Today and in the near future, my articles might not be about Chautauqua County. That's because I have seen fabulous nature and history in the south. This trip just has to be shared. I'll start in Bradenton, Fla., where I visited my friend Conny. Bradenton is on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida.
Hernando de Soto stopped on the Tampa Bay shores in 1539. A national park celebrates his visit with a museum and hiking trails. This Spaniard hoped to find gold and fame. This national park is home to a very interesting native tree to Florida. This beautiful Gumbo Limbo tree is also home in the West Indies, Central America, Mexico and South America. Its bark is reddish-brown and smooth. It grows to 50 or 60 feet tall with a possible diameter of three feet. Limbs of this particular specimen are said in legend to be have been used by pirates to indicate where they buried their treasures.
Before I list the birds I saw, here are a few elaborated stories and descriptions of them. On a walk through beautiful grounds next to her apartment complex, I was amazed that we could get so close to birds. For instance, people fishing were closely watched by a great egret only about six feet behind them. I bet they have to take measures to protect their catches.
A gumbo limbo tree at the Hernando de Soto National Park.
Photo by Ann Beebe
Laughing gulls are everywhere. They remind me of Franklin's gulls with their black heads. Really, they do sound like they are laughing.
On Anna Maria Island, her neighbor, who was biking, informed us of a half-dozen yellow-crowned night herons nesting just out of our sight. Wow! It seemed so weird to see so many along a path. In New York, I feel lucky to even see one.
Ospreys are very common in Florida. Folks provide platforms for their nests just like we do. In one, we saw the chick, but couldn't find the parent. It was at quite a distance away hunting for its chick's next meal.
A boy was on vacation with his father. He was carrying an unusual find - a complete horseshoe crab shell. That was amazing. The anthropod, without a backbone, first lived about 300 million years ago. That was about 100 million years before the dinosaurs arrived in our world.
Finally, Conny's beautiful home. She overlooks a canal that flows into the Palma Sola Bay. Usually, you just see their nose of the manatee above the water when they come up to breathe. We saw a mother, on her back, nursing its baby. I'll never ever forget that experience.
What do they eat? Water grasses, weeds, and algae - about one-tenth of their weight every 24 hours. Enemies include hunters who want their hides, oil and bones. Motor boats also hurt them. They might also get entangled in nets. Yes, they are endangered.
Listed taxonomically, here are the birds I saw in the Bradenton area. Brown pelican, great egret, yellow-crowned night heron, white ibis with chick, northern shoveler, blue-winged teal, red-breasted merganser, osprey, red-shouldered hawk, red-tailed hawk, common peafowl, common moorhen, willet, sandpiper species, laughing gull, red-bellied woodpecker and scissor-tailed flycatcher.
Wildflowers are a little different from ours because of the sand and climate. The native sea grapes are not vines, but trees. The fruit is good in jelly if you can beat the birds to them.
There are more sea oats on the beaches than any other plant. These grow to about six feet tall.
Turtle grass, the flat-leaved grass, grows to five feet tall.
The saw palmetto has three to seven leaves about two feet tall and in the shape of a fan. It is really painful to brush against the spines. As many of these plants, their range is from South Carolina, south to Florida and west to Texas, and probably on down to Mexico, Central America and even South America.
Now I'm back home, eager to continue my joy of working in my yard, hiking, birding and writing about nature. Life is good.