I wouldn’t have seen this hidden treasure if it hadn’t been for another photographer. My wife, some friends of ours, and I were driving into Ft. Clinch State Park at the north end of Amelia Island, Florida, when we noticed a woman with a huge lens on a tripod aimed at a tree.
That could mean only one thing: she was photographing a bird. I parked and exited the van, eager to know what her subject was. She had me look through her long lens. This beautiful Great Horned Owl stared back at me.
I quickly pointed my camera at this beautiful bird and carefully snapped away. I quietly thanked the woman for graciously sharing her find with me. Thanks to her, I was also able to view this superb owl resting in the fork of a live oak tree.
I was sitting one recent morning at my desk that faces the Atlantic Ocean when I noticed a sailboat passing by at least a half-mile offshore. When I went to take a photo of it, I spotted something else in the water. I snapped a picture, ensuring I got both the boat and the unknown object in the frame.
I switched to my binoculars and couldn’t believe my eyes. The long dark object appeared to be a whale. The morning sunshine reflected off of its face. I had never seen a Right Whale before, but I was pretty sure that’s what it was. I took a couple more shots and then Googled the phone number to report the sighting.
Earlier, I had noticed a red and white airplane circling over the ocean just to the north of our rented condo. As I found the number, I put two and two together. Because they are an endangered species, most Right Whales are tracked by various science organizations, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I figured the plane must have been verifying the whale’s presence.
Because Right Whales are protected, the public is asked to notify authorities of any sightings. Right Whales migrate more than 1,000 miles south from the Canadian and New England coasts to warmer waters off the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida’s east coast. It is there that they calf their young.
Scientists estimate that less than 400 Right Whales still exist. Protecting them and their young is critical to the whale’s survival. Consequently, the requests to report their sightings.
My call went to voicemail at the North Atlantic Right Whale Project, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission division. It wasn’t long before I received a call back from one of their agents asking when and where I had seen the whale. When I told the person that a red and white plane had drawn my attention, enabling me to spot the whale, I was told it was one of the project’s aircraft.
The agent told me that what I saw was actually a mother and her calf and asked me to send my photos to them to help support the plane’s sighting. I gladly cooperated.
I looked closer at my photos. I could see two separate facial reflections, one large and another much smaller. I was ecstatic. The images aren’t top quality since the whales were a half-mile from me. I was glad for the sighting and more than happy to help identify this Right Whale mother and her baby.
A pictorial series of the moon’s rising above the Atlantic Ocean.
I was hoping to photograph January’s Full Wolf Moon as it rose above the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. However, the timing would occur before sunset, making the moon hard to see. I gave it a try anyhow.
Fortunately, a cargo ship was moored offshore, and I hoped it would provide a bit of perspective once the moon came into view. What happened was even better than I could have imagined.
In the slideshow below, you will see a sequence of photos showing the rising moon, first very faintly right behind the freighter. Then as the moon arched higher into the evening sky, the ship provided a perfect marker on the very calm ocean waters. (Please click the right arrow to move to the next photo.)
My wife and I are on our winter vacation on Florida’s Amelia Island northeast of Jacksonville. We try to retreat here during winter’s coldest time. Though it’s not balmy here like southern Florida, we don’t have all that snow folks do up north right now.
There are a great many things to like about Amelia Island. The sunrises and sunsets top my list, closely followed by the wildlife, especially the many species of birds.
Our rented condo is right on Main Beach in Fernandina Beach. Unless it’s cloudy, sunrises are a daily treat. No two are alike.
We don’t have far to go for sunsets either. We drive to various spots along the Amelia River that afford marvelous views of the setting sun. Of course, not every evening offers up a golden sky, but we have seen many glorious sunsets in our several visits to this unique isle.
I enjoy photographing as many sunrises and sunsets as possible. I love sharing them with you all the more.
Everyone needs a sanctuary. Recent research shows that connecting with nature helps humans in multiple ways.
Nature helps heal, soothe, and restore individuals from pain, stress, and depression. We all need a place to escape, if only temporality, from the pressures and madness of the world.
When my wife and I winter in Florida, we are fortunate to have just such a place. Egans Creek Greenway is the first spot I visit after my wife and I get settled into our rental.
Egans Creek Greenway is an island inside an island. Covering more than 300 acres, the greenway is a city-run park on the north end of the 13-mile long Amelia Island, a barrier island northeast of Jacksonville.
The greenway is not your typical sanctuary, but it’s mine for many reasons. I get needed exercise walking its grassy trails. A variety of wildlife is in abundance. I can practice my photography hobby shooting landscapes and nature’s flora and fauna.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
Egans Creek winds its way through the two main sections of the greenway. A saltmarsh dominates the northern half. It teems with wading birds, birds of prey, songbirds, furry mammals, and intriguing reptiles. The Atlantic Ocean tides keep its waters brackish.
The southern section is part maritime forest and part freshwater ecosystem. The creek runs along the eastern side while a grid of manmade ditches from previous farming attempts crisscrosses elsewhere.
Mixed vegetation creates a habitat for a wide variety of creatures. Pileated woodpeckers fly their noisy flight high above momma alligator and her baby brood while a barred owl hoots from a branch of a giant live oak tree.
Scores of yellow-rumped warblers dart from the underbrush to palm trees, chip-chipping all the way. A red-shouldered hawk watches for lunch from high on a dead snag. A freshly hatched monarch butterfly flaps its damp wings on a Florida holly bush.
A reunion of soft-shelled turtles suns on the steep banks of the creek. A honeybee gorges on a clump of newly blossomed marsh-pink.
Where the creek runs along the west side of the greenway, an osprey hovers before diving for an unsuspecting fish. In the process, large shorebirds are flushed. A great egret, wood stork, and a beautiful roseate spoonbill all take flight.
I am not alone in appreciating this preserve. Students stroll through on their way home from school. Seniors ride bicycles or walk in the sunshine of gorgeous days. Middle-aged joggers hustle by. This passive recreation is part of the park’s plan.
Strangely, concentration is essential to appreciate all the greenway has to offer. Surrounded by streets, houses, and businesses, the greenway is a quarter of a mile from the ocean. Horns, sirens, and roaring engines compete with the clacking call of the clapper rails.
So, too, to do the helicopters flying back and forth to the Mayport Naval Station 20 miles to the south. Commercial airliners, private jets, and noisy single-engine planes fill the air space overhead as they approach the local airport and Jacksonville International.
Besides a sanctuary, the greenway serves as an outdoor classroom. People stop to ask what I’m looking at or to tell me of a bird they saw. I love their smiles when they spot the eastern bluebirds devouring cedar berries.
I enjoy the greenway all the more when others accompany me. Multiple pairs of eyes and ears trump singular old ones. We help each other find and admire all the greenway’s splendor.
Here’s some color to brighten any winter dullness that might be fogging your mind as January comes to an end. I spotted this Gulf Fritillary butterfly on Egans Creek Greenway in Fernandina Beach, Florida, where we spend our snowbirding days.
I had given up on this sunset. In fact, I was already heading back to my car from the dock when the sky suddenly changed. I hustled back onto the dock to get a few shots before the sky called it a night. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when an older man with a barking dog cruised into view in a dingy. Their presence added a human element to this painting-like scene.
Rather than wax poetic about all of the aspects and details of the photo, I’ll simply let you enjoy it from your own perspective.
I was fortunate to catch an amazing sunset the first evening of the New Year. Having a couple of boats motor by at its peak nicely improved the composition. The roosting brown pelicans provided character to the natural beauty.
The photo was taken at an old marina on the Amelia River, Fernandina Beach, Florida.
“Capturing 2020’s first sunset” is my Photo of the Week.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.