Sunday, September 25, 2011

Spoonies at the Refuge!

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it,
and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth
seeking the successive autumns.
~George Eliot

First, you may have noticed that I have appended the title of this blog. My paddling is still on a bit of a hiatus, but the bird photography isn't, and I tend to want to put those photos here, even though they were not taken from the kayak. So I have just extended the parameters of this blog, and now those photos will have a proper home.

DH and I went to the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge yesterday, as we often do on Saturdays. Too hot for biking, but tolerable for a walk.

We were astounded to see 5 roseate spoonbills in the pond near the lighthouse. I knew that they had appeared before at this time of year, but reports were always from dawn sightings. This was at about 1:30. They were at the far side from the road, so we quickly walked over to that area. Two women had taken advantage of the low water level in the pond and had walked off the path and onto the (wet, mucky) sand at the edge, which put them very close to the spoonbills. So of course we went down there, too.


The birds did not seem to mind our presence at all, and in fact two of them eventually fell asleep, bills over their backs, while we were there. The others continued to feed in the shallow water.


DH had never seen spoonbills other than in the photos I have brought home from Sanibel and Cedar Key, so this was wonderful.


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The pond was full of different types of birds. Little sandpipers (?) gathered around the spoonbills.


There were hundreds of gull/tern-type birds in the middle of the pond. While we were watching the spoonies, they all took off, flew in a tight circle, and settled back exactly where they had been. I'm not sure what the point of that was.


On our way to the spoonbills, we passed the pilings that pelicans like, and the pelicans were lined up on them. Once we had finished gawking at the spoonbills, we headed back there to see them.


This one was soaring overhead for a while, watching the water. They have such an amazing wingspread.


Spotted something of interest...


And so it came in for a landing.


Little bit of a hop to slow itself down...


and it's down!


While I was standing on the sandy strip of land at the water taking those, a cute little sandpiper-like bird (as usual, I don't know exactly what this is) landed nearly at my feet and started walking along the shoreline.


We left the Gulf area and drove to one of the ponds alongside the road to have a snack. Monarch butterfly time is approaching (when they stop at the refuge in huge numbers on their migration south, commemorated by the Monarch Festival), but for now there were just many, many Gulf Frittilaries flitting about.


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There was a group of snowy egrets in the water. The photo was kind of bland, but I liked the general look of it, so I decided to simply make it painting-like (which is kind of what it resembled in the first place).


Hopefully this blog will go back to being active, now that I have decided to widen its scope beyond just paddling photos. While our weather hasn't cooled at all, eventually it has to (doesn't it?) and perhaps I will get back to paddling. Regardless, there will always be birds to photograph. Stand by.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Back to Lake Santeetlah in North Carolina!

Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way.
~Dr. Seuss

This is the third summer that has had me journeying to Lake Santeetlah near Robbinsville, NC, and while each one was a joy, when it comes to lodging, clearly the third time is the charm! More on the house later.

I spent the first afternoon sitting in the shaded gazebo down by the water. I was pleased to discover that a large family of ducks lives in this little cove. Of course I had to photograph them!


The lake slopes gently up to the shoreline here. The water is very, very clear, as you can perhaps tell from this photo of a duck swimming by.


The next day I took the boat out. This group of ducks came to see me off...


At the opening to the cove, I had to go either right or left. This house is in a new area for me, so I wasn't sure what I would find at that opening. Hmmm, to the left is another small cove and an end of the lake.


So that leaves going to the right, which would take me under Ted Jordan bridge (which is part of Hwy 129).


Lakes are funny...one minute they are smooth and then for no discernible reason you will find yourself paddling through waves. And then they smooth out again. Keeps it interesting. This lake is a fantastic place to paddle. There's very little wildlife, but since more than half the shoreline is national forest land, there also are more trees than houses. The combination of wooded shoreline and a backdrop of mountains no matter which way you turn makes for some very relaxing paddling!


I was staying fairly close to the shoreline. And what's this I see? Shades of my last trip to this lake--is that a noodle over there, far from any house?


Of course I paddled over to get it, just in case I decided to stop for a float before returning to the house. And then off I went, my prey strapped to the hood...


(I didn't get around to using it, but I did leave it at the house in case anyone else might want it...)

Back at the house, I caught this duck at bath time.


More splashing....


And then a final tail shake to wrap it up...


The next day I drove over to Cheoah Point Recreation area. I took some lake photos from the boat ramp area.


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Part of this recreation area is a beach.


There is a sign that says "No Launching," but I recalled that on my first trip to this area, I did in fact launch my kayak over on the right side of the beach, outside of the roped-off swim area. It didn't seem to bother anyone.

I was surprised to find a campground here,


and even more surprised to find that (a) it was nearly full, with mostly tenters but a few RVs--while the weather was far, far cooler than here in Florida, it still seemed a bit warm for tenting (to me), and (b) there were power hookups at each site. Water is not provided at the sites, but there are at least two spigots in the campground for use by campers. There was also a bath house with toilets and showers (I came across a website when I got home that indicated that there are no showers at this campground, but I saw them through an open door). I took a photo of one of the campsites.


This campground is located far above the lake. I believe there is access down steps, or you could walk, bike, or drive to the beach area pictured above. But there is no lake view from any site; the height and the trees obscure it.

When I got back to the house I decided to spend a little time floating in the lake, one of my favorite activities of the last trip here. I made these travel plans several months ago and have been talking somewhat endlessly to various email friends about how I looked forward to spending time just lolling around on my water hammock in the lake. I'd really like to share photos of me doing just that....what a shame there was no one there to take those photos. However, through the magic of Photoshop, I can provide a representation of me floating in the lake on my water hammock. This is the area in which I did this floating--near the dock, with the gazebo over on the left--and this is exactly what my water hammock looks like, even the color. People who have met me in person are probably astounded by the degree of similarity between me and the (not-me) person on the hammock....


(You may interpret "degree of similarity" as you wish.)

The next day I took a trip to Stoney Hollow Farm, which is quite near the rental house. I had fun there! I hand-picked ripe peaches, nectarines, and concord grapes. I discovered how easy it is to get carried away with the fun of picking fresh fruit (I brought home a lot of fruit).


I also bought locally-made blueberry jam, a jar of local honey with some of the comb in it, and a bar of homemade soap. The farm had a lot of things growing that I did not pick--blueberries were ripe, they had tomatoes, and they also had a large garden of colorful flowers that could be cut. They make fresh bread in the kitchen, but I got there too late to nab any of that--it's a very popular item. I highly recommend a visit to this farm if you are in the area.

Last summer I posted here about my trip, and someone wrote to ask me about the rental house I had been in. I replied that I honestly could not recommend that house (and in fact it seems the owner no longer rents it out). This year it's a different story. This house was fantastic. Click here for a link to the rental site (if that doesn't work, the agent is Diana Hutto, the house is called "Hilton's Lakefront"--that should get you there). The site has so many photos of the inside and outside of the house that I did not take any myself. This is a larger house than I usually rent for myself (and slightly more expensive than usual as well). Two couples could easily be comfortable sharing this house, or even 3 couples. It is extremely kid-friendly (almost to a fault). The living room chairs are comfortable (and it's well-lit....not always the case), the bed was comfortable, the AC worked well. Very easy access, no steep hills or one-lane winding gravel roads to navigate. (I do, however, suggest you back into the driveway, you'll be glad you did when it's time to pull out.) There is a garage to park in, but like others I have encountered, it was too short for my Xterra to fit into. The house is ideally situated in terms of neighbors--the houses are staggered in such a way that while the lots are small, you can't see either neighboring house from the deck. I believe the one on the left may be a vacation rental as well; the one on the right was occupied by the owners while I was there but I do not think they live there year-round. The house is close to Robbinsville and its grocery stores, the Cherohala Skyway entrance is not far down the road (or up the road, in this case). Calderwood Lake, an excellent paddling spot, is also close by.

A note: In attempting to view this blog on my other computer, I see that Photobucket, which is where I presently store my photos (and then link to them in my posts) is failing to deliver several photos in this post. Reloading the page will bring some missing ones in, but others will not appear. If one (or more) is missing, it's not actually missing, it's just not showing up when the page loads on your computer. I am tending to blame Photobucket rather than Blogger since I had a very hard time uploading the photos to them this afternoon. If this continues, I'll just switch to another host site for future posts.

I'll let you know when I get back out paddling! Stand by.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Not Paddling in Sanibel, Florida

If anyone had been paying attention to the signs,
they would have
realized that air turns white when
things are about to change,
that paper cuts
mean there's more to what's written on the page

than meets the eye, and that birds are always
out to protect you
from things you don't see.
~Sarah Addison Allen
The Peach Keeper

I have been meaning to get to Sanibel Island for a long time, for the sole reason that that is where J. N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge is located. I've been hearing about this refuge for a long time. I know that summer is not the ideal time to go in search of birds, but summer is when I have time for such things (because I'm not camping).

I stayed in Periwinkle Cottages, in Sandpiper cottage, which was ideal for me! It has a very small back yard that is next to a very small pond. The owner was there when I arrived and he pointed out the night heron nest in a tree branch over the pond--and the three young herons that occupied it! So I spent a lot of time the first day I was there photographing them. Unfortunately, the nest was well hidden behind the leaves.



While I was trying to find a spot to stand for a better view, I noticed this one watching me very closely...



There was a dead tree trunk visible from the back yard that always had at least one red bellied woodpecker in it--more often two or three of them. Their tapping and calls were a regular background sound.



Early the next morning I took my chair down to the beach. There were the usual pelicans and gulls, and I spotted two dolphins swimming by. I was thrilled to see a rather large flock of frigate birds circling overhead for a while. I'm not sure where this great blue heron came from; when I looked to my right, there he was.



I watched him for a while; he was very interested in a guy who was fishing nearby. No fish appeared, so off he went.



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And then I saw two ibis fly by me from left to right. They landed farther down the beach and began fishing around in the surf. I watched them for a while, trying to decide whether I wanted to walk over to see if I could photograph them. I finally decided that I should take a stroll down there, since ibis in surf is an image that has never appeared on this blog. I was surprised that they let me get fairly close....and in fact, they stayed there long after I was once back again sitting in the shade.



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This is certainly a beautiful beach, but I have to say that I prefer St. George Island's beach--only because of the sand. The sand at Sanibel looks like ground-up cement blocks (which may be close to its real composition). So the beach isn't as pretty as St. George's white powder sand, and when the waves break at the shore, the grayish sand tumbles with them, which isn't as pretty to me as white sand doing the same thing. But the water color is the same gorgeous blue-green and it is just as clear. And of course there are a lot more shells on this beach!

When I got back to my cottage, I checked on the night heron babies. They were on the ground by the pond--this may have been one of the first times they left the nest.



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This one was very shy and stayed back behind the bush.



I saw one of the adults on a low branch, with its wings out in drying position. It was looking very intently at one of the youngsters.



Hmmmm, heron see, heron do, I guess!



One more image of them, this one of a fuzzy young head:



I had driven through the refuge on my arrival in Sanibel, before even checking in at the cottage. I saw a few cormorants and a great blue heron. This was at about 2:00 in the afternoon. I had been prepared for disappointment because of the time of year, but that was kind of sad. Well, on my last day I decided to give it another try, this one in early morning. They open at sunrise. I got there at about sunrise-thirty.

I saw an ibis while driving in, and several herons in some water. Then I passed an osprey in a nest on a platform.



Ok, this was better! The bird I had most wanted to see was a roseate spoonbill. A group of five had flown overhead at the cottage (which is across the road from the refuge). Five spoonbills! So I knew they were here. If only I could find just one of them....

I took a turn and saw many cars parked at the side of the road near a spot with open water. At our refuge here, this is always a sign that there is something worth seeing....

Spoonbills!! Lots and lots of spoonbills! Maybe 40 or so.

I took a lot of pictures. No, really, a lot of pictures. I have taken out my favorites to post here.

Let's start with the bathing ones. Evidently spoonbills prefer to take their baths in the morning; there was a lot of splashing going on.



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Suddenly...an interloper in the group. One of these birds is not like the rest...



Oh well, no reason to let that interrupt bath time!



And the egret left.



A little off to the side of the pink group, a little reddish egret (thanks, Caroline!) was fishing.



Later he showed up in the midst of all the pink, fluffing himself up, maybe to get some attention from the humans with cameras standing on the shore...



A spoonbill decides to leave the group.



And off he goes--



Meanwhile, this one started to make a fuss in his little section.



Still fussing, but with a smaller audience...



And he leaves as well.



I really liked this little one, off by himself in the early morning sunshine.



While everyone was focused (literally) on the spoonbills, I saw this bird fly overhead. It seems like it has a lot of white to be an osprey, but perhaps that's what it was. I like this image because of the bird's symmetry.



I finally (finally) managed to tear myself away from the spoonbills, which was very difficult! On my way out of the refuge I saw this--I envy the woman in that car! She had stopped, and the two were just looking at each other for a long time, and then she drove away and the bird flew back to the water.



So this was a successful trip!

This blog isn't getting a lot of action these days since I am not doing as much paddling lately (but I think this post clearly belongs here). The camping blog is of course dormant until cooler weather returns. But I continue to take photos--they are just finding a home on my Photo Miscellanea blog. I hope you will pop over there now and then!

And continue standing by here...