Tag Archives: dolphins

You’re Not Gonna Believe This!

Twice in one day, I lifted the binoculars to my eyes, focused and declared to Jimmy, “You’re not gonna believe this!”

We thought we’d already seen everything that would make us gasp and exclaim – geysers and brilliantly colored steaming pools at Yellowstone; cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco; the eerie moonscape of the Badlands; the towering stainless steel Gateway Arch of St. Louis; the giant Sequoias of California and their giant dead trunks thrown up like so many matchsticks on the Pacific beaches of Oregon and Washington; iconic symbols of cowboy country littered throughout the West; the huge Saturn V rocket at the Kennedy Space Center which stopped us and our fellow tourists dead in our tracks while we all said “WOW!”; an armadillo; a manatee; whales migrating north along the west coast and dolphins migrating south along the east; panhandling burros;OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA a black bear and a moose running across the road right in front of our car (but different days, different states); hundreds of alligators; the presidential carvings of Mount Rushmore where Lincoln’s nose alone measured 21 feet from top to bottom; the pastel art deco buildings of South Beach, Miami that are so beautiful as to defy description; the complete lack of inhibition of humans at South Beach; the gorgeous colonial mansions of Charleston.

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So when a great egret and something orange and dog-sized caught my eye where they stood across a lake at our campsite in Ft. Lauderdale, I raised my binoculars and uttered, “You’re not gonna believe this!”

“What?”

“An iguana!”

“No!”

“Yes! Look!” and I reluctantly relinquished my binoculars. The iguana was a big fella, as long as the egret was tall, the size of a cocker spaniel with short, stout legs and a chunky tail. Stranger still, both animals were perched on top of willowy shrubs – a suitable setting for the slender egret, but Iggy definitely looked out of place. He was as orange as, well, an orange and doing his best punk imitation his headdress, a spiky cock’s comb, was impressive. They are called green iguanas but tend to look grey except when excited when they turn orange. Orangey Iggy appeared to be either challenging or courting the egret.

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We now realize that through the media our senses have become dulled. We take the wonders of the world and nature for granted because we’ve seen photographs, seen it all on TV. But the awe of seeing Grand Geyser erupt for 10 minutes with scalding water to a height of 200 feet after waiting in the blistering Wyoming summer sun for three hours is indescribable. And like coming upon the iguana in his natural setting for the first time, these images are seared on our brains unlike the fleeting images on TV.

It is surprising that we haven’t seen an iguana before, as although this iguana is native to the Caribbean and Central and South America, they happen to like the climate Florida and escaped pets have multiplied and made a nuisance of themselves. They’ve chomped their way through landscaped gardens from Palm Beach to Coral Gables to Key West and even stop traffic on Highway 1.

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Iggy put in an appearance later. Jimmy heard a little girl’s piercing scream followed by a whole chorus of little girls screaming until their Dad turned up to “rescue” them. It would seem they’d had their first sighting too. Iguanas are not dangerous unless cornered. They just look bloody scary.

In the afternoon (same day) we were sitting on the beach, gazing mindlessly out at yachts, fishing boats, water skiers, para gliders, jet skiers and people in varying and questionable states of undress, when a large ship pulled out of Fort Lauderdale harbor.

We’re used to seeing the blocky contours of loaded container ships but this one had an odd outline. For the second time that day I said, “You’re not gonna believe this!”

Lined up, as many as four abreast, on the deck of the ship were brand new luxury yachts and boats – gin palaces, sport fishing boats, launches, dinghies – of all sizes. At a conservative guess, there were $30 million (arrived at by multiplying 23 times a large number) worth of boats on the deck of the ship, and what lurked below?

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We’d never seen anything so gloriously over the top and ostentatious . . . . until the next day when we went to the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, but that’s another story.

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Look! Alligators!

“On your left, ladies and gentlemen, is the Ashley River. We often have dolphins come up from the river mouth in Charleston and put on a display for us. On the right side of the dyke is fresh water. I’ve seen several alligators already today in this pond and if we’re lucky they’ll still be there dozing in the sun. Please don’t stand up now or point or shout. You’ll startle them.”

081107Ch'ston 014We were at Magnolia Plantation and Swamp Garden and had been expecting a colorless, autumn garden with a few tired buildings. What we got was a spectacular water landscape reflecting golden foliage, artfully constructed bridges and wildlife. The autumn flowering camellia was in bloom as well as many azaleas. There were thousands of autumn and winter flowering camellias, twenty thousand, in fact. I was entranced.

Click on pic to enlarge.

Spanish moss hung dreamily from live oaks, sweet bay magnolias and bald cypresses – the latter with its knees, or breathing roots, poking up from its base like little gopher statues. Great blue herons, large and little egrets, lizards and turtles posed for my camera.

We were on a “train” trip – a tractor pulling two open carriages with canopies – around the Swamp Garden. Jimmy had been enjoying a cup of tea whilst sitting on a swing seat in dappled shade under a wisteria-covered trellis. When the “train” pulled up I rushed him so that we could have the first choice of seats. We sat next to a loose strut that banged every time the wheel under us hit a rut. Of course we only realized this after the train had filled up and moved off.

But right now the train was creeping quietly up to an alligator.

“My camera’s just died,” I whispered to Jimmy.

“What?”

“The battery is dead.”

“You’re kidding!!”

“Shhh.”

“I can’t believe you!” he hissed at me. “How many pictures of flowers have you taken?”

I hung my head in answer and in doing so saw down on the bank, just beside the train, no more than ten feet away, an eight foot ‘gator.

Seeing it too and thinking on his feet, Jimmy whipped his phone out of his pocket and started clicking away. As I did the same we looked like a couple of accidental tourists, phones on outstretched arms, taking poor quality photos on our must-have technology instead of using a decent camera like seasoned travelers. All I have to show for this exciting brush with the wild is new wallpaper on my cell phone.

We saw baby ‘gators, big “Bubba” and all sizes in between sunning themselves on planks in the pond put there for that purpose. They dosed next to turtles that were apparently unaware that if chomped for dinner (alligators don’t chew – they rip and swallow we learned) they could satisfy an alligator’s appetite for an entire month.

The whole wildlife encounter left us so ridiculously pleased with ourselves that the dead battery incident, though not quite forgotten, was not the major irritant that it might have been. Better still, Jimmy had noticed earlier in the day on our entrance ticket that we could come back to the plantation for free once within a week.

“We could come back tomorrow!” I suddenly realized. “I’ll charge the battery tonight, we’ll come back, take the boat ride and then if we don’t see any alligators from the boat, we could walk back along the train trail and see them. It’s not far if we walk from the wildlife observation tower.” Jimmy gave me one of his looks. How shall I describe it? Pained and dubious. “I’ll pay for the boat ride,” I enthused and settled the deal.

If you live in Florida you’ll think me silly, but I could hardly sleep for excitement.

Liar! Liar!

We put our toes in the Atlantic Ocean. Jimmy felt quite pleased with his achievement after driving 8,000 miles to get there from Washington State (although it is only about 3,000 miles in a straight line. Ho hum). “Not so much of an achievement for you,” he said. “You knew where you were going.” You might dispute that if you’d seen us driving up and down the coast at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, doing U-turns and snarling up the heavy traffic towing our ponderous trailer looking for State Park signs. All my fault.

Days earlier, Jimmy had been reading the guide book and asked, “Have you heard of Myrtle Beach?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Well it says here it’s a really tacky seaside town.”

“We’ve got to go there, don’t you think?”

Not actually Myrtle Beach boardwalk. I'm claiming artistic license. This is Destin FL but you get the idea.
Not actually Myrtle Beach boardwalk. I’m claiming artistic license. This is Destin FL but you get the idea.

So there we were, happily camped at the Myrtle Beach State Park, an unadulterated two mile stretch of sandy beach and dunes, with towering hotels visible to the north and south. “Our” beach was interrupted only by the narrow boardwalk which snakes through the dunes, put there to stop us trampling the natural habitat.

As we walked along the surf, a snowman appeared in the distance. People gathered around it, obviously posing for pictures. I thought I saw the snowman move and then spotted Dracula. Well it was nearly Halloween. As we got nearer, we could see the group was a wedding party. The snowman was a beaming bride in a flowing white dress and shimmery shawl and Dracula turned out to be the vicar. It must be time to get my eyes tested.

You can see a snowman can't you? Dracula is to the left.
You can see a snowman can’t you? Dracula is to the left.

As we strolled along we stopped to read the nature information boards placed along the walkways. Sea turtles somehow find their way to this small piece of tranquil beach, sandwiched as it is between resorts, to clamber out at night and lay their eggs. Dolphins are visible along this stretch of coast in October and November making their migration to warmer waters. “Look! There’s one now,” I said as I caught a splash out of the corner of my eye and conjuring up a sighting.

Anyone can see that is a dolphin!
Anyone can see that is a dolphin!

“Oh, sure.” We tell each other so many tall tales that it is now difficult for either of us to know when the other is telling the truth. It is particularly difficult to convince the other if the truth is a little too convenient.

We made our way out onto the fishing pier. A fishing pier in a conservation area – a bit of an oxymoron? But this is America, and huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ is part of the culture of this young nation which not so long ago was a wilderness. Several fishermen, survival coded into their DNA, lined the pier dressed in camouflage gear in order to hide from the fish. I’d been scanning the ocean eagerly looking for dolphins, ever hopeful. “There’s another one!”

“Yeah.”

“I’m not kidding!” I said rushing up to the rail to get two feet closer to my sighting which was at least half a mile out at sea.

“Uh-huh.”

Well it is my fault. I’ve pointed out too many “bears” to Jimmy over the last few months, turning every shadow into a creature. He has long since learned to ignore my wildlife sightings.

“I’m serious,” I shrieked, my voice rising an octave. “Just look out there,” and I stood at point like a hunting dog. Something about my tone or posture made Jimmy deign to look in the direction I was pointing.

There! See?
There! See?

“I see it!!” he yelled, joining in my exhilaration at last. The dolphins were indeed swimming south to warmer waters as they disappeared behind the end of the pier. We rushed along to see them come around the pier and proceed to feed right in front of us in ones and twos, some pairs being mother and calf. “See?”

Mother and baby. I was vindicated for now.
Mother and baby. I was vindicated for now.

“Yes.”

“I told you so.”

“Alright.”

“You never believe me.”

“Yes I do.”

“One of these days you’ll miss the sight of your life.”

“Oh, shut up and watch.”

The dolphins’ characteristic arcing, with dorsal fin appearing and disappearing, was mesmerizing and we would occasionally see a spout of water from their blowhole or a tail fluke. One energetic fellow leapt out of the water completely and slapped himself broadside into the sea three times creating a show and eliciting shrieks from his audience on the pier.

We really had seen a bear some months previously. He had to run out in the road in front of our car for us to spot him. It was hardly a PBS “Nature” moment, but exciting nonetheless, just as our dolphin watch was.

P.S. We missed hearing our freight trains in Myrtle Beach as we have come to expect them right next to the campsite and feel comforted by them chugging past, but we’ve gone one better. As we sat round the campfire, our singsong was interrupted every five minutes by a jet screaming directly overhead. We were right next to an international airport.081102MyrtleBch 137

An apology to the residents of Myrtle Beach:

We liked Myrtle Beach. Jimmy had been reading out of a snobby guide book that really only praises the National Parks. If you want to visit a tacky seaside town, England has quite a good selection.