Saturday, February 28, 2015

Figuring It Out

A lot of times, with a new volunteer position, it takes a while to get it all figured out. 

We finally feel like we’ve gotten the hang of things around here. 

We’ve been having our Wild Wednesday walks for several weeks now and are getting good turnouts.  There isn’t a lot of wildlife around here and there isn’t a lot of land to be wandering around on.  At least not what we are used to. 
Wild Wednesday Walk
Hermit Crab
Cuban Tree Frog
Big Horseshoe Crab

We’ve started the Rockin’ Refuge Rangers program.  We’ll be helping out with some of them and Mark will be leading a couple of these Saturday kids programs.  They will run through March.
Some classroom time before heading outside
Today's program was Insects
Finding insects on a field trip

We’re spending a lot of time cruising the island looking for new areas to take our Wild Wednesday walks.  We’re getting out and playing tourist.  And, we’re trying all the local restaurants.

Purple Gallinule
We haven’t done a 3 month stint in a while and have forgotten just how fast 3 months goes by.

There are no disc golf courses or flying fields but Mark has found a very large lot next to a church that’s big enough for him to fly one of his planes and throw a few discs around.  I’ve discovered the joys of buying yarn off the Internet!
Latest afghan
The weather has been awesome, certainly the best part of this gig.  Hopefully it won’t get too hot before our time to leave.


Monday, February 23, 2015

After a While...


Teri and I have seen alligators in many locations along the Gulf Coast, but had never seen an American Crocodile. Their range in the United States is restricted to Southern Florida, and they are not nearly as common as alligators.

During our first day at Everglades National Park we made our way to the Flamingo Visitor Center in the southern end of the park. We were told that the best place to see crocodiles was along the Buttonwood Canal. So we headed to that area, only to be blocked by a gate across a bridge. As we stood there we became aware of an enormous gray shape on the other side of the bridge. We slowly realized that we were seeing not one, but two, very large American Crocodiles!

American Crocodile
For the safety of the visitors, and perhaps the crocodiles, we were kept back at a safe distance from the pair. They were easily 12' - 14' long, and very wide. They were a dull gray color and our first impression was that they were concrete replicas. But Teri noticed that they blinked occasionally and we determined that they were the real deal.

In the marina itself, we found a group of Florida Manatees loafing. We got great looks at these remarkable animals. 
Florida Manatee
On our second day we took a tram tour through Shark Valley at the northern end of the park. From the observation tower we observed a smaller crocodile. The location was unusual as this was fresh water and crocs typically inhabit salt water. We were told that this was a first.

This crocodile was smaller than the two from the previous day, but his Florida Softshell Turtle buddy was impressively large at around 24" long.
American Crocodile with Florida Softshell Turtle
Some of our readers may be wondering about bird pictures. I promise plenty of them in another blog. But for now, I'll mention that we were treated to a group of Swallow-tailed Kites flying over the road. Some consider them the most striking of the North American birds, and I wouldn't argue.
Swallow-tailed Kite
The End!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

See You Later...


Teri and I headed up to "The Mainland" to visit Everglades National Park last week. We stayed in a hotel in Florida City for two nights to give us enough time to explore and enjoy the park.

On our first day we entered the park on the east side, and headed to the Anhinga Trail. This is the busiest and most popular trail in the park, and for good reason. The trail and boardwalk give access to a wonderful swamp area that is just full of birds, turtles, and yes, American Alligators.
American Alligator
The trail was loaded with visitors, many from out of the country. As you can imagine getting close-up views of all these alligators was making a real impression on these folks!!
A good place to rest my head...
It was a warm, sunny February day, and most of the alligators were basking in the sun.
What a lovely smile. 
We also saw several turtles. They too were enjoying the sun, and this Peninsula Cooter was working hard to get maximum height on its rock. It seemed to be keeping a close eye on its toothy neighbor.
Peninsula Cooter and Alligator
Here is a closer look at a Peninsula Cooter, and the more colorful Florida Redbelly Turtle.
Peninsula Cooter
Florida Redbelly  Turtle
Stay tuned for more from Everglades National Park.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Cruising the Island

Since there is pretty much no shopping to be had around these parts, we joined Amazon Prime and a whole new shopping experience has opened up to us!

Mark ordered this handy-dandy bike holder for his GPS.  It was conveniently delivered to our door yesterday so he slapped that puppy on his bike and we went for a ride.
The main road (Big Pine Key Blvd.) has a pretty nice bike lane so we headed down the road.  As we rode around we passed dozens of other bikers and walkers using these same paths. 
Along the way we found a couple of geocaches.
We ended up cruising a little over 13 miles and had a very pleasant morning.

Big Pine Key may be the easiest place to commute by bike that we've ever been. We've even taken our bikes to the grocery store as it is quicker than firing up and parking the truck, But that only works if you need a couple of things!


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Kayaking the Mangrove Tunnel

The Refuge hosted "Camp Run-A-Muk" last week. This is an outdoor nature camp for adults, and is geared toward helping residents of the Keys better understand the ecology and habitats in the area.

The final day of the three-day camp included a kayak trip through the "secret" mangrove tunnel on No Name Key.

After paddling along the shore of NoName Key for a bit, our leader turned into a barely visible opening in the Red Mangroves. I can see why this is "secret" as one would be hard-pressed to find this opening without some prior knowledge.
Entering Mangrove Tunnel
Once inside, we were surprised at how narrow things got. Teri and I had opted for a tandem kayak, and found our boat to be considerably less maneuverable than the shorter singles.
Inside the Tunnel
It got more and more narrow as we proceeded, and we finally put the paddles away and just used our hands.
Too Tight to Paddle!!
At the other end of the tunnel we entered a beautiful saltwater lagoon that was full of waders. The water was crystal clear.

Among the various waders were a few Great White Herons, which is the white morph of the Great Blue Heron, found only in Florida. I wasn't carrying my big camera and we didn't get close to the birds, so this picture isn't one of my best. But you can see the yellow legs that distinguish this bird from the Great Egret.
Great White Heron
The tide was going out and the lagoon was getting shallower, so we headed back out through the canal. Going with the flow made our exit a bit easier than our trip in. Plus, we were pros at pulling ourselves along with our hands!
Teri's in Front...
We look forwarded to returning by ourselves, hoping that we can get closer to the birds and stay a bit longer in the lagoon.