Honeymoon Nesting

Some may think we have been married far too many years to be considering a honeymoon, but that is exactly what we did recently. ¬†While we didn’t do much nesting while on said honeymoon, I must admit to being a teensy bit of a voyeur, watching those who were nesting. ūüėĮ

If you winter or live near Dunedin, Florida (just outside Clearwater), you may have guessed that we spent a day visiting Honeymoon Island State Park, a mere three miles from where we are staying at Dunedin RV Resort. ¬†On a recent sunny day (it is raining and blustery as I sit here typing ūüė¶ ) we hopped on our bikes and headed to Honeymoon to check out what the hype was all about.

Biking the nature trail,on the hunt for osprey
Biking the nature trail, on the hunt for osprey

An unusual name for a state park, its origins began as Hog Island until 1939, when New York developer Clinton Washburn, coupled with LIFE magazine, held a contest for newly married couples.  The winners received an all expense paid two-week honeymoon in a romantic palm-thatched bungalow on Honeymoon Island.  Although the bungalows were abandoned at the start of WWII, the name of the island stuck.

Today you can bike the island, kayak around the 4-mile shoreline, throw a line in the water, or grab a beach chair and umbrella and soak up some rays on a white sand beach, lulled by the rhythmic melody of the waves.

Just another day at the beach!
Just another day at the beach!

You can choose instead to do what we found to be the most exciting, walk the 2-mile nature trail to spot osprey and eagles nesting. ¬†This is the time of year where mom and dad are busily feeding and guarding their chicks so there was much activity on the nests and the osprey’s high-pitched whistling was an ongoing symphony as we walked along the path. ¬†With so many nests in this section of the park, it is tough to decide just which one to focus on. ¬†This is a place where one need not wonder if they will see wildlife, rather how many.

Osprey thrive on the island but they are not the only predators you may see on your visit.  At the far end of the nature trail, behind a protected fence, a pair of bald eagles guard a nest housing two chicks.

A magnificent regal bird guarding the nest.
A magnificent regal bird guarding the nest.
Mom feeding her two chicks
Mom feeding her two chicks

We spotted an elusive great horned owl hanging out in the canopy of a pine tree at the 3/4 mile mark.  Looking like a football wedged in the branches above, further investigation revealed a beautifully colored predator.  No nest has been spotted this season, a disappointment to those who protect this island.

Hanging out in the canopy above.
Hanging out in the canopy above.

One final gift delighted us as we diverted our eyes from the sky to the ground right at our feet…the gopher tortoise.

I am much easier to photograph, don't you think?
I am much easier to photograph, wouldn’t you agree?

We had heard there was a shy little armadillo shuffling around in the brush but unfortunately he eluded us.  Having had a fruitful day of voyeurism, we headed back home with huge smiles on our faces.

Honeymoon and its neighbor, Caladesi Island, were once part of a large barrier island, split into two during a brutal hurricane that hit in 1921.  The waters running between these two islands are known as Hurricane Pass.  We hope to kayak over to Caladesi Island during our stay, weather permitting.   Timing for the paddle is tide dependent…too low and you are stuck in the mud and oyster beds and too high, you cannot squeeze through the mangrove canopies.  Sounds like great fun.  Wish us luck!

The Nature Coast ~ Cedar Key

There is a place on Florida’s Nature Coast where time seems to stand still and the winds even seem to quiet themselves, leaving a hush over land and water as the sun dips below the horizon.

At this moment, all seems right with the world.
At this moment, all seems right with the world.

Welcome to the sleepy little fishing village of Cedar Key, laid back natural beauty, tranquility at its finest. ¬†No, we haven’t had the best weather every day since we arrived, but the vibe here helps you forget all that as you line up with others, camera in hand, waiting for the big show.

This eclectic little village of ~ 700 residents sits three miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, occupying 2.1 square miles, of which only 0.97 square miles is land. Aerial views of Cedar Key give you a great perspective on just how many channels and bayous occupy the watery part of this island.   Whether you are a birder, love to delve into local history, are intrigued by interesting little boutique shops, your passion is to cast a line into the water, or you are a foodie, you can get your fix in Cedar Key.  It is no wonder this small island, large on personality, was designated one of the Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America by Budget Travel Magazine in 2011.

When I look back over the past week, I realize that as much as Cedar Key has to offer, we have done relatively little, preferring instead to set aside our watches, get into the rhythm of “island time” and spend our days visiting with new-found friends, a couple we have followed for some time (no, not stalking, just blog following) and a new blogger.

We have tracked down Cherie and Chris of Technomadia, who are wintering in Cedar Key.  We arranged a meet-up, got a tour of their funky vintage bus (very cool), met lizard-stalking Kiki the cat, and shared a few glasses of wine.  They are as awesome as they seem online and amazingly tech-savvy.  Terry and I have learned much from them through their blog and are always so grateful to those who share so much with RVers like ourselves who still feel like novices.

Chris, Cherie, me, & Terry in the Technomadia vintage bus.
Chris, Cherie, me, & Terry in the Technomadia vintage bus.

During a casual get-together at a local bar we also met Jim and Barb of Bounding the Borders, and immediately felt a connection.  We were fortunate enough to meet them again the next day for a fun-filled afternoon of kayaking.

Jim & Barb "Bounding the Borders"
Jim & Barb “Bounding the Borders”

Whether you kick back and relax like we have or like to be on the go, here are just a few ways to soak in the ambiance of Cedar Key:

1)  Taste the local fare

Tony’s Seafood Restaurant, awarded¬†the coveted title of World Champions three years in a row for their clam chowder, was a place we had to try, and we had to admit it was pretty darn special. ¬†Cedar Key is the top farm-raised clam producing community in the country so we knew we were getting some seriously fresh seafood.

We had a tip that¬†Kona Joe’s Island Cafe¬†¬†was a great place for breakfast and it did not disappoint. ¬†New Jersey transplants, Joe, the front man, and his wife Edie, serve up yummy casual fare, like crab quiche and shrimp and grits, and the coffee is great! ¬†Joe is big on personality and is eager to help make your stay in Cedar Key the best possible.

Kona Joe's
Kona Joe’s

2)  Kayak the boundary waters

If you like to kayak, Cedar Key is the perfect place for you, being 54% water but watch out for those oyster beds.  They can easily slice through an inflatable and have been known to do damage to hard-sided kayaks as well.   The tide tables are most important as you do not want to get stranded in the mud and silt for hours during low tide.  And getting out of your boat during low tide, we were told, can find you in mud and silt up to your waist!

While inflating our kayak for an afternoon paddle to Atsena Otie Key, we spotted Jim and Barb lining up a kayak with a local company.  We launched and began our 3/4 mile paddle across the channel, to what was the original site of Cedar Key until a hurricane sent residents over to the present-day site.   The weather was perfect, the water like glass.  We had a great day scouting the shore for shells, exploring the old cemetery and finding a mysterious hatch in the forest.  A few glasses of wine shared later that evening rounded out a very enjoyable day.

3)  Swim with the manatees

Several companies offer opportunities to see and swim with the manatees.  We had heard so much about Crystal River and Three Sisters Spring, where manatees love to congregate in the 72-degree waters.  We chose Crystal River Watersports and Captain Sam was very informative.  Beyond that he knew just where to take us for an up-close experience.  We had a private tour besides, being the only two there at 7am.  Unfortunately the Three Sisters Spring was closed due to the colder weather this part of Florida has experienced. Officials do not want we two-legged creatures to disturb the 100-150 manatees crowded into the spring, pushing them out into the colder waters where they are at risk of hypothermia.  The waters where we swam were not as clear but the experience was just as awesome, with us getting nose-to-nose (literally) with these docile creatures.  Captain Sam took us down to the boundary of the springs afterwards so we could see just how many manatees were hanging out.

4)  Catch a sunset

We found the best place to watch the spectacular light show at dusk was from the docks behind the Low-Key Hideaway Motel & RV Resort, owned by Pat and Cindy Bonish.  We stayed at the Cedar Key RV Resort a few miles down the road but we would definitely try to stay here when back in Cedar Key.  With  only three sites available, it is a funky little place and the Low-Key Tiki Bar seems to be the place in town to go for that perfect island sunset experience, and Pat makes a mean margarita.

Our exploration of Florida continues tomorrow as we head for Clearwater to meet up with friends. ¬†We are taking away some awesome memories of this little gem sitting out in the Gulf of Mexico, with its laid back island vibe. ¬†We will be back! ūüôā

Quite a Find ~ The Forgotten Coast

We had no more than a few short days at St. George Island State Park, one of those producing a “frognado” (thanks to my friend Beth for providing me that title) after an afternoon downpour, and another so foggy that exploring was out of the question, although we did attempt to give it a go. ¬†Cabin fever was settling in and thankfully our final day brought sunshine so a walk on the beach seemed the perfect medicine.

Miles of beach to ourselves
Miles of beach to ourselves

St. George Island¬†is a 22-mile¬†barrier island nestled between Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. ¬†Part of Florida’s Forgotten Coast, a large stretch of undeveloped, serene coastline in the Panhandle, it resembles a long finger jutting out into the sea, no more than one mile across at its widest.

St. George Island State Park occupies the far eastern end of the island, with 9 miles of sugary white-sand beach and dunes to explore.  Stretching our legs on the beach, a brisk wind in our faces, and lungs deeply filled with salty sea air was just the ticket to shake off the cloak of lethargy after several rainy days.  If you long for some solitude, a symphony of wind and surf, with visions of a lovely little pond and a majestic heron hanging out in the surrounding trees, this could be the place to settle for a few weeks.

Had we the time and weather permitted, we could have spent an entire day exploring the lovely little town of Apalachicola, nationally acclaimed for both its history and its seafood. ¬†Given Mother Nature’s temperament, we had to content ourselves with sampling the local steamed oysters and blackened grouper at the bayside restaurant Up the Creek Raw Bar in Apalachicola, which was wrapped in fog. ¬†Except for the lapping of water along the shore you would never know the bay sat beyond this shroud of white.

The shallow waters of Apalachicola Bay are some of the cleanest and most productive in the country, supplying more than 90% of Florida’s oysters and 10% of the nation’s supply. ¬†They are recognized as some of the best tasting oysters by some of the finest chefs in the country and we had to agree they were pretty fabulous. ¬†Many times these sleepy little coastal towns are some of the best finds.

A walk down to the bay on our last evening left us with yet another fond memory, our first lovely sunset since arriving in Florida.

Perhaps the tides have turned, weather-wise at least. ūüôā

It’s Raining Frogs!!! ~ St. George Island, FL

We are snuggled into St. George Island State Park, and although fog and rain have been plentiful, the sun has yet to make an appearance.  Rumor has it that we may see this golden orb sometime tomorrow, which would be wonderful as we hit the road on Monday.

Is there a problem Penny?
Is there a problem Penny?

Peering through raindrops cascading down the window, I noticed our neighbor taking photos of the inside of her electrical box.  The rain had stopped so we decided to see if she was having a problem.  No problem at all; quite the contrary.

It seemed to be raining tree frogs!

Raining tree frogs!
Raining tree frogs!

Penny was snapping photos of these adorable little guys who were hopping all over her electrical box.  I decided to join in on the fun.

I adore frogs so imagine my delight when I caught this little cutie coming closer to have a better look. ¬†All at once, a flash of green as he sailed from the electrical box onto my sleeve and from there into my hood. ¬† For a moment I thought I had found my little prince, but sadly he decided to move on. ¬†A bright spot in a very rainy day! ūüôā

The Emerald Coast ~ Destin, FL

In the heart of Florida’s Emerald Coast, a 100-mile swath of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico, sits¬†Henderson Beach State Park¬†in Destin, a place we have called home for the past several days. ¬†It is a great park with a rolling boardwalk cascading down to the beach, sugary white-sand beaches, and emerald-green waters. ¬†Like most of the country, we have been touched by the wintery hand of Mother Nature. ¬†I must admit it has left me a bit lethargic, cold rainy days with only a solo anemic sunset.

I do not attempt to compare our winter chill with that of many other parts of the country but even the locals don’t expect temps in the 30’s and low 40’s here, dipping into the 20’s at night. ¬†For me it is more about the lack of sunshine than anything else.

Sole wintery attempt at a sunset over the Emerald Coast
Sole wintery attempt at a sunset over the Emerald Coast

On our final day in Destin the sun made her debut for a few hours, with rumor of temps reaching 50¬į, a day full of promise. ¬†Although I had braved the stiff breezes along the beach earlier this week, today I almost skipped down the well-maintained boardwalk, anxious to see the sun shimmering like diamonds tossed upon the surface of an emerald sea.

Destin is a beach community so early winter is probably not the best time to visit, unless you need some serious retail therapy, then come on down as they have a wonderful upscale outlet mall.  And if you are very lucky, as we happened to be, you might find yourself parked just a few miles down the road from others who have also been bitten by the travel bug.

We feel fortunate for the ability to spend time with friends¬†Janie and John, two full-time RVers whom we met over two years ago, the very first couple we shared drinks and a campfire with shortly after beginning our adventure of exploring this beautiful country while rolling our home down the road. ¬†Since the weather has not cooperated, it gave us time to catch up on each others lives, share a few laughs, sample some nice wines at two different wine tastings, enjoy a dinner at an Irish pub, and¬†allowed me to dazzle them a bit with my cooking skills. ūüėČ

Enjoying dinner with Janie & John at a local Irish pub
Enjoying dinner with Janie & John at a local Irish pub

Although we have not seen much of the quintessential Florida winter weather yet, I know that will come.  As I stand looking out over this beautiful emerald sea, I know that life is full of these breathtaking, fleeting moments, never to be recreated in exactly the same manner.  We can let them pass us by because of indifference or apathy, or we can choose to be alive in this very moment, savoring all the uniqueness that Mother Nature gifts us…our choice.  I choose to bundle up and enjoy these sunny winter days.  I know, easy for me to say; I am spending the winter in Florida, where I am certain to capture more than my share of balmy, sunny days.

Hope everyone is staying warm and savoring the moment!