Category Archives: Florida

A fountain view at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort

I snapped this shot while walking to the bus stop from my room. It’s a beautiful if brisk morning at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort. I am headed to the Magic Kingdom, where I will visit the newest section of Fantasyland.

The rest of the family is moving even more slowly than I am, and I am not sure what time I will meet them or where.

The bus is here now – let’s go!

Donald Duck at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort

G’morning, everyone. Spotted our pal Donald Duck while out for a brisk walk this morning at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort, and I do mean brisk! It’s only 45 degrees in Orlando at the moment. Definitely sweatshirt weather! Now for some coffee – will check in with you again later on!

Today’s adventure: what’s better than having a brother with more DVC points than God?

Answer: not much 😉 I just checked into Disney’s Saratoga Springs resort
for the weekend. Chez Bro and da fam are already at EPCOT. We’ll take a
detour to Downtown Disney to lunch with some friends and then catch up with
them in the afternoon. Lets go!

Honoring CREW volunteers

Honoring CREW volunteers, originally uploaded by Erin *~*~*.

CREW’s management honored a selection of their volunteers for their dedication to the cause and to the trails. After some goodie bags were awarded, they all posed for a few photos. Congratulations and well done, all of you – and thanks you to CREW for a lovely evening.

Tonight’s adventure: wine and cheese under the stars

As a member if CREW – Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed – I was invited to a wine and cheese party this evening under the stars and the Full Wolf Moon. Fun and nature geek friends shall ensue. lets go!

Six Mile Cypress Slough – it’s for the birds!

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Boardwalk pavilion at Six Mile Cypress SloughI’ve been trying to make it a point to get to the Six Mile Cypress Slough at least once a week during the cooler months. So far, I’m three for three (weeks, that is!). This past Friday, I actually remembered to bring my camera with me, so I was able to avail myself of some optical zoom, which certainly helps when you’re trying to photograph things that will cut and run – or, more accurately, FLY – if you get too close.

As I entered the gated portion of the boardwalk, I was pleased to note how much water there was in the slough. Just last week, parts of the swamp were mere mud puddles. Due to nearly four days of gray skies and rain last week, pretty unusual for December, the slough is nicely recharged. Walking through this section, I heard this little guy before I saw him – a downy woodpecker was pecking his way up and down and all around the branch of a tree. He’s fast! Hard to catch him before he ducks around the other side.

This majestic great egret stood his ground, even when I inadvertently spooked a group of ibis and they fluttered all around him. I was on my way to one of the viewing pavilions, where I saw this next fellow…

This male anhinga has been on the same branch in the same corner of the same pond for the last three weeks in a row. I think that’s “his” branch. He’d probably be annoyed if he ever found someone squatting on it. Also on this pond, but too far away to photograph – two turtles, a black-crowned night heron, a baby gator about a foot long, and another anhinga sleeping with his head all tucked in. Back down the boardwalk and off in the bushes, I was able to capture this fellow…

I could barely see him in the branches – he’s well-camouflaged! I believe this is a juvenile black-crowned night heron. There were a few of these guys hanging out here several weeks ago.

Well, those are the best of the bunch for this week. It’s quite a thrill every time I get to hang out with these guys :)

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Late autumn in Southwest Florida – paradise!

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What a beautiful time of year it is to live in Southwest Florida!

The summer can be unforgiving – the heat and humidity are relentless, the rain is capricious, and there is always the threat of a hurricane or two hanging over our collective heads.

However, as October melts into November, a kinder, gentler Southwest Florida emerges. Blue skies and refreshing breezes reign in the late autumn and early winter days. It’s a little cooler, a little drier, and much more enjoyable. It’s time to take it outside in Southwest Florida – let’s go!


I got a call earlier in the week from friends who were going to take a boat out of Fort Myers Beach, and did I want to come along? You bet I did! We did a leisurely tour through Matanzas Pass and Ostego Bay, then emerged into the Gulf via Big Carlos Pass, near Lovers Key. That’s the bridge over Big Carlos, behind us (above).


We decided to head for Nervous Nellie’s in Fort Myers Beach after our excursion. The town is all done up for Christmas. As a native New Yorker, it still gives me the giggles to see Christmas decorations juxtaposed against palm trees and blue skies.


Here I am, enjoying royal status for about three minutes – Princess Without A Country 😉 You will find this over-sized bench with the cutout near the gazebo beside Nervous Nellie’s, should you have a princess you’d like to photograph.


At Moss Marine, I saw this egret standing on a post and took aim with the camera. I saw the pelican come in for a landing behind him, but did not see the little shore bird on the post in front of him until I got the picture up on the computer screen later on.


A closer look at the egret – handsome fellow, isn’t he?


The sun was setting as I crossed back over Matanzas Pass and made my way toward Summerlin. I decided to take a side trip before heading back to Lehigh, and made my way to Bunche Beach Preserve, where I saw this little blue heron hunting for his supper.


The little blue wasn’t the only one looking for dinner – pelicans and an egret hunted as well. A misty glow enveloped the Sanibel Causeway in the distance – one of those scenes that makes your heart go “ahhh!”


The sky is streaked in Creamsicle shades as the sun descends upon Sanibel’s east end.


A side trip to the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve the next day yielded the delight of finding a cute little two-foot gator sunning himself in the vegetation along the banks of the gator lake. He would not be the last gator I would see this week!


Saturday found me at the C.R.E.W. Bird Rookery Swamp, where I would participate in a geocaching event. It was a glorious day to be tramping around in the cypress swamp’s wide trails. Here’s a balsam pear we found growing wild alongside the path. It’s a relative of the cucumber.


I haven’t identified this moth yet, but I liked the angle of his upper wings against the lower “tail” part of his flying apparatus.


It’s that time of year, when the beautiful but destructive lubbers turn into lovers. These grasshoppers go through several colorful stages before they reach the cooked-lobster hue you see here.


See? Told ya there would be another gator! Actually, there were two, on opposing sides of the path, but the other one was a bit too far away to get a decent shot. I’d say they were about 4 feet or so. We observed them for a while and when we were ready to move on, they quite agreeably slunk into the swamp and let us pass unmolested.

So that was my post-Thanksgiving week. How was yours?

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Scenes from South Beach

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IMG_6708My friend Debbie, who is a travel agent, was invited to a “Let’s Do Lunch” event by Norwegian Cruise Line. Her original partner in crime for this excursion decided to leave town for Thanksgiving week (young love had something to do with it!), so Debbie asked – did I want to ride shotgun? You bet I did! The trip involved staying overnight in Miami and and being aboard the Norwegian EPIC in the morning for a tour of the ship and lunch in one of their dining rooms. Since I’d never been to Miami before, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Are you ready for some fun? Let’s go!


Our first order of business after fighting our way through Friday evening Miami traffic over to Miami Beach was to find a place to eat. We knew NOTHING about the area, beyond where our hotel was, and that the famed South Beach neighborhood was out there, somewhere. So we asked Siri (who lives in my iPhone) to send us to South Beach, and she did. As we were driving around, we saw this funky little street, all lit up like Christmas, with lots of sidewalk seating and pedestrian traffic.


After driving around a bit more, we decided to head back to the funky little street, find some parking, and see what we could find for dinner in that area. The name of the street was Espanola Way, and it was even more delightful on foot than it had been from the car.


The name of the restaurant on the corner sparked a memory; I’d read about Havana 1957 before, and I was certain it had been a good review. We stopped to look at the menu, and ended up being seated at a table inside. It was pleasantly dark and cool inside, with lots of ambient Cuban music wafting from… somewhere. Back in time, perhaps? I kept expecting “Ricky Ricardo” to step out of the shadows, crooning a tune. 😉


We’d arrived during “happy hour” and soon had a pair of mojitos on the table, along with a bucket of plantain chips. The menu was reasonably priced and not too complicated to make a decision. The servers were attentive. Drinkable water arrived at our table unbidden, served from a frosty-cold retro green bottle. The chef actually stopped by our table at one point to see how we were getting on. The food arrived super quick!


My dinner was the house special: “a family traditional roasted chicken in our delicious (it was!) Cuban gravy, served with white rice, black beans, salad, and sweet plantains”. I ended up wishing my stomach was double the size, just so I could keep on eating!


Here’s Debbie’s dinner: “shrimp sauteed in garlic, olive oil, and white wine. Served with white rice and sweet plantains.” She was just as pleased with her meal as I was with my own.


After dinner, we rolled ourselves away from the table and out the door to take a stroll up Espanola Way. There are lots and lots of cafes and restaurants, in addition to shops and art.


One of the jewels of Espanola Way is the Clay Hotel, which has a unique story in the history of South Beach. I can totally picture coming back here at some point and spending time at this hotel. It’s only a few blocks to walk to the beach from here, and fabulous cuisine is just steps from the door.


When we got to the end of Espanola Way, I looked back to take in the scene. Yes, I will definitely be coming back this way, some day :)

NEXT TIME: the hotel we actually DID stay in!


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The colors of autumn… in FLORIDA?!?!??

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IMG_6572The weather has definitely broken into fall here in Southwest Florida, and that means the delight of being able to exert one’s self outdoors without risking heat stroke and/or coming home dripping wet.

This is an awesome time of year for hiking and exploring in Florida’s parks and preserves. One of my favorites, in part because it is so close to where I live, is Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Fort Myers. The slough is a sacred place, where water moves at a snail’s pace and all manner of flora and fauna grow and thrive. I see something new every time I go there. It never gets old.

Due to the heavy concentration of cypress trees in the Slough, it’s a great place to witness the colors of autumn. Yes, you heard me. Bet you didn’t know that the trees change color and shed their leaves even here in Florida. Well, it’s true! I’ll show you. Ready for a walk? Let’s go!


Let’s play a game. Can you “Spot The Gator”? He was about a four-footer, just catching some sun in the shallows right alongside the boardwalk. Some little kids came by and I put my finger to my lips. They froze and conspired with me, silently tip-toeing over to see what I was pointing at. How excited they were to see their first gator, so close!


I took my leave of the children and soon came to my favorite place to “sit down in the woods and wait”. As many times as I’ve sat here before, I never noticed this…


See that skinny little tree over there? It’s holding on to the handrail!


Or maybe it has grown a tongue, which now laps at the boardwalk. How odd and beautiful it is, all at once.


I then noticed something else about the little tree – it seems to be growing out of another tree, of a different species!


See? The little tree is a cypress, and the “host” seems to be an oak of some sort.


Further along the boardwalk, I saw the situation in reverse – a slender oak is growing out of a cypress tree.


This cypress tree is very tall compared to the little oak.


In the autumn, when the leaves start to wither and die and fall away, a number of things change in the swamp. Leaves falling into the water decompose, turning the water a deep reddish brown with tannins. This decomposing matter settles around the roots of the trees, and makes a great growing medium for little acorns and seeds. This is why it looks like one species is “growing out of” the other – it isn’t really, it’s just using the growing medium trapped there against the mature tree. Another thing that happens is that more sunlight can penetrate the swamp forest. The middle story of the forest opens up too, after the vines start to wither and fall away. The result is a better-lit, cleared away space where one can see the hidden infrastructure of the swamp. I walk through here frequently, and never see so many windfalls as I do when I come through after the leaves have had a chance to fall and the vines have withered and died away.


There are a few red maple trees in the swamp, and they provide for a riot of red here and there. Here’s one along the boardwalk close to the amphitheater.


Here’s a young cypress just dripping in autumnal gold. See? Who says we don’t get fall colors down this way!


A few resistors struggle to maintain their greenery nearby. Who can say why some are so ready to shed, while others hold on to the bitter end?


There are two varieties of cypress here, and they are relatively easy to tell apart – I just keep forgetting which is which! I made sure to bring home photographs of both this time, so I’d be able to look them up and learn this once and for all. This is a pond cypress. The needles are close to the stem and sometimes give the impression of spiraling around it.


And this is a bald cypress. The leaves are flatly fanned out from the stem. There. Now you know the difference, too. 😉

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A visit to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge

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IMG_6509In celebration of the Florida Panther Festival here in Southwest Florida, I participated in a field trip on Friday 11/09/2012 at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Collier County, Florida. Last year, I hiked the Bird Rookery at CREW (Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed); this year, I went a little further afield. The excursion came in two parts. First, we rode along the firebreaks in a swamp buggy, learning about maintenance efforts that keep the habitat in good shape for the Florida panther’s food chain. Then, we took to the trails on foot, exploring “the clubhouse” and back-country areas that are only seen by the public perhaps twice a year. The cell phone signal was spotty, sometimes working great but other times dismal or completely absent, so I did not attempt to mobile blog the adventure. Are you ready to explore? Let’s go!


Our leaders for the field trip were several members of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife team who maintain this refuge as well as Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, also located in Collier County. There were two swamp buggies, each of which could seat 6 or 7 participants, and about 24 people showed up. Therefore, we were split into two groups. One group hiked while the other group rode, and then we made a rendezvous and swapped places. I was in the first buggy group with my friends Charles and Vicki Wright who run Everglades Area Tours in Chokoloskee, FL, and Jacquie Roecker, hiking buddy extraordinaire and sole proprietor of Nature’s Voice Photography in Naples, FL. Jacquie and I do these things together on purpose, but stumbling across Charles and Vicki was a pleasant surprise.


The buggies would stop along the way so the rangers could point out efforts to control overgrowth, invasive exotics, and habitat diversity. They talked with us about herbicides, fire, and hydrology. It’s been an okay summer rainy season here in Lee County, but further south there has been disappointment. They’re just not getting the rain that they should, and man’s efforts to control flooding has resulted in a complex canal system that often diverts water from where it is needed and carries it away to where it’s not. I snapped the above photo while standing on a dock out back of the “clubhouse” that should have been under water. If freshwater wetlands do not receive sufficient water in the forms of sheet flow and rainfall, then they cannot properly support the life forms that depend upon it for habitat and food.

I’ve mentioned “the clubhouse” twice now. It’s an accessible-access wooden structure, screened in, which is intended to someday house an environmental education program about the refuge in general, and specifically about orchids. The failure or success of orchids growing in the swamp is monitored closely, and with great interest. Orchids are an “indicator species” for a Florida swamp; if your habitat has them, then your habitat must be doing pretty well. A lack of them growing where they are supposed to be could indicate that environmental conditions are not right, or perhaps another species is hogging all the resources.


Every now and then, while prowling through panther country, you come across something like this. Panthers like to use a fallen log as a scratching post. The fallen log happens to be alongside a footpath or firebreak trail that is used by humans. It doesn’t matter to the panther. Panthers like to use the trails because they will be unencumbered in their travels by understory plants. In addition to stretching and sharpening their claws on a log, panthers just plain like to play with such things, biting and wrestling and rolling it around. But how do we know that panthers like to do these things while no one is watching?


Someone IS watching! The location of such logs is the perfect spot to install both video and still cameras. In this manner, wildlife can be observed without being disturbed at the presence of people. In addition to capturing the antics of panthers, these cameras pick up the activities of other wildlife on the preserve such as the black bear, the white-tailed deer, bobcats, and raccoons. The rangers mentioned that lately, there is evidence of coyotes moving into the refuge. I’d love to be the person who gets to review the footage :)


Once the field trip was over, we filled out evaluation forms and took a quick turn through the newly built greenhouse, where different plant experiments were in various stages of being conducted. I snapped the above photo at pond near where we had all parked. There’s allegedly a one-legged alligator lurking in there. If there was one bee on these wildflowers, there were a billion! Jacquie and I had each packed a lunch, so we dragged our beach chairs out of our cars and sat in the shade of some ginormous live oaks dripping with epiphyte air plants, ferns, and Spanish moss. One of the refuge interns joined us and we all enjoyed being with our “tribe” for some lively discussion. I drove home contentedly, and felt the wild desire to nap when I got back to the house. An early start and lots of fresh air will do that to a person 😉

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Autumn morning walk in the Calusa Nature Center

IMG_6453Calusa Nature Center – perfect morning for a walk in the flatwoods and the swamp. It’s pretty close to where I live, and I had other errands to run this morning, so why not stop by instead of passing by? Plus, we have that extra hour in the morning now that we “fell back” on Sunday, and I was a bundle of energy because of that. Let’s go!

A couple of rehabilitating gators were sunning themselves near their watering hole.

The American beauty berry is in a full riot of fruit.

Parts of the swamp are already drying up and becoming lined with fallen leaves.

Dahoon holly trees are heavy with fruit in the cypress swamp and along the pine loop trail

Something has raked this tree. Gashes look too wide for it to be a bear or a bobcat. Not sure how this happened!

A closer look at the mystery gashes.

Still water in the cypress swamp, and since the berries are popping and the leaves are falling, there are lots of feeding little birdies visible and audible here.

A new little tree struggles to bring itself up beside the boardwalk. I predict a relocation of one or the other!


I have found a lot of things while out walking that other people lost. But I never thought someone could lose their face..

Cassia in bloom

Cabbage palm regeneraging – not sure if the folded-up-ness is normal, as I’ve never seen one do this before!

Swan sunset

Swan sunset, originally uploaded by Erin *~*~*.

As the sun sets beside the Swan resort, I sit on our balcony and contemplate what to do with my evening. I passed on Party For The Senses because I just can’t do two days in a row of bad-for-you food. But I do need to drink to a friend’s birthday so I will probably venture forth one more time before the evening is through.

Mahi Mahi from the Singapore kiosk at EPCOT

The fish and rice are citrusy and flavorful. I am told by the Cast Member serving that the wine is French, and that there is a large French colony in Singapore. It’s a bit on the sweet side for me. I am holed up an an alcove under the terrace in Japan – the wind from Hurricane Sandy’s outer bands has really picked up and there’s some shelter to be had back here.