Monday, August 22, 2011

Sightseeing in Florida

With a day to myself in Largo, I decided to do some sightseeing. In the lobby of the hotel is one of those displays that has brochures from all the local tourist attractions. And you know what caught my eye?

The zoo! Specifically the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa.

Zoos have a special meaning for me. When I got my master's degree in the biological sciences (specifically, Environmental Education), it was with an idea toward working in a zoo one day. So what happened? We ended up setting in a spot 300 miles from the nearest zoo. I haven't been to a zoo in over ten years. So despite the heart-stopping entry price ($23!!!!), I decided to go.

Well it was superb. The zoo was confusingly laid out, but that was half the charm. I only consulted the zoo map a few times to confirm I hadn't missed anything, and despite the heat and humidity, I enjoyed myself thoroughly. So pardon my excitement as I post highlights of some of the animals.

Indian rhinoceros. It's hard to imagine a more prehistoric-looking creature. The classic description of this animal looking "armored" is dead-on true. Look at the plates on that body!

And as if this wasn't cool enough, there was a baby rhino! He (or she) was gamboling about the enclosure, butting into mama and thoroughly enjoying him/herself.

I was joking to myself that I had to come all the way to Florida to see a Bald Eagle in captivity, when we see them all the time in the wild where we live.

These tortoises were enthusiastically doing exactly what it looks like they're doing.

The highlight of the zoo is its manatee recovery tank. Many manatees that have been injured in the wild come here for vet treatment and rehabilitation.

Here a zoo worker is cleaning the inside of the tank. The blue double-circle gizmo in her right hand is a suction to attach to the window to keep her from bobbing to the surface, while she cleans the glass with her left hand.

Manatees are big benign-looking creatures. It was feeding time so many were chomping leaves of lettuce.

Apparently one of the most common injuries for manatees is getting caught in boat propellers. This female had half her tail flipper ripped off. The sign said she's nearly ready to be released back into the wild, just in time for her to calve.

(This is what a regular tail looks like -- nearly circular.)

I have no idea what kind of tree this was, but it was impressively fruiting.

All over the place, I saw parasitical orchids in trees.

A collection of lawn ornaments. Whoops, sorry, these are flamingos.

Lorikeets. Staggeringly pretty birds. This was an apiary, so we were right in with them.

Flying foxes, the biggest bats in the world. Wingspan about four feet. WAY cool.

An apiary full of budgies. I'm fond of these critters, having had many as pets.

By this point a thunderstorm was looming, with some impressive thunder rolling in.

But I couldn't go without seeing one of my favorite animals, the giraffe. You know how in high school, so many girls are horse-crazy? Well, I was giraffe crazy. Absolutely gaga over 'em.

They have such beautiful eyes.

Eating some lettuce.

Majestic during some times...

...awkward during others.

They even had a skull on display.

Some more armored personnel.

I had just finished seeing all the displays when the heavens opened and it started pouring WARM rain. As I was driving away, a crack of lightning and a boom of thunder came simultaneously, so it was definitely not the time to be in the open.

After that enlightening afternoon, I figured I couldn't leave Florida without seeing the beach, so I asked directions at the hotel desk for a suitable place to visit. They directed me to Clearwater Beach.

It was, to put it mildly, impressive. Miles of pure white sand as well as miles of condos and hotels. Facing north...

...and facing south.

The water was bottle green and very clear.

Brown pelicans were everywhere.

I got off the pier and went onto the sand. It was burning hot and fine as sugar. Just gorgeous. But when I stepped into the water, I nearly fell over. It was warm! Warm as milk fresh out of the cow! I'd never stepped in (natural) water that was so warm!

I went under the pier (the only shady spot) and for many minutes just stood in that warm water, marveling that I was in Florida.

This gigantic monstrosity, I learned, is a Hyatt Regency Hotel. Cha-ching! Can you imagine what it must cost to get an ocean-view room? (Between $200 and $550 per night. I looked it up.)

There was, to my considerable surprise, a pirate ship out to sea. Well, why not?

It chugged (for make no mistake, it had engines!) up the coast a mile or so, then turned around, discharged a couple of loud cannon booms, and chugged back. Very impressive.

Sated with hot sunshine and humidity, I knew it was time to get back to the hotel before I wilted from the heat.

I stopped for dinner, and as I came out of the restaurant I noticed this billowing thunderhead towering over.

A little thunder and lightening, but nothing serious.

By the way, I don't think I've ever seen such a place for clouds that resemble things. (I've enhanced the colors to make them more visible.) This morning I noticed a lion's head...

...when I got to the beach I noticed this huge fish...

...and driving back to the hotel I noticed a catfish. Go figure.

Today was my day of play. Tomorrow is the more serious business of going on television. Yikes.


  1. Good luck on your TV appearance tomorrow!

    That nice warm water is the engine that powers those big ol' hurricanes. Hope you're keeping a close watch on Irene! Well, if it should turn toward us, you'll know. Florida makes sure that the tourists get evacuated first.

    The shrub with the pretty purple berries is called a Beautyberry Bush (common name). The leaves are a *very* effective bug repellent, and the berries make a potent wine.

    Sad that you got to see the captive Bald Eagle, since that means that it was too injured to be returned to the wild. We have more nesting eagles here than just about anywhere.

  2. So glad that you are enjoying a visit here in Florida. Yes, FL is beautiful and great place to visit. Unfortunately it's a preppers worst nightmare state - I call it the fatal funnel. Easy to get into the state (wide at the top), and horrible for a mass exodus (wait and see if Irene turns into anything and the interstate will clog up faster than your arteries after a fried chicken meal!)

    I live on the East Coast about 2 hours south of Orlando and would have LOVED to have met you and have you autograph my book. Maybe another time - I hope one day my path takes me to visit your stomping grounds.

    That fruiting bush is a the American Beautyberry - I'm actually going to to look for ripe berries tomorrow to make jelly from it. Here in Florida there is a guy names 'Green Dean' and he teaches how forage and properly ID plants. He's a wealth of knowledge. He also has a web site - wonderful resource for those in FL or the Southeastern US.

    I hope your business here went (or will go) smoothly and that you have a safe journey home.

  3. Aww, love the FL sights! Thanks! Here's an interesting fact on that warm water(I think you might be used to CA cold water): All oceanic water in northern hemisphere moves clockwise, even out of the bath tub! So, water in FL comes from the equator(warm) and water in CA comes from Alaska (cold)!
    --K in OK <><

  4. I remember thinking the same thing about the warm water when we first moved here. Funny thing is that your body changes when you have lived here awhile. Now we wait until our pool reaches 80 degrees before we would even consider going for a swim (84 is just about perfect.) In the winter you can easily tell the difference between the Floridians and our out-of-town visitors. At 50 degrees the Floridians will be wearing jackets while our visitors from the north will be wearing short sleeves.

    As well as making delicious jelly, Beautyberry leaves are known to be a natural mosquito repellant. You can find them growing wild all over Florida.

    Southern Gal

  5. What a drag you couldn't find anything fun to do.

    A. McSp.


  6. Here in our county (rural Seminole) we do see bald eagles all the time in the wild. My kids are forever spotting them overhead while I am driving. Zoos here are likely to only keep injured ones in captivity; if it is not injured, I would be asking why the zoo has it.

  7. Welcome to Florida. So glad you had a day to yourself and put it to good use.

    Why bother to prepare when you can go stand in line in the heat and humidity for a bag of free government ice after the hurricane is over??? Then complain about how unprepared the government is. You wouldn't believe what goes on --- or maybe you probably would.

    A bit of info: Orchids are not parasites, they are epiphytes. From wiki: "An epiphyte (or air plants) is a plant that grows upon another plant (such as a tree) non-parasitically or sometimes upon some other object (such as a building or a telegraph wire), derives its moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and sometimes from debris accumulating around it, and is found in the temperate zone (as many mosses, liverworts, lichens and algae) and in the tropics (as many ferns, cacti, orchids, and bromeliads)."

    Seeing the flamingos always reminds my of our oldest son at the zoo many years ago when he first saw them. "Look, ducks in color" -- We had a black and white TV. Thinking about it, it was probably over 40 years ago.


  8. Spell check alert, lightning not lightening. Lightning flashes from the sky, lightening is what the sky does as the sun rises. That is how I was taught to remember the difference.
    Nice pictures but I would much rather be here in Idaho. I hate the heat. Glad you are having a good time.

  9. Awww, you're making me homesick. One of the things I miss here in Oklahoma is all the places there were to swim in Florida. And not just the beach; lots of lakes, rivers and creeks with easy, free, public access. I can count on one hand the number of times I've gotten to go swimming here :( Glad you're enjoying your trip.

  10. So many Floridians posting, so much good information.