Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Florida, Clermont, Kissimmee, Leesburg & Canaveral National Seashore

Sunday, Jan. 31st - Sunday, Feb. 14th


Sunday we moved to the Thousand Trails Campground just south of Clermont and about ten miles west of Disney World.  We could hear the fireworks from there going off every night.  Our campground is a reserve and these gopher tortoise dens were all over the grounds.  This one was just a few feet behind our camper.  His shell was about a 10 to 12 inches across.


The Keystone species of gopher tortoise provides a home and sanctuary for over 400 species of other animals, including the longest nonvenomous snake in Florida (Indigo, 9' 10 lb.) and the largest venomous snake in Florida (Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, 8' 24 lb.).  The tortoise digs a burrow as large as 20' x 8' deep, with chambers that provide shelter from drought, hot weather, predators and fire.  It spends between 20 minutes and 2 hours each day looking for food at sunrise and sunset during the summer and midday in the winter.  Like people, they are either right-handed or left-handed, bending their burrows to the right or left accordingly as they dig.  Their average body mass is 8 to 10 pounds with a shell length of 8 to 12 inches and an average lifespan of 40 to 60 years.


Their hatchlings are about 2 inches across like this cute little guy that I almost stepped on while we were out walking.


On Monday we did a little hike and shell hunting on Indian Rock Beach of Tampa Bay and stopped at a little Italian place for supper before we headed home.  This was an old guy, like us, letting his kite pull him on his skate board.


Tuesday we went back to Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge where the Kennedy Space Center is, just to see the wildlife.   This is the boardwalk at the Visitor Center.  There are over 540 wildlife refuges in the country with over 95 million acres in the system.  This barrier island is a haven for a dozen endangered species and many threatened species.  It is one of the world's most important nesting areas for sea turtles, a rest stop for thousands of migratory birds and a year-round home to wading birds and over 500 species of wildlife.  More than 10,000 sea turtles visit local beaches each year to mate and lay eggs.  Only one out of every 1,000 sea turtle eggs survives to maturity.


Every year the U.S. loses another 2% of wetlands (290,000 acres) to agriculture, development, mining, etc.


River turtles like these are powerful swimmers and have adapted an alternative way to stay under water by exhaling oxygen through their skin and remaining submerged for long periods of time.


Birds, birds everywhere.  Merritt Island is on the Atlantic Flyway and is 35 miles long covering 140,000 acres.  Osceola County has the highest concentration of nesting bald eagles in the lower 48 states.  They add to their nests each year until the branches break or the tree falls.  Some nests have been estimated to weigh nearly 4,000 pounds.  The term bald long ago meant white.


Egrets, ibis, heron and spoonbills.


Two wood storks and three roseate spoonbills.  The wood stork is the only stork species found regularly in the U.S.  Adults are over three feet tall with a wing span of five feet.  There were an estimated 60,000 in 1930 and now there are only 16,000.  They soar thousands of feet into the air and then glide for miles with head and legs outstretched.  When descending they can perform amazing dives, rolls and turns.  Week-old chicks are fed 15 times a day and parents take turns flying up to 80 miles away to feeding grounds.   By 9 weeks they leave the nest and reach sexual maturity at 4 years old.


Closer views of the roseate spoonbill.  They weigh 3 to 4 pounds with a 50 inch wingspan.  Their color is diet derived from carotenoid pigment.  I was once at a zoo where they fed the flamingos carrots to make them a brighter pink.


It drags its spatulate bill from side to side sifting through the mud to catch its food, crustaceans, frogs, newts, insects and very small fish.


Great White Egret.


Snowy Egret.  From 1890 to 1910 hats were often custom made for clients.  New York hat makers were making $17 million a year in the late 1800s.  At the same time over 130,000 snowy egrets were killed every year for their feathers.


A very squawky Great White Egret.


Black Ibis, which according to the internet are quite rare to see.  We see lots of white ones and a few other colors on occasion, but these are the only black ones we have ever seen.


Brown Pelicans at Haulover Canal on Indian River Lagoon where we went to see manatee, but there were none to see that day.  There are about 3,800 manatee between the east and west coasts  of Florida.  600 have been counted in the Merritt Refuge waters, about 1/3 of the east coast population.  In the summer they roam north into coastal Georgia and beyond.


Canaveral National Seashore, 25 miles of pristine, undeveloped beach) is also part of the 35-mile long barrier island of Merritt Island.  The space launches take off out over this area.


Florida soft shell turtle.  This guy was at least a foot and a half long.  It looked like something got a good sized bite out of the back end of his soft shell.


Maybe it was this guy.  I took this picture out of the car window and I had no desire to hang around.  It felt like he had an evil look in his eyes.  The American alligator has been around for 100 to 200 million years.  They are about 9 inches long when hatched and grow to an average length of 6 to 12 feet.  The Great Blue Heron is one of the few natural predators of hatchling alligators.  In the 1880s the fashion craze included bags, wallets and shoes made of alligator.  By 1910 alligator hides accounted for 75% of the Seminole's income.  They were also hunted for food.  Once endangered due to over hunting, they have made a remarkable comeback and there are now an estimated 5,000 in the refuge here.  They once captured one here that was 24 feet long.  The female lays eggs in a large nest made from marsh grasses and mud.  The heat produced from the rotting vegetation incubates the eggs.  They feed on fish, birds and even whole turtles, which they crush in their powerful jaws.  When they put the high chain link fence up around the Kennedy Space Center, their cameras caught alligators climbing the fences.  They had to add another section above it that slanted outward, so if they got that far, the would fall off backwards to the ground.


Wednesday we went to the movie The Finest Hour which was very good and had an early supper at Steak and Shake.  Mmm, Mmm!  Thursday we met up with our son-in-law's uncle and aunt, Keith and Shirley, at Sweet Tomatoes (another favorite restaurant) and had  a nice visit.  We stayed home Friday for a little R and R.  Saturday we went to Leesburg for the Mardi Gras parade.  The big parade is at 7:00 in the evening.


It was raining and this little parade was for kids and pets and whoever showed up.  They did have lots of vendors and rides and yummy food, but it was not a very nice day and there were very few people.


Back at the campground.  Check out this Essex motor home ($700,000) with matching camper van and smart car.  Now that's roughing it in style!


This is a view from the other side of their camp site with patio, tent and fenced-in yard.  Wow!  Sunday was Super Bowl.  Monday we went to the movie Hail, Ceasar! with George Clooney.  Very bad.  Don't go!   Stopped at Walmart and had supper at Checkers.


Tuesday was cold.  Wednesday we went to Winter Garden and had lunch at the nice little Thai Blossom Cafe and went through two free museums.  This is a 1948 caboose used by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad until 1984.  In 1925 there were 2,500 rail cars of citrus and vegetables shipped from the city's packing houses and depots.  In the 1940s there were 8 packing houses in the city and more just outside the city.  It was the world's largest citrus shipping point.  Winter Garden is located on Lake Apopka, once known as the large mouth bass capitol of the world.  Before the railroads the farmers floated their crops across Lake Apopka, then hauled them by ox-drawn wagons to St. John's River for shipment to northern markets.   The Orange Belt Railway came through in 1886.  In 1893 farmers built a new depot (this museum) and named it Winter Garden.  During the war the packing plants made canned orange juice for the troops.  After the war demand decreased a new process was developed in 1944 to make frozen concentrated orange juice.  Winter Garden Citrus Products Cooperative was on the cutting edge of this new technology.


In 1899 a second railroad came through town just a block parallel to the first.  The Central Florida Railroad Museum is in the 1913 Tavares and Gulf Railroad Depot.  This is a British wash bowl from a passenger car where space was cramped.  It was made in Birmingham, England and has no drain at the bottom.  Instead the basin is tilted up to empty the water into a pipe in the wall and it is stored in the up position clamped flat against the wall.


This is a one-man Velocipede used for traveling the rails.  The handcar was invented in 1879 and a number of people lost their lives riding the rails on them.  Florida is the lightning capitol of North America.  Lightning annually strikes Central Florida more times per square mile of land than any other place in the country.


Thursday we went to Kissimmee where we went through the Osceola County History Museum and Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek where there are hiking, biking and paddling trails.  A group of French Huguenots arrived in 1564 to colonize La Florida with a cartographer named Jacques Le Moyne.  He was the first European artist to visit the Americas and he drew exaggerated scenes of Timicua Indian hunters and alligators.  The Spanish came and destroyed all of his drawings, but he escaped and recreated his works from memory and his images reached the European public in 1591.  Probably not the best tourism ads when they wanted people to start coming to the new world to settle and explore.


"Red on yellow, Kill a fellow."  The Eastern coral snake lays 3 to 13 eggs.  The 7" hatchlings are capable of biting with a deadly load of denim right out of the egg!  It is the most potent of Central Florida's venomous snakes.  They get an average of 2 feet long up to 4 feet.  They prefer to lie under the oak leaves looking for lizards to eat.


This is just a stuffed turkey in the museum.  I've never actually seen a live one with its tail feathers fanned out.  Of the six subspecies of wild turkey in North America, the Osceola wild turkey is considered most prized by many hunters with long breast feathers called a beard and fanned out tail feathers.  The growths of skin on the head of the male are called wattles and carbuncles.  They often change colors of bright red and blue when frightened or threatened, kind of like the way we blush when we are flustered.


They had an aquarium in the museum with five little alligators about 15 inches long.


When we finished at the museum we went to the nearby pioneer village.  The gray building in the center is a citrus packing plant.  The family that lived on this property had orange groves.


Check out the old pioneer rocking away on the porch.  The family that lived in this home raised 11 children in it.  It is just one large open room with a tiny little room off the back about the size of a bathroom.  Of course, the kitchen was separate from the house for fire safety reasons and to keep the heat away from the house, and the outhouse was far away from the house.  A chamber pot was used after dark, because you couldn't go out in the dark with all those critters like alligators, snakes, panthers and bears, not to mention mosquitoes.  Makes me shudder just to think of it!


It's a very nice self-guided tour with lots of interpretive signs.


Courthouse Square in Kissimmee covers at least two full blocks.


This is the oldest courthouse in Florida which is still in use today. plus two other huge courthouse buildings on Courthouse Square.  The Osceola County Historic Courthouse for the county that was created in 1887 and named for a great Seminole warrior.


Another view of the old courthouse.  It was Florida's 4th county and had 815 citizens.  It was built in 1890 for $30,000 and has remained in daily use since then.


Lizard climbing the wall.


The whole two block area is surrounded by nice old homes like this that are now mostly law offices for attorneys.


Monument of States, brought to Kissimmee lakefront in the early 1940s, is a downtown landmark created of 1,500 stones donated by tourists, governors, a prime minister and a U.S. president.  There are stones from each state and 20 countries gathered over 22 years.  It was dedicated by U.S. Senator Claude Pepper in 1943,


The Kissimmee Main Street Visitor Center appears to be an old gas station.  The sculpture out front is a little hard to see, but it is a guy leaning against a car door which seems to be just floating in the air.


Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards in Clermont.  We went on Friday for their Valentine celebration.  They had tastings and tours and vendors and live music.  We shared a huge plate of seafood gumbo.  Delicious!  A very nice afternoon.  Newly planted grape vines take 3 to 5 years before producing a harvestable crop.  Their harvester machine picks an average of 60 tons of grapes per day.  Only 8 tons per day were picked when they used to do it by hand.  


They have tours and tastings seven days a week.  It is a 38,000 sq. ft. building surrounded by 127 acres of working vineyards.  They have 44 fermentation tanks that hold over 423,000 gallons.  Each ton of muscadine grapes yields approximately 165 gallons of juice.  After fermenting, racking, filtering and bottling they have 4,000 glasses of delicious red or white wine.  They produce over 1.5 million bottles per year.


If you missed my last blog about the Kennedy Space Center, it somehow got posted out of order and is two blogs back.  We left Clermont on Sunday heading for our next campground in Georgia. 
 I hope everyone had a very special Valentine's Day!
Tarra

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