Sunday, April 20, 2008

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

I've been wanting to get back to the refuge and since DH didn't have to work on Saturday (yesterday), we planned to take a drive out there. It was overcast here and in fact we drove through areas of rain on the way, but when we got there the sky had some blue in it. It got VERY windy, which makes the Gulf nice and textured, and ultimately we had clear blue sky and sunshine. Perfect day, since the wind kept the mosquitoes off us and cooled the air.

We headed to the lighthouse first and walked around the pond there. These scaups were swimming around

until a sandpiper (I don't know my varieties very well, perhaps Sophie Mae will give a specific ID in the comments...) came swooping over and startled them.

Soon after, this male put on quite a show, as if to say "I wasn't really afraid, of course."

Later we saw a pair of black-necked stilts, possibly the same ones Sophie Mae photographed on her recent visit to the refuge. These birds are so striking in the water!

The tide was as far in as I have ever seen it here--so much so that it was not possible to walk along the sand near the lighthouse. I still could not resist getting a photo of the pelicans on the pilings, although this time I had to shoot it through the palms along the trail.

We got in the car and drove back slowly toward the entrance, stopping at the restrooms near Headquarters Pond. We walked over to the other small pond in that vicinity. The cormorants were back in their nests and the trees between the pond and the road.

The thing about that spot is the sound. There are the normal sounds that you get from cormorants, but a new one has been added, presumably breeding- or nesting-related. Hard to explain, it's kind of a growl. I've never heard anything like the sounds that were coming from those trees, and you could only hear them from close by--as we walked back to the car, they faded almost immediately. Very neat little spot.

These purple flowers are everywhere along the roadside in the refuge, in varying stages of bloom.

A short distance farther down the road we stopped to photograph this gator, with a tricolored heron behind it.

We decided to walk on one of the walkways scattered throughout the refuge and chose the one adjacent to the Stony Bayou pool. We parked at the gate and strolled along next to the pool. However, that flat, open area was even windier than the more protected spots and after a very short time we decided to find another trail that might be more protected. As we were walking back to the car, a young pool resident began to cross from one side of the path to the pool side.

We stopped. It stopped. We started walking slowly toward the car again, concluding that this gator was probably old enough to be away from its mother's watchful eye. As we got closer, it apparently decided to return to where it had been rather than continuing on and it turned around and crossed back. You can tell how small it was by comparison with the tire tracks on the path.

And off it went.

We decided we had had enough sun and wind by that time and the afternoon was waning. We continued west on Hwy 98 after leaving the refuge and stopped near Panacea to pick up some fresh shrimp to have for dinner. Our usual seafood shop only had shrimp from last week (this is perhaps a mile from the Gulf, we can do better than shrimp that came in last week!), so we continued on to check at other places. We found a small shop that had shrimp that had been brought in the afternoon before as well as grouper that had come in that morning. Better! So we got our shrimp for dinner as well as a whole grouper.

Great day! (And the shrimp was fantastic!)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cedar Key (Yes! Again!)

This is such a wonderful place to visit. I was back at Natures Landing condos, this time on the third floor (which is actually the fourth floor if you count the covered parking area). More photos from land and from the water can be seen here on Paddle Tales.

This was my view from the balcony, which I spent a great deal of time watching over:

If I looked to the right, I saw this. That's the Gulf of Mexico in the distance to the right.

One day I went for a walk around town, which started me at the small city park across the street from the condo. It was a beautiful day and there were many people there, and lots of kids enjoying the beach. This little girl was dressed far better than I was and seemed to be having a good time:

Meanwhile, this boy enjoyed the (somewhat minimal at the time) surf.

I walked along Dock Street and then crossed the canal to walk back on the other side. Needless to say, the birds are everywhere. I could just hear the pelicans say Look! The fishing tour is back!

When I got back to the condo property, I went for a walk along the trail they have there that borders the inlet. The needle cactus was flowering.

They have boat slips and a fish-cleaning station available there. I've never seen any boats there, nor anyone cleaning fish, but the pelicans love it! Here's a photo I took from my balcony one day:

Later I walked down and this juvenile pelican was still resting there.

On my last full day in the area I drove over to Manatee Springs state park, where I have often camped. I walked along the boardwalk near the springs. This red-bellied woodpecker was having quite a time flitting from tree to tree.

This was a wonderful trip. More photos from the area and from my kayaking hither and thither on the backwaters can be found at Paddle Tales.