We have Winter here in Clearwater, Florida. She is a rescued Bottlenose dolphin, whose tail had to be amputated. But thanks to some inventive and compassionate people, she now has a new prosthetic tail – and a permanent home.
She is the star of two wonderful films, The Dolphin Tale and the Dolphin Tale 2. But even more importantly, she is the star in the hearts of countless kids who have met her and her friend Hope at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Despite its name this is not a traditional aquarium, but a marine hospital and rehabilitation center where injured animals are brought from near and far for urgent care and rehabilitation.
The two dolphins, and a third one called Nicholas, live here getting all the care and therapies they need on a daily basis. They have certainly made a lasting impression on my ‘grandies’.
This past holiday season Santa brought them an opportunity to have a close encounter with Hope. They could feed her, touch her and get a photo taken with her. Absolute joy.
One of the last days of 2017 we also visited the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, where we found this baby chimpanzee pondering the complexities of life…
…while his friend, a colobus monkey, demonstrated his gymnastic skills. And his fancy haircut.
We saw many birds, including a Scarlet Ibis and a beautiful mystery bird I have not been able to identify as yet. Anyone?
And we watched the meerkats watching us. The one on guard duty, in particular, nailed his eyes on us. But we were on our best behavior and he didn’t need to sound alarm.In the “Africa” section we spotted elephants, zebras…and a giraffe couple having a tender moment.
I’d rather observe all these animals in their natural environment like I used to, but have to admit well run zoos offer the kids an invaluable opportunity to experience them.
And some zoos, including this one, also help to breed endangered species. Four southern white rhino babies have already been born here.
There was so much more to see, like this sweet little wallaby basking in the late December sun.
But when you are dealing with a granny and two kids, there’s a limit how much you can take in during one visit. So late in the afternoon we had to say goodbye. Thank you for coming along!
This morning, waking up to rare Florida winter temperatures of 36F/2C, strong northerly winds and 5-8 foot/1.5-2.5 meter waves on the Gulf, I decided to pull together a post about my short walk earlier this week. The weather was balmy, partly sunny and the temperature hovered around 70F/20C. Just seeing the pictures now makes me feel warmer. And I hope they have the same effect on friends who are experiencing snow, ice and freezing cold right now – up north in the US and Canada as well as in Northern Europe. I still remember the truly cold weather from my youth…and the blizzards up in D.C. And can’t honestly say I miss the snow.
On Thursday morning I took a short break from working on my current project and walked to the salt marsh. Mama Sandy was sitting on her new perch, but Papa Stanley was nowhere to be seen. Sandy might have sent him to Home Depot for more supplies for their nest remodeling efforts, which obviously have already started.
She greeted me in her usual friendly manner. And sometimes I wonder if she knows that I had something to do with the new nest she suddenly found one morning last November. I’m suspecting she does.
In any case, I am happy not needing to worry that the winter storms might take down her nest.
The older Great Blue Heron, the Mayor, was standing guard on the same small islet he has favored in winters past. It’s always great to see the Mayor in his ‘office’.
I spotted two Yellow-crowned Night Herons close to the Osprey nest. They had received the Mayor’s memo urging everyone to rest on one leg. And I think they might be a couple. I’ve seen them together many times in the past few weeks. If they’ll nest at the salt marsh, we might see little babies come late spring. If they choose to nest on the protected ‘bird island’ in the bay, we’ll see juveniles as soon as they learn to fly next summer.
Otherwise the marsh looked deserted. I wondered why that might be.
Just when I was leaving, I spotted something bright blue moving on the ground a bit further away. I realized it was a Blue Jay. They are extremely skittish so I tried to be invisible when I slowly moved closer. Of course he discovered me, Tiny is 5′ 6″ after all, looked at me and was gone. Hence only one ‘soft’ picture of him.
I walked home through the bay side. To my surprise I found many of our salt marsh friends there. They were enjoying the ‘fast food’ provided by the low tide on the bay. The Great Egret was hurrying to the table.
The Snowy Egret was already there and so was the Little Blue Heron. The latter appeared truly blue in the weak sunlight, but seemed to be reasonably happy.
I saw several Brown Pelicans on the other side of the Sailing Center pier. And almost fell down from the seawall trying to get a straight shot of one of them between the pillars. It goes to say that trying to frame a shot can be risky at times.
Now, looking at the part of salt marsh I can see from my windows, it appears completely deserted. The birds have taken shelter from the cold wind. Even Sandy, whom I saw at the nest first thing this morning, has gone to some more sheltered location in the woods. But I hope this little greeting from the recently warm world of our feathered friends, made you feel a bit warmer. Have a great week ahead.
I hope all friends are warm, safe and dry after the blizzard and coastal flooding that hit so many states here in the US this weekend. We had gale force winds from the ocean for two days and Florida winter temperatures in the 30s, but today things are much calmer, winds only at 10-15 mph, sun and pale blue skies.
I finally got a chance to go check on my feathered friends at the salt marsh. And wanted to give you a quick update on the state of affairs before the work week swallows me again.
Many birds were out and about braving the cool weather. A real hunching party. Everybody was puffed up, like these White Ibis taking in the sunshine.
Just when I arrived at the osprey nest, Papa Stanley flew in with soft materials for the nest cup. In preparation for egg laying.
Mama Sandy seemed pleased and put it carefully in place in the middle of the nest. And then they just sat there together warming up after the cold night. The nest platform held through the storm again, which is a a good sign considering that it now seems impossible to do any repairs until after the nesting season. I’m keeping my fingers crossed it holds until summer.
I spotted several juvenile Night Herons seeking shelter in the bushes under the osprey nest, some were awake, some asleep.
A Snowy Egret was huddling there too, airing her beautiful plumage in the breeze. And for the first time in weeks, I found a Tricolored Heron.
This slender heron was almost unrecognizable hunching there all puffed up.
I had just spotted the young Muscovy Duck, when I heard a loud discussion at the other end of the marsh.
Based on the dialect I heard, it was between two Great Blue Herons. You guessed it, the Mayor and the youngster. When I glanced over there, I saw that the young GBH had occupied the Mayor’s Office. He clearly harbors aspirations to take over. But the Mayor didn’t like it. The impostor got chased away. He flew up to a tall cypress and settled at the top to consider his options. Sandy and Stanley were not delighted to see him either. Stanley gave a sharp warning call.
When I came closer, I saw the Mayor was still very upset, probably thinking what his next step should be.
He didn’t settle in his office for long, instead he flew to an islet closest to the group of trees where the youngster was. To keep an eye on his rival. Wise move.
This season promises to be interesting. The youngster has not mellowed, if anything he seems to be challenging everyone.
Walking away from the drama, I spotted a Wood Stork. He was separated from his friends who were huddling in the bushes a bit away. They were not willing to pose for a photo.
But the Great Egret was. He had witnessed the high-pitched discussion between the Blue Herons, and seemed happy that the peace had returned.
I decided to walk home on the bay side. Leaving the salt marsh, I noticed a sweet juvenile Snowy Egret bravely exploring the marsh on her own.
The bay shore was almost empty. Some pelicans were fishing on the bay and another Great Egret was hunching in the sun next to the sailing club pier.
That’s when I saw the Turkey Vulture circling overhead. I snapped a couple of pictures of him at our driveway.
The surprise came when I looked at my pictures at home. Look carefully. Do you see anything strange? He has the letters HAX on his right wing, doesn’t he? I had to look at all my pictures to believe that marking really was there. I have no idea what that could be. Do you?
I originally wrote this article for Bucketlistpublications.com where it was published on January 13. It’s a little different from my usual posts, but I have edited it slightly and added many more pictures for your enjoyment. See you in Florida soon 😉 Tiny
After having lived on three continents, and traveled the world for more than two decades for work and pleasure, I finally found my own little piece of paradise here on Sand Key, a barrier island on Florida’s beautiful Gulf Coast.
Don’t get me wrong, I still travel, but I no longer feel I have to get away. Simply because there’s so much to explore right here in my backyard. Outdoor activities for every taste, every age and ability.
I’m not going to tell you about all the excellent hotels, restaurants and bars that cater for visitors here. There’s an app or two for that. Instead, I’ve chosen to talk about a few activities and adventures for those who want an active, outdoorsy vacation.
Beaches. Beaches are of course the main attraction around here. Clearwater Beach offers everything beachgoers could ask for, a beautiful beach and lots of water related activities at the marina across the road – and throngs of company. Shopping and activities on Pier 60 every night at sunset, and lots of watering holes nearby.
For those who prefer a bit more quiet and space for their beach day, or maybe want to catch a fresh grouper for dinner, the Sand Key Park and beach just over the bridge from Clearwater Beach, will be ideal. It has all the necessary amenities, including food at nearby establishments.
Water sports. Jet skiing is probably the most popular water sport among visitors, and is available both on Clearwater Beach and on Sand key.
Kayaking, sailing and paddle boarding are available at the Community Sailing Center just opposite the Sand Key Park and the beach. They also offer summer camps and instructional courses where you can learn the basics of sailing or paddle boarding.
Kite surfing is popular on Sand Key when the winds are right. Parasailing and “sky-surfing” are also on offer for those who have a higher calling, or just seek the big picture.
Excursions on the water. Clearwater Beach marina is a busy place. That’s where you can book trips on the water. Again, the items on the menu are many. Anything from a Pirate Ship rides with kids, to dolphin tours, dinner cruises or sunset sails. Going slow or fast. Your choice.
But I’d like to mention one particular experience that all my guests regardless of age have loved, Captain Mike’s Dreamcatcher Explorations. Most tours (private or split between 5-6 people) go to the Three Rooker Bar, a small Barrier Island.
There is no better way to spend a morning or an afternoon. You can do tube riding and dolphin watching on your way there, fantastic shelling and snorkeling once you reach the island. It’s an untouched paradise, and if you’re lucky a dolphin might come to swim with you there.
Three Rooker Bar is also a protected nature preserve, which brings me to my final theme.
Wildlife and hiking.Many visitors enjoy the birds found on Florida shores. And you can watch/photograph many species right in the salt marsh of Sand Key Park, on the beach and on the bay side. I’ve photographed at least 40 different species there, maybe around 10-15 on any given day.
If you want to experience untouched Florida nature and are up for a hike, then I can recommend a visit to Honeymoon Island about 30 minutes north of Clearwater.
And if you are up for a really long hike and the weather is nice, you can walk to Caldesi, a pristine barrier island, on a sand bar all the way from Clearwater. Those who want to just enjoy the beach or hike the nature trail can also reach Caldesi Island by boat from Honeymoon Island.
Other nature related adventures are offered by Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is the home of Winter, the dolphin from two movies, Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2. The Aquarium, which is actually a hospital and rehabilitation center for marine animals, also offers excursions on the bay to examine the interesting marine life there.
Here’s to an outdoorsy vacation in the Clearwater area!
I came back home last night to the tune of strong winds and a passing cold front. By this morning, the wind had calmed down a bit and the skies were blue again, but it was cool. I would say cold, but I don’t want to offend anyone. Anyway, I felt the need to get moving again this afternoon so I went out for a walk to check on my feathered friends.
The beach was quite stormy. And completely empty, apart from a few Willets. When passing the salt marsh, I found the birds hunching in the grass or hiding in the trees. Even Papa Osprey and his friend Stanley were not perching upright as they usually do. That’s what a cold front does to you.
The birds were clearly feeling the chill. Winter has arrived to Florida. And that means the start of the nesting season for many residents in the salt marsh.
Speaking of nesting, I have to tell you something I discovered later this afternoon. I saw Papa Osprey flying together with another Osprey. And singing. I took some pictures of them on the run and when I enlarged them, I saw the other Osprey also had a “necklace”. Stanley and Steve don’t have one, but Mama Osprey does. Couldn’t be sure though it was her so I leave it like that. We’ll see soon enough.
For weekend reading I want to invite you to come along for another walk on the beach and in the nature reserve close to my home. My outing earlier this week was on an intermittently sunny, but windy day. It was not yet warm. Although it’s March, it felt more like winter. That’s relative, of course.
Spring has actually started by now here on the nature coast, but one wouldn’t know it from the weather. Temperatures are several degrees cooler than the averages for this time of the year. Even an implant like me is still using a jacket. Then, how do I know it’s spring? Easy. There is lots of pollen in the air and allergies are in high gear. Even my dog, Bumble, got an allergy shot this week. Not kidding.
The pelicans have not yet returned to the beach, but I could see a few sea gulls patrolling the windy ocean front. My eyes were watering from the wind so I decided to turn away from the beach and walk in the nature reserve.
I immediately knew I would have much better luck in spotting birds. The first one I saw was a small blue heron wading in the marsh. Then I spotted a bunch of white ibis birds. They were playing “follow the leader”. And marched right across the trail I was walking on. One, two, three…
At the first glance the marshland looked empty. But then I discovered several birds hiding from the cool wind amongst the trees and bushes. Here’s a small heron taking shelter. I would say it was well camouflaged.
After a while I encountered two birds who were very happy to pose for close-ups. A large sea gull
who had taken shelter in the park, which is rare, and a white ibis braving the wind on the top of an old swing. It didn’t look very happy, I thought.
My next find was much more rare, a roseate spoonbill. I have only seen one about a year ago in this reserve. This one might be visiting or maybe renting a home here only for the spring break?
But I thought it was beautiful! I was standing there admiring the spoonbill when a great blue heron landed elegantly in the water right in front of me. This one definitely lives here.
It always patrols the different areas of the park and it occurred to me that it might be the neighborhood watchman? Or maybe the tax collector?
I continued my walk and saw tiny bird. I hope it felt welcomed by the many big birds who call this reserve their home. As we say in the Nordic countries: if there’s room in the heart, there’s room in the home.
Before I leave the park, I always check on the resident osprey couple. It seems that they are not yet expecting any addition to the family. But I guess it’s just a matter of time. I’m going to keep an eye on them from our terrace. I can see their nest using strong binoculars. It would be so cool to catch a few flying lessons when the juveniles start practicing. If I do, I’ll make sure to share the pictures with you.