St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

What a marvelous day we had yesterday. When we visited the blacksmith demonstration at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center, one of the blacksmiths encouraged us to visit this place. The lighthouse would have been enough to get us there, but it turned out to be the most wonderful bird sanctuary...a veritable birder's heaven.

The day got off to a good start before we even left the RV. For one thing, the catio is situated in sunshine all day at this spot, and the kitties took a nice sunbath together.

While they watched, a white squirrel wandered by. The white squirrels are one of the unique features of the Ochlockonee River State Park.

The park literature tells us that there is much variation in squirrel coat color. The brown, reddish, gray or black comes from the pigment melanin and can produce a variety of hues. The white squirrels here at the park are another color variant of squirrels, but they are not albino. Some have a white coat with dark eyes, a condition known as "leucistic." The ones here at the park have a mutation of the gene that delegates melanin. In the case of solid white squirrels, it seems that instead of melanin being produced in their skin and hair cells, it is only produced in the eyes. The most rare of coat patterns is the one pictured here. The coat is mostly white, but there is a head patch and dorsal stripe that broadens in the shoulder region.

We've seen several white squirrels, but the image above is the best one I've gotten so far. I'll keep trying because I want to put the white squirrel in my Sketchbook. My one word for this one word wonder: "Unique."

Before we left the RV, I made our dinner of seafood pasta salad, and I tried a new side dish recipe. Someone on our CSA Facebook page posted her version of the dish, and it looked so good, I wanted to give it a try. Indeed it was good. The leeks are first blanched to soften them, and then they're covered in a tangy vinaigrette. I made mine in the morning so they could marinate all day, and they were very tasty. You can find the recipe for Leeks in Vinaigrette right here.

Okay, so with dinner prepared, we headed out. As we passed by the catio, Smitty reached out his paws to us. He was preparing for his morning nap in the sunshine.

Doncha think I'm cute? Doncha think I'm handsome? Doncha think I'm adorable?

On the way out of the park, some black-tail deer crossed the road in front of us.

It was about a half hour's drive to the national wildlife refuge.

We stopped off at the visitor's center and hiked the Plum Orchard Pond Trail just behind the building.

The forest here reminds us more of the swampy areas of the Okefenokee than some of the other areas of Florida we've seen.

The undergrowth of saw palmettos is always present, but we're also seeing more of the taller Sabal (or Cabbage) Palmettos.

We stalked this pileated woodpecker for about half a mile before I was able to get a far off shot of him.

We didn't see this bird, but we saw evidence of him.

Here you can see the "neat rows of holes".

Also, this is the handiwork of the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. We've read about them all along the way, but not seen one yet. They're endangered because of loss of habitat, and that partially explains the effort to replant and repopulate the longleaf pines.

Shortly, we heard the distinctive sound of a woodpecker pecking at a tree. With patience and about five minute's time, we spotted him high overhead. This is the best picture I could get of him, but we were happy to finally see one.

From there, we drove on through the refuge on our way to the lighthouse. We passed pond after man-made pond filled with migratory birds. It was a birder's paradise for sure.

Eventually, St. Marks Lighthouse came into view.

When we arrived, we learned that the remains of the lighthouse keeper's boat house can be seen in the image below.

Before the road was built in the 1930's, the lighthouse keeper had to travel by boat to the town of St. Marks to get supplies. It's a little hard to see the lighthouse. It is currently being restored, and so it was fenced off. Also, it's hidden behind a stand of large live oaks and palmetto trees. It is the second oldest lighthouse in Florida, having been completed in 1830.

Here's some information about it.

There were pelicans resting on the remains of the boathouse.

There was also a map showing the whole of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

I've marked where our campground is with a blue arrow.

The location of the lighthouse is marked with a red arrow.

There is a trail along the Gulf Coast that leads out to a viewpoint. Off in the distance you can see a forest of the longleaf pines.

We saw a surprising (and encouraging) number of monarch butterflies nectaring on the flowers that grow along the trail.

I took dozens of pictures of these guys, just hoping to get one of them to spread its wings and show us what he's made of.

And the image above is going into my sketchbook. My one word for this one word wonder is "Delicate."

There was another man-made pond there and more birds. Here's some unidentified duck.

And a white ibis.

And there were more blooming things present, although not many.

We had another view of the lighthouse as we walked back along the trail.

I tried to get around to the other side, but this was the best I could do.

On the way back to our campsite, more black-tail deer crossed the road in front of us, right at the same spot.

As we sat eating our dinner, a doe and her fawn passed by the RV just outside the window.

Soon, we were treated to a peaceful sunset.

Day is done.

Today we're hanging out at the RV. We have two more nights here, and today is going to be a sewing day. It's been quite a while since I've set up the sewing machine, and so I'm looking forward to it.

10 comments from clever and witty friends:

Quilting Babcia said...

Gorgeous photos! Have you considered having some of them printed on fabric using Spoonflower then using them for some of your regional prints?

Vroomans' Quilts said...

Fabulous photos!! So much to see and enjoy. Like the idea of printing some of your photos on fabric to add with your regional prints, but that would be one big quilt!

Vicki W said...

Great photos!

allthingzsewn said...

Enjoyed the tour, some beautiful sites. Loved the sunset too.

WoolenSails said...

Definitely a great place for wildlife and birds, and a beautiful area to just walk and enjoy the views.


Sally Trude said...

Pileated and Pelicans. My favorites. And Molly would like you to bring back one of the white squirrels so she can verify it was Photoshopped. And in answer to Smitty's question...Yes.

piecefulwendy said...

What a beautiful place, and so much to see. Glad the weather is behaving. Our daughter just sent us a text, showing us ice crystals in her backyard. Her apartment apparently watered the grass last night and it froze. Really chilly there, which is unusual. We had a pileated woodpecker come to our feeder; I was afraid he was going to wreck the thing. It held up and he gave up. Do you leave the catio out while you leave? Good to see the kitties in the sunshine!

kc said...

Beautiful area, for sure, thanks for the tour! Looked like a great day to be out & about. I've never seen a white squirrel, though we do have FOX squirrels here, which we'd also never seen before. Amazing wildlife in this state, that's for sure.

Yes, Smitty, yes, you are a handsome devil, you are! :)

quiltzyx said...

I had never heard of a white squirrel before - sure is a cute critter.
Sure are some interesting/odd-looking place names on your trip! Okefenokee & Sopchoppy!! Who am I to talk though - Cahuenga & Tehachapi aren't that far off...
Great sunset picture through the trees!

Angel, Kirby and Max said...

I have never seen a white squirrel! I have seen posts about black ones in Canada. We have plain reddish brown ones! Sorry the light house was closed. There seemed to be a lot of other things to see, though!