During this month the winter cold (except here in south Florida) fastens its grip, and nights are at their longest and darkest. It is also sometimes called the Moon before Yule. The term Long Night’s Moon is a doubly appropriate name because the midwinter night is indeed long, and because the Moon is above the horizon for a long time. The midwinter full Moon has a high trajectory across the sky because it is opposite a low Sun.
Join me in my monthly ritual and fill your favorite drinking glass with a beverage of your choice and toast to living the dream, or dreaming the dream. Toast to family, friends, health, and wellness.
Almost 70 miles west of Key West, FL lies a cluster of seven islands, composed of coral reefs and sand, called the Dry Tortugas. With the surrounding shoals and water, they make up Dry Tortugas National Park, an area noted for bird and marine life and shipwrecks. Fort Jefferson, Its central cultural feature, is one of the nation’s largest 1800s masonry forts.
The Dry Tortugas has been on my bucket list for decades. Not only was I surrounded by a vast expanse of sea, sky, sandy beaches, and coral reef, but I stepped into a park rich in history including a 19th century fort, The Civil War, and its most famous prisoner, Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was imprisoned for his involvement in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
What stayed with me after the tour, is that this massive six-sided building constructed of 16 million handmade red bricks was designed to be a massive gun platform, impervious to assault, and able to destroy any enemy ships foolhardy enough to come within range of its powerful guns. And, they never shot at an enemy in the whole time it was active.
One of my favorite birding approaches is what I call the Big Sit. You sit quietly for as long as you can manage and wait for the birds, and in this case, iguanas, to come to you. I was not disappointed. Let’s start with the iguanas. They are an invasive species here in the Keys and they are very photogenic. So far I have seen 1 black one, 2 orange ones and 3 young green ones. The males have a huge flap of skin on their neck (dewlap) I think they like this spot by my campsite to advertise their “maleness” to the world.
The more usual Big Sit creatures are the birds, and that delivered as well, although not all photos are great quality. This has been the “birdies” campsite so far. Even a couple of “lifers” (first time identified) for me. Clockwise from Upper Right: The 2 Lifers: Philadelphia Vireo and Zenaida Dove, a gull of some sort, marsh wren, collared dove, double crested cormorant, brown pelican, great white egret, and a weird looking domestic goose of some sort. I also saw 2 least bitterns, not pictured, right as dusk led into night. They are also lifers for me.
Oh, I almost forgot – the free range chickens that are everywhere on the island. I think they are drawn to my flamingo.
After my trip on the Ocklawaha, (see previous post) I was anxious to get out again for some more birding. I booked a tour with Good Natured River Tours on the Indian River in Melbourne, FL. The highlight of this tour was seeing dolphins. Since this Indian River is pretty shallow, the boat stirs up the bottom and the dolphins come in to see if there is any fish to eat. They also enjoyed riding the wake of the boat. I didn’t get the greatest pictures since I had my telephoto lens and the dolphins were up close. In the first one you can see a little baby next to his mom.
The birding was very good – this is were my telephoto lens was appreciated. Let’s start with Brown Pelicans. A very prehistoric looking bird. Not sure what’s going on in the 2nd and 3rd photo. But I snapped the shots after what appeared to be a yawn. I love how the veins show through their pouch.
One of my favorite Florida birds is the Anhinga. Also known as a snake bird. They have beautiful feathers and markings. They have no oil on their feathers, so after diving they have to spread their wings to dry them off. The feathers in the first picture look rather ratty. I am guessing this is what they look like when very wet.
We saw some of the standard Long Legged Waders, which is what draws me to Florida. Great Blue Heron, Great White Egret, Snowy Egret, Ibis, and a Juvenile Little Blue Heron. (I’ve seen 2 of these Juvies so far but no adults yet)
While camping at Welaka Lodge on St. John’s River, fellow Airstreamers Bob & Beverly kindly took me out in their boat on the Ocklawaha River. This is the Florida I have come to love in my many visits across the decades, and why I am keen to find a place to stick around long term. The water was high, so we were able to go further up river than Bob & Beverly have been in the last 8 years of coming to Welaka.
We saw lots of turtles (I love the one sticking his legs out), and one alligator (my first of the trip)
We saw fewer birds than expected, but I got nice shots of the ones we did see: Great Blue Heron, Anhinga, Juvenile Little Blue Heron, Great White Egret
Off the Oklawaha River is Mud Springs. While we couldn’t boat there I was able to hike to it.
For the last 3 months oak trees have been pelting my trailer en masse. Acorns hitting an aluminum Airstream is very loud. Oak trees of North America produce more nuts than any other tree region worldwide, cultivated or wild. A single giant Oak tree can produce nearly ten thousand acorns in a reproductive season. Some years groups of oak trees produce huge numbers of seeds and in others almost none. There is a generally accepted theory for why these “mast years” happen. Naturalists believe that by producing, all at once, vast quantities of seeds that are eaten by many creatures, enough survives intact until the spring to form trees. According to the Boston Globe 2019 is definitely a mast year.
Despite my frustration with the acorns, I love the “Old Senator” the oldest resident of St. Augustine, the Live Oak tree, is 600 years old! It sits in the parking lot of the Howard Johnson hotel just a short distance from historic downtown St. Augustine. This magnificent oak tree stretches far above, making it one of the grandest and oldest trees in Florida. An interesting factoid: The name live oak comes from the fact that evergreen oaks remain green and “live” throughout winter, when other oaks are dormant and leafless.
St. Augustine, a city in northeastern Florida, founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement within the borders of the continental US. The tour guides proudly boast that St. Augustine was established 42years earlier than Jamestown VA, and 55 years earlier than Plymouth, MA.
Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Florida’s first governor named the settlement “San Agustín“as his ships from Spain first sighted land in Florida on August 28, the feast day of St. Augustine. The city served as the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years. Spain ceded Florida to the US in 1819, and St. Augustine was designated the capital of the Florida Territory upon ratification of the Adams–Onís Treaty in 1821. The territorial government moved and made Tallahassee the capital of Florida in 1824.
I enjoyed the Old Trolley Tour around the city. I loved the browsing all the shops along the the pedestrian market. While walking along the waterfront I saw dolphins playing in the water. I ate some darn good Jambalaya and to die for Banana Foster at Harrys Seafood Bar & Grille. I was less inclined to spend money at all the small museums, and attractions. I also avoided the Fountain of Youth and other prime attractions.