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)