Friday, May 13, 2016

St. Augustine: From Church to the Grave

How the Getaway Girl loves to visit northeast Florida and  beautiful St. Augustine!

Every time I visit the area I enjoy it more, from the  Oldest City's historic charm to the beautiful beaches and natural areas nearby. This region of northeast Florida  is a haven for wildlife -- particulary birds migrating through here along the Great Florida Birding Trail -- and a center for wildlife research.

Hiking the GTM Reserve in search of birds./Marcia Biggs
Recently, I attended the annual Florida Birding and Photo Fest, a 5-day extravaganza of  seminars,  programs and field trips that draws participants  from across the state and the country. Festival  headquarters is the education center at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas (GTM) Research Reserve north of St. Augustine about 8 miles.  It is one of 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves around the country focused on researching, educating and protecting the natural biodiversity within the estuary. The GTM Reserve encompasses 74,000 acres of natural habitat along the ocean from south of St. Augustine to north in Ponte Vedra. Way cool.

Memorial Presbyterian Church
During   three days, I kayaked and hiked in the Guana River Reserve, both pleasant although the birds were pretty scarce (wrong time of day?). The next day I embarked on several photography field trips --  Historic Places of Worship and Cemeteries at Sunset. I love taking photos, and after all, St. Augustine is considered one of the most haunted cities in the nation. Shooting old churches and graveyards seemed like a great way to explore the city and maybe get a shiver or two.

Both tours were led by St. Augustine resident photographer Jackie Kramer, whose pictorial book "Sacred St. Augustine" reveals  most of the historic churches and graveyards in exquisite detail. I highly recommend spending time exploring the many churches and cemeteries which are each such an integral part of the history of St. Augustine. This can be a fascinating way to spend an afternoon -- as well as an awesome history lesson!

And for birders and photographers, next year's Florida Birding and Photo Fest will be April 26-30. For a peek at this year's officia guide of more than 140 photography and birding events,  go to http://www.floridasbirdingandphotofest.com/official-guide/4570772483