Tag Archives: Amelia Island Florida

Meeting friendly folks wherever we go

painted buntings, Amelia Island FL

We got to see this beautiful couple at the invitation of friends we made in Florida.

Travel and people. That’s an intriguing combination of which my wife and I never tire.

People are as interesting, unique, and varied as the places we visit. The two are intrinsically intertwined, humanity and landscape, a finely woven rainbow tapestry incarnate.

Neva and I enjoy chance encounters with others as we explore and uncover new locales, cultures, and tradition. Most folks we meet are friendly, courteous, and respectful, transcending race, religion, sect, gender, or avocation.

Everglades NP, friendly couple

The couple who told me about the hawk.

That proved true again during our latest snowbird experiences this winter. From the time we left home at December’s end until we arrived back in the Shenandoah Valley, we visited fascinating places and met kind earthly citizens wherever we went.

I couldn’t begin to list all the memorable interactions. A sampling of the kindness and hospitality shown to us will have to suffice.

We connected with Rich and Pauline, friends from Holmes County, Ohio as they visited other acquaintances on Amelia Island, Florida. Neva and I reaped the benefits of hospitality from both couples. A beautiful pair of painted buntings visited the backyard feeders of Tim and June, who retired to Fernandina Beach a few years ago.

We found gregarious guides, helpful rangers, and friendly visitors on a junket to south Florida at the end of our stay on Amelia. People offered to take our photo at landmarks. They gave us suggestions on eateries preferred by locals.

The gregarious tour guide who knew his fish.

The guide on our Everglades boat tour rattled off scores of fish species that inhabit the waters in and around the national park he so adores. He did the same for the many types of beautiful birds we encountered, too.

Fellow tour-goers we met were equally congenial. We kept running into a recently retired couple from Muncie, Indiana. Their interests in exploring Biscayne and Everglades National Parks mirrored ours. We shared conversations and leisurely walks together.

A ranger at an Everglades visitors’ center was most helpful in highlighting the best birding spots for us. We weren’t disappointed at all as we followed his suggestions.

At one location, we ran into a former college basketball coach from Newark, Ohio who knew Hiland Hawks basketball well. He couldn’t believe it when we told him our son and daughter graduated from Hiland.

At another stop, a young couple on a boardwalk in the Everglades told me about a hawk they had seen. I watched it stalk, kill, and consume its marshy meal.

key lime pie, Key West FL

A tour guide at the Ernest Hemingway House steered us to a tasty piece of Key Lime pie at a local eatery.

In Key West, our tour guide of the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum steered us to the perfect nearby restaurant. We took a leisurely lunch outdoors, enjoying our food in the luxurious Florida sunshine.

The Sunshine State couldn’t claim dibs on friendliness, however. The guides at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina made our visit there most pleasurable. Like us, they were retired educators.

A lady from Michigan who climbed the 167 steps of the Hunting Island Lighthouse chatted away like a long lost friend. Together we watched from atop the lighthouse as dolphins plied the ocean waters for breakfast.

Nor will I forget the affable shuttle bus driver who returned us to our van from the airport. She remembered us right away though she had met hundreds of other travelers in the six days between transporting us.

I learned a lot on our winter trip, and we met many nice people. After all, humans are designed to be relational.

That relationship involves responsible interaction through stewardship, mutual respect, and affirming connectivity. Neva and I were grateful to be in the graces of folks who not only believed that, but lived it, too.

Amelia Island FL, sunset photography

Sunsets, birds, and people were the ingredients that made for an enjoyable vacation.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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How to stay warm in the winter

winter weather, Ohio's Amish country

In winter’s grasp.

The polar vortex has had its way with most of us in the U.S. again this winter. Once it sank south and east out of the Canadian Arctic area, record cold temperatures and wind chills were set all across the northern states and some far into the south.

My wife and I watched the TV news in sympathy with those freezing in the frigidness of blinding blizzards and well below zero wind chills. We even had freeze warnings in northeast Florida, where we have spent parts of the last few winters.

Thanks to the Arctic air, it was cold there, too, in relative terms of course. Amelia Island is as far north in the Sunshine State as you can get. So when massive cold fronts spawned by the polar vortex invade the eastern U.S., we often feel the effects, too.

Fernandina Beach FL, Amelia Island FL

Pretty but cold.

With an ocean breeze and air temperatures in the 30s, the beach is no place to be either. Neither is the middle of a blizzard. We watched with dismay as TV reports showed the severity of weather conditions from several different stricken areas. Unfortunately, several people died from exposure to the dangerous cold.

I always liked the winter, and mainly snow. But the blizzards of 1977 and 1978 taught me that winter’s punishing harshness better be respected. Staying warm is always paramount.

That’s a primary reason for becoming a snowbird. I’ve said it before. The older I get, the colder I get. Other senior citizens that we met in Florida concurred. It is a natural consequence of the aging process.

Living in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley isn’t quite far enough south to avoid winter’s icy blasts. So we continued our snowbird trips after moving from northeast Ohio.

We enjoyed a month’s stay at a rented condo on Amelia Island and then headed to the far south of Florida. We visited the Florida Keys for the first time for a few days and soaked up perfectly warm weather.

With high temperatures in the 70s and 80s, it didn’t take us long to sport a tan. We spent the handful of days we had on the go. We greeted the morning sun and filled each day with as much adventure as possible until well after dark.

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However, we seldom checked off all the items on our wish list of places to visit. Spontaneity overruled preparation. We took advantage of surprises and vistas we came upon, stopped to enjoy and do some birding, and moved on to the next spot.

We especially enjoyed visiting Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. Together they protect much of the delicate habitats of southern Florida, preserving a vast variety of wildlife, flora, fauna, and people, too.

I never thought I would ever venture out onto the open ocean waters in a pontoon boat. But we did in both beautiful parks. The combination of generous sunshine and the joy of adding new birds to my life list warmed me through and through.

However, it wasn’t until we returned home that I encountered genuine radiant warmth. The weather had nothing to do with that.

At Sunday dinner, we caught up on our oldest grandson’s basketball season. The middle grandchild chatted on about the books he read and his upcoming band concert, while the youngest seemed contented to merely enjoy her lunch. Our daughter and her husband filled in the happenings in their busy lives, too.

The Florida experiences warmed us physically. That warmth, however, paled in comparison to that of reconnecting with our family.

Everglades NP, sunset, photography

Sunset over Eco Pond, Everglades National Park, FL.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Finding color in the dead of winter

Creek, marsh, and forest.

For the last few years, my wife and I have avoided winter’s harsh weather by escaping to our beloved Amelia Island, Florida. Amelia is a barrier island located as far north in the Sunshine State as you can get. It’s not balmy, but it’s never snowed there either.

We rent a condo on a beach on the Atlantic Ocean. Ideally, that setting should be retreat enough for me. I guess I’m just too fickle for such pleasantries.

Great Egret.

My favored place to commune on Amelia is Egans Creek Greenway. It’s an environmental paradise inside a paradise. Situated in the northeastern section of the 13-mile long island, Egans Creek meanders in multiple channels through a salt marsh wetland of grasses, reeds, and various plants and trees.

The greenway is a dedicated green space designed to protect the original environment for animals great and small. Part marsh, part maritime forest, part waterway, the greenway provides habitat for shorebirds, wading birds, birds of prey, songbirds, and mammals of all kinds.

Of course, it serves as a multi-purpose outdoor recreational gem for us humans as well. The greenway has dedicated paths for bikers, hikers, walkers, birders, and the just plain curious. Benches are placed every so often for people merely to rest and enjoy whatever comes along.

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The nature preserve changes character with the tides. It’s brackish waters invite gorgeous birds, like herons, egrets, ibises, and roseate spoonbills.

As you might imagine for any marshland, reptiles thrive as well. On warm January days, I search for sunbathing alligators. Families of turtles and discreet but playful river otters also are fun to watch if you are fortunate to find them. I seldom see snakes.

In all the years we have been vacationing here, this year by far has been the most colorful on the greenway. The hues, however, were a curious mix of spring and fall.

Usually in dormancy for the winter, the greenway grasses showed green, delicate flowers bloomed, and leaf buds swelled pink. Others displayed brilliant yellow and red leaves of autumn. Vivid impressionistic landscapes displayed around every turn.

Cedar waxwings trilled high in the trees, waiting on the light blue cedar berries to darken to ripeness. American robins chirped in the thickets, unable to hide their distinctive call. Eastern bluebirds decorated barren branches.

Grey catbirds and northern cardinals shuttled from one bush to another like hyperactive children. A phoebe flicked its tail on an elevated tree limb, took to the air, grabbed an insect, and returned to the same spot.

Clapper Rail.

At high tide, a clapper rail came out of hiding in the reeds and swam across the creek only to disappear again. A stately osprey hovered silently overhead before snatching a dusky female hooded merganser off the surface of the water.

Thousands of yellow-rumped warblers chipped and darted from cedar to pine to maple and back again. In the shallow waters below, pure white great egrets with their sturdy yellow bills and stick-like, coal black legs waded in search for a fishy lunch.

A red-shouldered hawk perched on a snag in the middle of the marsh, unphased by the two-legged intruders that stood in awe snapping photos or zipping along on bicycles or walking their leashed dogs. With only predatory priorities, the buteo paid no heed.

Viewed altogether, the trees, the flowers, the bushes, the birds, the reptiles, and the bikers, even the dog walkers created living exhibits in an interactive art gallery. They painted the greenway an even lovelier retreat than I had expected.

It’s why I keep going back.

Colorful alligator.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Willet at Dawn

willet, Atlantic Ocean, sunrise photography, Fernandina Beach FL
Writing, birding and photography are a few of my many interests. When I can combine a couple of them into one fabulous moment, I am more than contented.

In the process of photographing a gorgeous sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean in northern Florida, a willet wandered into the frame. I love when those unexpected opportunities arise. The shorebird was merely out on its morning breakfast stroll, probing the wetted sand for any tasty morsels along the seashore. For me, however, having the bird enter the scene right as the sun dawned provided a spot of perspective for the colorful seascape. I couldn’t have been happier.

“Willet at Dawn” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Blue Moon Eclipse

blue moon, eclipse, Amelia Island FL

Blue Moon Eclipse.

Sometimes the stars do line up for you. In this case, it was the moon and the sun. On the morning of January 31 precisely at sunrise, the first blue moon of 2018 began a total lunar eclipse. You can see the beginning of the eclipse at about 11 on the moon’s face. The moon sank below the horizon before the eclipse was total.

I was fortunate to be able to capture the extended but broken reflection of the moon in the Amelia River at Fernandina Beach, FL. Dawn’s first light illuminated the sailboat moored in the river.

“Blue Moon Eclipse” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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At this age, I appreciate every step I take

Main Beach Fernandina Beach FL, beach walking, beach bike

The beach where we walked.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Aging can be a pain.

By the time my wife and I had returned from our winter’s stay in northern Florida, we both had unintentionally joined the ranks of the walking wounded. It was as uncomfortable as it was annoying.

I love to walk. It’s one of the few times I can actually multitask. I can walk and talk, walk and listen, walk and learn, walk and think, walk and snap pictures. Walking is an easy exercise for young and old alike.

There’s only one catch. If you are physically ailing, walking isn’t so much fun. Towards the end of our two-month Florida stay, my wife and I both began having problems getting around.

In my wife’s case, walking has long been a chore for her. Arthritis in your feet tends to do that to you. Since Neva’s left foot was particularly touchy, our walks on the beach together were shorter and less frequent than in previous years.

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Soon, I began to feel discomfort, only in my right foot. I thought it was the hiking boots that I had brought along. They weren’t new, but I actually hadn’t worn them regularly until we got to the Sunshine State. I figured they would be useful to tromp around Egans Creek Greenway where I love to bird, hike, and take too many photos of birds, landscapes, people, alligators, and any other critters I encountered.

I also wore those clunkers on the beach when we first arrived. The weather was chilly and often foggy. The high-topped boots steadied me in the soft sand and kept my feet dry when the tide suddenly surged further onshore than anticipated. The longer I wore them, the more my right foot hurt. So I switched to my gym shoes, which seemed to lessen the pain.

That didn’t last long. The pain in my right foot increased substantially no matter what I wore. As we packed the van to return home, I noticeably limped.

When you live on an island that’s only 13 miles long and two miles wide, vehicular trips are usually of short duration and caused me no discomfort. As we headed north on the interstate, it didn’t take me long to realize just how much pain I was in. By the time we reached Charleston, South Carolina, my foot was numb and pain shot up my right leg.

Fortunately, an urgent care facility was just up the road from our hotel. When I described my symptoms, the kind physician’s assistant said, “You don’t have a foot problem. You have a pinched nerve in your back.” Lab tests affirmed the diagnosis.

evening on the beach

Smiling through the pain.

I had already made an appointment with my podiatrist in Virginia. Neva took that spot while I visited my family doctor. Neva had reason to complain. She had a hairline fracture in her foot and exited the doctor’s office with a walking boot. She had no recollection of when she might have incurred the injury.

My doctor prescribed muscle relaxers and sent me to physical therapists. For a month now, expert therapists have worked their magic, and my pain has subsided.

Neva got the all-clear after wearing the walking boot only three weeks. She still wears it if the pain returns. We’re just thankful she is finally finding some relief.

With the limp and pain eliminated, I’ve begun short walks to get back into shape. Given our age and these experiences, we more than appreciate every step we take.

shorebirds, beach

Worth the pain.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Why the beach has gone to the dogs

dogs on the beach, Fernandina Beach FL

Dogs on the beach.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Never mind the weather. The dogs must have their way. Rain, sunshine, fog or full on gales, owners walked their dogs on the Florida beach where we holed up for the winter.

Depending on the degree of training, sometimes it was hard to tell if the owner was walking the dog or the other way around. Most were on leashes, the dogs I mean. Taut, loose, stretched, harnessed, or sometimes no tether at all, the dogs were right at home on the beach.

The canines did more than walk, of course. Like their human masters, they liked to play. An older man heaved a bright orange tennis ball as far down the beach as he could several times. In anticipation, his hybrid-mix furry companion sprung and bounced in timing with each cock of her master’s arm. In seconds, the golden doodle returned, dropped the ball at the man’s feet and sat waiting for more. In each of our snowbird years, my wife and I observed similar scenes replicated scores of times.

dogs on the beach, Fernandina Beach FL

The game.

We love dogs. We both had dogs as pets growing up and from time to time during our marriage. Now we just travel too much to own a pet. Instead, we get our personal dog fix by hosting our granddog from time to time.

I fully understand, then, the desire, the human need to have a pet dog. People love dogs as long as they are friendly and not too rambunctious. Research has shown that dogs make excellent companions, especially for the elderly.

Folks regularly walked their canine companions on the beach morning, noon, and evening. They did so, of course, for exercise and to take care of the unpleasant necessaries. I should have invested years ago in the stock of companies that manufacture those little plastic cleanup bags.

Big dogs, little dogs, in-between dogs pulled their masters up and down the beach. Others walked along obediently at the same pace. Still, others ran freely, returning when called. Only on rare occasion did we witness any doggy misbehavior. When you’re on the beach, there’s plenty of opportunities for bird dogs to be bird dogs. The shorebirds just seem to tolerate and toy with them anyhow.

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A pleasant side effect of dog walking on the beach was the socialization that occurred. Dogs are naturally attracted to other dogs and more often than not the owners are just as cordial to each other.

Sometimes the humans got so involved they failed to notice the incoming tide. An astute pedigree might take advantage of this opportunity to remind its owner of the encroaching sea in hopes of a reward in the form of a treat. With that, the conversations ended, and all parties moved on, up and down the beach stepping in time to the soothing breakers.

On weekends and holidays, teenagers joined the parade. I can’t prove this, but I suspect that both pretty girls and handsome boys use their beloved dogs as bait to lure in some new friends. If true, who can blame them? The results are the same. Both the dogs and the teens get the attention they need and desire.

So did we. I can’t count how many times we stopped on the beach to admire a lovely dog, ask its name, breed, age, or whatever questions came to mind. I’m happy to report that so far during our snowbird stays that only their masters provided the answers.

dog under umbrella, Fernandina Beach FL

Smart dog.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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The older I get, the colder I get

main beach, Fernandina Beach FL

Beach walkers.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s a pretty simple formula when you think about it. The older I get, the colder I get. That’s how the math works for me.

The equation yields opposite results for my dear wife, whose thermostat seems to be heading in the other direction. Her female peers know what I mean.

All this is to say I can’t take the cold winter months anymore. My old bones shiver just writing that sentence, and I’m wearing a wool sweater. The goose bumps on my arms give testament to that fact, too.

While others wear shorts and t-shirts, I dress in pants, long-sleeved shirt, hat, and maybe even a jacket to stay warm. That’s how cold I get. Part of the chill is a side effect of some of my medication. I take it and dress accordingly, often in layers.

Being cold isn’t the only consequence of growing older in Ohio winters. My fingers swell, stiffen, and are continually cold. The skin on my fingers cracks in the damp, chilly weather. I realize those are minor problems given current world conditions. It’s still annoying.

grandkids sled riding

Good memories.

In my younger years, I enjoyed the cold, especially if it was accompanied by a decent snowfall. I’d join my brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, and sled ride for hours.

Once hunger and snow blindness set in, we’d head home to warm up with soup and hot chocolate. Our cheeks were rosy to the point of stinging, our noses red from the frosty air, our fingers tingling numb. We would change into dry clothes, and off we would go again, cascading down Winton Avenue as if we owned the road.

Sledding was at its best in an undeveloped section of a local cemetery. We felt charmed if we made it all the way downhill to the creek bank, dragging our feet in the snow like parachutes slowing a dragster.

Those days are long gone. I probably couldn’t even get on a sled. Now my wife and I spend the coldest parts of winter in northern Florida. It’s usually not always balmy there, but it’s not Ohio weather either.

Our hiatus from the northern cold affords us more benefits than warmer days. Neither my arthritis nor my bum right knee hurt as much thanks to the combination of the warmer weather and the many walks we take. The ocean was the front yard to our rented condo unit.

We walked south one day, north the next. Our preference was to stroll the compacted, moist sand at low tide. But walking in the softer sand at high tide worked, too. I felt warm either way. It was better than crunching snow.

Other times, I would head to nearby Egans Creek Greenway, an ecologically friendly nature preserve set in the middle of the island. The walk in the bright sunshine warmed my body and my spirit. Birds of prey, shorebirds, songbirds, marsh rabbits, river otters, white-tailed deer, assorted turtles, butterflies, and baby alligators all coexisted in the diverse habitat of salt marsh reeds, grasses, and shrubs, and the hardwoods, cedars, and pines of the tropical hammock.

I am grateful to be able to make these snowbird trips each winter. I don’t take that lightly at all. I know the time will come when that modus operandi, too, will end.

But until then, Neva and I will likely continue to seek shelter from winter’s harshness by heading south come next January. That’s a warming therapeutic algorithm sure to solve any chilling problem.

sunset, Amelia Island

Until next year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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The many benefits of a snowbird breakfast

dawn, shorebirds, Atlantic Ocean

Contentment.

By Bruce Stambaugh

During our winter’s stay in northeastern Florida, my wife and I often took our snowbird breakfast on the small porch of our condo that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. Even with the temperatures in the 50s, you can do that if you’re in Florida and the morning sun is brightly beaming, warming the chilly air.

We set the little glass-topped café table in the usual fashion. Cereal bowls, juice glasses, coffee mugs, and the necessary utensils, spoons, and binoculars fulfill our needs.

breakfast on the beach

Snowbird breakfast.

The beachfront setting offered a menu much greater than our simple fare of cereal and granola. Rolling waves, gliding dolphins, a multitude of shorebirds, and the ocean’s salty bouquet organically stimulated all of our senses.

The configuration of the porch itself enabled our outdoor dining. The condo is built like a bunker with walls of cement. You can hear but not see your neighbors since the walls protrude beyond the edge of the portico. The effect is one of being tucked into a cave entrance where only the sun welcomes you and the wind simply whistles on by.

The boxy porch with concrete walls and floor and glass sliding door behind served as an oven of sorts. The sun’s rays warmed us perfectly, compromising the cooler morning air. The little whiffs of steam rising from our coffee mugs proved the science of this hands-on experiment.

The glass-topped café table that bore our breakfast gave testament to our seaside setting. A thin coating of fine sand and sea salt covered the tiny table top.

Earlier the sun had made its usual predawn show of things, glowing orange the length of where the sea met the sky. A jagged but unbroken line of dark clouds, like a poorly constructed picket fence, identified the Gulf Stream’s boundary.

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As dawn neared, the sky washed away the hardy orange with pale pastels. The sun peeked above the watery horizon right on schedule. Seconds later, a blazing orange ball balanced on the ocean, then slowly rose and brightened.

Black skimmers and brown pelicans flew in standard formations inches above the water’s surface. The skimmers modeled their name with their levered lower bill by scooping small fish as the birds zoomed along. The pelicans flew in the single-file line for aerodynamics. Beyond them, a small pod of bottle-nosed dolphins foraged south to north, the sun glistening off their wetted backs and dorsal fins as they appeared and disappeared in purposeful rhythm.

A few early birds walked their dogs, jogged, searched for seashells, while lone fishermen drove their plastic pole stands into the soft, moist sand. Tiny sanderlings scampered out around them and then returned to where the low tide lapped at the shore. The little birds probed their pointy black bills into the sand like sewing machine needles as they sought their breakfasts, too.

The ocean was unusually calm. A million ripples played where waves usually rolled. Expectant young surfers bobbed on their boards waiting and watching for a wave to ride.

The sun, of course, continued on its expected ascent into the morning sky. Its rays transformed the mother-of-pearl sea into a field of dancing diamonds. The show was so dazzling, so luminous that you could hardly look at it for hurting your eyes. And yet, you could hardly turn away, the performance was so beautiful, so enthralling.

We basked in our cozy breakfast cubical. The cereal bowls and glasses were all empty. Our spirits, however, overflowed with wonder and joy.

Main Beach Fernandina Beach FL

Morning on the beach.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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River Sunset

sunset, Amelia River, Fernandina Beach FL

River Sunset.

Sunrises and sunsets captivate me. No two are ever the same. That’s why I often head to downtown Fernandina Beach, FL to photograph the sunset during our winter stay.

The river setting proves an excellent place to capture a sunset’s beauty both in the sky and in the reflection on the river. The near silhouettes of boats and docks also add to the framing and composition of the photo. Of course, the clouds play a significant role in defusing and deflecting the light, creating an array of brilliant colors.

“River Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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