Everyone needs a sanctuary


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.

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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.

I am grateful for this island sanctuary, and that it reinforces the scientific evidence about nature.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Orange on Yellow


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.

“Orange on Yellow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Dappled Sunset


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.

“Dappled Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Capturing 2020’s first sunset


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.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

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

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

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