Saturday, April 12, 2014

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

Sparky loves riding over to Jiggs Landing in Bradenton, just about a half mile from her house to see what birds are there…This past two months, it was a great horned owl family that flew the coop recently (an osprey nest they overtook from the ospreys who built it) and the ospreys came and claimed it back….It looks like the ospreys might be incubating some eggs up in the tall pine tree. Sparky captured one of the parent ospreys feeding on a fish it recently caught. The tail was still flopping around when Sparky started taking photos.  Ew-w-w-w-w! But that's nature. Sparky had another photo where the osprey had taken an internal part of the fish and had it in its mouth. Double EW-W-W-W-W! So she decided it was too gross to publish.

At Jiggs Landing, there is a boardwalk, and out at the end of the boardwalk is a nice little viewing platform. There were some pretty little marsh plants blooming today…

Sparky sat down to watch some least terns, the smallest members of the tern family, who were congregating on the boardwalk.

They sat in a row on the boardwalk fence…..

They took turns getting ready to fly one by one in search of a meal. And pooping….

When they got something, back they came, chattering with the fish in their mouths, like "Look guys, I'm telling you, there's food out there, you just gotta look for it!"

And off one would fly again to catch another skinny little fish…..
"I'm not impressed," says the buddy.
It's a beautiful little park with a kayak launch. Sparky went out kayaking once so far on the Braden River from Jiggs Landing, but it's time to get back out again, she thinks!

Sparky has been watching all over town for baby sandhill cranes. They've been very elusive…They seem to be born about March, so they've already hatched and are growing. FINALLY--a pair spotted while we were out garage sale shopping….and with only an iPhone to capture the moment….sigh…Gotta start carrying the little Canon Powershot everywhere!

Bye-bye little birds…..

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Here Comes Trouble!

In the form of a little person about nine years old and a boy. Time for another family visit…this time it's Eldy's daughter, Kristi, and her nine year old son, Connor, Eldy's grandson. They are down for spring break. Right away, before they arrived, Sparky started planning how to keep a nine year old occupied and entertained in a neighborhood that severely lacks in anyone under the age of 75 for supplemental entertainment. ZERO kids. Nada, zip, none. At least none that we have ever seen. The only kids in our neighborhood are the four legged ones, and some are even in strollers. What's up with that? At the risk of offending someone, Sparky does not understand walking dogs in strollers. Are they too little to walk by themselves? She knows, she knows, they ARE some people's kids…It was just a rhetorical question that doesn't need an answer.

As far as trouble, Connor is no trouble. He's just full of questions and wanting to learn lots of different things, like how to make bracelets, and how to knit, and how to make stuff like Sparky does, and why this and why that, and "why can't we????……"  Whew!

So-o-o-o-o….a trip to Caspersen Beach in Venice to look for shark's teeth….Caspersen Beach is a much more rugged beach with a rocky shoreline in part of it, and the sand is very dark.

Caspersen Beach in Venice

That was a GREAT place to meet other kids. Connor quickly met two brothers close to his age, and together they plotted and planned sand castles and fortresses. The kids were a riot. When Sparky asked Eldo why wasn't he walking the beach looking for bikinis, Connor asked, "Yeah, why aren't you, big boy?" being a little cheeky.  When the kids' sand tunnel/bridge collapsed, one of the boys said, "Oh, the pain!…" and the other little one launched into the very old song, "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen…." How the heck did he know that? He was about six years old!

Connor and Kristi had a ball looking for the elusive shark's teeth which used to be plentiful at the beach, but are getting harder to find. The word is getting out about the location and it's on every tourist "to do" list, we think! We've even invested in one of those strainer basket "shovels" to find them. (Walmart 18.00) Connor did a great job of looking, but no sharks' teeth to be found today…..
Sparky gets mad when she sees this….Dad with a hat, son with a hat, blonde baby girl, NO hat… She looked hot and was starting to look like she was getting sunburned. C'mon, parents, please protect your kids' precious fair skin!

Connor checked out Papa's pool every day along with Kristi, getting some exercise and some short laps in. What is it with kids, especially the boys giving bunny ears in photos all the time? Both grandsons do it, one's in second grade, and one's in third.

We headed to the Mote one rainy day, but the parking lot was overflowing, and the line was down the street for tickets. Too crowded! Maybe another time….Off we went to sample some frozen yogurt and hit the stores that day for some summer clothes.

We visited the always wonderful "Embracing Our Differences" art in the park…It's the 11th annual art in the park with billboard sized posters from student artists and writers all over the world with representation from local students as well. The message is "enriching lives through diversity" and it is a juried art show. The posters are amazing!

The thoughtful messages are wonderful! So glad kids are thinking about these things…

The artwork, photography and messages are very inspiring and moving….And what a fabulous location to have it, in sunny Sarasota at the Bayfront Park right at the marina and waterfront skyline of Sarasota.

And then, wander just a little farther out of the park, and here comes a row of seasonal sculptures along the parkway beside Tamiami Trail (highway 41) in the downtown area…..Sarasota Season of Sculpture…..It's a non-profit group that sponsors these large scale sculptures every year during the spring. They are cool and are very visible from the road, but we like to walk the "promenade" to see them up close and personal and learn more about the artists who create them.
Interesting, eh? Or not so much, depending upon your taste in art….Sparky likes 'em….There were several more to see, but these two were Sparky's favorites…..

One last expedition to St. Pete's Beach, and the kids will be headed home….Think we are going dolphin watching tomorrow! See you later…...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Mish Mash of Stuff and the Mote

Sparky is going to be all over the map today, not as in traveling the U.S., but as in catching up with all things Sarasota and Manatee….She's been subbing a LOT lately….Heartwarming experiences, funny tales, and frustrating experiences at times, but always rewarding with many hugs received each day she subs….

Kindergarten several times….A little boy studied Sparky intently one day, checking out her glasses and her ears. "Do you wear a hearing aide?" he asked. "No, why, do you think I need one?" Sparky replied.  At which point, the little boy mouthed the words, "Can you hear me?"  And Sparky, ever on the ball said, "Of COURSE I can hear you!" His mouth dropped open, and he said incredulously, "How did you do that?"  And Sparky, not wanting to give away any teacher secrets, just smiled slyly and moved on with her lesson.

Had lunch with an ornery bunch of second graders today….Sparky's class asked if she would eat lunch with them. Knowing this class was a little on the ornery side, Sparky said, sure! But they had to have a good morning….and they did…So Sparky ate lunch with them. A little girl with dreadlocks asked, "Would you be my mom?"  Sparky was a little taken aback. "You have a mom, don't you?"  "Un-hunh," she replied, "but I still want you to be my mom." Sparky had a feeling that maybe her mom wasn't in the picture. Hard to tell what prompted that request….

"How old are you?" is a popular question. "How old do you think I am?" is the usual response. And then the fun begins…"Twenty-five."   Kid, you win the most popular kid of the class contest, hands down, and an A++.  "Aw, she's not twenty-five, she's fifty-five." That kid gets second prize for sure! And one more kid goes, "I think she's seventy." That one gets the booby prize. For the record, Sparky is going to be 64 in July.

A comment heard from a little kindergarten girl…"I'm just really rockin' it today!" That little one has some self-confidence. You go, girl!

When Sparky's sister and brother-in-law were visiting, we headed to the Mote Marine Aquarium and Research Center once again. The Mote never fails to deliver an interesting and informative experience no matter how many times you go. There's always something new going on, or something you missed the last time you went. This time it was the "Extreme Survivors" exhibit in a new wing of the aquarium. Very cool unusual animals who protect themselves from predators and who are VERY dangerous to come in contact with….like the bumblebee dart frog…Poisonous toxins are secreted from their skin and  paralyze respiratory muscles causing death to their predators.

Here is the blue ringed octopus. When it is calm, it's grey. When it gets riled up, it shows rings of blue, then watch out!  It is one of the most venomous animals on the planet.

Their bite contains tetrodotoxin venom and just ONE MILLIGRAM can kill a human. They are not aggressive, but people have been bitten and killed through their carelessness.

The peacock mantis shrimp, sometimes known as the "thumb splitter", has some amazing qualities. Its claws can deliver a blow that has 200 pounds of force! Its punch is the fastest on record, at 50 mph. It can shatter glass and splinter crab shells. Their claws are so hard, scientists are studying them because they can deliver 50,000 blows between molts and not get cracked. Scientists are interested in applying this knowledge to the study of body armor.

"How about them sea apples?" Sea apples not only secrete a foul tasting toxin, causing problems and killing some species, but they also can expel their internal organs, giving their predators a meal, and allowing them to make a getaway. EWWWWW!  ---But interesting...The internal parts grow back within a few days….They are very beautiful, aren't they?

Sparky loves the viewing tank where the turtles are. There's a lower viewing window at kid level so you can watch them up close. Or they can watch you. And they do…..
Did you know they now track some sea turtles with satellite tracking devices? Some turtles have a transmitter epoxied to their shells and when they surface to breathe, up pops the little antennae, and a signal transmits to a satellite which bounces back their location to Mote Marine Laboratory. Amazing!

And that's the latest news from the Mote….All good things must come to an end…Sparky's sister is headed to Matlache, another wonderful, quirky little artist colony village/town south of Bradenton…or is it north?….(Eldo is sleeping or he'd set Sparky straight)…Nite every one….Till next time….

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Owl Saga Continues….

(Note: Sparky's post about the owls departing and the Run or Dye race was written AFTER this post, so it's a little out of sequence, but she still wanted to share these owl photos and have them posted.)

Sparky went on a LO-O-O-O-N-G bike ride today….19 miles…Nothing really spectacular to report. Sparky is usually looking for a payoff in the middle of such a long bike ride, like a nice restaurant or something. The other day, Sparky headed out for a six mile one way bike ride to Panera Bread for breakfast while Eldy was in Tamp volunteering at the Valspar Golf Championship. But the neighbor apparently left out an important detail, (or Sparky just possibly missed her turn on her own, smiles E., which happens a LOT if you know Sparky like I do), like where to make the turn to get to Panera Bread. At any rate, after ten miles, Sparky was all the way from Bradenton, down to University Drive, which is ten miles on the interstate, down one exit from our exit. No Panera Bread anywhere to be found. PHOOEY! So back she went, another ten miles, then decided what the heck?! Why not have lunch at Wasabi Steak House on I-70, a fabulous spot to have a hibachi lunch?! It was only another couple of miles or so, and sidewalk all the way, so Sparky stopped at Wasabi and wondered why the wait staff gave her a wide berth as she came in. (You didn't stop off at the house to shower? asks a surprised Eldo.) Heck no! Sparky was ticked off at not having found Panera Bread so she was bound and determined and going to reward herself with a nice lunch--the heck with a shower! So she went straight there….Once she cooled freshened up in the restroom and cooled down a bit, all was well…….And she tipped the waitress extra for having to serve an odorous customer. Sparky would not do that again as far as not showering and changing clothes…But she was HUNGRY that day!

Where was this story going? Oh, yes….on that long bike ride today…nothing spectacular, until Sparky stopped off at Jiggs Landing where the great horned owl's nest with the three babies are…high up in a pine tree….The babies have FLEDGED! Which means they have briefly left the nest and FLOWN! To another branch. The three inch rain we had yesterday with 30 mph. winds has just about decimated their nest and probably encouraged them to get going and get out for a bit….
"Is she still there?"
Two were seen today….this is the biggest one Sparky calls Big Brother…He's always at the forefront of the nest and had been peering out most of the time in the past couple of weeks.

The local newspaper has been announcing that this nest is here, and that people are to be careful about noise, and not using ridiculous things to assist them in photographing the birds, like a forklift (yes, some lady really paid a guy 200.00 to lift her up to eye level to get shots of the owls), and drones, remote control aircraft, etc. Really? Yes, really. Times have changed, haven't they?
Lots of things have happened to the owls this past week. Last Saturday, one of the smaller of the three owls fell out of the nest. Somebody called wildlife protection services or a ranger, not sure which, and he donned protective gear, put on spikes and climbed the pine tree to put the baby back in the nest! TADA!
Smaller baby brother
Just today, one of the babies flew out of the nest and got caught in the moss/lichens that heavily drape the pines around here. He was hanging part way upside down and in distress. Again, ranger or wildlife protection services to the rescue! He put on full head gear once again, and protective gloves. He got the youngster (owlet?) out of the moss, and at that point, the owlet assumed battle stance, making menacing big wing flutterings, and making all kinds of noises, crying for its mama, who luckily was not around at the moment. The ranger/wildlife guy got him back into the nest, or at least back into the tree, we're not sure of the exact story, but there were people there who saw the events unfold…..

It's been so cool to watch these babies grow and develop these past three weeks or so…We are so lucky to live in an environmentally rich area, with lots of different kinds of birds and things to see. A photographer who was standing there gave us a tip for seeing a barred owl nest with parents feeding the babies in the Amish area of Sarasota, Pinecraft, where the owl's nest is in a neighborhood park. We might go check that out!

Thanks for stopping by…...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Run or DYE!

Oh, the places she'll go……

Bike riding all around town…Sparky has found some more picturesque places to ride…lots prettier than the Legacy Trail in some cases….Honore Avenue has plenty of wide sidewalks and some street bike paths, but Sparky prefers riding on the sidewalk. She boogies when nobody's around, then slows down for pedestrians. Photos coming later….

The baby owls have fledged and departed, and look at this---the stolen nest which was taken out from under the ospreys has been reclaimed! The osprey is back in it! Wonder if she's going to be having babies soon? But maybe it's a "he"…..
"What a mess! It's gonna take some doing to get this one back in shape!"

We were out driving around this morning over by University Mall in Sarasota, at Benderson Park, home of a pretty amazing rowing/athletic facility under construction and darned if there wasn't a "Run or Dye Race there in addition to a rowing competition. The rowers were having difficulty paying attention to their coxswain while this race was going on. No wonder!

Ever see one of these or participate in one? It looks like a LOT of fun! It's very informal…No time is kept…Dress up in a crazy style….the crazier the better! One of the ladies today got a wedding gown from Goodwill and she and her family/friends dressed in bridal party wear. Tutus were VERY popular!

It'a a 5K and you can run or walk…nobody cares, come out and just do it!  The fifty-seven dollar entry fee didn't deter the 4500 participants today. The fee from the race is used partly for local charities and for the huge vats of dyed cornstarch powder that envelop the runners and walkers in CLOUDS of riotous color! There are different colored stations around the track and the volunteers have just as much fun as the runners and walkers trying to REALLY douse the participants in clouds and clouds of color. It was hard to tell if they just threw the colors at the runners or sprayed it at them.

Check out the guy on the far left in this photo above. He started at the other end pushing his girlfriend through the colored vapor, hiding his head behind her shoulders, making her get the brunt of it! Coward! But it looks like he got just as much as she did when he came out the other end!

It looks like this little girl is definitely NOT sure about her mom's and sister's colorful outfits.

Sparky thinks there is some kind of celebratory explosion of multiple colors at the end, but she's not totally sure about that, we didn't see the finish line….How cool! Everybody appeared to be having a marvelous time. Sunglasses are a big help in keeping the clouds of cornstarch out of your eyes so you can see where you are going!
It was looked like lots of fun and that's the whole idea…Come out, get off the couch, have fun and get hit in the face with color from total strangers. Take lots of photos if you can keep the cornstarch from blowing all over your camera. The whole shebang is one big social event. Bet lots of photos got posted on Facebook today!

Sparky is going to definitely think about entering the next local Color Run/Run or Dye event if she can walk it…haha……Not going to start running seriously at this stage in her life, although lots of people do…..But she definitely would walk it! (And I'll just take photos, says E.…SOMEBODY is gonna have to document this!)

Stay tuned…..

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

When Nature Calls….

No, Sparky and Eldo are not blogging about their bathrooms and bathroom habits at their digs in Bradenton…. :-)  Although their bathrooms are due for much needed updates which will just have to wait for now…

Nap time after flight practice
Sparky just wants to share some beautiful bird photos today….She has been out on her bike checking out the latest owlie sightings….It's nap time for these great horned owl babies that are getting to be VERY big. They've been fluttering up in the nest, rising up a little and settling back down, trying out their wings. There were three in this nest but only two are visible today. They will be departing very soon, it looks like….Right before Sparky got there today, the mother owl dropped a rabbit into the nest to feed the babies. In a bit,  a rabbit leg dropped down out of the tree in front of one of the photographers there with a loud thud. Scared him half to death!

It's so hard to hold the 30X zoom lens steady..Sparky needs a tripod!
If you've been reading the blog, you saw the post perhaps about the lady that paid a fork lift operator 200 dollars to raise her up to eye level for a nest shot…It turns out that the fork lift operator escapade was not for the eagle's nest down the street but for THIS owl nest! An amateur photographer Sparky talked to, said he had photos of her escapade and it was right here at Jigg's Landing, in Sparky's backyard. Sounds like this could be one of those weird Florida stories that get published all the time in the newspaper. Those Florida stories even made Jimmy Fallon's Tonight show one night recently. At any rate, signs posted around the nesting tree specifically state, "DO NOT USE LIFTS" after that birdbrain escapade. And talk about how things have changed in cautionary signs to tourists or photographer wannabes…"Do not use remote control aircraft on this property." 

Sparky went over to University Mall the other day, and near the new high end mall being constructed, is the Nathan Benderson Park rowing raceway, home to the 2017 World Rowing Championships and many other venues. At the raceway, across the street, are some marshes. Sparky had spotted some roseate spoonbills the other day without her camera. So back she went today to see if they were still there…Yep, they were! A marsh with a lot of duckweed is the perfect eating grounds for spoonbills and they were busily swishing their spoon shaped bills back and forth in the water, feeding delightedly on their fare while Sparky snapped away…..Sparky LOVES spoonbills! She would love to capture one in flight but that photo op still eludes her….
And the gators continue to visit our neighborhood pond almost every day….This one looks FAT and well fed, which is probably a good thing for all the little teeny tiny dogs in the neighborhood.

It's almost mating season--April thru July here in Florida--May and June are prime egg laying times. Mating season is going to be early this year because of the unseasonably warm winter this area has had. That means gators are going to be out and about more, actively moving around in ponds and perhaps neighborhoods for the next couple of months. They move around at night, and then find themselves stuck in places they don't want to be when daylight comes….in a fence, in somebody's yard, etc. The young alligators from last year have to watch out for the aggressive adults who EAT the young ones if they are near when they first start aggressively searching for a mate because they are hungry after a relatively long period of inactivity during the winter.

We haven't heard any stories about nuisance alligators in our neighborhood, nor have we seen any wildlife nuisance trucks in the area at all. The gators come visit the pond, stay a few days and leave….Tourists love to take photos of the ones at our street's pond…Sparky is no longer a tourist, but she still likes to take gator photos. She's still hoping to find someone to hike the 2 1/2 miles in and 2 1/2 miles out of Myakka River State Park's "Deep Hole" to see hundreds of gators! Eldo says "NO WAY!"   It's a hot, dry hike in and out with no shade, which is why he says no…..sigh….. Gotta go…Nature is calling…...
Great Horned Owl Babies

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sparky is NOT a Fuddy Duddy Grandma!

But then, nobody ever said she was! Sparky just wants to go on record as she is still moving to keep from getting "stove up" as Indiana Hoosiers say, and probably a bunch of other folks around the country use that expression, too? She just wanted some proof that she is still moving at the age of 63 going on 64, so her pickle ball playing friends at Sun 'n' Fun took some photos to prove it. Suzette, thank you…At first Suzette had nothing but butt shots---the angle was all wrong. "NO MORE BUTT SHOTS, PLEASE!" begged Sparky. So here's Sparky, playing her favorite game…..

What else is new? We found another cool place to eat on the beach, The Beach House!  They have a terrific fish dip there, one of the best we've ever had. Sparky had the BIGGEST peel and eat shrimp in her life there and Eldo had a grouper dinner which he said was delicious.

The restaurant has recently been renovated, and it looked really pretty although it isn't quite done yet. They will be finished with renovations by the end of this month somebody said. We plan on going back….

Sparky is subbing regularly at her favorite school. This past week, the kids were priming themselves for St. Patrick's Day. Sparky was in kindergarten again, and the student teacher assisting the absent classroom teacher, was helping the kids try and catch a leprechaun this week. It's almost spring break…They were bonkers on Thursday, with one more day to go. But the teachers are coping by having some fun stuff for the kids to look forward to…The leprechaun was very mischevious! He knocked over some chairs in the room, got into her M & M's, (AHEM! Maybe SPARKY got into the M & M's, says E.) Nope! Sparky doesn't care for regular M & M's. Now, PEANUT M & M's, that's another story! At any rate, a trail of green and gold glitter showed the leprechaun making an exit out the back door so the kids just missed him. They were SO EXCITED that he'd been there. The culmination on Friday, was the kids were going to put their traps they had made during the past two weeks out to see if they could catch themselves a leprechaun. Here are a couple of whiz bang traps they made…..Awesome! Even if they did have a little help from mom or dad.

Sparky almost blew it after reading a story about leprechauns and discussing whether is was fiction or non-fiction (yep, learning this in kindergarten), when helping the kids come to the conclusion that the story was made up or fiction, had a little boy ask with a VERY solemn face, "Mrs. Sparkles, are leprechauns real?"  Mrs. Sparkles, a.k.a. Mrs. Sparks said, "Hm-m-m-m-m…what do you think?" And then quickly changed the subject……

Sparky had a visit from her sister, who's had it with winter in Michigan. She and her husband, came just for a day and night visit. Too quick, but we'll return the visit to them soon in Matlache, a quirky little town further south from us, near Pine Island…Wonderful little shops there, great kayaking, and my sister has already seen 1) two dolphins jump totally out of the water while she was standing on the dock, and 2) a sting ray fling itself out of the water, a BIG one! Hope we get to see something!

And that's all for now, folks…See you later…..