Sunday, March 8, 2009

Early break in Florida

It's time to escape the northwest for a break in balmy Florida!

We take a trip on the Hillsborough River with Barb and Rick to look for wild birds and alligators. True to form we are soon gasping at the outrageous color of roseate spoonbills, at the tall striding sandhill cranes, wood storks and every variety of egret, and paddling under trees shaking with vultures.

The weather still cool, it's not the best for sunbathing alligators... but enough for the vultures...

Skilled sea kayaker Brad Tanner of Mote Marine gives us a great guided tour of the facilities at this non-profit independent marine research laboratory and rehabilitation center at Lido Key, Sarasota. With the longest-running research program into dolphins, Mote Marine scientists can identify every resident dolphin in the Tampa Bay and surrounding area, often from just a single photo, and have genealogical records running back more than 50 years.

Dolphins and sea turtles feature strongly here, but there are manatees at the rehab. center too. It's a great way to see what they look like underwater without getting your face wet!

And if you really don't like sticking your head in the water, you can see through the side of the 135,000 gallon shark tank too!

(If you like fishing, there's a life-sized model of the largest hammerhead shark caught locally with rod and line to show you what's possible...) (That's Brad standing beside the hammerhead shark)

With more than 200 varieties of Florida marine life on display in the aquarium, Mote Marine is the perfect place to start if you're visiting Florida. It shows what you might see, and I always see more when I know what to look for.

If you see specimens here that look less healthy, remember this is a working research and rehab. center. Many of the creatures you see were brought here injured or ill. After recovery they will be released again if possible.

With my brother David and lovely Kim, Barb, Rick, Claudia and Russell, we spend a day on the Weeki Wachi River.

Manatees float in the pools

Further upstream the water gets clearer and the colors more vivid.

Florida for me is about kayaking, canoeing and guitars. This year we are offered a guided tour of the Dean Guitar Workshops in Tampa, by John Puhl. It was really interesting to see how a growing company like this operates, and see the precision processes that are used to create these great-playing guitars.

No Florida trip would be complete without dropping in on Kent Sonnenberg at Legends Guitar inc. Kent always has some cool vintage guitars there. Guitars are always changing hands. It's fun to see what's in today... and his son Chad (a great guitarist!) is working on their web site, so soon you'll be able to see their new arrivals on line.

Inspired, we pull out a few guitars at home to play. Between kayaking trips, Russell has been spending more time playing with the Sizemore Band.

The band rehearsals are at his house, but we see them play in Dunedin...

Close to Dunedin and the brew-pub is honeymoon Island. Claudia takes us there to watch the pods of dolphins, and to picnic on the white sand beach.

Claudia and Kristin...

Before we leave for home we explore the Weedon's Island Preserve; there's a marked canoe trail there, and a kayak rental concession, and a boardwalk through the mangroves and an interpretive center. Something for everyone! We take off along the canoe trail; pristine white-sand beaches, mangrove tunnels and shallow lagoons with birds, cruising stingrays and leaping mullet...