Monday, December 11, 2006

St. Vincent and the Wolves

(click on 'click here' to see photos; then click your Back button to return to the blog.)
There are wolves on St. Vincent Island. We'd heard that. Even thought we'd seen their footprints on past visits. A friend spent 6 months on the island doing a research project and never saw a wolf, but the story is that there's a breeding program in which red wolves were introduced on the island and are thriving along with (also introduced) Sambur Deer and a host of other native fauna. While staying with Jeff and Sue at Indian Pass for a few days last month, we took a day to visit the wilder eastern end of the island.

Having had some bad boating experiences down there before (one day I'll write about them), we took every precaution with the boat. Picked our way carefully through the numerous oyster beds that seem to protect Tahiti Beach (click here) - that's the name of the beach at the east end - from much traffic. Only oystermen visit this treacherous part of Apalachicola Bay with regularity. They were a colorful crowd on this lovely calm low tide as we passed (click here). Jeff dropped us near the beach, then took the boat into deeper water for safer anchorage and paddled a small kayak to shore.

After dragging the kayak up to the edge of the woods, we ventured off on a small trail along a beautiful creek. Bluebirds and Pine Warblers flitted around us. (click here) Various hawks glided overhead. We passed an old boat house on the creek (click here) before coming to a ranger outpost (a nice cabin where our researcher friend had stayed). Soon after that we were deep in the forest heading for the lakes we'd seen on the map. We came upon 9 large alligators lolling in a pristine, picturesque cove (click here). It was early afternoon and time to turn back... but instead a new plan was hatched. Sue had always wanted to hike the length of the island (close to 10 miles including a few zigzags). We didn't have on hiking shoes, but somehow decided to push on. Jeff sacrificed and returned to the boat, planning to drop a couple kayaks at the west end for us to use to cross Indian Pass to the mainland. We planned to make it by sunset (3 1/2 hours and about 8 miles to go).

Almost immediately we got distracted off the trail by the lovely ponds, birds, and woods... and surprises. We lost an hour without even noticing. The surprises came as we returned to the trail - two wolves, a mama and 'teen' pup were coming up the trail toward us. Despite the fact that I was carrying 30 pounds of camera gear including a solid tripod, I was unprepared and kind of shocked by the encounter. (How many times do I have to learn this lesson?) We sat down and watched. They stopped and watched as well. A moment later a big black pig crossed the trail just behind the wolves. It was incredible. I made a few images - all disappointing (no, I won't show them here). After a few minutes of trying to figure us out, the wolves wandered into the forest and palmettos, and were gone.

We hiked on, ready for anything. After another mile, we realized we'd never make it by sundown, had no light, and there'd be no moon. The walk became a march, a real cardiovascular workout. Our joints and feet suffered, but we reached familiar territory at the western end with a few minutes of light to spare... in fact, we ran into Crystal (my wife) on the trail looking for us. As I reached the beach at the western tip, a huge flock of pelicans was gradually breaking up to fly off to their roost. The big sun dipped into the Gulf behind them (click here).

Epilogue: Jeff didn't make it back to the boat without mishap. He was stopped by rangers who said the area was closed due to controlled burning. When he explained that we'd just come from there, they gave him a ride back to Tahiti Beach through the burn zone. They were all aghast to find the kayak and paddle had been badly burned in the blaze and were unusable (click here). Jeff had to swim to the boat. Strike Three of boat mishaps in West Pass! (West Pass, 'west' of Little St. George Island is the break between the two barrier islands, Little St. George and St. Vincent.) The draw of the wolf sightings was so great that the four of us returned the next day to the same spot. We waited quietly for several hours without luck... well, except that the kayak and boat were fine when we got back to Tahiti Beach. There are wolves on St. Vincent. They are shy but they are there.
For more about St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, visit the 'Supporters' website at

Sunday, November 19, 2006

a Bonanza Weekend at St. Marks

Weekend before last turned out to be a great time to visit the Wildlife Refuge. At dawn on Veteran’s Day, I was at Picnic Pond with my friend, Ross. A bow-shaped cloud stretched across the eastern sky bathed in orange by the not-yet-risen sun (click here). Within a few minutes, we had the golden light streaming across the pond and marsh. There is a bent oak tree at water’s edge there that I have long admired and often photographed. I couldn’t resist another frame of that lovely sentinal (click here). We found a trio of backlit roseate spoonbills preening not far away. Typically, they can be skittish, but we had good cover and made some nice photos while peeping through small breaks in the waterside shrubs. It felt a bit voyeuristic (click here). At the lighthouse pond, black skimmers were practicing their aerobatics (click here) and skimming for small fish (click here) over the glassy water. Along the shore, monarch butterflies flitted around goldenrod and other wildflowers, preparing for their long journey across the Gulf... not as many as last trip, but I lucked into one that had been tagged by researchers (click here). There was a Christmas Berry in full splendor (click here), and a Reddish Egret doing it’s ‘fishing dance’ in the shallow water. They literally prance while waving their wings to scare up small fish (click here). I considered this a prize sighting since I have so rarely seen these birds at St. Marks. And to top it off, this egret later flew to the remains of an old pier where s/he posed, showing off it’s ruffly mane, in the early morning light (click here).
The next evening, Crystal and I returned to St. Marks to check out the newish Cedar Point Trail. Some college kids built it about a year ago. What we found was a beautiful trail winding among cedars, sabal palms, and large clumps of prickly pear cactus in full fruit. From time to time there were breaks along the shore from which we could overlook the salt marsh. In the last hour of daylight, we were headed back when a big splash caught my eye (click here, notice the splash). After several more, we realized we were watching dolphins fishing in the shallow pools and coves of the marsh. Three of them moved towards us... actually right up to the shore where we stood. They herded the fish into ‘blind alleys’ and up against the shore, and then thrashed their tails (or whole bodies) throwing up a wall of water and sometimes fish with it. Hairpin turns, flying tails, geysers of spray, leaping fish... a genuine feeding frenzy. The ruckus went on for 20 minutes. In the heat of it, a great blue heron and kingfisher moved in close to try to pick off a stray flying fish. Finally satiated, the three dolphins headed back out to deeper Gulf waters. My images hardly do justice to the spectacle, but this series of three images best represent the scene. (Click here and then on 'next' twice.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Memorial Park

I hadn't been to the sights of Washington, D.C. since I was a kid. Last weekend, we took our daughter to look at colleges. One dawn, Marley and I walked to the Memorial Parks. While Marley sat sketching beside Abe Lincoln in his grand memorial, I wandered out to the reflecting pond where I found a crowd of Canadians -- well, Canada Geese -- enjoying breakfast on the lawn. Afterward, they went for a swim, but not before posing for me. (Click here.)
Later that day, we found ourselves, footsore and weary, back in the same marble portico with Abe. As the sun and temperature dropped, suddenly Washington's monolith lit up in a rosy glow. I jumped up and snapped this image (click here). A few moments later, the magic light was gone and twilight was upon us.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Downstream with Manatees

A paddle on the Wakulla River is a great thing to do with a visitor from Wyoming. The sun came out as we meandered downstream to the sounds of purple gallinules and the sightings of gators and river birds. It was late in the season, but we were hoping to show Hendrik a manatee which we often see here in the summer (Oct. 28). About halfway down, in the distance, we saw the telltale puff of mist and a boil on the surface. We had to contain our excitement so we could approach quietly and calmly. There were 5 manatees feeding in the shallow clear water. Soon three of them broke away and headed slowly downstream. One jumbo, one large, and one small... presumably a family. We floated alongside for over an hour, all the way to our take out point. Each of them had scars on their backs from previous encounters with boat propellers, but they had no fear of us. The Papa travelled with Hendrik, often right under his 10 foot kayak, outsizing the boat. Once he even came up just beside Hendrik, blew his misty breath up at him and then nearly capsized the boat as his huge fan-tail lifted the stern. We said goodbye, thanked them for sharing their day with us, and blessed them on their journey out to the Gulf and beyond. (click here to see.)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Monarch Migration

Last Wednesday evening, we rode bikes at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Our daughter and her boyfriend were visiting from NY. Hendrik's from Wyoming originally, so we wanted to show him one of our Florida wild places. Lumin drove the car to the lighthouse at the end of the road where we'd end our ride. We saw the usual lovely menagerie of birds and alligators along the way. I was especially taken by a solo roseate spoonbill feeding nearby in a pond. By the time we arrived at the lighthouse, the sun was about to set. Lumin hurried over, excited, for she'd been watching the monarch butterflies clustered in 100s on the cedars, backlit by the sun. This is their last stop before crossing the Gulf of Mexico for the winter. I made a few images in the fading light using my flash. (Click here.) This was our first year seeing the migration at its peak. It was magical for all of us. We stayed and watched the red ball of sun disappear and the resting butterflies fade into darkness. (Sunset)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Wood Stork

Have a look at the heavy bill and long legs... a standing wood stork is a funny-looking bird. In the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge last week, things were mostly quiet and sparse. I came upon this lone wood stork who was patient enough to pose for me, though eyed me nervously. After watching the human shift about with his tripod for 10 minutes, s/he finally had had enough and flew to a more private spot. I added 'Flying Away' to my website as well, because I liked the comparison of the two images ... you'd never know he had all those beautiful black feathers when sitting there, nor are the red feet very noticable on the snag (or in the water or mud). In the air, they have grace and splendor. There were more treats later that morning... I'm still sorting through the images.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Seed Tick Beach

Seed Tick Beach is a destination along the Florida Trail. I've been there several times, but never thought much about the name before today. Crystal, Sue, Jeff and I started the hike out of Medart on this lovely cool fall afternoon. I hauled all my photo gear having never brought it along in past hikes through these flatwoods, saltmarsh, and Gulf views. The "beach" itself is really a shoreline of saltmarsh with large expanses of flats, It is very beautiful and there is a ruin of an old saltworks dating back to Civil War days. Several miles into the trek, we crossed a creek, and Sue felt a compelling intuition to look down at her pant legs where she found what she most dreaded: hundreds of seed ticks crawling up both legs. "Yikes!" Naturally, the first thing the rest of us did was to look down. Sure enough, we were all loaded with hundreds of the tiniest pinpoint-sized ticks making their ways up our trousers. That is, except for Crystal. She had on shorts, so her legs were covered in ticks. What to do? Peel off the infested clothes, pick and scrape off the bulk of bugs, then hightail it back to the car. With shoes tied to the roof rack and clothes balled up in the back, we raced back to our outdoor shower where we spent a good half hour with dish detergent, hot water and a stiff scrub brush debugging from head to toe. We have all experienced the persistent itchy bites of these tiny varmits (and will likely refresh that memory starting tomorrow). Some days, like today, photos are a bust.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Remembering Daniel

(Click here, then click Back, and read on...) Time for a personal note, in honor of Daniel. This is a photo of my son, Daniel, with our old dog, Posey. Both have died. Every October 1st, we go to the lake where Daniel was fishing when he was hit by a boat 7 years ago. Fishing was his passion. We lived on the lake then... Daniel spent his whole happy life there (almost 12 years). He gave us many gifts in his short life, and even taught us a great deal in his death. In some intangible way, he lives on in me. At the lake, in my dreams, and randomly, he shows up now and then. He's a bright spirit. It's good. Here's an October 1st photo- click here.

St. Marks Wildlife Refuge banquet

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is so close we could say it's in our neighborhood; so it's no wonder we drop by and see what's up pretty regularly. Yesterday evening we decided to take in the big sky of the Refuge and see what we could find. From the van, we soon spotted a kingfisher on a post not far from shore. Upon opening the doors, we quickly discovered the biggest hoedown happening was among the mosquitos and biting flies. They welcomed us with open jaws. The kingfisher flew, of course... they are very camera shy. We saw lots of wading birds and found a warbler we didn't know (click here - let me know if you can name this one). This small bird was so close to the road in the poke weed that I shot through the open window. Crystal had her binoculars going and, jostling both of us, our dog, Jupiter, was snapping away at the flies that were swarming into the van... "Stay down, Jup!" He finally gave up and moved to the back of the van thinking he could hide from the flies. Later, as we started to leave, the kingfisher called. We saw him land on the post again in the dying light. I got out and walked back. Snapped a few shots... but without my tripod, they weren't worth more than the satisfaction of seeing him through my telephoto lense. But then I heard a toot from the van. Crystal and Jup were being eaten alive. Time to go.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Watching one's step

Do you ever wonder what makes you look down just as you are about to step on a dangerous spot? I've had a few close calls with poisonous snakes over the years. Once I somehow managed to 'step on air' inches above a cottonmouth coiled on my path. It was on a remote island and I was wearing flip flops - help was many hours away. I was walking toward a pond which had my attention, but somehow in the split second before my foot hit the snake (and I would have been bit) I got some warning, saw it, and managed to hold that foot in the air as my other one stepped over the snake. A couple days ago, Crystal and I were helping with a park cleanup. Right in Crystal's path was this tiny pigmy rattlesnake carefully camouflaged in shaded grass. From it's perspective, all it could do is coil up, flare it's jaws, and shake it's tiny tail like mad as the giant's feet approached. No where to run. No where to hide. She was scanning for trash but somehow spotted it before both of them would regret it. I was lucky enough to have my camera nearby and waited for the sun to get above the trees and light up the snake. It was tricky trying to photograph too. With my telephoto lens, I had to be too far away to avoid grass blades blocking my view... but with a more standard lens, I had to get right down on the tiny snake to adequately fill the frame and it didn't like that one bit.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

St. Marks at dawn

I awakened early and couldn't get back to sleep yesterday morning so I went outside. There was an early fall chill in the air. Nice. So I grabbed my gear and drove down to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge to see some big sky and birds. I was amazed to find a line of cars ahead of me and behind me pouring into St. Marks in the dark pre-dawn. Most were fishermen towing boats. I found trees full of roosting egrets and cormorants. The ponds were quiet. Headlights streamed by as I waited for dawn. The sun came up behind the final pines that line the saltmarsh. Glorious. (click here) Within a few minutes the birds were filling the sky and ponds. I found a busy flock of Black Skimmers performing their aerobatics, bill half in the water at the pond by the boat ramp. I wonder if the fishermen were enjoying the Skimmer show too as they waited to launch their boats.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge

Friends invited us to stay a few nights at Indian Pass last weekend. Looking out from the house across the pass is St. Vincent Island, a big wild place that is not easy to get to. But there we were a short kayak paddle away. The sandy point of the island was covered by hundreds of pelicans and terns. Beyond it, they were diving for fish. A bald eagle flew in and scattered the birds from time to time. We were a little beyond photo range, but had a great show through the binoculars. Sunrises and sunsets were spectacular. Wading and shore birds lined our side of the pass as well... willets, ruddy turnstones, sanderlings, oyster catchers, terns, and skimmers. I'll post some images from the visit soon.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Wild Monkeys in Florida

Descendants of escaped monkeys from Silver Springs appear to be thriving after 40 years in the flood plain and forest of Silver River State Park and Ocala National Forest. When Crystal and I were paddling our kayaks up the Silver River 10 days ago, we lucked into the troupe foraging along the river bank. We watched their antics for an hour before they moved away. (click here to see photo)

It's a 7 mile upstream paddle to the spring from where the Silver dumps into the Oklawaha River... so there's some work involved, but the river is gorgeous. The water is clear (and full of fish!), wildlife abundant, and the banks are wild (state park and national forest). We stopped along the river at one of the few places we could get out on dry land to stretch our legs and have a swim (click here to see Silver in the Silver River). If you go all the way to the source, it is surreal to find the amusement rides, river cruises, blaring music, and loudspeaker announcing activities at Silver Springs theme park. You can paddle right into the midst of it, though you're not supposed to get out of your boat.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Gator at Juniper Run

Paddling down Juniper Creek last week, Crystal and I came upon a sizable alligator lying on a big matt of vegetation. I laid my kayak up against the matt around 12 feet from the gator. He looked dead... well really, dead asleep in the afternoon sun - part of him sunken into the algae, no detectable breathing. He didn't make much of a photo composition from my angle, but I made a few images anyway since I was so close. (Here's one: Too Close For Comfort) The strong current held my boat fast against the weeds so I pushed away with my paddle. Before I could take a stroke, the boat floated forward a few feet and landed smack against the matt again... only now I was only 6 feet from the gator which made me a little nervous. Still, not a twitch. I started to push off again and suddenly he flew into the air - legs flailing and tail thrashing - as he scrambled, dived, and clawed his way through a hole in the matt and into the creek. Crystal called back from downstream to make sure I was allright after hearing all the crashing and splashing. I regretted so needlessly disturbing him (and worrying her). Laying in my sleeping bag the next morning, it dawned on me that the gator could have easily flown my way in his quest for safety since I was the closest direction to open water. That could have had nasty consequences. In years past, I haven't feared alligators much, but several recent attacks on humans, including a death in this very creek are leading me to rethink my reckless bravado. I must keep a more respectful distance. Isn't that what telephoto lenses are for anyway?

My first post.

Hello. I am new to blogging and learning about Blogger. Once I get the knack of it, I'll be offering glimpses into my 'adventures in photography'. I invite you to visit my new website: