Wednesday, January 30, 2013

1/29 Hillsborough River State Park

I have been slowing circling Florida  counter-clockwise, but I took a detour and drove up to the Tampa area to meet with a group of women I have been corresponding with online.  They all own and drive RVs--motorhomes, 5th wheelers, or travel trailers.  Some are still working so only camp on weekends and vacations and some are full-time like me.  It was nice to tour other rigs and see what people have done to modify them. 

Here is my campsite.  We took turns renting a golf cart, and the day I took this photo was my turn.

We had a pot luck dinner each day.  Many of the women were staying on for the entire week, but I had to leave earlier because I had very hard to get reservations at a state park in the Keys.  Anyway, we look like a bunch of Walmart rejects, but here is our group around the potlucks.  Bugs were bad, so even though it was warm, some of us had jackets on.  I wore socks the last night because something was biting my ankles even with long pants on.

And this last is a very blurry group photo.  I think Sue took a better one, so I am hoping she will send me a copy.  Unfortunately, some of the group had already left and some were elsewhere, so the whole group is not in this photo. 

1/27 Hillsborough River State Park, Fort Foster

I was here getting together with about 20 other women who drive motorhomes.  Most are widowed or divorced and travel alone, and a few have husbands or "signifigant others" with them. 

I took a tram tour today that was guided by a park ranger to the reconstructed old Fort Foster.  This fort was built to protext a bridge over the Hillsborough River from the natives during the Seminole Wars in 1837.  The bridge was part of an old road that carried supplies across the middle of the state of Florida.  Here is the original old road, the river, and the bridge:

There is really nothing left of the old fort, but they have built this one on the same layout and following the original plans and use it for educational purposes.  Here is the outside of the reconstructed fort:

And the inside, including the storehouse and the small powder storage building:

We were told most of the soldiers slept in tents outside the fort, but a few would have slept in this building.  No screens or windows in those days, so the bugs must have been horrible, even in winter. The ranger is showing us a cannon.

And here is the storehouse:

And finally, the infirmery.  In reality, this fort was only staffed in the winter and only for a very few years.  Too many of the soldiers became sick with yellow fever and cholera in Florida's summer, and the Seminoles were too busy with their crops to bother the bridge, so it was left empty in the hottest and buggiest weather.

This was only a re-creation of the original fort, but it was well done with native materials and pretty realistic. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

1/22 Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Again!

Just can't stay away from this place.  It is so beautiful here, and you can see something different each time you come.  This time, I was able to get fairly close to a red-shouldered hawk:

Next was a pileated woodpecker.  He was extremely noisy, tearing into a small tree and removing bark to find bugs.  Doesn't he have a gorgeous head?

As I was walking quietly along a section of the boardwalk, I heard a lot of splashing and looked over about 6 feet into an area of logs and shallow water.  A young raccoon was using his "hands" to feel into the muck for a meal.  Twice he brought something up and crunched it down--probably a crawfish from the sounds of it.  At least it had to be something with a shell of some sort because a fish would not be so crunchy.  He was young and did not even seem to notice me standing so close above him.  Cute little guy, anyway.

On the way out, I also heard the "Who-who hoo-hoo" from a barred owl  He is very hard to see because a leaf is covering his face:

And finally, I took a picture of a very pretty fern.  I was told it was a royal fern and verified that on the internet.  It was about 3 feet high and wide, and had distinctive spikes on top. 

I am getting very frustrated with my camera.  I bought it as a replacement for the one that broke last July and spent $250 on it.  Problem is that it has no viewfinder, and I find it very difficult to use because I cannot see on the screen what I am aiming at, especially in the sun.  I am going to look for another one online and do more research before I decide what to do.

I enjoyed my more than three-hours walking through the Corkscrew today.  It is the one place in Florida where people whisper and walk very quietly.  It was only about 73 today with a cool breeze, so it felt good to be outdoors. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

1/20 Everglades National Park

I had planned to spend more than a week in the Flamingo Campground in this park, but since there was no cell phone service at all, I cancelled the last few days and returned to another campground in Big Cypress Swamp farther north.  In the three days I did stay there, I took a boat tour of the back country.  Had to ride my bike a little over a mile to get to the marina, but it was a good road and no traffic.   

Unfortunately, there weren't very many birds along the boat tour, but it was a pleasant day, and it got us away from the tiny gnats that were swarmed everywhere. 

The Royal Palm area near the park entrance had much more to see.  First, this is the area where vultures have been a problem by eating car windshield wipers and chewing on the black rubber window seals.  The birds actually do not eat these things--they just pull them off, apparently for the fun of it.

In Myakka, there had been primarily turkey vultures with their red heads.  Here, there were black vultures, the other type of trouble-maker.  The first photo shows a bird up close and personal.  These are large birds, by the way, and do not seem afraid of humans.  I was about 3' away when I took this photo.

And here is a small flock of these bad birds:
  And some more bad birds:

Apparently, these turkey and black vultures have been coming to Florida for a long time, but the numbers seem to be growing, and they are becoming more of a nuisance.  

The Royal Palm visitor center has a boardwalk and long path along a canal where wthere was a lot to look at.  First, I saw a tri-colored heron.  Here are two of these birds:

I also saw a bird that was identified for me as a purple gallinule:

At the end of the path, was a pond full of alligators.  This is the most I have seen in one place, and I counted 15 just in this small area:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

1/13 Collier-Seminole State Park

I've been here a few days, going out occasionally to sightsee.  The problem with this park is that the spots are VERY small, and getting in and out is a struggle.  Last night I watched a couple park a small trailer in between two trees with only 1' of space on either side.  It took the man quite a few tries, and he was really pulling close to the front of my vehicle so I got out to watch the far side while his wife watched the driver's side and rear for him.  I think I would have given up if I had been him.

A lot of state parks around the country that were built for tents and very small trailers are removing sites and rebuilding their parks.  In fact, I just got a survey from Michigan's Wilderness State Park near Mackinaw City about their doing the very same thing and asking what improvements they should make.

Here is my site, which compared to the one across the road, is big for this park.  Still has trees on both sides and a large overhanging branch.

This park was named after the guy who built U.S. 41 across the Big Cypress Swamp in the Everglades--Collier Boulevard.  Apparently, he told the state he would build the road if they would name a new county after him, which they did.

Here is the "walking" dredge he designed and used to build the road.  It was powered by steam.

I was hoping to go for a bike ride on Marco Island today, but discovered that my bike wheel got bent last week when I backed into a telephone pole.  I knew the bike rack had been slightly bent, but did not realize the bike got damaged as well.  My bike sits very solidly into the rack, so it makes sense that it had to bent when the rack bent.  The good thing about this rack is that the bike does not move or even vibrate while I am driving.  I took both in to a bike shop and will have a new wheel tomorrow.

Guess I should add that it has been hot the last couple of weeks here in Florida, so I am looking forward to slightly cooler temperatures the rest of this week and next.  At least it has cooled off at night the last couple of days, so I have not had to run the AC all night.  I like the cooler sleeping weather of the desert, I am afraid, where even when it was 90 during the day, it would drop to 50 at night. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

1/12 Everglades - Shark Valley Tram Tour

I got out and drove to Shark Valley today for a tram tour.  Not much of a visitor center, but I did buy one book and signed up for a tram tour along the 15 miles paved trail.  The "river of grass" looks like this, and there is indeed a very slow current with only about 6-12" of water in this dry season.  Water levels are a bit low because winter is the dry season, but that also means it is not as hot here as it would be in summer, nor is it as buggy.

And here is a bald cypress hammock:

About halfway down, there is a tower you cal walk up to view the entire area.  From it, I took some photos of the path full of people on this Saturday walking and biking on this gorgeous day with temps around 80 and clouds occasionally breaking up the sun.

We saw quite a few alligators on the trail.  The first is an 8" baby, and the rest are adults about 6-7' long.

And here is what I think is a common cooter turtle (box turtle family) sunning himself.

We saw a wood stork using his large beak to find food in the soft mud. Here he is with his beak in the mud and then after pulling it out.  I did not see if he found anything to eat.  Normally, these guys stand in clearer water, snapping their beaks shut when a fish comes along.

 Right next to the visitor center was a small heron that the ranger identified as a juvenile green heron.  He definitely had some green on his wing feathers, although it was more muted that it would be if he had been an adult.  This is the first green heron I have seen.

Here also is a little blue heron  staring at the water.  I think he had something in sight, but was interrupted by a loud splash nearby where I think an alligator had lunged at something. Whatever happened, there was a LOT of squawking by birds in the area.  Little blue herons are taller then green herons but much smaller than the great blue herons. They also have a more uniformly dark blue-grey color than great blue herons.

There were a lot of wildflowers, but the tram driver and guide were apparently only interested in animals, so it did not stop or even slow down.  I have been seeing this glades morning glory in several places and finally got this good photo of one.

It was a beautiful day for being out, and I even managed to get my motor home back into the narrow spot I am camped in without an incident.  This is an older campground built for much smaller trailers and tents, so spots are really a stretch for big rigs.  They need to remove some of the trees and cabbage palms that make it difficult to back in.  I had to get in between a tree and two palms, and then back farther in so my slides would have enough room.  Next campsite in the everglades will be more open and easier to park in.

Many older parks are rebuilding sites and/or removing some of the camping spots.  Noise levels are sometimes high when campers are so close together, and it becomes difficult for rangers, plus it can make for an unpleasant camping experience, even when you are in something with hard sides as I am.   

In fact, last week I got a survey from the Michigan DNR asking for recommendations on the reconstruction of Wilderness State Park Lakeside Campground.  That one was so cramped, I had to have help getting in and getting out.  Luckily, there were some volunteers who "spotted" for me.  In that campground, spots were so small trailer owners had parked a lot of their pickup trucks along the road, making it difficult to turn.  There were also so many campfires when I was there last June that I had to keep my windows closed and the AC on to control my asthma.