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Danger, Thrill and Beauty. The Unique Blend in the Everglades.

My orange-colored ear plug fell on the floor. Then it flew overboard and disappeared in water spray. The roar of the airboat engine grew exponentially as we flew over the sawgrass prairie at high speed.

airboat in everglades ud123When we slowed down and finally stopped altogether, the sky and land seemed to merge here, in the middle of this unique wilderness of 1.5 million acres. I took out the remaining ear plug. And listened.

saw grass prerie in Everglades ud123The sawgrass prairie was beautiful and very peaceful. But danger was lurking in the shallow water, only 4-5 feet/1.2-1.5 meters deep on average. Over 200,000 alligators with a typical body length of 9-12 feet, a mouth equipped with 80 sharp teeth and over 1000 pounds of closing power in their jaws, call this swamp home.

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alligator sunning itself ud123They went about their daily life quietly in the water and on land. I was, without a doubt, a guest in their home.

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Alligator in everglades on the roadside ud123Luckily humans are not on their menu unless we threaten their young. They observed me as I observed them, keenly, and I could see the skies reflected in their eyes. Mesmerizing.

alligator eye 1 ud123I understood that in the Everglades, one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, danger is married to beauty.

mangroves and sawgrass in Everglades ud123

Everglades mangrove forest ud123

everglades trees ud123The sawgrass prairie bloomed with Spider Lily and other beautiful flowers.

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flowering Everglades ud123And so did the hammocks.

flowering bush in Everglades ud123I found the airplants most intriguing. A seed lands on a tree, then grows and blooms. Just like that. One of the thousands of small miracles in nature.

airplants in everglades ud123And crisscrossing the prairie I found many of my favorite marsh birds, like the Great Blue Heron, the Great Egret and the Snowy Egret.

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great egret in Everglades ud123

snowy egret in everglades ud123A family of Wood Storks got disturbed by our noisy approach and took flight.

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wood storks in flight ud123And I spotted impressive Osprey nests, several feet high. At one of them, a juvenile was considering the benefits and dangers of flying. Her mommy watched nearby. And waited.

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an Osprey chick in Everglades 2 ud123

mother osprey in Everglades ud123I saw many other birds enjoy the peace of this wilderness, like this Red-Shouldered Hawk, but it was a challenge to ‘shoot’ them from a fast moving airboat.

Hawk in the Everglades ud123Particularly if they were moving too, like this female Anhinga, who was trying to swallow her catch.

female anhinga 2 in Everglades ud123Coming back to the airboat station, I spotted two familiar handsome males. A Red-Winged Blackbird and a Boat-Tailed Grackle.

a large airboat ud123

male red-winged blackbird ud123

male boat-tailed grackle ud123From here my journey continued through the Big Cypress National Preserve. I made some interesting discoveries, like the smallest federal building in the US, the Ochopee Post Office.

smallest post office in the us ud123I also visited some wildlife centers on my way to Everglades City, which really was a small, idyllic village with a few roads and houses on stilts due to frequent flooding.

building in everglades city ud123I also spotted both modern and older versions of swamp buggies parked in front of the houses.

modern swamp buggy ud123

swamp buggy in Everglades city ud123And found a nice place for lunch. Alligator was on the menu, but I opted for a chicken sandwich.

lunch place ud123

cocos palms in Everglades 2 ud123Arriving to the western side of the Everglades, I visited the historic museum in Chokoloskee, an area inhabited for centuries by the Calusa people, and for thousands of years by their ancestors.

Indian museum ud123

chokoloskee museum ud123My last adventure was a boat cruise through the western Everglades mangrove estuary known as the 10,000 Islands.

mangrove forest in everglades ud123After speeding past many islands, we suddenly got company. Two Bottlenose Dolphins followed our ‘sister boat’ and then kept diving back and forth under our boat. In addition to us humans, dolphins are the only other wild species that like to play and have fun 🙂  Unfortunately coming up for a photo-op was not included in their scheme of fun for the day.

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two dolphins dive under the boat ud123After a while they decided the fun was over and headed for their own underwater explorations. We continued towards the ocean past lovely small islands until we reached the southern Gulf of Mexico.

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Southern Gulf of mexico ud123On our way back, we got company again. A young West Indian Manatee stayed with us for quite a while. This ‘sea cow’ can stay under water up to 40 minutes at a time so it was a thrill to capture it coming up for a breath next to our boat a couple of times.

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manatee 3 ud123Close to the shore I spotted an Osprey in flight above a mangrove island. That was a great ending to my adventure in the Everglades.

osprey 1 in Everglades ud123It was an unforgettable trip from the eastern Everglades through the Big Cypress National Preserve to the western Everglades. And I am more determined than ever to do what I can to preserve this wonderful wilderness, and others, for the future generations.

Thank you for coming along. See you later alligator.

Alligator 2 in everglades ud123

Rise and Shine. Fall at the Salt Marsh.

We have gorgeous fall weather here on Florida’s Gulf coast. I want to invite you all to join me on a morning walk on the beach, in the park and at the salt marsh.

love-grass-2-ud87Being “evergreen” we do not have the typical fall foliage, but there is plenty of color for us to enjoy right here in our garden.

And the beach is lively with shorebirds, particularly Sanderlings and Willets, in addition to the usual gulls and terns.

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willet-ud87From the beach we walk to the fishing piers at north end of the park. Sun is shining on the bay and the Clearwater Pass.

shine-ud87People are fishing and birds are flying over the water.

bridge-ud87We spot two familiar birds: the “other osprey” who was pestering Mama Sandy last week, and Henry, the younger Great Blue Heron.

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younger-great-blue-heron-henry-ud87For some reason, Henry is not at the salt marsh, but has flown into a kayak enclosure next to the fishing piers. Perhaps hoping for a free meal from one of the fishermen.

sand-key-park-ud87From there we walk south through the park to the salt marsh. And spot more fall colors on the way.

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pink-flowers-ud87Arriving at the marsh, we immediately notice the visitors. A family of eight Wood Storks mingle with Great and Snowy Egrets.

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great-egret-ud87The Great Egret wants to show the visitors who’s the boss, and some loud exchanges follow. But where is the real boss, the Mayor? We walk towards the osprey nest and find him hiding in the bushes right below the osprey nest.

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older great blue heron 2 ud87.jpgIt seems he doesn’t want to get involved in any squabbles, but rather prefers to take some quiet time to enjoy the morning. And the same goes for Mama Sandy. She has just caught a fish and turns to greet us before starting her breakfast.

mama-osprey-with-a-fish-ud87Then we spot the showman. The Reddish Egret performs his hunting dance. The clown of the marsh, as I dubbed him two years ago, draws his energy from a large audience. And today is no exception.

reddish-egret-hunting-ud87But the smaller herons, apart from the Snowy Egrets, have decided to stay away from the ‘big boys’.

snowy-egret-ud87Walking home, we find one of them, the Little Blue Heron, hunting alone on the bay.  The low tide has revealed new and interesting fishing grounds.

little-blue-heron-in-the-bay-ud87I hope you enjoyed this three mile walk in the crisp autumn air – a rare treat for us this early in the season.

At home another treat is waiting. The Audubon Society has received a grant from Duke Energy, our power company. Yay! Thank you to all who have contributed! We are now much closer to having the new dish platform for the Osprey couple installed on time. We all wish you a wonderful week.

Free Like an Eagle. A Hike in the Urban Wilderness.

This is Sarge, a five year old female American Bald Eagle. But unlike in the song, or how I pictured her here, she’s not free. Quite the opposite. Sarge can’t fly, and now lives at the Narrows Environmental Education Center in McGough Nature Park. But let me start from beginning.

mcCough nature parl trail ud70This long weekend I suddenly found myself without plans. Our smallest granddaughter woke up with a viral infection and sky-high fever when her family was supposed to drive this way on Saturday.

So yesterday I decided to hike in McGough Nature Park, a jungle-like small park bordering to intracoastal waters south of us. Huge oak trees mix with tall pines, palms and mangroves providing a peaceful spot of wilderness in the middle of the hubbub of this crowded beach weekend.

jungle 2 ud70This park is a safe haven for hundreds of turtles, so I started my hike at the turtle pond. Some turtles were enjoying the sun on the ‘resort deck’ in the middle of the pond.

turtle resort ud70While others preferred to lounge solo on the land or in the water. I thought many of them had beautiful colors. And observing their slow pace of life was calming to the soul. They had no hurry to do anything or to go anywhere. A lesson on “just being”.

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turtle closeup ud70In the open areas of the park, lots of wild flowers were blooming.

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wild flower at McGough ud70But around the forested trails sunlight reached the ground only at a few spots.

McCough trail ud70I could hear an Osprey calling and many birds singing, but it was impossible to spot them high up in the dense forest. I walked towards the intracoastal hoping to find some birds.

nest UD70I walked along the long pier over the water and spotted a pelican just taking off. But all wading birds were hiding from the heat in the dense mangrove forest.

pelican on the intracoastal ud70I stood there in the welcome breeze for a while and observed the busy boat traffic, a sign of families having fun on the water this long weekend.

boat traffic on the intracoastal 2 ud70It had become cloudy and I hurried back through the park to visit the raptors who had their permanent home at the Education Center.

pier McGough nature park ud70Sarge is a newcomer to the park. She was found weak, dehydrated and malnourished in Tennessee a couple of years ago.

sarge ud70After a long rehabilitation at the World Bird Sanctuary near St. Louis, she was deemed non-releasable. She has an irreversible and rare feather disorder. Her feathers are brittle and can break easily. Her molting, unlike for other birds, happens all on one side. That makes balanced flight impossible. Thus she cannot take care of herself in the wild.

Sarge is a beautiful, big bird of about 11 pounds. She came here only in May and is still getting used to her new home. But now she is safe and well cared for, and gets to go on outings in the park once she’s familiarized herself with the new environment.

I found her fascinating. She looked at me, the only visor at the time, and we talked for a while.

american eagle ud70Next to her, some Great-horned Owls had their little home. I thought one of them looked at me a bit suspiciously from the corner of his eye.

great-jorned owl ud70And then there were several hawks, all with different injuries that made life in the wild not an option for them. I thought this Red-shouldered Hawk girl was most beautiful.red-shouldered hawk ud70I stayed with these wonderful raptors until a few fat rain drops started falling and I had to head back home. It was a great hike. I hope you enjoyed it too.

fireworks ud70Happy Independence Day to all friends in the US!

We are Flying! But Are We Ever Gonna Eat?

The Osprey chick caught me completely off guard! She really did. Last Tuesday when I took my “birding” camera on the morning walk with Dylan, she was still a nestling. We walked past the nest and nothing much was up. The chick was alone in the nest, I guessed Mama Sandy had gone to run some errands after breakfast. Osprey moms do that from the time the chicks are 5-6 weeks old.

osprey chick ud62Right when we were leaving Sandy came back and gave us a friendly look. I think she has now accepted Dylan as a part of this paparazzo’s entourage.

mama osprey gets something to the nest ud61We saw many smaller birds, like this Northern Mockingbird who lives at the marsh.

northern mocking bird ud62And a Brown-headed Cowbird, who doesn’t love dogs very much. I can tell from the sharp warning calls as soon as Dylan approaches.

brown-headed cowbird ud62A Great-tailed Grackle sang for us from a lamp-post along the walkway.

Boat-tailed Gragle ud62And the Mourning Dove sat on the driveway fence checking us out, just like she does almost every morning.

Mourning dove in the morning ud62So late yesterday morning, after all the necessary morning chores, I set out by myself to check the beach and the developments at the salt marsh. I took my new camera with me and shot some macros in the garden before heading to the beach. This girl needs to get acquainted with her new gear.

bee macro ud61I got my first tiny insect, a bee in the White Bird of Paradise flower, but he didn’t care to look into the camera. And a couple of flowers and buds too, of course.

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new leaf opening 2 macro

flower bud macro ud62I still have tons to learn, and have to start carrying the heavier camera and the lenses to experiment with macros and other more advanced types of shots. I’m sure I will get a hang of it by time.

Our beach was quiet. Idyllic, if I may say. But the public beach just off the salt marsh was already buzzing with activity.

our beach on Sand Key ud62All kinds of fun stuff was going on in the water and in the air. This is one of the busiest weekends of the year around here.

parasailing ud62But the salt marsh was serene as always. I walked directly towards the Osprey nest. On my way I saw a Yellow-crowned Night Heron. He had caught something big, maybe a crab, and didn’t quite know what to do with it. It could be that he hadn’t been successful during his night shift and grabbed the biggest piece available for brunch.

yellow-crowned night heron was hunting ud62I heard Mama Sandy’s alarm calls, and again didn’t see anything threatening in the air. But just as I arrived to the East-end of the marsh, something big flew by me. Yes, you guessed it. The younger Great Blue Heron made his entrance and landed right below the Osprey nest.

young great blue heron ud62 He has grown to a big handsome bird, and hopefully his manners have improved. But Sandy didn’t take any chances. She immediately flew down and swooped by this fellow. Just to make a point. It all happened in a couple of seconds and I only caught her when she landed back in the nest.

mama osprey returns to chick ud62The chick was taking notes. Then I realized that apparently their brunch was late. The chick was fairly vocal about it.

I hadn’t noticed Papa Stanley fly by with a fish, but when both the chick and Sandy were asking for fish and looking in the direction of the woods on the other side of the trail, I thought I’d better  investigate. And soon I found him in a pine tree with a big fish.

papa osprey with a fish 2 UD62Stanley was soaking wet and had just started to eat the head of the fish.  He looked in the direction of the nest where the chick was hurrying him along. And briefly checked on me too.

papa osprey with a fish ud62I walked back to the nest, took some portraits of the two ladies and waited with them. But still no fish delivery.

portrait of mama osprey ud62

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mama osprey and chick waiting for fish ud62So finally I decided to go back home not to be late for my own lunch date. Just when I reached the street and looked back towards the nest, I saw the chick take off! She had fledged in the last few days! She flew a round high over the bay and also took a swing over the woods where Stanley was working on the fish. Sandy sat alone in the nest and watched her. Proud mama.

mama osprey watches chick flying ud62I decided to wait right there to see the chick come back to the nest. In a couple of minutes she approached. It looked like she might miss the nest.

osprey chick approaches the nest ud62Sandy got ready for action, but luckily the chick could work her wings and steer onto the edge of the nest.

osprey chick landing ud62.jpgAnd she landed safely next to Sandy.

ocprey chick is back in the nest ud62She got some motherly advice from Sandy right away. I wish I would’ve understood what was said. But I’m sure it was something wise.

mama osprey advises osprey chick 2 ud62I had witnessed one of the chick’s first flights. And now I had to run home. I hope friends in the US are having a nice long weekend. All of us at the marsh wish everyone a wonderful week ahead. Thanks coming along on this long Memorial Day weekend walk.

Me and my Mama. And a Flight School at the Salt Marsh.

The chick closed her eyes and snuggled close to her Mama. Mama Sandy has been sad lately. She’s been grieving. Staying a lot in the corner of the nest where I now know the little chick’s earthly remains rest. The big chick is about 6 weeks old now, alert and following everything around her with healthy curiosity. I think it’s a she, but I might change my mind in the next couple of weeks.

salt marsh ud60 6x9I haven’t been taking Dylan on walks at the salt this past week. The poor guy still has to wear his cone. His vet told us to keep it on until Monday’s check-up. Needless to say Dylan is not a happy camper. He feels just fine, but the cone prevents him from doing so many essential things. Such as eating properly from his bowl or reading his daily newspaper in the grass. It’s like I would be trying to read the morning paper without my reading glasses. Not fun.

So today I decided to take a solo walk to check on our friends. It was lunch time and quite hot. I anticipated the marsh would be fairly quiet as birds tend to seek shelter from the midday sun. But I was happy to see many palm trees in full bloom.

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another flowering palm tree ud60When I arrived at the Osprey nest the chick was snuggling close to Sandy. Like taking care of her Mama. Then she started preening. And Sandy discovered I was there. We said our customary hellos.

mama osprey and osprey chick preening UD60After ten minutes of diligently cleaning herself, the chick settled down and started to check out her environment, including me.

osprey chick ud60

osprey chick 6 weeks old ud60She is a beautiful young Osprey now, and it will take only a couple of more weeks, if that, before she’ll be flying. I walked around the marsh and saw the young Great Blue Heron at the other end of the marsh. He didn’t dare to come close to the nest, which was probably good for his wellbeing. Mama Sandy was keeping an eye on him.

young great blue heron ud60I also spotted my newest friend, the juvenile Little Blue Heron foraging in the shade of some bushes. She is turning more blue every week, which unlike for us humans, is a good thing for a Little Blue Heron. She seems to be doing great.

juvenile little blue heron ud60Walking back towards the nest I saw two Florida Mottled Ducks tanning themselves in the midday sun.

two Florida Mottled Ducks ud60When I reached the nest again, I spotted the Reddish Egret. It was too hot to perform tricks, I guess, as he was just checking the marsh in quiet contemplation.

reddish egret ud60But the Osprey chick was not quiet. She had started her “getting-ready-to-fly routine” up in the nest. I made a short GIF so you can see all her elaborate moves. This young lady will take off soon!

osprey chick wingersizing may 14 2016Down in the pond this new routine didn’t go unnoticed. The Reddish Egret turned and followed the chick’s performance with great interest.

reddish egret looks at the nest ud60I left the salt marsh with mixed feelings. Sad that nature had decided there would be only one chick in the Osprey family this year, but happy knowing this young bird would have great odds to make it to maturity. Sandy and Stanley would feed her for a long time after she fledges, and take her on countless fishing trips to make sure she knows how to catch a fish before she leaves the nest towards the end of June or early July.

Waking home, I was delighted to find new palm flowers on my route, the White Bird of Paradise was in full bloom.

white bird of paradise flower ud60Thanks for coming along. I wish you all a peaceful weekend and a great week ahead.

The Peace That Passeth Understanding

When we recognise the virtues, the talent, the beauty of Mother Earth, something is born in us, some kind of connection, love is born.  -Thich Nhat Hanh

Butterfly tree BXI only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out until sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. –John Muir

sunset BForget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. – Khalil Gibran

wild flowers on my path BXpalm in the wind BXIt was in the forest that I found “the peace that passeth understanding”    – Jane Goodall

nature reserve path in the forest BXdroplets in the forest BXHave a wonderful week ahead. Peace.

Five Photos. Five Stories. Monochrome Photos Challenge.

Several weeks ago, John at Book of Bokeh invited me to participate in the Five Day Monochrome Photos Challenge, posting one photo each day and inviting someone else to participate. Not to risk further procrastination, or posting only one image and then fluttering to something else, I decided to squeeze the five days into one.  Five different images, each with their own little story.

A Bird. You might have noticed that I’ve dedicated quite a bit of my discretionary time lately to bird photography. So there has to be a bird shot among the five. My feathered friends can be aptly represented by this fellow, a Yellow-crowned Night Heron. One early morning at the salt marsh, he almost scared me to death. I thought I was alone when he croaked really loud in a tree just above my head. When I spotted him again later, he projected an air of innocence and pragmatism. A bird has to sleep, and when woken up by an intruder, a loud croak in protest is called for. I forgave him.

yellowcrowned night heron portrait in monochrome
A Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

Back to my roots. This old barn in Finland brings me back to my roots. It’s been there as long as I can remember.  I think of my paternal grandparents when I stand in front of the now padlocked doors. They used to store all sorts of farming equipment and hay there when I was a child. And it was always an adventure to go see them working there, milking cows or feeding the horse. As a protector of quality time with my grandmother, this barn served as a cradle of wisdom and valuable insights for me.

old barn in Finland monochrome
My grandparents’ old barn.

A flower. I love roses. They always light up my day. This love story started with the white wild roses I admired in my grandparents’ garden as a child. Their fragrance and delicate beauty embodied romantic mystique to me ~ and still do.

rose in monochrome
A rose.

A black and white photo. That brings me to an old photo. It’s the only genuinely black and white analog image of these five. And obviously not a selfie. I’m about four years old, in my Sunday best attending my aunt’s wedding. I still look pretty much the same, only my shoes are bigger now and my hair is a few inches longer.

Tiny when she was really tiny.

A Beauty. And my final image is of a young giraffe.  I was privileged to meet many of them, from babies to grandparents, in my years living in Africa. This one though is Floridian and lives in Bush Gardens. He looked at me with his big eyes and made his way right into my heart. I guess we were both dreaming of Africa.

A giraffe in Bush Gardens Tampa Florida
A young giraffe in Bush Gardens.

I invite any blogging friend who is inspired by monochrome photography to participate in this challenge ~ five images in five days, or a compressed version like mine. I’m thinking of Joanne, Nancy x 3, Frank, Amy x 3, Kathy, Rob, H.J. and others. That’s a hint  😉

I hope your week is going great.