Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Rothenbach Park, Sarasota FL

Sparky has discovered a beautiful park within Sarasota...It's a true gem....It's called Rothenbach Park and is at the east end of Bee Ridge Road, (8650 Bee Ridge Rd) in Sarasota. This is a park built around a closed, capped landfill area. There are beautiful playgrounds, shelter areas and about 4 miles of trails which are for pedestrians and bike riders. The one thing this park is not, is it's  NOT pet friendly. Pets, horses, dogs and cats are prohibited. There are so many other parks in Sarasota that allow pets, that this was a refreshing change to this former dog owner. No pet poop bags left behind, no dog poop or horse poop to worry about!

It appears to be relatively new, judging by the wonderful, modern playgrounds that are there. There is a playground called "Tot Lot" for the little ones, a second playground for kids 5-12, and a third "playground" for the whole family. The sign says bring out your family teams and have a go at all the equipment stations. It would be a fun place to have a family reunion.

Look at all the cool equipment for kids and grown up kids to play on! These side panels look like you are supposed to run through the center, kicking up your feet on the side panels as you go through? Not sure about that one...

Climb up a rope ladder as fast as you can up and then back down. There are several more stations in this fun playground area, but let's get to the trails, shall we?

Sparky has hiked Rothenbach Park twice....there is a one mile trail and a 2.75 mile trail. If you do both, then you can get almost 4 miles in. The trails are both out in the sun and in the shade. Here is the start of the 2.75 trail on a cloudy, drizzly day which goes through beautiful woodlands and jungles of Florida palms.....
Nature's umbrella
According to a local birding guide, there are northern parulas, (pretty little blue birds with golden yellow & brown chests) pileated woodpeckers, barred owls, blue grey gnatcatchers and many wintering and migrating bird species, but Sparky didn't spot any. The shady parts of the long trail are through major thickets of palm trees and vines. Looks like an umbrella, doesn't it? Nature's umbrella!
Lots of flora though....
These look like little sweet pea plants....there were cool little pods right next to this pretty little yellow flower. Lots of different colors of mosses and lichens....beautiful!
Some lichen (?) beginning to spread...
Some beautiful wildflowers along the way.....

Some more epiphytes--air plants...the plants that don't need soil. They just grab onto the nearest surface and thrive...these look like horse tails, don't they? The native Americans called them "tree hair". We usually call this "Spanish Moss". It hangs all over the place down here in Florida. It's actually a member of the pineapple and succulent family. Some people think it's a parasite, and harms the trees it grows on, but it doesn't. It gets its nutrients from rain, sunlight and airborne dust and debris. The plant's tissues hold water when it rains, and then green up a bit. As the water gets used, up, then the plant turns grey again. Dried moss makes great tinder for fires, something Sparky did not know! And chiggers don't get into the moss unless it's on the ground. Sparky saw a kid one time, on a field trip, scoop up a BUNCH of Spanish moss and put it on his head. She was thinking "CHIGGERS! Ewwwwwww!" Hope he didn't get chigger bites!

Ok, enough about Spanish Moss. Moving right along....speaking of moving, all along the trail, there are exercise stations, the "World Trail" with ideas for how to use the equipment. Sparky wasn't into that today....too busy enjoying the shady forest! (C'mon, Sparky, you aren't ever into gym equipment! says Eldo). And he'd be right about that. Sparky is not a gym person, at least not in her senior citizen stage of life. She's all about outdoor moving and walking and hiking, and kayaking.

Another view from a little bridge.....

Sparky did see some wildlife, though! A herd of white tailed deer--about nine of them. They were healthy, and really big!
On the home stretch on the outer trail....passed some kind of cement factory or quarry or construction materials site bordering on the right, hiked back around to the beginning of the trail and done!

If you want to have a wonderful, long, peaceful walk, check out Rothenbach Park. Sparky highly recommends it!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Felt's Audubon Preserve Ellenton, FL

Sparky has been going to Celery Fields in Sarasota a LOT, but there are other wonderful places to visit to see beautiful birds in the area, besides the Celery Fields. One of them is Felts Audubon Preserve, in Ellenton, FL. You know anything with Audubon in the name means some nice birding. It's free at the Celery Fields, and it's free at the Felts Preserve.

Felts Audubon Preserve is a 30 acre parcel managed by Manatee County Aubudon Society. There are wooded fields, a bird blind (they keep the glass viewing wall really clean and clear), a small pond and open fields. Over 100 bird species have been recorded. 

Sparky has been there twice. There are PAINTED BUNTINGS there! And Indigo Buntings! Today we saw pairs of both painted buntings, indigo buntings, and juvenile buntings. Sorry for the low quality photos today. The bird blind has a large glass viewing wall right in the front, so shooting through the glass into a dark, forested glen using a long zoom makes lighting conditions difficult. You can stand off to either side of the bird blind behind short partitioned wooden walls with open viewing windows but then you have to contend with the mosquitoes finding you when you might not be finding any birds at the moment! Wear insect repellent spray if you go in the early morning or late afternoon. If there are quite a few people there in the viewing room, and sometimes there are, it's too difficult to set up a tripod, so Sparky's photos are also a little bit blurry. 

These are immature indigo buntings, we think. The one on the left might be a female. They start out as brownish tan and as they mature, they lose the tan, and the blue starts coming in as you can see on the bird on the right.

It was a thrill to see BOTH the indigo bunting and the painted buntings come in to feed. They would stay for a few minutes then fly off. 
Some knowledgeable lady viewing there said, "Oh, they will be back in about ten minutes." And sure enough, they came back, this time with more friends.

Not only is this a great place to see buntings, but you might also see butterflies or great horned owls (we did)....

This is a JUVENILE great horned owl...his sibling was right next to him in a big ole tree wa-a-a-a-y up high. The sun was in the wrong place, but at least you can see the two of them, headed for sleepy time.

They blend into the trees so well! And they are so BIG for being young!

Heading back to our car, we spotted some beautiful wildflowers. Have no idea what they are, but they sure were pretty....
If you are thinking that you'd like to go visit this small preserve, we highly recommend it. 

Directions: From I-75, take exit 224, Ellenton. Go west on SR-301, turn right on Ellenton-Gillette Rd. Travel north for about 2 miles. Turn left on 49th Street East for 0.25 miles to 24th Avenue, and turn left.  The entrance gate is on the left about 100 yards from the corner. You have to park on the sides of the road at the preserve. 

It's definitely headed straight from winter to summer here in the Sarasota, Bradenton area. We've definitely had a nice cool spell for awhile back in February, making it more pleasant to get out and enjoy nature. Temps will be cool next week, in the seventies, during Sparky's spring break, so she's going to really enjoy that. Might get another posting in, we shall see! But then temps are climbing back into the usual......Bye for now......

Friday, January 4, 2019

Welcome to Celery Fields, Sarasota!

Well, hello, everyone! Sparky is back...Yes, everything is well and good starting the New Year 2019. Sparky is on holiday break from teaching/subbing at school, so it's time for an update on Where's Eldo? Eldy is golfing, Sparky is on hiatus from school, so time to revisit the Celery Fields in Sarasota, a gem of a birding spot, if you are into that. (Note: All of today's photos are Sparky's from combined trips to Celery Fields and walking the perimeter, along the ditches, the boardwalks and the "Hill".)
Purple Gallinule
If you are NOT into birding, that's ok, too. How about fitness? You can climb the hill at the Celery Fields many times and get lots of steps and altitude in on your fitness watch that you may have gotten for Christmas. Celery Fields Hill is the highest point in Sarasota County at 75-80 feet and on an average walk/climbing day, Sparky gets in 2-3 miles, about 9500 steps, and 21 flights of stairs. The hill itself is not much to look at. Deep ruts from rainwater rushing down the hill from occasional storms make the climb a little bit of a challenge, but there are also meandering loose gravel trails that traverse the hill horizontally. To get your heart rate up a little, follow the trails that lead up and down on the side of the hill. Or, you can just take your time and walk around and around the hill. The trails on the hill are very narrow and uneven, so the hill itself is NOT wheelchair accessible or scooter friendly.

Across the street from the hill are sidewalks that go around the perimeter of the some of the fields, two boardwalks with covered areas that are wheelchair friendly and you can see plenty of nature even if you don't venture anywhere else but those sidewalks and boardwalks. The best nature to be found is along the canals and ditches which have some semblance of a gravel level trail to them and other parts are flattened berms that you can walk along as well.
Little Green Heron
Celery Fields is a combination of open marshland, deep ponds, shallow pools, and canals. It is the site of 360+ acres of the county's primary storm water collection. It has developed into a major birding attraction for the area and now has an Audubon Nature Center right there at the fields and trails. 
Male Boat Tailed Grackle
One hundred wetlands acreage has been restored. There are 200,000 aquatic plants and trees there, and over 215 species of birds have been recorded. There are two boardwalks where you can observe the daily comings and goings of lots of different types of birds and ducks.

Female hooded merganser
Sparky is not a birder, but she sure enjoys seeing the wide variety of species of birds that are there, and with the help of local Audubon Society birders and naturalists that volunteer their time a couple of hours a day during "season" (when all the snowbirds are in town, a species of exotic bird, haha)...she has learned a LOT about the birds that come to the fields. Like this loggerhead shrike, that impales its prey on thorns or barbed wire. It's also called the "butcherbird" for this reason. It gets its name "loggerhead" because its head is much larger in proportion to its body, but you can't tell that in this particular photo.
Loggerhead Shrike
Celery Fields is rated #22 on Trip Advisor, but Sparky thinks it ought to be further up on the list of things to do and see in Sarasota!
Male hooded merganser
 Sparky has seen LOTS of species of birds, from hawks to spoonbills (her favorite)....
....and anhingas to parakeets! These are Nanday parakeets and there are bunches of them at Celery Fields on any given day. The latest exotic bird destined to become very common in this area....
Tiny birds to big birds....This is either a yellow rump warbler or a pine warbler...

Hope you enjoyed today's photos....Hope you have a "ducky" New Year in 2019!
Blue wing teal duck and friends

                                          Sparky and Eldo

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Day 7, On the Road to Denali.....

(Sparky apologizes for dropping off the face of the earth briefly to start teaching and forgetting to finish the Alaska blog posts!) 

Sparky and Eldo....We thought you were headed to Anchorage to return the RV!!!! Not yet, we had a full day and a half left to go...we were going to just hang out in and around Anchorage, but ole Eldo is fabulous for spur of the moment ideas. All Sparky had to say was, wishfully thinking out loud, "Gee, wouldn't it be cool to go to Denali one last time?" Eldo says, "Well, we could." So we did! We headed BACK towards Denali, passing through Wasilla...nice size town, a Fred Meyer store there, plenty of places to get gas, easy in and out....On the way to Denali is South View Campground, in Denali State Park, about MM135. (MM is "mile marker", see the Milepost Directory for Alaska for indispensable information about where to stop, where to get gas, road conditions and where the pullouts are.)

We got to Denali National Park around 2:30 in the afternoon...We were milling around the village center, thinking "Should we take a tour or not?" It was too late to take the 8 hour tour, so we decided to get on a shorter bus tour. We had done the long one before last year and saw lots of wildlife, so we thought, let's do it again, only the shorter one! To cement the deal, a lady who got off from a previous trip out to Toklat said they saw EIGHT grizzlies! Done deal! We're going! We took the Toklat bus tour--53 miles one way, 6.5 hours round trip, with Brian as our bus driver. He was very knowledgable and environmentally thoughtful about wildlife, as all Denali drivers are! There are rest stops along the way...

This is one of the best trips you can take when visiting Denali, in our humble opinion. You almost always see wildlife, the scenery is 
spectacular, and the bus drive by a knowledgable guide gets you farther back into the park than you can get on your own. The road is NARROW and harrowing at times. If you are a little on the squeamish side as far as narrowing winding roadways and drop offs, this might not be for you. It was SCARY looking out at the window when another bus passed us on the road, and we had to scoot over. But look at what you might see!

Ptarmigan...those grouse type of birds, smaller than a turkey, around the size of a a bush, in a tree, wherever they may be.....Not in Sparky's camera range at the moment, but we saw three that day...And vista after vista...
And then....FOUR grizzlies within 5 minutes...A courting couple, too far away to get good photos, and THIS....all of sudden, the driver slows down and comes to a complete stop. The bus gets totally quiet, and he points directly ahead, to a mama grizzly and about a two year old cub. They were walking alongside the road and passed right to the side of the bus! We were all shocked and awed by the sight and closeness of the bears.
Here's another shot...

We were thrilled, to say the least....Happily, we headed back to Denali bus headquarters and returned by 9:15PM. We saw more moose, sort of a last hurrah, (our last night in Alaska) as we passed through some more of Denali State Park on our way back.

Of course, it's still as light as daylight out, so we decided to hit the road toward Anchorage and drive as far as we could, as we had to turn in our rental rig the next day. We would have no problem finding a pullout along the way to rest and get some sleep.....Around midnight, we were still driving, and the moose were still actively out and about, one running right alongside the highway! It's like deer in Indiana...only you have to watch out for BIG MOOSE who might decided to suddenly turn and cross the highway, for whatever reason!

We used our Mileposts directory to find a spot to pull over for the night, er, day, was about 1:00 AM when we pulled over to sleep. We were so tired the light didn't bother us and promptly fell asleep. Up and at 'em at 6:00 AM....and back to the rental place...
Eldy had driven over 1,568 miles in our week in Alaska! He would have made a terrific trucker! We had a fantastic week renting an problems, the company was fantastic, Great Alaskan Holidays. We highly recommend them...up to date units, excellent customer service, and top notch experience all the way around. Thanks for stopping by to read our blog...we hope to be traveling again next summer, who knows where!? (Sparky votes for Alaska......) Until next time.....See ya....

                                       Eldo and Sparky

Friday, July 27, 2018

Day 6, Getting Close to Saying Goodbye to Alaska....

"The Potato"
A side note before we leave the town of Valdez. We forgot to mention some of the places we ate while we were there! Roadside Potato Head, or the Potato for short, right down by the wharf. A very different menu, a little on the exotic side for our taste buds, some Mexican influence, and great food based on the 4.8 out of 5 star rating it gets. It's a really cute, cozy place and the breakfast burritos were good. Here is the menu when we ate there...

We also ate breakfast at the Fat Mermaid in Valdez. It gets 3.5 stars. Sparky just had to pose out front. The food was fine for breakfast. It's a restaurant/bar, about half and half, not much atmosphere, but we enjoyed our breakfast there.

For dinner one night, we ate at the local Chinese restaurant called Fu Kung. Sparky got a chuckle out of that name because she thinks that someone came up with the name by reversing Kung Fu. The food was excellent at this restaurant!

We left Bear Paw Campground in the morning. Deciding to explore the town a bit before we left, we went looking for moose (of course!) but didn't find any, the fish hatchery--which didn't seem to be open, and so we decided to get on the road, headed towards Palmer. At MM15, there's an old railroad tunnel with a great story about how there was a fight over who was going to build it. Nine companies fought over the right to build it. There was a gun battle and it ended up never getting built! But you can walk through it today and feel a little bit of history. 

We went through Thompson Pass and the snow fields....and passed three glaciers--the Tazlina Glacier, the Nelchina Glacier, (MM132) on the Glenn Highway) and the Matanuska Glacier. And wouldn't you many glaciers we can't remember which one this one is!

The weather was so rainy, we didn't get any good photos. But it was so cool to see the glaciers while we were driving.....By the time we got to Palmer, it was raining so hard and we were VERY hungry! We found plenty of room at the Mountain View RV Park (full hook ups, 40.00 a night) 3 miles east of Palmer, and were told you could get pizza delivered to your RV site! SOLD! And that's just what we did....ordered a pizza and enjoyed the rain.....

Tomorrow, on to Anchorage...except we changed our minds...See you in......DENALI, one last time!