Sunday, February 3, 2019

Leaving Florida

We awoke at our usual 5:30 am time frame and made tea in the room as we did our final packing for our return flight to Cincinnati.  At 6:30 we made our way to the breakfast area for our usual Raisin Bran and blueberry yogurt breakfast.  We brought our bags to the rental car and checked out of the Day’s Inn Bonita Springs at 7:20.  We were pleased that the Wyndham points that we used paid the full $815 price of our room for five nights.  We were soon on I-75 north toward the Punta Gorda Airport.  We stopped at the Publix near the airport for sandwiches and fruit for our lunch on the flight. I topped off the fuel tank in the car while Mary was in the store.  It only took $3.00 of fuel to fill up.  We were happy with the little Nissan Versa.  Although it was small, we managed to haul the four of us around to hiking spots in relative comfort.  The big advantage of the car was that we got 42.8 miles per gallon average fuel economy for the over 1300 miles that we had driven on our trip this week.  We thought that was pretty good considering the car is not a hybrid and has a fair amount of pep.  While the rental fee was only $158 the taxes and surcharges brought the total to over $230.  Still, we had about $150 in flight costs, $250 for the nights in Homestead, $250 for meals, $70 for gas, $20 for the annual National Park pass.  Altogether we spent about $1,200 for our week in Florida.  Of course, if we didn’t have the hotel points the cost would have been $2,000.
We got through security at Punta Gorda airport quickly although, unlike when we boarded at CVG, we didn’t have TSA PreCheck so we had to take our shoes off and empty our backpacks. We never know when we will have PreCheck and when we do not.  Hopefully when we get Global Entry we will be able to avoid some of the check in problems.  We were in line with a lady who lives at the south end of Georgetown near Red State Barbecue.  She grew up near Clarion, PA where Mary went to college.  It was nice visiting with her.  
There was a lot of fog at the Punta Gorda airport so the flight from Cincinnati had to be diverted to Fort Lauderdale so our departure was rescheduled for 1:15 rather than the scheduled 10:59.  We ate our sandwiches and chatted with fellow travelers who were hoping to get back home this evening in time to watch the Super Bowl LIII. While we were at the gate, I saw Courtney (Kramer) Epperley who was a former Yeager Scholar and student in CI 415.  Courtney is an outstanding biology teacher at Huntington High School in the room where Pat McKee taught.  She is expecting in June and took advantage of a long weekend caused by weather related school closings to visit her family in Naples.  It was nice to see her.
Brown pelican
We boarded our flight and lifted off at 1:15 as expected for the flight to Cincinnati.  The flight was nearly full except for a few who had rescheduled when the flight was delayed.  We were picked up by the Hilton shuttle through our OneStopParking reservation and returned to our car for the drive back home for a brief stop to check on the house before going to the apartment for the week.  We are happy that the weather will be in the 50s and not the subzero weather of the week before that we avoided the week before.  

We are not birders and did not go out of our way to see any particular species of birds.  However, most birds in this area are very showy and fairly easy to identify with commonly available guides.  We made no effort to attempt to identify any ducks.  Neither did we bother listing all of the common birds like robins, sparrows and starlings.  Birds that we confirmed seeing during our week in Florida:

Brown Pelican
White Pelican
Double Crested Cormorant
White Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Snowy Egret
Reddish Egret

Little Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron
Black-Crowned Night-Heron
Black Stilt
Red-Shouldered Hawk
Broad-Wing Hawk
Belted Kingfisher
Common Moorhen

Purple Gallinule
Common Gallinule
Wood Stork
Sandhill Crane
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
American Crow
Wild Turkey
Turkey Vulture
Black Vulture
Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Groundhog Day in Sebring, Florida

Central Florida orange grove
We awoke at 5:45 on our last full day of vacation and went to breakfast at the hotel.  We were on the road by 7:30 making our way to Sebring to spend the day with our friends, Steve Minor and Marcia Smith.  We enjoyed the drive through citrus groves and cattle farms and lakes dotting the area of Central Florida.  We saw a number of nesting osprey along the highway on utility poles as well as kingfishers and many wading birds.
Steve & Marcia outside their Sebring, FL home
We arrived at their home a little before 10 am which is a beautifully decorated home in a nice quiet neighborhood that is just a stone’s throw from Lake Jackson.  After a brief visit, we drove around town a bit then past the Sebring Race Track to Istokpoga Park which is operated by Highland County.  This park is a quiet well groomed place with walking paths, picnic areas, piers into Lake Istokpoga and a boat dock.  We spotted a number of hawks and ospreys.  At the lake we saw our first glossy ibis as well as one small alligator and a couple of large turtles.  We chatted with several people that we met there and enjoyed our time there.  The temperature was in the mid 80s and the sky only had a few scattered clouds.  It was a perfect day.
Nesting osprey
From there we drove to an area where Steve and Marcia had never been but we all wanted to check out.  This area, Boney Marsh and Bluff Hammock, only had a very short path that was very overgrown leading to a canoe launch leading to the Kissimmee River.  We walked around the area and followed some game trails but the brush soon became too thick for us to continue.  There were large areas that had been rooted up by wild hogs and we were all covered with tiny round burrs that we removed before returning to the car.  We did see that nearby Okeechobee Outfitters offers wild hog hunts in the area.
After our walk, Steve treated us to an excellent lunch at Havana Days Cuban Restaurant and Bakery.  We all had Cuban sandwiches which were so large that Mary and I split one as well as a side of beans and rice and some tostones.  The sandwiches and sides were both excellent.  
After lunch we returned to their house and played a quick game of Mexican Train dominoes.  Although we weren’t keeping score, it appeared that Steve would have won.  We gave them some of the brochures on the Everglades that we picked up through the week and gave them our recommendations on places to visit.  We really enjoyed our visit with them.  We see them so seldom since they moved to Florida but we sure look forward to coming back and seeing them again.  Steve has looked forward to moving to Florida for the nearly 50 years that I have known him because of his intense dislike of cold weather.  It makes us feel so good to see how well they are doing and how happy they are living in Central Florida in retirement.  
We left their home and drove the 90 minutes back to Bonita Springs.  We parked at the hotel and brought things up to the room to pack.  After starting to pack we decided that we should get a small dinner.  We had such a large lunch that neither of us wanted a large dinner.  There was the Culver’s across the street where we had eaten earlier in the week so we decided to go back there.  We walked across Bonita Springs Boulevard to the restaurant and ordered.  Mary got the same cranberry chicken salad that she had before.  I had the cashew chicken salad that Mark and Cindy split before.  My salad arrived with the chicken chunks incompletely cooked so I sent it back.  I seldom return food to the kitchen but this chicken was still cool and pink on the inside and I didn’t want to eat it that way.  After preparing it again the salad was very good.  
After dinner we took a short walk around the area and returned to the Bonita Springs Day’s Inn to finish packing and print our boarding passes.  

Friday, February 1, 2019

Marsh Trail and the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Reserve

Sunrise at Barefoot Beach

After our usual Raisin Bran and yogurt breakfast we met Mark & Cindy in the lobby of the Bonita Springs Day’s Inn and drove the short distance to Barefoot Beach.  We weren’t there for sunrise but we were there by 8:15 am and walked for a couple of miles along the beach.  This beach is very white course sand with bands of shells paralleling the waterline.  We picked up a few interesting shells and enjoyed our time with the Whittingtons on their last day with us here in Florida.  We were very happy to be wading in shorts and T-shirts on the first day of February. The temperature was 83 degrees at 10 am when we were leaving the beach.  
Yellow-crown night-heron
Mark and Cindy packed and checked out to make the drive to Orlando to catch their flight back to Oregon.  We prepared things for another day of sightseeing on the Western side of the Everglades.  We drove to the Marsh Trail in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Reserve.  There was an observation tower about a quarter mile into the hike that gave a good view of the area.  We continued along the trail for the entire 1.5 miles passing by a number of egrets, herons and alligators.  Near the end of the trail we saw one of the largest alligators that we have seen and it was sunning right beside the walking trail. 
Brown pelicans
Needless to say, we walked carefully around it and kept moving along the path.  There were a number of people on the trail but only on the first quarter mile or so to the observation tower.  There were far fewer walkers further out on the path.  We were happy that we had stopped here because we have passed this area many times but the parking for the trail is poorly marked and we have just passed it by.  A volunteer at the Everglades National Park office told us that the tower is a great place to watch sunset.  We were there at midday so we didn’t see that but may return on another occasion to see the sun setting.
Large alligator on Turner River
We left the Marsh Trail and drove the short distance to the Big Cypress visitor center where we have seen manatees in the past.  We used the restrooms and took a look in the waterway behind the visitor center but saw no manatees there today.  We ate our lunch of peanut butter, crackers and fruit as we made our way to the Turner River Road Trail where we saw so much wildlife on Wednesday evening.  We drove about five miles out the road to an area where the river was easily seen from the gravel road.  We parked and walked about a mile downstream, returned to the car then walked a mile upstream.  We chatted briefly with a group of three young men who were bass fishing in the stream.  There were many alligators, some of which were quite large, as well as many species of birds.  However, the birds and alligators here are a lot more skittish than in areas where there is a lot more tourist traffic.  There are far far fewer visitors to this area than many other public areas of the Everglades.  
We left the Turner River area around 4:30 and drove back to the Bonita Springs Day’s Inn to change for dinner.
Mary found that Lapa’s Costa Rican Bistro was very highly rated on Trip Advisor and was reasonably priced so we decided to give it a try.  We were rewarded with excellent meals and some of the best restaurant service that we have ever had.  I had the ChirripĆ³ Chicken which is seasoned and stewed chicken.  One of my side dishes was Gallo Pinto which was black beans and wild rice mixed with tomatoes, mild peppers and onions with spices.  My other side was fried sweet plantains.  It was outstanding.  Everything was very seasoned but not at all spicy or hot.  Mary had a La Gallina which is a pressed chicken sandwich with tostones on the side.  The drinks are made on site so Mary had limeade and I had tamarind juice.  We were both very impressed with the quality and serving of the meal but the service was unbeatable.  This restaurant had what was quite possibly the best service we have ever had at a restaurant.