Friday, September 28, 2012

Urban Wildlife: September 28, 2012

We are in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida visiting my brother Jim.  You wouldn't expect much wildlife in Southern Florida, but we have spent the last three days exploring the natural areas around Jim's home.  On our first evening we took a walk to Frenchman's Forest Natural Area.  A cement walkway leads trough Oak, Palm and Pine forest.  One bush had brilliant purple berries which we later found out is called American Beauty Bush.

We walked out to a boardwalk through a Cypress Swamp but had to make a hasty retreat back to the parking area as the mosquitoes descended upon us.  Back at the parking area we saw a Black Racer snake slither off into the undergrowth.
The next day we drove up to Jonathan Dickinson State Park about 30 minutes north.  We had our choice of activities, kayaking, canoeing, hiking or biking.  We chose to kayak down the Loxahatchee River.  We were hoping to see Alligators but we didn't get far.  We heard thunder in the distance and decided to return to the River Store.  We drove to the parking area for the Observation tower.  Along the way was a gopher Tortoise grazing along the road.  We stopped to take a photo.
A park employee stopped and asked if we were seeing anything good.  I replied "a Gopher Tortoise".  He commented that "they are all over the place".  I said "what do you mean, they are an endangered species and we certainly don't see them in Vermont!"  We climbed to the top of an observation tower on Hobe Mountain.  At 86 feet, Hobe Mountain is the highest point south of Lake Okeechobee!  We had a nice view of the surrounding sand pine scrub.
Today we stayed closer to Jim's home and visited John D. MacArthur Beach State Park.  As we approached the Visitor's Center we came upon a White Ibis family probing in the leaf litter. 
Again we chose to kayak.  This time instead of a river we were kayaking in a brackish estuary.  We couldn't venture too far as the tide was going out and we didn't want to get stranded.  We saw many birds including an Osprey perched in the mangroves.
We got too close to a Little Blue Heron and he flew off squawking loudly, not before I snapped this photo of him.
There were many herons hiding in the Red Mangroves.  Many flew off before I could photograph them.  This immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron was an exception.  He allowed us to get quite close and take a photo.   No doubt we disturbed his daytime slumber as these birds are nocturnal.
We're getting this kayak thing down.  We don't zigzag nearly as much and manage to avoid most obstacles.  Although, we did bang into a cement piling of the pedestrian bridge.  Fortunately, we sustained a small scratch (on the boat) only.  Marc is looking like a real kayaking pro.

I was able to get a few more photos of birds.  The first is a Brown Pelican in the mangroves and the second is another White Ibis.

We did see other birds such as Tricolor Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Roseate Spoonbill and Anhinga that I was not able to photograph.  As the tide was going out we kept on getting stranded on sandy shoals in the lagoon. We headed back to the Visitor's center to return our kayak.  On the porch were many Golden Silk Spiders in their nests.
Although harmless, they look quite frightening.  Nature never ceases to amaze me.  In a place as crowded and developed as South Florida, animals and birds manage to thrive given a little protected space.   

Saturday, September 22, 2012

September 20, 2012: Our 26th Wedding Anniversay

I surprised Marc with a stay at Elk Lake Lodge in the Adirondacks for our 26th wedding anniversary.  We drove over on Thursday arriving at noon.  We checked into Big Tom cabin with a view of Elk Lake from our front porch.

 Elk Lake Lodge is on the shore of Elk Lake, nestled in the heart of the Adirondacks.  We hiked up Sunrise Mountain with a view of the surrounding 12,000 acre Elk Lake-Clear Pond Preserve. Elk Lake is dotted with many tiny islands and surrounded by the Adirondack high peaks.  As far as the eye can see there are no roads, houses or any sign of humans.  You get the feeling of complete isolation, a rarity in the crowed northeast.

We returned to the Lodge for a quick shower and dinner with a beautiful view of Elk Lake.  Back in our cozy cabin we enjoyed a roaring fire and a glass of wine.

The next morning we decided to go canoeing on Elk Lake.  It took us a while to get the hang of it as we zigzagged across the Lake.

We did see Common Loons, their haunting cries could be heard across the Lake.  One male allowed us to get within 20 feet before diving under water and resurfacing a distance away.

As we paddled along, we heard a splash.  At first we thought an otter had dove into the Lake but, a beaver emerged slapping his tail in the water to warn us off.  I tried to take a photo of him but he would not cooperate.  This is the best I could do.

There were other birds on the Lake, Belted Kingfishers, Great Blue Heron and a flock of 5 female Common Mergansers.  They were on a rock but hopped into the water as we approached.  I snapped a quick photo as they swam away.

We stopped at Wagon Wheel landing and decided to hike 2.6 miles to Fairy Ladder Falls.  The trail was wet in spots due to the recent rain.  We could see moose tracks along the trail, the first we've ever seen in the Adirondacks.  Moose are making a comeback in the region after being wiped out in the mid-1800's.  We hiked through a mixed forest of soft and hard woods.  The forest floor was covered with moss, ferns and mushrooms.  We crossed a few log bridges then entered Upper Camp Clearing, an old logging camp.  We reached West Brook and got to within 0.2 mile of the Falls but could go no further.  The recent rains had washed away the trail and the Brook was too deep to continue up.  We turned back and had lunch at the Landing.   

We paddled back across the Lake encountering two more male Loons.  Back at the Lodge we enjoyed a cup of coffee in the rustic lounge before heading home.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

August 10, 2012: Geyser Geeks & Buffalo Jams‏

Greetings All,
We are finishing up an impromptu 2 week trip to Wyoming. We started in the Wind River range where we finally made it to the Cirque of the Towers.

We tried to hike to this spectacular place back in 1991 but the weather did not cooperate. This time around we did it as a day hike when the weather was good. We also did a 20 mile horseback ride.

OK, so we rode for 10 miles, hiked for 5 and rode the last 5. Bike shorts really help. After the Wind Rivers we headed north to Grand Teton National Park. We did a long 20 mile hike up Paintbrush Canyon to Paintbrush Divide, down to Solitude Lake and down Cascade Canyon. The views and wildflowers more than made up for my sore feet.

Our 3rd and final destination was Yellowstone National Park. We were last in the Park in 1983 and a lot has changed. There are MANY more people and the parking/traffic is crazy but we learned how to get around it. We started at Old Faithful where we stayed in the historic Old Faithful Inn built in the early 1900's. Our room had a view of Old Faithful and it actually woke me up at night when it erupted. One of our favorite geysers was Grand Geyser. We were introduced to the Geyser Geek, Gazer or Geezer who spent a lot of time watching geyser. He and his wife watch the geysers around the clock and know when they would erupt by watching for indications. Grand would erupt if it's pool filled and held for 20 minutes. After the 3rd cycle it finally erupted and was worth the 2 hours wait.

The Geyser Geezer convinced us to come out at 3:30 AM to watch Castle erupt. Of course we did. It was kind of scary sitting in the moonlight waiting for a geyser to erupt. I scanned with my headlight for eyeshine. I could see some animals, most likely elk bound across the path in the distance. A guy on a bike emerged from the darkness, rode past but did not say a word. We did see Castle erupt.

The GG really had me hooked. I had to see the Giant Fountain Geyser erupt. On our first attempt we arrived about 5:30 PM. It was predicted to go off between 6 and 10 PM. A kid told us it had gone off early but we did not believe him so waited until 8:45 PM. It did not erupt. This geyser goes off every 12 hours. We drove back in the morning arriving at 7:00 AM. We waited until 9:00 AM when the ranger showed up. He showed us the secret location of a thermocouple hidden under some rocks and how to get the data from it. Spikes in temperature showed us that the geyser had gone off early yesterday evening (the kid was right) and had already gone off early this morning. Foiled again. We tried again in the evening and after a 4 hour wait finally saw the geyser erupt.

Marc said my geyser watching addition ends here.

We switched our attention to wildlife viewing. There are two valleys, Hayden and Lamar, that are loaded with buffalo. They cross the road creating buffalo jams a mile long.

We got up early to look for wolves in Lamar Valley. We've seen them on 2 mornings now. This morning we heard them howling before we spotted them.

There was a pack of 7. They were far away but it was still a thrill to see them.

We hope to catch up with friends Jerry and Cilla before leaving Yellowstone on the 13th. We head to Florida on the 14th then home on the 21st.

We hope all is well back home.

Marc and Peggy