Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Return to the Florida Posts

Following a brief and not so guilt-filled hiatus I am back in the saddle. A week of cookies, chocolate and video games has left me raring to get back to blogging. Problem is, it's pretty quiet around here right now. After a cold December, where we had 25 of 28 days below freezing (and below normal) we are having a bit of a heat wave, and it is actually raining right now.

So I have had to go back to last February to find something to write about. To get you all up to speed, I made two trips to Florida to visit my Grandma Andree last winter. My February trip was more for me, a get-away if you will, and I spent a lot of time out exploring and hiking. My second trip was for her, to help her clean her house and remove some extraneous stuff she no longer needed.

On that first trip, I spent my first day in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a 20 mile stretch of shoreline that runs from Melbourne Beach to Wabasso Beach along A1A. While it is interspersed with private land it is as wild a beach as I have ever seen in Florida. The refuge was established in 1991 to preserve sea turtle nesting grounds, and there are hiking opportunities along the Intracoastal Waterway, which is a lagoon that lies between the barrier island that makes up Florida's mid-Atlantic beach and the mainland. Maritime Hammock, which I wrote about last winter, is part of the refuge, as is the Barrier Island Center, a spiffy new visitor/nature center that is right on the beach.

After my hike in the Maritime Hammock I went back to the beach to sit and enjoy the sunshine. It was a cold day for Florida, with highs in the 50's, but I did not care--sun was all I wanted. But the cool temps kept people off what is already a pretty quiet beach--there was literally no one anywhere, up or down the beach.

While I sat I noticed the birds that were gliding up and down the shore. It was not a bird I was familiar with. I did have Sibley's with me, though, and managed to ID the bird when I enlarged the image on my camera. How excited I was to find out that what I'd been watching was a Northern gannet! This is an adult bird,

and this is an immature gannet. Note the darker plumage under its wings.

Admittedly, my images are not that great. I was still using a 200mm zoom lens, which was inadequate for shooting at this distance, so the images are cropped, which further degrades them. Below is an image I lifted off the web, taken by Anne-Marie Bokslag, so you can get a better idea of what they look like. Striking birds with that yellow head and blue bill! You can clearly see their relation to the boobies, those famous inhabitants of the Galapagos Islands. These birds breed in the north Atlantic but winter as far south as Nicaragua and east into the Mediterranean.

I was quite captivated by these birds, so imagine my excitement when I saw this immature gannet going into a dive!

I cannot wait to get back down to Florida to hit the beach with better equipment and hopefully come home with some better images.

Next: more beach bums--I mean birds!

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