My wife and I showed a couple visiting us from Ohio around our favorite winter retreat, Amelia Island, Florida. We drove to Old Town Fernandina Beach, where lots of history has occurred. A small square, Fernandina Plaza Historic State Park, marks the site of a colonial massacre of Indigenous peoples and some French trappers.
We drove to the small parking area overlooking the Amelia River on a bluff. Soon, our attention was drawn away from history to the present moment. A small flock of American White Pelicans had landed along the river’s edge at the park’s base.
The beautiful birds formed a floating wedge of sorts and immediately began to forage in their unique synchronized fashion. We witnessed a ballet on the water, as the video shows.
Seeing these elusive migrators was one thing. Observing their feeding ritual was something else altogether.
These were the first arrivals. The photos were taken five seconds apart.
American White Pelicans migrate to the coastal areas of California, Central America, and the Gulf Coast States for the winter. They nest in the Midwest and western states, as well as the Canadian prairie provinces.
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.
Looks can be deceiving. This second-year alligator appears to be warding off any potential threats to its mother and siblings. In reality, momma and her crew were merely warming themselves in the the afternoon sunshine in Egans Creek Greenway, Fernandina Beach, Florida.
Still, I thought the young alligator’s pose was worthy of being my Photo of the Week. “Defending Momma” is just that.
There is nothing particularly spectacular about this photo. Yes, it’s a pretty sunset, and yes, I captured two photographers snapping pictures of it.
I chose to feature this photo for personal, even sentimental reasons. It was the last colorful sunset we had before we left Florida to return to Virginia. It was also one of a handful of decent sunsets we had in the six weeks we wintered in Fernandina Beach.
The marina there is a gathering place for amateur and professional photographers to view the sunset. After a lengthy delay in repairs, it had only reopened a few days before this photo was taken. Winds and high water from Hurricane Matthew severely damaged the marina on the Amelia River in October 2016. It was great to be able to once again meet with friends and strangers and share a lovely sunset at the water’s edge.
This sunset gave us roses and yellows, and the wavy clouds added a soft, pillowy effect to the sky. The river served as a fuzzy mirror to all that unfolded.
As I was leaving, I turned back for one more shot and saw this scene. My friend Carollee had her point-and-shoot camera, while the other photographer was taking time-lapse shots of the sunset.
The timing couldn’t have been better. With the late afternoon sun shining brightly, this shrimping trawler headed for port to unload the day’s fresh catches. Clearly, the boat and its crew weren’t alone.
An assortment of gull species, Northern Gannets, and other sea birds followed along, hoping for an easy meal as the crew pitched unwanted catches overboard. It was unusual for the trawler to be close enough to shore to zoom in for a decent shot.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Going to seed.
Fall in winter.
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.
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.
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.
My guess is we all have at least one. You know. A place you can go to be alone with the world. You declare it as your personal retreat.
It could be your man cave or your sewing room. It could be a remote waterfall miles up a winding trail.
Your place of refuge might be a park bench or even a busy city street corner where hundreds of people pass by with no notice of you. Still, you’re at peace.
Others find solace sitting on the shore of a farm pond or pulling weeds in the family garden patch. It might be an art museum, or for that matter, even one particular painting that mesmerizes you.
I find my inspirational solitude in many venues. During the winter months, I recharge in a three-mile stretch of marshland called Egan’s Creek Greenway. The stream itself runs north through the middle of Amelia Island, Fla., where my wife and I migrate as snowbirds.
Though it’s a public domain, I claim Egan’s Creek Greenway as my private secret garden. The town’s parks and recreation department maintains this sacred place. Lots of folks, locals, tourists and snowbirds like myself, frequent this marvelous reserve.
Their intrusions don’t bother me at all. In fact, part of the joy is meeting new friends who enjoy the same open space delights. The Greenway is a multiple-use resource.
When I go there, I wear my hiking shoes. I also don my birding vest to squirrel water, snacks, binoculars, a note pad and birding checklist. I also drape a camera around my neck. It’s my way of documenting each and every visit. Get the picture?
Palm fronds are brown from frost or wind damage. Deciduous trees stand bare. Grayish Spanish moss dangles from limbs high and low. A variety of bird species devour the deep blue berries of the cedar trees and the ruby red ones on sparkleberry bushes.
Subtle hints of spring appear even in February. Silver and red maple buds sprout crimson against the live oaks’ perpetual green. The dormant marsh grass stalks show mint green at their bases.
Even in cooler temperatures, people run, jog, bike, walk and bird along the greenway’s well-worn paths that parallel creeks and channels, and crisscross the marsh. On weekends and holidays, the place is abuzz with activity, human and otherwise.
Still, I stroll this paradise in search of whatever finds me. I frequent the Greenway alone, and with my wife, with friends, with family, with strangers. I don’t mind sharing this beautiful secret.
Each trek there unfolds anew with different characters. The results are the same.
Great Blue Heron.
On any given day, I can hear Navy helicopters on test flights over the Atlantic. Train engine whistles echo from the town two miles away. None of this interferes with my enjoyment.
A river otter munches on plants in one of the rivulets. A red-shouldered hawk sits on a snag, its harsh call contrasting with its feathery beauty. Gangs of American robins madly chirp when disturbed by a bossy pileated woodpecker.
A plump rabbit and a skinny doe nibble grass only feet away. Alligators and painted turtles soak in the afternoon sun as neighbors.
Gray catbirds gobble the sparkleberries while cedar waxwings down their namesake’s fruit. Scores of yellow-rumped warblers dart in and out of the thickets, plucking insects. Eastern phoebes sit and bob their tails.
Me? I just smile inside and out, thankful for my secret, sacred sanctuary.