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27 March 2007


DS and I started out early(ish) Friday morning for a 2-day birding excursion. It was so nice being able to take our time driving down to the Tampa Bay area, even making a detour through Cedar Key. Once we hit a certain point on 19, we both felt like we were home. And we both decided we want to move back.

We checked into the motel in New Port Richey - using a coupon for 1/3 off, PTL! - with a couple of daylight hours left, so we went in search of food and birds. Not wanting to lose too much birding time, I grabbed a Wendy's burger and some Baked Lay's 'to hold me' and drove toward Tarpon Springs. Oh, how I miss those mangroves and the clear Gulf water! We had just enough time to make brief stops at several parks on the Anclote River where we quickly found several Monk Parakeets posing on a wire. They were camera shy, though, and flew down into the grass the second I pointed mine their way. Ever try to find a green bird sitting in the grass? I finally gave up on that and walked out to the end of the boardwalk. There was a nice little flock of Marbled Godwits wading and suppering until an Osprey swooped in and scared them off. He waded for a few minutes and decided this wasn't a good fishing spot for big birds. As soon as he left, the Godwits came back to finish their evening meal.

Agreeing to come back next day at sunrise, we reluctantly took our leave. Just down the road from the park, we found a feral Peacock. Last time we were down there, he had his harem with him. Reckon this was guys' night out. After a few shots, he got tired of posing and headed home. By the time we got to my home town, is was pretty much dark, so we decided to pack it in and get an early start the next day. DS wanted to give A&W another try - last time (in another town) it was horrible - but that didn't do anything for me. Fortunately, they were teamed up with Long John Silver's. Love those 2- or 3-in-1 food stops. We took our food back to the room and settled in for the night. Bummer! The fish was way overcooked, bordering shoe leather. DS liked the lobster bites we had decided to split, but they were a tad rich for me.

As I was finishing up, DS headed for the bed. He pulled back the spread and stopped short. Uh... mom... there's a stain on the sheet... Oh, gross! Blood! There was a nice big spot on the mattress pad and a little bit had soaked through the sheet. Not old enough to have completely turned brown even. Stifling a deep retch, I called the front desk. The clerk was taken aback and didn't know what to say. I had to suggest we move to another room. So we reloaded the truck, drove back up to the office, swapped keys and tried again. The dark grey spots on the sheets in this room were much smaller and older, so I volunteered to sleep on top of the covers and let DS have the untainted bed. We both agreed this would be our last stay there. Too bad... we had stayed there once before and loved the riverside location.

Neither of us slept well, but DS was up and ready to hit the road before sunrise. I begged for another hour. Finally, I gave up trying to get back to sleep and dragged myownself out, knowing full well I was going to regret it later. DS walked over to the river while I got ready, then we walked to the office for the 'expanded' continental breakfast. Mostly breads and some pitiful looking apples and bananas. Four mini muffins and two slices of wheat toast later, I was just about conscious. DS thought he wanted to skip Green Key and head straight back to the Anclote parks. I think he was really thinking I wanted to skip Green Key, coz it didn't take TOO much prodding to change his mind. He was really glad he did. It was just early enough to be uncrowded and the birds were taking advantage of the relative peace. A nice flock of Black Skimmers, along with several Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls, were going through their morning beauty ritual in the beach. About half a dozen Ruddy Turnstones ran around scrambling for breakfast. Along the boardwalk through a thick mangrove forest, we finally spotted one of the beautiful Prairie Warblers we'd heard singing. A Red-winged Blackbird landed just a few feet away and sang out his morning greeting while 2 Mourning Doves valiantly held onto the claim they'd staked on the railing as long as they dared.

When several energetic kids showed up, we tore ourselves away and took the scenic route back to Tarpon Springs. Passing over a canal in an older subdivision, DS was thrilled to add Mottled Ducks to his Pasco County list. I was hoping to see some Sandhill Cranes, as we had last trip through, but none made an appearance. We finally made it to the parks on the Anclote and DS spotted some of the Monk Parakeets again. Apparently, this is a very popular fishing spot, so lots of people were already there. We could hear the peacocks screaming from the woods across the road, but they weren't making any appearances this time. A Great Blue Heron was staring up at the pier, hoping for a handout from one of the fishermen. At the other end, a Reddish Egret stood on a rock making himself beautiful. As I made my way back to the truck, I stopped to watch the now impatient Great Blue stalking one fisherman's catch. The man kindly let me get a few pictures, then chased off the big bird just as he was about to make his move. Down the road from the park, I spotted a 'different' looking bird on a wire and turned around for a better look. It was a Black-hooded Parakeet, AKA Nanday Conure, a lifer (in the wild) for both of us.

We both wished we had another day so we could check out the new (to us) aquarium on Dodecanese Blvd. It was sad for both of us to find Pappas Restaurant gone. It was one of those places that had been there forever and you just expected it would be there till the end of time. Our joy returned quickly as we circled Spring Bayou and saw a manatee sticking his nose out of the water. Driving past my old high school, we saw that some of the Monk Parakeets had been building nests on the light poles by the football field. Next stop was Fred Howard Park. Once again, we were struck by the beauty of the area and talked about moving back.

A bit further south, we turned to check out the re-opened Wall Springs, now a county park This was a favourite field trip spot when I was a kid. There was a lagoon, kiddie pool, regular pool, and a sinkhole with a legend. They closed down in the mid-sixties and the county finally started buying property there around 1988.

One more loop through my home town, this time in the daylight. It's different every time we go. Lots of changes always going on. The Methodist church I grew up in is now Rheba Sutton (my first cousin twice removed) White Chapel. That was kinda cool. A bit further south, we drove halfway across the causeway to Honeymoon Island, then decided it was WAY too crowded and turned around. Quite a change from my high school days, many moons before they turned it into a state park.

I wanted to get home before dark, so we started working our way back. We decided to go a different route that took us just inside Hillsboro County, allowing DS to add a 15 new birds to that list. Up the road a ways, we made another detour to look for some burrowing owls that had been reported near Brooksville. We looked and looked, but found no sign of them. Bummer! We knew there were Limpkins at nearby Silver Lake, so we cut across there. Too many people there, so the limpkins were staying across the river too far for any decent pics. By now, we were both starving, so we decided to splurge and stop at Cracker Barrel. I had long since abandoned all hope of getting home before dark. DS had his usual chicken tenders and I chose the lemon pepper grilled trout. Mmmmm!!!!! I asked the waitress if I could sample the raspberry lemonade and she made me a full glass. It was nice... after I added about 4 packs of sugar!

Full stomachs and half-enough sleep started to work on us and we once again wished we could just spend the night and drive home the next day. We both knew that would go over with Duller like a lead balloon. But we trudged onward and watched an absolutely gorgeous sunset driving up blessedly unbusy 19/98. (FC did you catch that one?!) Time for one more unscheduled stop at Withlacoochee Bay Trail before dark settled in. About an hour or so from home, I heard steady breathing from the passenger seat and realized DS had checked out. Reckon he was tireder than he realized. He had never done that before. He woke up when I slowed down to turn off the highway, then sank back into oblivion till we pulled into our driveway. We grabbed as much as we could carry and shuffled in. I collapsed and Duller, seeing how exhausted we were, said he had thought about mentioning the possibility of our staying another night... >8\

DS and I agree we'd both love to move back down there. Now we just have to convince Duller to change jobs one last time.....

Since this post is extra long and I'm still half beat, I'll post pictures tomorrow. Sleep sweet, y'all!Have a JESUS-filled day!


Cathy S. said...

I am glad that your trip helped you reconcile selling your current bit of paradise and relocating to another. Moving is always hard, doubly so when you don't want to go. Thanks for the great word pictures. I felt like I was there. Can't wait for the pictures.

SophieMae said...

Cathy, I'm still hoping I can convince Duller to move back to MY home town.. or thereabouts. Our current plan is back to HIS home town. Not that I don't love the Atlantic, but the Gulf has a permanent hold on my heart. 8-}

Floridacracker said...

If you went to Cedar Key you passed through Otter Creek and at one point were only 7 miles from Pure Florida HQ.

My wife is from New Port Richey and we are going there this weekend for a big family reunion and the annual boat parade.

I really enjoyed this travel story.