Friday, March 30, 2018

A Fantastic Trip to St. Augustine!

This is going to be a photo heavy post! Sparky and Eldo took a two day trip to St. Augustine, because Sparky had heard there was a fantastic zoological park with lots of gators (she's in!) and a great rookery! (She's in for sure!) the name of the place is the Alligator Farm Zoological Park. Fellow birders and photographers said that the rookery was much much closer to you as you go through the gardens, than say, the Celery Fields in Sarasota, and they were right. The gators below the boardwalks keep away the birds' tree climbing predators so there are PLENTY of species that feel safe and nest there every year. 

There are snowy egrets, great egrets, spoonbills, green herons nesting, and tri colored herons nesting, and depending upon when you arrive in what month, there are different stages of nesting and species flying in to get ready to nest. 
As soon as we walked in the park, as a matter of fact, there were nests EVERYWHERE up in the trees right above our heads. Woodstorks and spoonbills everywhere! Several species in the
same tree. All the people were looking at the gators below, because they were so big and fat, that few looked up above in the trees.  (We were surprised after the day ended that we had not gotten bird poop on us while we were there. Sparky suggest you might want to wear a hat if you go there.) We rounded a corner as we walked a little further into the park and there were LOTS of spoonbills up in the trees. Lots!

The birds are "displaying" right now...That's where they strut around and show off all their beautiful plumage and hope to attract a mate. Their feathers are almost always splayed out to show off to their best advantage. This is a snowy egret.
Sparky loves it when she sees one having a "bad hair" day.....
This one looks mad or frustrated...with all the hundreds of egrets competing for attention, maybe he's not getting any?
The best part of the day was seeing baby spoonbills in a nest for the first time! We were so surprised to see that they nest in the palms. We always see the grownups on the ground in the marshes where we live.
Sparky caught this spoonbill spreading its wings in the palms....

There were some unusual ducks there, too. These were called ruddy ducks. Guess they are kind of common along the east coast, but we didn't know that! Love the blue bill!

Another one of Sparky's favorite spoonbill shots for the day....
Not all the shots were about the birds today. There is a fabulous zip line and obstacle course that runs right above the zoo gardens. It looked really fun!
If you are interested in going to the Alligator Farms/Rookery, the nesting action starts around February and lasts until August, with the peaks being mid March thru early June. They open at 9:00 AM daily.  Tickets are 24.99 for adults, but there are local coupons available in the tourist mags or there is a 10% discount for seniors. This is a fantastic place to bring grandkids or the family. The exhibits are beautiful, modern and well done, AND well taken care of. The grounds are beautiful, there is plenty of shade as you walk around, and lots of places to sit. Food and drink are available, too. This zoo park is one of the oldest zoos in the country, founded in 1893, but they have done an amazing job of keeping it up to date, very informative and entertaining. There are shows available several times a day as well. It's a diverse population of crocodiles (24 species!), birds, reptiles and mammals and a fabulous way to spend the day. We easily spent three hours there and liked it so much, we are going back next month!       Bye for now....

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Day Trip to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Every once in awhile, we get antsy and want to get out on the road. We really miss the RVing lifestyle! Sometimes it's a magnificent trip to Alaska, most of the time it's a little day trip somewhere. There's lots to do and see in Florida, that's for sure! Several years ago, we visited Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples, FL, about 30 miles east. Must have been about seven years or more, so we thought it would be cool to set out for Naples and revisit this wonderful place once again. It's a little less than two hours from Bradenton. We read that it had sustained some damage from Hurricane Irma, but was open to the public. It is open from 7:30-5:30PM every day of the year. So off we went!

It did not disappoint! The boardwalk is a 2.5 mile walk around the swamp, which had dried up in many places. This is normal for this time of year, it's the dry season. The birds move around and in different spots as the water levels rise and lower depending upon the weather and the season. The weather was hot today, and although there is some shade as you walk around, you can easily get overheated if you don't bring water. AHEM! You can get overheated if you don't bring water! (We forgot.)We saw the usual anhingas, anhingas doing a mating dance/ritual, which is NOT so usual. These two love birds were twining and untwining their necks around each other. They were either getting ready to make a nest, or they were just cementing their relationship before getting started!

We saw lots of strangler figs that manage to securely attach themselves to trees. They make such interesting patterns! The ficus aurea, the Florida fig is common around here. The seeds are dropped usually near the tops of trees by birds, then they grow their roots downward and start wrapping and grafting several roots together around the host tree. Sometimes the host tree will die, but some times they do not. If the host tree is older than the strangler fig, it will mostly likely die and rot away, leaving a tree column of roots with the trunk made of this circular pattern of roots. It then provides shelter and habitat for forest animals, so it's not all bad news!

Sparky spotted a red bellied woodpecker high up in a tree. 
And then, we happened upon a group of people intently looking over the boardwalk at a snake (ugh) who had just ambushed a frog, (really ugh...) and was just starting to eat it. Ewwwwwwww....
Let's go see something pretty, says Sparky to Eldo, so we moved on.....This is much better!
This is a wood stork...he's got one wing hanging out occasionally. While he's foraging for food, he will stick out one wing to provide shade so he can see better in the marsh, "the better to eat you with, my dear!" He was oblivious to the gawkers on the boardwalk. Guess they are really used to seeing people. We walked the whole 2.5 miles, even though we were hot. You never know what you are going to see around the corner. Whaddya know....another snake...ugh again. At least this one wasn't eating anything at the moment.

Probably one of the coolest things we saw was this yellow crowned night heron. Normally, they are sort of sleepyheads during the day, and out of sight, but this one was out and about. He didn't care at all that Sparky was immediately above him!
He was beautiful! He sat and posed for a long time, even though this guy was near by......Sparky just read in a Scholastic Magazine to the kids at school last week that if an alligator eats an animal or fairly good size meal, he might not eat again for a year!
We were coming to the end of the boardwalk...a couple more sightings...a little blue heron strutting along on a mission....
And some beautiful wild iris....

It was a lovely day, not a cloud in the sky....We highly recommend visiting here. Just a note: We did see a LOT of hurricane damage,
lots of trees down, big ones. The boardwalk is damaged and closed off in several places like in different connecting sections but we were still able to go for a nice long walk and see so much while we were there. I hope they will continue to repair and reconstruct this beautiful Audubon site. It's a treasure for southwestern Florida, that's for sure!

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Venice Rookery...Another Hotbed of Birding Activity

Wow! Every January thru May, the Venice Rookery hosts a multitude of egrets, great blue herons, anhingas, glossy ibis, an occasional gator or two for nesting season. (Months are approximate)....We love going down there from Bradenton in the early morning or late afternoon. It's about a 40 minute drive from our house and well worth it....

Depending upon what month you go determines the showy displays of the mating egrets and herons. Last year we went in April and Sparky got TONS of BIG, beautiful plume feather displays. This year we went a little earlier and the birds seem to have already settled down somewhat into their nests with their mates. We think they still will be doing courtship dances a little while longer.

It's a simple little place, a little park off of 41 down in Venice. Here are the directions from Bradenton or Sarasota: head 75 South to the Jacaranda Boulevard exit--stay on Jacaranda all the way to 41. Turn right on 41, go about half a block and turn left right by the state police building--there's a small brown sign that says "Venice Rookery" close to the turn. 

You see everyone sporting all kinds of cameras from their little iPhones trying to take photos, to the big humongous lenses that the more experienced photographers have. Personally, Sparky has been VERY happy with just a Canon point and shoot 50X lens camera called the SX530. Here are some shots from last year with that camera.

And one more....
Here are some photos from a trip to the rookery last Sunday....These photos are with a Nikon P900 which has an 85X zoom!  This camera is MUCH heavier, but wow! What a zoom!

Sparky watched a great blue heron ferry twigs and branches from one side of the pond to the other. It was beautiful to watch the collaborative efforts of the herons to build their nest.
At one point, it looked like the one ferrying all the twigs and branches got tired.....Doesn't he look like he's saying, "Why me, Lord?"
And here's a little weirdness...these cormorants at each other's throats! Either they were having a little battle about something, or one was feeding the other, (but we never saw any food exchanged). One stuck his head completely down the other's throat! 
If you ever get a chance to visit the rookery during the winter months down in Venice, FL, you should go see the beautiful displays of mating plumage and hear the noise the young ones put forth as they are waiting to be fed. It's just a little island in the middle of the park, but there are TONS of birds and babies to be seen. Sparky thinks the young great blue herons look like little Groucho Marx. With all the little chicks fussing and hollering to be fed, it's quite the ruckus! Sparky's favorite photo of the day? This one below, where the young great blue heron photobombed the nest building.
                                      Have a great day!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Sarasota is a HOTBED of Birding Activity!

Sparky has been SUPER busy subbing....almost every day since school started back in August. She LOVES it! She gets to get dressed up, be silly, and read her favorite books when she does kindergarten. Her latest favorite book is, The Day the Crayons Quit. The kids love the part where the beige crayon asks his owner to stop peeling the paper off the beige crayon because he feels "naked" and doesn't want to come out of the box. They love this book so much that they asked Sparky to read it twice while she was there. Her favorite grades are kindergarten, first grade, and fifth grade....Just this past week, the little kindergartners have been celebrating St. Patrick's Day all week long. They made leprechaun traps to catch pesky little leprechauns. The kid that made this one said he made it all by himself, haha. 
The kids come up in front of their classmates and tell how their trap works. One little boy went totally blank when Sparky asked him how his trap worked. You should have seen the deer-in-the-headlights look when she asked. There was a big pause, and finally he says, "Uh...I don't know. It was dark. My mom made this after I went to bed." All righty, then.....

Each day or so, the teacher does something different to indicate that the leprechaun has visited. She might sprinkle glitter to leave a path like he's been through their room on one day, and in the room Sparky subbed in, the assisting reading teacher went through and created a chaotic trail of glitter, notes, and mischievous deeds. 
The notes were like, "Haha, you almost caught me!" and "Thanks for all this gold, I'm going shopping!" The kids went crazy when they saw what happened. "He broke my ladder!" "He left me a note!" "I almost got him with my trap!" One little boy said, "My dad says there is no such thing as leprechauns, but I think there is!" So there, poopy dad!

If Sparky is not subbing on a particular day, she is out looking for birds and nature stuff....There are TWO eagles nests within a few miles of our home...One has chicks that are about ready to leave the nest, the other has chicks just beginning to flutter their wings in the nest.

They are always magnificent to see and watch....Here is a youngster who looks like just about ready to fly the coop.

And sure enough, in a few minutes, he did....

We are so fortunate to have these sightings here in Bradenton and Sarasota....

See you soon at the Venice Rookery, another terrific birding spot!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Little Scare....

Sparky has been wondering and worrying a bit about Eldy since his quadruple bypass two years ago in February. She's been watching his fatigue level, which continues to be a problem, and wondering why the doctors don't do another stress test once a year to check for new blockages. Eldy has a very good heart/cardiologist doctor...he's one of the best in Sarasota, and the cardiac team at Sarasota Memorial Hospital has been ranked as one of the best in the country recently, so if they weren't thinking that was necessary, then we were accepting it. Eldo hasn't complained much about anything since the heart surgery, but that's the way he is....

So, a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned that he had been feeling "weird" and having more than the usual number of "odd" sensations in his chest. Then finally, on a Sunday, he said he was concerned...and you gals know, that when a guy finally admits something is not right and is ready to go to the doctor, SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT! Eldy was having big belching, burping indigestion problems, he felt pain in his left shoulder, his blood pressure was up, he felt a tightness in his chest and he said his jaw was twitching. Sparky asked about the blood pressure and it was higher than normal for him. He had checked it four times unbeknownst to Sparky, and of course was stressing out about the readings, as each time they were registering higher. He was thinking that maybe he should get checked out. MAYBE?????  We're going NOW! said Sparky.  We started out with an urgent care center in Sarasota. In hindsight, we should have headed straight for the emergency room, but we both thought the urgent care center could handle the symptoms...Sometimes angina mimics heart attack symptoms, and we also thought indigestion could be part of the problem.

After about 45 minutes at one of the local urgent care centers, and their inability to provide a simple razor to shave Eldo's hairy chest and do an EKG because the leads wouldn't stick, they sent us to the emergency room at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where he got in right away....Four hours later, the EKG was normal and the cardiac enzyme tests came back normal. We were given a sheet on angina, and the attending physician had talked to Eldy's heart doctor and they both said he could come home but to follow up with an office visit soon. We were super impressed once again with the care and prompt attention given to Eldy, being that the emergency room was PACKED on a Sunday night. The attending emergency room doctor personally called Eldy's physician right away after the test results came back and got the OK-to-go-home response right back. Everyone was courteous and efficient despite LOTS going on at the hospital that night--car wrecks, a code blue, and more.
A beautiful mosaic wall near the emergency room at SMH
We learned a lot more about angina, which had not been in Eldy's medical history thus far, that was given to us in an info sheet and it was a little disconcerting as far as someone might misinterpret a heart attack as angina. Here were some of the facts listed on the informational sheet:

1. Angina is not always felt as chest pain and it isn't always in the chest. It might feel like discomfort, aching tightness, or pressure that comes and goes. You can feel this in your chest, back, arm, shoulder, neck or jaw. 
2. Tiredness that gets worse or you have more shortness of breath that usual for no apparent reason.
3. Shortness of breath while doing something that use to be easy.
4. Heartburn, nausea, indigestion, or sweating.
5. It usually happens during an activity. It can also occur if you are upset, or after a large meal. It can also happen when the weather is too hot or too cold.

Call 9-1-1 right away if these symptoms last for more than a few minutes....

It was a little disconcerting to see that the symptoms of angina can be VERY similar to a heart attack, so how is one supposed to know? When in doubt, head to the emergency room! As a wrap up, Eldo is going to have a nuclear imaging test, and a sleep apnea test to check for the amount of oxygen he's getting while sleeping which might be contributing to his high levels of fatigue that he seems to be experiencing more than what he should, at least that's what Nurse Sparky thinks!

So-o-o-o-o...everything is back to normal, and so far, the follow up tests are looking good. It could have been indigestion or a little angina, but we are happy that everything worked out ok.....

What's in our near future? A trip to St. Augustine, and Sparky will be posting some local nature trips....Come back and see us!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Well, Hello Once Again!

Life really keeps us busy and time gets away from us....But every once in awhile, it's nice to get back to the blog to document our lives, and we always appreciate anyone who stops by to read.....What are Sparky and Eldo up to these days?

In November, Sparky's daughter and handsome little grandson came for a visit.....We went to Coquina Beach and he had a wonderful time! Coquina Beach is a nicer beach, in Sparky's humble opinion, than Siesta Key Beach. There is a lot of shade from Australian pines, and a shaded boardwalk that stretches for a couple of miles. You can walk or ride your bike from one end of the walk to the other and get some great exercise, or have a picnic at one of the many picnic tables along the boardwalk in the shade. There is a wonderful playground for kids, informational kiosks, and plenty of places to sit and watch boats come in and go out in the channel or you can fish along the shoreline.

Sparky took the kids to Marie Selby Gardens, in Sarasota. They have a fabulous rain forest garden for children. You can walk across a suspended wooden bridge and jiggle it as you walk to make anyone nervous that's trying to cross, (Grandma was naughty), you can play several different musical instruments as you travel through the kids' sections of the rainforest---marimba style, drums, and other percussion style instruments. There are cool sculptures for the kids to climb on. The gardens have fabulous displays, sometimes from guest artist exhibitions to holiday lights celebrations. The koi pond is cool with a waterfall and a special bell to ring that just beckons anyone walking by to ring it.
Sparky's favorite at the gardens is the huge tree--it's either some kind of fig or banyan tree, she can't remember....Grandson loved it, too....
And when not visiting the beaches or cool places, it was great to just rest and show Eldo how to play video games....
Got a lot more catching up to do, but right now, we gotta go......
See you again soon...we promise!