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Screech owls

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Pileated Woodpecker on nest box

About two months ago we bought a nest box designed for Screech Owls. We got it from SCCF, and put it up in a tree in front of the house here on Dinkins Bayou on Sanibel. The first birds to come inspect it were the local woodpeckers, Pileated and Red-bellied, who climbed all over it and drummed on it, as it made a an excellent sounding box for woodpecker drumming. We later wondered if the woodpecker drumming is a clue for the owls to locate a good nesting cavity.

Then one day about three weeks later we spotted a Screech Owl poking his head out of the round door.

 

 

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Adult Screech Owl surveying the neighborhood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then two days ago we spotted one of the owls flying out of the nest and perching in the nearby Areca palms.

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Adult Screech Owl in Areca palm near the nest box

 

 

 

 

And finally this morning, we looked up, and lo and behold, there was a young owl peering out of the nest box. You have to look closely to spot the eyes in that light grey fuzz. S/He spent a lot of time pushing a little further out of the hole and then retreated swiftly inside at some little noise we made.

Fledgling Screech owl

Fledgling Screech owl

We head northwards tomorrow AM so we won’t get to see them fly but it’s been very exciting to watch this happen. We never quite believed we’d get some of those lovely owls as neighbors!

Seasonal images from Gingins and the neighborhood

Since getting back in the fall we’ve had the full fall-early winter cycle: fall color, rain, snow, brouillard. Herewith a few images….
Clicking on one photo enlarges just that photo. Use the “View photos at SmugMug” link at the bottom to see the entire gallery.

La grisaille, stratus, brouillard

 

Back here in Switzerland, in November and December, one of the unpleasant facts of life is what is called by the meteo people “stratus”. To you and me, that means a temparature inversion fog in the low-lying valleys running from Geneva all the way up towards Zurich.

In local parlance, it’s called “stratus”, “brouillard”, “la grisaille”. Doesn’t matter what you call it. What it is is a low-lying, dense, cold, damp grey fog that either sits right on your head at around 600 – 800 meters or much higher up at 1200 – 1300 meters.

The low-lying stuff is better, for one simple reason: you can drive uphill from pretty much anywhere in these lake basins and end up above the grisaille layer, in the bright sunshine, and your SAD will disappear immediately!

Here is today’s forecast from meteo suisse: in short, it says we can look forward to a week of solid grisaille…..

Prévision pour la Suisse romande et le Valais, valable jusqu’au jeudi 22 novembre :

Actualisée le 17.11.2012, 20.40

Ce soir et cette nuit : stratus se reformant sur le Plateau, quelques passages nuageux au-dessus. Vent du sud-ouest devenant modéré sur le Jura, restant faible ailleurs.

Demain dimanche : Le matin, stratus ou du brouillard sur le Plateau et le bassin lémanique avec un sommet vers 700 m. Dissipation en grande partie durant la journée. Au-dessus et dans les autres régions, ciel assez ensoleillé malgré quelques passages nuageux. En montagne, vent faible du sud-ouest.

Lundi : stratus sur le Plateau avec une limite supérieure vers 1000 m, se dissipant en partie en cours de journée. Dans les autres régions, temps assez ensoleillé. Maximum, 8 à 10°. Légère bise sur le Plateau.

Mardi : stratus sur le Plateau avec limite supérieure vers 800 m, se dissipant difficilement cours de journée. Dans les autres régions, temps bien ensoleillé. Maximum, 7 à 10°.

Mercredi : stratus ou brouillard sur le Plateau avec limite supérieure vers 600 m, se dissipant en grande partie en cours de journée. Dans les autres régions, temps assez ensoleillé. Maximum, 7 à 12° en plaine comme en moyenne montagne. Très doux en altitude.

Jeudi : stratus ou brouillard sur le Plateau avec limite supérieure vers 600 m, se dissipant en cours de journée. Dans les autres régions, temps seulement en partie ensoleillé ; quelques averses pas exclues au nord des Alpes. Maximum, 7 à 10°. Tendance au foehn dans les Alpes.

Tendance pour vendredi 23 novembre et samedi 24 novembre :

Indice de confiance faible, 3 sur 10.

Vendredi : stratus ou brouillard sur le Plateau avec limite supérieure vers 600 m, se dissipant en partie en cours de journée. Dans les autres régions, temps assez ensoleillé. Maximum, 7 à 10°.

Samedi : stratus ou brouillard sur le Plateau avec limite supérieure vers 600 m, se dissipant en partie en cours de journée. Dans les autres régions, temps en partie ensoleillé ; quelques averses possibles au nord des Alpes. Maximum, 7 à 10°.

Here are a couple of photos, taken from around 1200 meters to illustrate the point.

Both of these were taken from a place called La Barillette, in the jura to the north of Lac Léman (that’s the Lake of Geneva to English-speakers). The lake is under that pea-soup, and the French Alps are in the clouds way over there on the far side. we were up there having a fondue and enjoying the sunshine…….

From La Barillette, on the heights of the Jura, east of La Dôle, looking southwards over the Lac Léman/Lake of Geneva.

From La Barillette, on the heights of the Jura, east of La Dôle, looking southwards over the Lac Léman/Lake of Geneva.

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Back to Maine

We’re back, after 2168 miles, 21 April – 9 May for the return trip; 13 October – 9 May for the whole journey.

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Heading North

We started back north from Estero, Florida on the 21st, heading for St. Cloud, Florida, but with a night in a place called Lake Wales, Florida. Rather than blaze up I-75 (again) and across I-4 to Orlando, we went inland from Estero, north of Immokalee and north through Labelle. East of Estero the road passes the CREW trust land, all part of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. Together with the Audobon Sanctuary Preserve to the south, it’s a impressive effort to set aside land and to work with the agribusinesses in the area. The land around Immokalee is some of Florida’s most intensively farmed and as you drive north through LaBelle this continues up towards where you cross the Okeechobee Waterway, which links the Intracoastal Waterway in Eastern Florida to the Gulf Coast Waterway at Fort Myers. The housing along this section of highway and in the small towns is often rundown trailers or old shacks, with a huge latino population who largely work in the agribusinesses.

After you cross the Waterway the land turns mostly to cattle ranch through which you drive at 60 MPH for over an hour. Then the land begins to rise and turns gradually into huge citrus groves as far as the eye can see. Sebring, of race-track fame, is next and highway 27 here is one long unpleasant strip for a good ten miles. The town of Frostproof is next along this stretch, named for the hills on which it sits where the cold air drains away into valleys and helps avoid frost kills in the citrus groves.

We stopped for the night at Lake Wales and spent next morning visiting the Bok Tower Gardens. The gardens here, laid out by Olmstead, are beautiful; the tower with its carillon is a bit curious. The tower at bok Tower Gardens


Next day we headed for St. Cloud, Florida to spend the night with Donna Cunningham Hoffman and her husband Bill. Donna was a grade school classmate of Katie’s in South Acton, and we crossed paths again last fall at the 50th reunion of our Acton school classmates in Acton, Massachusetts. We were only able to spend the night but what a great time we had. They invited old friends from Massachusetts and we talked and sipped Bill’s excellent wine until late at night and enjoyed every minute of it.


Monday the 23rd we left Bill and Donna’s early, heading for Darien, Georgia. The reason for this stop was to make a visit to Sapelo Island. Sapelo is the fourth largest of the Georgia barrier Sea Islands and accessible only by ferry or private boat. It is almost entirely owned by the NOAA through its National Estuarine Research Reserve division, and by the Georgia State park system; 470 acres are still in private hands and largely held by members of the Gullah community established there for generations, the history of this can be found here. Wikipedia has a good broad brush history of the island.

Access to nearly all of the island is strictly limited, especially the wildlife reserves. However, on the last Tuesday of each month, November through April, the tours offered by the Research office include that section of the island, and we happened to hit that last Tuesday, by sheer chance. For $10 each, we got the ferry ride, a guide and a five hour drive around the island, and very sore butts from the bouncing old schoolbus. It was a treat. The island and its beaches are beautiful,Atlantic beach, Sapelo Island, GA  the history is fascinating, and if you want to rent the old Reynolds mansion with a group of 12 of your best friends, here’s how.The Reynolds Mansion, Sapelo Island, GA

Part of the tour included the Sapelo Island Lighthouse, now inactive but recently restored. It’s one of the few lights that also had a paired range light: a range light is used to line up two lights so a skipper can follow the line through the hazards. But when you stand at the foot of the Sapelo Light, and sight eastwards across the range light  you are looking at the middle of the southern tip of Sapelo. This all demonstrates how far the southern tip of the island has migrated south in recent decades with the waves and currents.


Darien, Georgia has quite a history, mostly up to the early 20th century, For generations it was a huge port for the shipment first of cotton and then timber. As with many of the coastal towns, if its heyday has passed, there are many attractive features to the town and its surroundings.Old tabby foundations, Darien, GA The shrimp fleet, Darien, GA.   The coastal Georgia marshes are beautiful, the old buildings and churches are interesting and the town is well-kept and has refurbished its waterfront. There are good restaurants, inns and B & B’s and the friendliness common to many coastal areas. You’re really back in the country of the live oak here, and as you often find, the trees have right of way on (in) a roadway. The live oak, like the coastal marshes, quickly became one of our favorite sights along the SE US coast.The live oak has the right-of-way.


Finally, it was time to put the pedal down. We split the driving up I-95 to see how far we could get, and ended up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina; all of South and nearly all of North Carolina in a day!

We had passed up the opportunity to visit Smithfield NC, the home of Ava Gardner, Instead, next morning, being twenty miles from Tarboro, we drove into town to look for a postcard to send to Katie’s college classmate, Penny Bridgers, who grew up there. The drug store didn’t have any but sent us along to the Blount-Bridgers House. We found the card, wrote out Penny’s London address and when the woman managing the house saw it, she was delighted to hear we knew Penny; then we learned from her that Penny’s sister Meade had hired here to work at the museum! The ancestral Bridgers manse, Tarboro, GA


After lunch in Norfolk, and with a black sky and storms brewing west of us, we crossed Chesapeake Bay on the spectacular Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a seriously impressive construction. As usual, we are always amazed how thin the water is in a body of water the size of the Bay:Chart of the lower end of Chesapeake Bay at the bridge.


We looked for a place to stay part way up the eastern shore of Virginia and settle on the town of Onancock (the town’s site is here) (you read that right; you’d think the town fathers and mothers would have made an effort to to change that name wouldn’t you?). We ended up in the Charlotte Hotel, a delightful little place right downtown, with a terrific restaurant and comfortable beds too! The Charlotte Hotel, Onancock, VA


Saturday, 28th of April, and we are off to Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. On the road we passed through Modest Town, VA; to the NW of this town is Temperanceville.Modest Town, VA Modest Town, VA

You’ve all read Misty of Chincoteague, right? This is the place. Chincoteague is pretty tourist-y. But then you drive across the causeway to Assateague (NPS site here), and you find the entire island is a National Wildlife Refuge. We drove out to the front beach, which is magnificent. We also walked one of the paths and spotted some of the ponies, though at a distance. Ponies, Assateague Island NWR, VA    We also met a squirrrel of which we had never heard: the DelMarVa Peninsula Fox Squirrel; see references here and here. We thought we had just seen some rather larger and different-looking grey squirrels but discovered we’d seen an unusual critter.Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel

Assateague is a good example of the refuges which make up the National Wildlife Refuges. One of the things we admired enormously during this trip down (and back up) the SE USA coast, was the public access and visitor and learning centers set up by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. While parts of the Refuges are often closed to public access during nesting or other critical times, largely you can enter the refuges by car, on foot or by bicycle and spend as much time as you wish looking at the landscape and critters. We thoroughly appreciated this experience, and it’s a system of places which always reward a visit, wherever you may be in the country. Pay attention – go visit your local National Wildlife Refuge today; you’ll be glad you did.


After Assateague it was time to head for WA DC to stay with Grey and Allyson Terry, and spend the weekend visiting Anne and Emil and André and Theo.

Azaleas were still in bloom in the garden, and the Pfitzer-Parker family was blooming, too, even though Anne had spent the last twelve days in Ethiopia and Seattle, with only a brief stop at home in between. Andre and Theo grew another two inches between Christmas and Easter, and Theo, at 51/2, has really learned to swim. In the YMCA’s swim coach parlance, he’s graduated from dog to frog, and deserves to be proud of it. Sharing a shower with me afterwards, he said that when my hair was wet, I looked just like his Mom “except for all the wrinkles, of course”.

Sunday morning found us heading to the Brookside Gardens and Nature Center with Grey and Dandy adorable, a beautiful 31/2 month old English setter puppy, who was more excited about meeting Andre and Theo than they were about meeting him. We walked through the gardens to the Nature Center where a special day of events for children had been organized. We attended a lecture on raptors and met two owls and a red-tailed hawk. Other highlights for the children included a ride in a bucket lift from which nesting green herons and a Canada goose could be observed in the middle of a pond full of turtles, and tree-climbing lessons with harnesses. Theo objected strongly when we had to leave four hours later, protesting that it was the worse day of his life and that he NEVER got to do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it. Not a great many sympathy tears were shed, particularly since we had to work so hard to hold our own in the card game we played when we got back to his house. He and Andre are impressive players!André and Theo, Brookside Nature Center, Wheaton, MD


Grey and Allyson, and new puppy, English Setter Jim Dandy, took us in again, as they did last fall; you’d think they’d learn wouldn’t you. They have a lovely place near the National Cathedral. We gossiped, met Dandy, caught up on news.

Sunday Grey came with us for part of the expedition with the Pfitzer-Parker clan and Allyson returned from a working weekend in New York on Sunday night. Monday, he made a final massive effort and located the car keys which had been missing for several days and we took them out to dinner to celebrate.


Tuesday morning we left the Terry’s and headed for the Eastern Shore (of Maryland). Remember that the peninsula on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay is the DelMarVa Peninsula: DELawareMArylandVirginiA.

We went down to St. Michaels, which is normally a place which suffers from serious tourist overload but on a Tuesday morning on May Day (yup, we were humming the Internationale) it was almost entirely deserted. It’s a lovely spot and you can see why people come in droves, including the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, whom we were fortunate enough not to meet. The overcast cleared and we had a very nice lunch next to the water, which appears to be lapping at your feet at high tide, and on really big tides your feet very likely get wet here; bring your boots or Teva sandals. Lunch at The Crab Claw, St. Michaels, MD

At Neal and Sandra’s the Lily of the Valley were in full bloom, and it’s May Day, when Europeans pick them and present a bunch to others as a wish for happiness; perfect timing!Lily of the Valley, Triple Creek Farm, Church Hill, MD.

After a fun evening catching up, we went off Wednesday morning to visit the Crumpton Auction. It’s worth a trip to this area on any Wednesday to pay a visit and watch the auctioneering and the crowds. You can also buy fabulous meat and other products from the Amish food stands and eat in the Amish cafeteria or at their take-out window. Unless you like high-risk, leave your wallet and credit card at home; auctions can be quite infectious.The Crumpton Auction at Dixon's Furniture, Crumpton, MD.


Thursday we arrived for Bronxville for a stay with Beth Olesky and will head back to Maine around May 10. We’re getting down to the wire here; nearly over the Year of Living Homelessly (With apologies to Christopher Koch, for the steal on the title of his novel):

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January – May 2012

Well, we’ve let some time elapse since posting anything here, so herewith, a short summary of events since Christmas.

Anne and Emil and the grandkids came down to Florida for Christmas week and spent it in a rental out at Fort Myers Beach. We had Christmas Day at Dorothy’s place in Estero and did some fun trips with them.

Nancy Connery loaned us her place in Boca Grande for the first ten days of January and we got in some good beach walking and touring the town in the electric golf cart. Boca is small and pretty isolated from major stores and cities and towns. But it has fine beaches and, good boating access to Pine Island Sound. You’re apt to rub elbows with one of the Bush clans or their familiars, which can be viewed anyway you care to take it. An undeniably nice place.

Then we headed north to San Antonio (that’s Florida) for a few days visit with Ellen Peterson. Ellen had kindly agreed to let us park the car in her carport while we went off to Switzerland to see the other grandkids, the doctors and to deal with all those other obligations that build up.

In Switzerland we had rented a nice apartment in Eysins; It was odd living a few kilometers from our place in Gingins, which is rented to others. But we had reunions with a number of friends, ate all the things we can’t get here with the same flavors: think fondue, raclette, etc. We spent a week in the chalet the kids rent in Morillon in France, part of the Grand Massif, with lovely sunny weather, card games with the grandkids, and time to visit with Marc and Anke.

But the month we were there also included some of the coldest weather Switzerland has had for decades, with temperatures down to -20 C° ( -4 F°) many nights, and worst of all, with a howling, blustery freezing wind from the northeast, locally known as the bise. Usually it blows for 1, 3, 5 or sometimes 7 days; this year it blew for two weeks, and we got tired of it hammering at the windows and doors.

It did produce some spectacular scenes, with the spray from the surf on Lac Léman breaking and freezing on everything in reach along the quais; a car in Versoix ended up coated with 2″ – 3″ of ice.

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We returned to Florida February 21, spent a few days with Ellen, then got back into the swing of our homeless, live-out-of-your-car existence (though in case you’re wondering, we haven’t spent a night IN the car yet…..).

Spent two days in Sarasota, which everyone has been telling us we had to do as it is the most European (which we think means you can get good expresso) place in Florida. It is charming, and has some interesting places:

The John and Mabel Ringling Museum. This exceeded our expectations in some unexpected ways:

  • The art museum was a hodge-podge, gorgeously laid out, and with a few treasures; its grounds recall San Simeon.
  • The Ringling “home” (affectionately called CA’ D’ZAN MANSION) is a splendid example of nouveau riche, and lots of fun to visit.
  • But the prize was the Circus Museum; this is worth the price of admission all on its own. Those of you who have read Water for Elephants or ever attended a circus in the 50’s can perhaps imagine trying to present a history of the circus in the US. There is a LOT more to it than lions and sexy trapeze artists and the side-show, and this is a fine place to learn it. In particular, there is a marvellous scale model of a big-top circus (photos) covering a space 15 x 40 feet and in exquisite detail. Go see it.

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Fascinating place specializing in epiphytes (that’s orchids and their cousins to you and me), beautifully arranged and displayed, and on a lovely peninsula right next to the historic district of Sarasota.

Sarasota undoubtedly has a great deal more to offer in cultural terms; we weren’t in a culture-consumption mode so might have to come back later, one day.

On the way out of town we visited briefly with an aging friend from Small Point. She has mild dementia and worried she wouldn’t recognize us when we arrived, but she did and we had a good visit. She always favored male visitors, so I made sure to wear shorts…..


Next stop, Casey Key, between Venice and Sarasota. This very long narrow key has real estate far sale running from the high 6 figures into the $ 20 M range; think Stephen King, for example, and Tom Hanks. Tom’s place is actually right down at the south end, where the Key ends at the Venice Inlet and Jetty with a very nice public park which gets a lot of use.

cozy little condo unit at the Gulf to Bay Club, located in a rather unpromising motel and condo zone right over the bridge onto Casey Key at Nokomis. (The rest of Casey Key north of this zone is VERY exclusively residential).

This turned out to be a great little spot, not least for the company of some of the owners of a couple of the units who had been coming there for north of 30 years and who were extremely welcoming. They were all from Michigan and had done some interesting things and were just as interested to hear our various tales. One of them was just about to go off on a National Geographic-led tour of Cuba.IMG_7339


We still had a week to go before heading off to our rental house in the Isles of Capri, just north of Marco Island. At the last minute, we discovered we could join Katie’s cousin Brookie Chandler’s husband on a delivery trip of his 50 foot motor yacht from Hilton Head to Fort Lauderdale. As we couldn’t make it to HH in time for the departure, we arranged to meet John and his skipper Eric Norman at Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, right on the Florida-Georgia border. Having been through there on the trip south in December, we knew where to find them at the marina.

To get there meant renting a one-way car from Fort Myers, and we took two days to do the drive, spending the night in Ocala. This was surprising and lovely country. Driving north and inland through this part of Florida you find hills, forests, agriculture, and in the area around Ocala, a vast thoroughbred horse industry; the Wikipedia article sums it up:

In 1956, the Ocala area Thoroughbred industry received a boost when Needles became the first Florida-bred to win the Kentucky Derby. In 1978, Marion County-bred and -raised Affirmed won the Triple Crown. Today, Marion County is one of the major thoroughbred centers of the world, with over 1,200 horse farms in total and about 900 thoroughbred farms totaling some 77,000 acres (310 km2). Ocala is well known as the horse capital of the world,[9] one of only five cities (four in the USA and one in France) permitted under Chamber of Commerce guidelines to use this title based on annual revenue produced by the horse industry. There are some 44,000 jobs created by the breeding, training and related support brought about by the equine industry that generates over $2.2 billion in annual revenue. Ocala and “Postime Farms” also play host to one of the largest horse shows in the country. H.I.T.S or “Horses in the Sun” is a Dressage/Jumper event lasting about two months and brings with it some 6 to 7 million dollars to the local Marion county economy each year. There are over 100 different breeds aside from thoroughbreds including the Tennessee Walker, Paso Fino, Morgans, SaddleBreds, Drafts, and the American Quarter Horse. Other equine events in the area include cowboy mounted shooting by the Florida Outlaws, as well as endurance rides, barrel races, “extreme” cowboy events, jumper shows, trick shows, parades, draft pulls, and more.

There were horse ranches for mile upon mile, with the long white board fences one associates more with Kentucky.

We made the rendezvous at Fernandina Beach, loaded up our gear and spent the night alongside and headed south down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), aka, fondly and/or pejoratively, The Ditch. The first two miles were the most nerve-wracking, with the tide at dead low and the fathometer telling us we were little short of putting the propellors in the mud. Admire the sailboat way up on the bank in the linked photos.

After that, it went smoothly, if often slowly; the Sarah Brooks pushes up a huge wake at speed so care is required to be sure it doesn’t cause harm. Along the way we had dolphins often, a few manatees, gorgeous weather, comfortable marinas (we had no interest in running at night in the ICW!). In the sections before reaching Hobe Sound and Palm Beach, there were many miles of marshes and mangrove-lined shores.

That all changed at Palm Beach, and the condo canyons. Passing through Hobe Sound the display of egregious excess (houses of 5 and 10,000 square feet) made it much less appealing. At the Lake Worth Inlet, before Palm Beach, we went outside and had an uneventful ride through medium chop at cruising speed (10 – 14 knots) to Fort Lauderdale.

The GPS track of the trip down The Ditch may be seen here.

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Isles of Capri:

Marco Island (south of Naples, and on the northern edge of the 10,000 Islands and Everglades) is densely developed and rather resembles a suburb of, say, San Diego. But it has a terrific public beach at Tigertail Beach. It’s a Collier County Parks beach, and like nearly every other county and state park in Florida we have visited, very well-managed and organized. The appalling wall of condo and hotel towers along the beach south of it reduce its appeal when you look the wrong way, but as everywhere else, the birds and fish abound and all is well-maintained; there were lots of people and no outrageous behavior or noise.

The Isles of Capri is a funny little place just inland of Marco Island, and very much another world. Initially developed in the mid-fifties, it’s a backwater in many ways. People are welcoming, the local fish shack cooks some of the best-prepared fish we have had all year and people walk and bike everywhere. Water access by boat or kayak is easy, and the dolphins come right up alongside of you when you’re kayaking (at least they did for us, and we hadn’t paid extra for that either….).

We’d rented a house for ten days, and discovered it was owned by a young guy who hadn’t the SLIGHTEST idea of how to make a place warm, welcoming or comfortable: it was living in one of those “Model Units” you see advertised outside dreadful housing developments: show-room furniture, inadequate selection of kitchen equipment, and less welcoming than many motel rooms we’ve been in. We had a fine time, and the price was right.

While were we were staying here we took a drive over along Highway 41 and drove up the “scenic” drive up through the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. There is more explanation at these sites about the significance of this site:

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park Friends of Fakahatchee

We reached the western end of the Preserve and took a shot at departing via a set of old roads through a failed developed which has been purchased by the state. It was a funny adventure and a drive through a corner of the country which not everyone might see.

Here’s a link to a Google Maps view; look at it in the Satellite view

Turns out that appalling failed development of 57000 acres of land has fortunately been purchased by the State to add into the Picayune State Forest.


As we write now, we are back in Estero, at the home of Dorothy Cameron. We’re baby-sitting her cats while she is in New England babysitting her grand-daughter.

She returns 19 April (Patriots Day for all you Massachusetts residents) and we’ll begin the trek northwards, like good little snowbirds, on the 21st.

Dorothy has saved our bacon this season. She’s taken us in at odd times, at the last minute, or when our plans were off by a day; she’s let us store baggage in the garage, given us the run of the pool and facilities in her community here, and definitely made us feel at home. For a couple of geezers, off on a Year of Living Homelessly, she has been a godsend.

We’ve had a visit with my cousin Dave Wheatland, spotted Swallowtail Kites and listened to Chuck-will’s Widow calling in the evening.

The local tomatoes and produce are wonderful, and the succession of 85° days and 62° nights, with reasonable humidity and nice breezes, has been a delight.


Big Cypress National Preserve and South Florida protected areas

Today (14 April) we drove down to the Big Cypress National Preserve for an explore. It was a cloudy day, so not very hot, and with occasional drizzle. The grey light offset the colors on the birds and cypress trees beautifully. We stopped at the Visitor Center and got some good suggestions about which loop roads were most interesting at this season. So we set off on a loop beginning at Monroe Station. It runs through a series of strands and hammocks over a multitude of culverts which help ensure the flow of water through the swamp. It’s the end of the dry season, so critters congregate at the water holes. Also, it’s spring, and the cypress are beginning to come back into leaf, which is a glorious sight; they are covered with that new pale, luminescent green foliage that trees get, and in the midst of the swamps and marshes, they really stand out.D7K_1397

We saw: Great Crested Flycatchers, many alligators (small and large), Green Herons, Tri-Color Herons, Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks.D7K_1471

Together with the Everglades National Park and a series of other areas under varying degrees of protection, the Preserve forms a critical part of the south Florida ecosystem. But as usual, and increasingly in this period of anti-anything-Federal, there are controversies over its use. As the Superintendent of the Preserve points out, every national resource area operates under different guidelines; this is even true within the National Park Service, and the trade-offs that are nearly always required to get these areas even established are formidable and often discouraging and are well delineated in this article.

The the protected areas in south Florida has many pieces and agencies involved: (I’m pretty sure there are more that I missed)

Nevertheless, some of it works pretty well. We drove through the Loop Road from Monroe Station to Fortymile Bend, both on the old Tamiami Trail, Route 41. The loop is a gravel road and the Preserve has just finished installing dozens of culverts under it to improve the flow of the sheet of water that runs into the Everglades; it’s great so see tax dollars go towards this instead of wars in places where they shouldn’t happen.

We saw a lot of what we’re pretty sure were Great Crested Flycatchers (though it is possible they were Brown-crested Flycatchers, which are known in this area). We also saw a Pileated Woodpecker but not well enough to get a photo.

Along the edge of the road was a large Florida Softshell Turtle.

At one of the culverts there was an astonishing collection of critters and birds.

  • Alligators
  • Wood Stork
  • Ibis (adults and immature)
  • Roseate Spoonbills
  • Green Herons
  • Tri-color Herons
  • Great White Egrets

Here are all the photos from this trip.


Well, last outing down here this winter:

We went off this morning to the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, east of Naples on the Immokalee Road. The history of the place is worth a read. Getting there exposes you to the contrasts and ironies of Florida: heading east on the Immokalee Road from I-75, you pass miles of the classic Florida slash-and-burn development: these wildly improbable developments loom up right and left, with even more wildly improbably names: Gulf Shores Pointe, or something, and we are 20 miles from any salt water. Miromar Beach Club, same; beaches? Out here? Then the land gives way to something more honest, if no less artificial: ranches, farms, quarries. The Corkscrew Sanctuary is preserving something immensely valuable, but the trip out there makes you realize how much was lost along the way.

But, and it’s a big but, this is a special place.

At this time of year the swamp is heavily dried out so there are a few holes with water where the critters all congregate. Birds are nesting, there are young alligators and all the cypress are leafing out.

What we saw:

Red-shouldered hawks – Florida sub-species -. fledglings, Cowbird, Carolina Wren, Pileated Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch nest, Northern Waterthrush, the usual collection of alligators with young, Black-crowned Night Heron, Egrets and Ibis; tiny tree frog (spotted by a very sharp-eyed 12 year-old: D7K_1575

; alligators almost getting a raccoon – twice. The forest of cypress is spectacular. Having been through the Big Cypress Preserve and the Fakahatchee Strand stands of Cypress, we can testify that these are clearly special.

This satellite view from Google Maps shows fairly clearly what an island of preservation this are is, with the Corkscrew Regional Watershed zone just to its north (the Audubon Preserve is immediately south of that in the image, though it isn’t labelled on the map).corkscrew1

This image helps place it in context with all the other protected areas of South Florida (it is flag “A” in the image):southflorida

 


So, that’s it for Florida, for this year folks. Trip north starts 21 April with arrival in Small Point by 15 May. We plan to spend a couple of nights in the Lake District south of Orlando, one of which will be with a primary school classmate from Acton whom we saw last fall at the 50th reunion of the Acton-Boxborough High School.

We’ve planned as top at Sapelo Island in Georgia including a tour around its beaches and rivers and historical remains.

Then we’ll head up the lower end of the Delmarva Peninsula to WA DC and Maryland, and make a stop in the NYC area, and will see friends and family in both areas.

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Merry Christmas

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Dear friends and family,

Christmas is a week away. We are not sending cards this year because half of the content (and more than most would want to read) is already on this site. That does not mean that are thoughts are not with those dear to us at this special time of year. In fact, we have had more time this fall to think about – and miss – those who are far away and busy with their own lives and families.

I has been a good year, and we feel blessed. A car trip to explore Umbria in the spring reinforced our budding inclination to try the same kind of adventure in the southeastern coastal region of the US. Why not try for the same mix of cultural, historical and culinary exploration in our own country? Then we got swept up in a busy summer in Maine: the beautiful, happy wedding of my niece Elisabeth Motley in Salem, Mass. last June, three high school reunions, a service in Massachusetts to celebrate the life of a young father and husband of Small Point friends who died much too young, and a golden September with as much time spent sailing as possible.

It was only in late June that we received a positive response to the advertisement that our house in Switzerland was for rent. Just a few days before the Pfitzers set out on a 2-month trip around the world, Anke showed our house to a Belgian whose wife and two children would be joining him from the Philippines in August. The deal was soon sealed, and Dan flew over to Switzerland in early August to put our personal belongings in storage. Our tenants moved in the day Dan finished and flew back to Maine. Not having quite believed that this would happen, we had taken advantage nevertheless of Border’s book store closing to buy maps and guidebooks, which Katie studied while Dan was away. It was a bit of a scramble, but here we are in Florida, thrilled with how the adventure turned out.

As for 2012? Mostly unknown. Our house in Switzerland is rented through July. (Would anyone like to be in it during August or September? We don’t like to leave it empty.) It looks as though we have found a good place to stay in Eysins from January 18th for a month. We are eager to see family and friends in Switzerland. But there is the small matter of needing to get our car back to Maine in May, so the plan is to come back to Florida to hang out until it is warm enough to make the reverse journey further inland. That is as far as we have gotten.

Now, as this year draws to a close, our thoughts and hopes for your health and happiness go out through cyberspace. Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and hugs a-plenty in the New Year.

Love,

Katie and Dan

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Milepost 0

Before we turned into sun-drenched vegetables in this world of white sands and turquoise water, we took advantage of a less than perfect beach day to drive to the end of US Route 1. South we went over the 7-mile bridge, past Henry Flagler’s magnificent old railroad bridge at Bahia Honda, past state parks and the signs warning of crossing the territory of the tiny and highly endangered key deer, and on to Whitehead Street, past the house where Hemingway lived and wrote between 1931 and 1942, until we reached the Route 1 Mile 0 marker in the heart of Key West IMG_7053 two months and two days after leaving Rt. 1 in Maine on 13 October. Having heard and read so many stories about a rowdy city full of gay bars and kitsch, we were quite astonished to find street after street of beautiful, bahamian-style houses and lush, tidy gardens.
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We went to the Blue Heaven restaurant because that’s what you do if you don’t actually stand in line at lunch time to visit the Hemingway house; you go to his favorite restaurant instead. Even though there were no cockfights or drunks in the restaurant courtyard, there was a handsome rooster strutting around under the magnificent old shade tree under which we had a delicious lunch.IMG_7059 IMG_7062

The shower in the restaurant ==>>
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The sun came out and off we went to check out the two humungous cruise ships that were docked nearby, dwarfing some fairly impressive Coast Guard ships. Despite having just absorbed four or five thousand visitors, the port was a very pleasant place, and we lingered long enough to make a few purchases and check out a few boats in the yacht basin, one of which is the schooner Appledore we had first seen sailing out of Camden Harbor. D7K_1230


It was fun just to cruise back and forth on the cross streets, looking at the Christmas decorations on the many pretty wood houses. IMG_7078 IMG_7079 IMG_7084 IMG_7085


Eventually, we took a turn down a street at the end of which we could see water, and there to behold was a crowd of tourists having their pictures taken in front of a peculiar monument to the southernmost point of land in the continental USA. (We were in the car and couldn’t stop, so the photo is a bit blurry.)
IMG_7086 We didn’t try to park, but drove on behind a nice beach until we reached a small monument to those who had died of AIDS in the city. Very tasteful and moving.

We’d expected the Keys to look something like the Grenadines: all glistening sand beaches and turquoise water for 100 miles. The turquoise water is there, but it is surprising to see how much thick vegetation covers these islands and how few beaches there are.

So we began the first northern movement of the trip (well, except for going up the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia), back up to Marathon Key. The southwards explore must be over, and now we can turn the car north to Estero and Christmas with Anne, Emil, André and Theo. IMG_7103

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Seen along the way

From various points on the trip, here are some miscellaneous images. You can also see some videos from a couple of places here.


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Unfortunately no photo for the sign on an old gas station converted to a fishing supply outside Beaufort, NC: Coffee and Worms

We discovered that elevators in SC are regulated by the Office of Elevators and Amusement Park Rides.

And a new amusement center and bowling alley being constructed in Bluffton, SC has an employee whose formal title is: Director of Operations and Guest Happiness

Dan’s birthday dinner to the final southern stop

We were so fed up with the trolley tour narrative in St. Augustine that we decided to head south for as long as daylight lasted. Stormy skies and threatening rain brought us to a stop in – of all places – Daytona Beach Shores. We called ahead and got a room at a discount rate in a huge eleven-story resort hotel right on the beach. Much to our surprise, the room was lovely and the birthday dinner delicious. When we woke up the next morning, we discovered the full horror of the strip and wondered how anyone could spend a vacation in such a place, however white the sand and salty the water in the beach front pool.

We headed south again on back roads and within an hour were in the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, the northern half of Cape Canaveral, surrounded by beautiful and interesting sights. The first creatures we met were three small black pigs foraging in black mud by the side of the road. When we backed up to try to get a photo, they scampered off into the palmetto scrub. After that came a red-bellied woodpecker intent on getting inside the top of a telephone pole. Not long after, a boat landing provided the sighting of a dolphin, a manatee, an osprey and a cluster of black vultures using boat trailers and parked pickups as perches. We turned off the road again soon after onto 13 miles of dirt track winding around through scrub and shallow ponds. At every turn there was something to see: gorgeous, if shy, tri-color herons, glossy ibis, a reddish egret along with several sizes of white ones, white pelicans, wood storks, roseate spoonbills, a marbled godwit, sleeping blue-winged teal, two bald eagles sharing a perch, a kingfisher and, last but not least, three sun-bathing alligators. This is the Florida it is hard not to love.

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Nightfall found us at Jupiter, where we walked into a small, riverside resort on Rte 1 and were given a huge room with two double beds at a very off-season rate. As we were a bit ahead of where we expected to be on Saturday, we decided to take a detour off 95 and drive into Fort Lauderdale to see why it was a spring break mecca. Big mistake. This is the Florida it is decidedly hard to love. Really part of Miami already, the waterfront and the waterway-side were equally unappealing. We scooted inland looking for lunch. The traffic was terrible and the neighborhood dismal. So bad that we ended up eating at a MacDonald’s – the first fast food of the trip – before fleeing down the Florida Turnpike all the way to the end. It was a relief to find a quiet little resort on Key Largo IMG_7021 IMG_7023


and to know that the following morning would find us a our final southern destination: Kristin’s family condo on Marathon Key. IMG_7030 And here we are most comfortably installed in this pretty apartment by a pool, with the ocean just a few steps beyond the neighboring building not quite two months after we left Sprague Road in Phippsburg, Me. It has been a wonderful trip, just the kind of exploring we enjoy. As always, it is the unexpected that thrills. The pictures in the next post “Seen along the way” illustrate the fun we have had spotting quirks as well as birds.

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