Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Family Visits!

We had Sparky's Canadian cousins come for a brief visit, David and Louise Dudley. They were passing through the area on their way to a cruise and stopped by for the night. They LOVED Sarasota and Bradenton and this is their second visit here with us. We took them to a wonderful restaurant called Mattison's City Grille in downtown Sarasota. Sparky loves places that present food beautifully. (Sparky LOVES any kind of food presentation, who is she kidding!? kids E.) Well, isn't this really pretty, though? This is their crab rangoon...It was fantastic!
And how about this? This was a beef tenderloin appetizer....With balsamic vinaigrette dressing, chopped up tomatoes, little sprouts of some kind, big beefy heirloom tomatoes under that little piece of meat and a truffle oil...whatever the heck that is! It was amazing!

We pointed out the flamingo bike, part of a series of bikes that a local artist has themed and displayed in different parts of downtown Sarasota. Louise liked the bike!
After the Dudleys had come and gone, next it was a visit from Kristi and Connor, Eldy's daughter and  grandson. They stayed for a few days so we were able to do lots with them! Sparky took Connor to the Mote Research Aquarium. He loved the lion fish, even if they are an invasive species!
Sparky loves the jellyfish.....These are Australian spotted jellyfish....
They have a jellyfish research lab at the aquarium, too.

Some lobsters came out of hiding in their tank and strutted around in front of Connor. The guide volunteer said that was very unusual for them to show themselves. 

Connor was NOT interested in touching anything in the several touch tanks that Mote has. He preferred to just look. Mote Aquarium is a wonderful place to take families. There is so much to see there and almost always a special exhibit of some sort. The aquarium is a research facility and not only are they growing coral for reef rehabilitation, they are researching ocean marine life and rehabilitating turtles there. He also enjoyed seeing the big manatees and learning about them---Hugh and Buffet. They eat 72 heads of lettuce a day, among other things! Connor's reluctance to touch anything reminded Sparky of the next to the last day spotting of a very large alligator in our local pond just down the street. "C'mon, Connor, let's go see him." Connor didn't appear too eager, but we walked down the sidewalk to the pond. There he was, on the opposite bank. Connor looked nervous. Sparky said, "I'm going to take a picture of him, Connor, you stay right here." And she headed around the bank to the other side. As she looked back, she saw Connor packing back and forth on the sidewalk. "I'll be right back," Sparky said. Connor said, "Ok..." and a few seconds later, "C'mon, Jeannie, let's go home!"  Sparky said, "Don't you want to come down to the bank to see him a little better?" (The gator was on the other side of the bank, quite far from where Connor was.) Nope...He wanted to go home...We did. :-)

Connor and his mom swam in the ocean on Easter Sunday.....We had a BBQ at the beach surrounded by wonderful hispanic music. If you want to picnic at Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island on a Sunday, you have to get there early to claim a spot. We were there at 9:00 AM and all the picnic benches were claimed!
Sparky and Kristi managed to get a 12 mile bike ride in but got caught in a tremendous downpour. It was only a 20% chance of rain that day. As the torrential downpour started in the middle of our bike ride, we were caught! No ponchos, no jackets to protect Sparky's camera. We frantically tried to call Eldy on our iPhones, but the water was coming down so hard, we couldn't get the phones to recognize our finger swipes. Kristi said, "Let's just text 'HELP!' ". Sparky thought Eldo might have a heart attack as he had no idea where we were, if we did that. We decided to keep going. Luckily, we switched over to the sidewalks as the streets flood rapidly but temporarily when there's a downpour. Car after car slammed through the huge puddles on the street, throwing up tremendous rooster tails of water in our direction. Heck, we couldn't get any wetter than we were, so we just laughed and laughed. We made it back home, drenched thoroughly and with dirt trails up our backs from the muddy water circulating backwards from our tires onto our shirts! It hadn't even rained hardly at all back at the house!
Eldy and daughter, Kristi at AMI
Kristi and Connor had a great time while they were here. But, as with all family visits, soon it was time for them to head back home to Indiana. And boy, is it quiet around here right now! It will be for some time until family returns......Bye for now!  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Little Gem Courtesy of Audubon

Sparky and Eldo have never been to the Venice Rookery...a little site maintained by the Audubon Society...Not sure why, partly because we hadn't heard of it until this year. Sparky started seeing photos from photographer acquaintances and they were shooting some amazing photos at this little park in Venice.

So we decided to go late afternoon one Sunday and here's what we found...a very small park with a small island in the middle. Alligators frequent the lake to keep predators away from the birds, or so the site says. Sparky would think the gators would get an occasional avian meal? Also there is limited parking in a very small lot, but luckily, not very many people here today...We arrived about 5:30 PM...As we spent some time at the park, the serious photographers starting showing up later with HUMONGOUS 600 mm.....WOW! Sunset was almost 8:00 PM so perhaps we were there a little on the early side, as Sparky had to shoot into the sun a little bit. These photos are taken with a small Canon SX500 IS. The zoom is only 30X on this camera and the detail is not as crisp as she hoped it would be....But Sparky was still happy with most of her photos.

People there said the nesting starts in February.....Almost every bird species we saw there were sitting on nests today, and many of the babies had hatched and were already growing and getting ready to fledge in a few days or a few weeks. It was so cool to see a heron with its nest, which was pretty big! So used to only seeing them standing in the water fishing...

There were several herons on nests...

Here, the great blue heron chicks or young birds were clamoring for food. They look big enough to feed themselves! And don't they look like Groucho Marx a bit?

Here's another shot of the hungry herons...Those head feathers just crack us up!

Snowy egrets and their chicks were in abundance.....They look like fluffs of cotton balls. :-)

The snowy egrets were showing off BIG time!
Not sure what those birds are to the left of this beautiful egret, but they might be cormorant chicks? They almost look like baby swans. This is Sparky's favorite photo of the night.....

What a wonderful sight to see, and we are so lucky that this place is within a 30 minute drive for us. We'll definitely be back again soon!

Until next time....The End

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Walk on the Wild Side

Wild weather, that is.....We decided to go to the beach, Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island on a day where there was a rip current warning, the winds were blowing at 20-25 m.p.h., and the temperature was 57 degrees? Why, you ask? Just because we can...and because Sparky loves watching the waves, and taking a walk on the big, beautiful promenade shaded with Australian pines on a brisk day. We don't have too many of those here in Florida, you know.....

It was wonderful! The terns and gulls were out facing into the northerly winds, all in one direction... Sparky was watching their feathers make them all look like they were having a bad hair day, and along come these two birds who look like they are chatting together.
As she watches, one flies off to the water, and lands on the shoulders of another one standing in the water!
Sparky is thinking, "Hm-m-m-mm..some hanky panky about to happen?" Nope, he just stayed on that bird's back for about five minutes. Every once in awhile, the bottom bird would look up as if to say, "WELL? Are you gonna take off or not?"

Or, maybe...."He ain't heavy, he's my brother...."  (Groan, says E.)
"I'm workin' on it, I'm workin' on it!"
Coquina Beach is adding some great new stuff to the picnic areas...More places to sit and rest....Some nice brickwork under your feet....

Little informational kiosks....Sparky learned all about "WRACK" today on her walk down the boardwalk from these informational signs. She did not know that wrack was seaweed and seagrass debris mixed with dead red and brown algae. The wrack also has sea beans, dune plant seed, crumbled sea shells and other stuff, some undesirable like plastics. Heavily maintained cleanup of beaches with mechanical equipment does away with the wrack, a vital part of the ocean ecosystem. The kiosk sign encourages people to pick up the human debris like plastics themselves, to help keep the wrack in the ecosystem, which provides fuel for migratory birds, like the dunlin sandpiper. The things you can learn at Coquina Beach!

And, they've added some cool bike racks....

There were not very many people out on the beach today at all...Some were still grilling in the picnic areas....This hammock wasn't in use...Maybe they were afraid the wind would topple them out!

Some people were on the quieter side of the beach and just enjoying the beautiful brisk day.....

The red flag was out and blowing hard..."STAY OUT OF THE WATER".....Most did, but a few crazy ones were out in the surf...Umbrellas blew away, the sand was whirling around...

Sparky saw a BIG bird fly overhead and land in the pines above her. Too bad the iPhone zoom just can't pull in the same detail as a regular camera, at least not yet, anyway! A yellow crowned night heron!

We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island....Even though it's high season, and you can't find a parking space anywhere or travel anywhere without traffic bogging you down, or find a nice quiet spot at the beach, today you could! As we left for the day, Sparky couldn't help but enjoy the antics of one last bird having a bath in a rain puddle in the parking lot.....
Until next time......