Saturday, 26 December 2015

Sandy Soils and Warm Waterways

 

Perhaps it is the unseasonal hot temperatures in Florida this year but we have seen numerous turtles along river and bayou edges and gathered on logs in groups as large as a dozen.  They vary in size from 3-14 inches. With their incredible sense of hearing they plop off the logs into the water when we approach.  A few have been awaiting their Kodak moments so I was able to capture a couple of images of yellow belly and red belly turtles.  The smaller Box Turtles are common along sandy grassy paths and are distinguished by the decorative bumps on their shells.  On our bike rides we usually see 8-10 Gopher Tortoises who dig burrows in the sand which are up to 30 feet long and sixteen feet deep.  We often spot them sitting at the entrance as if hanging out on the porch checking out the neighbours.  In the hotter weather last week, many of them were out basking in the sun.  It is easy to spot their domed shapes along the paths as they sit 6-7 inches high with shell diameters ranging from 10-15 inches.

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Observing residential lawns, country pastures or wild fields in Florida, sandy mounds of various sizes are common.  Foxes, Pocket Gophers, Moles, Worms, Fire Ants, Armadillo, Tortoise and Crawfish all build shelters using sand.  Both Red and Gray Foxes dig their own sandy dens as well as occupy abandoned ones of tortoise or armadillo.  Gray foxes often sleep in trees which seems wise with predator snakes and alligators lurking at ground level.  We have seen their scat but no actual foxes yet.  Lumpy sand mounds are created by Deep Digger Scarab Beetles.  They tunnel as much as ten feet underground and often store food sources of grass or acorns there.  There are also the “inverted ant hills” dug by the Ant lions.  The larvae live at the base of the “ditch” waiting to dine on passing insects, usually ants, to fall into their trap.  The larvae metamorphose in summer into delicate insects similar to a Damselfly or Dragonfly  who lay eggs in the sand pits and start the cycle all over again.

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                                                        ant lion images from google

I enjoy the structures that humans create in nature, the towers of power that cut across swamps or fields, the bright colour and symmetry of buoys across a dam, the worn wood of a dock and fishing shelter and the faded paint and rust of a vintage trailer nestled in long grass.

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Water is everywhere in Florida and numerous bird species nest and live near the marshes, rivers and seaside.  On our hikes and bike rides we see many Heron, Storks, Hawks, Ducks, Coots, Egrets, Cardinals and Anhinga, who pose drying their outstretched wings.  Vultures are everywhere and often strike a classic silhouette sitting in a dead tree that is draped with Spanish Moss.  Close to our RV Camp, a team of Vultures  were “making short work” of an unfortunate raccoon.  We have watched groups of Wild Turkeys, so close that we were able to see the iridescent reds and blues on their backs glinting in the sunlight.  I am not sure if they know they should be thankful to have avoided the oven on both Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.

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           Coot image from google… the little beggers scoot so fast, they are diffucult to photograph.

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We took one rather arid hike along a dry sandy path where we saw cactus growing, although most of them were “ lying down”.  A few tree skeletons stood silvery and burned black in places looking like displays of abstract sculpture. Stands of feathery pine trees of various sizes provided greenery but little shade on our hike.  These Slash Pines start life looking like a bushy grass or “Cousin It” of Addams family fame.  It was so hot that day that we began seeing mirages of icebergs and snowy mountains and were relieved to get back to the cool temps inside the air conditioned motor home.  We brought back some huge pinecones to use as “Christmas Trees”.  Dixie decided that they were better as chew toys.

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               Baby Slash Pine                                      Big Brother Slash Pine                                     Uncle Slash Pine

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                                                                      Grampa and Gramma Slash Pines

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On our trips doing errands we always see some interesting sites.  Many people believe have that the Confederate Flag has been recently abandoned by many due to its negative political connotations.  However, many folks continue to display it with pride in Rural Florida.  I took a few shots of an old main street in Centreville where the aged buildings beautifully spoke of their history.  It appeared that noone had the money to restore them or the heart to tear them down.  I also had a heart to heart with a small dog who looked at me with an aloof air as I suggested that sitting in the middle of the road was not the wisest idea! Another day, we stopped for a foot long, Coney Island Hotdog.  The place was filled with vintage signs and artifacts, a fun place with mediocre food.  Chris tried to chat up the waitress but all she said was Boop Boopy Doop!

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                                                                             Papa and Baby pickups.

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Watching the TV show in the 1960’s “Gentle Ben”about a Game Warden in Florida, I was always intrigued with the airboat.  Chris has always wanted to ride on one too so we opted for Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours on December 24. Nothing says Christmas more than a noisy airboat ride through the Bayou!  Our guide and passengers wore ear protection which unfortunately, the wildlife do without.  Luckily, many of the turtles and birds seem to have adapted to the boats and sat quietly as we zoomed by.  The first part of the trip was spent slowly passing through the narrows and deep ponds where we saw likely at least 80 turtles, many birds and some alligators.  The most exciting site, was a shelter of grass and reeds where some baby alligators resided.  One about 14 inches was a two year old and the others, half its size, were born in the spring this year.  They stay with their Mom until they are seven months old when they are left in a “safe place” to begin their futures.  They survive on crawfish, insects and small fish.  They blend so well into their grassy home, only an experienced eye would be able to spot them there.  The quiet waters and reflections of Cypress Trees and Spanish Moss were beautiful.  We drove up to a dam where there is a pathway for airboats to traverse, something we had never seen before.  Then our captain “let her rip” and sped us along the open waters zig zagging and splashing up a welcome cool spray.  After everyone had their “speed fix” we floated upon a quiet water hole, a natural spring, where guests were encouraged to swim in the eleven foot-deep waters.  A young boy was interested but needed his Grandfather to pave the way; take off his shirt; put on his brave face and take the plunge.  With the urging of the six other passengers, the boy finally jumped in.  Back on land, we took a few pictures of the baby gators in their ‘swimming pool’.  Guests are urged to spend $3.00 to have their photo taken holding one of the babies, he he.  We opted for the free silly photo board.

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I baked a Tourtiere for our Christmas Eve dinner which we had with a salad of leafy greens, apple, candied pecans and Gorgonzola cheese.  We watched the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Special which was a huge disappointment as Sesame Street were the guests of honour and managed to destroy any traditions and demeanor of the fabulous choir and orchestra.  We followed that with our favourite Alistair Sim’s Scrooge.

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Christmas was quiet and Dixie enjoyed her new toy that Santa brought her.  We had a great bike ride but the weather was extremely hot.  We spent the remainder of the day reading and later, tucked in to a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.  The day was trumped, (not Donald!!!) by the rising of the full moon, the first time in four decades that the full moon shone on Christmas Night.  Hope you saw it wherever you were too.

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