St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

What a marvelous day we had yesterday. When we visited the blacksmith demonstration at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center, one of the blacksmiths encouraged us to visit this place. The lighthouse would have been enough to get us there, but it turned out to be the most wonderful bird sanctuary...a veritable birder's heaven.

The day got off to a good start before we even left the RV. For one thing, the catio is situated in sunshine all day at this spot, and the kitties took a nice sunbath together.

While they watched, a white squirrel wandered by. The white squirrels are one of the unique features of the Ochlockonee River State Park.

The park literature tells us that there is much variation in squirrel coat color. The brown, reddish, gray or black comes from the pigment melanin and can produce a variety of hues. The white squirrels here at the park are another color variant of squirrels, but they are not albino. Some have a white coat with dark eyes, a condition known as "leucistic." The ones here at the park have a mutation of the gene that delegates melanin. In the case of solid white squirrels, it seems that instead of melanin being produced in their skin and hair cells, it is only produced in the eyes. The most rare of coat patterns is the one pictured here. The coat is mostly white, but there is a head patch and dorsal stripe that broadens in the shoulder region.

We've seen several white squirrels, but the image above is the best one I've gotten so far. I'll keep trying because I want to put the white squirrel in my Sketchbook. My one word for this one word wonder: "Unique."

Before we left the RV, I made our dinner of seafood pasta salad, and I tried a new side dish recipe. Someone on our CSA Facebook page posted her version of the dish, and it looked so good, I wanted to give it a try. Indeed it was good. The leeks are first blanched to soften them, and then they're covered in a tangy vinaigrette. I made mine in the morning so they could marinate all day, and they were very tasty. You can find the recipe for Leeks in Vinaigrette right here.

Okay, so with dinner prepared, we headed out. As we passed by the catio, Smitty reached out his paws to us. He was preparing for his morning nap in the sunshine.

Doncha think I'm cute? Doncha think I'm handsome? Doncha think I'm adorable?

On the way out of the park, some black-tail deer crossed the road in front of us.

It was about a half hour's drive to the national wildlife refuge.

We stopped off at the visitor's center and hiked the Plum Orchard Pond Trail just behind the building.

The forest here reminds us more of the swampy areas of the Okefenokee than some of the other areas of Florida we've seen.

The undergrowth of saw palmettos is always present, but we're also seeing more of the taller Sabal (or Cabbage) Palmettos.

We stalked this pileated woodpecker for about half a mile before I was able to get a far off shot of him.

We didn't see this bird, but we saw evidence of him.

Here you can see the "neat rows of holes".

Also, this is the handiwork of the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. We've read about them all along the way, but not seen one yet. They're endangered because of loss of habitat, and that partially explains the effort to replant and repopulate the longleaf pines.

Shortly, we heard the distinctive sound of a woodpecker pecking at a tree. With patience and about five minute's time, we spotted him high overhead. This is the best picture I could get of him, but we were happy to finally see one.

From there, we drove on through the refuge on our way to the lighthouse. We passed pond after man-made pond filled with migratory birds. It was a birder's paradise for sure.

Eventually, St. Marks Lighthouse came into view.

When we arrived, we learned that the remains of the lighthouse keeper's boat house can be seen in the image below.

Before the road was built in the 1930's, the lighthouse keeper had to travel by boat to the town of St. Marks to get supplies. It's a little hard to see the lighthouse. It is currently being restored, and so it was fenced off. Also, it's hidden behind a stand of large live oaks and palmetto trees. It is the second oldest lighthouse in Florida, having been completed in 1830.

Here's some information about it.

There were pelicans resting on the remains of the boathouse.

There was also a map showing the whole of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

I've marked where our campground is with a blue arrow.

The location of the lighthouse is marked with a red arrow.

There is a trail along the Gulf Coast that leads out to a viewpoint. Off in the distance you can see a forest of the longleaf pines.

We saw a surprising (and encouraging) number of monarch butterflies nectaring on the flowers that grow along the trail.

I took dozens of pictures of these guys, just hoping to get one of them to spread its wings and show us what he's made of.

And the image above is going into my sketchbook. My one word for this one word wonder is "Delicate."

There was another man-made pond there and more birds. Here's some unidentified duck.

And a white ibis.

And there were more blooming things present, although not many.

We had another view of the lighthouse as we walked back along the trail.

I tried to get around to the other side, but this was the best I could do.

On the way back to our campsite, more black-tail deer crossed the road in front of us, right at the same spot.

As we sat eating our dinner, a doe and her fawn passed by the RV just outside the window.

Soon, we were treated to a peaceful sunset.

Day is done.

Today we're hanging out at the RV. We have two more nights here, and today is going to be a sewing day. It's been quite a while since I've set up the sewing machine, and so I'm looking forward to it.


Ochlockonee River State Park; Sopchoppy, Florida

We have four more nights in Florida before moving on to Alabama and Mississippi. We're spending four nights here at this state park, and it's lovely here.

We got Smitty out for a walk right away, had our lunch and our naps, and then we took a walk on the nature trail. It branches off right from our campsite.

We can see the river from our campsite.

It was a short walk to get to the water's edge. Looking right, we saw this.

To the left, this.

It's another blackwater river. I took this picture at the water's edge so you could see how the tannins from decaying organic material color the water like tea. The deeper the water, the darker the color.

It's very pretty here...a forest of longleaf pines and oak trees with the now familiar saw palmettos carpeting the forest floor.

Our shadow selves were enjoying the warmth and the sunshine.

We could see the RV off in the distance.

This Dr. Seuss grass was growing everywhere. I liked how the sunshine glinted off the stalks.

It was a short distance to a boat launch. There was a table for cleaning fish and a receptacle for disposing of fish guts.

The launch was located in an estuary off the main branch.

Looking the other direction, we saw this. There was a boat being pulled from the water, which is what has the water stirred up in the lower right corner of the image.

Also, there was a map that showed our location along the rivers. The red dot is approximately where the RV is located.

We're expecting a nice day today, but more cold weather tomorrow. We'll use this warm day to visit the St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge, just a few miles down the road. There is a lighthouse there, and we'll probably do some hiking. It's really the only thing we're here to see, and so I'm thinking I might get in a sewing day while we're here. It won't be today, but maybe tomorrow.