Posts Tagged ‘Indian Rocks Beach’

Manatees in Florida: a magical day

July 21, 2013

Until this month, I’d seen manatees at state parks, in research facilities, and in the wild at places they’re known to congregate. My favorite time with Florida’s “sea cows” was a few years ago, when Lina and I went kayaking in Crystal River, where manatees like to spend their winter near always-warm springs. We were on a tour with Save the Manatee Club, a fantastic nonprofit organization. It opposes “swim-with” manatee programs (as do I in general) and discourages humans from touching manatees unless the manatee initiates it. Manatees came near our kayaks, but we kept our hands inside.

My paddling pal and manatee whisperer

My paddling pal and manatee whisperer

I finally had my first fully wild and random manatee encounter recently, and it was a memorable one! And I have to admit that I chose to compromise the “no touch” philosophy. Here’s how it unfolded.

My pal Kelly (left), who rents one of our condo units at Indian Rocks Beach, offered to join me on a little kayak outing on the Intracoastal Waterway. I was glad she did, because later she told me she’s a manatee magnet. Wow, was she ever right!

We were paddling around enjoying the Sunday afternoon when I saw a gray blob. At first I thought it was a dolphin, but it just floated there and Kelly suggested it was a manatee. I’m used to seeing them later in the year, but I’ve since discovered they’re definitely around the Intracoastal in the summer.

Manatees got close to Lina and me in Crystal River in 2008

Manatees got close to Lina and me in Crystal River in 2008

We paddled in the direction of the blob, and sure enough, it was a manatee, plus two more. We heard them before we saw them, as they surfaced for air and exhaled above the water’s surface. They continued to come near us, or we’d follow them, and finally one came close enough that I touched its snout with my finger. I screamed with joy! And then it came back, swimming right alongside my kayak. I stroked its entire back, all slimy and rough, and then I screamed some more. I yelled out a few too many times “I pet a manatee!!!!!!!” Kelly of course wanted to do the same, so we kept looking for them, but after 10 minutes of not coming close to another one we finally gave up and headed to a nearby bird sanctuary island.

A minute later I heard Kelly scream with excitement. “Oh my God, oh my God!” A manatee was headed her way, and then it SURFACED under her kayak and she was AIRBORNE. Sorry for all the CAPS but I’m getting excited again thinking about it. I was about 25 feet away and it was like watching a movie. No way could this be happening! Her kayak wobbled as it rolled over the manatee’s back, then the friendly beast took off with a huge splash in Kelly’s direction. We were screaming and laughing with joy! “Dude, you rode a manatee!” I yelled. “Dude, I rode a manatee!” she replied. “Legally!” I added, in case anyone was listening. How big was it? I have no idea, but I do know that the average Florida manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs close to 1,200 pounds. Whoa!

Manatee swims near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

Manatee swims near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

A just-released report by the Mote Marine Laboratory (visit its aquarium in Sarasota) says manatees can feel water movements thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair — an ability that makes them one of the most touch-sensitive mammals on earth. So clearly that little escapade was no accident. That manatee knew what it was doing — playing around with one of its fans. While I can’t say I want to be airborne atop a manatee, and Kelly agreed that once is enough, it was a magical manatee moment we will never forget. Here’s hoping you get yours!

What SUP with this water sport?

September 17, 2010

Man with dog SUPs on the intracoastal waterway near Indian Rocks Beach

OK, so I didn’t know this until recently, but maybe you do. SUP, or stand-up paddle surfing (sometimes called stand-up paddle boarding), is all the rage, from West Coast to East, and beyond.

During two recent visits to Indian Rocks Beach, on the West Coast of Florida, we saw SUP’ers. And I just learned that a friend there is dying to get a board. I hope she does, so maybe she’ll let me try it out. She says that with the right board, I’ll be able to stand up on it and paddle. During my two attempts to stand on a surfboard back when I was younger (though not necessarily stronger), I failed miserably, so I’m not convinced.

According to the font of all knowledge, Wikipedia, SUP comes from Hawaii, where it’s called hoe he’e nalu, an ancient form of surfing. Stand-up paddling gives paddlers a major “core” workout (move over, Pilates) while also working every muscle in your body. Yikes! It’s a tame sport, unless you do it in the waves.

Stand-up paddler in the Gulf of Mexico after a colorful sunset

SUP’ing is becoming popular at water resorts and surfing areas around the world, thanks in huge part to celebrities trying out the sport. (If only I’d been reading “Us” I would have known this earlier.) Like who? Well, Jennifer Aniston for one, and isn’t that all the American public needs to know?

In July, we saw a  stand-up paddler out in the Gulf. And last week, while we were kayaking in the intracoastal waterway between Indian Rocks and Belleair, we came upon a man SUP’ing with his dog! Too cute. We were happy to see the canine wearing a PFD. We assume he knows how to doggie paddle as well.

Merry Christmas, in Florida fashion

December 25, 2009

Good tidings  to you, wherever you are. Good tidings for Christmas, and a Happy New Year! We’re in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla. Here are a few holiday scenes:

Manaclaus (Manatee Santa) delivers presents for the marine dwellers

Flamingo fills in for Santa while Mr. Claus rests up at the beach

Natural tinsel (Spanish moss) covers the trees in Florida

Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! (Thanks to Christine for the holiday props from her fabulous and festive tiki bar)

The biggest buzz I’ve ever had

March 12, 2009

The bees start to gather in our tree

A most amazing thing happened to me two days ago while I was staying at our little condo on Indian Rocks Beach, Fla. I was sitting outside having lunch before heading out to visit my quite ill mother when I heard a strange humming sound. I looked around and saw a huge swarm of bees heading up our little street. They were in a pack, but flying every which way.  A few neighbors came out to watch.

At a certain point I decided to go inside and watch through the window. The swarm came closer, then proceeded to cluster on a fairly thin branch of an oak tree a few feet from our front door! In a few seconds (seconds!) they had formed a tight blob o’ bees, with just a few flying around. A BIG blob!

People were walking under the tree for a look, but I wasn’t so brave/stupid. I peered outside, then went in to make a few calls seeking information. Because, what did it all mean? Plus, we had monthlong renters coming the very next day. What if they were bee-phobic or even allergic?!

A swarm of bees has settled down

The swarm settles in. But for how long?

I called town hall and the county extension service, which handles all things of the natural world. (In rural areas, extension agents work closely with farmers.) Long story short: I learned from a city public service worker and an extension agent that my new neighbors were likely honey bees, but beekeepers weren’t interested in coming to fetch them because of the influx of nasty African bees. If they didn’t leave they would need to be exterminated. (Noooo!) But likely they were migrating to a new home, and would move on in a day or two to keep looking for suitable holes to snuggle up in. Later I found some great information  about honey bee swarms online.

A big blob of bees is hanging from a branch

Is this a blob o' bees or what? Any guesses as to how many bees are here?

The bees pretty much kept to themselves, though I did keep the front door closed. Their pulsating, wiggling mass fascinated me, and I begin to feel quite honored that they’d planted themselves in our tree. I know enough about bees to know how incredibly well-run their colonies are. Plus, what woman doesn’t have fantasies of being a queen bee with a few thousand workers and drones serving her?

Each time I came and went, I checked on the bees. Their natural powers transfixed me, and I felt protected by them. (Yeah, yeah, I got carried away.) The next day I came home from Mom’s around lunchtime to clean up the condo to make it ready for our renters, whose surname happens to be BEEchey. (Coincidence? Hmmmmm…)

The queen and her army is off to another destination

The queen and her troops are off to another destination. Bye-bye, honey bees!

Indeed the bees were still there. I’d already alerted the property manager and tried to contact the Beecheys, to no avail. As I put my key in the front door I heard a buzzing sound and looked up. They were dispersing! In a few seconds the swarm was off, soaring over neighbors’ homes, flying to their next destination. I watched them go, and wondered about the few stragglers who stayed in the tree.

I like to think queen waited for me to return so they could say goodbye. Some would say that absolutely she did and others would say hogwash.  I do know this much: that was one major buzz!

Sunsets: solar energy for the eyes

March 6, 2009

There are fans and critics of daylight saving time, which starts THIS weekend in the United States (go here to see DST rules worldwide), but I think we can agree that pretty much everyone loves a good sunset.  Here are a few of our favorites, all taken by Wessel:

The sky is on fire over Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Sky is on fire over the lesser-known side of Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Midnight sun as seen on the Lofoten, Norway

The ever-blazing midnight sun as seen on Norway's Lofoten islands in June

Sunset over marshy area connecten with Lake Gaston, VA

Diane's favorite colors combine in this stunning show near Lake Gaston, Va.

Heron during a PS sunset experience in Florida

A heron poses in the afterglow of a sunset over Cayo Costa State Park, Fla.

Roxy outshines her celestial competitor

Roxy outshines her celestial backdrop at Indian Rocks Beach, Fla.

The egret has landed

September 12, 2008

Egret has landed on car at T-junction with Gulf Boulevard in Indian Rocks Beach

Admittedly, this is a pretty lousy photo, but you can see that a snowy egret has landed atop this car waiting at a stop sign at Indian Rocks Beach. After living in Florida for 13 years and now visiting for 20 more, I’d never seen such a thing. So while I was waiting behind this car and watched as the egret landed, I snapped a photo as quickly as I could. As expected, the egret flew off when the car started to move. (Had it not, well, that would have been beyond strange.) These beautiful shore birds are one of my favorite things about Florida. They hang out in people’s lawns, in parking lots, and of course along the water. But taking a break on a the roof of a car? That was a first.

Speaking Southern, Yankee, and citrus

March 27, 2008

Every time I pass Yellow Banks Grove in Largo, Fla., near Diane (left) speaks SouthernIndian Rocks Beach, I laugh at the goofy signs in their front window. Conversation bubbles from talking oranges read: “We speak Yankee.” “We speak Southern.”

I lived near the store from 1974 to 1980 or so, but I’d pass the place all the time when I visited my parents. Now that Wessel and I own a little condo at Indian Rocks Beach, I’m back in Yellow Banks territory several times a year.

Kristin speaks YankeeIt’s hard to believe that in 1951, when the shop opened, it was in a small building on a century-old brick road that went down the middle of an orange grove and ended at the Gulf of Mexico! Now it’s on a four-lane highway, but at least the road still ends at the beach.

It used to be that Yellow Banks was the best place around for tacky tourist gifts. Sadly, they seem to not stock near as many ugly ceramic objets d’art as they used to. The good news is that their gourmet food section has been enlarged, and free samples of sauces, marmalades, and salsas abound!

Murcott orangesBut what Yellow Banks has always done best, of course, is serve up a bounty of oranges and grapefruit. We hosted my pal Kristin from way up in Portland, Maine, last weekend and of course she had to stop in for some citrus. Luckily she could speak Yankee, and I could speak Southern. We sampled a few fruit sections, all in the name of research, of course. Kristin chose the MurcottsMurcott oranges to bring back to her husband, Dean, the namesake of Dean’s Sweets, maker of the world’s best truffles. I’d never even heard of Murcotts, but according to “Produce Pete,” they’re usually marked as “honey tangerines” in stores (never heard of those either) and have become quite popular. Guess I’m not up on my citrus!

I wanted a tacky stovetop spoon holder for home, but the ones for sale here were all too fancy. I suppose the gift items have to match the grove’s spiffy new(ish) store. Indeed, over the years, Yellow Banks has upgraded in size, substance, and style. Ah, for the good old days of alligator pencil sharpeners.

If you can’t make it to the store, at 14423 Walsingham Road, Largo, 33774 (closed for season June 1 to late October), of course Yellow Banks (800-722-4590)  ships nationwide. But you won’t get your free samples that way!

How to beat rental-car ripoff during spring break

February 1, 2008

If you know me, you know I have a big thing against most rental-car company practices. Jacking up, up, up the prices during peak season is one of my beefs. For you folks Enterprise Car Rentalflying to Florida (and I’m sure this works elsewhere) in the spring and renting a car, here’s a little trick of mine you might be able to use.  (I’d love to hear others’ strategies.)

In January I booked flights to Tampa from Manchester, NH, (where my friend Kristin is flying from), and Durham, NC, (where I’m flying from) on Southwest, and both were about $200 round-trip. Not bad for Easter weekend! But get this. Car rentals from the airport for five days were around $500!! Unbelievable.

Here’s what I did. As you probably know, Enterprise has little neighborhood offices all over the place, and they’re often (usually? always?) cheaper than airport rentals. I reserved a Indian Rocks Beach, FLcar at a location on my way to where I’ll be staying (Indian Rocks Beach). I’m paying a mere $30 extra to then drop it off at the airport when I leave. The grand total? $156!! Now that is a deal. If I picked the car up at the airport, still using Enterprise, the price would be $438. Other companies were charging even more!!

To do this fancy-schmancy different drop-off reserving, you have to call, not go online. But then Enterprise *offered* to give me the online price, saving me another whopping $5.

Enterprise is tops in car-rental customer service, and I’ve been saying this for years, not just since my $275 savings.

I’ll probably be able to get a ride from the airport to Enterprise, but if I couldn’t, a Super Shuttle ride for about $20 (including tip) would take me straight to Enterprise.

My scenario may not exactly suit your needs. For example, you could use a neighborhood Enterprise office in Tampa and be even closer. If you’re traveling in a group or family, it would be cheaper to take a taxi than pay for individual shuttles.

My main message here is that when prices are jacked up, try to rent away from the airport. Get creative!