Sunday, February 26, 2017

On the way down, we stopped here, and.....then we got to our destination and saw other things.

February 15, 2017. Dunnellon, Florida.

So,  I have fallen behind a bit. Every day begins with so many opportunities. A choice is made and the next day begins with even more. In between, the American administration, i.e. number45, and their silly AND scary ways adds so much more to do, in order to help and encourage environmental conservation education, and humanitarianism in a world that seems to be charting a dangerous course.

Jan, Winnie and I left our humble Arnprior residence on December 28th. We spent a night at Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania; and then another night in Roanoke, Va, where the hotel manager revealed that he was just starting to calm down from his heightened anxiety caused by the US Presidential election. That feeling seems to be pervasive among so many!

Our third and fourth nights on the road were spent at Charleston, South Carolina. The highlight of those days was my second, Jan's first, visit to Magnolia Plantation:

That visit eased any anxieties we may have had and helped to transition us to the natural wonders of the US South.

When I first visited back 4 years ago, Marc and I took the tour guided by tour guide, Dick.  Dick is also a nature nut. I really enjoyed the tour notwithstanding the cool post Hurricane Sandy weather.

The Eastern Kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula, is a harmless snake of the pinelands. From coastal South Carolina through Florida, the Kingsnake mimics the deadly Coral Snake. Thus the mnemonic, "black on yellow kills a fellow". This colour pattern is unique to the Coral Snake. That's Dick's gloved hand. He wore gloves to protect from the cold, not from the snake! Marc and I were the only two brave people on this tour.

At the end of this most recent tour by Dick, there were several highlights. It turns out that the Barred Owl's call, which we in the north say mimics the words "who cooks for you?", is SLIGHTLY different in the south.  It may mean this is a separate sub species! According to Dick, and I must say I have HEARD it, the southern Barred Owls say "who cooks  for y'all".

As we left the tour train, Dick was heard to say  "The women's washroom is on the left; the men's washroom is on the right, and there is a fire hydrant for Winston".
 We were lucky to see this Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanilla, an uncommon visitor outside Florida.  Those three white dots on each forewing identify this beauty.
This is the most photographed bridge in Charleston. Dating from the second Magnolia Plantation mansion in the 1840's.the bridge connected the house to the gardens.

Jan and I crossed the bridge on our return visit in December. Of course, it was much warmer there in late December 2016 than it was on the last day of October 2012.

Jan and Winnie had to try out the wicker chairs on the verandah of the mansion (below), which dates from the 1860's after the second mansion was burnt down during the civil war. The Drayton family built the original house in 1676. The 15th generation of Draytons still own and run the property. The gardens have been open to the public since 1870.

 The interpretive programme includes an excellent history of slavery, which is strengthened by restored slave cabins, like the one above.
 There are many appealing features to the property. Most of the 500 acres are in their natural state, with hundreds of native species in the forests and marshes next to the Ashley River. Farm animals are included in and around the formal gardens, like the Peacock, above. I couldn't resist trying the shrub maze (below), as Winnie and Jan wait at the viewing platform.

I heard rom my friends back in Ontario and New Brunswick about some snow they had in the last few days. The same system was responsible for some nasty weather here in Dunnellon, FL today. The strong winds and clouds led to some thunder and rain for about 10 minutes this afternoon. The temperature then dropped from 26C to 20C by supper. It is clear now and we are just assessing the havoc wreaked by this storm.
 This branch struck my windshield and rested on one of the windshield wipers.
 Some oak leaves blew down and stuck to the car hood.
 Many more leaves blew onto our door mat,
And an orange dropped, necessitating my intervention ( I picked it up and ate it).
Of course, if one knows where to look, the Florida forests contain a fine array of serendipitous fruit. SO it is not necessary to scour the landscape after a windstorm.
 Further to the attempt to feed my self from the wilds, some of you are aware of my questionable fishing ability.  This winter, I secured both a fresh water and a salt water licence.  After much deliberation, I found a convenient spot to drop a line into the Gulf of Mexico, which teams with fish of a thousands species.

Many of these species are some of the most desirable edible fish on Earth.  Unfortunately, this species, the Striped Burrfish, Chilomycterus schoepfi, is NOT one of them. This member of the Pufferfish family is not poisonous or dangerous, but I did not take a chance, borrowing gloves and pliers to ensure this individual returned to the Gulf of Mexico.  This one is as big as they get (10 inches) and those burrs do look intimidating close up!