Gone to the birds!

I’ve never been much of a birder. It’s not that I don’t like birds, it’s just that I’m more fascinated with other creatures like muskrats, raccoons, and bears. But since I’ve moved to Florida, I’ve become more interested in our avian wildlife. And some species in particular. Like the roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets and white pelicans.

There are several great places to watch and photograph all kinds of birds including the pond right down the street from where I live. Winter means it’s mating season and the opportunity to see baby birds. I don’t have the longest lens so I know not to expect to capture fabulous photos. But the more I do this, the more addicted I become! It’s been fun watching and learning all about these magnificent animals. Who knows? Maybe I will become a bird photographer!

snowy egrets mating season

Snowy egrets preparing the nest.

Blue heron family

Blue herons and their babies.

white pelicans Ding Darling

White pelicans at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

white pelican swimming

White pelican swimming at Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge.

burrow owl southwest FL

Burrow owl in southwest Florida.

juvenile bald eagles

Juvenile bald eagles - 11 weeks old.

bald eagle nest

Momma brings home lunch.

bald eagle juveniles and mom

Juvenile bald eagle learning how to fly while her siblings and mom look on.

Is it spring?

Life so far in the sunshine state has been fantastic! Who can complain about warm weather, abundant sunshine and frequent visits to the beach? Before I moved to Florida, I was told I would miss experiencing the 4 seasons. Since I’ve lived in Pennsylvania pretty much my whole life, I had no opinion and couldn’t agree or disagree. Now that it’s been six months and 2 seasons since my move, I can attest I now understand why people split time living south in the winter and north in the summer.

Most Floridians will tell you we have 2 seasons. I thought they meant spring and summer! But it turns out, it’s the wet and dry season. Others might say it’s tourist season and non-tourist season. But one thing is for sure, the arrival of spring isn’t quite the same in the south as it is up north. And honestly, while I didn’t miss a cold snowy winter, I do miss all the signs of spring’s arrival.

It was always exciting to see the grass come to life and turn from brown to green. I looked forward to listening to the sounds of the robins as they migrated back north. The pops of color as the crocuses and snowdrops peeked through the snow was a welcome sight. And if I could shed my winter coat, even for an afternoon, it was a great day! There’s just something magical about the earth coming alive again after being dormant for months.

Here in Florida, the grass has been green ever since we arrived in August and I don’t see any signs of that changing. We see birds every day on our walks, so there is no reminder that the wildlife has hunkered down or fled from the cold winter weather. After spending days, weeks and months cooped up indoors, it’s always a treat when we can spend some time outdoors once again without the fear of suffering from frostbite. But in Florida, with the warmer weather, it’s nice every once in a while to have a cool rainy day. Just so I can a spend an afternoon curled up on the couch with a good book or binge watch some of my favorite movies.

Do I miss the 4 seasons? Yes, without a doubt. I just wish our summers up north were longer and the winters shorter. Perhaps one day, I, too, will join the millions of folks who have become a snowbird.

terrier mix in field of spring flowers

Outdoor Adventure: Myakka River State Park

I’ve always loved spending time in Myakka River State Park. One of the oldest and and largest parks in the state, I’ve been coming here ever since my husband’s parents took me and the rest of the family on a boat tour one holiday season. Even though it was a cold winter day (when the northerners are wearing parkas, it’s definitely cold!), the beauty of the mostly undeveloped land left a huge impression on me.

Myakka River State Park Spanish moss canopy

We didn’t see any alligators that day, but the experience was enough to make me want to go back and visit again. Each time I went, I discovered something new I hadn’t seen before. Now that I’m living in southwest Florida, it’s been fun exploring the 37,000 acre park. Recently my husband and I brought our bikes so we could hop on and off the many trails to hike giving us a new and different perspective on scenes we had only glanced at before.

Myakka River State Park spanish moss

I’m fortunate that several of my co-workers are also photographers. We’ve chatted often about getting together to shoot one day and quickly settled on Myakka for our first adventure. None of us had been to the Deep Hole - a place in the park I had only recently learned about. It involves getting a permit as soon as the park opens and hiking about 4.5 miles round trip. The day of our photoshoot, it was a cloudy morning, something we were all grateful for as the day quickly became hot and humid. This is an adventure you definitely have to plan for, which unfortunately I had not done. But at least now I know what to expect and how to make this a better experience the next time I visit.

Myakka RIver State Park Deep Hole

The hole is known for dozens of alligators that congregate on the water’s edge. It’s estimated that the sinkhole is about 140 feet deep which is why the alligators come here when the waters recede in the dry season. We didn’t stay long enough to see what others have photographed, but we did see the alligators moving toward land during the time we were there. One fellow was close enough to the edge that we were able to get some really great shots without needing a super long telephoto lens.

Myakka RIver State Park alligator

We made sure to get a group shot before we left the park. It’s not like we saw a lot of folks out here, they only give out 30 permits a day, so dragging a tripod on the entire hike was worth it! Now that I’ve learned more about this mysterious Deep Hole, I can’t wait to go back!

women photographers

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Update: Life in Florida

It’s hard to believe that just over 6 months ago my husband and I packed up our house, moved to the sunshine state and started a new chapter in our lives. While change has been hard for me, I can’t help but admit, it was just what I needed. Last year I was dealt some curve balls, having experienced some things I wasn’t sure if or how I would get through. But in the midst of feeling lost, I truly believe I found my way to living a more meaningful and authentic life. 

Life is funny that way. In this day and age we’re always striving to live without suffering any pain - physical or emotional. Yet, the older I get, the more I realize it’s in those moments we probably learn our best lessons. We tend to grow, become more in touch with who we really are and stop listening to everyone who has an opinion about what we should or should not be doing. Often, the greater the pain, the greater the reward. 

I didn’t realize how much I needed to slow down, be quiet and simply just be. I longed to spend more time in nature, become one with the world and really listen to what my heart was telling me. My husband and I decided to rent a house that is half the size of the one we own in PA, but is also just a mere 2 miles from the beach. My favorite thing to do is head down to the ocean to sit and watch the sunset. Sometimes I read, sometimes I write, but mostly I just do nothing. I have no doubt this is what helped me find my way back to my creative self. Listening to the sound of the ocean, watching the birds and reveling in the beautiful show Mother Nature put on night after night - simple things really - helped me clear all the clutter in my brain. I had so much noise - all the “shouldn't", “couldn’t", “ought not", “can’t", “won’t" thoughts I finally reached the point where I, well, just couldn’t anymore. Should I be so surprised? 

My thinking is much more clear now. I am photographing again and creating my best work ever. I don’t doubt myself like I once did. I’m less afraid of chasing my dreams because I believe the universe intends for them to come true. Instead, I am dreaming up even bigger dreams to chase. 

There are days that I long to be back in PA. Living closer to my family, in my own home doing the same things I did for so many years. Familiarity is comforting. But it doesn’t encourage growth. I see that in so many people I know who aren’t living their best lives. Who are afraid to do something different because maybe they’ll fail. That was me too. Instead, by taking this leap of faith, I may have just started the best chapter of my life.

golden retriever on beach at sunset

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Bark for Life of Venice FL

Bark for Life has always been a cause close to my heart. My first dog, Mika, was diagnosed with cancer when she was 9 years old. In spite of a hard fight, she lost her battle to hemangiosarcoma 7 months after she collapsed from a ruptured spleen. She was one of the lucky ones. The prognosis is usually pretty grim with a lifespan of 2 - 6 weeks from a diagnosis. We were fortunate to have found a wonderful oncology team at the University of Pennsylvania. I have no doubt it was because of them we had more time together before saying goodbye.

I was one of the vendors at Bark for Life in Venice Florida on Saturday January 12. As always, I had a blast meeting the dogs and networking with other pet businesses in the area. Here are a few of the pooches I met.

Sarasota K-9 Search & Rescue did a short demonstration. I learned quite a bit about this group and how the dogs work to find both live and dead bodies in missions all around southwest Florida and beyond.

Aries, the 14 month old Rottweiler was a huge hit with everyone. With a face like that, how could you not fall in love?!

There was a pet costume contest and this pup was a huge favorite among the crowd!

Daisy Mae had the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen on a dog! Swoon!

Bella is one of the Sarasota K-9 Search dogs specializing in locating deceased bodies. She even has her own card to introduce herself to folks like me. How about that?

Simply adorable, right?

My tent and display of my work. It’s always a work in progress, but at least it gets better each time I attend an event.

Dogs and their owners lined up to be judged for best in show and which owner/dog team looks most alike. I don’t remember who won. I’m just glad I wasn’t asked to judge - it would have been hard to pick just one winner!

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