Saturday, May 10, 2014

Florida - May 4, 2014

Where do we go to escape the California heat?...Florida.  Yup, you heard right...Florida.  I had this great idea to visit a bird rookery in St Augustine and scope out some areas on Florida's west coast as well.  I had been to Florida in May 20+ years ago for a golf tournament and it was hot and sticky.    That was southern Florida and for the next week we were headed to northern Florida.   It was supposed to be cooler and dryer there...

Boy those cross country flights are nasty even though ours went as well as it could.  6 foot 4 inch people don't fit well in coach.  Heck, we don't fit well in cars, old houses,or Munchking gangs either.  Luckily, we didn't expect to run into the latter this far from Kansas.

We found our way from Jacksonville to our hotel in St Augustine with no problems and retired early after the long travel day.

The next morning we were out around 7:30AM.  We needed to be at the St Augustine Alligator Farm gate by 8AM to be let in.  We purchased special photography passes for $80 each that let us in an hour early which is key to getting decent morning light and to avoid the crowds (so we thought).

We arrived at the farm before 8AM only to see about 50 people in line ahead of us.  Mental note for next time, don't plan a trip to the alligator farm during the Birding and Photo Fest.  Luckily, the boardwalks in the bird rookery are wide and all the photographers were very courteous so the crowd really didn't present any problem.

The rookery itself is a fantastic place to observe birds and their behavior.  You can get so close to these birds that big lenses are not needed.

Tri-colored Heron:
Tricolored Heron

Snowy Egret:
Snowy Egret

You can also get pretty close to the alligators which are below the raised boardwalk throughout the rookery:
American Alligator

Great Egret with nest building material:
Great Egret in Flight

"Ahem...a little privacy please..."
Tricolored Herons Mating

Roseate Spoonbill:
Roseate Spoonbill Landing

Wood Stork:
Wood Stork Gathering Nesting Material

Cattle Egret:
Cattle Egret

Tri-colored Heron on Nest:
Tricolored Heron on Nest

Another Wood Stork:
Wood Stork in Flight

If you can't tell, the photo ops are virtually endless here.  It's quite a surreal scene with birds flying left and right, others in the trees building nests, and all the hungry chicks crying out for food.  All that is going on while hundreds of hungry gators are just feet below waiting for one bird to slip and fall.

American Alligators

Wood Stork with chicks:
Wood Stork with Chicks

We watched those chicks get fed and amazingly even at such a young age they were able to flip the fish around in the air with their bills to get them to go down head first.  It was great fun to watch.
Baby Wood Stork Positioning Fish

Here's a wider view of one area of the rookery:
St Augustine Alligator Farm

By 10AM the light got harsher and we decided to call it a morning.

We spent the afternoon hiking at Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (Boy, that's a mouthful. Don't ask me to spell it...)  This reserve has multiple habitats and turned out to be an excellent place to hike.

Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve

Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve

Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve

As we always do, we walked slowly and quietly hoping that the native wildlife would reveal itself.  We were not disappointed.

Broadhead Skink:
Broadhead Skink

Nothing gets your heart pumping like a venomous snake but this one was so small it took some close inspection (but not TOO close) to figure out it was venomous.

Pygmy Rattlesnake:
Pygmy Rattlesnake

Pygmy Rattlesnake Closeup

We saw another snake but couldn't get a good enough picture to identify it as it bolted quickly across the trail in front of us.

The topper to the hike was seeing and photographing an Armadillo.  I know that they are quite common in the south and east but we love these guys and even though we have seen them before I had never gotten a decent picture until now...

Nine-banded Armadillo:
Nine-banded Armadillo

What's the best way to cap off a day photographing and hiking in the south?  Yup, go to Cracker Barrel and have a nice cold adult beverage.   But, after walking in, we saw no bar.  So, we asked the waitress if they had a bar.  To which she said "No....but we have root beer"

So, my ice cold beverage turned out to be lemonade.   It was quite good actually.


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