Tales From The Field: A Stroll Through Egan’s Creek Greenway, Fernandina Beach, Florida

trail
The starting point of my walk

Not all good tales come from exotic locales. You don’t have to have a passport to get to somewhere worthwhile. And good adventures don’t all have to be exciting, much less life-threatening. Just getting out into nature wherever you live or travel to can yield fun, amusing and interesting stories. I’m known for my adventures in Mongolia, but I love to get out in nature and animal watch wherever I am. For instance, last March I spent over a week exploring southern Georgia and also some of the northern Florida barrier islands like Amelia Island and the town of Fernandina Beach, Florida, which turns out to have a wonderful and clearly much-loved community amenity, Egan’s Creek Greenway, a park braided with trails that run right through the town. Kudos to the townspeople who had the will and vision to set aside this natural area. You can read more about my March 2016 trip here and here.

We live in a rural coastal county in northern California, where the biggest reptile one is likely to encounter are large but harmless gopher snakes or a watch-your-fingers-cause-they-bite Pacific giant salamander. So it was a bit of stopper to see this sign upon entering what is essentially a town park…

gater sign

map
I walked most of the way to the northern end and back.

It was late afternoon and the light was getting better minute by minute.

which trail

The trail split. I followed the one to the left, saving the one along the stream for the way back.

flower

It was March but a few wildflowers were already blooming.

plants

I really liked the three different textures of the grass, water plant, and trees.

bunnies

I saw a movement around twenty yards ahead. I had my long lens so was able to get some good photos of what I believe are marsh rabbits (Silvilagus palustris). I noticed that they stayed in the shade, which makes sense for a prey animal. They are similar in appearance and size to the brush rabbits we have here in Humboldt County.

turtles 1

Turtles! This was a big deal for me since I’d never seen any in the wild before other than sea turtles in Hawaii. They are yellow belly sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta).

turtles 2

These were to the right of the ones in the first photo, all catching some last rays before sundown.

trail 2

I had learned about this trail while chatting with my Airbnb host and this was my only chance to check it out. I couldn’t have come at a better time since the light was great and there was almost no one else around.

DSC_1160

I came upon a great egret in soft cool light.

egret 2

It took off and I got a good shot of it in flight.

log

After that sign at the trailhead, this log stopped me for an instant.

trail 4

I came to another open area adjacent to a deep water-filled depression where the trails went off in different directions, I was getting pretty close to being back to where I’d started. I happened to look down into the pond…

gator 1

And what do you know? An alligator! At least six feet long, also catching the last of the day’s sun.

gator 2

Can you spot the gator?

bunny

I walked on and a short time later came upon another grazing bunny who quickly hopped into the brush. I caught up to where I thought he’d gone and there he was, holding very still.

cardinal

A few minutes later I spotted this male cardinal. We don’t have these where I live so I always get a kick out of seeing them even though I know they’re quite common.

feron and turtles

A short distance more and I was out of the greenway into the open and here was a big pond with not only a great blue heron (we do have them here on the west coast, too), but  more turtles!

Red-tailed hawk 3

As I photographed the heron and turtles, I spotted something in the sky. It was a red-tailed hawk circling around. I took a lot of photos and finally got a few of the bird as it turned and caught the light.

What a day. But there was one more treat in store.

Palm warbler

As I walked back to the parking area I spotted a small bird hopping around in the chain link fence and managed to get this one photo. It’s a palm warbler, a new species for me.

The whole walk was at most three hours. I had nothing in mind, just to explore a new area and see what was there. What places are there where you live that you’ve never gotten around to exploring? We tend to take where we live for granted, but nature is ever-changing and no walk or hike will ever be exactly the same. If you’ve discovered a local gem where you live tell me about it in the comments!

Sketches and Watercolors From My Trip Back East

Alligators at Harris Neck NWR, Georgia
Alligators at Harris Neck NWR, Georgia

Here’s an album of the art I created while I was traveling last month. I had a lot of fun drawing the alligators at the Okefenokee NWR and Harris Neck NWR. They’re good models because they don’t move much. There really is no substitute for drawing from live animals, although I took a ton of photos, too. Other than the one at the top, they’re in chronological order, starting with New York. All but one pencil sketch was done with a Sakura Micron .02 black pen. I used a Pentalic Nature Sketch 7×5″ sketchbook, a very handy size. Drawings on white paper are difficult to scan or photograph. I lightened them as much as I could.

Central Park View
Central Park View
Calfornia sea lion, Central Park Zoo, New York
Calfornia sea lion, Central Park Zoo, New York
Resting grizzly bear, Central Park Zoo, New York
Resting grizzly bear, Central Park Zoo, New York
Turtles, snow leopard cub, Central Park Zoo, New York
Turtles, snow leopard cub, Central Park Zoo, New York
Pronghorn head mount and hat, Explorers Club, New York
Pronghorn head mount and hat, Explorers Club, New York
Cheetah mount, Explorers Club, New York; White ibis, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia
Cheetah mount, Explorers Club, New York; White ibis, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia
Ibis in tree
White ibis in tree, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia
Water lily, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia; River cooter (turtle), Harris Neck NWR, Georgia
Water lily, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia; River cooter (turtle), Harris Neck NWR, Georgia
Alligator 2
Alligator, Harris Neck NWR, Georgia
Alligator leg 3
Alligator front leg, Harris Neck, NWR. Georgia
Jekyll Island
Jekyll Island, Geogia
Alligator Crazy 4
“Crazy”, 12′ long, 800-900 lb. bull alligator, Okefenokee Swamp Park, Georgia
Farmstead
Farmstead, Okefenokee Swamp Park, Georgia
Alligator details 5
Alligator details, Okefenokee Swamp Park, Georgia
Bald Cypress tree
Bald cypress tree, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia
Cypress roots
Bald cypress roots, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia
Cypress and alligator
Bald cypress, American alligator, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia
Live oak and moss
Live oaks and Spanish moss, Fort Clinch State Park, Amelia Island, Florida
Savannah, egrets
Savannah NWR, South Carolina
Pencil birds
Birds, Hudson River Valley, New York State

When I got back north and was up in the Hudson River Valley, I visited Olana, the home of American artist Frederic Church. The house wasn’t open but the grounds were. It was windy and pretty cold, but I was determined to do at least a couple of watercolors since the view from the house is famous and has been painted by a number of artists over the years.

Hudson River from Olana
Hudson River from Olana, New York State; 8×8″
Catskills from Olana
Catskill Mountains from Olana, New York State; 8×8″

I also spent a couple of days with an artist friend at his home in the Hudson River Valley. We spent one morning on location at this lovely pond.

Pond wc
Pond, Hudson River Valley, New York State; 8×8″

The Okefenokee Swamp NWR And Harris Neck NWR, Traveling in Georgia

 

American alligator
American alligator, Harris Neck NWR

I’m currently on a road trip in southern Georgia. I flew to New York on March 10 (which is why there was no blog post last week)  to attend the Explorers Club Annual Dinner (ECAD) and had a terrific time. The opening of the group exhibition “Wildlife Art: Field to Studio” is the evening of March 31 at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut. What to do in between? It didn’t really make sense to fly home to California for two weeks and then fly back, so I decided to see what there would be to do on the east coast where it was warmer and in the same time zone. After considering a number of possibilities, some more ambitious than others, including flying to Paris for a week or going to somewhere like Belize or Costa Rica, I took another look at the map, Florida being too expensive and everything pretty much booked, and saw….the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, somewhere I’d wanted to go since I was a kid. Plus there’s the barrier islands of the Georgia coast. Sold! I flew down on Monday to Savannah, picked up a rental car and drove to my first of three Airbnb lodgings, this one near Brunswick. The next day I did quite a long drive over to the western entrance to the swamp. Here’s some of what I saw:

I sat at the end of this boardwalk to sketch and do a watercolor.
I sat at the end of this boardwalk to sketch and do a watercolor.
There was a large flock of white ibis all around
There was a large flock of white ibis all around
Of course everyone wants to see the alligators, but they're a wild animal, so you never know. But this little one swam right across in front of where I was sitting.
Of course everyone wants to see the alligators, but they’re a wild animal, so you never know. But this little one swam right across in front of where I was sitting.
On the way back I spotted this red-shouldered hawk
On the way back I spotted this red-shouldered hawk
I was on another section of boardwalk over water and there was suddenly a loud "galoop" of water. This whitetail doe came out from underneath. I walked right over where she was. But she stopped, had a little chin scratch and then started to browse the leaves on the trees.
I was on another section of boardwalk over water and there was suddenly a loud “galoop” of water. This whitetail doe came out from underneath. I had walked right over where she was. But she stopped, had a little chin scratch and then started to browse the leaves on the trees.
I took a break at a bump-out seating deck and there was this green anole (currently turned brown) who stayed around for me to take quite a few photos
I took a break at a bump-out seating deck and there was this green anole (currently turned brown) who stayed around for me to take quite a few photos
I got up to leave, walked over the balcony. looked down, saw a movement in the water and spotted this water snake (non-poisonous) swimming by
I got up to leave, walked over the balcony. looked down, saw a movement in the water and spotted this water snake (non-poisonous) swimming by

The next day I met up with artist and fellow Explorers Club member Alan Campbell, who took me around Harris Neck NWR.

The refuge is known for it's wood stork rookery.
The refuge is known for it’s wood stork rookery.
Wood stork gathering nesting materials
Wood stork gathering nesting materials
Wood stork carrying twigs back to the rookery. The birds have recently been removed from the endangered species list.
Wood stork carrying twigs back to the rookery. The birds have recently been removed from the endangered species list.

We twice drove the route through the refuge so went a couple of times to a dike bordering the big pond where the storks since things are always changing. The second time we saw this turtle!

River cooter, a local species of turtle
River cooter, a local species of turtle
There were a lot of little gators by the edge of the dike. This one came up onto the grass and Alan got some good close-ups.
There were a lot of little gators by the edge of the dike. This one came up onto the grass and Alan got some good close-ups. A few second later he raised his hind end and we both wondered what he was going to do, but he simply turned and walked back down into the water.
Gator reflection
Gator reflection
Gator yawn
Gator yawn
One of the quintessential trees of the Deep South...a live oak festooned with Spanish moss
One of the quintessential trees of the Deep South…a live oak festooned with Spanish moss

It was a great day! I’m on the road again with trips to the other entrances to the Okefenokee and explorations of the barrier islands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Trip To The California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

It took a little while to get there after it opened, but we finally visited the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park this past Sunday. I, like many people, was sorry to see the old building go, but the new one is fantastic. The living roof is worth the price of admission. The Planetarium now is now state of the art with three digital projectors. The original African Hall was preserved, along with this long-time resident….

The albino alligator
The albino alligator

Here’s some of my favorite images from the day-

The entrance
The entrance
Looking past the "swamp" to the enclosed food court
Looking past the "swamp" to the enclosed food court
Dinosaur
Looking down to the west end of the building
Roof-1
The living roof, covered with California native plants
Roof-2
How the roof started; cocoa fiber planting trays laid out side-by-side

The downstairs is a large and very well-done aquarium.

Calif.-tank
California coast kelp forest fish tank

I’m a mammal person and don’t really know my fish that well. I’ve identified the ones I know. You’ll have to use teh googles for the others.

Calif.-fish

Blue-fish
The big salt water tank
Butterfly-fish
Butterfly fish species
Trigger-fish
Triggerfish species
Lagoon-trigger-fish
Lagoon triggerfish
jelly-fish
Upside down jellyfish (no, really, that's their common name)
Small-tank
Small saltwater tank
Moray-eel
Moray eel and fairy shrimp; symbiosis in action

There’s an old Dean Martin song that someone wrote some new words for. It goes like this: “When the eel in the reef has your heel in its teeth, that’s a moray.”

And finally, we walked through the botanical garden across the street before we went to the Academy and “met” this guy:

Squirrel

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