Saturday, December 31, 2016

12/31 New Year's Eve Annual Summary

Instead of sending out a Christmas letter, I put thing together as a summary of the past year.  Here are some statistics for this past year:

·        Drove through Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and California, and then headed north through Oregon and Washington with Rob and Jen.  Toward the end of July, I headed home to Michigan and Ohio, through the northern states.  After visiting with family and friends, I then headed south to Florida.   That’s a LOT of states!

·        I had planned to drive less in 2016, but I ended up driving a little over 21,212 miles, about 2,000 miles more than in 2015.  So much for slowing down.  I really am going to try next year to stay in places longer and to try to save money by staying at more federal campgrounds where I get a discount. 

·        I used 2,798 gallons of gas, which cost me $6,192.  Lousy mileage, I know, but it is not cheap to haul your home and all your belongings all over the country.  Anyway, I’m glad gas prices are down!

·        I spent only $218 on propane this past year to heat water, run furnace, cook, and run my refrigerator while driving.  That compares to spending $365 propane in 2014 and $230 in 2015.  I could say the decrease was due to global warming, but I ended up with two almost-free tanks of propane because the pumps were not registering correctly.  I tried to pay more those two times, but was told it was illegal for them to charge me more than what the pump showed!

·        This was a very expensive year for maintenance costs—about $4,000, which is twice last year’s expense.  The big thing is that I really cannot do much maintenance myself.  That figure included six new tires at $250 each, two house batteries, a new converter, new water pump, new propane monitor, several oil changes and truck washes, oil change for generator, cleaning AC unit, and a lot of miscellaneous things.  RV stuff is expensive and keeps breaking.  Today, for example, I paid $70 for a new thermostat for my furnace and air conditioner, but I am installing that myself.  (Thermostat is doing funny things and clicking, and I really cannot stay in Florida without AC! )  

·        Other big expense was replacing the falling-apart junky shades that came with my RV with really nice dual-roller shades—black mesh for daytime and privacy for night.  Can't count this as maintenance, because it was really an improvement.  Love my new shades and how I can look through the mesh in the daytime, but without bright sun glare!

·        Water use stayed the same.  I average about 10 gallons of water per day for a hot shower and washing dishes once a day, so that totals about 3,650 gallons per year, which is a lot less than the average person uses.  You tend to conserve water when you have to dump it down a sewer yourself.   

While all of this sounds horribly expensive, remember that I have no other vehicles other than my motorhome.  In addition, I do not pay property taxes or utility bills, and I don't own a house or condo with maintenance costs.  Since I am retired, I don't need clothes or shoes for work, nor do I have to commute to an office.  And I have not bought winter clothing for years! 

In 2015, I was happy I didn’t get the flu.  This year I not only got the flu but it turned into bronchitis in March.  I spent winter and spring in the Southwest, and it was Arizona that did me in for a full month.  As soon as I recovered from the bronchitis, I ended up with vertigo, so I missed some of the desert.  I occasionally do get sick while traveling, and people must wonder why this weird lady shows up to a campground and then never comes out or does anything outside!  I will have to tell you, however, that fellow campers are amazingly helpful.  I had several offers to take me to a doctor or get groceries for me, which was very nice.   

Speaking of helpful fellow campers, in October I drove under a tree with low branches in a grocery store parking lot.  The branches grabbed my folding TV antenna and bent it so it was upright.  I did not discover this until I was parked at my campsite. When I went to dump my tanks the next day, I had several people literally running after me to remind me to put my antenna down.  One older gentleman stopped me as I was headed back to my site and offered to try to remove it.  He carried a full-size extension ladder, so in spite of a bad arm, he climbed up, cut the connections and unscrewed it.  I tossed it into the dumpster because it was beyond repair, and I never use it since I have satellite TV. 

Another confession:  I backed into a wall somewhere last spring.  Since my bike rides on a rack at the back of my motorhome, it manages to do a good job of protecting my steel bumper.  The result is that I bent the pedal shaft, making it un-ridable until I ordered new parts and got them installed. (I neglected to mention in my last letter the tree I backed into in Fall 2015, but that only bent my bike rack.  A kindly French Canadian who was camping next to me with his family used his car jack to bend it back in place. At least my bike was not damaged that time. There was another time in 2014 when I bent my bike wheel backing into a telephone pole in Florida, but never mind.)

The good news is that all other items on my roof that I started the year out with are still on the roof in good condition. 

I am still very much enjoying this life and have no intentions to quit.  I get to visit friends and relatives along the way.  When I am in the same locations, I periodically visit with other ladies who travel in RVs the way I do. 

I wish all of my family, friends, and blog readers a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2017!     

Thursday, December 29, 2016

12/29 Otters at Ortona South

I will probably try to take some more photos tomorrow and add them to this post, so check back again tomorrow afternoon. 

There are some young otters living along the creek that empties out into the Caloosahatchee River here at Ortona South Recreation Area.  I posted a picture of the creek a few days ago, but I'll post them here as well so you can see the location.  Apparently a pair of otters had babies last year and these are the semi-grownup "kids."  I was told no one had seen the parents recently, so it was supposed that they emptied their nest by actually leaving it to the kids and moving to a new "nest"--just what a lot of parents want to do when the kids become teenagers!

Anyway, this little stream dumps water from the nearby farming area into the river.  Water level is controlled by a small dam upstream.  It's like of a neat place for animals because the Corps of Engineers has dumped a lot of big rocks along the banks of this creek and the main river, make a lot of good places to burrow and creating a series of small waterfalls.

This photo is looking upstream and was taken from a small sidewalk bridge. 

This photo is looking downstream from the same sidewalk bridge.  The wooden structure is a fishing pier.

The next photos show the otters.  It took a bit of waiting for three otters to show up, apparently after a fishing expedition.

What do you do when you are a soaking wet otter?  You roll around in the dirt until you are dry.

Notice how all this rolling around in the dirt has removed much of the dirt from around this poor palm tree.  Palm trees do not have many roots to begin with, so I am surprised this one has not fallen over.
And slightly to the right of the exact middle of this photo, you can see the entrance to the otter's burrow. After swimming and diving around for a while and then running around and rolling to get dry, all three popped back into their underground home!

It is very hard to get an otter to stay still for a photo, so I will try again tomorrow.  Here is a video of one.  I apologize for the shaky opening, but I am using a new camera, and I was having problems focusing on one otter:    Notice how all the rocks make perfect otter hiding places! 

Monday, December 26, 2016

12/25 Bird Beaks and Legs

When I am in the desert Southwest, I try hard to identify cactus, plants, and birds.  So in Florida, I try to identify the birds, which is a lot easier than birds in the Southwest because there are a lot of wading and seabirds in Florida, which are nice and big and easy to see.

Anyway, I have learned that you cannot just identify a bird by its color.  For one thing, a white bird may have brown chicks, and the female may be a different color and size than the male birds, so it is easy to get tripped up. 

Also, a LOT of birds out here are white, so you have to look at the color of their legs and their beaks.  The good thing is that while birds may change the color of their feathers as they grow up and when they are in the breeding season of the year, they NEVER change their beaks and legs!  (At least I don't think so.)

Here is an example of what I have learned so far.  This photo shows two white ibis and two multicolor birds.  I know the white birds are white ibis because they have thee curved down beaks and orangish legs.  Now, the two multicolor birds also have curved down beaks and orangish legs, and they are hanging around the ibis!  Voila! These must be juveniles.  It is also nice to know that ibis hang around together in flocks.

Now, here is another puzzle.  This bird was hanging around the ibis, looking for insects in the grass as they were doing.  I had never seen one like this.  But it's the wrong color.  Black or very dark wading birds are very rare, however, it does have a curved down beak like an ibis!  So, I got out my big bird book (Shipley), turned to the pages on ibis, and found out that there is something called a glossy ibis.  So this IS an ibis, just a different kind.  The bird book showed that it also lives in Florida. This is probably a juvenile since the bird book says the adults have some dark red on them, but juveniles are darker and less color.

Here is another white wading bird. Luckily this one is easily identifiable because it has a black beak and black legs, and is the only bird with a black beak and black legs. You can't see them, but it does have orange feet, however.  It is a snowy egret.  

I wish I had been videotaping this, but this great blue heron had caught something and was eating it.  I think it was an eel of some sort.  Yum.  Notice that it has a pointy orangish beak and orange-grey legs.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

12/23 Myakka Lake Boat Tour

I neglected to take pictures of the "world's slowest" airboat that takes people around on the lake here in Myakka RIver State Park, but I can describe it as a big green boat holding about 60 people.  It has a big air fan on the back that is its only method of propelling it, mainly because the lake is so incredibly shallow that anything else would get stuck. 

The point of this very slow tour is to see the alligators and birds on other parts of the lake.  This lake is restricted to canoes and kayaks only, so there is not much of a way for most people to get out onto it and see any wildlife.

The first photo is of my campsite, but the rest are all of wildlife. Nice big campsite, right?

One of the best places to see alligators and birds is from the bridge that crosses the Myakka River.  The alligators hang around because of the people fishing from the bridge and the small chance they might get some leftovers.
The river is especially wide and shallow here, so the birds like it also.  Note the alligators on the bank.

 I had to use my telephoto, but these are two roseate spoonbills at the far end.

You can really see the wispy breeding plumage feathers on this great blue heron's head and on his chest.  We don't see this very often up north because they don't breed as often there. 

 We had lots of opportunities to see swimming alligators in the lake.  Some of them came right up to us.

When I took this picture, I thought I was taking a photo of a tricolored heron, but hiding over to the left is a common gallinule.  It is duck-like, but not a true duck, and it is easily identified by its orange and yellow bill.  Normally, a tricolored heron is darker blue-grey and has this one is in non-breeding plumage, so it is mostly white and grey.  Here are some photos of one in breeding plumage:

I am learning that birds may change their plumage, but never their bills or leg colors, so those are good indications of what they really are.

It was getting late, so many of the vultures had picked out their roosts for the night.  They prefer dead trees or trees with few small branches and leaves.

If you look very closely at these vultures, you can see that some have reddish heads and some don't.  The ones with the reddish heads are turkey vultures which are common throughout the U.S.  The shiny all-black birds in the front are black vultures, which live only in the southern states and in South America.  They are slightly smaller than the turkey vultures, but they all hang out together in large flocks.  You will also see them sociably eating on the same carcass.

All About Birds says, "With sooty black plumage, a bare black head, and neat white stars under the wingtips, Black Vultures are almost dapper. Whereas Turkey Vultures are lanky birds with teetering flight, Black Vultures are compact birds with broad wings, short tails, and powerful wing beats. The two species often associate: the Black Vulture makes up for its poor sense of smell by following Turkey Vultures to carcasses. Highly social birds with fierce family loyalty, Black Vultures share food with relatives, feeding young for months after they’ve fledged." 
This is a view of the concession stand as we are heading back to the dock.  They not only have a large supply of the usual souvenirs, but a really nice cafĂ© with food cooked to order. 

Just added a picture of the world's slowest airboats.  Top speed is about 4 mph.

12/22 Marie Selby Gardens

I have been here a couple of times before and even posted photos in the past, but it is always a little different, and it is a very pleasant place to spend a few hours. So, on a relatively cool day and since I had a rental car, I decided to drive here and see what was new.

First stop is the greenhouse and some orchids.

Besides orchids, the gardens feature all sorts of air plants, including these carnivorous plants below.  They are all about 6" long.


 There were not as many plants in bloom as the last time I was here, but it was still interesting.
I saw and enjoyed the waterfall and koi pond for a while.  A little boy had some fish food in the second photo.

Interesting palm tree with seed pod.

Love the roots!

And a pleasant view of downtown Sarasota.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

12/21 The Celery Fields & Save Our Seabirds

I took advantage of having a rental car and headed out to a place that had been recommended to me: The Celery Fields.  This is a place that had once been farmed for celery, but had been turned into a bird sanctuary in the 1990s with water being once again let in and ponds and boardwalks being developed.  All of this is just a mile or so east of I-75 as it goes past Sarasota. 

I have no idea why the llamas were here, but they were parked in the median of the boulevard.  Some ladies unloaded them and took them for a walk in the nearby park.  Strange.

Anyway, here is one of the boardwalks into the marsh.  You can tell it was overcast and chilly today.

You don't see this bird very often. It is a purple gallinule and really has gorgeous coloring!  He was eating the flowers and had pretty much stripped the whole area.

This is the flower of the lance-leafed arrowhead.

Not too many birds around today, so I headed off to the Sarasota Save Our Seabirds facility near the Mote Aquarium. While they do rescue a lot of birds, all of the ones in cages and on display are permanent residents because of some injury that prevents them from being released.

Some pelicans.

And a couple of cranes with artificial legs.

A very pretty great horned owl.

And another great horned owl.

This is a sleeping great horned owl! 

And a dozing barred owl.

This is a crested caracara.

And my buddy, a black vulture.  Last year when I came here. One of these birds kept staring at me as if he was trying to figure out who I was.  Then he hopped off his perch, went to the bottom of his cage, picked up an orange pumpkin squeaky toy and dropped it right in front of me!

Headed home and picked up some fresh-squeezed orange juice on the way.