Tag Archives: Florida

Falling Waters State Park, Florida

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We left our friends behind in Florida and began our long slow migration north. In previous years we have taken 4-5 weeks to get home and our plans was to do the same. Our first step was therefore only a short distance away at Falling Waters State Park. The park was badly damaged by Hurricane Michael and had only just reopened after months of clean up. As we expected the park still showed a lot of damage from the hurricane. While the campsite itself was mostly clear, there were a lot of places still piled high with windblown debris. Several stretches of the hiking trails had major detours and one large boardwalk trail was still closed. However the main attraction, the creek flowing down and falling 72 feet into a large sinkhole, was open. It was running fairly quickly that first visit on our arrival day.

We stayed two nights and very much enjoyed ourselves. The campground is very busy and the sites are highly variable in quality. I strongly recommend reservations. Ours was a tight fit and we had to unhitch. It was beside an area still uncleared from the hurricane so we had to deal with things like mounds of overhanging and tangled vines with big spikes. The washrooms were in clean and excellent shape and the hosts were wonderful. There is a small artificial lake and swimming hole with a sandy beach that would have been very attractive except for the alligator dangers signs. We didn’t go swimming. 

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The second day we spent walking the trails that were open. Many of the trails were long boardwalks and they had lots of sections with brand new wood. There were also crews busy repairing and cleaning so all day long we heard the sound of small tractors and chainsaws. Even so it was really lovely The spring flowers were all in bloom. There were many beautiful ferns and mosses. It had rained a lot overnight and so the creek leading to the waterfall was running vigorously and we got really lovely display. 

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Overall it was well worth the stop and I’m glad we visited the highest point in Florida and saw Florida’s biggest waterfall. Next stop on our long migration home for 2019 was Isaac Creek, Alabama.

Dolphins

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What could be more exciting than the special privilege of seeing wild dolphins busy fishing? There is a large family (pod) of dolphins that goes up and down the coast around the estuary of Ochlockonee river. Dolphins are delightful and curious critters.  I have been informed this pod is bottle nose dolphins.

The dolphins have an interesting way to hunt fish. They drive the fish up onto the shore where the water is shallow and then race top speed through the water. They then do an incredibly fast 180 degree turn and swim back through the area they stirred up. I’m not sure what they were eating. If they are hunting mullet they use a different technique and the mullet can be seen jumping in the air trying to escape. We saw no mullet today so the dolphins were after something else.Their speed and power is just amazing.

One of the littlest dolphins came very close trying to get a good look at us. Misty spotted this and leaped in the water trying to chase the dolphin.

Misty kept going until we called her back. She was a fair way out. She had a funny look on her face as she swam back the first time as if she was a bit surprised how far out she was. She had no trouble swimming back. She went out after the dolphins twice. Both times she was responding to the little one coming very close to shore. The other dolphins did not seem a bit bothered by this. The big ones just kept right on fishing.

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Misty came back to shore each time excited and happy with her encounter with dolphins. Can dogs hear dolphins? Can dolphins hear dogs? The little dolphin was definitely curious.

It is a very special privilege to get to watch wild dolphins doing dolphin things and for a dog to have a chance to swim with a dolphin. Today was very special,

Post I missed. Pawdi Gras 2018

In February we took our pup Misty to Pawdi Gras, an annual Humane Society fund raiser in Apalachicola Florida. We had attended the event with Fred and Trusty two years before. The two dogs had a blast, especially Trusty who could never resist an opportunity to be admired and to pose for pictures. I figured this might be fun for Misty and since she was eleven months old, also great opportunity to socialize and train her. She did indeed have a blast.

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Misty kept looking up at me with this expression of bewildered delight.

Many merchants, and other doggy type businesses put up kiosks in the park area and they sell all the things dog related. We are all there for the dogs so there is little to no evidence of the political divide. I did see one pit bull dressed up as President Trump and everyone, Republican and Democrat, laughed at that. In addition to doggy things, the event is also attended by various other wildlife and animal rescue group. A band was hired to play Mardi Gras appropriate tunes. And of course there was a lot of southern food, most of it deep fried. The crowning moment was the arrival of the King and Queen, two dogs, the longest term residents in the shelter, seeking homes.

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The event consists of everyone gathering in the town’s central park location. For $5 you can buy a wrist band that entitles you to walk your dog in the parade. For $25 you can ride the route in your golf cart. In addition assorted city officials and other dignitaries attend in floats and open cars. Everyone else lines the streets and cheers on the dogs. At the appointed time all the parade people gather in one location and everyone introduces themselves and admires everyone else dogs. We walk the six block or so of the parade route and then we hang about and chat and visit the kiosks. At least one restaurant has a dog friendly back porch so our plan was to retire there for a bite after the big event. We were delighted this year because our Florida host, Jack Rudloe of Gulf Specimen Marine Lab was in attendance with his special lady friend Jane Brandt and their two rescued part pit bulls, the ubiquitous dog of the south. We also had our guest scientist from Italy, Luiga Santella, with us to experience this insane American event.

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Jack and Rita and Jane and Belle on the dock on the Apalachicola river.

Misty was totally and absolutely enthralled by the whole thing. She had never seen so many assorted dogs in one place. No matter where she turned there were doggy noses and butts to sniff. Most of them were older well behaved dogs and she took her cue from them and sat prettily when told and otherwise stayed near me. She often looked up at me for reassurance this insanity was okay. We dressed her up in a feather boa and she didn’t mind that at all. She was really excited and occasionally trembled but she was having such a good time I decided it was a positive puppy stress. When the time came to walk the parade route she joined right in. She didn’t seem to quite know what to do since half of the people were walking and half were sitting by the side cheering. She concentrated on staying near me although she couldn’t resist running up to a few cheering children sitting the curb to bestow kisses. Since this is a doggy event, all the children present were doggy savy and they accepted her exuberant puppy kisses with delight and understanding.

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Jack, Rita and Luiga

 

Halfway through the walk Misty abruptly left the parade and lay down beside a nearby tire. I felt horrible. She was overwhelmed by Pawdi Gras and her poor puppy brain had apparently imploded. I knelt beside her and reassured her and then decided I would take her away. Kind strangers offered her a drink of water which she gratefully slurped up and a puppy treat appeared out of nowhere which she gulped down.  When I got up to go and head away from the crowd she resisted and strained to get into her place in the parade. I let her guide me back into the commotion and she was fine with it, tail wagging, eyes bright, a totally happy engaged dog. She had just needed a break from the excitement. I was very proud of her and how she handled the break.

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After the parade we dispersed and found Jack and Jane and Misty had a joyous greeting with her best buddy, Jack’s Rita and then we wandered off to eat. Misty was mostly well behaved in the restaurant porch where we had a bite to eat. She was tired and stayed quietly at my feet with only a few reminders.

We got turned around on the trip back to the truck and we couldn’t find it. I gave Misty the command “Truck! Truck!” which means run to the truck and wait there to jump in. Misty had learned that imitating Fred. Misty knew exactly where the truck was and she pulled the right way and we followed and lo and behold there was the truck. She didn’t take the most direct route, but she instead followed the route we had taken on leaving the truck so I assume she used our scent trail from earlier to back track to the truck. We were again very proud of our clever smart girl. We loaded up and headed home. Misty fell asleep immediately. She slept deeply and on return home she voluntarily went straight to her bed and, after a long drink and a snack, she slept without a peep until morning. She twitched a lot as her sleeping puppy brain absorbed that intense happy day. Hopefully, God willing and the creek don’t rise, as they say in the south, we can do Pawdi Gras again next year.

 

Migration Home 2018 – Leaving Florida

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Kack Rudloe, Jane Brand Misty, Rita and me with Dick taking the picture after our last beach walk of 2018.

We had a lovely nearly three month stretch in Florida. The first week was warm like spring with temperatures reaching the 80s (27C) every afternoon. We arrived to discover that Bugula neritina was in full bloom and Gulf Specimen Marine Lab had an order for 1000 pounds so everyone was busy gathering the purple stuff. The temperatures dropped in time for Christmas and everyone disappeared for their holiday time with family. We were privileged to join the Skye Rudloe’s in laws, the Haberfields, for a lovely dinner. As the weeks went on, we regularly feasted on special southern coastal delicacies like the award winning hot fish dip made with mullet, grouper and sheep’s head fish, fresh veggies (especially jalapino peppers) and secret herbs that make a literally award winning combination.

The cold came and with it the great turtle rescue. Soon after that the great turtle release. I am very glad we were able to be a part of that. After that, the heat came back and and humidity. We were soon gasping every afternoon and sweating without blankets at night, praying for a cross breeze. The Floridians laughed at our discomfort over heat in the mere 80s. We had several days with very heavy rains and the humidity stayed near 100% for days at a time and everything in the trailer began developing a dank smell. My asthma flared and I was mildly wheezing constantly and living from antihistamine to antihistamine. The no-see-ums and deer ticks awoke with a vengeance and I spent time walking the corral and sprinkling poison on the rapidly sprouting fire ant hills. Every day we went to one of the local beaches to walk and enjoyed the sun and fresh air but the climate had shifted to uncomfortable. While I hated the thought of leaving my friends, I was beginning to really look forward to heading north.

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Monsoon time in the corral looking at the guest house.

March 1 arrived and it was time to hitch up and begin our trip home. We decided to repeat last year’s nice trip. We would take the trip in our now favourite long and slow manner. This means trying to not do more than 200 miles in a day and staying two nights at each stop. Before we could start our trip we had to make a side trip to Charlotte NC where my husband had a meeting over a business venture. So our trip began by breaking our own rules. Business is business after all. And so, with no small amount of sadness and a bit of relief we rolled down the highway and headed north.

 

The Great Turtle Release

The weather had warmed and it was time for all the rescued turtles who came through the cold stunning without secondary issues to go back to the sea. As always, the turtle release became a grand show for the public, an opportunity to encourage love of turtles and do a little education. The release was advertised by various means and by the time we arrived with Jack Rudloe, the line into the park was long. We spent 35 minutes in line. We were ahead of the turtles and a good thing we were. I was also grateful we drove in the same vehicle as Jack because by the time we got there, there was no parking left but space reserved for Gulf Specimen Marine Lab staff and guests. It was a huge relief when the vehicles from GSML and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission finally got in, escorted by park staff down the wrong side of the highway. Other staff and volunteers had arrived ahead of us and set up. There was also a huge and impatient crowd. Traffic meant the turtles had arrived almost an hour late.

 

Dick and I were among those honoured with releasing a turtle. Somewhere in the mix was our own rescue turtle #36. The honourees were gloved and lined up and and each of us were given instructions to carry the turtle to the water and watch and make sure the turtle actually swam away. It was so exciting! The vehicle were emptied and then turtle after turtle was delivered to the FWC staff to be carefully ticked off the roster and then handed off to the honourees. There was no time to find #36. We got the turtle we got. I didn’t care. I know #36 was in there somewhere.

Two turtles went ahead of us. Dick got his turtle first and then I got mine. Dick went first. His turtle swam off sideways into the crowd before heading out to sea. I had to wait while the other turtles left the beach as each turtle had to go one at a time. During the wait I posed the turtle for his admirers in the crowd.

My turtle didn’t want anything to do with being a celebrity and as soon as he hit the water, he was gone like a shot. I was so happy! How exciting to be blessed with a chance to release a wild thing back to the wild.

Many more turtles followed. Some were big turtles. One special great big turtle had been a “guest” at GSML at the last cold stunning. FWC found her tag when they checked everyone for new tags. That really gave the staff a big high and measuring and weighing her meant all kinds of new data on turtle growth.

 

Smiles all around and everyone who was on the permit got to release at least one turtle.

And then it was over and the crowd dispersed and a few of us hung back. The volunteers took down everything and then folks paused for a few more pictures and a few more interviews with the press were in order. And finally we left and went to celebrate with dinner at a local bar. It was a very fine day for turtles. GSML released a video linked below. Dick can be seen in the video. I am there too but only in a drone shot. Just as the last turtle left the non waterproof drone dunked in the water and was fried. GSML was talking about a new drone that was water proof but they still had this one and so it wasn’t really time to spend the money…..  Poor drone sat smoking on a picnic table as the crowds departed. Maybe it is time to buy that waterproof one that can take of and land on the sea.

This will be one of my favourite memories of all time!

Turtle Rescue

We do get involved in some crazy things, no doubt about it. There was a mass turtle stranding in our area of the panhandle in Florida where we were staying. The last time this happened was in 2010. All the sea turtle people around Florida were out seeking cold stunned turtles due to the bizarre cold weather from the polar vortex. The turtles get too cold and then end up unable to move, floating on the surface. Many drown when they can no longer move enough to even lift their heads up to take a breath. Some end up washed up like debris on the shore where certain death awaits. If the cold doesn’t kill them, predators or dehydration will. Any turtle that could be found would be brought in and warmed and saved to be released when the cold spell passed.

A call went out for folks who could walk the beaches to look for stranded turtles. We were among those who answered the call. Here we are, with other volunteers and staff from Gulf Specimen Marine Lab, getting our marching orders from Cypress Rudloe and “how to help a cold stunned turtle” safety information.IMG_0965

We then drove off to Appalachacola with our crew to meet Captain Ron and his Mrs, Cynthia, of Dream On Charters at the boat dock there. I really appreciated my long johns and Canadian style layering as we raced across the gulf to a small island called Cape St George Island Wildlife Preserve. Hubby dearest and I were assigned the northern side of the island an area with some white sand beaches and lots of muddy tide flats. We were given a folding wagon to transport any turtles we found.

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The day was cool to start but we were warmed by the sun. We had been told to especially check the grass and debris at the high tide line. Our trip was set to coincide with the low tide. We were also told to watch the surf but there isn’t a lot of surf on the inside (mainland side) of the island where the water is shallow and filled with the kind of grass beds green sea turtles love to graze in.

The island is a preserve so there was no one else beyond our team on it and we saw no signs of human life. The island is hardly deserted though as we found bear scat and coyote tracks. We didn’t see any of those.

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We arrived far too late for this poor little turtle. But them a miracle happened! We saw a flipper moving weakly in the air above a clump of seaweed.

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We found one poor turtle barely able to move from the cold. We carefully moved the turtle into the transport wagon and continued looking for more survivors.

In total we walked 10 kilometres (or six miles). We only found one living turtle but we were so happy to be able to save even one. As we walked, we kept the turtle in the sunshine as much as possible to help warm him. The more we walked the warmer he got and he began moving around. If only it had been warmer we could have let him go right then and there instead of lugging him around but the water was only 45F and he needed to be brought in for a vet check and full warming at GSML. Finally, when we had gone 5 kilometres in one direction we hit an inlet where the water was too deep to continue on. We contacted our team’s fearless leader and discovered the boat could not come in close so we would have to return to our starting point for pick up. I tried not to have a good cry and only just succeeded. Then we started back. By now the tide was coming in and the flats were getting wetter and the ground softer. We went as fast as we could to get off the rapidly vanishing tide flats and back to more solid beaches. We had a rest for a bit once we were back on the stable beach and then we continued our slog. Whenever I wanted to stop I looked at the little turtle and carried on.

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Finally, taking turns with the wagon and encouraging each other and breaking for water and snacks, we got back to our starting point. We had company as we waited for the boat.

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The heron is kind of a family symbol often appearing at significant and important events in my husband’s life. We only half jokingly refer to the Great Blue as his totem so we took the presence of one at the landing area to be a sign of karmic approval. Now that we were safe and secure and just had to wait for the boat, we felt a lot better. It also helped that we didn’t have to walk anymore. After about a 30 minute wait our ride back to the mainland came. I passed our turtle guest up to Captain Ron and we all felt great pride that we had succeeded. By the time the boat arrived the little turtle had warmed enough to flap and struggle. That made us all feel better. The turtle then went into an insulated box and since the sun was rapidly setting, he got covered with an insulated blanket.

Rescued Green Transfered to the boat.

As if to confirm karmic blessings we were escorted all the way back to the mainland by several dolphins who put on a fine show for us, playing in our wake and giving us dolphin laughs. I enjoyed the show a lot. Dolphins

When we arrived at the dock we were delighted to pass custody of the sea turtle to one of our team members, Brian, and let him take the turtle back to the lab. Hubby Dearest and I went for pizza on St George Island before heading home. We were REALLY hungry and REALLY sore and REALLY tired. Neither one of us have walked 10 kilometres in a long time. But we were so happy and we felt so good. It had been a grand adventure and so worth it!

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The next morning I got to the lab to check on “our” green sea turtle and I arrived at the lab just in time to see the turtle go into the tank and swim about, fully recovered. The turtle was designated #36 (of 48 rescues). He or she (you can’t tell at this age) got a clean bill of health from the vet yesterday. As soon as it has warmed up enough to be safe for the little turtle to go back to the sea, it will be released.

And we saved him!

 

Florida Panhandle and Georgians.

We rolled into Florida at last. We had two stops. I have always loved St George’s State Park on the lovely island with its endless white sand beaches and little tourist costal town. Unfortunately, so it would appear does everyone else and the place is impossible to get into without a reservation. We decided to try some of the other coastal state parks instead.

We first stopped at Big Lagoon State Park. The park turned out to be both a pleasant surprise and a disappointment. It was a big disappointment because it is literally in a big lagoon behind a barrier peninsula and so there was no surf to see. The only beaches were small narrow brownish sand ones on brackish brown water side with signs warning about gators. Maybe I am a coward but I simply don’t like swimming where there are fellow swimmers that might eat me given a chance. However, we ended up really enjoying our stay because the park has a two mile trail along a dune that ends up in a lookout tower. We walked the trail with dogs and it was really pleasant and we had a lovely time. The other pleasant surprise was the constant display of fancy military aircraft. More than once we saw dazzling flyover formation of up to four military airplanes at a time so close they were almost touched. I love seeing airplanes which always seemed to me to be the pinnacle of human engineering achievement. In the end, in spite of the lack of surf, Big Lagoon was great fun and well worth the stop.

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We left Big Lagoon and continued east along the coast. After a quick stop in a laundry mat, we rolled along the coast enjoying route 98 until we reached T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. The highlight of that was seeing wild dolphins sporting in the ocean. I do love seeing wild dolphins.

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When we first arrived there were many sites for a single night but since the second night included a Friday and weekends are busy, there was only one site available for two nights. The campsites were all very close together and every spot near us had Georgians in it. A great gang of them had apparently all fled the recent snowfall. The site was a rather awkward tight back in. We had to ask a fellow to move his truck and I had to drive around again to get the rig lined up just right. He was very nice about our request and moved his Georgia state licensed truck for us with good cheer. Once I was in the right spot with enough room to maneuver, it was easy. I carefully and slowly back into the perfect position in one roll and then to my utter astonishment, I got out of the truck to a hefty round of applause from the folks all around us.  Apparently they found a female driver competently backing in to be astonishing. Several of them made comments like “Well done!” and “He let’s his wife back in?” and “I’ve never seen a woman do such a fine job backing up.”

I did a little bow for the audience and smiled broadly and shrugged and said “Farm girl married to a city boy.” And of course, as usual, that made perfect sense to them even though the real story is far more complicated. We chatted briefly with our friendly neighbours. My husband immediately lapses back into his midwest American English as soon as he hears it again but they commented on my Canadian accent with delight. I deliberately used the world “about” a lot since that is when it is most obvious. We had to give the usual explanation of where “Friendly Manitoba” is, (north of North Dakota) and how cold it is this time of year (-40 is where the Fahrenheit and Celsius systems cross.)

We continued to unpack and settled into our trailer while having a private laugh together about silly sexism and how generally delightful, charming and open hubby dearest’s fellow citizens are, especially those from Georgia. There really is no reason at all a woman can’t learn to back in a trailer properly and now they know Canadian farm girls can do it. It’s not a task that requires that brand of “superior male intellect” meaning brute male strength, as one of my female friends (a physicist by training) likes to say. Interesting how southern women have apparently arranged things so they never have to back in a trailer, bless their hearts.

At last! Ocean and rolling surf. I have been on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts but the Gulf of Mexico is really my favourite. The waves are pretty and roll about waist high. On the Pacific the waves are so huge I quite feel intimidated and on the Atlantic, it is unpredictable, small one day and rolling monsters the next. The Gulf of Mexico waves are almost always just the right size for my taste. The beach was endless stretches of lovely white sand, far longer than anything I could walk in a day. The park is set at the end of a long long peninsula so that the shoreline is natural dunes and plants. The only down side was no dogs are allowed on the beach so our faithful companions had to wait back at the trailer. Even so, we took a long long walk along the beach soaking up the feeling of sand and surf. A cold wind finally drove us back.

We went out to the beach at night once too. It was blacker than black and being cloudy there was nothing above either. The wind was ferocious and cutting cold and we had not thought to wear our Canadian winter gear so we didn’t last long. It was quite the experience, feeling utterly alone in the black. Eventually, refreshed and ready after four nights experiencing the coast, we left early morning, waving a cherry goodbye to the lovely Georgians, to arrive at our final destination in Florida, the charming little coastal town of Panacea where our friends were waiting to welcome us.