Monday, March 23, 2015


I have visited SOUTH FLORIDA six times in the last 40 years.  The first time was in 1974 when we motored south in our VW camper over the Christmas holiday. Later we traveled in a 20 foot motorhome and this time we traveled in our Honda Element.  In the past our focus was on campgrounds for lodging; this time it was more complicated.  We did not plan ahead, so when we arrived in Florida we did not  have any prearranged place to stay.  Extended places to stay were all taken and we had to resort to hotels and motels where rooms were also in short supply.  We did have  short stays with Marilyn Hollis and Pat Glanz, which we greatly appreciate. We also camped in a tent for  a short time. With Marilyn's help we were able to find a place in a 55+ community south of Naples. We have been here since March 1st. It is a nice area and is as  natural as a place like this can be.  The backyard of "our place" backs on to a manmade canal that nature has reclaimed and which attracts songbirds and wading birds.  I have also heard the calls of the Red-shouldered Hawk and the Great Horned Owl  during our stay here.

If you look at a night-time photo of Florida the coasts are lit up and the center is dark.  99% of the development in South Florida below Orlando is along the coasts.  Looking south from  I-4, which crosses the state at Orlando, the pattern of light resembles a horseshoe fitted over the state. Originally this whole area was a "sea of grass" with water flowing from Highlands County (Sebring area) to the Everglades and out to sea.  Over the last 100 years people have drained, diked  and developed the land, so the water no longer follows its natural flow.  Route 41 crossing the state just north of the Everglades acts like a huge  dike and only recently has work begun to allow water to flow normally.  The "dry land" in central Florida is now dominated by farming, citrus groves, thousands of grazing beef cattle and the famous retirement "trailer parks".

I am an optimistic ecologist and I believe the natural areas of Florida will continue to thrive despite human abuse and neglect.  Many people care about these places and are doing their part to make the ecosystems work for all the creatures who live here. In many ways South Florida is still the wildest area east of the Mississippi River.  The Eastern Panther hangs on as a predator, alligators thrive,  snakes, turtles and lizards abound and the many birds are doing OK.    There are not many places where panther tracks and a cottonmouth eating a fish would be casually reported by a hiker.  It is a wild and beautiful place surrounded by a city.  You just never know what you may see next.

There are no mountains in South Florida, but there are ridges which are more than 50 feet high.
However  the highest places in most of South Florida are landfills and road and bridge overpasses.
I believe the climate is getting warmer and the horseshoe shaped development imposed on this land will be drastically affected by a significant increase in sea level. The ecosystem here, on the other hand, was designed by climate change over the last 10,000 years and it will be able to adapt to what ever comes its way.

Humans, however, will have very few options. Move up or out. Over time the sea will most likely reclaim the land the cities are parked on and some of the inland areas will return to a more natural state as  the rains of the wet season seek the natural flow south toward the Everglades.

So what is my real opinion of Florida after all these years?  It is GREAT place to visit, but I would NOT want to live here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


I have been a Pittsburgh Pirate fan since I was a child and being in Florida during March I decided to get tickets to see a Spring Training game.  I have not seen a Pirate's game for a very long time, so this was an opportunity I could not pass up.

On February 17th I went to Jet Blue Stadium in Fort Myers to buy a ticket for the Red Sox vs Pirates spring training game held on March 14, 2015.  The only ticket not sold was for a handicapped person, so I bought it.

Last Saturday March 14, I drove from Naples, where we are staying, North about 45 minutes to the stadium. I arrived early. The gates opened at 11 am and I wheeled myself to my
seat with no difficulty. The Pirates were on the field warming up, hitting and fielding and this lasted until noon when they retired to the clubhouse. The grounds crew spent the next hour manicuring the field, wetting it down and putting the chalk lines on the batter's box, fowl lines, etc. It was pretty neat to watch.  It was a beautiful day and although it was hot, I had the advantage of shade for the whole game.

The game started at 1:05. The early part of the game was rather slow with the main excitement being the Red Sox's  Mike Napoli hitting two home runs. Going into the 8th inning the score was tied at 2-2. The Pirates used a couple of hits and good base running to score 3 runs in the top of the 8th, held off a Red Sox rally in the bottom of the ninth and won 5-2. Great game and they won.

Oh yes, about "HIT BY A BASEBALL ON PI DAY".

Well March 14, 2015 was "Pi Day" because the date translates into 3.1415---the first five digits of the mathematical term Pi.  Pi is a numerical constant that represents the ratio of a circle'e circumference to its diameter.  The number goes on to infinity.  If you want more details ask a math teacher.

During the rally in the 8th inning, a player by the name Deibinson Romero was at bat and he hit a foul ball that bounced off a mesh fence right behind me. I looked back, saw it coming and ducked.

The ball hit me on the left shoulder and careened down into the stands below. I felt it, but was not really hurt.  The attendants were concerned about my well being, but all I wanted was the baseball.
After some inquiry we discovered who had the ball and he graciously gave it to  me.  The ball has two gray marks on it where it hit and actually broke the fence. I am just glad it did not hit me in the head or I would have ended up in the hospital.  It must have been traveling close to 100 mph when it hit that fence. Incidentally, Romero stuck out, so he was no help in the rally.

So, yes, I celebrated  Pi Day by being hit by a baseball and have the ball to  prove it.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Bea and I headed south on Monday January 5th to beat a pending snow storm coming on Tuesday. Made it to Rocky Mount, NC the first night, St Augustine, Fl the second and Sebring, Fl on the third.  We found a room that was handicapped accessible and stayed three weeks.  We liked Sebring
My Grandfather wintered here in the 1940’s.

At the end of January Bea had to go to California for our grandson Porter’s Grandparents Day at his school.  The site would have been hard for me to navigate, so I stayed in Florida.

What to do?  What else but set up an experiment to see if a one-legged almost 75 year old man could survive camping in a tent for 7 days.

My choice for this experiment was  Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park.  Its 54,000 acres contain dry prairie. wet prairie, marshes, sloughs, Cabbage Palm and Oak Hammocks.  This preserve protects the largest dry prairie still left in Florida.  it is the home of several endangered/threatened animal species including the Grasshopper Sparrow and the Crested Caracara. It is in a remote part of central Florida and is a favorite for those who enjoy astronomy because there are no city lights.   it was a full moon when I was there and the evening sky was spectacular. I fell in love with the place.

I had reserved a camping site for only one night.  The following day I was able to move to another site where i stayed for 6 days. My neighbors were very friendly and were willing to help me when I needed assistance.  The  weather was great---clear and sunny during the day and cold at night.  It got down to the high 30’s and low 40’s at night and windy with highs in the 60’s during the day.
Sunrise at Kissimmee Prairie

Sunrise from my campsite.  The crows showed up at 7 am each morning and made sure I was awake.
The land is flat and much of it is free of trees and shrubs—just prairie plants including native grasses, Sawtooth Palmetto and a variety of wildflowers, so you can see long distances

Since I could not walk, I drove the roads during the day and at night.   I got to see some really exciting things happen just by being in the right place at the right time. The first night I was at the preserve I saw a small whitish bird fly up from the side of the road.  it turns out that is was a Burrowing Owl.  This small owl feeds on insects and is attracted to the roads because in cold weather the insects congregate along the warmer road surface at night.   On another occasion as I was looking for song birds, a Red-shouldered Hawk carrying a snake landed on a branch of a tree just in front of me.

A short time  after I took this photo, a second hawk flew in and clobbered this guy knocking him off the branch.  The last I saw was the one with the snake flying over my head, and  the second one in hot pursuit about  20 feet behind.  WOW. The snake looked like a Black Racer.  This was the second time I had seen a Red-shouldered Hawk with a snake.

I saw a good variety of birdlife during my stay, but the star was the Crested Caracara.  Although this  bird is more common in Central America, it is found in the prairie areas of  central Florida.  I had seen different individuals sitting  but the most spectacular was when it was gliding and soaring above me with the sun glistening off its beautiful wings and underbelly.  AWESOME.  It is a relative of falcons.

I  did  a little hiking with my walker.  A short trail near the campground went through a hardwood hammock, so I “drove" my walker about 1/4 mile trough this really impressive  woodlot. As I traveled I saw 8 turkeys and heard and then saw a Barred Owl.  I made several calls and it looked at me with distain as if telling me "you are not really an owl”. He/she was about 50 feet away—a really cool sight.

On another occasion I found a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron rookery.  I watched a male heron display by repeatedly lifting the yellow feather on his  head up and down.  I had never observed anything like that before.  According to the staff at the park this site was one of the rookeries patrolled by rangers working for the Audubon Society in the early 1900's.

Camping in  a tent while having only one leg is not an easy experience, but I was able to adapt and use the tools at my disposal.  I had to constantly be aware of where the crows were---at any opportunity they would swoop down and grab any visible food item and things left on the table had to be covered all the time.  One time I left an orange on the table.  i came back a short time later and they had rolled it  off the table and carried it about 25 feet away.  A family of five was busy  feasting on my orange. On two different evenings I cooked my supper over an open fire---I had not done that for a very long time.

I had no trouble sleeping.  However two different nights I was awakened by the "singing" of coyotes. Their calls are not really howls or barks, they are quite musical, so I prefer to call it "singing". A bit eerie, but interesting.  I often heard the Barred Owl at night as well.  One night I woke up and above me I could see the Big Dipper clearly visible in the sky.  In the wee  hours of the morning I would hear the Crows (you could set your clock by their visit---right at 7 am).  Off in the distance I could hear the bugling of Sandhill Cranes and the shrill call of the Red-shouldered Hawk.

I had a very tame Palm Warbler often sitting  with me when I ate a meal.  It seemed interested in small crumbs of food.

This place does nor have big water areas but does attract a good variety of wildlife.  The area has White-tailed Deer, River Otters, Alligators and most of the common wading birds. In January a Florida Panther was released into the preserve.  It was  injured and had been rehabilitated.

Just like Middle Creek in PA, the staff do controlled burning.  At the time I was leaving on February 4th they were burning a 2800 acre section of the prairie.  Burning at the beginning of the growing season seems to have the most positive effect.

I had a great experience at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve.  I met some very nice people and would love to go back sometime.


Dick's Blog---Native Plant Action Network