Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A day in Savannah

Sunday led me to Savannah with Carla. Carla has a bunch of time off for the holidays and I have very little, so we just went for the day. We started off with a Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil tour. Our guide Rebecca had first hand knowledge of all the charactors in the book and probably spilled more secrets than she should, but it was an excellent tour. And Carla and I love knowing all those secrets.

The tour led us to the Bonaventure Cemetery where we got to see some great works of art and some semi-famous gravestones. The last time I took this tour, our tour guide spent a lot of time showing us the work of John Walz throughout the town, but primarily in the cemetery. This time we focused more on the people from the book. At least the talking part was. We still spent a little time at the cemetery and I got some great pictures. Also learned a little about gravesites. A woman holding a wreath means that she had children. If the wreath has fallen from the womans hands, it means that she had no children and died unfullfilled (or happy and sane, depending on how you look at it). An oblisk is only located on the graves of men (huge surprise) and a broken pillar represents a life cut short.

After the tour, we ended up on River Street where we had a few drinks and a fantastic lunch. We did a little shopping and both ended up with a t-shirt and a book. The book is by The Lady Chablis and its called “Hide my Candy”, lol. For those of you that read the Midnight in the Garden book, you should find this funny. If you haven’t read it, you should.

We stuck around long enough for a ghost tour. It was the worst ghost tour I’ve ever taken. I don’t think it takes a huge amount of talent to lead a ghost tour, but you do need to be a decent story teller. After all, that is why we take the tour – to hear the stories. Needless to stay, our tour guide had no talent whatsoever. We bailed when the tour got close to our parking garage. It sucks that we waited around for it when we still had to drive back to Tampa. When I say ‘we’ I mean Carla, cause I slept the whole way, lol.

Monday, December 29, 2008

SOS Bird Sanctuary

Saturday morning landed me at the newly open SOS Bird Sanctuary in Sarasota. Over the past few years the term "sanctuary" has been abused in order to cash in on the trendy Eco-responsibility many people are leaning towards. Unfortunately, not all sanctuaries are true sanctuaries. Many of them are roadside zoos using the term sanctuary to bring in more business (and money). I've seen it happen repeatedly. According to Scott, one of the biologists that help keep SOS up and running, that is kind of what happened to the previous sanctuary that was located at this location. SOS took control of the sanctuary recently and they are getting back to their roots. Barn Owl

I'm happy to say that SOS Bird Sanctuary is the real deal. It isn't flashy. It isn’t designed to cater to the tourist. It’s there for the birds. It offers a permanent home to birds that are healthy but previous injuries will prevent them from surviving on their own. It also takes newly injured birds, provides necessary medical care and when ready, releases them back into the wild. As new as they are, they already have some success stories under their belt.

Screech Owls

They still have a lot of work to do, but it’s up and running and the important things are in place. I was there pretty early in the morning and the education portion wasn’t set up yet so I didn’t get a chance to evaluate it, but there is a small education portion. There is a gift shop in the plans but it hasn’t been set up yet.

Red Shouldered Hawk

For all my friends and family that would like to visit, SOS is located at 1708 Ken Thompson Parkway in Sarasota. It is immediately past the Mote Aquarium on the right. There is signage but you have to look for it. They are also looking for volunteers, so anyone with some free time on their hands, this is a good place to spend it. There isn’t a heavily structured volunteer program, so no worries about long commitments. You can volunteer for only day if you wish.

Hours are 10-5 everyday and admission is free, but there is a small donation box to collect voluntary contributions. These are good people, doing a good thing, so lets give them our support! And for those occasional days when you need something interesting to do, keep these folks in mind for volunteering.

If you look closely, you'll notice the Sandhill Cranes above have splints on their legs. Turns out they are frequently attacked by turtles and golfers. Hmmm.

Friday, December 12, 2008

New calanders for sale this year!

Due to being broke this year, I'm only ordering a couple of calanders as gifts. But if anyone would like one, they are for sale again through Or you can just click here to find it:
Support independent publishing: buy this calendar on Lulu.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Great Skunk Ape Hunt 2008

Carla and I finally made it back to the Skunk Ape Headquarters! We embraced the cheeziness and had a really great time. Plenty of pictures with the big monkey statues.

We played with lots of critters including this adorable baby alligator. No rubber band on his mouth. No risk at all. The birds were not in good spirits today so we didn't handle them. They went on "time out" within 2 minutes of our interaction. But Carla was flirting with this cutie Macaw who had a little crush on her.

We made more attention to snakes on this visit than I had on my previous visit. Rick (the animal keeper) just opened the pens so we could get could pictures. Sounded great until he wondered off to take care of other things. But the snakes weren't really that active and didn't chase us down or anything. The snakes were huge though. Some of the smaller ones weighed about 60 lbs, many of them significantly larger. Before we left this yello monster got pretty active.

They also had some big gators, turtles, and emus in the back. This particular emu posed very nice for me and I got a couple of pretty cool pictures of him. Doesn't he remind you of one of the characters from "The Dark Crystal".

I got a handful of really good pictures of this guy but he always looks a little evil, lol!

Our second stop for the day was the Big Cypress National Preserve. Got some great pictures here. Saw some deer, turtles, woodstorks, kingfishers, woodpeckers, fish, and some cool looking swamp trees. Along the road throughout the entire drive of the everglades are gators. Big ones, small ones, really big ones.... About ever 30 feet, there was another gator. We stopped and grabbed a couple of great pictures.

Turtles on a log!

Just a pretty pic!
Deer on the side of the road!

Lots of gators...

And for a little bonus: If you've ever wanted to see what a turtle feeding frenzy looked like, here is your chance...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Gamble Mansion and Plantation

This Saturday I went to the Gamble Mansion and Plantation. This is the only surviving antebellum plantation left in south Florida. Although, it almost didn't. The picture below is an image of the mansion shortly before renevation. In 1914 it was auctioned off for taxes and was turned into a storage facility for fertalizer. In 1925 it was deed to the state.
The pictures make this house look huge, but in all reality, it really wasn't that big. The walls of the house are nearly 2 feet thick. There is a U shaped balcony all the way around the top and a U shaped porch around the bottom. So when you look at the core of the living space, it's much smaller than the average US family home nowadays. Of course, I'd give up all my living space for that beautiful balcony.

The downstairs consists of 3 rooms. The livingroom, office and dining room. The upstairs had 3 bedrooms. The warming room was attached to the house in the back and under the same roof, but was seperated by an outside hallway. Each room has direct access to an outside door due to Floridas lightning storms. The exception is the living room, but a previous owner was quoted as saying that the outside was just a window kick away. The kitchen was in a seperate building behind the house, but it is no longer there.
Also on the property was a home built by the Patten family. Appartently once they purchased the property, the mansion was to difficult and expensive to maintain, so they built a more modern house a few hundred feet away. The building has since been moved to the far corner of the lot to allow for a full view of the Gamble Mansion from the road. They were the last family to actual take residence in the main house.

Most of the house is built by a material called "Tabby". For people familiar with Florida history, you'll know many structures in the olden days was built out of cocina - a combination of sand, water and seashells. Tabby is a combination of sand, lime and oystershells. The difference is that cocina is made by nature and tabby is created by man. The display below shows how they made the pillars. They made coarse tabby bricks and put the chunks in a mold and pored wet fine tabby over the top of it. When it hardened, they had another piece of the pillar. The pillars were smooth and beautiful. They surrounded the house on 3 sides.

The house has been furnished by the Daughter of the Confederacy. Most of the furnishings were not Gamble originals. When Gamble sold the house, he cleared it out and put all his furnishings in storage. The storage building was struck by lightning and many pieces were lost. The Gamble family (current generation lives in California) has donated a handful of pieces to be displayed. The warming kitchen is still used today when they do occasional reenactments. There is a woman that comes and uses all the old fashion cooking supplies and creats meals. The piano was actually purchased at a Good Will for $25.00. It took some hard work to make it as pretty as it is now, but it's still an amazing piece of history.

All drinking water was gathered from rain water. This cistern would gather rain water from the roof of the house and could hold 40,000 gallons of water. All water used for the house residence was taken from this cistern with a bucket. Back when this was a working plantation there were other cisterns available for the slaves that worked the fields.
Other interesting things:
* This was originally built as a sugar plantation. In 1850, Robert Gamble owned 1208 acres. By 1855, he owned 3500 acres.
* The plantation sat on the Manatee River which leads to the Gulf of Mexico. This allowed them to easily bring in new equipment and to ship product to New York and New Orleans.
* Although Robert Gamble owned slaves (this is the south afterall), he had such a good relationship with his people that every man in the field was armed to protect themselves and the property from hostile Seminole Indians.
* In the 1880's sugar prices dropped and the cost of production no longer made it profitable.
* The plantation was owned by Captain Archibald McNeill during the duration of the Civil War.
* Judah P Benjamin (Secretary of State for the Confederacy) hid out here after the fall of the south. He eventually caught a ship back to England where he became a barrister and eventual worked for the queen.
* The plantation stopped producing on the eve of the civil war and the sugar works was destroyed in 1865.
* Major George Patten bought the property in 1873. He subdivided the property and sold it off as smaller farms. This area is named Ellenton, after his daughter Ellen.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Corkscrew Swamp is located about 15 miles of I75 east of Naples. It is owned by the Audubon Society. It was the first major action from the newly started organization. In the late 1800's womens fashion turned towards big hats with pretty feathers. In 1886 egret feathers were worth $32 an ounce, twice the price of gold at the time. So all types of people came to Florida to slaughter the birds for their feathers. They purchased a plot of land that was a primary breeding area and seasonal home to these birds to help provide some protection. Then the logging industry started wiping out the cypress forest. The wood of a cypress tree doesn't have knots and it doesn't dry rot, so it is an excellent building material. So the society bought more land. Some of the bald cypress trees at the Sanctuary are 500-600 years old. They are beautiful.

Instead of a hiking trail they have a boardwalk that is just short of 2.5 miles if you walk all the extentions. At first I was disappointed that it was a boardwalk, kind of a wussy way to hike, but after I hit the "swamp" section of the park, I was very greatful for the boardwalk. Some of the wildlife that I ran across were: 2 white tail deer, a red shoulder hawk, multiple racoons including a mama with 3 juveniles. I saw a number of monarch butterflies and a zebra swallowtail. There were birds galore: warblers, woodpeckers, woodcranes and tons of stuff that flittered by to fast to get a good look at.

The trees are huge. They have flatwood pines, bald cypress and red maples. I'm a huge fan of the strangler fig which generally doesn't kill the host tree in Florida. They crawl up and down a host tree and create interesting patterns and textures.

I got some really great pictures of this park. I've probably included too many of them here, but for those that are interested, feel free to click on the pictures for a better view of the park.