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Amelia SanJon Gallery
Amelia Island Artists Workshop
Sandra Baker-Hinton
218A Ash Street., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
904-491-8040,  904-557-1195 cell
http://www.sandrabaker-hinton.com
http://www.ameliasanjongallery.com
Amelia Island Artists Workshop (for workshop schedules)

Merritt Island; The Gates and the Day come to a close

Park closing hours were posted everywhere.  "Park closes at Sunset", but some signs said 5:30P.M., so we were in a bit of a quandary as to which was the actual closing time.  To try to see our main objectives before that bewitching hour we set off down the road to the Scrub Jay's area.  The road ended with a trail to walk leading to the area where the Scrub Jays were located. 
The Florida Scrub Jay is the only species of bird found exclusively in Florida.  It inhabits low growing scrub oak habitats, sand pine scrub, and coastal scrub.  Controlled fire is required to maintain scrub jay habitat.  Without it, the habitat will become overgrown and unsuitable for use by the Jays.  In a normal situation these areas would burn off periodically from lightening strikes, but without man those fires would burn out of control which is no longer an option with the high human use of these areas.  
 
This blackened pine tree seems to have become a victim of one of these fires.  It has instead become a piece of interesting sculpture.
 
This pine tree gave a very dramatic look to the clouds which were gathering overhead and closing in the small spot of blue sky that was left.  Unfortunately the rain became a reality and we did not make it to the Scrub Jay area before we had to turn tail and run to keep our cameras dry.  I might add that the temperatures had dropped, in the 45 minutes it took to get gas and get back to this spot, by 24 cold degrees.  We were digging out the layers we had previously shed.   
 
Since the Scrub Jay trip was scrubbed we had one more road to explore before the gates came crashing down before us.  It was five miles of rough dirt road.  But the pink fellows waiting along our route were worth the bumpy ride.  We had two more birds on our "wanna see" list and we were lucky to find our first one, the Roseate Spoonbills, right away.  Looks like some mating colors starting to show on some of these guys.
 
I have often observed that these two bird species, the Spoons and the Woodstorks, hang out together.  They are both common in our area now but have only moved in from further south in the past few years. 
 
I see a bit of spring mating color showing up in these big boys also.  The legs and feet begin to turn pink when the love bug starts to bite. 
 
These massive beaks must make quick work of what ever edible things they are finding down there.  These beaks also play a part in the courting with a lot of clacking and clicking going on.
 
Only a mother would find this a pretty child...
 
I caught a quick glimpse of a Little Green Heron.  They are pretty shy and this one did not disappoint by scurrying out sight in a flash.
 
Here was our other bird treasure, the White Pelicans who winter over down this way.  They are about twice the size of our Brown Pelicans.  They always stay in large flocks and close together.  The wind was blowing so hard it was hard to get a clear photo because it was shaking us around while we were trying to focus.
 
This was about the best I could get and it would not stand the scrutiny of a blown up photo suitable for printing.
 
We were able to slip around the little cove which these beauties were using to get out of the wind to get a better view.  They are such a wonderful color and so unexpected in a world where blending in is an art with most species.
 
We had hoped to go to Playalinda Beach which was pretty near the end of this road, and which was supposed to take us to a road leading back to the highway we needed to head North.  Mosquito Lagoon was on our Eastern side and on its outer edge lay the tiny strand of beach called Canaveral National Seashore.  A great adventure for another day. 
 
We feared we might be in for a long night in the park as all signs saying "beware, the park closes at sunset" and some signs saying at 5:30 and we were 15 minutes past that.  Unfortunately, the road we were on was one of those 5:30 gates.  All the roads have big gates at each end and here we were at our exit, and it was tightly closed and locked.  No way out except to retrace our route, all five, bumpy miles of it.  My fear was that both ends were locked at 5:30.  If that were the case, then we would be trapped for the night along side Mosquito Lagoon.  It was now nearing 6 pm and sundown was also not that far away.  Oh well, might as well enjoy our return trip and catch as many birds as we can.  We'd deal with our fate later.
The Spoonies were all lined up in a more open area ready to demonstrate the swaying seining action of those great bills.
 
All of these areas at low tide are great gathering places for a variety of birds .
 
If this were a "motion" picture you would see the methodical swinging back and forth of this open bill, side to side until the sensitive bill touches a food item like a shrimp and then it will instantly close, capturing dinner.
 
A quick jump out of the car to capture an image of the Lagoon and its pretty beach area.  For, as far as our eye could see, the other side of the Lagoon was edged with the National Seashore, which from here looked like a dark line on the horizon.  The road does not go the length of the seashore, making it, like Cumberland Island, miles of unspoiled beach and a fun place to explore.  There apparently were some camping privileges available at Playalinda Beach.
 
I looked out the window on my side, the passenger side, and it looked like Mr. Gator wanted to drag race with us as he was heading in the same direction we were going.  Maybe he knew the gate was already locked and he was going to have company that night.
 
As the wind had brought the cold front in that dumped lots of snow further North of us and had drenched our home town all day, the clouds started to break up allowing a touch of blue sky and a glowing spot of cloud catching that low sunlight.  Well, not quite sunset yet.
 
Birds flew up as we headed to the exit and the trip back home.  We were lucky.  The gate was still open and we were able to make it back home.  Sorry Mr. Gator we won't be spending the night.  Although it rained almost the whole drive back, the weather had cooperated with us almost all day and we felt like we were a couple of lucky adventurers to get the kind of day we had gotten.
 
And  that's the end of a long saga.  This 14,000 acre Wildlife Refuge left us wanting more and thinking ahead to another trip someday to see other things especially the Scrub Jays we had missed.  I think that was our only disappointment.
(Please take a moment to consider:
These photo-stories have always been offered completely free, to simply share the wonders of nature, and life on the Island. Thousands of hours have been poured into them and it has even become necessary to enlist the services of a paid email service to send out the large numbers who now receive them. So, with the current economic situation if you are able to make a small donation to help ensure the continuation of the stories it would be greatly appreciated.)



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