Just Birds (Beach, Birds, Rehab, and … Plans, part 2)

IMG_6221This is a second part of the post “Beach, Birds, Rehab, and … Plans,” but it’s just birds. If you don’t like bird photos, you will be yawning big time on this one.

For me, St. Simons meant birds.  They were everywhere—on the beach, in the marsh, in our neighborhood, and in the village.  IMG_6026They fluttered, called, preened, sang, strutted, fished, hammered, and, at times seemed to pose.  IMG_5412Many nights, we were kept awake by two owls calling back and forth from the dense live oaks in the neighborhood (go to sleep, already!!).

Every morning, the tentative bits of bird song signaled that—although it was still dark—the sun was about to rise.  All day long, their calls accompanied us—the cardinals’ rhythmic chip and liquid song, the doves’ oo-oo, IMG_6478the sparrows’ chatter, and the ospreys’ skreeee—eek, causing the marsh birds to scatter—flying up, circling around, and settling back down.    IMG_6705

The trees and bushes were heavy with berries—especially the red cedar—and attracted a wide variety of birds, fussing and gorging, but elusive to catch on film.IMG_6676IMG_6671

The shore birds were more stolid, hunkered down against the cold or pecking at critters in the sand and waves.  IMG_5369IMG_5378IMG_7497They only became skittish if I got close, so we played a cat and mouse game where I would learn how close I could approach before they took off and moved another ten feet down the beach.

The salt inlet at the end of the beach was a feeding mecca for a variety of birds scooping up the little minnows and larger mullet.   IMG_7531 IMG_7539This elegant beauty (I assume it’s a tern or gull, but don’t know what kind … I’ll call it the blackdot cheeky terngull) did a beautiful fluttering hover and dive, over and over again.  IMG_7521IMG_7508IMG_7501During our last week on the island, this oystercatcher couple appeared on the rocks.  One sported multiple bands, the other none.  The banded one must be older or stupider, or both.  IMG_7651IMG_7567

On St. Simons, a quiet road runs along the marsh, so it’s easy to get close to the birds without having to worry about being attacked by snakes, gators, or bugs.    IMG_6311IMG_7576IMG_6757IMG_7583IMG_7694IMG_7682

Just birds–but such a variety–interesting, noisy, colorful, entertaining, awkward, graceful, and beautiful.

Look carefully to see the fish this osprey is holding in his talons.

Look carefully to see the fish this osprey is holding in his talons.

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Beach, Birds, Rehab, and … Plans

IMG_7535We are on the road again and just getting back into the sweet rhythm of travel.  But it was not entirely easy to leave St. Simons.  Unwittingly, we put down a few root tendrils in our three month stay that had stubbornly taken hold.  It was a good interlude and we will be back.

St. Simons was not new to us, but this extended visit gave us a new perspective.  I became almost addicted to the winter beach.  It changed–sometimes dramatically–from day to day and, on days when I did not walk its full length, I felt as if I was missing something.  Few ventured out on the bitter cold days, giving me miles of solitude with nothing but waves, sand, birds and sky–always different, with constantly shifting sands and tidal cuts.

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When I wasn’t walking the beach I was bird-stalking–mostly along the marsh.  I am not a birder and have no life list.  But I love to watch and listen to birds and to try to capture them in photos.  St. Simons was a birdy feast.  I never knew what I was going to see from day to day, but felt I got to know some of the resident egrets, mergansers, and herons.

20141203_162428In fact, the birds were so varied and interesting that the second part of this post will be bird photos only, allowing those of you tired of the birds an easy bypass.  IMG_7650

The St. Simons’ people, both locals and visitors, were some of the friendliest I have ever encountered.  We enjoyed our quirky neighborhood–between the King and Prince and the Village–full of old houses, cats, and enough dogs to hold a neighborhood dog parade in their honor.

King and Prince Hotel--good beach access here even at high tide

King and Prince Hotel–good beach access here even at high tide

The Crab Trap, neighborhood restaurant for 40 years

The Crab Trap, neighborhood restaurant for 40 years

Shrimp boat seen from Village pier

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Shrimper

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Cats on a roof.

Dog parade

Dog parade passing by our front door

We made friends.  I came to know the 89-year-old woman living around the corner, her yard man, the oil company guy on the beach, the shell-collecter who hated the cold, the mail lady, fellow kayakers, three different couples from Maine, and a wide variety of people from yoga classes.  After months on the road, where interpersonal encounters are necessarily transitory, the people of St. Simons were an unexpected pleasure.

Spring was trying hard to rear its lovely head just as we were leaving.  The first blooms were zapped by a hard frost, but new blooms kept coming.  With the spring came more people.  Too many for us–we would not like the St. Simons’ summer crowds.IMG_6789

IMG_6810IMG_4484IMG_6929IMG_6782We were ready to leave and fortunately George’s shoulder healed quickly and well.  We lucked out on his surgeon, whose aggressive approach to rehab allowed George to be lifting some weights within six weeks of surgery.  He now is able to do most everything, has good range of motion, and little pain.  We are very glad that we took a break from travel to have the surgery.

That break also gave us a chance to think seriously about where we want to go from here. Originally, we had intended to be on the road for about a year, until May.  After deciding on surgery, and a three-month break for rehab, we continued to think that we would head out west afterwards and travel into the summer.  But, at some point in our down time, we decided instead to head up to Maine and buy a house this spring.  We want to have a place near some water with a little land to indulge in gardening, beekeeping, woodworking, and other long-on-hold interests.  We will take the trip out west whenever we feel like it because, after all, we are retired and can come and go as we please.

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Zoe learned to handle the surf.

Zoe learned to handle the surf.

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Car transport behemoth ship in the distance

 

Last beach walk--beautiful light.

Last beach walk–beautiful light.

We are working our way up the East Coast to arrive in Maine later in the spring.  We will continue to travel, but now with a new home base.

 

The Carport Across the Marshes

IMG_6450While vacationers, retirees, and other non-working types take leisurely walks down the long St. Simons beach, on the other side of the Glynn marshes, the people of Brunswick are making wood pulp and transporting cars.

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St. Simons is a barrier island, sitting at the edge of a vast marshland mosaic—an estuary of grasses, tidal rivers, and the intracoastal waterway–between it and the mainland port of Brunswick, Georgia.  It’s apparent to anyone with a nose or eyes that Brunswick is a wood pulp town, because its pulp mills can be seen for miles rising from the marsh shores, emitting a distinctive sulfur odor that finds its way to the islands when the wind is right.

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What is less apparent to the casual visitor is that Brunswick is one of the country’s busiest ports for the importing and exporting of cars.  As you drive along the road from St. Simons to the interstate, you can glimpse between the trees enormous parking lots, heavily guarded, with acres upon acres, as far as you can see, of identical, shiny new cars.

Then, if you are here long enough, you will see the astoundingly large ships that carry the cars.  Called “ro-ros” because the vehicles roll on and roll off the ships on their own wheels (as opposed to “lo-los” (lift-on, lift-off)), the ships follow the channel markers out from Brunswick, making a sharp turn close to neighboring Jekyll Island and then approach St. Simons announcing their passage with long, low fog-horn-like blasts that we can hear in our cottage.

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Taking the turn at Jekyll

This one, the Auriga Leader, transports Toyotas from Japan and is partially solar powered.  A beast trailing gulls.

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Right off the St. Simons beach

A ro-ro ramp on the stern.

A ro-ro ramp.

I have been reading some first-hand narratives of the area’s history and was morbidly fascinated by an account of a 1972 collision of a ship with the drawbridge over the Brunswick River, which caused a portion of the bridge to collapse, plummeting cars, trucks, and people into the deep and strong tidal currents below, and resulting in ten deaths.

A new bridge was built in 2003, named, as was the previous bridge, for Sidney Lanier, a 19th century lawyer, writer, poet, and consumptive who wrote the “Marshes of Glynn,” a romantic poem extolling the beauty and mystery of the marshes and this coastal region.  I love his description of the moss-enshrouded live oaks, “Beautiful glooms, soft dusks in the noon-day fire.”

His namesake bridge can be seen from many parts of St. Simons and is a beauty.  It’s completely accessible to walkers, joggers, and bike riders.

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When I ventured onto it by foot, these new-looking shoes were sitting neatly on the guardrail heading onto the bridge as if someone had put them there before going to bed.

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I admit it, I thought, “Did someone take their shoes off before heading up the bridge for a jump?”  Not such a crazy question because, if ever there was a bridge designed for suicide, it’s this one.  It’s enormously high (almost 500 feet) above a deep channel with strong currents, and has the lowest rail I’ve ever seen on a bridge of this height.  IMG_6552The rail–just a concrete ledge really–only came to my mid-thigh, and I’m not tall.  I felt as if I tipped in high breeze, I would go right off the edge.  IMG_6536Fortunately, no suicides that day.  I have no clue what the shoes were doing there nor why the bridge has such low rails.

Maybe the low rails make for a nice view for the tourists driving over.

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IMG_6563IMG_6564Downtown Brunswick feels like it is on its own precipice, teetering between economic stability and a down slide into decay.  It has a distinctive 1880s city hall, gingerbread houses, and beautifully laid out, shaded streets.

City Hall

City Hall

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IMG_6624IMG_6650But, in contrast with some other southern towns we have visited, such as Asheville and Wilmington, Brunswick feels as if it’s struggling to maintain a viable downtown.  A block from the refurbished Ritz theatre, ferns are growing out of the side of a building for sale, where the awnings are gone, and only the skeletal supports remain.

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Out on St. Simons, it’s still wintery,

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but the trees are starting to bloom and flocks of robins are noisily out and about.

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Oddities

IMG_5288The theme of the week here on St. Simons is COLD.  We have had cold with rain, cold with drizzle, cold with a wee bit of sun, and cold with wind.  After more than twenty years of living in Alaska, you think I’d be used to it.  But the cold here is the raw, wet, kind that makes you feel as if you are wrapped in a freezing, wet towel.  And we don’t have a crackling wood stove or fireplace to warm our extremities, so my fingers and toes feel like permanent ice cubes.

The birds are hunkered down, with their feathers highly inflated.

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IMG_5082Rental bikes are sitting idle, but the local BBQ is going strong, adding a wintry hardwood smoke aroma to the neighborhood.

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The skies have been mostly a gun-metal gray, making color even more welcome than usual.

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Rare sunny day

IMG_5320Even the less colorful birds are a welcome sight.

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This merganser blends in with the reed, except for that big white target on its head.

This merganser blends in with the reeds, except for that big white target on its head.

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IMG_5236IMG_5263Amazing plumage.

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And a wood stork’s reflection.

IMG_5219The cold weather seems to bring out the cats–they are everywhere, both feral and house cats.  This cat brought my walk to a screeching halt because, at first, I could not believe my eyes.

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It was the size of a small lynx, or a plump Brittany Spaniel.  I actually thought it was a dog at first, then concluded that it must be a lawn ornament.  But when I moved, its face followed me.  An enormous face with little foldy ears.  I don’t imagine its owners have to worry about rodents–it looked large enough hunt raccoons.  I have never seen a anything like it.  Does anyone know what it is?  A Scottish Fold maybe?  It was HUGE.

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The gray weather seems to highlight oddities, such as fungus, bark, and fishing lines.

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IMG_5115IMG_5186Not to mention tree faces and the backside of a local restaurant.

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IMG_5286IMG_4783If these buds are any indication, some warmer weather (and sun) should be coming soon and we will be able get out and explore without freezing our buns off.

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Zoe’s ready.

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A Sodden Solstice or Daughters of the Cold War

20141221_102247A year ago, I took the picture below on a midday walk along Cook Inlet in Anchorage on winter solstice.  As you can see, it was a dark, dreary day.

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This year, I took the picture below on a mid-morning winter solstice walk considerably farther south and east, along the Atlantic coast on St. Simons, Georgia.  As you can see, it was a dark, dreary day.  The palm tree is an improvement, though.

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We have been staying close to home (our little rental cottage) this past week as George recovers from rotator cuff surgery.  He had the surgery on December 15 and it seems to have gone very well.  The only glitch in the recovery so far has been a raging sore throat ulcer from the anesthesia tube.  George has his first follow-up on the shoulder tomorrow and we will know more then about recovery time.

While he has been healing, the weather has been unseasonably cold, with low clouds, intermittent drizzle or steady rain, and a biting wind.  Zoe loves it–she’s a cold weather dog–and I enjoy my beach walks in all weather, but photo opportunities have been few and far between.

Because all of my recent photos were variations on gray gloom, I will try to make this post vaguely informative on the topics of vegetable, animal, mineral, and the truly bizarre.  First, vegetable–even in the gray gloom, the vegetation here is startling.  If you fall asleep for too long, you may be in danger of waking up with plant tendrils creeping across your body.  The Spanish moss seems to take on a life of its own, draping everything from live oaks to orange trees.  It is an epiphyte—drawing its sustenance from the air—not the trees it inhabits.  Still, it really knows how to move in on a host.  It is gruesome and gorgeous at the same time.

The moss is taking over these citrus trees.

The moss is taking over these citrus trees.

Left unchecked, the ivy also runs rampant, covering and ultimately breaking down everything in its path.

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On the animal side, this may be the doggiest place we have visited so far.  These beautiful golden retrievers were waiting for their owner with the top down in a mini-Cooper convertible in the grocery store parking lot, in full Santa regalia.

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They appeared to feel that the costumes were undignified and below their proper status.  I agree.

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The beach is a dog playground.  If you don’t like dogs, you are out of luck.  This dog tribute was below a holiday-decorated driftwood tree on the beach.

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In a jarring contrast with the dog-love atmosphere, the sidewalk drainage grates are potential dog leg crackers.  The grates have enormous openings, just perfect for a dog’s leg to go straight in—first it’s a gotcha, then try to move and it’s a crunch.

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So far, Zoe has carefully walked around them, but I hope she will not be distracted by the multitude of roaming cats and accidentally step in.

The central dog message board in the Village

The central dog message board in the Village

On the mineral front, St. Simons has a building material called tabby that is a combination of sea shells, lime, water, and sand.  The tabby concept was brought to this coast from North Africa by early Spanish settlers and used extensively in early building by the colonists.  Tabby is still used here, although it’s “phony” tabby, being shells mixed with cement, not the more labor intensive lime and sand.  But, phony or not, tabby is a beautiful thing.  I cannot resist a wall embedded with shells.  Nice.

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An outside wall of a Village restaurant

Finally, the truly bizarre.  Everywhere we walk or ride on St. Simons, historical markers punctuate the path.  This area has always been a coastal crossroads and the people here are proud of its history, with groups such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and Daughters of the Confederacy promoting local tidbits of historical knowledge.

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But “Daughters of the Cold War” seem to be conspicuously missing.  And there should be chapter here because one of the most intriguing historical events in the area is missing a marker.  Perhaps because it’s not exactly a tourist draw.  It’s the “Tybee bomb,” an unexploded Mark 15 nuclear bomb lying somewhere in the offshore sediment just doing … whatever unexploded nuclear bombs do rolling around in the muck at the bottom of the ocean floor.

In 1958, during a military training exercise a bomber and fighter plane collided above Tybee Island, outside of Savannah.  The bomber was damaged but still able to fly and jettisoned the bomb before landing.  Despite several searches, the bomb has never been found.  Whether or not it poses a real threat (probably by slow leakage of radiation) is a matter of debate.  But it is something to think about when gazing offshore toward the north.  I wonder where it is and what it is up to.  Let’s hope it stays intact.

There's a bomb out there somewhere.

There’s a nuclear bomb rolling around out there somewhere.

The days are getting longer!

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Happy holidays, Mele Kalikimaka, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad, Joyous Kwanzaa, and have a good Festivus.  Enjoy.

 

To the Pier

20141204_125642After being on the road for seven months, we are reveling in the pleasures of being in a house again–the roominess, the dishwasher, the bathtub, the kitchen, and the ability to walk to town.  St. Simons is heaven for walkers and bike riders.  Several times a week, I walk to the north end of the beach and then back through neighborhoods or along the marsh.  It takes about two hours, with time for lingering.

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A walk in the other direction leads to the village, the lighthouse, and the pier.  They are only about a ten minute walk from our cottage, if we take a direct route.

At very low tide we can walk south on the beach to the village.  But there is a small point with rocks that become submerged when the tide rises that prevents access for much of the day.

20141204_120026Approaching the village from the beach, you can see the lighthouse, decorated for the holidays.

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We usually walk to the pier and the village on the inland route through a neighborhood of cottages.  The gardens are full of blooms this time of year.

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The village main street ends at the water and the pier.

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I am always drawn to the pier.

IMG_407020141211_150954One evening, I couldn’t stop watching the boat-tailed grackles, ordinary black birds transformed by the lowering sun into iridescent creatures. This one was off by himself, grooming and preening, with full head contortions.

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These three reminded of me of some preteen boys we saw fishing our first night on the pier, each trying to show the others up.  The bird in middle kept puffing his chest and spreading his tail.

IMG_4114IMG_4115Then the one on the left would give it a go, less successfully.

IMG_4135Then they would act as if they were all cool.  IMG_4132The one on the right did not do any puffing, but just gave an occasional squack, as if to tell the one in the middle to cut it out.

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This serene gull sat nearby.

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Until she had enough, and flew off.

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Wrens were flitting between the rocks at the foot of the pier and the huge live oaks in the park.

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20141211_151508The lighthouse is right next to the pier and, on a walk last night, this magnificent raptor was surveying his (or her?) domain from the lighthouse peak.  I only had my phone for photos, but you can see how beautiful he was perched up there.  It looked like an immature eagle–seemed a little large for an osprey–but I couldn’t determine what it was from the ground.  If any of you can tell from this photo, let me know.

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After I walked around the park and headed home as the sun started to go down and a chill was setting in, the bird was still there.

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I came back with the good camera, but he was gone.  The lighthouse’s faceted Fresnel lens, however, was making brilliant prisms of the setting sun.

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What an exquisite evening.

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