It is Friday (Jan. 22) morning and I drove down to Florida on Monday. On Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday, I stayed in Panacea, Florida. Unfortunately I was unable to get online during my visit there and this is my first chance to add to my blog. This morning I am in St. Cloud, FL. My hope this morning was to go to various birding places along Canoe Creek Road south of town; however, it is now pouring down rain and lightning flashes are everywhere (this area is called the "lightning capitol of the world"). I hope to get out to photograph later in the day. Back to the first leg of my trip in Panacea.
Panacea is home to the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab. This is small company owned by a local couple. Their primary work is to collect marine specimens to sell to Educational Institutions (primarily colleges) and medical labs. They also maintain an aquarium display open to the public. There are no huge glass aquaria holding thousands of gallons of water. Instead these are smaller tanks; in some of the tanks visitors are encouraged to reach in and touch or feel the specimens. As a former high school biology teacher, I used to teach ABOUT such exotic life forms as sponges, starfish, sea urchins, etc. We saw picture of these organisms and had a few preserved specimens for students to examine, but we never saw the living colorful specimens. At this aquarium you can see the REAL things. In addition the owners have authored a number of books about their adventures while capturing their specimens. I have enjoyed reading a number of these. The flounder pictured below was taken in one of those tanks. This was the first place I visited.
Surrounding Panacea and running miles along the Gulf Coast is the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. I visited many sites along the Gulf looking for specimens to photograph. Most of my photos were captured along the road to the St. Marks Lighthouse. You can reach the drive from State Route 98 in Newport, Florida. It is a seven mile drive from Route 98 to the St. Marks Lighthouse. You should stop at the Visitor Center on your way in to pay the $5.00 daily fee, to pick up maps and directions; the Visitor Center also offers some displays on local wildlife, a small gift shop, and a half-mile nature walk near the facility (and, oh yes, nice rest rooms). As you make the drive down to the lighthouse you pass by many open water areas on both sides of the paved road with turnouts for parking; there are also trailheads for many hiking trails at the site. While traveling the road I often photograph directly from my car.
When you near the lighthouse area, there is a boat launch area to your right. You can park in the parking area here and get some wonderful overview shots of the lighthouse from afar. Leaving the boat ramp area and turning right, you reach the end of the road where the lighthouse is found. This lighthouse is open to the public only on certain occasions, but makes a great photographic subject. There is also a 1/4 mile Levee Trail where you can hike while looking down into a water basin on the right and Appalachicola Bay on your left.
Exactly what you will see depends on time of the year, time of the day, weather, etc. In October Monarch Butterflies arrive by the thousands on their migration into Mexico (they do not fly directly across the bay, but make their way along the shoreline of the bay and through St. Marks). In January, migrating Whooping Cranes arrive from Wisconsin (being lead there by an ultralight airplane). While their exact location is kept secret while they acclimate to the area during the springs they begin to migrate around the refuge on their own.
Panacea has some excellent seafood restaurants often serving seafood actually caught by local fisherman. Two of my favorites are the Coastal Restaurant and Posey's Oyster Bar.
On Wednesday, I drove 300 miles from Panacea, Florida to St. Cloud, Florida to visit and photograph along Canoe Creek Road. More on that later. Attached below are some photos taken at St. Marks. Pictured below are the following: A St. Marks alligator, a great white egret, the St. Mark's Lighthouse, a male red-headed duck, two brown pelicans, a flounder from the aquarium, and a ring-necked duck. St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge...a lesser-known, but great place to visit.