Thursday, February 17, 2011
At the end of January, we left for Florida. It was about 30 degrees in Raleigh and we had had some of the coldest weather that we remember. We had a pleasant drive south on I - 95 (such a contrast to I -95 north of Virginia- one of the worst roads for traffic and construction in the country!) We spent the first night at Hunting Island, a delightful state park right on the SC - GA line and right on the beach. Our next few nights were at St. Augustine FL where we visited the oldest fort and oldest European town in America. We saw the first of the many armadillos we would see everywhere on out trip.
We loved Jonathan Dickinson State Park. This park has nine miles of the only "wilderness" river in Florida. We saw gators, lots of osprey and a night heron among other wildlife. We took a boat trip up the river to see the hideout of an early twentieth century hermit, Trapper Nelson who lived off of the land here.
We spent four days in the Everglades National Park. We took a ranger led canoe trip where we saw lots of alligators, but to our delight, swimming not far from our canoe, we saw our first american crocodile - all fourteen feet of him. Again, we saw many new birds such as the Anahinga. We got an especially close look at a mother Anahinga feeding her fledging chicks in the nest. We thoroughly enjoyed the bug free warm weather.
We spent a number of days exploring the Keys, especially Bahai Hondo and Key West. Bahai Hondo was a beautifful state park. It has one of the few nice beaches in the keys. We watched the Brown Pelicans diving for fish and noticed a lot of Portuguese Man-Of-Wars washed up on the shore. We were a little disappointed in Key West Town. We expected more of a laid back, Carribean island atmosphere and instead felt like it was just like all of the other cheesy beach towns along the atlantic coast. There were some interesting historical sites and some old houses. There was also a bar that offered a "clothing optional" rooftop lounge, but the place was basically full of cruise ship tourists visiting t-shirt shops.
We continued up the coast to Rainbow Springs, Manatee Springs and the Suwanee River state parks. We saw many birds including two fledging bald eagles in their nest as well as the very uncommon Florida Scrub Jay. We especially enjoyed seeing our first manatees in the wild in the crystal clear waters of Manatee Springs.