Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

The Hand Off and Tiny Key Deer

Friday & Saturday November 7 & 8, 2015                                     Most Recent Past Post:
Curry Hammock State Park                                                            Slowing Down in the Keys
Marathon, Florida




I’m out at dawn to enjoy the subtle yellows and pinks of the early morning




My kayak forecasters again tell me it is too windy today.  When I later check with the weather people they concur.  If we can’t get out on the water right after sunrise, it becomes too hot before we return from paddling.






Official sunrise at 6:34 am.






By 7:00 we’re sitting on the beach in our chairs enjoying the breeze and watching the pelican party.



The ibis are also around.





Isn’t it amazing that the cormorant, a water bird with duck feet, can grab onto this boating sign and spread out his wings to dry them without just falling right over.




There really are so many things to see if you just sit down and keep watching.  This fella is about as big as my fist and hurries across the sand just out from our feet.  What big eyes you have!





In the early morning, when the sand hasn’t yet been disturbed, I always see these cute little trails leading to holes in the sand. Today is no exception.




And today we see the trail blazer.  The blue arrow shows him and gives you an idea of how small he is.




He is busy cleaning house.  He goes down into his hole for a few minutes and returns moving sideways out the opening to toss a pile of sand out.  He does this over and over.  It is hilarious to watch.




But the most amazing thing is how beautiful he is.  When I look very closely, thanks to my camera, I can see he is exquisitely decorated.  Just look at those patterns.  Creation, what a marvel!






We do get a little chance to read before the sun and humidity send us inside.  If it were not so windy, we might bring out the beach umbrella and see if that would cool things off but I fear we’d spend our time chasing it down the beach and those of you who are long time followers will remember what happened to the ‘world’s greatest beach umbrella’.  Taking no chances here.









This morning the birds beat me out at dawn.  They are all over the detritus lines.



Along with the willets and sanderlings today I see three semipalmated plovers and a ruddy turnstone.



The sun lights up the clouds as it moves upward.  Well as we move actually.




Things darken, the sun rises and the path of light comes right over to me.   I just love this time of morning.  It’s my favorite time of day.



After sunrise we decide to walk around the campground while it’s still relatively cool and specifically look at the wildflower trail.  The “trail” has informational signs that identify the plants which are native to this section of the Keys.  Not all of the things in bloom are identified but many were.








Birds of a feather?   We see them all on the edge of the campground.






We’ve made plans to drive up to Bahia Honda State Park to see Nancy and Bill Mills so we decide to leave a little early and go by the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center first.

There are four NWRs here in the Keys and they are all administered out of this one small space in a shopping center in Big Pine Key Florida.




We passed Crocodile Lake when we first entered the Keys.  It obviously protects habitat for the American Crocodile only found in far south Florida.  It is not open to the public.

Key Deer is the most visited refuge since it is the only one both on land and open to the public.



Great White Heron and Key West Refuges are made up of many many off shore islands.  Some of which you can visit if you have a boat and some of which are closed for nesting.  These refuges were created early in the century to protect the “plume birds” who were almost hunted to extinction by those in search of feathers for ladies hats.



The visitor center is very small but has an amazing amount of very well displayed information about all four refuges.  It also has an excellent bookstore.

We learn that Key Deer are a subspecies of the northern white tailed dear with which we are very familiar having no end of them at the farm in Virginia.  This tiny race of white-tailed deer however are found only in the Florida Keys. 

In the early 20th century they too were hunted almost to extinction.  By the 1950’s the population was down to 25.  The refuge was created in 1957 and now entails 8542 acres on Big Pine, No Name Keys and other off shore keys. 

The Key Deer were listed as an endangered species in 1967 which has allowed the population to rebound to the current estimate of around 900. The Key Deer remains federally listed due to the continued loss of its habitat and because of high, human-related mortalities and disturbances (read loss of habitat and automobiles).  Fully grown they weigh 60 to 80 pounds and stand just 26-32” at the shoulder.   You can read more about them if you like at this excellent Fish and Wildlife Service Website.

We spend more time than we had planned in this interesting center.  I finish up by getting my Blue Goose passport book stamped and then it’s time to find a nice picnic spot for lunch before meeting up with Nancy and Bill.  Nancy wisely determined that it would cost us $9 just to get in the park to come by for the afternoon so they kindly agreed to meet us at a fishing spot parking area by the 7 Mile Bridge and drive us into the park for free.   Thanks Nancy for being so frugal.  We really appreciate it.

As we are headed back toward the meeting spot, we see a sign for a farmer’s market.   We brake for those so we swing on in.  Turns out it is in the parking lot of a Catholic church and is very small.  There is only one actual vegetable/fruit stand. Most of the tents are crafts and prepared foods.   We have enough fresh produce right now and just came to check it out for future reference.   So we do a once around, get back in the car and go to Fisherman’s Park for our picnic.





Nice spot in the shade of a great old tree and overlooking the water.  PERFECT!



After they pick us up, they hand over the loot they’ve been dragging around for 3 months now.  Really sorry I didn’t get a picture of that since it is the “hand off” of the title.

Since we were unable to get to Maine this year and they know how much David likes Raye’s Mustard, they went to the motherlode in Eastport, Maine and picked up 8 jars for him.  We paid for the mustard but delivery service and storage were free.  GREAT FRIENDS!   BTW, those 8 jars will probably not even last him 6 months.  Although when we get home he has a baked potato with mustard for dinner.  YUCK is what I say.


After the handoff, we get a royal tour of Bahia Honda in Bill and Nancy’s snazzy truck.  This park is much much larger than Curry Hammock and though we could walk the tour, it’s pretty hot at 1:00 in the afternoon for that. 


We do walk up the new bridge to get a bird’s eye view of the park and on the way we encounter a giant land crab at the base of a tree.  Wonder what the meat would be like in that huge claw?


Bill’s is telling David some fishing stories about a huge shark Nancy caught off the bridge.  Bigger than she was he swears.  Just crunched her line in two and headed in the opposite direction.



The views up here really are fantastic.  Sure looks like a tropical island to me.



We can see the “swimming beach” on the bay side.  Judging by how people are standing in the water, I’d probably call it a wading beach myself but it’s the first thing I’ve seen that looks like you possibly could at least float in the Atlantic.  We’ll be staying at Bahia for the last two weeks of November so I’m looking forward to trying this beach.


David snaps this picture of Nancy and I before we head to their coach.  We don’t actually look like twins do we?  But we’ve determined we really are. 



On the way back to the truck, David spots what we think is a limpkin preening in a tree.  Good eye and good pictures David!  If we’re not right about this id, Judy will set us straight.






Next, we tour the really sweet tent campground which is totally separate from the RVs.  Very thoughtful for the tenters.  Then around the RV sites so we can see the one we’ll be in mid month.  Not nearly as nice as theirs. It’s not on the water either.   Nancy really knows how to book em’.   She says she’s already set up in another waterfront site here for next October.  The heat obviously doesn’t bother these fishermen.

We stop at their site and walk over to our last tour stop to see the marina area and where we could possibly tie up our kayaks.  There are quite a few fish in the water but the only picture I get is of three of us in shadow standing on one of the docks  not sure where the 4th man out was. 



What a sweet site they have, right on the water.  We move into their new screen tent and out of the sun for some catching up.  Nancy tells me that their old screen tent had been through several blow downs and had been repaired multiple times when they decided to order this new one.  That evening, a couple walking by came up and wanted to know where they got the screened room.  Nancy told them that they were having a new one delivered and if the couple wanted their old one, they could have it.  And they did.  When the new one came, the two couples just picked up the old one and walked down to its new owners’ site.  Pretty slick recycling I’d say. 




I really am having a hard time remembering to take any pictures of our visit with them.  I’m too busy enjoying their company.  And as you can see, when I do take a picture, I’m only paying partial attention to what I’m doing.  Sorry Bill!





                                                                   Look at that rack!

Late in the afternoon they take us on a drive through the Key Deer Refuge.  The area they take us to, where we see many deer in and along the side of the road, is partly a suburban neighborhood.  I’m not sure how this happened that the refuge include such development. These houses don’t all look like they predate the 1957 date of the creation of the refuge. 

From the website I cited earlier I do learn that, since they can swim, the deer actually use many of the 26 islands that constitute the refuge.  But still Big Pine Key is the center of their range and supports about 2/3rds of them.  The main resource affecting where they stay or visit is the availability of fresh surface water.  During the wet season (May to October) they can swim between the islands (keys) and use as many of them as they wish.  But during the rest of the year (the dry season) Big Pine and No Name keys provide most of the fresh water to support the majority of the Key deer population. 


They really are the cutest little things.



After our drive around No Name Key they return us to Ruby and with hugs and ‘till next times’, we head back to Curry Hammock.  Funny thing is, when we move up to Bahia Honda in a week, they move down to Curry.  We’re swapping parks but we’ll meet up again before they head back to South Carolina.  Next time we are making reservations we  “twins”  have to get  better coordinated.


  1. Yep a Limpkin it is... and your little trail blazer is a ghost crab, your crab with the big claw is most likely a Mangrove crab... looks like you two are having a fun time

  2. How fun that you're meeting up with good friends in the Keys! It looks like you're enjoying yourselves, despite the continued winds that are interfering with your kayaking plans. I especially enjoy reading about your relaxing, meditative early mornings on the beach. We're looking forward to doing the same when we get there. BTW, looks like your mystery bird is an immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron. :-)

  3. See, I was thinking it was a juvenile black crowned night heron. Definitely a night heron, definitely a juvenile.

  4. Those little crabs look to be covered in lace, or tattoos. Also like the patterns they leave in the sand. The Key Deer are adorable. Nice to have such meet ups along the shore.

  5. Loved the wildlife tour. It is really amazing what is right there to be seen if we only sit long enough for life to waltz on by. It is funny to think of how you are focused on staying cool where here the focus has already switched to staying warm. So nice to see the meetups continuing... I know I certainly enjoyed meeting you two
    Can't wait for more beach time.

  6. Nice creature and bird pictures. Looks so relaxing on the early morning beach, glad you are enjoying it.

  7. Love your early morning finds at the beach:) You certainly have great eyes. That is the coolest little track. I love the crabs. The ghost crab was a super catch. Sorry to hear your weather is still hot and humid. Sure hope it breaks soon:)

    What a grea time with your friends! It's always fun to reconnect. The Key Deer are so adorable:)

  8. It was great to catch up an spend some time together. It probably won't be in Th Keys as we enjoy this great fishing weather!! But I know we will see you in some other amazing places. I guess I'm David's twin also...love mustard on just about anything; -)) I vote that the mystery bird is the Juvenile Yellow Crown. See you again before we leave this spectacular place!!!

  9. Bill and Nancy sure snagged the perfect spot. We used to put our boat in the water at Bahia Marina before we got our lot at Venture Out. We spend many hours fishing right by that bridge. There are some huge fish there.

    Maybe someone canceled and you can change to a waterfront site! GET WET!!! Get that new snorkeling gear in the water!!

  10. That certainly was one crabby post! They are such amazing creatures, I could watch them for hours. :c)

    Nice that your had a great visit with Nancy and Bill, they are such fun people (as you are). Too funny how you're "swapping" campgrounds with them. I guess it's what "twins" do!

  11. The longer we're back in the city the more I sleep later in the morning - no pretty sunrises to motivate an early rising :-( Love sharing yours though! That lacy ghost crab is the best. David got some great shots - the twins and the bird in the bush :-) Everybody lucked out on the screen room update - very nice! Such sweet little deer, glad their numbers are increasing again.

  12. I'm going to have to disagree with heyduke, and agree with Paula. Looks like a juvenile night heron to me too. I'd lean toward yellow-crowned though...

  13. Mornings are beautiful, aren't they. But it's so cold here in CA and my bed is so warm and snuggly that I hate to get out of it.

  14. Okay, this makes me feel real lazy, I did not get up until 830 this morning:)

  15. This will be my fourth winter in Florida and STILL have not been more than 20 miles south of Tampa! One of these years when we get back in October instead of December, we will head to the keys before the January rush take place. Does it look like one needs park reservations this time of year???

    1. If you plan on staying at the State Parks, reservations are a must Oct to March. Bahia Honda SP you need and will be lucky to get reservations year round!!

  16. How nice to have spent some time with N&B. They are so thoughtful to have recycled their old screen tent. Love the crab pictures, especially the hermit crab :)

  17. I know the key deer are small, but you can see the influence of the northern white tail in their look as well. Beautiful shots of all that wildlife.

  18. Al's aunt and uncle used to spend the winters in the Keys in their camper van back in the 80's. They stayed at Bahia Honda a lot, fishing like Bill and Nancy. I remember talking to her about it, I think I remember her saying they used to have to wait in line early in the morning to get the open sites when their current reservation was up. This was all prior to the internet of course :-). They always had wonderful memories of staying there. We hope eventually we'll be able to stop this working thing and hang out down there for awhile!

  19. The votes are in and the decision has been made - the mystery bird is the yellow crowned night heron. In addition I'll have to disagree with Heyduke on the crab too and I should have put both their names in the post. Yes the small one is a ghost crab but the large one is known as the Great Land Crab here in Florida. The mangrove crab is a small black tree crab which we've seen many times. I'll try to include him in another post.

  20. Wow, all in a day. No wonder retirement seems more busy than working was. Now that we are not working, there is no time to be wasted anymore! ;)

  21. What a day you had in the Keys, maybe too windy for now but I sure hope you can get into your kayaks pretty soon. I am enjoying all the shorebirds pictures! Your pics are making me want to come back to FL ...but not with the heat and humidity. Although here in Prescott, it is the opposite, we wake up in the high 20s and its 50'sh all day long. I sure missed those days that I can get up very early and enjoy solitude by the beach. I guess we can't really have it all.

  22. If I were that cormorant, I would fall beak first off that sign into the water with a splat! Beautiful sunrises and sitting there by the water reading....one of my favorite things to do! Great photo of the crab- he/she does have nice markings. When Cody was alive, Jasmine would dig for the crabs and fling one up in the air and then Cody would eat it. I felt bad for the crabs but after Jasmine had flung them, they may not have been feeling well. The limpkin looks rather prehistoric. Love the deer- they are adorable! Enjoy the warm- it'll be in the low 30's here tonight. xxxooo

  23. P.S. Nice of Nancy and Bill to get David's mustard. Yuck though, about mustard on baked potatoes. BLAH! We just had a discussion at work about mustard. Emily likes it on french fries. Mark (Travis' husband), however, likes ketchup on mashed potatoes. Ewwwww. The visual of that is not appealing.

  24. Without a hat and you in short sleeves, I bet you could convince a stranger you were twins :) Neat day and early start :) So many neat things to see and great company. Bill & Nancy sure had a nice site! Too bad you're not in the same park awhile. I know that'd be great fun. So nice of them to bring Raye's for Dad :)

  25. Great camoflage that crab on the beach had.


Your comments are the best part of this blog for me.
I LOVE hearing from you!