Tag Archives: Honeymoon Island

Ospreys and Nests. The Joys and Challenges of Home Ownership (WPC: Variation)

Last Sunday when the temperatures finally crept up into the normal range for us here in Florida, Mr. Dylan took me for a hike on Honeymoon Island. We hiked the 2.2 mile Osprey Trail. His nose was pointing down and my eyes were looking up. This state park is known for its many Ospreys and soon I spotted a couple in a large well-built nest. It appeared to be ready for egg laying, soft nest cup materials falling over the sides.

Osprey parent on Honeymoon Island UD150This nest had weathered Hurricane Irma, while some others had not. Soon I discovered a female Osprey working on a new nest. It was still very small and far from ready for eggs. And I couldn’t help wondering if her nest had been blown down by Irma. And where was her hubby? He should be busy shuttling in building materials.

female osprey at a new nest UD150 Soon enough I found him. He was taking a break in a nearby tree. I sure hoped he was hatching plans for a lengthy work shift in the afternoon.

male osprey UD150We continued our hike and Dylan greeted about a dozen dogs who had taken their moms or dads out too. Then I spotted yet another variation on the osprey nest. But there was something odd about it. There was no Osprey. Instead I saw two ears sticking up from the middle of the nest. Look carefully and you’ll see the ears of mom Great-horned Owl. It appeared she was already incubating.

Mama great-horned owl ud150Oh dear. Could the nest she had been using have blown down by the hurricane? And she just settled in this osprey nest instead? Might this be the nest of the couple now working on new construction? It certainly looked like that. You see, Great-horned owls do not build their own nest. Instead, they raise their young in nests built by other birds.  I knew dad Great-horned Owl had to be somewhere in the vicinity of this nest. Although well camouflaged I found him soon enough. He was napping at the top of a very tall pine tree.

daddy great-horned owl ud150Dylan almost lost his patience following me around the tree as I was trying to get a clear picture of him. But despite our best efforts to get his attention, he continued to sleep among the long needles and branches. He never looked down.

papa great-horned owl ud150Dylan even asked me if he should start barking, but I told him no. Maybe that poor owl had been hunting all night. A Mourning Dove offered a consolation prize. She was readily available for a photo session.

mourning dove ud150We continued our hike and discovered a great variety of dead trees available for new nests.

And before arriving back to the parking lot, we spotted one more Osprey mom at her nest.

another female osprey UD150Closer to home, Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley have made tremendous progress on their nest left thinly furnished by Irma. We found them both at home yesterday.

papa osprey in the nest UD150_edited-5Stanley had guard duty, while Sandy was working an a large Hogfish presumably brought home by hubby.

mama osprey works on a big fish UD150Dylan’s employment contract as my photo assistant is conditional to first visiting the dog park. So we left the happy couple to enjoy their lunch.

Coming back we walked around the marsh and found a Great Egret in breeding plumage. He was walking right on our path. Dylan discovered him first. But true to his new role, he didn’t lurch forward to catch the big bird.

Dylan below the Osprey nest UD150We approached carefully, but finally he discovered us too.

great egret 2 ud150We noticed from the distance that the osprey nest was empty. I assumed Stanley, faithful to his habits, had taken the rest of the fish and gone to eat his lunch in privacy. And that Sandy had taken an exercise flight after all that eating. Right then Sandy landed back on the perch.

mama osprey returns UD150And I soon understood why she had hurried back. A Turkey Vulture was approaching the nest.

turkey vulture UD150_edited-1Sandy let him know in no uncertain terms that he was not wanted in the vicinity of her home.

Mama Sandy sees a danger UD150_edited-1He left. She calmed down. And we walked past her right below the nest.

mama osprey at the nest UD150_edited-1She doesn’t like to see dogs right next to the nest. I have witnessed her dog alarms on multiple occasions. But she didn’t say a peep. Nor did she move her head back and forth – a sure sign of irritation. She just took a long glance at Mr. D. and decided he couldn’t fly. Or maybe she trusts the two of us?

mama osprey sees Dylan UD150The only other bird we spotted at the marsh yesterday was the older Great Blue Heron, aka the Mayor. He was patrolling the shallow waters and looked happy with the peaceful scene.

mayor great blue heron ud150When we got back on the trail to go home, we saw the Great Egret again. His beautiful breeding plumage and the green ‘wedding painting’ on his face told me he was looking for a mate.

Great egret ud150Thanks for coming along to see some variations on the theme ‘Ospreys and Nests’. We all wish you a great week ahead.

My Muse is on the Loose. Weekly Photo Challenge (13 Images)

To tell you the truth, she’s actually wild. Or maybe I should say she always wants me to shoot in the wild. Take time off from everyday grind. And buy better equipment. Had she a full say, I’d spend months every year on the African savannah or an a secluded bird island in the middle of the ocean shooting pictures of life in the wild. Looking at the natural world through a high quality super telephoto lens.

great egret honeymoon island Florida
A Great Egret on Honeymoon Island, Florida

But like most everyone else, my Muse has to adapt to life’s circumstances. And to my mini-sized wallet. So now she reluctantly allows me to shoot whatever wildish crosses my path. Which is mostly birds. Like this year’s Osprey chicks getting their fish delivery from Papa Osprey. And learning to fly.

papa ospreys fish delivery Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
Fish delivery by Papa Osprey.
osprey chick returns to nest Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
The middle chick learns to fly.

Or Mama Osprey defending the nest in a preemptive strike against one particular Great Blue Heron, who’d attempted to raid her home several times previously.

mama osprey prevents attack by blue heron Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
Mama Osprey prevents the Great Blue Heron from attacking the nest.

Or it could be Bottlenose Dolphins playing in the calm ocean waters early in the morning.

bottlenose dolphins at caladesi island Dunedin Florida
Bottlenose Dolphins play in the water.

While my Muse still occasionally gets to shoot on wild islands, she’s not giving up on returning to the savannah.

fresh water pond on caladesi island Dunedin Florida
In the wilderness on Caladesi Island.

She constantly nags me about it. Opens old photo albums and makes me scan pictures. Reminds me of the giraffes and elephants I spotted on my first safari ever in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Gosh, she says, that was over 25 years ago.

giraffes South Luangwa National Park Zambia
Giraffes on the savannah in Zambia.
elephants in South Luangwa National Park Zambia
Elephant mom with teenagers in the bush, Zambia.

And pokes me about the hippo we encountered on one beautiful New Year’s Eve in Queen Elizabeth’s National Park in Uganda. Remember that pink hippo, who wanted to crash the party on the lodge verandah?

A hippo in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda
The hippo who liked to party, Uganda.

Or the baboon, who taught you about food hygiene? She asks these detailed, leading questions to refresh my memory.

baboon mom with her child in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda
Baboon mom with her kid, Uganda.

She remembers all the wild adventures of the past. From the hyena, who came to our camp in Awash desert in Ethiopia to the lions we encountered just before nightfall in Kenya.

Hyena awash Ethiopia
A hyena makes herself at home in our camp, Ethiopia
two lions in Kenya
Two female lions prepare for their hunt at nightfall, Kenya

My Muse is definitely on the loose. Who knows where she’ll take me in months and years to come. But she’d better have a good plan for taking care of all I need to take care of. And provide a generous budget. Cheers to that, my Muse ~

You can find other replies to this week’s photo challenge, Muse, here.

Silence Breathes in Colors. On Caladesi Island.

Caladesi island from the air. Source: Pinellascounty.org
The Hurricane Pass and Caladesi island from the air. Source: Pinellascounty.org

One morning at the end of January, I set out with a friend just after sunrise.  She had agreed to join me for a hike on Caladesi Island, one of the few remaining pristine barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, situated a mile and a half off shore from the city of Dunedin, FL.

It was called Hog Island until 1921 when a major hurricane split it into two separate islands. The Hurricane Pass was formed. The northernmost island became known as Honeymoon Island after becoming popular with honeymooners in late 1930s.  The southern island got its name, or so the story goes,  after a Spaniard named “Desi” said to have lived on the island bayou, which is “cala” in Spanish. Caladesi.

Caladesi Island eastern shore

Caladesi Island, now a state park, was “discovered” in 1888 by a Swiss immigrant, Henry Scharrer, who became the first and only homesteader ever on the island. His daughter, Myrtle, who was born there in 1895, has written an interesting book, “Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise – The Story of Caladesi Island”,  first published in 1984.

Myrtle and her father, Henry, at the homestead, circa 1902. Source: floridastateparks.org

In the book, she gives a timeline of the area’s early history involving the Tocobaga, Seminole and Miccosukee people, and the Spanish – English – Spanish rule until the Florida territory was acquired by the U.S. in 1821. She also describes her family’s life on the island in late 1800s and early 1900s in vivid color and fascinating detail.

Fishermen close to Honeymoon Island

We started our trip by driving to Honeymoon Island. From there we took the first boat of the day over to Caladesi. The air was cool. The ocean was completely still. A light mist was rising  from the water as the sun  slowly climbed higher.

fog rises on the ocean on our way to Caladesi island
A small island between main land and Caladesi Island

Suddenly we spotted some movement in the water. It was a bottlenose dolphin on a morning swim in the sparkling ocean.

A Bottlenose Dolphin near Caladesi Island
A Bottlenose Dolphin

A few minutes later we passed the northernmost tip of Caladesi Island. White sand,  shore birds … and more dolphins, all swept in the soft blue of the morning.

northern tip of caladesi island by tiny
The northern tip of Caladesi Island
A school of Bottlenose Dolphins frolicking in the ocean Caladesi Island

We watched them quietly for a while – and got another delightful surprise. A mother dolphin with a baby beside her “floated” by on the other side of the boat.  They might have been sleeping. It certainly was a dream-like moment.  Dolphins are such enchanting beings, meeting so many of them first thing in the morning was a treat. The universe was smiling.

Caladesi Island two Bottlenose Dolphins, mother and child
Two Bottlenose Dolphins, mother and child

The boat ride was short, about 20 minutes, and soon we started to navigate our way into the marina, the only establishment on the island. I was excited to finally experience the beauty of the island I had read so much about.

Caladesi island approaching the marina
Approaching the marina

The island is about six miles (9.6 km) long. We decided to start by walking south on the beach, and then hike the 3-mile (4.8 km) nature trail in the interior of the island. The beach was pristine, so beautiful I could have walked there for the whole length of the island!

caladesi island beach by tiny
The miles long beach on Caladesi Island

But we wanted to see more. I knew that unlike Honeymoon Island, this was not a place where I could spot lots of birds inland, but I anticipated that the nature itself would be breathtaking. And it was, Florida in its natural state, as it used to be.

caladesi island nature trail live oak by tiny
The nature trail
Caladeai island live oak on the nature trail by tiny
A huge live oak extends across the trail
caladesi island nature trail pines2 by tiny
Tall pines along the trail

The trail passed through beautiful old pine, oak and palm forests. And soon we came across the beautiful waterway along which one could reach the interior of the island by kayak.

caladesi island pond by tiny
The inland waterway

When we came closer to the former homestead, we found the only fresh water pond on the island. That’s where Myrtle and her family got their water for daily use. Trees were bending over the pond, as if protecting it from the passage of time. And silence… was breathing in mesmerizing colors.

caladesi island freahwater pond
The fresh water pond on north side of the trail
caladesi island freswater pond
…and south side of the trail

Fairly close to the pond, we literally stumbled upon the famous “Harp Tree” or twin pine as it’s also called. Numerous photos were taken there, and are exhibited in the book, by early photographers who came to the island to visit Myrtle’s family.

Caladesi Island The famous "Harp Tree"
The “Harp Tree”

It was a beautiful spot. I could feel the wing beats of history in the air. It was easy to imagine how life used to be there a hundred years ago, and how exciting photography had to be for these early pioneers. There would always be someone willing to climb up to be pictured sitting in the Harp Tree.

Caladesi island old pine trees
Beautiful, old pine trees

Then the trail turned back towards north and the harbor. We were admiring the old trees when we heard some rustling in the bushes next to the trail. We stopped, looked carefully, and saw a nine banded armadillo trying to dig a hole in the ground, either to find food or to prepare a new burrow. His head was already far down there, and he was working hard.

A ninebanded armadillo
A nine banded armadillo

The last part of the trail was equally beautiful. I felt like I’d been thrown back in time. A harsh time in many ways, but much more simple and peaceful in this island paradise.

A huge oak tree on the nature trail
A huge oak tree on the nature trail

The tranquility of Caladesi Island was tangible. Being dipped so deep into untouched nature was inspirational and soothing for the soul. Like coming back to my real origins.

Nature Immersion. Hiking on Honeymoon Island.

On the weekend between Christmas and New Year, I decided I had to get moving. I mean really moving. An hour of jogging around the salt marsh nearby just wouldn’t cut it. So I decided to go hiking on Honeymoon Island.

Honeymoon Island aerial in 1940s
Honeymoon Island aerial in 1940s

This beautiful island in the Gulf of Mexico was used as a hog farm by early settlers, and consequently it was called Hog Island. But when a developer from New York bought the island in 1930s, and built 50 palm thatched huts  for honeymooners, it became known as Honeymoon Island.

lovers nook hut on honeymoon island 1940s
Lovers Nook, one of the huts on Honeymoon Island in 1940s

In 1939 the developer held a competition for newlyweds, featured in the LIFE magazine, and the winners were flown onto the island for a their two-week honeymoon.

Map of the Honeymoon Island
Map of the Honeymoon Island

Today the island is a beautiful state park with gorgeous beaches and nature trails, and you can reach it by car on a causeway from the city of Dunedin. I drove there right after sunrise that Sunday, and started off on the Osprey Trail.  The natural beauty of the virgin slash pine forest was breathtaking.

HM osprey trail
The Osprey Trail
HM island pine and palm forest
Honeymoon Island forest

Right away I saw Ospreys. Some were flying and others were just hanging around, many perching on dead tree trunks close to their nests. I guess they were waiting for their mate to arrive and the nesting season to start.

HMI park osprey and her nest

All my pictures are shot from the trail. It was not advisable to walk deeper into the forest trying to get a clear shot  or a close-up . Why not? Simply because I didn’t have any desire to “shoot” the rattle snakes who also live on the island. Here are a few Ospreys out of the over 20 that I spotted that day on the Osprey Trail.

I have also prepared a small gallery of the numerous osprey nests I spotted along the trail. I thought some of them were true masterpieces showing off the nest-building capabilities of these birds. Like a Home Show.

I spotted a couple of Woodpeckers too, but couldn’t get close enough for a clear shot. Great Egrets liked to sit on the top of the tall trees and trunks, beautiful against the blue skies.

One of the Great Egrets on Honeymoon Island
One of the Great Egrets on Honeymoon Island
Another Great Egret
Another Great Egret

And I spotted a bird I had not seen before, an American Black Vulture. He was sitting in deep thought and nodded off a couple of times while I was observing him.

HM park american black vulture
An American Black Vulture
HM park american black vulture sleeping
…nodding off on his perch.

It was a peaceful hike. No manmade noises in the cool winter air. I was alone in the nature with the birds that morning.

HM pelican trail 2
The mangrove lined Pelican Trail

I wanted to hike back on the Pelican Cove Trail.  It was beautiful too and took me to the northwestern  side of the island where a small lagoon has formed between the main island and the “sand spit”. I didn’t see any Pelicans, but many other birds were wading on the “sand spit” side of the lagoon. The “sand spit” doesn’t have trails, but one can walk on the sandy beach to the north end of it to see tidal pools that tend to form there. I plan to do just that … next time.

birds on the sand spit beach HMI
Ibis and Blue Heron wading on the Sand Spit side of the Lagoon.

I stood there for quite a while inhaling the serenity and admiring the view of the calm Gulf of Mexico.  Silence swept its arms around me and I lost the sense of time. Food for the soul, nature immersion at it best.

HM island beach N
A view towards the ocean

On my way back I spotted an Osprey fairly close to the trail. She had just caught a big fish for late lunch or afternoon snack. And was not happy to see me approaching on the trail.

HM osprey with a fish2
An Osprey with a fish was not happy to get company…

My last discovery that day was a colony of fiddler crabs who had taken over the sandy trail. The sand was full of little “doors” to their dwellings. They were happily running back and forth conducting their business when I approached. But as soon as they felt the tremors from my tiptoeing feet, they hurried inside. I was free to pass their village.

HMI sand crab
A fiddler crab is scurrying away from the trail…
HM sand crab2
…and the last man on the run…made it to safety too!

It was a great hike! All my moving parts felt it for a couple of days. My soul still feels it.

I hope you enjoyed the trip and are not too tired from the long hike. Thanks for coming along!