At Sunset

Happy 2016! I hope everyone had an amazing holiday and a safe new year.

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I spent most of my holiday week ping-ponging around central Florida, not because I was on vacation but because that’s where most of my family lives. I didn’t get a lot of downtime – who does, really – but I got to spend two evenings taking long walks on the Dunedin Causeway that leads out to Caladesi Island, a state park and nature area near where I grew up. The park itself is spectacular, one of the few completely natural areas left in that park of Florida, and I’ve been out there swimming and kayaking many times, but this time I contented my self with walking along the causeway, which is a sort of free for all beach during the day, with kids on bikes and paddleboarders and kayakers and general family-friendly mayhem.

As the sun goes down it becomes the province of the fishermen, who either cast from shore or wade into the shallows with nets, the rhythmic sweep of their casts echoing the steady lapping of waves on the beach. A few people linger, gathering to watch the sunset as it sinks below a neighboring barrier island. Shorebirds stalk the flats and the ospreys wheel overhead, scouting for the last meal of the day.

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When I was a kid, it was a rare thing to see an osprey. They were one of the many raptors impacted by DDT, and their numbers had crashed to the point that to see one flying around was like seeing, I don’t know, a unicorn. Or Santa. I distinctly remember being taken to see an osprey nest at a state park as a field trip, and the general feeling was that those might be the last of these birds.

Instead, though, DDT was banned and the populations began to rebound, to the point where a few years ago I sat on a patio with a college friend admiring a pair of ospreys tearing into a fish on top of a lightpost nearby, just going about their bird-oriented business. And to the point where I could sit two weeks ago and watch the sunset, while they swooped overhead, so close I could see their sharp eyes and the warm soft light play on their feathers, diving for fish and letting out sharp victory cries when they succeeded. They wheeled and dove and brought their spoils, small silvery fish, back to the nests where come spring they will raise a new generation, a set of chicks that won’t have to be watched by the wildlife people and schoolchildren in mingled dread and awe, as they teeter on the brink. They will simply hatch and grow and join the ranks, letting their bright cries carry on the shore wind, as the sunset watchers admire them in the golden light.

Just a natural part of the scenery.

Which is as it should be. And I count myself very lucky to have seen it.

 

 

Photo of the week: Sky Blue

I love this picture.

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It also frustrates the hell out of me, because it is SOOOOOO VERY CLOSE to being perfect, but the way that the bird’s beak sort of disappears into the foliage drives me nuts. And of course it’s the only frame I snapped like this. This is why I’m not a professional photographer.

I do love the colors though, and the sharp contrast of the blues and greens with the focus on the egret. I have no idea how I managed that. (Which is ALSO why I’m not a professional photographer)

And I like the fact that it looks so crisp and clean, when I was actually in a muddy swamp in Puerto Rico, in an egret rookery, with mosquitos the size of remote control airplanes and bird poop on my shoes, sweating like a pig.

That may be the best part.

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Puerto Rico Adventures! I’m afraid I’m going to bore you with these for a while, since it’s one of my favorite places – I’ve been fortunate enough to go there once a year for the last six years – and I just got back from a trip there a few weeks ago.

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Above is the Cabo Rojas lighthouse, and my traveling companion who is not actually making a break for it – just bad timing on the photo. The lighthouse, like all lighthouses, sits high and proud on an outcropping, facing the breakers of the Caribbean Sea, ready to guide ships thru the Mona Passage that separates the Domincan Republic from Puerto Rico. Officially, it is known as the Los Morrillos Light. We picked it as a daytrip destination from our base in Isabella planning to drive down and take pictures. My photos of the Light itself were, predictably, horrible.

But then we got there… and found THIS!

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Los morrillos Light is actually part of a larger nature preserve, the Cabo Rojas Wildlife Refuge, which includes major bird migration area and a turn of the century salt-flat operation, where salt is gathered by water being directed into shallow lagoons and raked up as the sea water evaporates. It sounds like incredibly hard, hot, backbreaking work, and I’m glad I don’t have to do it. The lagoons are a huge resource for wildlife and as we drove down the dirt road to the lighthouse, in what now seemed like a terrifyingly small Ford Focus (seriously, we could have lost the whole car in the ruts), birds and butterflies flew everywhere around the car.

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At the end of the  road was this lagoon, which was a semi-secret swimming hole for the locals. Los Morillos is on a point with Bahia Sucia (Sweet Bay) on one side, and Bahia Salina (Salt Bay) on the other, but this little lagoon doesn’t seem to have a name. It did have a security guard, playing Reggaeton music in his jeep. We hiked up to the lighthouse and took our photos and were endlessly amused by the resident iguanas, and then went back down to the lagoon to join the swimmers. I was thanking my lucky stars that my companion had insisted on throwing our snorkels in the trunk.

The water is about 4 feet deep and the high lime content from the surrounding cliffs make it an amazing powder blue color. It feels minerally – you come out of a swim feeling slightly powdery, like you’ve just dusted yourself in chalk – and it was absolute hell on my contact lenses. We swam for about an hour, snorkeling around the sea grass and seeing little aquarium-style tropical fish, then jumped back in the car to try and beat the incoming rain (we didn’t).

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It was seriously magical – the views, the secret bay, the feeling of discovery – as if we were the only people who knew about this hidden lagoon. Which of course we weren’t – it was obviously popular with local families, people lounging on the beach, kids splashing in the shallows – there was even one couple that had brought a full-size picnic table umbrella, poked in into the shallows in about two feet of water, and were lolling in the shade and the waves AT THE SAME TIME. That’s some serious forethought there.

Another person who knew about it was my friend Chuck, who’s uncle owns a house just north near Rincon. When we told him about the lagoon, he replied, “Oh, yeah, we’ve been there. You know that area is famous for being a breeding ground for Atlantic Tiger Sharks…”

AAAAAAAAHHHHH?!?!?!?!

Sure enough, when I looked up Cabo Rojo to find some links for this post, one of the first mentions of the Mona Passage was “the area is noted for it’s teeming shark population, which use the passage to go from breeding grounds to the south to feeding areas in the north….”

Yikes! Given the people at the beach I’m guessing that the shark activity is out in the Passage and the deeper bays, not the little four-foot-deep lagoon we were in. And I’ve just learned (while scaring myself silly researching this post) that there are occasionally whale sharks off of Isla de Mona, the large island that sits about 30 miles west of the Puerto Rican Coast and is famous for it’s scuba diving and ability to see large pelagics, in part due to it’s protected status as a wildlife refuge. I really need to learn to dive! Maybe for next year. But I’ll be looking over my shoulder a bit more this time…

(on an added note, I wrote the title for this post and couldn’t figure out why it kept echoing in my head like a song lyric, and my mind kept worrying at it until it popped into my brain: this song. Really. Why COULDN’T Brad change that tire?)

Photo: On the Surface

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Kayaking in the Middle Keys last fall, still photo taken with my GoPro. This photo captures what I like best about kayaking; the sensation of being directly on the surface of the water, moving almost soundlessly through the water, and really disappearing into the landscape of water and sky. Because the kayak is so quiet, it’s amazing for seeing birds, fish, turtles – I even had dolphins near my kayak a few weeks ago in the Savannah/Tybee area (but didn’t get a photo, dang it). I love it, and it’s worth the sore arms and non-graceful exit from  the boat ( I invariably wind up just rolling over and flopping onto the dock or beach like the world’s largest two-year-old; it’s so embarassing…)