Despite the less than ideal weather, we had a wonderful time. Our trailer is Canadian made and built for 4-season travel, with central heat, thermal pane windows, and excellent insulation. We’re very cozy indoors, and have our computers, books, and music to keep us occupied. But there’s only so long that we can hang out in a 21-foot trailer without going stir-crazy. So we bundle up and head outdoors every day, no matter what the weather. I never thought I’d be wearing the wool Stetson hat I bought in Yellowstone in Florida, but it sure came in handy—along with thermal underwear, wool socks and boots, gloves, rain jacket, and a wool scarf. (In Florida? Really??)
A highlight of our stay was meeting new friends who are avid birders and hikers, and most important, a lot of fun: Loretta and Henry (from Georgia), and Patricia and Ken (from Alabama). The six of us spent a freezing day birding at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, a very foggy day at Wakulla Springs State Park on the trails and river, and a rainy evening enjoying a delicious low-country boil made with fresh local shrimp. They know all the best places in Georgia and Alabama; we hope to meet up with them again for more adventures.
Here, the high points of our stay at Ochlockonee River State Park:
• Ochlockonee River State Park: This beautiful Florida state park is located in Sopchoppy, 40 miles east of Apalachicola on the “Forgotten Coast.” The campground is small, but with spacious sites, and many are on the banks of the Ochlockonee River. Hiking and biking trails take off from the campground through the surrounding terrain of pine flatwoods, thickets of live oaks, golden grasses, and saw palmettos. It’s a landscape that Eric and I both find beautiful. The pine flatwoods are home to the endangered red cockaded woodpecker, which we tried our best to find, but never did.
We did, however, have great sightings of the unique white squirrels that live in the park—they’re not albinos, but a genetic mutation of grey squirrels. We also happened upon a rare white deer (also called a piebald, or calico). Good thing there’s no hunting in the park—it’s not exactly a mutation that lends itself to camouflage.
• St. Marks Wildlife Refuge: Bald eagles, osprey, brown pelicans, hundreds of ducks (scaups, shovelers, ruddy, mergansers, blue winged teal), black crowned night herons, avocets, ibis, great and little blue herons, snowy and great egrets—this refuge is one of the best. Established in 1931, St. Marks was one of the first National Wildlife Refuges, and encompasses 70,000 acres of coastal marshes, islands, and estuaries. It’s also home to the oldest lighthouse on the Gulf coast, built in 1842 and still in use today.
• Wakulla Springs State Park: One of our favorite north Florida adventures is a wildlife tour on a Wakulla Springs riverboat, and we go every time we’re in the area (it’s about 30 miles from Ochlockonee State Park). I called to make sure the tours were running in the dense fog, and a woman with a lovely Southern accent said, “Yes ma’am—the boats are running. But it is dismal out there.” Dismal was an understatement, but we went anyway, and had a good time. Not as many birds or gators as usual (they don’t like cold weather, either) but we did see at least a dozen manatees, which gravitate in winter to the temperate waters of the springs.[portfolio_slideshow]