Scenic Viewpoint

Close Encounters, and Other Natural Phenomena

Another beautiful morning! I just had a visitor – a tiger butterfly – who landed on a plant a short distance away and opened up his wings and. . . sat there. What a nice surprise, since I’ve been chasing butterflies since I got here and can’t get one to sit still long enough to snap a shot. I knew the minute I got up to get my camera he would be gone, so I sat and looked at his markings and thought ‘I’ll just enjoy the moment.’ Some things in life are like that: beautiful and fleeting. You just have to enjoy them for what they are because they won’t last. . .

Eagle Lake Park

I finally made it to this park, which I had passed many, many times on my way from Largo to Dunedin and kept promising myself I’d stop in sometime. Since I had an appointment to get my headlights de-hazed in Clearwater, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to visit before the appointment. It’s another county park (Pinellas County is full of them!), and it looked promising from the outside. Off of Starkey (or Keene – same road), just north of East Bay Boulevard in Largo, it’s obviously a draw for joggers and walkers, with good reason. The trees provide shade, the paths are well-kept, and there are nice surprises to enjoy. The first one I came to was a pond full of lily pads!

Now, everyone who knows me knows I can’t resist a good picture of a waterlily, and there were beautiful specimens here. The first thing I saw, though, was an egret among the reeds, hunting for food. I tried to get a shot of her, but I couldn’t get a clear one because she was behind the reeds (note to self: stop relying on auto-focus and use manual!). So I moved on to the bridge to get some shots of the waterlilies. I’m always trying for the quintessential waterlily shot, but I haven’t figured out what that is yet. If you want to see what I have so far, take a look at my photography section, under flowers, and let me know which you prefer!

Waterlily Closeup
Waterlily Closeup

I wandered down the path for quite some time before I started wondering why this was called Eagle Lake Park. There was no lake! I ran across a couple more wildflowers. . .

Some sort of orchid? Never saw one growing on a shrub. . .
Another Pond Flower
Yellow water lily

Finally, I headed back to my car and drove farther along the road to another parking lot. Ah! There it was! It was a small lake, but it was full of tortoises and turtles. I got some shots of those, along with a picture of a small heron.

Green Heron
Green heron — shorter than blue heron
Turtles sunning
Turtles sunning themselves
Tortoise Swimming
Tortoise hoping for food
Reflected Detail
Pitted Stripeseed, I think. . .

The heron shot was somewhat blurred (again, auto-focus), but I enjoyed the serenity and beauty of the lake before I had to head out for my appointment. Two hours later, and with some shopping under my belt, I had perfectly clear headlights – woohoo!

Weedon Island Preserve

My next trip was to Weedon Island, which is on Old Tampa Bay. It had been on my to-do list ever since I had gone to Sawgrass Lake Park and found that Weedon is in the same vicinity. Getting there, however, was another matter. . . I put the name into my GPS and finally got a location, but it seemed to be in the opposite direction I needed to go. Still, I followed the directions, and ended up in a semi-residential area with no park in sight! Okay, never mind the GPS, which is, apparently, an idiot (as am I for following it!). Next, I put the location into my cell phone and those directions sounded more like what I expected. So I followed the new directions until I ended up at a cul de sac in a more high-end neighborhood, with, again, no park in sight. Damn! No matter where I drove, the cell phone kept routing me back to the cul de sac. To top it off, the cell phone was dying, and my car charger had quit working. There had been very few places to stop along the immediate vicinity, but there had been a golf course, so I drove back there and went into the clubhouse to ask where this damned park was. The gentleman in the clubhouse gave me directions that were easy to follow and I headed out again for the Preserve.

I finally found it, although I missed the road to the nature center and ended up at a circular area with a bunch of people with kayaks. I followed the circle around, and on the way back I saw the sign for the nature center and turned in – whew! I parked and went into the center. The brochure I picked up states that the Preserve is “approximately 3,700 acres on the shores of Old Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg, [and] combines a rich cultural history with the environmental wonders of sky, land and water.” Needless to say, the park is huge! I looked at the pictures on the bulletin board, and one was of a very large diamondback rattlesnake, sunning himself on the sidewalk outside the center. That was a bit of a shock to see, but I thought that it was likely taken in the winter, and with the current heat the snakes were probably staying cool in their beds rather than sunning themselves.

I grabbed a map and went to the vending machine to get water (which I had, once again, forgotten to bring with me). After hitting every button on the machine for water, with no result, I went for the Sierra Mist and got one. Time to head out. I looked at the map, but couldn’t tell where anything was, so I took the first path I came to, just outside the nature center. Here is a picture of flowers along the way:

Indian blanket flower
Florida wildflower — Indian blanket flower

My goal was to get to an observation tower, but the first thing I noticed about the map was that the path names on the map were different from what I was seeing on the signs (what there were of them, anyway). There was something called the “Boy Scout Loop,” but that wasn’t on the map, and then I saw a sign for the “Main Road.” I decided just to wing it and kept following paths as I found them. It was a nice walk, but I really wanted to find an observation tower! Interestingly, no one I asked on my walk seemed to know where one was (there were actually two in the park, according to the map), so I just kept walking. The most compelling part of the park were the mangrove swamps. Mangroves are fascinating trees, and I kept taking pictures of them to try to convey the feel of the environment. I had noticed little black bumps on the trunks of the trees, which I discovered were mangrove crabs! Here is one I blew up to show what they look like (click on it to enlarge, then double-click to enlarge further).

Mangrove Roots and Crabs
Mangrove Roots and Crabs
Along the Mangrove Swamp
Along the Mangrove Swamp

After 3 hours or so of wandering around, I ended up at the main road (so that’s why the path was called ‘Main Road’!). I started walking  until I came to another path leading back into the woods. I took that one because it was really hot out by this time and any shade would be a relief. As I entered the treed area, I noticed a potentially good shot on my left, so I laid my camera bag on the ground to change out the telephoto for the wide angle lens. I stood back, took the picture, and then began gathering my things up to move on. One of the things you hear constantly on the paths in these parks is rustling, which is usually the numerous lizards that are always scuttling away from the path. I said aloud, “don’t worry – I’m not here to hurt you” and I closed up my camera bag. As I walked away, though, I heard a louder sound, like something falling in the leaves. I looked back, and there was a snake staring at me. My first thought was, ‘damn, I just changed out my telephoto lens!’ and I leaned in a bit to see the snake’s markings: diamonds… I had spent the day convincing myself that snakes wouldn’t be out in this heat, so I hadn’t worried about running into one. Well, I was wrong, and the snake wasn’t moving, so after standing there staring at the snake, and him staring back at me, I decided I’d better get moving myself. Of course, I started noticing numerous snake trails in the sand of the path and began thinking every root in the path could be a snake. . . Great! That snake just totally blew my peace of mind. Here’s a part of the path at Weedon…

On the Path at Weedon
Path at Weedon

Still, my goal was to get to an observation tower, so I decided to head back to the nature center and start again. I checked the map and, sure enough, I had taken the path away from the observation towers (directionally challenged as I am) and found the one I should have taken to begin with. I followed that for a while, and, lo and behold, there was the tower. I climbed it to get a few pictures, and found that you could see Tampa and St. Petersburg in the distance. Clearwater was there, too, but it was too far away to get a good shot. The fishing pier was below, in Riviera Bay, but the sun was really brutal by this time so the exposure was difficult, and I just wanted to get back to my car after hours of walking.

St Pete from the Tower
St. Petersburg from the Weedon Observation Tower
Tampa in the Distance
Tampa in the distance, and the vastness of the Preserve
Fishing Pier on Riviera Bay at Weedon
Fishing pier on Riviera Bay at Weedon

I took the path back toward the parking lot, and as I neared the nature center I ran into this fellow, heading into his hole:

Tortoise Hole
Tortoise trying to get away from me

I found one of his cohorts a short distance away, munching on the grass. I actually got a picture of a tortoise tongue!

Tortoise Eating
Tortoise Tongue! Click to enlarge.

I enjoyed my jaunt at Weedon, but I noticed on the trail map that they recommend you bring certain things to the preserve. One of them is a cell phone (remember: mine was dead), and I figured out that, should you be bitten by a snake, you would need to call for help immediately. A diamondback rattlesnake is the most venomous snake in the U.S. (as I found out when I looked it up after my return), and apparently there isn’t much time after a bite to seek help. I found a picture of one on the internet, and, yes, the one I saw looked just like it!

Diamondback Rattlesnake
Diamondback Rattlesnake photo from Wikipedia

So I lived through my first snake encounter – whew! I hope it’s the last one, but I know it won’t be. With my penchant for parks and nature, I’m sure I’ll even run into an alligator some day (hopefully not literally). By the way, the photo at the top of the post is the one I stopped to change my lens for. Worth a snake bite? I think not. . . I’m tired, so that’s it for this week. Stay safe!

5 thoughts on “Close Encounters, and Other Natural Phenomena”

  1. Wow, I’m finding out things from your travels “I” didn’t know…(and I’m a Floridiot). I didn’t know the little humps on the mangrove branches were mangrove crabs.
    You were more aware than most on that diamond back rattler, she ( which I would think there was a nest near-by) was no doubt observing you long before you took notice ( and heed) to her. Very wise of you to stay alert down here … we host a slew of poisonous critters !
    The shots from the observation tower were great!( especially the one with the several mangrove islands!).

    1. Well, not all of the humps are crabs, but many are! And I’m glad I finally found that tower! What a pain it was. . . Actually, had I been able to read a map, I could have found it a lot more quickly. Ah, well. . .

  2. “A diamondback rattlesnake is the most venomous snake in the U.S.” scary,,,and yeah Aligators too…lol
    great shots,,love the turtles…this week my favs are …the one you call simply “waterlily”,love the colours,,and “Florida wildflower — Indian blanket flower”..simply beautiful ..:)

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