Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Atlanta, Georgia

It has been some forty years since I have spent any appreciable time in Atlanta.  There is plenty for the tourist to see and do in this city, unfortunately while we were there last week it was bitter cold, like 29 degrees F. cold, when my sister Linda and I decided to drive downtown.  John was ill with a bad cold and could not join us.  Our first stop was the capitol building, it was a busy place while we were there and parking spaces were few, I think that we found the last parking spot!
The legislation of Georgia is presently in session, so we sat for a short time in both the Senate and the House.  Nothing much interesting was going on as reading of bills and regulations was on the agenda, as well as the morning orders of the day.  Time was taken to recognize special groups as the veterans of Georgia, the YMCA of Georgia, the Chamber of Commerce of Haversham County, realtors of Georgia, and a special nod was given to Georgia restaurants as it was National Restaurant Day.  Many people representing those groups were in the legislative galleries- no wonder there was a lack parking spots!
In 1895 the Governor set aside a place in the Capitol for a museum.  Here I found the Georgia Flag, the state's official flag as of 2003.  The state's seal is within the circle of 13 stars, which represent the first colonies (Georgia was the 13th colony to enter the Union).  The flag is an improvement over the original flag which closely looked like the Confederate flag.  Our next stop of the day was the apartment of Margaret Mitchel, author of the book Gone With The Wind. 
Pictured above is the corner of her apartment where Mitchell wrote the second most read book in the world.  She and her second husband lived here from 1925-1932.  An ankle injury made it difficult to commute to work, and after she had read all the books in the nearby library, her husband gave her a pound of newsprint copy paper  to write her own book.  She had grown up in Atlanta and had heard many stories about the Civil War, with that knowledge and her own experiences living in the South, she was able to weave a fictional story of Scarlett O'Hare- the spoiled daughter of a wealthy plantation owner.  It took Mitchell three years to write the book- all of it written in the home she fondly called "The Dump".
A ticket to the Atlanta History Center allows you to visit the Mitchell apartment, as well as the Swan house which is located on the grounds of the Center.  The sweeping staircase pictured above you may have seen in one of the Hunger Game movies.  Built in 1928, it was the home of Edward Inman, the heir to a large cotton brokerage fortune amassed in the post-Civil War era.  He died three years after moving into the home, his wife lived in it until 1965.  In the dining room is a pair of 18th-century swan tables.
The Inmans purchased them in England in 1924 and it is believed that they inspired the swan motif throughout the house.  After touring the house we spent time in the gallery on the terrace level.  Here is a collection of English pottery and porcelain, Chinese export porcelain as well as American and and English period furniture donated to the museum by the architect of the Swan house.  It is his private collection.
We had a full day in Atlanta, and certainly plan on coming back.  For now we needed to drive further north to Illinois for our grandson's first birthday.  We will just have to ignore the inclement weather!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Marietta, Georgia

We are now visiting my sister Linda in Marietta.  As you can see in the picture above, daffodils are blooming in the park located in the village square.  However, what we are feeling right now is not spring-like weather, last night the city had freezing rain.  My sister's granddaughter Ellie has had the past two days off  because of inclement weather.  However, today we braved the cold and toured the history museum in Marietta.  The town has plenty of history related to the Civil War.  The battle of Kennesaw Mountain happened within its' boundaries- with the Union winning that battle it was possible for General Sherman to make a clean sweep south.
Perhaps you have heard of the movie "Great Locomotive Chase".  The history museum was once the Kennesaw Hotel, and the room pictured above is where James Andrew stayed one night in 1862.  He was the leader of 20 Union Army volunteers who put together a plan to destroy the Western and Atlantic railroad, thus preventing ammunition and supplies from reaching Southern Armies.  They hijacked the locomotive General going north to Chattanooga, however the locomotive Texas was on the southbound track and by running it in reverse the Confederates caught up with the General and arrested the Union men.  Marietta, as Atlanta, was burned by Sherman.  Even though most of the town burned, the Hotel Kennesaw only had damage done to the fourth floor.  In 1864 Sherman used the hotel for his headquarters, and it served as a hospital and morgue for the Confederacy.
On a lighter note, pictured above is a beloved landmark of Marietta.  The restaurant pictured above was once Johnny Reb's Chick, built in 1963.  It became Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1966.  A storm destroyed the building in 1993, but the chicken was restored to its original beauty.  Forever its' eyes keep rolling around and the beak opens and shuts.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Swamp Hikes

We went back to Corkscrew Swamp last Saturday, which I mentioned in  my last posting.  We saw a water moccasin, I took a picture of it which I wanted to post before writing about another swamp.
Water moccasins are semi aquatic, meaning they can be happy lying in swampy water or basking in the sun.  On Tuesday we moved our home to Ocala, Florida.  It is certainly cooler here as we are about 200 miles north of Fort Myers, but I believe most of Florida is currently being affected by a cold front moving through.
Pictured above is one of the trails we took yesterday at Silver Springs State Park.   Here hardwood trees touched each other as they arched over the path.  This park is an interesting mix of swamp as well as a hardwood hammock.  We saw towering live oaks,maples,slash pine and cypress,  as well as sabal palms and saw palmetto.  One of the trails also took us to a rather large sink hole filled with water, a small blue heron squawked angrily and flew overhead as we approached the pond.  The forest had been pretty silent up until this point, but here frogs were croaking and creating a bit of a din.  Is this springtime?  We had seen one blooming redbud.  The cypress still  have no leaves, in another sense it is still winter.
After hiking about 4 miles in the state park, we drove over to Silver Springs Park to look at the springs.  We had been there two years ago, and had taken a glass-bottom boat tour through the swamp.  This time we walked on the path along the water and saw a variety of birds, including the double-breasted cormorant pictured above.  In the trees anhingas were trying to dry their wings, the sun was setting and there was little warmth left to help them accomplish that.  I noticed one anhinga flapping his wings and twisting his body wildly in different directions.  We deduced that it was not a courting dance but an attempt to dry himself out.
As I wrote earlier in this post, we are now parked in Ocala.  Saturday we plan to drive north in our car to visit a sister in Atlanta, and our daughter and her family in Illinois.  At this point I am not sure whether I will be writing on this site during the time we are gone.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Caged and Wild Birds in Southern Florida

On my last posting I mentioned the Naples Bird Gardens, which we learned about at the Wonder Gardens.  Upon further research I discovered that there is such a place and that tours are available.  We signed up for a tour, which we took Friday.  These gardens sit in part of the Corkscrew Swamp, so many of the aviary cages sit in a garden of native tropical plants and trees.  Keriellen Lohrman (her married name is almost the same as my maiden name- probably no relation) owner of the gardens stressed to us that her bird sanctuary is a rescue operation and she is not into breeding them.  She said that she has all total 300 birds- plus another 200 or so in a couple other gardens, one of them being the Everglade Wonder Gardens.  The sanctuary has a wide variety of tropical birds as cockatoos, cockatiels, a variety of parrots, love birds, and macaws.  For these birds she has small cages, a couple of large flight cages, as well as two quarantine barns.   We were allowed in one of the flight cages where there are macaws.
Keriellen had some very interesting stories to tell as to how she came to acquire the birds.  Recently a resident of Naples had to enter an assisted living facility and owned about 100 birds, and the sanctuary was called to pick them up.  Also, many people do not understand what it is like to own a large bird who may be aggressive, noisy and messy- then the sanctuary takes them in.   
The whole operation is rather amazing, and Lohrman runs the place with about 5 employes, some of whom are part-time. Vince, one of the staff was there Friday morning and doing his chores with one of his birds on his shoulder.
 Bird feed alone costs $3,000.00 a month.  It is a non-profit organization, and the sanctuary runs only on monetary donations   I was impressed that Keriellen is very knowledgeable about each and every one of her birds, down to even knowing their names.  She also seemed to have a good appreciation as to whether they are hostile and aggressive or sweet and lovable.  Those that wanted her attention would squawk loudly when she walked by their cage, many of them can speak certain words or phrases.  Keriellen asserted that parrots especially are intelligent, highly social and complex beings.
 Before concluding this I wish to write about our search for many of the birds in the wild who are supposed to be residents of this part of Florida.  We have been satisfied with the variety of ibis, egrets and herons which we have seen, many of them I have shown in this blog site.  However, the wood stork has been quite elusive, and when we have seen them they are in ditches along busy highways where we could not stop.  Fortunately I discover a canal in the mobile park near our home where I have seen a wide variety of wading birds, including the wood stork.  The day I took the stork's picture he was busy feeding and I had to wait almost a hour for him to raise his head out of the water.  What I discovered during my time there was that he uses his feet to stir up the mud at the bottom of the ditch to uncover his food.  As you can see in the picture, other wading birds were hanging around him to retrieve the tasty morsels he was uncovering.  Another time I was there I also was able to get this picture of a young little blue heron. 
 We are leaving this part of Florida come Tuesday, and I must say that we are satisfied with all of our bird sightings.  In the last couple of days we have achieved an added bonus of sighting two bald eagles high in a tree guarding their nest, as well as a pileated woodpecker.  It is worrisome that wild bird nesting numbers are down  in this part of Florida, and we can’t help but wonder how many of them will be around the next time we visit southwestern Florida.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sanibel, Florida

We certainly wanted to see this island again before leaving this area next week, if nothing else but to visit a beach there, as well as the National Wildlife Refuge.  We also learned in the newspaper that the resort of Sanibel Moorings has a botanical gardens.  That was our first stop of the day.
The above picture, taken on the canal side of the resort, maybe gives you an idea of the natural beauty of this place.  We first needed to stop at the office to get a parking pass, then we were free to roam the gardens.  The resort was built in 1974.  The first gardener had traveled extensively and had an interest in tropical plants.  Over the last 40 years every subsequent gardener has left their own special contribution to this beautiful beach-side resort which has, as the resort's advertisement says,  "6 acres of magic".
The hibiscus garden featured many hybrid types of plants, pictured above is the Black Dragon.  There are also many trees around the resort, many of which we have already seen in this part of Florida, as the Lignum vitae,Shaving Brush, Gumbo Limbo-and a new one to us, the Triangle Palm from Madagascar.
We discovered in the past that parking for the public beaches on Sanibel Island can be a bit expensive, as well as difficult to find.  We decided to stay where we were at the resort and instead check out the beach there.  In the picture below someone decided to make good use of the sand and plentiful shells
 In the past we have not seen the abundance of shells which we saw Wednesday on the beach.  A local told us the perhaps the recent windy weather, as well as extreme low tides and full moon has brought them up on the shore.  Unfortunately most of the shells had little critters in them.  I got a bit spooked out several times when a complete shell would close and pinch my fingers- or when a shell would start moving!  Still, there were plenty of pretty shells to collect!
John had just commented a couple of days ago that we had not seen one pink roseate spoonbill, in comparison to 4 years ago when we saw them everywhere.  At "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge they were the first birds we saw!  We also saw a mass of willets, as well as pelicans congregating in one area.
Our last stop on Sanibel was the lighthouse.  An historical sign there indicated that the first permanent English-speaking residents of the island arrived in 1833.  The lighthouse was built in 1884.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Everglades Wonder Gardens

We probably would not have seen this place were it not for an article on it in the local paper.  The gardens, located in Bonita Springs Florida,  made the news because it is up for sale.  They have been a focal point for the town since 1936 when it was created as a facility to rehabilitate injured animals.  Today the gardens focuses on botanical plants and trees as well as native animal species.  In the visitors center we were first treated to the wonderful photographic art of John Brady.  We enjoy his art because the pictures were taken at many of the sights of Florida which we have been enjoying the past two months;  areas as the Keys, Naples pier, and cypress gardens- to name but a few.
It would be a shame should this place fall into the hands of developers, unless they planned to spare the exotic plants and trees which have been here since its beginning and now are quite tall.  One example is the candlenut tree, the official state tree of Hawaii which can grow to 80 feet and now has gained some height.  Another tropical tree is the canistel tree from Mexico which currently has fruit hanging from its branches.  An interpretive sign on it claims that the fruit is sweet and has the texture of cooked egg yolk.
We took a short trail through an orchid garden- only one blooming now, this place does seem to need the intervention of a gardener. However, the bromeliad garden currently has some beautiful flowers in bloom.
The gardens do have quite a collection of tropical birds, primarily parrots.  One was quite talkative in the visitor's center.  Some of them were rescued Amazon parrots who came from the Bird Gardens of Naples.
The gardens also has a number of small ponds in which can be found a variety of ducks, and flamingos- other birds also come in from the outside. And in the ponds can be found alligators as well as turtles.  There are also a few caged animals as tortoises and iguanas in the gardens.
Iguanas are ugly as well as a bit scarey, however looking at this one close-up I was a bit fascinated about some of the creature's anatomical features.  The orange skin flap hanging from his neck is a dewlap.  It can become quite enlarged when the iguana becomes frightened by a predator, making him seem bigger than he really is.  Also on the side of his face is a large parietal eye which the iguana uses to watch for overhead predators by sensing light and dark.  Unfortunately the iguana is an invasive species in Florida.
I could see a lot of potential for these gardens, and wish them the best of luck in finding a buyer!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Punta Gorda, Florida

We had a delightful Sunday afternoon in this little town on the Peace River.  I happened to see in the paper that Peace River Wildlife Center was opened to the public that afternoon and, given that I had been a bit curious about the town which is located 20  mile from where we are parked, it seemed like an interesting trip.  The center has approximately 2000 Native Florida injured wildlife brought to them a year.  They care for every creature from tiny baby squirrels to pelicans and herons, only exceptions are alligators and poisonous snakes.  For some animals whose injuries are too extensive, the center becomes their permanent home.  Those residents include sandhill cranes bald eagles, egrets, herons, hawks, songbirds, owls, brown and white pelicans.  The later group were being fed in the bird enclosure when we first arrived.
We were informed by the staff member, pictured above, that the pelicans came from outside the park, only 12 are in residence.  The birds are fed twice a day, and every bird around seems to know that fact, especially the black vultures, herons, ibis, and egrets.  We looked up in the trees above us and they were covered with the birds. Some of the birds hanging around were at one time residents and had been released into the wild.  Seems it is their home away from home!
Pictured above is a yellow-crowned night heron, he is outside of the cage, and a black-crowned night heron is inside.   Also walking around the grounds of the center we saw a great blue heron.
He was just stopping by for a drink of water.  Maybe he is the parent of the fledglings in the nest up in a tree which hangs over the wildlife center.
I would not want to be feeding those two babies!  A volunteer at the center said that they have been watching the birds for awhile, and the parents have been making strong vocal efforts to get them out of the nest and feeding on their own.
We drove around the little town of Punta Gorda after leaving the center.  It seems the town has a thing for old repainted bikes with potted plants in them, quite a novel idea!  The town's name in Spanish means "flat point".  It was founded in 1884, and in the 1890's was a major port for shipping cattle to Cuba.  Fishing has also been a major industry for the town.  In the historic district is a large shopping mall on the old city dock.  We visited some of the small boutiques there and had our supper at a restaurant overlooking the river.