Saturday, December 21, 2013

Largo Central Nature Preserve, Largo's Best Kept Secret

Have time for a a quick walk between games on a Sunday afternoon around a storm retention pond?  The same place where they treat your storm water with alum? Sounds yucky, I know, but this nature hideaway is a photographer and nature lover's dream. And there is almost nobody at the park when we have been there.

To get there: off East Bay Drive, turn south onto a small drive on Highland.  Their is a more visible park sign at the entrance. Continue driving the small road until you find a parking lot with a picnic shelter and some covered public information kiosks. Along the way you might find bicyclists on an adjacent path. There are also kayakers and fishermen.





Every time I have been at Largo Central, I have seen a limpkin, a yellow crowned night heron, an ibis, an egret, a cormorant, and that is just around the retention pond. What is the attraction? One side of the boardwalk has the central body of water where birds can find aquatic life for food,  The other side has trees and shrubs that are perfect nesting and resting places. Usually the night heron is harder to spot as he is in the bushes.
 
Double-Crested Cormorant on the boardwalk


Yellow Crested Night Heron almost hidden

Ask any golfer at East Bay Golf Course if they have ever seen the huge alligator, and the great blue herons, roseate spooonbills, mallards, limpkins,and great white egrets along the canal that borders East Bay GC to the east and Largo Central to the west? Spotting occasional wildlife makes the golfing experience memorable!


Limpkin

But if you're not a golfer, turn left when exiting the pond area and follow the canal beside the golf course. Continue along the south side of the park. Both areas are home to the alligators, which I have not seen, and the roseate spoonbills, and great blue herons.


Great Blue Heron in the bushes

Pair of Mallards

Little Blue Heron hunting for food along the shore
 There is an observation deck at the SE corner of the park, where you can watch trees full of woodpeckers of different varieties or the great white egret on the canal beside some private homes. The egret should have a nice breeding plumage in the winter.


Great White Egret in breeding plumage

There are also birds around Long Bayou which is on the western edge of the park. Near there we saw some fishermen looking to catch some bass.

The forested interior of the park has a Pileated Woodpecker and a wild peacock roaming the area. You will not miss the hour or more that you spend at this park and your life will be so enriched.  

resident peacock

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Weedon Island for Fishing, Kayaking or Canoeing, and Nature



We brought the water, sunscreen, and bug spray, but we only needed the water. December does not seem to be too buggy except for the boy scout trails along the lake to the north in the early morning or late evening.There is water available at a fountain at the Cultural and Natural History Center, but they only had soft drinks in the vending machines, the day we were there.

The fishing on Weeden Island must be great.  We spent less than an hour talking to the fisherman at the pier and one young man caught 2 fish in that time. There was a manatee swimming around.

Adis Begic and Yellow Skipjack
Adis Begic & Sheepshead


Fiddler Crabs in a Bait Bucket 
I finally got a good picture of  the black crabs in a forest of mangroves near the pier. I  also found them on the roots of the mangrove trees near the observation area, but they were harder to spot as the area was dark. As I understand it, there are three types of crabs on Weedon Island. The black crabs are in the trees, the fiddler crabs on on the land, and the blue crabs are in the water.
 
Black Crabs by the Pier

There is a short boardwalk from the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Historical Center to the 45 ft observation Tower that takes you around thickly bunched mangroves in a swamp. There are three different types of mangroves, red, white and black, planted in and around the trenches and resulting mounds that were dug years ago to help eradicate mosquitoes. 

We saw an osprey on an old telephone pole near the tower. He was perched  there a long time observing the valley below him.


Osprey near the Observation Tower









The Observation Tower is 45 ft or three stories high, so high you can feel the rush of wind at the top. From there you have a good view of the pier, the multicolored Duke Energy towers, the boardwalk where you came from, and some of the kayaks and canoes in the water.

Weedon Island Boardwalk and Observation Tower
 
Duke Energy Towers
 
The canoe and kayak launch is beside the pier. As there is very little parking  there, most groups drop  off their passengers and boats at  the pier and park at the overflow lot at the Cultural and Natural History Center. Some kayakers raved to us about the trip through the mangrove tunnels.

Kayaks by the Weedon Island pier

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Trees & Traditions, Christmas at Heritage Village


Antique Toys on display at the Visitor's Center

On December 7, 2013 from 10:00 - 2:00, Heritage Village in Largo, Florida will celebrate Christmas with lectures, music, crafts, vendors, and a visit from Santa. A $2 donation is suggested. Most of the houses are open and decorated for Christmas.Some of the special activities include:

Safety Harbor Church

Safety Harbor Church decorated for Christmas
11:00-12:00 Hands of Praise Choir from Anona Church will sing (and sign) Christmas carols.

12:00-1:00   Bell Choir from The Lutheran Church

2:00-3:00     Cory Adams presents "The History of Christmas Ornaments from the 1850's to the 1950's,". Vintage ornaments will also be for sale.

Plant Sumner House

Santa will be greeting children and will read aloud some letters sent to him. Children's games will be played outside of the building.

Williams Park Bandstand

2:00-3:00   The Salvation Army Band will be playing Christmas music.

Sulphur Springs Depot

Natissa lecturers about Christmas in the 1940's

The Miniature Train Collectors will set up a large Train Display that will running all day. 

Harris School



Doll Collectors will have a display of vintage doll houses with miniature dolls and furniture. Some are originals, while others are hand crafted more recently.

Christmas Market Place

7 vendors will sell Christmas themed merchandise.

McMullen House

McMullen House in the center for sewing crafts including quilting, crewel, embroidery, rug hooking, weaving, etc. Each room has a Christmas tree covered with needlecraft.

Angel ornament

Cardinal Quiilted Ornament

Tree with Handmade Ornaments
Quilted Horse Ornament





















Monday, December 2, 2013

The Florida Botanical Garden in December

There is a Holiday Lights in the gardens held nightly from November 29, 2013 - January 1, 2014 from 5:30-9:30 pm. Admission is $2 per person with children 12 & under are admitted free. Follow the lighted trail to visit Santa Claus at night, watch all of the large train sets run around a village with houses, people, a train station, etc. Refreshments are served. The 700,000 colorful twinkling lighted displays are shaped like hummingbirds, palm trees, a turtle, a butterfly, along with the traditional decorated Christmas tree and snowflakes. There is a 30 ft swan and a 7 ft high gingerbread house.

The entertainment is different every evening. There is Dan Brown, juggler, Noah Royak, stilt walker, Jerry Chase at keyboards, Kerri Kaiser, vocalist, Christian Service Center Singers, Shazadi & Jewels of the Desert Dancers, Savoy South Dance Hall Swing Dancers, Morning Song, hammered dulcimer and flute, St Andrews Pipe and Drums, John Law plays jazz, Bert & his Celtic Music, and Karina's School of Hawaiian and Belly Dancing.

There is also a Plant Sale on Sunday, December 8, from 10 am-4 pm. You can buy a selection of  tropical plants like orchids, citrus trees, bamboo, and herbs, begonias, etc. There are 45 venders, the Florida Garden gift shop will be open, and there is free entrance and parking.

On Sunday December 29, there is a Christmas dog parade starting at 1 pm.  You can exercise your energetic dog at the Walsingham  dog park, put on you & your dog's costumes, then bring him across the street to participate in the parade.

However, do not limit your visit to the Botanical garden to these events.The foliage in Pinellas County this year is lush as it has escaped the drying winds, frosts, and lack of moisture of previous years. You will be amazed at all of the perfect flowers in bloom and the tropical vegetation at the Florida Botanical Garden in December.

Knockout Roses: in pink and red, yawn, but this is December. Where up North is there roses this time of year?

Floribunda or continuously blooming roses: In the Wedding Garden area there is the buttery, golden yellow Julia Child which has a licorice scent, the smokey lavender, Cinco de Maya floribunda which has an mild apple scent, Tuscan Sun floribunda which has a spicy scent, & 4 inch wide flowers with tones of apricot, burnt umber, & rose, There is also White Iceberg and Pink Iceberg floribunda.

Julia Child
Cinco De  Mayo
Tuscan Gold
Grandiflora roses: the luscious Cherry Parfait grandiflora has dark foliage and creamy white blooms outlined in red,  and the deep gold, brushed orange Gold Medal Grandiflora with a mild fruit and spice odor and 5-6 inch flowers.

Cherry Parfait
 Hybrid Tea and Groundcover Roses: The deep, velvety red Mr. Lincoln is a hybrid tea rose has a strong damask fragrance. Sweet Drift is a groundcover rose.

Mr Lincoln
 Climbing roses: feature the 12-14 ft high, dark, velvety red Don Juan with a strong rose fragrance and 4-5 inch flowers. Catherine Nelson is a bold pink climber similar in size and height to Don Juan with a lighter fragrance. It was discovered by Mark Nelson and named after his mother. It is produced by Nelson's Florida Roses, a wholesale nursery committed to growing roses for warmer climates like Florida.

Don Juan

Catherine Nelson







Hibiscus: the flowers are especially nice this time of year. There is the Standard Hibiscus, the Tahitian Prince of Fire, the Queen of Dreams, and the yellow Hula Girl, Early Time and Double Orange Hibiscus.

Prince of Fire
Queen of Dreams
Standard Hibiscus












Hula Girl

 The Plants: the Bolero Ti Plant, Cigar Plant, the Hummingbird Plant, the Gold Finger Plant, the Purple Tahitian Hat Plant, Buddha Belly Plant,

Cigar Plant


The Vines: the Blue Sky Vine, the Yellow Butterfly Pea Vine, the Blue Pea Vine, lavender Rubber Vine.

Bluje Sky Vine
Yellow Butterfly Pea Vine

The Bushes: Yellow Bush Allamanda, Red Chenille Bush, New Zealand Tea Bush.

Yellow Bush Allamanda

Chenille Bush
New Zealand Tea Bush

The Shrubs: White Tropical Dogwood, Pink Tropical Dogwood

Other plants: Firecracker, Flaming Glory Bower, Red Passion Flower, Lady Margaret Passion Flower, Showy Medinilla, Yellow Jacobinia, Yellow Majesty Salva, Maui Red Ixori, Yellow Thyrallis, Dwarf's Princess Flower, Quail Grass.

Yellow Jacobina
Showy Medinilla
Red Passionflower


Dwarf's Princess Flower








 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Eight Most Important Records for Vacationers to Bring With Them.

I  have what I call a Florida Book. It could be an Arizona book or a Europe book, depending on where you are traveling to for an extended time. It is a bright-red, soft-covered notebook with clear plastic sheets

I change it every year by inserting the following information: 

1 I scan medical information including hospital stays, medical tests, diagnosis's, a medication list, dates of shots, allergies, eyeglass prescriptions, etc . I have a synopsis typed up with the same things a new doctor would ask you. (Our family doctor finally has a website portal, but there is no information before this year, so it is useless) 

2. I scan purchase receipts and serial numbers of recent devices that we are bringing with us.

3. I update my home phone and address list, making a copy to leave at my primary residence and one to keep in the car that has family & friendsbusiness, and medical numbersThe medical numbers list has card or account numbers. Sometimes along with the phone number, I also copy the buttons to press to get to customer service.

4. Then, I update a list of phone numbers that I used last year at my vacation site. Anytime I make a call that I might repeat in the future, I put it on my list. It might be rental information or business around your vacation home. Much easier than looking it up in a phone-book or the computer again.

5. also have an address list for Christmas cards and a Birthday list. I buy my birthday cards, get well cards, and Christmas Cards before we leave. Facebook doesn't work when your family is not a member.

6. I update my favorite cookbook recipes. All of my recipes are in a file with subsections for main dishes, desserts, etc. No lugging any cookbooks around. I can print out what I need with the printer I am bringing. 

7. I download a map of the area around my vacation home. I find out where all of the nearest hospitals, pharmacies and doctor and dentist offices are. For us this is important, as we rent in different areas each year. 

8. I copy maps and addresses of shopping areas like malls, favorite chain stores like Walmart, Target, Dicks Sporting Goods, and supermarkets. Since thrift store shopping is also a hobby, I copy a list of addresses and phone numbers of nearby thrift shops. I especially like the St Vincent de Paul, and Hospice stores. Goodwill & Salvation Army vary according to the area.

9. I also pack a book of tourist sites & make a list of places that I especially want to visit like all of the Pinellas County Parks. 

10. I copy all of my cards like driver's license, bank, medical, AAA, AARP, supermarket and pharmacy discount. 

I know all of this preparation takes a lot of work, but after it is done, it is easier to get ready to leave next year. 

Top 13 Things to Do to do Before Leaving for your Vacation Home.

A few months before you leave, type up list of things to do. Your to do list should include:

1. forwarding magazines. I have a list of magazines that I subscribe to with accounts numbers, emails or phone numbers for a temporary change of address. The post office will only forward magazines for 2 months. Note: most magazines take two months to change your address. 

2. forwarding mail. I tried to send in the change of address form last year, but that did not work in our case. My son lives at our house up north during with winter. I tried to forward just mine & my husband's mail, but my son was not getting his mail at our house up north. Finally I had to call the postmistress. She contacted the postman and everything was fine. This year I downloaded the change of address form, printed the form twice for me and my husband, and finally dropped it off personally at the post office. Better service as you can't ask qu on the web and for us cheapskates, no $1 fee charged to a credit card if done on the internet.

3. calling the local cable company which is Brighthouse in Pinellas County to get internet and/or cable and/or phone installed, as it is not included in most rentals.  Ask for the specials for new subscribers. You might also cancel the cable in your primary residence if you are gone long enough, but in our case, we have someone living in our house when we are gone.

4. calling the newspaper to subscribe, which in this case is Tampa Bay Times or Tribune. Also cancel the newspaper up north. Search the internet for specials in such places such as Groupon.com in your vacation area.

5. synchronize your desktop with the laptop so you have documents and pictures and latest email addresses and bookmarks from home if you need them. Backing them up in the cloud would work, too, but I prefer the old fashioned external hard drive that I can backup from when the Internet is down.

6. Reserve a motel room between your primary residence and your vacation home, which is our case is our Pinellas County rental. I also print out the address, phone number, directions, cancellation numbers and even search for the same information for nearby restaurants for supper and breakfast. 

7. Schedule doctor & dentist checkups before you leave. 

8. Call AAA for a TripTik with a stopover at your motel, ending at your vacation home or rental. As a senior citizen, AARP or AAA member, always ask if there is a discount at all the chain restaurants and motels.

9. Notify your bank and credit card company of the dates you will be at your vacation home or rental. I give them an address and mobile phone number. We did not do that the first year and our credit card was declined. They had tried to call us, but they called our home phone number and was unable to reach us.  

10. Call the rental manager or caretaker of your vacation home to remind him of the date of your arrival and make sure everything is ready. This might include spraying for insects, dusting, airing out the house, etc. 

11. Likewise, make a list for the person that watches your primary residence of things that need to be done. This could include pet care, plant care, emptying humidifiers, putting out garbage, collecting mail. It is a good idea to have a telephone list of the repairmen, etc that you call in an emergency. 

12. Some people have a Florida or vacation box of things that you bring with you every year. You should put a sewing kit and a first aid kit in it that must be updated every year. Sometimes I add gifts for friends. An unusual item that should be included is a weight scale. Who wants to come home with a suntan, but ten extra pounds for everyone to talk about?

13. Do any maintenance or repairs you have procrastinated on, before you leave. It might lead to bigger problems if you neglect them. That might mean getting the snowblower repaired for the person who is taking care of the driveway , the appliance that works only when you bang it a few times, changing your furnace filters, replacing the vacuum hose, belt or bag, etc.




Sunday, November 10, 2013

Renting or Buying a Mobile Home in Pinellas County.

We find that the senior citizen mobile home communities or condos are very safe places. There are a lot of group activities which you would have to search the community for if you rented an apartment.

When we rented, we had to find a new place to live every year because we either did not like the beds or other accommodations, the owner sold the place, or was moving into it for the winter themselves. Therefore, before we left Florida every year we had to visit the mobile home communities, ask around, answer posts on the bulletin boards or post our own ads to find a place. You could get lucky and the owner will rent to you every year.

When we found a place, I took pictures of it. That way I can review the pictures and see what is included in the cupboards and drawers and rooms, so that we don't take too much stuff from up north. I can usually purchase kitchen things and summer clothing at a thrift store. Just make sure you bring coats, sweaters and long pants. They do have cold spells during the winter, but it is rarely under 50 degrees and it gets cold in the evening.


 If you buy a mobile home in Florida, your packing for winter will be minimal because most things like summer clothing, shoes, hats, toiletries, paper products, and other personal items would stay in the mobile home year round. You know ahead of time, for example, that you have a Dvd player for a Redbox, a working peeler, measuring cups and spoons, etc. 


However the cost of owning a mobile home is not just paying for the lot and trailer. You have several options. The mobile home parks have a $30,000-55,000 or more share fee for the lot and a monthly maintenance fee of $200 or more which usually includes water, sewer, garbage, and basic lawn care. In some communities, you can buy your mobile home, but rent the lot for $500-800/month. Property insurance including hurricane insurance, sinkhole damage, fire and theft might be $1000 a year, so some people get a cheap mobile home without a share included, and just walk away from any hurricane damage including the rent. The park will eventually take ownership. reclaim the land, and rehab the property. In Florida, Citizens, a state run insurance company, covers mobile homes, but they must pass an inspection and be in good condition.

There is year round expenses for a mobile home sticker, just like a yearly car registration sticker. There is also plumbing, heating, electrical and air conditioning repairs, appliances break down and there is pest management costs of $120 a year or more for simple lawn spraying. Palmetto bugs are a fact of life, but spraying does help. If you get termites though, you have to tent the entire mobile home with a cost of $250-500 or more. The bugs, mold and sandy soil means that you need to power wash the siding for $70-80 twice a year.

If you rent the property out during the months you are not in residence, especially, you should have liability insurance. However, I have found that most lawyers won't bother with a claim unless there is liability insurance. All they have to do is negotiate with the insurance company.

I find that the day to day expenses as a snowbird in Pinellas County are cheaper than to live up North, minus the extra housing costs, of course, if you are maintaining two homes, and we spend a lot before we leave. Think doing all of the repairs that you have been putting off, medical, dental and vision visits, and stocking up on your favorite regional wine, condiments, and compounding pharmacy items to last you 4 months in our case.

How could all this happen in month before you leave the North: the microwave starts popping, the fuel system of the snowblower leaks, the 3 year old rocker recliner's arm breaks, past warranty of course, the dentist says you need over 1K of dental work, your eyeglasses break, your car needs not only new plugs and wires, and a tire blows explosively to shreds, but the engine has leaky seals, $$$, etc. etc.?

Don't take your husband shopping with you right before you leave either, or you might be stocking up on comfort foods that will be left at home to perish, instead of eating the leftovers that you have planned to use up.

We eat out twice a week and my husband golfs which is more expensive than up north, but then we also walk and bicycle a lot. Spending time in the Pinellas County parks, we do a lot more walking. I learn about nature, take pictures and work on my website instead of reading and watching TV all  winter.

 We get more fresh fruits and vegetables. Ruskin tomatoes come out in November. The flea markets have Mexican and  Asian vendors who sell mangoes, napol cactus, star fruit, papaya, guava, huge carrots, garlic, etc.Winter Park near Tampa has blueberries in the spring and Plant City grows strawberries..We eat out with friends a lot and there are breakfasts, dinners, and other activities in the park that requires snacks.

 If we are going to spend all that rent money to live in the South to escape the snow and cold temperatures (which forces us to hibernate inside and eat comfort foods), at least we can justify it by living healthier.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Best of the Best Parks in Pinellas County

Best Beaches in Pinellas County: Small Entrance Fee $5-$8 at Beaches.


Fort De Soto's North Beach has won the Parents Magazine's award of Best Family Beach in 2011. In 2005. Dr Stephen Leatherman, professor of environmental studies and Director of Miami University's Laboratory of Coastal Research, rated USA coastal beaches on 60 criteria, including water temperature and water and sand quality, and Ft De Soto came out #1. Who am I to argue with national awards? We love this beach. It is not overcrowded, even at the peak of tourist season, and there are fabulous birds to watch, a large picnic area nearby, free fishing, camping, kayaking, an historical museum, and trails to hike.

Caladisi Island was named the nation's #4 best beach by Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Miami University's Laboratory of Coastal Research.  It is only reachable by ferry boat from nearby Honeymoon Island, which is just off of the main street in Dunedin. Both islands have uncrowded beaches, snack bars, wooden ramps and hiking trails. Honeymoon Island has swings to sit on, however its beach is rocky and is better for wading then sunbathing. 

Sand Key Park is a small beach park, south of the huge Clearwater beach. There is a fishing pier, a hiking trail, dog park, playground and picnic shelter. It is on the Florida Birding Trail. There were plenty of parking spaces on a week day during spring break when I visited.You don't pay an entrance fee, just a $5 parking fee.
 
Best Parks to view turtles:


George C. McGough is definitely the park to go to see the greatest variety of turtles with in the shortest period of time. You can see them from your car.  They are in the pond, they are on the shore of the pond, and they climb on overhanging tree limbs. It helps that there is suitable turtle food available for purchase, so you can see them up close. There are also gopher tortises on the trails.


Eagle Lake Park has both soft-shelled and hard-shelled turtles, but they are scarce until you see someone feeding them bread. However feeding the animals is illegal. 

Sawgrass Lake Park has many turtles swimming in Sawgrass Lake that can be seen from the observation areas on the boardwalk. If you don't mind some walking, you can see the turtles in their natural element. 

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve has gopher turtles that you can see coming out of their burrows. I saw them right by the sign on the trail near Wax Myrtle pond. 

Best Parks to view alligators: 

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve has 3 juvenile alligators that can be seen from Wilow Marsh bridge. I also saw a mother alligator and tiny babies on Maggiore Island, but be careful as they are close to shore and there are no barriers. Most everyone stayed away and the mother seemed placid enough that day. Because of sheer numbers I chose this park as number one.

Sawgrass Lake Park is the park where I always see an alligator, even whole families of them. Because you are on an elevated boardwalk, it is the safest viewing area in Pinellas County.

Largo Central Nature Preserve has an almost guaranteed large alligator resident along the southwestern section of the pond. He can be viewed safely from the boardwalk. 

The Florida Botanical Garden has some large alligators in Lake. The ones that I have seen have been across or in McKay Creek.

At Walsingham Park you need to be near the southern portion of the lake, off of the trails, and have a lot of patience. Alligators don't like to bask along the shore on 60 degree days. 


Lake Seminole also has a big alligator to the right on the trails in the pond.  

Best parks to view armadillos: 

Honeymoon Island is where I see armadillos scurrying across the trails, everytime I visit. Sometimes I miss a photo opportunity, because  these remarkable creatures come and go so quickly.

Best parks to learn about history:

Heritage Village has an enormous amount of historical material displayed in 18 original homes, built between 1852-1939, including a school, a church, an auto repair garage, a post office, a train station with caboose, a telegraph station, etc. There are thousands of antiques: furniture, implements, cars, linens, clothing, photographs, and books. It is free, too. Besides a museum, it is a great place to listen to music during an impromptu musical recital or music festival.  


Fort De Soto is my close second park to learn Pinellas County history. It is not free, but at $5 a carload, it is reasonable for a military fort with posters, uniforms, artillery, and remnants of the original fort. When the kids get tired of the history there is the beach or the pier.



Best parks for photography, especially of birds:

The Largo Central Nature Preserve, which is not crowded, has many of the harder to find birds, such as the Yellow Crowned Night Heron, Pileated Woodpecker, and Roseate Spoonbill, in addition to herons, limpkins, ibis, and egrets.

Walsingham Park has it all: It has a fitness trail for the walkers, bicyclists, runners, an area for playing frisbie, a dog pasrk, etc.  The more elusive Roseate spoonbills and Cormorants can be seen there, in addition to the herons, limpkins, ibis, anhingas and egrets. The lake is a magnificent backdrop for your photography with it's pines and palms, deep blue or gray water, beautiful sunsets, butterflies, flowers, alligators, snakes, tortoises, and turtles. It is popular however,  especially in the evenings. 

Lake Seminole is third, in my estimation, for bird photography. You have to hide behind trees and follow the water, whether it be a canal, river, pond or Lake Seminole. It was at Lake Seminole, in the picnic grounds near a playground, of all places, that I saw my first Wood Stork. 

Honeymoon Island is number one for ospreys.They have dozens nesting high in the pines along the Osprey Trail and on platforms. There is also a sign where the Bald Eagle family nests at the northern most part of the trail, and an owl nest. 

Best parks for walking and bicycling:

Walsingham Park, in my opinion, is the best and preferable for someone who wants flat, paved terrain for a more intensive workout.  it is suitable for bicyclists who like to ride 6 miles instead of the 2 - 4 miles that going around the Lake Seminole Fitness Trail once or twice provides. Walsingham park is larger with a centrally-located lake, and as such, has more of a variety of birds than the Florida Botanical Gardens, which makes for an appealing walk. 

Lake Seminole Park has several miles of shaded trails with mile markers. It is paved for bicyclists too. Off to the right is a pond with many nesting blue herons high in the pines, white egrets, and an large alligator. There is another dirt path with nesting ospreys and an eagle.

Florida Botanical Gardens is for walkers only. The garden has easy, rambling trails, but more enthusiastic hikers will appreciate the uncultivated Sandhill or Flatwoods Loop Trails. For color and interest, the Florida Botanical Garden with the constant blooming of new plants is unequaled.  There are alligators and turtles, birds, and butterflies to keep you entertained, as well as varied greenery and flowering fruits, herbs, and bushes. There is also a fascinating landscape to meander around with plenty of benches, bridges, and overlooks, formal and informal gardens, rivers, and orchards

Best Rose Garden:  

The Sturgeon Memorial Garden is a must-see if you like roses, especially during spring and fall. There are 452 bushes of over 131 varieties in ten closely spaced garden beds, according to a brochure at the garden. There are china, climber, English, floribunda, grandiflora, hybrid tea, landscape, miniature, old garden, polyantha, and shrub roses. There are a lot of gardens with roses in Pinellas County.There is the Sunken Gardens in St Petersburg, The Florida Botanical Garden in Largo, Busch Gardens in Tampa, etc. However, there is only one AARS accredited rose garden in the Tampa area, and only 3 in Florida.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Discovering the Pinellas County Parks

As a snowbird, I hope to share the unique perspective of a retiree, who lives in Florida for 4 months each year, and how I enjoy the Pinellas County parks, which teem with unique flora and fauna. In Pinellas County, there is a bio-diverse ecosystem comprised of seashore and inland wetlands, with various lakes, canals, estuaries, salt marshes, mangrove swamps, cypress swamps, and pineland forests. There is tropical foliage, reptiles that cannot live in colder climes, and unusual resident and migrating birds.  I love it all.

From my experience, I find that one does not fully appreciate what is in one's own backyard. For example,there is a wonderful park about 12 miles from my house up north. It has over ten beaches,  some with lifeguards, a multipurpose trail, lighthouses, an historical monument, and a multilevel environmental education center with interactive exhibits.. They hold an annual bird count there, as many rare and endangered birds migrate through the area. I visit it about 1-3 times a year, as I get distracted with other things in the summer, such as family, taking care of a big house, and it's just too far away..

 I place a priority on exploring nature when in Florida. It helps that there are several parks within a mile or two of our rental property. No excuses that I don't have the time.  And we just don't have the same creatures and vegetation where I come from.  I am enthralled with the big wading birds. While stretching my legs, I can study their habits, resulting in unique photographs. Often I spy an occasional snake or alligator. I know that those pictures will elicit oohh's and aahh's from even the most bored family member at home.  The grandchildren especially like the turtle, fiddler crab and squirrel pictures and the gardeners and botanists of the family appreciate the exquisite tropical flower and bird pictures.