Can you spell ornithologist?

Half the birds in North America got the memo: “Everyone meet at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in January.”

Of course, I jest…birds can’t read.

I saw more birds I didn’t recognize at the Refuge than any place I’ve been before!

I apologize for some of the photos….the place is huge and some of the birds stay far away from civilization! The Roseate Spoonbills were the best example, although the feral hog didn’t come any closer (good….see the tusk?)!

We immediately fell in love with the Black Skimmer, but he was alone in the Refuge and exceedingly difficult to photograph! I’ve loaded two photos so you can see his remarkable bill and how he skims along for fish….but neither photo is very good.

Roger, maybe we’ll spend some money for glass that will reach out and touch these birds!

More big blokes

We’re spending the night with Marion, and leaving in the morning for Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. You’ve seen part of it when viewing Apollo or space shuttle launches…Kennedy Space Center is located in the midst.

It’s also home to myriad species of fowl and land animal, including 21 species considered to be endangered. At this time of year it’s bursting at the seams with migratory birds.

But, I get ahead of myself.

Today on the way down to Marion’s in the Lil Taxi, we detoured a bit to get an update on manatees at Blue Spring boil.

Ho ho ho, 200 of them today! Just in time for tomorrow’s Manatee Festival!

In the first photo below, I think there are about 20 manatees. The long, narrow, dark fish in front are Florida Gar.

The final photo is not just a fun setting for the Lil Taxi. Check out the live oak to the far right, and notice how it has grown around the palm tree! Both trees are hale and hearty!

This place is a dump!

Palatka landfill, actually.

If you can imagine, Robyn heard there were eagles at the landfill, so we had to visit!

Oh my goodness, there were at least eight in attendance today, possibly a dozen!

True to form, they occupied the tallest trees, power line posts, and mounds of dirt around the active part of the landfill. And when they swooped down for a bite, nothing rattled them.

Big Michigan loaders pushing and hauling and crushing. Garbage trucks spewing their loads down the embankment. The blizzard of sea gulls, and crowds of vultures.

For me, the scene was utterly incongruous: Bald Eagles in the midst of a mountain of garbage. The king of the skies bellying up to the trough with gulls and vultures. What ignominy!

The eagles might point out their diet frequently includes roadkill. They are also well-known opportunists who steal other animals’ kills or catches. So the ick-factor is already high.

And you’ve gotta admit, they still look mmmmahvelous, dahling.

Dose boids again

Everywhere we go anywhere near water, Robyn gets out her binoculars to check for birds…mostly bald eagles.

She’s good, too, because she knows eagles’ habits, and can find them when even rangers say they’re not around.

DSC_5098_aShe’s been watching a pair here at our park, but they hang around their nest which is too far away for a photo…although her binoculars can really reach out there.

But this morning she made her usual run in the car at zero dark thirty, but up the road to another place where eagles are reported to hang out.

Oh yes, it’s true….she counted seven!

We went back this evening when the sun was better and spotted three, but only one was close enough for the camera. They’re so beautiful!

This and that and those

Indeed, as predicted, yesterday was spectacular!

First, sooooo many really fine new coaches to look at, walk through, open and close doors, flip switches, bounce on all the sofas, test drive a Prevost for a week….

Well, five out of six ain’t bad.

Our coach measured up just fine to every one of them, except maybe the new model Foretravel. Heh, heh, if you know coaches then you’ll know that line has a starting point on the other side of a million dollars. But that money buys ultimate quality and function, not bling. But I’d sure have to rob a bank….or two….

DSC_4600_aThe real highlight of the day had to wait until dinner. My friendship with the Reimers and Baths goes back more than 30 years when we all were involved up to our eyeballs in Juniors and Earliteen sabbath schools at Kettering Adventist church, and when we made some really memorable runs from Kettering to Denver to snow ski! Those four are now in Tampa at Florida Hospital, and they found a great Italian place where we could finally meet and catch up on the last 10 years or so since we last hugged each other!

Then today brought another fun time: it turned cold last night, and today’s high was only going to be low- to mid-60s. Manatees should be gathering at the boil.

Yessir, they were, probably about a hundred for the official count this morning. We loaded into the Lil Taxi.

DSC_4604_aOn the way to Blue Spring park, we passed through the town of Deland….and noticed they also have a civic-minded thing about painting murals of town history. We thought this mural was pretty ambitious to run on two sides of the building.

DSC_4678_aAt the park, we discovered our problem was the strong winds that kept the water surface all rippled, so shooting a photo of these gentle giants underwater was pretty well impossible. Except they do have to come up for air….check out the mother and calf!

DSC_4769_aAhhh, but they were feeling frisky, or feisty, or amorous….and one herd (yep, a group of manatees is called a herd, man) was cavorting on the other side of the run. They were pretty distant, so details are lacking in the shot.

The run is so photogenic with the overhanging trees, Spanish moss, branches and logs in the water, birds, fish, ducks, alligators….

DSC_4693_aI’ve got to get back there when the sun is right, the wind is nil, and the run is filled with manatees. A ranger told us today that the alligators are no problem for the manatees, because the gators can’t possibly deal with something so large.

I’m not swimming in that run until I gain a LOT more weight.

And finally today, Robyn found some rocking chairs near the run for Ross and Ryan, so they enjoyed the park at least as much as we did!

Now for something completely different

For weeks we’ve been planning to leave our Salt Springs park today and drive to Tampa for a couple days, before going to Marion’s house northeast of Orlando for a couple weeks.

But I’ve told you how much we have been enjoying the park and its surroundings.

So much that we’ve decided to stay put for maybe several weeks more. What’s the rush to move, you know?

BUT, that meant I would miss a huge RV show in Tampa….

And miss connecting with some VERY dear friends from the past who live in Tampa….

Robyn decided she could make it just fine staying with Ross and Ryan in the Big Taxi in that lovely park, and I could hammer down the highway in the Lil Taxi for a day at the show and an evening with friends and a night in a hotel….

She’s a sweetie!

DSC_4596_aI celebrated my arrival in Tampa this evening by taking the advice of another dear friend from the past and catching a meal at Columbia Restaurant. Good call, Tom!

Wikipedia says of the place: “The original Columbia Restaurant [there are now 7 others], located in the historic Ybor City neighborhood in Tampa, Florida, is the oldest continuously operated restaurant in Florida, the oldest Spanish restaurant in the United States, and one of the largest Spanish restaurants in the world with 1,700 seats in 15 dining rooms taking up 52,000 sq ft over an entire city block. Founded in 1905 in, the landmark is still owned by the Hernandez/Gonzmart family.”

DSC_4589_aI was too early for the Flamenco dance performance, but they were practicing!

See, I had to get going because I was only a couple miles from one of the very largest RV dealers in the nation, and I was going window shopping!

Actually, they have all their new and used coaches parked in a huge tree-lined area, all plugged in, slides out, lights on, AC running, and doors unlocked!

Dark while I was there, so no photos. My favorite had a sticker of $584,000. That should explain why I’m window shopping.

Tomorrow should be spectacular….and I have dinner with Randy and Charlotte, and Peter and Cathy!

The writing’s on the wall

Several interesting bits of information and history today.

DSC_4555_aWe traveled to a very small town nearby, in order to see murals that were painted on some of its buildings.

First surprise: the town, Palatka, is known as “The Gem City on the St Johns River.” Since we hail from Dayton, Ohio, that sure rang a bell, since Dayton is known as “The Gem City.”

DSC_4557_aSecond tidbit: the St Johns River is apparently one of few rivers in the world that flow north.

Last tidbit: the town features a mural of Billy Graham, and claims he was baptized nearby in Silver Lake and preached his first formal sermon in a local Baptist Church.

I found the following description of that sermon in an excerpt of Billy Graham’s autobiography that was online: “When the moment came to walk to the pulpit in the tiny Bostwick Baptist Church, my knees shook and perspiration glistened on my hands. I launched into sermon number one. It seemed to be over almost as soon as I got started, so I added number two. And number three. And eventually number four. Then I sat down. Eight minutes – that was all it took to preach all four of my sermons!”

Whoa, that’s not a manatee!

We traveled down to Blue Spring State Park today, because we heard it hosts quite a manatee population this time of year.

Yep, and nope. The ranger at the gate confirmed they had about 300 of the big palookas visiting just a few weeks ago. But not right now…it’s too warm!

Still, figured we’d look around. Really nice place with boardwalks from parking lot across the grounds over to the boil and its run. Massive live oaks with all the Spanish moss.

They even have steps down into the water…how convenient. Look, some large turtles sunning on a log across the run from the steps. What’s that big lump behind the turtles?

DSC_4499_aCan you say alligator?

Turns out there’s one itty bitty sign at water’s edge that says “alligators, no swimming”.

I guess maybe not!

DSC_4513_aSo we stuck to the boardwalk, and hiked up toward the boil called Blue Spring. This park is such a destination for manatees this time of year that there are signs and roped-off areas in the run (not a river, remember?) that serve as “manatee refuges”.

DSC_4521_aNever made it to the boil. Spent too much time along the way! The boardwalk is within arms’ reach of the run, and every 100 feet or so there is a deck out over the water!

And all that Spanish moss….

On our way back to the car, we stopped to verify our toothy friend was still on the log…yep. Then one last look at water’s edge, from the steps that lead right into the water….

A blue lagoon

Near our park is another recreation area called Silver Glen Springs.

I hope you can see in the photo below the large, blue bowl that is formed in the center of its lagoon by the boil of water. The small bowls in the foreground are formed by fish who fan the spot and thereby blow out the sand and vegetation. You might just barely see two of the bowls occupied by their fish.
I’m told the blue color is simply the water color, that it has no remarkable minerals for color, that its temperature is about 72 degrees, and the flow is simply an outpouring of the aquafer.

Apparently the Florida aquafer is warmer than what I’m used to in Ohio, gee, maybe because it’s closer to the surface and it’s always warmer here? Whatever may be true of the generalized aquafer, these boils contain enough salinity that their outflows are suitable for a number of salt water animals. Some manatees, for example, will come up the rivers toward these boils in the wintertime, because their usual habitats get a little cooler and these boils stay just a bit warmer. The runoff from boils may look like rivers, but they are called “runs”, probably to distinguish their temperatures and chemical/mineral content from the common rivers that form from runoff.

Practically her back yard

The park where we’re staying is about 70 miles from Robyn’s sister’s home.

Given the many, many miles we’ve traveled since we last visited Marion, it feels like this is practically her back yard!

Actually, this park has turned out to be a simply wonderful place for us to be right now. Nice site in a quiet camp, very serene surroundings for the coach and for our daily walks, great central spot to explore the upper part of Florida’s peninsula, convenient shopping (even a nearby Trader Joe’s that just opened weeks ago!), AND close enough for Marion to run up and spend time with us!

Oh, and we can stay longer than 14 days here if we like. Very unusual federal park.

These arrangements are just about perfect for us….