later a rescue wave runner and patrol boat chased after them. They didn’t find them, but a helicopter flew out spotted the kayakers and all turned out to be ok.
Meanwhile the dolphins were cavorting in the pass, chasing each other jumping high in the air. They were having an exciting time frolicking in the strong tide, and Renita managed to get a great shot as one leaped clear and another nosed the bottom of the first, what’s that all about?
Yesterday we braved the cold and drove up the beach to the end of the road. Stopping at Sand Key Park, we walked the beach and found some cool fragments of staghorn coral. We make jewelry from fossil coral and so we both could see some possibilities with the nice coral pieces.
We did see a flock of wood storks. Rosettes, and ibis, but they took off before we could walk over and get some images. The fishing pier was closed, and the road was blocked so nothing was happenings, fish wise. Perhaps they were damaged from the Hurricane?
Today another cold front is coming through with high winds and another batch of forty and fifty-degree weather. Time to take our morning walk and get our steps and exercise in before it arrives.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Whoopers are Back in Lamar!

Soon after arriving in Rockport we made several trips to Lamar. The damage was widespread, and the trees had taken a special destruction. Still, Big Tree had survived. We had also heard that the whooping cranes were headed south, and we hoped to see them before we headed to Florida for the month of December. Smaller sandhill cranes watched as the two males flared their wings in displays of might.
So, it was great to finally see five whoopers vying for territory in their usual spot in Lamar. As smaller sandhill cranes watched the two males flared their wings and flew into the air chasing each other in a determination of dominance. They both looked like neither was the real dominant male we had seen the previous years.
An immature Whooper fledgling looked on as the two females appeared to disregard the males. A flock of Black bellied whistling ducks, with two spoonbills also appeared to be somewhat interested while a funeral of turkey vultures seemed to wait for something to die.
In the shallow pond two snowy egrets waded and the farmers cows grazed as they plodded across the field. They were being accompanied by cattle egrets waiting for the herd to scare their way. We talked with several other birders and it was just plain obvious that everyone was relieved to see the true snowbirds, had returned home!
The newspapers reported that about four hundred and thirty whooping cranes are expected to arrive this winter. This number is over one hundred greater than last years population and is a record for the nations only wild flock.

It’s a far cry from the fifteen birds that once remained. It looks like they should have a good winter as their two main foods are in abundant supply, a wild berry and blue crabs! Now if the duck hunters will just leave them alone, (most of the duck blinds that dominated the refuge boundary have been destroyed). Clear skies