Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Big Fun at Big "O" Bird Festival

It was a wild time at the Big "O" Birding Festival last weekend near Lake Okeechobee in South Central Florida. A real adventure for us newbie birders was the field trip out to the J-Seven Ranch where third-generation owner John Ward gave my group an up-close-and-personal safari around his cattle ranch.

Cattle may have been king, but we were as happy as pigs in mud enjoying sitings of the many  burrowing owls, swallow-tail kites, snail kites, red-shoulder hawks, glossy ibis, woodstorks, and other feathered friends who habitate the 5,800-acre ranch.

Lots of excellent field trips, including photo shoots, boating on the Big O, and biking on the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail combined with wonderful camaraderie to make this a very enjoyable weekend. If you plan a visit to the area, be sure to stay at the historic Clewiston Inn in Clewiston, a charming 57-room inn built in 1938 and registered as a National Historic Site (http://www.clewistoninn.com/).  To check out the festival schedule, go to http://www.bigobirdingfestival.com/

Below, two of the more exotic species spotted during the weekend included the Crested Carcara and the Happy Getaway Girl!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Up a River With a Paddle

I love a leisurely paddle trip on one of West Central Florida's many beautiful rivers. A few of my favorites include the Myakka River, above, and the Weeki Wachee, both on the west coast.

The photo above was taken at Myakka River State Park, the state's largest state park and a great place to see Old Florida. This river is more like an estuary or wetlands, with little current and lots of winding waterways through tall grass. It's easy to get lost and there are also hundreds of alligators in this river, so it might be a bit intimidating for some. Take the guided airboat tour if the gators are looking hungry!
For crystal clear water and the chance to see wild manatees in a natural setting, Weeki Wachee River has to be my favorite. You can rent kayaks at the livery behind the mermaid attraction at SR50 and US 19. The river is narrow and winding and offers plenty of birdlife along the way. Some manatees are so used to paddlers they will actually let you scratch them!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring Skiing and a Taste of Vail

It's nearing early April, my favorite time to hit the slopes for some spring skiing.

April, you say? Yes, in my book it's the best time to find great deals, no lift lines and awesome mild, sunny days. Look for lots of festivities, concerts, competitions and weirdness in the final weeks of ski season.

One of my favorite spring skiing destinations is Vail, Colorado, for the annual Taste of Vail (see photo).

Here's an excerpt from my article which ran in the Tampa Tribune Travel section last Sunday:
This year marks the 20th annual Taste of Vail, three days of epicurean indulgence including food and wine tastings, cook-offs, dinners and seminars with notable chefs. Set for April 8 -10, Taste of Vail is a great opportunity to explore the culinary talents of the many outstanding chefs and restaurants throughout Vail Valley, as well as to rub elbows with the locals.

My favorite feature of this event is the popular mountain picnic held atop a peak with sweeping views of the valley below. Guests take the Eagle Bahn gondola to a snow-covered picnic area where nearly 50 restaurants offer samples of gourmet fare, along with some 50 wineries offering tastings.

Here's a link to my story where you can get more information:

Monday, March 1, 2010

My friend and fellow skier Dino Vournas, aka Photographer Extraordinaire, recently returned from a winter adventure in Alaska. He went skiing, snowmobiling, visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, and dined at fine restaurants. Here's an excerpt from his travel story and a few of his remarkable photos:

Alaska has some of the most spectacular scenery on our side of the solar system. ... A short drive south of Anchorage is the town of Girdwood and the home of Alaska’s premier ski area and resort, Alyeska. ... skiing is accessed by a 60-passenger aerial tram, climbing 2000 feet in elevation and depositing you in the middle of a mountain that receives frequent and sometimes record powder dumps.

Glacier City Snowmobile Tours will set you down on a snow machine, (“snowmobile” to us Lower 48’ers), and guide you on an adventure in the Alaska backcountry. Through Chugach mountain valleys and around gold mines and creeks you’ll ride, and if the conditions are good, they’ll take you to the face of a great glacier, where you can explore ice caves and view countless icebergs.

Would you like to fulfill your bush pilot fantasy? Try a flight-seeing tour with the pilots of Girdwood’s Alpine Air Alaska zooming close (but not too close!) above clear-blue glacial ice and rich blue waters. For a dependable wildlife fix for the trip, motor south out of Girdwood to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The center cares for and rehabilitates injured animals. Among the denizens of the natural enclosures are bear, reindeer, moose, elk, coyotes, caribou, bison and even a porcupine, bald eagle and an owl.

Continue on to the picturesque town of Seward for beautiful Kenai Mountains views and a memorable Resurrection Bay boat tour, starting in early March, replete with orcas, sea lions and bald eagles.