Haven’t posted in a while as I’ve been crazy busy. When we got home from Florida in mid-March we went as usual to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament where we got to judge again. Very fun. Then it was time to get down to work. I was hoping to get a large enough body of work (paintings) to have a solo exhibit at the Greenfield Gallery. This is a relatively new gallery in town and it is a beautiful space with some great owners–Kate and Rachel. My plan was to put together work from our trip to South Africa. I did enough to convince them to give me a show in October. This took a lot of work and kept me busy until mid-July when our granddaughters came to visit.
We did have a short trip in June to visit our dear friends Jane and Hsein Hsin Chang
in Minneapolis. Jane and I were co-presidents of our arts co-op for 2 or 3 years. They moved back to Jane’s hometown area several years ago and we finally got to visit her new place. We got the grand tour of the area including the Minneapolis Art Institute, the Botanical Garden and Minnehaha Falls.
In mid-July our 2 granddaughters came to visit. Tessa (17) was only able to spend a week with us but we packed it full. We had a fun night of Mexican train dominoes, they went to the Y with me and played pickle ball, we had a neighborhood ice cream social, hiked the High Ledges,
went to the new Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield
and briefly to the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst and we volunteered at and saw a Mohawk Trail Concert of chamber music. Had a fun time. Leila (13) stayed another 2 weeks which was really great. Leila is very interested in Marine Biology so we took her to Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute on the Cape and got a wonderful tour of the whole spectrum of what they do. It was quite fascinating to see all that they do and Leila seemed to really enjoy it.
We camped for 2 nights nearby and went to the beach and visited the Edward Gorey House which was also fun. I’ve been a fan of his illustrations since art school and have a lot of his books. Many of you may know him from the opening titles of Mystery on PBS.
When we got back home we did the usual summer things, swimming, playing games, going for walks. Denny took her swimming at the pumping station a few times so I could work on more paintings for my show. We also went to another Mohawk Trail Concert. This one featured a comedian/clarinetist along with the house quartet of 2 violins, a viola and a cello. It was a really fun concert. At one point he mentioned that the thing about chamber music was that there isn’t a conductor and thought it would be fun to have a conductor. He asked for volunteers and no one put up their hands so he picked someone and that was Leila! She was terrific and got lots of complements at intermission. The woman in the seat behind us tapped me on the shoulder and said “you can tell me the truth, she really rehearsed that, didn’t she?’ We assured her it was a surprise to all of us. I think Leila’s ego was boosted quite a bit that night.
Leila also really loves little kids and I connected her with a friend who has 19 month old twin boys who needed a little help. She got to play with them a few times and they loved her and wished that she could stay longer.
After Leila left it was time to start repainting a very large mural in downtown Greenfield that I had helped with 27 years ago. It was started as a cultural exchange with our sister city in the Ukraine and designed by a NY woman who had gone with a group to the Ukraine where they painted a bus. They decided to have them come to Greenfield to paint a mural here. Unfortunately there were complications and delays and when they came we hadn’t started painting. Then Janet, the artist/designer, had to return to NYC to teach at which point I stepped in to coordinate the painting and make a few necessary changes due to window placements. Anyway, that was 27 years ago and it had faded considerably so Bekki Tippens (the original instigator of the mural) and I decided it was time to refurbish. Bekki got us a grant from the local cultural council and a lot of donations. We put a box in the library asking for suggestions of changes from the community and got lots of them. Between the 2 of us we figured out how to incorporate most of the suggestions and I proceeded to draw all the pictures. I think there were 28 to 30 new or altered designs. The mural is meant to be a historical depiction of our community with faux postcards of old Greenfield landmarks surrounded by a sort of sampler of small pictures of important things in the area. We updated a lot of the smaller pictures and added things that are currently important to our community from the suggestions. On August 2nd we started painting. We had many volunteer helpers but it mainly depended on us being there from 9 to 6 everyday (with the exception of a few rain days) for a month! Sometimes I’d have to go home and rework a picture or draw a different one. Bekki would continue to work on donations and PR. It was exhausting. We did get a lot of pictures in the local paper and were on the local TV news.
The following is an article from the local paper published when we were almost done.
GREENFIELD VETERANS MALL
Refurbished mural puts county’s best face forward
Celebration concert set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Hawks and Reed
By AVIVA LUTTRELL
GREENFIELD — After a month of work by 100 volunteers, the mural overlooking Veterans Memorial Mall has been refurbished and updated to reflect how Franklin County has grown over the last 27 years.
To celebrate the completion of the project and raise money for additional expenses, Rebecca Tippens of Colrain, who produced the original mural, has organized an event at the Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center on Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. The celebration will feature musicians, storytellers and more.
“We invite all to come and celebrate this beautification in town, but also what the mural means and will mean for us all,” Tippens said, adding, “this has truly been a community effort that has not only given brightness to the county, but will also be an important historical record of our county.”
The mural, which features images of Franklin County landmarks, including Poet’s Seat Tower and the Eunice Williams Covered Bridge, was originally painted in 1990.
Several new images were added during the refurbishment in an effort to reflect recent happenings in Greenfield, including images of alternative energy sources and Wi-Fi; artistry, including easels, palettes, brushes and musical instruments; fruit; cross country skis; contra dancers; the rag shag parade and people advocating for freedoms.
Nancy Baker worked alongside Tippens to gather ideas for the mural, which Baker then created.
Tippens said the mural is nearly completed, except for a layer of acrylic protective coating and UV varnish that is scheduled to be applied this weekend. The more than 50 volunteers who gave at least six hours of work or contributed more than $100 to help meet mural expenses had their names added to the wall, but Tippens said many others also contributed.
“It was kind of extraordinary to me because there were so many people involved — it felt like it was truly a community- created project,” she said.
Montague WebWorks also organized a team to put together a brochure and website about the mural, which Tippens hopes will be completed in September or early October.
“This will be an important educational tool in describing the history and meaning of the images,” she said.
Visitors will also be able to add their own stories through the website, once completed.
Wednesday’s event at the Hawks and Reed at Main Street and Court Square will feature at least eight performers, including storyteller Peter Kozinski, musicians Molly Scott, Russ Thomas, John O’Connor, Pat and Tex LaMountain, and more. There is a $10 suggested donation.
At the end of it all we had a celebration (and fundraiser) at Hawks and Reed, a local venue for music and performances. There were 8 acts from singers to storytellers all relating to our wonderful community and the mural. One of them even wrote us a song!
A Yodel to Our Mural
A parody of Hank Williams’s “Lovesick Blues,”
honoring the volunteers who revived Greenfield’s downtown mural,
inspired by Rebecca Tippins and Nancy Baker
The wall was beat up with dis-use! Oh, Lord!–
Years of weather and some dings.
It sure was looking kind of shabby–
Bumper scrapes and scratchy things. Oh, Lord!
But Bekk and Nancy spoke up loud,
Inspired our neighborly crowd:
Come paint here, come paint there—come volunteer some labor!
You can climb a scaffold if you’re free of acro-
Or just paint from the ground.
Come resuscitate our mural,
And make it whole and sound!
They spread the word, and folks said yes!
Let’s bring it back from a beat-up mess!
Let’s do this,
And beat the beat-up blues!
There is love! There is love in this beautiful town!
There’s nothing wrong with our heart!
There is love! There is love in our beautiful town!
Check out this work of art!
Sure, there’s wear and tear, just like anywhere,
But we can build a team.
So now if something’s shabby,
We can make it gleam!
Using yellow, green, and blue–oh, Lord!–
Not to mention red and white,
A super-dedicated crew
Has fixed the mural so it’s right (oh, Lord!)!
They slapped on paint day after day
Without one penny of pay:
A dab here, a dab there—they really got it shining!
Lord, we love to witness how they polished up this
What a sweet tour de force–
Inspired by Bekki and Nancy
Who kept the volunteers on course!
So now behold this work of art,
A gift of love from Greenfield’s heart,
With no more beat-up blues!
Thank you, Bekki!
Thank you, Nancy!
Copyright 2017 Russell Thomas, Free Lunch Music, BMI
Here is a picture a friend took with her IPhone.
Last weekend the final varnish was put on and it is finally be done. We are having a brochure made that explains all the pictures and there will be a website also.
On Labor Day we went on our annual trip to the Adirondacks. There were 11 of us camping there. While we usually canoe the weather reports were not looking good so we opted not to bring our boat. One of our friends had an RV that he let us stay in so we didn’t even take our pop-up trailer. As it turned out it was a good decision. His RV was warm and protected us from all the cold and wind and rain that we had. Unfortunately that was not the case for everyone as 3 couples were in tents. One day they did get a window to paddle for a few hours. We walked the 3 miles around the lake when it wasn’t raining and one time we started that and got halfway before it started to rain. We still had a great time, playing games, sitting around the campfire that wouldn’t start because the wood was too wet and doing a lot of cooking and eating. As for me it was just what I needed after such an exhausting summer. I got a lot of sleep and didn’t think about any of the responsibilities I had back home.
Now I’m re-energized to finish what I need to for my show in October. I may even get to work in my garden and clean my house!
We finally made our way to Ed and Pam’s house in Englewood. We had left the skeeters behind and in fact weren’t bothered again once we got to Corkscrew. Ed has a boat and we were going to go out the next day on it but it was really windy so we went to a nice little rookery in Venice.
Next to the rookery was a small pond with about 50 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and another 20 Glossy Ibis along with a few other wading birds.
After the rookery we went to the beach and walked along looking for shark’s teeth. We found some to save and send to the grandkids along with some pretty shells.
The next day we did go out on the boat before we left.
It was still a bit windy and we had trouble getting the boat back on the trailer but it was an otherwise beautiful day and enjoyable trip.
We then made our way up to Homosassa to camp for two nights at a park on the Homosassa River.
Our friends Pliney and Judy, who used to live in Northfield but now live in Littleton, NH,, spend their winters in Ocala which is about an hour and a half away from where we were. Since we got there a bit late we made plans to meet the next day.
We had originally thought we’d do a ‘swim with Manatees’ thing but that didn’t work out so we all decided to spend the day at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. This is a 210 acre park home to native Florida wildlife where you can always see Manatees. We saw about 30 in the river which is in a protected area.
The park used to be privately owned by people who collected all sorts of exotic animals and when the State took it over they only wanted to have native animals so they sent the exotics to zoos but had a Hippopotamus that they couldn’t find a home for right away. The Floridians really liked Lu the Hippo and petitioned the State to keep him there. Eventually the State declared Lu a Florida native and he stayed. He is now 57 years old.
There were lots of other native animals, reptiles and birds, many of which were there because they had been injured and couldn’t be put back in the wild.
Black Vulture, Otter, Bobcat and Florida Panther eating a bird
There are also birds that just happen to be on the river or come in to avail themselves of the food.
The large birds of prey looked particularly wounded, some with no wing or a blind eye.
Red tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle
The water comes from a deep spring and there is an underwater viewing area where you can see schools of about 10 different kinds of fish and even a Blue Stone Crab.
There were also nesting birds up in the trees.
And lots of other birds and animals.
Squirrel, Green Heron
White and Brown Pelicans
Black crowned Night Heron, adults and juvenile
We finished our day with Judy and Pliney at a great seafood restaurant. The next day we headed north and got past Savannah where we spent the night. Then we went to Rudy and Audrey’s again just south of Charlotte, NC. We spent two nights there so the next day we had time to visit another friend nearby – Dot. Dot worked with me back in the late 80’s in Brattleboro, VT. She and her late husband became friends and in fact we had visited them after they moved down to Deland, Fl. They even took us to the same rookery that Ed did and we walked along the same Shark Beach! Now Dot is in assisted living in a lovely continuing care place in Rock Hill. She had recently fractured her back so we were expecting her to be in terrible pain. She was looking much better than we thought and said the pain was now down to an ache and she was walking around quite well. We had a very nice visit then headed back to Rudy and Audrey’s for lunch and a long walk on the Greenway. This was a beautiful area with trails through horse and sheep farms along a creek with a suspension bridge. There were a couple of historic cabins dating back to the Civil War. The temperature was perfect and the sun was shining. We ended the day with some South Carolina BBQ.
That was the last of our beautiful weather. The next two days we just made our way home through colder and colder temps and lots of wind. The temps at home were in the single digits and tomorrow we are expecting a nor’easter. Still — “There’s No Place Like Home”.
We went a lot of places on our way home and Denny took a ton of pictures so in order to not have too long of a blog I’m dividing it into two parts.
We spent two nights in Collier Seminole SP, home of a multitude of mosquitos. I believe the description of the mosquito level was “donor”. It’s really a nice park and they have a loyal crew of friends who have all kinds of activities set up. Guess it was the wrong time of the season though. We didn’t want to just sit in our camper so we covered ourselves in DEET and off we went. Our first stop was Ten Thousand Islands Wildlife Refuge. At the beginning of the path there were lots of Warblers flying around but the light was bad for pictures so we walked the trail to a tower and spied the following:
Great Blue Heron
Another Friendly Gator
There were lots of ducks (mostly Blue-winged Teal) on the lakes and some pretty butterflies.
After a long walk in some pretty hot weather we got some lunch and went to Big Cypress Bend. This had a small boardwalk then a trail though some shade we were grateful to see. The trail ended at a small waterhole with some more nice birds.
Wood Stork and Juvenile White Ibis
There were also some nice air plants and Strangler Fig;
The next day we drove up to see another old paddling buddy, Ed, and his wife, Pam. We thought the drive was short so we stopped on the way at Corkscrew Swamp. Since we spent about 4 hours there we arrived later than we thought but got there in time for dinner.
Corkscrew Swamp is an Audubon site of about 11,000 acres. It has a 2 and a half mile boardwalk through a 500 year old Bald Cypress swamp which we walked. Our first sighting was a Red shouldered Hawk sitting on a branch in the woods eating a very large snake. He was taking his time eating and it looked like it he had enough to take him through the week. You can see the snake hanging down a ways. It’s black with red striped across its belly. We never got a good ID on it.
We walked on through fields with Iris in bloom and through swamps with lots of Cypress knees.
Then we came to a very wet area with water lettuce and lots of birds.
There were a lot of the same birds we had been seeing but we found our first Limpkin of the trip along with a very striking Anhinga in mating plumage.
There was a shortcut at this point so we decided to take it and get some lunch and come back the other way. We came back to the other end of the water area with lots more birds.
Juvenile and Adult Black crowned Night Heron
Great Blue Heron and Gator
Yellow crowned Night Heron
We spoke with one of the volunteers about where to find the Painted Buntings and he said they come to the feeders and pointed us in the right direction.
We found 4 males and 1 female. Her picture didn’t come out but she’s kind of plain and just yellow.
On our way out we also saw a flock of Wild Turkeys.
Two days before we picked up Sam we did a little birding. We started off at a place reported to have a Buff-bellied Hummingbird, a Rufous Hummingbird and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. We went there and found all three! We met a couple of people there, one who told us where to find a bunch of different new birds and the other who decided to join us. The directions were confusing and we never really found what we expected but at one spot we did find Mitred Parakeets which were lifers for us. We tried the right part of Matheson Park again where the last time, we found out, we were in the wrong place. There are supposed to be lots of parrots there and we didn’t find a single one. We did find some other things though.
There was a place of reputed great birding in Ft. Lauderdale where we had to go to the airport to pick up Sam at 5:20 pm so we thought we’d go there that morning but the next day it rained all day and it was raining the morning we picked him up so we didn’t go. We just got him and took him to dinner on the way back to the campground. He was tired out from the flight anyway.
The next day we took him to the Everglades. We started out at the Anhinga trail where the young Anhingas had gotten a lot bigger since the last time we saw them. We also saw some new chicks
and lots gators, (45 in one spot),
and a few Purple Gallinules.
There were other birds,fish, epiphytes and turtles, too.
Then we went down to Flamingo and got good looks of the Crocodiles. One swam right next to the dock we were on and Sam got his picture. Saw a few more things like gulls, lizards and Florida Bay.
Sam had asked to fish so we borrowed some equipment from another camper and went to Biscayne Bay NP. We had hoped to take the boat ride to Boca Chica Key but they were full so we reserved a spot for Sunday instead. Sam fished for a while not catching anything but it was a nice day and when we walked to the end of the jetty our friend the Great White Heron was there. Couldn’t resist lots of pictures of him.
On Saturday we went to John Pennekamp SP on the Keys where Sam could fish some more.
It was quite hot and being a Saturday was very crowded. There was a swimming beach with lots of people near where Sam was fishing and as we got there a Manatee poked his head up right near the swimmers. He came up several times right near people which surprised us.
Some people got very excited and others didn’t seem to care. That struck us as weird but maybe they see them all the time. We thought it was pretty cool.
On Sunday we went back to Biscayne Bay for our 3 hour boat ride to Boca Chica Key. As we came into the Key we got good looks at a very large Green Sea Turtle. Once again a beautiful day and lots of people and boats. We had an hour on the key and could walk a nature trail and go up into the lighthouse and have a picnic lunch. Nice day.
On Sam’s last day we went to Shark Valley which is another area of the Everglades with a 15 mile loop road.
At about the half way point there is a big tower overlooking a bird roosting area and an alligator area. The last time we went there when you climbed up to the top of the tower you looked down on about 50 gators lying together. All along the trail there are birds and gators and turtles. There is a tram tour every hour and a bike rental if you’d like to do that instead. We arrived about 5 minutes after the tram tour started so we opted for the bikes. A big mistake! It was about 86 degrees, quite humid, and not much in the way of shade on the trail. We also were pedaling against the wind the whole way to the tower and the bikes were horrible! Denny and I’ve never been so uncomfortable on a bike. And, when we got to the tower there wasn’t really much to look at—a few birds and a few alligators. By the time we got back we were all exhausted and dripping sweat.
We feel bad that we put Sam through that on his last day here. Hope he remembers the good parts of the trip more.
March 1st we wheeled out of the Boardwalk RV Resort west to Collier Seminole SP for a couple of nights. We are slowly working out way back home. We drove along the Tamiami Trail which is always interesting with its slough next to the road with lots of birds and gators in it. There are several stops along the way at Big Cypress Swamp with boardwalks to view the wildlife. The park is right next to Naples, FL where had dinner with old friends Jerry and Barbara who we hadn’t seen in about 45 years. Nice catching up on all our lives.
We probably won’t have time for another blog until we get home. Lots more pictures then.
While we were waiting for the maintenance guys to prepare the walls to paint we had a few days to play. We checked the So. Florida rare bird alert and saw there was a Western Spindalis at a park in Key Biscayne so we headed up to see if we could find it. We got there and walked around the area described and found almost nothing but iguanas until
we came upon a couple from Ottawa who were also looking for the bird. He was quite a talker and seems to fly all over when he hears of a new bird. He said he’d tried to find this bird 4 times, so far unsuccessfully. There were lots of warblers in the tree that he said was the one it had been seen in before but alas no Spindalis. We did walk over to a beach and found lots of shore birds, many of which didn’t seem to mind people and let us get fairly close.
We went to another area that had some exotic birds that had obviously been introduced.
And of course we had plenty of our old Vulture friends, both Turkey and Black and the Florida chicken (as some refer to the White Ibis).
After hours of looking we gave up and went to another park that this guy said had parrots. We found a wedding and lots of very loud (salsa) music—but no parrots. The neighborhoods we drove through were quite amazing with huge beautiful houses on acres of landscaped land. Nixon had a house there when he was president.
The next day we decided to go all the way to Flamingo in the Everglades. From the visitors center area we could see Crocodiles and Alligators. This is one of the few places that both Crocodiles and Alligators live together. There were also Manatees in the water in the marina. We tried to go for a bird walk at Eco Pond but the mosquitoes were too fierce there and along the Snake Bight trail. We walked around Eco Pond managing to take these pictures very quickly and only made it a short way on Snake Bight.
Snake Bight Trail
We did manage to see about 35 birds in areas that were more tolerable.
One more day off and we went to the Keys. Did a little birding looking for another Spindalis reported but no luck there either. We did find a great little cafe for lunch with fresh fish, conch and shrimp. We’ll definitely go back there.
The next day I started painting. There is apparently quite a controversy going on with the management and some of the regular residents here about the fitness center. The residents don’t want to lose their indoor air-conditioned place to work out and here I am painting walls in it for it to be a food and clothing pantry. They even posted a sign on the door asking for comments if you don’t want to lose the fitness center. According to what management tells me they are going to build a new gym and won’t have the pantry until that’s done but people are not convinced so they are asking for a meeting. Anyway, here I am painting these walls and it feels pretty weird when people come in who are obviously opposed to losing their workout space.
This is for the clothing area.
This is for the food area
Anyway, I worked for 4 days and finished the murals yesterday. I did quit early on Valentine’s Day to go out to a lovely dinner with my valentine. We even found this funky ice cream place in the Mexican part of town for dessert.
Yesterday afternoon we took a picnic lunch to Biscayne Bay NP and walked the boardwalk to the jetty. Lots of folks out fishing off the boardwalk.
Then we drove out to the airport where we had heard there are Burrowing Owls and found three! Unfortunately they were too far away to photograph and we needed a scope to see them well. Did see some nice Eastern Meadowlarks though.
Our grandson, Sam, arrives next Wednesday for our last week in Homestead. We hope to show him lots of fun things in the area.
We’ve been here a week and we thought we’d fill you in on where we are and what we’re doing. Our first few days here we were getting organized and got our camper set up with our screen tent acting as our kitchen area. Our little 2 burner stove attaches to the outside of the camper and we put our table out there and even got ourselves a small fridge to use instead of the cooler. It’s not the most luxurious setup but it’ll work for the month we are here.
The RV resort itself is an interesting mix. There is a large section known as the French quarter that has campers who are French Canadians from small towns in Quebec. Most do not speak much English. We’ve been told that they are blue collar workers in the lumber business who come here in the winter when they can’t work. They seem to be very fun-loving and athletic folks who are seen either playing volleyball, bocci, shuffleboard or swimming. Our site is next to their area. There is also a large contingent of Hispanics, some families and a bunch of blue collar workers who share the park models as a way to escape the high rentals in the Miami area. There are also the just plain Americans from all over trying to escape the cold winter. It almost feels like we are in a foreign country.
The deal is that we get a free hook-up in exchange for some mural painting by me. Crystal, who is the manager, has decided that they need to have a food and clothing pantry where they had a rather crummy fitness center and that is where I’m painting. The first thing I did was paint a new sign.
I am also going to paint 2 small murals inside but am waiting until next week because they are re-painting the walls first.
In the meantime we have managed to do a few things in the area. Our first excursion was to the Royal Palm Visitors Center to walk the Anhinga Trail and Gumbo Limbo trail. The Anhinga trail is really like walking through a zoo with no cages. You walk along a slough with Anhingas nesting in the trees or fishing in the water where there are all kinds of fish (including a bunch of species that people introduced from their aquariums at home -not good).
Dinner time for baby Anhingas
There are also shorebirds
and lots of alligators.
Last Sunday we were wondering where we could watch the Superbowl since the Clubhouse didn’t have a TV. We discovered that the French Canadiens were setting up a large screen on the volleyball/bocci area and we were welcome to bring our chairs and watch. Only thing was it was in French! We managed to figure out what was happening without a problem. (The Canadian announcers signaled a score by shouting TOUCHE!) It was an amazing game as we’re sure most of you know ending in a Patriots win in sudden death overtime. Both teams played well and it was very tense especially in the second half when they came from a 28 to 3 deficit to tie it up and go into overtime – unbelievable! It was a warm night so we were quite comfortable with just a light shirt.
About the weather, it has been quite warm and humid here. Days have been in the 80’s and nights not going below mid to upper 60’s. It looks like we are getting a bit of cooler weather coming up with lows down to 59 and highs only in the 70’s. The humidity is such that the mornings sound like it’s raining with heavy dew and the water dripping off the trees. We’ve learned to put a tarp over our picnic table at night so we have a dry place to sit for breakfast.
Last night we went out to dinner with a couple from New Jersey who knew of a wonderful seafood restaurant in Key Largo (about 20 miles away). We sat outside enjoying the water and the birds with our very fresh seafood dinners and watched the sunset—lovely!
Today we decided to check out Biscayne Bay NP which is about 8 miles from us. It is the largest marine park in America and encompasses the bay just south of Miami all the way to Key Largo.
Miami as seen across the bay from the jetty
We walked out the jetty trail where there were lots of people fishing and you can see schools of hundreds of fish all along the way and a few crabs.
At the end of the jetty is a closed area as seabirds congregate there. There was a beautiful white morph Great Blue Heron
along with a lot of Terns, Gulls, Cormorants and Pelicans.
Walking back there was another Great Blue Heron, this one the usual color.
They have a boat tour 4 days a week and also rent kayaks on the weekends. We are thinking of doing both.
We hear that the northeast is getting socked with big snowstorms and hope all are okay back home. We’re just fine down here where it’s warm.
We left Greenfield on January 21st heading for Florida. As we don’t like to drive for long stints every day we took the opportunity to stop along the way and visit friends and family. Our first stop was outside of Philadelphia, in Bryn Mawr, to see friends we’ve had since we lived in Buffalo 43 years ago—Doreen and David. Although it was a bit chilly we still managed to take some lovely walks through the Bryn Mawr Campus and Haverford. Both of these universities have beautiful architecture with their old stone castle-like buildings. Nice relaxing visit with old friends.
We then moved on to Roanoke, VA thru some rather nasty snow and rain where we had dinner with our friend, Scott and his wife. We know Scott from paddling with the AMC. We went to a railroad themed restaurant that Scott picked out especially for Denny who is a train aficionado — fun.
The weather looked up a bit the next day as we arrived at Rudy and Audrey’s new house in South Carolina, just below Charlotte, NC. R & A are also old paddling friends who moved down to this area a number of years ago due to a change in jobs. We had stopped at their place a few years ago before they built their house so were treated to seeing their new construction which is very nice. We spent 2 nights there and visited Andrew Jackson State Park
Audrey with us at the Park
and the Museum of Transportation which is quite extensive. It’s mostly outdoors walking from one train to another, some of which you could go through and learn interesting things about. There was a mail car that had a story to it. It seems they always tried to find the addressee and once got a letter written to “Mr. Hot Dog”. They thought about that one for a long time then finally realized it was to go to Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter! There were other cars where you could be the engineer and operate all the different levers as a video played where you were. It was a lot of fun and was enhanced by the fact that it was 70 degrees and sunny.
Next day we headed to the coast, stopping just south of Savannah after visiting the Savannah NWR.
Refuge and our first Anhinga
We stopped also at Altamaha WMA which is an area of former rice paddies that are good places to find birds.
White Ibis feeding
The weather was once again cooler and overcast so we moved down to Jekyll Island which was great. At the beginning there was a tower overlooking a marsh where we could see some shorebirds but the best birding was at Amphitheater Pond where we saw Roseate Spoonbills, Yellow and Black-crowned Night Herons, Wood Storks, Anhinga and the usual White and Glossy Ibis and Great and Snowy Egrets and Great and Little Blue Herons. There were some ducks and Grebes as well. The last thing we did on the island was visit the Sea Turtle Rescue Exhibit. We got to see them feed and talk about 23 saved turtles that were in their hospital area awaiting recovery enough to be released back into the ocean. They also were raising very young turtles until they were old enough to manage on their own and be released. I think she said they keep them for about 3 years.
Spent the night in Kingsland, GA not far from the Okefenokee Swamp where we spent the next day and night. Our friend Janice from out bird club had a connection with a woman, Sheila, there who knew the area and gave us all kinds of information about where to find birds. We were looking in particular for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker which is endangered and a lifer for us. Unfortunately it was another cold and overcast day so we didn’t find much in the way of birds. Had a nice tour of an old Homestead that a family had spent about 100 years living in and doing subsistence farming, mainly making turpentine but also having livestock and fruit trees and vegetables. It certainly was a hard life. We met Sheila for dinner and exchanged birding stories. She encouraged us to try again for the Red-cockaded by starting at dawn which we did.
At first we couldn’t see much as it was still kind of dark but once the light got better we found some—anywhere from 4 to 7 as they were hopping around we weren’t sure whether we were recounting the same ones. It was sunnier that day so we decided to drive the Swamp drive
Cypress knees, Spanish Moss, Mushrooms and Pitcher Plant along drive
and walk the boardwalk once more. It was a good decision as it was a lot birdier than the day before.
View of prairie from the tower
Then we moved on to just below Jacksonville where we visited Amelia Island and Big Talbot SP. Big Talbot had lots of birds and a great boardwalk where one could see hundreds of little shore birds mermerating across the mud flats. Of course as soon as we went to get the camera they all flew away. We did get a few big ones that didn’t fly.
Little Blue Heron
Red-shouldered Hawk at the picnic area
We spent the night at Ormond Beach next to Daytona.
Our final stop on our way to our destination of Homestead,FL was in Orlando where our cousins Tab and Gail had just moved from Chicago. We decided it was warm enough finally to camp so we found this county park just south of the city call Moss Park. This was a large park with lakes and ponds all around and large wooded sites.
Cardinal who kept pecking at our mirror thinking it was another Cardinal
Pine Warbler under our picnic table
We have our pop-up camper which fortunately has a furnace as it got rather cold at night. Gail had made us a lovely supper that first evening and we had a nice visit. They seem to love living in the heart of Orlando and Tab was filled with info about its history. The next morning we walked around the campground until after lunch then went to the Henry P. Leu Botanical Gardens. That was really beautiful with acres of gardens ranging from tropical to rose gardens to color gardens, etc.
Green Heron and Turtles at the Lake area
They had a special dinosaur exhibit with different dinosaur sculptures amongst the plantings.
After that we all went to a wonderful Spanish restaurant for dinner.
On Feb.1st we arrived at the Boardwalk RV Resort in Homestead where we will be for the month.
Enough for now.
If you can forget the politics it was a great year with lots of travel to Arizona, Cape May, Maine with Tessa and Leila, and South Africa. We finished it up with six days in NYC with our 16 year old granddaughter Tessa. Since she lives in Olympia, WA she hadn’t had a chance to go there before, so we gave her the grand tour. We visited museums,
Tessa and Denny at the Museum of Natural History
Sculpture room at the Metropolitan
walked through Central Park, through Strawberry Fields,
saw the Dakota,
Tessa and Alice
Fountain in the park
(ceiling of the main reading room)
lots of fun windows with their holiday decorations,
went to see some of the big hotels, saw Times Square,
the Empire State Building,
Rockefeller Center, (big light show across the street on Saks),
the United Nations,
saw a great play, Shear Madness, which was really funny, and rode the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.
view from the ferry
Phew! Not bad for 4 days (2 of our days were for travel). We took subways to start the day but mostly walked and by late afternoon we were ready to head back to the apartment we were staying at. It was a wonderful way to finish 2016.
We were up before sunrise to get to the Karoo for sunrise and our last full day of birding. Karoo is low desert scrub.
We were looking mostly for LBJs and endemics. We found 10 new species in the 1st 3 hours. Pao describes these birds as “special, not beautiful”. He only likes to take pictures of the beautiful ones, but that didn’t stop him from taking his camera out and setting it up on the tripod at all our frequent stops.
We had a pitstop at a very funky store/restaurant in the middle of nowhere. They had lots of skulls and horns and other strange decor. A Familiar Chat had a nest in a dead tractor.
It was very dry out with no sign of Bustards or Coursers which we were also looking for. We did get some beautiful distant views of a few Pale Chanting Goshawks. We finally found 3 Karoo Korhaans but we came back through a pass where we looked high and low for Protea Canary and didn’t find it.
I think these are called ice plants.
Coming through the pass
View through the pass
Our wonderful guide Greg
This is looking down at the greater Ceres area. There are many apple and pear and other fruit orchards here. In fact the apple juice box we had at breakfast was from here.
We left Ceres this morning at 10:00 am (4:00 am at home) and headed toward the Cape Town airport but we had to make one more stop. This time we found that Protea Canary. He’s kind of drab but that was one more bird for our list. I think the group got something like 460 species of birds. We didn’t see all of these but probably only missed 10 or less. We haven’t done our totals yet. We also saw 45 mammals and 15 reptiles. I’d say we did very well. It was a fabulous trip even if it was exhausting. We arrived home the next day at about 3:00 pm safe and sound.