Saturday, March 30, 2024

3/20 Another Trip to the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

The Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is such a beautiful place, I could not resist another visit here this winter, especially since it will probably be at least two years before I can return.   

No matter when you visit, there is always something new to see.  Last time I was here in December, there had been a lot of rain, so there was more water in the swamp.  There were not as many wading birds this time, but the ferns and other swamp plants looked terrific, plus the bald cypress had started to grow their summer leaves, so it was worth seeing it again.

After seeing my photos, I hope you don't let anyone tell you that a swamp is ugly or boring!

Everybody stops at this sign at the beginning of the 2.5 mile boardwalk because it is fun to see what birds and animals other visitors have recently seen.

Note the no longer "bald" cypress!  This area contains some of the huge virgin cypress that were protected from loggers way back when. 

If you come here, plan on spending at least 3-4 hours walking the boardwalk, including stopping to listen for birds and to look for small things.  

As you walk, it is important to look down for the small things, like flowers or tiny plants.  

Since there was rain yesterday, the resurrection ferns are no longer dry and dead-looking but have "resurrected."   They live on the branches of trees, and each frond is only about 6" long.

I used to have an aunt who did not believe me that the green stuff she saw in ditches and wet areas was not "pond scum."  In reality, as the next could of photos will show you, the green stuff is thousands of tiny plants called "duckweed."  Ducks love to eat these plants, hence their name.

These tiny duckweed plants just float in the water.  They have roots, but do not root into soil.


Did you know the "flags" we plant in our gardens also grow well in very wet places, and even sometimes in standing water in ponds.


Lots of lizards in this swamp. 

I don't know what these tiny plants growing on this log are, but they are an example of why you need to stop and look when you visit this place.  
"The woods are lovely and dark and deep."  And these swamp "woods" have a lot more variety of plants growing in them than a northern woods.

This is a small resurrection fern growing on a different fern. 

A couple of the old, really huge bald cypress trees! 

This lizard is looking for a girlfriend.  

This small, but well-branched tree, contains an entire village of air plants growing on its branches!!

 This is a hunched-down great blue heron just resting on a tree branch. 

An anhinga drying his wings. 

A red-bellied woodpecker.  

The last part of the boardwalk goes through this very wet grassy area.  On the left are bald cypress, and on the right are pine trees, growing on ground that is maybe a foot or two higher.

 I'll miss this lovely place until next trip to Florida. 

Friday, March 29, 2024

3/16 Ortona Odds & Ends

 I'm trying to catch up with postings, so here are some odds and ends of photos I took on my second visit to Ortona South Campground this year.  

I've been trying to figure out what this melodious bird is, and I finally found out it is a mockingbird!  One tricky thing, is that nearly all bird books show images of birds sitting on a branch, and there are tons of grey birds with darker feathers.  I had seen one of these fly and found out that it had very distinctive black and white markings under its wings and tails. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a photo of one flying.  However, if you click on this link, you will see these wing and tail markings:  

For some reason, the alligators have been hanging out near the small dam that controls the flow in the little creek that the birds and river otters like. 

There are two birds that seem to be permanent residents of this little creek.  This is the limpkin.  He eats small clams and leaves piles of shells on the rocks he stands on.


 If you see a pile of shells like this one, you know a limpkin has been around.

The other bird is the snowy egret.  He or she really likes to fish in the bubbling water of this creek and will spend hours and hours staring at the water. 

Here is the snowy egret in his favorite spot. 

These two young boys on the fishing pier caught a big fish, took a photo of it, and then tossed it back.  Not sure what kind it was or why they tossed it back. 

It was a beautiful, sunny day, so a good shot of the dam. 

Just some boats waiting for their turn at the lock.


And off they go!!

The lock doors are not just simple gates.  They have a complex mechanism and open and close in a semi-circular mechanism, which is a lot stronger than simple doors would provide.

This is looking down into the mechanism after it has been closed and is beginning to admit water to fill the lock.  

Water enters not only in the crack between the two heavy lock doors, but also farther back in the lock mechanism.  It is a lot of water all at once!  Boats tie up to the sides of the locks, but someone has to hold each rope so they can adjust it longer or shorter, depending on whether the lock is lowering or raising the water level.  

Below is a pileated woodpecker, easily identified by its pointed red head feathers and black back.  There is another red-headed woodpecker in Florida, but it had a more rounded red head and black and white stripes on its back.  It is also a little smaller than this pileated woodpecker. 


Wednesday, March 13, 2024

3/14 Tips for Getting RV Service

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the difficulties of getting service for a motorhome, but I was mostly talking about getting service on items that are part of the chassis on a Class C or cab-over motorhome—the wheels and base vehicle with the front cab or cutaway attached, sold by an automaker or truck manufacturer to the RV manufacturer. 

Class A or bus-type motorhomes aree also manufactured on a chassis, gas or diesel, built by a truck manufacturer such as Ford, Freightliner, Prevost, etc.   The difference is that the Class C version has a front cab that comes with the chassis, and the Class A has only the platform and the engine, transmission, wheels, brakes, etc.  

Bumper-pull trailers and 5th wheel trailers are usually built on a platform that includes only wheels and tires. 

In any of these instances, an RV manufacturer adds the “camper” parts  on top of the basic RV platform.  They start out by building on a floor, adding wiring and utilities such as fresh water and sewer plumbing and fixtures, sinks for washing dishes and hands in the bathroom, shower walls and doors, refrigerators, stoves, and furniture.  Finally, they add walls made out of a framework and layers of foam and fiberglass, plus a roof, also usually made of fiberglass, and other waterproofing. (FYI - Putting the furniture and appliances in before the put the walls up is one reason why some owners have to use a chain saw to cut up their old couch to get it out in order to replace it.)


Most of these added on things are made by a handful of specialized manufacturers, NOT the same manufacturers of the plumbing, fixtures, refrigerators, stoves, and furniture you buy and put in your homes. 

So, when you get a leak in your water heater or your refrigerator breaks down, you cannot go to Best Buy or Lowes and pick up a replacement.  Because your lighting runs on 12 volts, you cannot even go to a hardware store and pick up replacement bulbs!  You are pretty much stuck with getting parts and service from an RV dealer, although bulbs are sometimes available from auto parts or marine stores. 

If you are handy and have a lot of experience owning RVs and repairing things that are broken in it, it is possible to do some of your own repairs, but it is likely that you have never replaced parts in an RV water heater, water pump, refrigerator, or furnace.  Even the toilet works differently than the ones in your home! 

So, why not just call the local RV dealer and make an appointment?  First, depending on when you are using your rig, everyone else is using theirs, so the wait time for a service appointment is likely to be 6-8 weeks, or even longer.  The dealer will tell you to bring your RV in, they will check it out, order parts, and let you know when it is repaired, but you will still have to wait for a service appointment.  In the meantime, it will be parked in a rear area of their lot where they store rigs that need repair when they can get parts and "get around to it."  Vacation in two weeks? Forget it. On the road?  You might need a hotel.  

In addition, most RV dealers do not seem to carry adequate parts for multiple brands of RVs, so even if the dealer takes pity on you and gets you in fairly fast, they might not have the part and will have to order it from somewhere.  (It does help to choose an RV service place that sells your brand of RV, however.)   Some things are pretty standard, however, such as Shurflo water pumps.  For some unknown reason, I have gone through a lot of water pumps and never had problems finding a service place that had mine in stock. 

However, if you hang around fellow RV travelers long enough, you will hear the horror stories of getting parts.  In September 2022, my AC unit quit and a mobile technician determined it needed to be replaced.  It had quit in Napa, CA, on Labor Day weekend when it was 108 degrees out, so after visiting my son and his family, I headed for the coast where I knew it would be cooler.  Since I had been planning to head up to Washington and Oregon, this made the best sense.  Once I got to Oregon and comfortably camping at 65 degrees, I started calling every Camping World and RV service place I could find in Washington and Oregon to find one in stock.  I wanted the same model so I did not have to deal with someone cutting a different-sized hole in my roof and getting into other difficulties. Amazon had one they could ship in 6-8 weeks.  Ditto for the AC manufacturer.  After several hours and a couple of dozen calls, I found one in stock at a Camping World just south of Portland, but it took three weeks to get a service appointment. It was nice along the coast, so I really did not mind, and eventually got it replaced.

Another example.  In January of this year, my refrigerator door fell off because one of the plastic hinges was broken.  (Who in the heck makes hinges out of plastic?)   To make it worse, the plastic hinges were part of the door, so I could not just replace a hinge—I had to buy a complete new door at a price of $360, and it would take several weeks to deliver.  More calling around and finally found a dealer who had access to a warehouse where there was one in stock.  I could pick it up in two days, but they could not install it because they were backed up 6 weeks. So I bought a portable cooler and moved most of my food into it.  I picked up the door, and then went online to try to figure out how to replace a Dometic refrigerator door.  I was able to pull out the decorative panel from the old door and put it in the new door.  Could not find a mobile mechanic, but a neighbor and I finally figured out how to get the old door off and the new door installed. 

Things should NOT have to be this difficult, should they?  Getting broken things fixed is especially a problem for full-timers like me who really have no place to stay while they are waiting for parts or service. We do a lot of making do and getting creative.


  • OK, first I will admit I have often used the “I am an older lady traveling alone and have no place to stay” plea, and it sometimes works. 
  • If I know what is wrong and what parts I need, I will try to get a service appointment and ask them if they have a specific part.  If I don’t know what part my rig takes, I will call the manufacturer’s parts department and give them my VIN number so they can look up my RV and give me a part number.  I can then make sure the service place has the part before I drive there to get it replaced.  Or I can get it shipped directly to me.
  • I also make sure the dealer knows that I am a full-timer and that I will be waiting there while it is being fixed, and that I cannot leave it overnight unless absolutely necessary.  (Note: Some dealers have hookups in a parking lot you can use to stay overnight, so ask.  I have even spent the night in my rig in a truck repair parking lot where they were able to hook me up to 30 amps.  It was right next door to police station in small town, so I figured I was safe for the night. ) 
  • If I know something like a slide roller is broken, and I have the part number. but the dealer says it will take three weeks to get the part, I will go online and look at Amazon and several other places that keep inventories of RV parts.  Sometimes I can get it a lot faster that way.  
  • Added Tip:  If no one has a part, and it is on "forever" back-order, try the manufacturer customer parts facility.  My Fleetwood was made in Decatur, IN, and they have a big customer service repair facility plus a service parts building.  The big advantage is that since they are still making motorhomes, they have a stockpile of parts. It is also on the way to Ohio where my younger son lives, so I drive past or nearly past there once a year.  When my rig was fairly new and my steps broke, and I could not get a replacement anywhere, I made an appointment at the customer service facility in Decatur. They had the steps and replaced them quickly.  (Only problem is with older rigs, that part may no longer be made or available.)

As you can see, getting the right part is often the hard part.  A few days ago, my toilet flush ball stopped working and it could not be replaced, so I called around to find a replacement toilet.  Closest one I could find was in Orlando, which is over a three-hour drive each way, so not practical.  Having one shipped from there would take 7-10 business days, at which point I will have left my current campground. I finally found one, believe it or not, at Walmart Online, which would arrive in three business days.  It just arrived today, and it is the right model and not broken, so tomorrow I am going to call around to find a mobile RV technician who can install it for me.  (Note that this is a person who works on things inside your RV that were installed by the RV manufacturer, not the motor or transmission or tires, etc.) 

You can often find a mobile RV technician by asking the campground hosts or owners or by just asking neighbors.  There are several organizations that certify RV technicians--some do this online and others require a few weeks at a training school.  Personally, I prefer the one that is non-profit and requires hands-on training at a training site in Texas, but in any case, make sure you get recommendations from whoever you call.  

Any comments of suggestions from anyone???



Monday, March 11, 2024

3/1 More Big Cypress & Kirby Storter Boardwalk

I spent another 10 days at Midway Campground in the Big Cypress National Preserve, but did not bother taking more photos of the campground.  However, I did make a trip down to Kirby Storter boardwalk and took more photos of birds.  No matter how often you go there, you are likely to find something different, so multiple trips are worthwhile. 

First, I mailed some postcards to my grandkids a the smallest post office in the U.S.   There is a real postman there for an hour in the morning and from noon to 4 pm in the afternoon.  He sells stamps and handles other mailing issues, so it is nice to have a real post office way out here.  

A couple more photos of the boardwalk.  Since I was last here, the "bald" cypress tress are beginning to get some leaves.  (They were called "bald" cypress because while a lot of Florida trees keep their leaves all winter, these trees lose them in the fall. 

This is such a lush and beautiful place, especially this winter when it is supposed to be the dry season.  Last time I was here in winter, it was dry here, but this year, there has been a lot of rain in southern Florida, so it is abnormally wet now.  More water, or at least the right depth of water, means that there will be more birds feeding and hanging around.  Also, there are lots of ferns growing right now. 

Bald cypress are so large and tall, that they require a wide base to keep from falling over in winds. 

And these are the tiny, new leaves growing on the bald cypress trees.  


A great white heron.  

Isn't this swamp beautiful? 

If you look closely, you will see two mud turtles on a log in the sun.

This looks like a southern Florida racer water snake.

And I think this is a southern mangrove water snake.

Another great white heron.

This great blue heron stood in this statue-like pose for almost half an hour, looking for a fish to spear.

And an anhinga. 

And finally a black-crowned night heron.

This is an endangered wood stork. 

Note that the wood stork uses a wing to shade the water from the sun so it can better see crustaceans, frogs, insects, and fish. It also stomps one foot to stir up anything that might be hiding in the mud. 

Great blue heron is taking a break from fishing.