Sugar Sand and Sunshine

Snow birds. Different possibilities present themselves. If you watch birds and anticipate winter visitors or migrating beauty, Snow Geese, Trumpeter Swans or Bohemian Waxwings may come to mind. If you live in the north, you may dream of heading far south during the coldest of days. However, if you live south, you experience invasions of pale northerners for periods from two to six months. Perspective really is everything.

Then there’s me. With family in Florida’s panhandle, a chance to visit loved ones at a time of year when warm, sunny days offer respite from the brown, drab view outside my window, especially this year when snow is scarce. It is time for a short trip that warms the heart and soul, offering green landscapes and very different walks.

Sugar Sand

We’ve had strange weather this winter. With record setting warmth in Montana and unusual cold in the south, this trip is more about sun and green than temperature. Besides, Florida cannot offer up cold enough weather to beat my fleece layers.

Sis and I headed to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park on this gorgeous day. Chilly outside, but not too windy. As in the mountains, the wind is the game changer near the water, and we are on a narrow peninsula.

The sand here is amazingly fine and white. They call it sugar sand and tip toeing along this sugary beach, sinking to your ankles then stepping forward again tickles your toes with powdery bliss. Looks like we got here for the Willet’s nap time. We will see them again this summer in Montana, but for now, shhhhh.

Willets napping

We walk across the dunes on protective stairways as we head inland for a walk up the peninsula.

Dune of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

Our first view of St. Joseph Bay includes a scattering of Great Egrets. These wading birds live here year round. They stand about three feet tall and nest in trees, usually creating colonies. In winter’s respite from parenting we see them stealthily hunting for fish in the marsh grasses.

Great Egret on the hunt

Getting a better view, maybe scoping out nesting spots for spring?

Great Egret

It is such a beautiful day. Walking along the Bayview Scenic Trail we enjoy more gorgeous sand, blue skies, and views of the bay.

Trail by the Bay

The very common, lower growing Saw Palmettos are seen everywhere with scaly snakelike roots atop the ground.

Saw Palmetto along the trail

I can appreciate why Saw Palmettos are better in the forest than in your backyard.

Snake-like Saw Palmetto roots

Twisted Live Oaks among the pine trees skirted with raised arms of the Saw Palmetto. Refreshing green dancing along the floor of the forest.

Live Oaks

Turning the corner, we approach the Wilderness Preserve with an eight-mile trail to the tip of the peninsula through unique, natural areas. Without our day permit to enter, we will save this trip for next time, but the edges of the preserve offer a hint of the beauty within.

Water in the wilderness

A boardwalk allows us to cross these swampy areas. Peering into the wet wilderness, I’d love to see the reason you do not wade into standing water in Florida, particularly brackish water that is partially salt and partially fresh. Alligators. It is too cold for them to be active now, but we still scan the water. There is something eerie, primitive, and scary about seeing a set of eyes and a bulbous nose gliding your way atop the water. We were not to experience that primitive fear today–but I’m still not wading into the water.

Don't walk in the water

Leaving this wonderful wilderness for another day’s adventure, we head back down toward the Gulf to walk in the wild areas just off the water. Here, with more forest and dense undergrowth than beach, we walk narrow paths over small, rolling, sandy hills with surprise brackish ponds hidden by the undergrowth. Perhaps it is safer to just enjoy the view and the surrounds on higher ground. Alligator possibilities are still lurking in the back of our minds. As the path finds us on the edge of the three-foot drop to the Gulf, the beach all but disappeared.

Walking further from the water, we take a closer look around our feet and these amazing growths are everywhere. They look soft and puffy, but are stiff and unmoving to the touch, more like a skeleton than anything alive. This is powder-puff lichen or deer moss (Cladonia evansii). I’ve only seen lichen on trees or rocks, but not growing along the ground. This is a life form categorized as shrub lichen.

Deer Moss

Surprise! Early for flowers, but this flower blooms all year. We don’t have that luxury in Montana. Known as Gray Conradina (Conradina canescens), it grows about 12 inches tall, does well in sandy soil and full sun. Perfect for the beach.

Gray Conradina (Conradina canescens)

One more stroll to the bay side, this area is known as Eagle Harbor. The shallows of the harbor leading to the deep blue depths of St. Joseph Bay. 

Chilly water on my feet, but so fascinating to see live shells moving around, colorful rocks, and growth in the shallows.

Eagle Harbor shallows

We end our walk near the harbor’s boat launch area. Sitting on a bench after a great walk, we have visitors. Brown Pelicans are cousins of the White Pelicans we have on ponds and rivers at home. The Brown Pelicans are coastal birds. They dive for their dinner and soar so close to ocean wave tops you can barely watch expecting they will be swept away. They never are.

Brown Pelican

Soaking up some rays, just like we are doing in this area protected from the wind.

Brown Pelican relaxing

It has been a great day in a beautiful park. Very different from my usual walks, but marvelous views to enjoy with my sister. Glad you joined us for this walk at the beach. Until next time . . .

5 thoughts on “Sugar Sand and Sunshine

  1. Jeff Hutchinson says:

    2014/2015 a wicked winter seemingly never ending. We brought the delicate blooms acquired Mothers Day weekend indoors.
    Good to have relations in south if only to thaw out for few precious days during winter.
    Once more…reading very informative and flows well.
    Jeff

  2. Patty says:

    That was lovely Joy! — I can really get lost in your beautifully written descriptions and photographs. It is like being right there with you. That sugar sand is quite different from any sand I have encountered!

  3. Mark says:

    Having spent three weeks in south west Florida in January I can vividly remember the nature you have written about here, I do remember the warm sun but my bones are chilled after these last days of cold in Bozeman. You have a wonderful way of bringing life in your writings…

    keep looking up

  4. Gayla says:

    Though it’s sunny here today, snow is on the way and all I can think of is the sound of birds and waves and sugar sand between my toes. Enjoy it all and soak it up both of us.

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