Tag Archives: Fernandina Beach Floridia

Missing the charm and warmth of Amelia Island

downtownfernandinabeachflbybrucestambaugh

Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach, FL.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m glad to be home from vacation. But I have to be honest. I miss Amelia Island, Florida and all the charm and variety it has to offer.

I miss waking early in the day to welcome the sun, or rain or fog, whatever weather greeted me. It often changed quickly from good to bad or bad to good, just like in Ohio.

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I miss the rising sun painting with its broad brush, constantly rearranging the brilliant arrays of pinks, blues, oranges, yellows and reds on twilight’s canvas. I miss the sun’s shimmering, silver dance on its forever rolling sea stage.

Equally so, I miss the moon, full or half or quarter, glimmering its creamy, seductive light into our night lives. I miss being transfixed by its profound beauty.

I miss seeing the sun sink behind the trees beyond the Intercoastal Waterway. Unless the fog or rain clouds interfered, the alluring sunsets nearly took our breath away. Like the days began, each evening glow was emotionally evocative.

Morning and evening, I miss the dolphins slicing through the hoary sea, first one, then two, then three, then more, fins intermittently marking their gourmet gallop. Their appearing and disappearing mesmerized me.

I miss the slow walks on the beach with my wife. She hunted for seashells and shark’s teeth while I photographed birds, people, and patterns in the sand. Then I’d hustle to catch up.

I miss the delectable seafood meals Neva created. Locally caught, fresh shrimp sautéed in butter and olive oil, a little lemon and a dash of salt and pepper combined with locally made sweet potato pasta and flax seed rolls beat any pricy restaurant entree.

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I miss the strolls through Egan’s Creek Greenway, a salt marsh wildlife preserve set aside for painters, birders, photographers, joggers, bikers, walkers and admirers of all things nature. The Greenway is home to alligators, snakes, river otters, rabbits, bobcats, deer, wading birds, shorebirds, birds of prey and songbirds.

I miss the drives and walks through well-maintained Ft. Clinch State Park, a marvelous blend of ecosystems and history. It was equally easy on the eyes and wallet. The 3,300 ft. fishing pier that paralleled the inlet to the Amelia River afforded panoramic views and a perfect perch for birding.

I miss the charm of historic downtown Fernandina Beach, the only city on the island, and the nation’s oldest settlement. Founded three years before St. Augustine, the quaint town attracts customers from around the world.

I miss the eclectic mix of Amelia’s people. From tourists to shop owners to fishermen to photographers, everyone, I mean everyone, was friendly, like open books if you took the time to turn their pages.

eightflagsbybrucestambaugh

The Florida House Inn flies the eight flags that have flown over Amelia Island.

I miss the quirkiness of the island that has seen the flags of eight different nations fly over its humble geography. Florida’s oldest continuously operating hotel and bar stand less than a block apart. Businesses boldly display the scores of football games when Georgia’s Bulldogs beat Florida’s Gators.

Those in the know like to say that Fernandina Beach is the East Coast’s western most port. In other words, drive straight north, you run into Cincinnati, Ohio.

Of course, I miss the warmer weather, too. However, warm is a relative word. Our Florida vacation ended the way it began, wearing winter coats. Still, we had it nice compared to what much of eastern North America experienced in our absence.

I like it so much that I could live there. But I won’t. As incredible as Amelia Island and its people are, I like it right here in Holmes County, Ohio even better.

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Back home.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Humbly and gladly joining the snowbird migration

snowrollersbybrucestambaugh

The day we left Ohio it was 15 degrees below zero, and the snow rollers, a rare weather phenomenon, still graced open fields surrounding our home.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I never thought I would ever be a snowbird. Snowbirds are old people that head south to Florida or southwest to southern Texas or to Phoenix for the winter to avoid the chilling temperatures and the harsh weather of northern latitudes.

I wasn’t going to be “one of those people.” I liked winter’s Jekyll and Hyde fickleness. In Ohio, a dull, dirty brunet landscape can be magically transformed overnight into a fluffy, frosted wonderland.

Really, I cherish the change of all the seasons. I never tire of seeing the verdant transition from winter’s dormancy, whether brown or white, to spring’s greening and glorious floral colors. Splashes of vivid feathers of our aviary friends enhance spring’s sparkle.

Of course after spring, summer’s cottony clouds come sailing over maturing crops and rainbow gardens full of nascent flowers and luscious vegetables. Then there is fall’s full blaze of glory amid the many stands of hardwoods to behold, too.

We are fortunate that our area offers diverse landscapes, from steep wooded hills to vital marshy habitats for an array of wildlife. I marvel at the hilly farmlands, with their multihued, flowing ribbons of contoured crops, and smart fields of grazing livestock. Contrasting brushy fencerows stitch the agrarian patchwork quilt together.

At middle age, I began to view winter differently. No longer was it the snowy playground of my youth, but a season to appreciate the beauty of white against earthy sepia browns and blacks, and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.

Even so, I have to confess that my fondness for winter has waned. During February, my wife and I overlooked a sandy beach that gently sloped down to the ever-rolling Atlantic Ocean.

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The view from our condo.

Traveling the interstates to the Sunshine State, we saw many other gray-tinged peers migrating, too. Like us, they fled from Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New England and Canadian provinces alike.

Some drove vehicles like ours, stuffed to the gills with clothes, food, bikes and any other paraphernalia deemed necessary for their extended winter’s stay. Others steered huge recreational vehicles, towing equally crammed cars.

It’s the fourth consecutive year we’ve made the journey to Florida. Our stays have evolved from the original few pleasing days to several weeks in order to maximize the obvious.

I never thought I would ever say that. If I had my preference, I’m a mountain man. But the mountains are cold in the winter, and the cold makes my arthritis ache, and my bones groan. The modest warmth of northern Florida minimizes those maladies.

So there I was, a snowbird, partaking in the many amenities that Amelia Island, Florida had to offer. And believe me, it’s a lot.

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There I birded without crawling into my insulated coveralls and donning a stocking cap. There we read, wrote, explored, met new friends. There we could stroll the beach for a dozen miles if we wanted. We didn’t.

We were content to walk up and down the same sections of sand, embracing the sounds of the sea crashing the beach, the shorebirds probing for food or skimming the rolling surface for sustenance.

We gathered seashells simply because they were pretty. We embraced sunrises and moon rises shimmering at the ocean’s horizon. A mile west, the harbor sunsets were spectacular.

Our consecutive trips south for part of the winter serve as evidence enough. I readily and happily admit that we are officially now snowbirds.

enjoyinglunchbybrucestambaugh

My wife and I enjoyed our first lunch at Fernandina Beach, Florida outside, and it was Feb. 1.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Anticipating one thing, finding many

predawnlightbybrucestambaugh

The predawn light at 6:38 a.m. on Feb. 1, 2013 on Main Beach, Amelia Island, FL.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I stood on the beach bathed in the pale pre-dawn light. I had gone there to photograph the sunrise over the ocean.

The air was chilly, but unusually still for the seashore. The Atlantic shimmered, uncharacteristically placid. With the tide in, the waves rolled gracefully onto the shell-strewn shore.

I wasn’t the only human on the beach at 6:45 a.m. A few other brave souls were also out before sunup. A silhouette jogged in front of me. Another walked the water’s edge towards me in a hitched gate.

earlyjoggerbybrucestambaugh

An early jogger zipped by me in the half-light along Main Beach, Amelia Island, FL.

All the while, I snapped away, capturing the thin orange line that divided the dark violet sea from the turquoise sky. I wanted to digitally document the gradual, subtle color changes of the new day’s sun.

We few humans weren’t alone as the sky slowly brightened along the beach.

Groups of first year shorebird chicks scurried at water’s edge, probing and pecking for food. Careful not to get their tiny feet wet, they darted at the ebb and flow of the frothy wavelets.

youngshorebirdsbybrucestambaugh

Young shorebirds feed at the ocean’s edge.

Not far off shore, Northern Gannets fished for breakfast in their dramatic style. They circled with their long pointy white wings marked black as ink at the tips, and then plunged into the seawater. Satisfied, they again ascended and started the process all over again.

A little further out a pod of dolphins arched in and out of the water. Their fins revealed their foraging path.

faceoffonthebeachbybrucestambaugh

A gull and a Willet faced off on Main Beach in the early morning light.

A lone Willet snagged a snail from beneath the sand. Seeing an opportunity for a freebie meal, a Ring-billed Gull unsuccessfully chased after the skinny-legged bird. The Willet swallowed the morsel before the gull could steal the bacon.

Flocks of Black Skimmers winged just above the ocean surface, their lower beaks breaking the water in their feeding. They were out of sight in seconds.

By now, the lady with the gimp caught up to where I had stood for 20 minutes. Seeing that I had a camera, she berated me for standing pat, and beckoned me to where the water lapped at the firm sand. It was there that the best color reflected in the receding water and against the few clouds in the northeast sky.

pastelskybybrucestambaugh

Clouds to the north beautifully reflected the rising sunlight.

As we admired the pastel radiance together, a whale broke the water. This unexpected find disappeared and our eyes searched until the first of many waterspouts blew high into the air.

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Birds circled above the Humpback Whale, making it easier to follow with the naked eye.

The blow spouts drew my attention to a congregation of gulls circling above the whale like an avian tornado. They simplified our whale watching. Just follow the birds, and glimpse the whale. I later learned that it was a Humpback Whale, my first ever whale sighting.

Amid all this activity, I continued to snap picture after picture of the ever-changing sunrise. Just as the sun finally peaked above the horizon, yet one last gem sparkled.

I would have missed it if it hadn’t been for the older lady from New York. She pointed out the sun’s low-angled rays glistening in the crest of the waves as they broke upon the shore. They were golden jewels in an aqua crown.

I remembered seeing the effect in paintings and thought the artists had overdone it. Now I knew they hadn’t. In precious minutes, the bejeweled waves disappeared, replaced by white-capped cousins. The sun was ablaze, bathing the seashore with its warming light.

I had gone to the beach to take pictures of the sunrise. I left enriched with so much more.

jewelsinthewavecrownbybrucestambaugh

The jewels in the crown of the waves made the sunrise even more spectacular.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Repeat vacations aren’t so bad after all

beachwalkingbybrucestambaugh

Finding just the right spot to relax on Main Beach, Amelia Island, Florida in January is not a problem.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I used to question the wisdom and practicality of vacationing twice in the same location.

Perhaps my personal wanderlust interfered with my empathy for the travel preferences of others. With so many places to visit locally, regionally, nationally and globally, I reasoned why would anyone want to return to the same place year after year?
Surely the urge to explore and discover had to be greater than the certainty of returning to the same destination at about the same time each year. I’m rethinking that opinion.

I am in a transitional period of my life, intentionally between full time employment and true retirement. I’m enjoying the freedom that comes with a flexible schedule.

harborsunsetbybrucestambaugh

The harbor at Fernandina Beach, Florida offers many a scenic sunset.

I still like visiting new locales, seeing new topography, meeting new folks. I am also beginning to more fully appreciate the contentment of familiarity. I realized that fact recently while my wife and I bathed in the glow of another incredible sunset over the harbor at Fernandina Beach, Florida.

For someone who practically calls Lakeside, Ohio his summer home, it should have been obvious to me. I guess I considered our Lakeside stints more tradition than vacation. Silly me.

We had found Amelia Island almost by accident last year. It was an overnight stop on the way to our true vacation destination, Sarasota, Florida. We liked the island so well we spent two more days there on the way home. We were hooked.

ameliaislandcharmbybrucestambaugh

Charming homes line the streets of Fernandina Beach, Florida.

We loved the island’s charm, its beautiful beaches, its commitment to wildlife habitat preservation, its rich history, and the diversity of activities it offered. We had only skimmed the surface last year. We needed to return to further explore this intriguing community.

Last year the weather, like most places in the country, was exceptionally warm for northern Florida in January. We walked the nearly vacant beaches in t-shirts and shorts. I birded the island’s preserve. We dined on locally caught seafood. We were in paradise instead of Ohio in January. It felt marvelous.

This year we returned to this magical destination for two weeks in order to dig deeper into the island’s many treasures. The weather couldn’t match that of 2012, but we had fun nevertheless. Cooler mornings warmed into pleasant days. Shorts and sandals were only appropriate a couple of days this time around.

eganscreekgreenwaybybrucestambaugh

Egans Creek Greenway offers biking, hiking, fishing and birding on the north end of Amelia Island.

We toured the local history museum, lunched outside at most restaurants, and collected perfect seashells of all sizes and colors. I hiked the paths through Fort Clinch State Park and Egans Creek Greenway enjoying the flora, fauna and breath-taking vistas and spring’s emerging pastels.

My epiphany came while I hustled around the boardwalks at Fernandina Beach’s harbor photographing yet another sunset. A patron sitting at a table of a dockside restaurant hailed me, wanting to know if this was my first time on the island.

ameliaislandstateparkbybrucestambaugh

Amelia Island State Park, at the southern tip of the island, is a great place to relax, walk or fish.

When I innocently replied that it was not and then read the man’s surprised facial expression, it hit me. To him I must have looked like a child on Christmas morning as I dashed around trying to get different angles of the ever-changing colorful sky.
I had taken many, many sunset shots last year. Yet here I was plying for more. Lightning struck. I recognized why people did repeat vacations.

I was relaxed, happy, appreciative, satisfied, if not downright blissful. Amelia Island, Florida in January 2014? Why not? It could become our traditional winter vacation.

beachchairsbybrucestambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Oh, the places I go and the people I meet

snowymountainsbybrucestambaugh

A Manhattan-like traffic jam occurred in the snow-covered mountains of Virginia on our way to Florida.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I love to travel. It’s a common interest that we’ve had since we met nearly 43 years ago.

We feel fortunate to be at the station in life that allows us to travel when the opportunities arise. Of course we enjoy the various places we visit. We also like the people we meet along the way. We encountered a cast of characters on our latest trip to Florida.

walkingthedogbybrucestambaugh

Walking the dog along Main Beach is a common sight on Amelia Island, Fla.


We have learned that a tank of gasoline will take us to Wytheville, Va., where the gas conveniently happens to be cheaper than most locations. We make it a regular pit stop if you get my drift. This go-round there was only one problem. The previous day’s heavy snow had brought down rural power lines. With no electricity, the pumps weren’t working.

I asked the kind clerks behind the counter where the closest station was with power. They said we had passed it seven miles back. I asked about further south, the direction we were going. They said they knew that Hillsville had power, and indeed that’s where we refueled.

We learned from a brief visit last winter that our destination, Amelia Island, Fla., had equally friendly and helpful people. It didn’t take us long to prove that correct again this trip.

excellentfoodbybrucestambaugh

The food was delicious and the staff very helpful at Kelley’s Courtyard Cafe in Fernandina Beach, Fla.

After settling into our rental lodging, we went to the Happy Tomato Café in Fernandina Beach, Fla. for a late lunch only to discover that the eatery had closed for the day. Not to fear. A staff member came out and steered us to a competitor just down the street. We weren’t disappointed.

The waiter at this café was kind enough to direct us to the local grocery store. His directions were perfect.

On my first long walk on Main Beach on the Atlantic coast, I was photographing a flock of wintering gulls and skimmers. A middle-aged couple and their teenage son apologized to me for disturbing the birds and making them fly. I told them they actually had helped create the picture I had wanted, some birds on the wing, others on the sand.

In further conversation, the couple and their son revealed that they were lettuce farmers near Jacksonville, and rattled off local restaurants that purchased their produce from the local farmers’ market. I indicated that we had sampled the fare of several of them.

outdoorrecreationbybrucestambaugh

Bike riding and para-sailing are just two of the many outdoor recreational activities on Amelia Island, Fla.


Later an elderly man walking his dog on the beach struck up a conversation with me about surfers and para-surfers he had seen. In our protracted discussion, I learned much about the man’s long, productive life as a government contractor.

At the Amelia Island History Museum, it was volunteer guide Paula’s turn. A retired social studies teacher, she was ideal for the job. She rattled off more information than my brain could absorb. I’m glad she didn’t give us a pop quiz at the end of her lecture.

At the Maritime Museum on the waterfront, Don was equally congenial, though more laid back. Retired Navy officers are like that. We spoke as if we were long lost friends. Now we’re just new ones.

rosesfromreedsbrucetambaugh

In Savannah, Ga., Nate made roses from reeds.


On a day trip to Savannah, Ga., we met Nate, who made roses out of reeds for his living, which was modest by any standard.
“Just call me Peanut,” Nate said. And so I did.

My wife and I savor our travels together. We enjoy the outgoing people we meet even more.

harborsunsetbybrucestambaugh

Sunsets are spectacular over the harbor at Fernandina Beach, Fla.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Discovering a gem of a gem

Harbor sunset by Bruce Stambaugh

Sunset at the harbor, Fernandina Beach, FL.


By Bruce Stambaugh

It seems no matter how much planning my wife and I do for each trip we take, we find at least one unexpected gem along the way. Amelia Island, Florida was just such a place on a recent trip to the Sunshine state.

The unpretentious island initially was to be no more than a one-night layover to our final destination, Sarasota. It didn’t take long to realize what a diamond in the rough we had found. The island’s natural amenities alone deserved a closer look.

Amelia River by Bruce Stambaugh

A typical scene of live oaks and palmetto palms along the Amelia River.


On the way home, we stopped at Amelia Island for a two-day self-guided tour. Once we started to uncover the island’s riches, we could have spent two weeks there.

Steeped in history and oozing with natural beauty, Amelia Island’s chief charm seemed to be its modesty. Just inside the Florida line from Georgia, I sensed the island and its people knew what they had, but just didn’t want to flaunt it.

Main Beach by Bruce Stambaugh

Main Beach on the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Island, FL.


On the Atlantic Ocean side, Main Beach runs the entire length of the 13.5 mile long island. In the off-season, resident and migrating birds far outnumbered the exploring humans combing the beach or local teens windsurfing.
Pippi House by Bruce Stambaugh

The Pippi Longstocking House, Old Towne, Fernandina Beach, FL.


On the inland side, historic Fernandina Beach graces the island’s picturesque waterfront. Here’s where the island’s modesty reigned. The beautiful little town was actually settled three years before St. Augustine, which bills itself as the oldest in the country.

Fernandina Beach lost its historic distinction when the Spanish conquistadores massacred the French settlers and all the island’s indigenous people, too. An open grassy square in the old town section still marks the spot.

Ironically, one of the many distinctive houses in the town stands adjacent to the infamous slaughter. The old place was used as the setting for the 1988 Pippi Longstocking movie.

Amelia Island lighthouse by Bruce Stambaugh

The Amelia Island lighthouse.


Back in town, the oldest bar in Florida was temporarily converted into an ice cream parlor for a scene in the movie. The island’s elementary children were recruited for an ice cream fight until the reality of the hot Florida weather melted the main prop. Colored mashed potatoes were instant replacements to complete the filming.

Well-preserved historic buildings make up the impressive downtown. Locally owned restaurants serve locally caught seafood, while upscale boutiques attract shoppers from near and far. Stately, well-maintained homes from bygone years line the north-south streets off of the main drag.

To say Amelia Island’s attitude is small town would be an understatement. A fender bender outside our hotel brought four cruisers.

Wild Spanish stallion by Bruce Stambaugh

Wild Spanish stallions still graze on the many isolated islands near Amelia Island.


The desire to keep things as they are reaches far beyond the town itself. An outstanding state park features a Civil War fort. Egan Creek Greenway runs down the middle of the island for birders, joggers and bikers to enjoy. A charming lighthouse, still in operation, keeps watch over it all.

Take a boat cruise and you discover even more gems about this unheralded island. Rare birds, bottle nosed porpoises, wild Spanish stallions, and salt truncated live oaks are all part of the treasure chest of Amelia Island.

Bailey House by Bruce Stambaugh

The Bailey House, one of many well-maintained historic homes in Fernandina Beach, FL.


Even in the two additional days of exploration, we couldn’t uncover all of the island’s hidden nuggets. That will make our next visit all the more exciting.

Fernandia Beach, FL by Bruce Stambaugh

Just some of the old buildings is historic downtown Fernandina Beach, FL.

Egan Creek Greenway by Bruce Stambaugh

The Egan Creek Greenway in the center of Amelia Island provides opportunities for birding, biking, jogging and walking.

Humphreys House by Bruce Stambaugh

Humphreys House, getting a new coat of paint.

Baker House by Bruce Stambaugh

Baker House, Fernandina Beach, FL.

Prescott House by Bruce Stambaugh

Prescott House, Fernandina Beach, FL.

Meddaugh House by Bruce Stambaugh

Meddaugh House, Fernandina Beach, FL.

Tabby House by Bruce Stambaugh

The Tabby House is appropriately named.

Fairbanks House by Bruce Stambaugh

Fairbanks House, Fernandina Beach, FL.

Depot by Bruce Stambaugh

The old railroad depot now serves as a welcome center near the waterfront in Fernandina Beach, FL.

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