A Little Birding on the Gulf Coast


Ruddy Turnstones flying as the sun rises

I just got back from Florida. I went with my family on a trip to visit my spouse’s grandfather and to get some warmth during these cold Vermont days. We stayed on Sanibel Island, which is home to the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The island is a spectacular place to be, in part because of the refuge, and it is a spectacular place to go birding. We were planning to return to Vermont in Tuesday, but because of the blizzard of 2015, our flight was canceled and we got an extra two days there. That made things quite a hassle for my job, but plenty enjoyable over those two days.

We visited the same place a year ago and I saw 62 different species of birds. I was hoping to see that many this year. I missed some from last year but got a few new ones and saw 72 this year. I went out every morning and snuck in some extra birding on the beach and elsewhere. I didn’t see a Wood Stork (can’t believe I missed that one) or a Yellow Throated Warbler I was hoping to see (I saw a few last year) but had some great sightings nonetheless.

Highlights included three lifers for me: Prairie Warbler, Snowy Plover and Common Gallinule. The Prairie Warbler was flitting about in a tree with a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher and a couple of Cardinals. The Snowy Plover I got to see with my wife on the beach. It is always good to see a lifer with someone you love. The Gallinule I saw tucked into some shrubs at water’s edge on the Bailey Tract of the refuge. All were memorable.

I missed seeing a White Crowned Pigeon, an uncommon bird that was hanging around the refuge. It turns out that Lillian and Don Stokes, writers of bird guides and part-time Florida residents, were at the refuge the same day as me and saw that threatened species. It would have been great to see that bird, or to meet them, but timing was not in my favor that day. Below are some other great sightings I managed to photograph.

Willets were plentiful--I saw hundreds of them

Willets were plentiful–I saw hundreds of them

White Pelicans at the refuge

White Pelicans at the refuge, along with Willets, Dunlin and Laughing Gull

American Coot at the Bailey Tract--check out those white honkers

American Coot at the Bailey Tract–check out those white honkers

Black Skimmer landed on the beach one morning; I saw over a hundred that day

Black Skimmer landed on the beach one morning; I saw over a hundred that day (Ring-Billed Gull, Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderlings are hanging out with it)

Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover

A trip highlight: Eastern Screech-Owl in plan sight. My family all got to see it as well.

A trip highlight: Eastern Screech-Owl in plan sight. My family all got to see it as well.


Florida Pretty Much Screwed

Lego Tourists: The Only Ones in Florida Soon?

Florida is pretty much screwed. The Gulf coast is going to be covered in oil. All those hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf since April 20 are going to start sifting onto the sandy beaches before long. It is only a matter of time. I was on that coast in March and it was lovely. We have planned to return, to visit family again, this fall. Maybe so. Maybe not.

I once took a charter boat out to fish off the reefs in the keys. It was a good time. We caught barracuda, among other fish. I can’t imagine that industry will not be hit. All those condominiums and hotels won’t be full. All those flights to Sarasota will have spare seats. Those beaches will have plenty of space to spread a blanket.

The New York Times reports today that tourism is already taking a hit, with reservations at a serious low for sport fishing and other pursuits. The article quotes a fisherman who see the Florida keys “emptying out like an abandoned mining town.” Oil towns have booms and busts, such as is happening in North Dakota right now. Florida may have its own bust cycle due to oil–not because the state decided to allow drilling but despite it. The state could be slammed and not rebound for decades.

Granted, Louisiana and other Gulf coast states are getting hit harder by this disaster, but Louisiana chose to drill for oil. Florida chose not to. The whole situation is insane. If we have to seek oil a mile below the surface of the ocean, doesn’t that say something about our addiction? I am as complicit as the next United States citizen, so I am part of the problem, yes. I am lucky not to live where this will affect me so directly. It will, I am sure, effect all of us in ways we cannot anticipate, however.

Eventually, unless we face up to our addiction, we might all be screwed.

Slaving Away Over a Hot Desk


It’s back to work time for this boy.  No more lounging away the summer days on a ladder with a paint can in one hand and a brush in the other and beads of sweat dripping into the eyes one can’t wipe clear because of the protective rubber gloves.  No more happy encounters with cucumber beetles who wish to share their produce with those who live inside the house.  Alas, it is back to Excel spreadsheets and phone calls and eventually, talking with students about their promising futures.  Starting yesterday, my brain had to rev up like a DVD just inserted into its cozy drive.  I think it is still spinning.

I did not break a sweat as I prepared for the upcoming academic year.  I went to meetings.  Sometimes I break a sweat at meetings because I have to present or I have to be responsible for enough that my armpits drip.  Nervousness they tell me.  My friend Spike refers to that as squirreling.  No squirreling today.  I didn’t even break a sweat when I blasted out the house for a quick bike ride before prepping dinner.  It was raining.

Did I mention dinner?  I baked up a summer vegetable gratin again.  I had to wait a couple of days from gathering all the ingredients as we had family engagements the past two evenings (last night we posed for family photos–it’s nice to have someone just tell me where to stand once in a while).  Think fresh tomatoes, three kinds of summer squash, potatoes dug up just two days ago, parmesan cheese and fresh herbs.  All baked together into a bubbling and steaming delight.  Two words:  Ooh baby.  My daughter ate it.  My son would not.  We fed him oatmeal.

This job I’ve got means working at home, often evenings, sometimes weekends.  Already I am thinking about what I might get done as my spouse tucks the children into bed.  I resisted actually doing anything so foolhardy this evening, however.  Instead I read about ten interesting deserts (one in Brazil is littered with lagoons when it rains) and a list of weird allergies (people really can be allergic to water, apparently.  And sex.).  Then I decided to bust out the old blog and get cracking.

I hung out with a friend recently who said that she never reads blogs because all they are is a bunch of people boring anyone who happens to stumble across them with repeated fannings over their boyfriends or overly detailed descriptions of their new puppies foibles.  I tried to tell her she might be able to find something that caters to her sense of humor or to her modern and refined wit, but she was skeptical.   Certainly I wasn’t going to point her here.

Did I tell you about my new puppy?  My sister-in-law’s kids are so in love with it.  And the way it wiggles its little hiney.  SO cute!

Anyway, summer is still here.  It is in the 80’s for Christopher’s sake.  Two days ago it was 91 degrees and the air was pretty much saturated.  It felt like Florida, where my electric bill would be like ten times what it is here in Vermont since I would pretty much be required to have an air conditioner running at all times.  I did wish we had an extra fan the other night.  We let the children use them and just sweated into the sheets.  Now I have to wear pants in this heat.  I just can’t bring myself to wear shorts at a school.  Maybe I should when it gets this hot, however.  But what difference would it make?  I will either distract students with my balding pate glistening with rills of sweat, or I will distract them with my Discobolos-like calves.

I can’t win.  Not in this heat.

Earth Day at Disney World

We took a fairly last minute family trip down to Florida this week.  We had only planned it a week out.  This made for some good pricing for us.  We stayed at Disney World resorts.  I had never been there and, although I probably would not have picked that place to visit, with all the beautiful places in the world waiting to be visited, I am glad I went.  We happened to be there on Earth Day, which felt like living irony.  Disney World is one of the last places I might think of as embodying the spirit of Earth Day and I was on the lookout for how the two might meet.  I did find a few things.

Disney World promotes that the place offers lots of shopping.  On its constantly looping television channel a perky young woman asks “Like shopping and dining?  Well you’re in luck, cause there’s tons of it.”  Oy.  Our excessive consumer culture thrives there.  All that shopping means tons of one-use bags, of course, but Disney is trying hard on that front.   They really are pushing the cloth totes they have available at every check-out counter.  Apparently they have a goal of eliminating plastic bags altogether.  They still need to work on not selling lots of plastic crap, but getting rid of plastic bags is a good step.

We flew into Orlando.  From the airport we caught a bus to our resort/hotel.  We visited the Magic Kingdom theme park (I still can’t get used to calling it a “park” which to me means a green space to take a walk or to have a picnic) on Wednesday;  we took a bus to get there.  We checked out other sights by taking other buses or the monorail.  We didn’t get in a car until we got back to Burlington and drove home from there.  Granted, Disney could have worked to place more things closer together so walking is more of an option, but that buses transport visitors, rather than personal cars, is pretty big.  They have limited parking, and the bus system really is convenient (I was wishing that our own public transportation system in Vermont could be so easy and reliable), so they got that one right.

On Earth Day itself, there was some kind of Earth Day themed event, although I never saw what it was.  I did see the parade/street party which, I have to admit, was pretty spectacular.  It was a show of shows.  The announcer at one point reminded everyone that it was Earth Day.  It wasn’t much but at least it was an acknowledgment of the day.  “Who wants to be Green?” he shouted.  A limp cheer rose from the crowd.  It was better than nothing.

The Magic Kingdom does have recycling bins.  They sell too much bottled water, but at least those bottles can be recycled.  Since many places I visit simply don’t offer the option of a separate bin for recycling, it was good to see.  At one point while I was standing at a curb, a man passed me and said “excuse me I just need to toss this,” then reached over the popped his empty water bottle into the trash.  It is one thing to offer a recycling bin, and another to overcome the general apathy against using them.  People need to drink water, and lots of it on a hot day in Florida when they are walking far more than they typically walk, but bottled water just isn’t the answer.

One way Disney addresses this is by offering a plastic reusable mug.  We purchased a meal plan that included a mug for each of us.  We could fill it with hot or cold beverages as much as we wanted.  This included water, but also soft drinks, coffee, tea, juice.  It was a good deal, financially, and they must save tons (literally) of waste with those mugs.  They probably save a lot of money by hauling less trash and by purchasing fewer disposable cups.  That one seems a win win.  Even if one does not purchase a meal plan, the mug can be had for $15.  That would pay for itself with a few drinks.

There were a few other things, like the towel policy that most hotels have adopted these days, so I have some optimism.  Disney has a long way to go (do they need to leave all the doors open at the shops when it is 80 degrees and the air conditioner is running?) but they have made some visible steps to cleaning the place up.  Waste costs, in money, time, lost opportunities, clean air and water.  Disney has moved forward in reducing some of this waste.  I applaud that.  I hope they continue to move forward, as they have a large, captive audience.  If they can get millions of people to at least think about recycling and to stop using their cars, if only for a few days, they can make a difference.  Imagine what they could do if they leveraged themselves fully.  Solar panels on the Magic Kingdom castle anyone?

Going to Florida?

My sister-in-law and her step sister called to talk to their sister/step-sister at different times today.  They wanted to talk about going to Florida.  What the hell did I know?  Tickets were cheap, and then they got cheaper, and they were going anyway and they asked my spouse if she wanted to go as well and take the children?  What about me. was what I thought?  You think I have something against the sunshine state?

No, they just thought I had to work.  Ho ho, I have the week off, too.  They pestered me, good naturedly of course, about why my wife would not answer the phone.  Sure, she doesn’t get great reception where she works but, more importantly, she was at work.  Not a great time to talk about a trip south.  They wanted me to say “Sure go ahead and book the tickets before the price goes up,” but we had not talked about it.  The closest we came was last night when she said to me, “My sister had the idea that we might go to Florida, but I’m not sure about it, what do you think?”  And then we got interupted.

So all of a sudden I was in the position of having to decide if she might want to go with the kids and can you please decide right now?  I deferred.  I supported the idea but I did want to spend that vacation week with the family.  We could use some time together without work and school pressures.  And I wanted to go along if they were going along.

Apparently we have made a plan.  We were going to keep it secret but my wife can’t keep a secret.  She keeps talking on the phone and talking to me and oh forget it let’s just tell the kids.  I didn’t even know where were we might go but it turns out Orlando is the destination.  Disneyland and all that.  I’m going to Disneyland!  Once I went to Orlando for a conference but I didn’t really get to Disneyland.  I wandered around the silly shopping area but that hardly counts.  I didn’t even buy anything except some chocolate coins with Mickey Mouse on them.

It is kind of exciting, just to take a trip and fly on a plane and get away from home and go someplace new.  Disneyland?  I guess that could be fun.  I remember, as a kid, others telling me about their visits to the Magic Kingdom.  Finally I will get a peek at what it is all about.  I am sure we will have a fine time.  Cable television and a swimming pool and we will be all set.  The rest is gravy.

So our vacation will be eventful.  We will have some friends visiting before we leave and we will get some down time when we get back.  Sounds about right.