Saturday, January 31, 2015

1/31 ECHO Farm, Fort Myers, FL

I decided that I needed day out today, so I checked out TripAdvisor and found some interesting things to do.  One was this experimental farm where they train people to advise third-world farmers, and also test seeds and plants to find ones with higher yields in various climates. 

They offer walking tours in small groups.  It was interesting to see all of the tropical and unusual species they grow. 

This is a duck pond that grows tilapia fish.  The ducks provide eggs and their manure fertilizes the pond so algae will grow.  The ducks eat the algae, so this is basically a protein factory.

This is a pig pen which does not smell because the cement bottom of the pen is filled with 3' of plant material, which acts as bedding and absorbs the pig poop.  When the pigs have grown up, they pull out the bedding and use it as mulch/manure on fields.

Just one of the raised-bed planting areas.  In this area, you are supposed to grow rice in shallower water than usual and then grow a second crop when the rice is harvested.

This is a perennial bean plant.  It will continually produce beans all year for about three years before it dies.  You can see beans on it now.

More garden area. 

The next few slides show some plants that produce high-protein leaves and seeds, and have other uses.


They also have a tour that takes you through some of the technology they teach.  This is a pump that is easy to work and made from easily available "junk."

Unlike the avocados grown in California as annuals, this tree is a perennial avocado tree.  Watch out California!!

And a mango tree.

This is a biogas digester.  You put manure in it and get burnable gas as a result, plus the resulting liquid is an improved fertilizer.  

This is an experimental urban garden.  The plants are grown on, believe it or not, old carpeting covered with a couple of inches of mulch!

See the carpeting showing below?  The carpeting holds moisture well and provides a structure for roots to grow.

1/31 Four Big Cruisers in Ortona Locks

I had a nice quiet couple of days with getting some work done, watching TV, and making pasties to freeze.  This is a nice quiet campground with not a lot of action, which is fine with me.  It is filled with mostly senior couples who are snowbirds.  (No playground or things for children to do, so almost no younger families.)  People hang around outside in group in late afternoon, chatting and comparing notes of where everyone is from and where they are headed.

This morning I was putting in my slides to get ready for my day's outing and to dump my tanks, and I saw four boats waiting to get into the locks.  I dropped everything and grabbed my camera and headed over to the lock

Just in time to watch the first boat go in.  This one was my favorite because it had two big decks with room to easily walk around all sides.  It looks like maybe 1930s vintage, but hard to say.  

This one had a heavy-duty steel hull.

This one definitely had a sleek and modern style!

And the last one was from Charlevoix.  Wonder how they got it here? 

Everyone on shore was waving and taking photos, and the people on the boats were taking pictures of us and each other.  We guessed they might be traveling together. 

The far lock gates are open, and away they all go! 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

1/28 Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

I worked most of yesterday, so decided that today would be a fun day at the Audabon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which is about 50 miles from here.  It has been one of my favorite places in Florida since I discovered it way back in 1980.  I visit it at least once or twice whenever I am in southern Florida.  There is always something worthwhile to see, although today was a little disappointing because I did not see many birds.  One cause was probably the number of people visiting and another was the cool temperature.  The volunteers said the birds were more active earlier in the morning, and I did not get there until about 10:30 a.m.  

If you ever get a chance to come here, early morning is best.  The 2.25 mile boardwalk takes a leisurely couple of hours.  Please wear rubber-soled shoes so you can walk quietly.  Whispering will mean you will see more birds, also. 

The first time I visited here, there were hundreds of wood storks nesting.  Unfortunately, this species is endangered and seldom nests any more and when it does, it does so in smaller numbers.  Apparently, for whatever reasons, the species is moving into Georgia and South Carolina, where it is doing slightly better.

There is a very nice visitor center with a small cafĂ© and nice gift shop.  You can even rent binoculars if you forget to bring any.

The boardwalk as it enters the bald cypress area of the marsh.

Neat to look up at these impressive bald cypress.  They are bald because they lose their leaves in winter.  Some of these trees live hundreds of years, and mature cypress tress are the only places wood storks will nest.

A fern growing on a cypress knee.

There are many ferns, air plants, and even orchids in the swamp.  However, I have no idea what this flower is.  I cannot find it anywhere.

These next two purple flowers are alligator flags.

And this is a lance-leaved arrowhead.

And a very pretty swamp lily.

This is a cardinal air plant. 
This is a great egret.  You can tell it from a great white heron because it has black legs and, during breeding season, beautiful lacy feathers down its back.

This is a cottonmouth curled up on a cypress knee just below the boardwalk.

I believe this turtle is a common cooter because of the height of his back.

And although it is hard to tell from this photo, this is one VERY big alligator!  His back was at least 15-18' high, and he was no doubt at least 10-12' long.  The most impressive thing about him, however, was how well-fed he looked.  He must have weight a few hundred pounds.

He is very hard to see because he blends in so well with the trees, but this is a male barred owl.  His head is behind the small branch, but you can see the striped pattern of his feathers.  The rangers said his mate is in a nearby tree cavity, hopefully incubating eggs.  They said he does a lot of calling in early morning and dusk, when she answers him back. 

This heavy-duty fence with the barbed wire might look as if it is guarding a prison or a military installation, but in reality, it is intended to prevent Florida panthers from crossing a busy highway.  It is on both sides of the road, and there are large culverts that go underneath the road so the animals have a safe place to cross.  There are several stretches of this fencing along the Big Cypress National Preserve and in the Everglades. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

1/27 Ortona South Recreation Area

Ortona South is a Corps of Engineering campground built next to a dam and lock on the Okeechobee Canal.  This canal has several sets of locks and dams and enables boaters to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico directly across southern Florida.  Like all COE campgrounds I have stayed at, it is very well taken care of.  Other nice thing is that because it is a federal facility, it is half-price to anyone over the age of 62 or disabled.  This also means it is filled with old people, which is fine with me! 
Here is a photo of the dam.  The lock is to the far right.

What is really nice is that they allow people to walk across the dam to view the locks.

Florida has had some heavy rains in the past few days, so they were dumping a lot of water out of Lake Okeechobee, hence the large amount of water being released.

This is the entrance to the lock from the east.  The water on this side is about 7-8 feet higher than the western side. 

 Facing west down the lower part of the lock.

Nice setup for watching boats go through the locks.  There are supposed to occasionally be manatees in this area, but I did not see any.

Here you can see the lock on the left and the dam entrance of the right.

And a view of my campsite from the dam. 

I like to stay in Corps of Engineering campgrounds whenever I can.  Not only are they cheap, but they also are much better maintained than state and other federal campgrounds.  Larger spots and more spread out than commercial campgrounds, as well.  And finally, they tend to be around lakes and dams built by the COE. 

View of the dam from downstream.

And looking back toward my campsite!  Notice all the bird houses.  No wonder I woke up this morning to the sounds of birds chirping.