Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Beach and beyond

Visiting Naples, Florida always includes as many days as possible at Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs. This State Preserve is only about 5 miles from John's condo and one of Linda's favorite places in Florida. The beach is seldom crowded during the week and is a treasure trove for bird life and shelling. Last week we spent some of each day there.

Thursday, our first walk there, had many osprey and brown pelican sightings. The osprey don't seem to mind people being near them or their nests and the preserve provides many nesting posts just off the beach.

OOPS, my pictures are out of order. This was Saturday after Bec arrived on a morning flight. Her first request was for sun!

Saturday night we went to Iguana Mia, a Mexican restaurant , for dinner. Caught a poor picture of John and Bec while we waited for a table. Food was great as usual. We had to keep up our strength for the Pat's game the next day. Sunday was a pool morning with the game at 3:00

This was Friday at the beach. Tough life down here.

On Monday we left John's for some camping further north. Bec was leaving Monday afternoon and other friends were arriving at John's later in the week, so we got our camper out of storage and headed to Withlacoochee State Forest, 50 miles west of Orlando.

Arriving at the Cypress Glen campground at Silver Lake area of this State Forest found the campground almost empty. Apparently, the price of camping was doubled last November, and many long term campers have found cheaper places to camp. Great having such a private park.

There are several trails from the campground so naturally we explored some of them. First one out was called the "Low Water Trail"

Thick cypress growth of youngish trees

Cypress knees. Scientists believe these knees develop for support, not air.

With the high water mark obvious, I was glad it was low water season

View of Silver Lake from the campground

Marlin finishing breakfast at our campsite

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Audubon Corkscrew Sanctuary and Shark Valley in the Everglades

Our Dixmont friends, Mary and Mike Hartt, drove over from the east coast for a whirl-wind two days of visiting and touring. Our first stop was an afternoon visit to Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. This amazing 13,000 acre wilderness preserve contains the largest stand of virgin bald cypress in North America. Some of the trees are over 500 years old. Fortunately, access into the "swamp" is along more than 2 miles of raised boardwalk.

The walkway curves and twists through wet prairie, cypress forests and marsh land.

Mike starting on the hike

A few of the twists and turns.

A small group of ibis foraging for food below the boardwalk.
One of the many large cypress (and Mary)

The strangler fig vines begin at the top of the trees when birds drop seeds into epiphytes or crevices in the upper branches. Then the vines grow down and root in the ground. They don't really hurt the trees, they just look like they are "strangling" them

I could not resist taking pictures of the boardwalk's jigs and jogs. They are very appealing. The Sanctuary was founded in 1954 when timber companies began logging the giant cypress. A joint effort between concerned citizens and lumber company owners resulted in both purchase and donation of timber land. The area also contained the largest rookery of storks and egrets, inhabited by approximately 8 to 10,000 birds at the time of the purchase.

I found a wonderful article, on the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary web page, called "The Acquisition and Development of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary 1952 to 1967", by Carl Buchhieser. It relates many colorful anecdotes about the sanctuary formation. I could not resist copying the following paragraph.

The original boardwalk, totaling 5,600 feet, was completed in the fall of 1956, the first one thousand feet in 1955 and the rest in 1956. When it crossed the first and second lettuce lakes, all in the heavy swamp, the work was really laborious. Sandy Sprunt described it: "Crossing the second lettuce lake, for instance, was the most difficult part of the whole boardwalk to construct. Poor Hank, who was a rather short person -- I think he stood about 5'6" or 5'7" -- was up to his chin a lot of the time crossing that, whereas the rest of us had a little more altitude. That was the only place we ever ran afoul of an alligator, too. There was a big female that lived in there and we kept a wary eye out for her. But Hank and I always felt that the alligator was at a distinct disadvantage in attacking a Whidden because the Whiddens had lived off the swamp and trapped and taken furs and alligator hides for all of their lives and we figured it was unequal difficulties for the alligator -- she would have been overwhelmed very shortly. As it was, we didn't really have any trouble." (Sprunt interview)

I don't think I would have volunteered for that job!

A little blue heron

This Red Shoulder Hawk sat very still for pictures. Mary got a beauty with her big lens. I hope she will post it on Facebook.

Mary and I went back again the next morning at 7 AM when they opened, expecting to see

more birds and wildlife early in the morning. We did talk with several very knowledgeable docents along the way and had a magical sighting of a painted bunting, several sleeping ahningas, and a few warblers but no hawks or wading birds were awake yet.

The afternoon took us to Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. Shark Vally provides a 15 mile walking, biking, or tram loop trail through the sawgrass prairie with an observation tower at the halfway point. The two hour narrated tram tour is staffed by a park ranger or a concession naturalist. This is the third time we have taken this tour and each time we hear new facts about the Everglades. Each narrator seems to have a different interest which they highlight on their trip. This time our guide was a Florida native college student studying in New York. His interest focused on the ecology of the land and soilin the Everglades. His great sense of humor kept you interested in the mud, the vegetation and the water.

At one point in the tour he asked for volunteers to take off their shoes and follow him into the "river of grass"

He wanted a visual of how the water flows through the porous limestone rock into the deep aquifer that supplies Florida with fresh water.

Our naturalist shared a soil sample he called periphyton. He explained that periphyton is a complex mixture of detritus, algae, microbes and a few other things that live below the water and serve as a food source for many life forms. The sample felt like a sponge rather than mud.

We saw abundant wildlife, including several flocks of storks. Sitting in the middle, I had little chance to get any pictures, but when we stopped here I was able to stand and get a quick shot. These majestic white birds have a black tipped wing span of 5 to 6 feet long and are exciting to view in flight.

This sleeping darling was just off the walkway up to the tower, where 7 or 8 of his relatives were sunning themselves.

When the tram tour ended around 5 P.M., we walked back along a canal that ran beside the pavement. The bank down to the water faced the setting sun and five or six alligators were catching the last warm rays before they headed out for night hunting. This big fellow was definitely dreaming about supper.

The battery in my camera died. I took a few shots with my phone, but the quality was so poor I am not posting them. We stayed until dark watching many flocks of ibis, herons, ahningas, and egrets fly in and squabble for roosting position.

Anyone interested in birds would not go wrong making a special trip to the everglades. The numbers and variety of birds, both large and small, is hard to comprehend without being here. Yet the numbers of wading birds in the Everglades has declined 93% since the 1930's and the endangered wood storks have declined from 5000 in the 60's to less than 500 nesting birds in 1980. One docent at Corkscrew said they have not rebounded but breeding pairs continue to decline in number each year.

We plan to return to the Everglades again this winter. There is much to see with a fully charged camera battery.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Naples, Florida

We had an uneventful trip from Maryland down to Naples, Florida where John Miles is enjoying the benefits of Florida living. The temperature was about 75 degrees for several days after our arrival, dipped into the 50s for a day but was back in the 70's again today.

John's condo development has over 2 miles of paved walking trails that wind around two man made ponds and a small marsh. I could not help but take pictures again of all the magnificent blooming plants along the walkways.

I take a picture of this stag horn epiphyte every time I come here. It never ceases to amaze me.

Yesterday when we started out on a walk we saw our first wildlife of the day!

Today we went to Koreshan State Historic Site in nearby Estero. This 300 acre park has the usual camping and boating on the Estero river, but also contains the Koreshan Settlement Historic Site. Established here in 1897 by a man named Cyrus Reed Teed, this religious community arrived here from Chicago looking for a location where they could be accepted for their views.

The Koreshan Unity was founded on the ideas of communal living and property and a belief in Teed's theory that the earth was a hollow sphere and humanity lived inside that giant sphere. When the members arrived in Florida this area was a wilderness. They laboriously created several beautiful buildings and elaborate gardens. At one point the settlement had over 200 member. When the sect declined to only a few members, the land was donated to the State of Florida in 1961. Today, there are volunteer docents at several of the buildings who willingly share their vast knowledge of the community and the buildings that remain on the property.

The Planetary Court. This building housed the seven women who governed the Koreshan Unity. Teed's idea for the governing body included himself as the sun, Gertrude as the moon and the seven women who comprised the Planetary Chamber represented the seven planets.

A beautiful bridge leading to Monkey Tree island, which was part of the gardens

Founders House (Cyrus Teed) built n 1896. This was the first building built by the community.

The Art Hall ca. 1905. This was the center for cultural, social, educational, and religious activities. Theatrical productions, lectures and musical events are still held here today.

The use of shell paths throughout the settlement was functional and aesthetic. The shells reflected light in the evening and also made a firm walkway. They also provide a nice crunch under foot when you walk. An interesting historic place to visit.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

First Stop 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012, Naples Florida

We arrived here in Florida last night and it looks like we headed out of town just before winter arrived. In a text this morning from Jed, he said the kids had a snow day.

When we left Dixmont on Wednesday, January 4, we planned a two day stop in Massachusetts to visit some of my family there. It seems like every year we encounter some sort of glitch during our exit from home, and this time was no exception. The trip to Mass was no problem until John Miles called, when he arrived in Florida Wednesday evening. He called to tell us the truck keys, we thought were on his counter down there, were not anywhere to be found. Since they were the only set we have to the camper, which was stored in Florida, we had a problem.

I was sure he would call back later and say he found them, but we did not want to take that chance so at 4 AM Thursday, we piled in the car and drove back to Dixmont - 250 miles north - searched every shelf, cupboard, drawer, and pocket for the missing keys. After an hour search Marlin said, "I think I will look in the car glove box." End of story. We had them with us all the time!

We drove back to Randolph, MA to have my favorite Lynwood pizza along with a good Thursday night visit with family. Friday morning we headed for Maryland and a weekend visit with former Dixmont residents, the Baldwins.

The Baldwins are always our first stop when traveling south. Frederick, MD, although an ever expanding suburb or D.C., is surrounded by farm land, the Monocacy River, which is a tributary of the Potomac River, and the Catoctin mountains.

This part of Maryland is close to many major Civil War battle sites. Frederick is, in fact, famous for a skirmish called "The battle that saved Washington D.C." Although the small untrained Union force of 3,500 men was pushed back and defeated by the Confederate's 15,000 advancing soldiers, the resistance the small number of men provided slowed the Southern troop's advance toward the capital long enough for Union reinforcements to reach Washington and protect the city.

The statue is in honor of the New Jersey 14th regiment volunteers, which was part of the Army of the Potomac present that day.

During our stay, we hiked to Cunningham Falls State Park. The falls are part of Hunting Creek, which flows into the Monocacy Rover and on to the Potomac. Beautiful day, great company, and magnificent falls.

Judy, Glen, Marlin and Bob

Cunningham Falls

Our wanderings took us on a short road trip to visit Frederick's covered bridges. Of the 8 remaining covered bridges in Maryland, Frederick boasts three of them. They are all well documented and well cared for. Made me think of the covered bridge Vermont lost in hurricane Irene last fall.

The Utica Bridge was moved from its original location over the Monocacy after a flood in 1889 destroyed half its length. The remaining half was moved to Fish creek and repaired. I was excited to see the three different types of support at each bridge. The use of massive wood beams during the 1800's made me think of the construction of the Dixmont Town House.

The next bridge, Loy's Station Bridge, is a one lane, 90 foot road that was built with multiple king post trusses. This bridge crosses Owen's Creek and is used by local traffic daily.

The Roddy Road Bridge was constructed with a single king post truss design. It is the smallest bridge with a 40 foot single span and a tin roof. It was built in 1856.

We were in the neighborhood of Camp David and since we were not invited for lunch we stopped at the Cozy Restaurant for a snack. This establishment has greeted many famous people who visited Camp David at the invitation of U.S. Presidents, beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR originally called the compound "Shangri-La" but Eisenhower, thinking that was a bit too fancy, changed it to Camp David.

The small museum contains lots of photos and newspaper clippings telling of restaurant employees working at the Presidential retreat as well as highlighting the famous visitors the Cozy had served.

We packed some interesting tours into this weekend as well as some great card games. Leaving the Baldwin's is always sad. We will see them next in the Outer Banks for Ben's wedding in March.