Tag Archives: Florida State Parks

A Heron at Western Lake

April 15th, 2014

By Nic Stoltzfus

Here is a story from earlier this year about my experience with wildlife at one of South Walton’s coastal dune lakes.

 

February 17th, 2014

This morning Dad and I woke up and left Seaside a little before 6:00 to head out to Western Lake to get sunrise pictures. This morning we trained our cameras on Western Lake’s famous umbrella-like canopy of slash pines on the southeast side of the lake (located in Grayton Beach State Park). I stationed myself at water’s edge, just at the bottom of a crescent of shoreline at Western Lake. As we were taking pictures a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) flew in to the right of me to come eat his breakfast. I kept taking pictures of the row of pines, but kept a steady eye on the heron. He kept walking closer towards me, working his way along the crescent shape of the shoreline. The sunrise ripened to fruition and the early light of morning filled the sky. I switched positions and focused my lens on the bird. I had my lens zoomed in fully to 200 millimeters (I have an 18-200 millimeter lens for my Nikon camera and 200 is as far as it telescopes in. The scope goes like this: Think of 18 millimeters as wide-angel. 50 mm is what the natural eye sees. 200 is about the strength of a normal pair of binoculars. When you see those spectacular pictures of close-ups of birds, caterpillars, flowers, etc. typically photographers are using a 300mm or 400mm lens). I held my breath. The heron dove in the water for his first fish.

 

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This is a picture of the Great Blue Heron diving for breakfast.
This is a picture of the Great Blue Heron diving for breakfast.

 

© Lucasfilms, Ltd. This is an X-Wing from Star Wars. Unfortunately, I did not take this image. Apparently the Rebel Alliance doesn't have a huge need for nature photographers in space.
© Lucasfilms, Ltd. This is an X-Wing from Star Wars. Unfortunately, I did not take this image. Apparently the Rebel Alliance doesn’t have a huge need for nature photographers in space.

The above image always makes me smile when I see it. When I see this image, I think of an X-Wing Fighter from Star Wars. This Great Blue Heron is locally famous, and I think a few of the locals have named him “Buddy.”

The heron caught one fish and kept walking closer towards me. My dad was back further, by the road, and he also had his zoom lens on his video camera fixed on the heron. I looked up at him and he held his index finger over his lips, indicating for me to be still and quiet and not spook the heron. I shook my head up and down and continued to breathe slowly and hold still. He continued walking closer towards me. Herons are so fun to watch when they walk. They have this delicate, almost gentlemanly, way of walking. It is as if saying to the world, “Yes, I am avian royalty. I am the largest heron in North America. The indisputable feathered king. I will delicately work my way towards breakfast, thank you very much.”

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Heron in mid-walk
Heron in mid-walk

 

One thing that is so cool about herons is their eyes. They are piercing yellow and slice right through to the depths of your soul quizzing, questioning you: Who are you? What are you doing here? I zoomed my camera back to 18 millimeters to get a wide-angle shot of the landscape with the heron in the foreground.

 

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This gives you an idea as to what was going on. The water was beautiful and still and, with my polarizer on the lens, you can see the sea grasses from eye level.
This gives you an idea as to what was going on. The water was beautiful and still and, with my polarizer on the lens, you can see the sea grasses from eye level.

 

The Great Blue Heron continued working closer towards me. He kept tilting his head from side to side looking for fish darting in the water. I zoomed my lens back to 200 mm and focused it on the heron. He lunged his neck forward and plunged his beak into the water.

 

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Web_CDL_2830

 

He walked closer until he was about 10 feet away from me. I slowly turned my head to see my dad taking a picture of the scene with his iPhone. I slowly turned my head back around and continued to hold still.

 

 

The author taking a picture of the heron. Image by Elam Stoltzfus.
The author taking a picture of the heron. Image by Elam Stoltzfus.

 

Stillness. A bead of sweat slid down my forehead. I was sweating despite the coldness of winter. Waiting in feverish anticipation. With a lightning-quick strike the heron dove again for another fish and came up with his third fish for the morning. It was flapping from side to side as a single seaweed strand hung down from the heron’s beak.

 

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Web_CDL_2869

 

I continued to hold still and finally the heron flew off soon after he caught his third fish. I walked back up to the side of 30A with a huge grin on my face—what a morning!

 

End note: I refer to the Great Blue Heron in this blog as a “he” for clarity, but I am not really sure if the heron was a he or a she. Unless you have a male heron and a female heron next to one another it can be difficult to tell the sex of the species. Male and female markings are remarkable alike.

An Alien Landscape in SoWal

An Alien Landscape in SoWal:

Fog in the Coastal Dune Prairies of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

Taken at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
What looks like the moon is really the sun and you can see a glimmer of fading light shining out on the Gulf of Mexico. The sun is shrouded in fog and although the direct light from the sun is diffused by the clouds you can see the light from the sun reflecting on the ocean at the horizon.

By Nic Stoltzfus

April 9th, 2014

I have had many great experiences down here at South Walton working on the Coastal Dune Lakes of Walton County (working title) documentary. I worked with my Dad, Elam, and our editor, Joey Dickinson, on filming a paddling event last October on Lake Powell. I kayaked through the Western lake outfall into the Gulf of Mexico. I have photographed many sunrises and sunsets along the area. And it truly is a beautiful area. One of my favorite days so far was in late February when I was assisting Dad as part of the Escape to Create program.

 

February 19th, 2014

We were busy today: Steve Newborn, a radio reporter from WUSF Public Media, drove up from Tampa to do a story on the coastal dune lakes. Elam, Steve, and I interviewed County Commissioner Cindy Meadows in her office that morning, took a break for lunch, and then interviewed park ranger Jeff Talbert of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park that afternoon.

After the interview with him he took us out on an exclusive “behind-the-scenes” tour of the dunes of Topsail. The four of us loaded up in one of the park’s oversize gas-powered golf cart (in these here parts we call them “gators”). Our destination was the dune lake prairie between Morris Lake and Campbell Lake. We arrived as the afternoon light was filtering in through the overhead clouds. I snapped a couple nice photos in the light and we kept walking through the dunes, headed to the highest dune at the park. As we walked eastward, the sun started arced closer towards the horizon and fog started filtering in. And a blanket of hushed water vapor enveloped the dunes. It was quite mystical—and I got the same feeling I did when I was at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan.

Dad and I went to Fushimi Inari around 4:00 in the afternoon (about the same time we were here at the dunes) and I got a strange feeling. The sun was slowly setting, light of day fading, and the tens of thousands of vermillion torii gates around us formed giant darkened monsters. It began to rain and the oversize cicadas that orchestrate Japan’s summers crescendoed with the arriving water. All around us objects casted shadows, doubt, and I felt strange premonitions of the past breathing down my neck, surrounding me. Lights by the temples struck on, adding to the strangeness. I got this sort of feeling that the past, present, and future were all around and that this moment was stuck—time suspended.

Taken at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
These are a series of windswept sand live oaks along the edge of Campbell Lake shrouded in fog.

I don’t know why I felt that way then or now. Maybe it was because in Topsail the mist blocked the sunset and the light just hung there, an afterglow of the sunset and the tracking of time was lost to us, we were oblivious to the movement of Earth through the heavens and, for a spell, God stopped time. After we trekked back to the trail we got on the golf cart and headed out to the beach. The dunes had been blocking the sea breeze and when we got out into the ocean I could smell the salty air. As we drove down by the ocean, the cart headed back to the main office, I got this strong sense, an awareness of my own existence, and I wished that this moment could go on forever, this timeless loop that never ends. If I would have taken a series of pictures and stitched them together and run them over and over again as a .gif that is how it would have looked. The light from the golf cart in my left field of vision and the constant roaring and rushing of the waves coming in and the fading light from the day seeping into the ocean. Wave crash. Wave recedes. Over and over again. I held onto the bar of the cart and silently wished that this moment would never end, would span on for the rest of my life.

Taken at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
Elam Stoltzfus and Steve Newborn look over the coastal dune prairies at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

Perhaps this is what heaven is: when you are on your way up to the pearly gates you drive on a dusky evening past white sand, a salty smell of death and dankness of the human body hanging in the air. In a golf cart you drive heavenward towards St. Peter.

The ocean has feeling of a journey coming towards the end, a spiraling towards the center of a seashell. This concept is hard to capture in words. What I mean is that the ocean has this timelessness to it, this ever-cycling, ever-looping feedback of waves crashing down on one another and it is ceaseless. Waves have been crashing on the shorelines since time immemorial. The dinosaurs heard waves crashing on the shores of Pangaea. The people-groups who walked over the Bering Strait heard it when they spanned out and reached their destinations—the present day lands of California, Florida, Mexico. Columbus heard waves lapping up along the dock as he sailed out into the New World.

Jeff stopped the golf cart for a moment at the beach and we got out. By this time the sun had set and we were walking around in near dark. We walked up and approached a dip in the sand that stretched towards the gulf. With the sound of waves was another sound. Two sounds that are rarely heard together. And that is the sound of the ocean and the sound of a babbling stream. The sound of a stream filtering down through the outfall of the dune lake and out into the ocean. Where else can you hear that? Where else?

Taken at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
Here is a solitary sand pine a midsts fog and dunes.

The four of us paused to take in the scene and then got back on the cart and headed back to the main office. I don’t know how everyone else felt, but I felt like an astronaut returning from Mars or some other alien landscape. An alien landscape right here in South Walton.