Monday, December 17, 2007

Surf's Up on the Gulf Coast

Wow! We just had a major cold front come through, bringing with it a tornado and a pretty nice swell in the Gulf. I took a drive down to Venice today and scored some decent video of some nice surfing. The longboarders were out in force and were really the only ones catching any waves.

I did get a chance to check out stand-up paddle surfing. It's pretty cool. How is it different from regular surfing? Well, the board is typically very long--maybe 10 to 12 feet, and is thicker and much wider than a regular longboard to provide better flotation and stability--so you can balance better. AND, instead of laying down and paddling with your hands, you actually stand up and paddle with a paddle similar to a canoe paddle (only longer and with a different design). Below is a video capture picture of a stand-up paddle surfer in action.

After I used up the battery in my camcorder, I drove down to the Venice Fishing Pier to gather some info for an article I'm working on for the site. As usual, I ended up hanging out on the beach longer than I'd intended and found myself looking at a beautiful sunset. So here's a little photo of the sun setting behind the pier. Nice, eh?
Venice Beach Fishing Pier Florida Sunset

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Monday, October 08, 2007

It's Still Summer in Florida

It's getting to be a habit. Six o'clock in the evening rolls around and I'm ready to wind down the workday and head for the beach to catch the sunset. But I go for more than just the sunset. There is a sense of peace at the beach at day's end that really helps bring the day to a close in just the right way: fresh salt air; a nice breeze; terns and gulls floating in the air and diving for dinner; people picking up shells; and the ever-present sound of the Gulf, surging and lapping at the shore.

The water temperature is still well above 80 degrees, and the humid air is about 84 degrees at sunset, and it doesn't cool off much after that. October is the time we look for that first "cold front" to sweep through, bringing a bit of dryness to the air and a dip into the low 70's at night. We are still above 90 degrees for a high now.

Tonight, as every night, the Hubbard Marina sunset cruise went by with a fairly small group on-board. Photo below:

The sunset was small tonight. A dark gray stratocumulus obscured the pink ball until it was almost touching the water. For a few minutes the top of the sun was blocked by the cloud while the bottom was submerged under the watery horizon. Here it is:

There were lots of birds on the beach--always are on Treasure Island. Large flocks of terns swirled in the air, calling and splashing in the water as far up the beach as I could see.

And the sanderlings, with the fastest legs on the planet, run up and down the beach, expertly dodging the surging wash from the waves.

I took a walk up the wide beach after the sun went down, just enjoying the warm east wind and the sparsely populated beach. I was at the Treasure Island beach access just south of the Bilmar Hotel Resort. I like it because the parking is free, and it's the closest beach access to my house--about 10 minutes away.


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Friday, September 28, 2007

A Treasure Island Sunset and Moonrise

September and October seem to offer some of the most spectacular sunsets here on the Florida Gulf Coast beaches. This is because of the cloud formations that drift around in the Gulf during the early fall.

To create the most beautiful sunsets, tall cumulus clouds are necessary, with some stratocumulus and some high cirrus for good effect. Heavy banks of flat, grey stratus hanging on the horizon will most usually mute the sunset, or obscure it altogether. During the spring months, there is often a thick fog or haze on the horizon, and during the summer months there are often large thunderstorms and thick clouds out over the Gulf that block the sunset.

This particular evening found some flat heavy clouds partially obscuring the sunset. But I took some photos of a cruise ship sailing across the beautiful pink glow of the sunset.

Some of the most beautiful effect of a sunset are seen in the water and in the colorful glow of clouds far away from where the sun is actually setting.

After enjoying the sunset, I turned around and saw the full moon rising in the east.

Every sunset is different, and when you can see the sun set and the moon rise at the same time, well...what more do you need?

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dinner Time for Seabirds

Sunset means dinnertime for seabirds (actually ANYTIME is dinnertime for hungry birds). I drove out to Sunset Beach on Treasure Island to watch the sunset, and found lots of jumping baitfish being pursued by gulls, terns, and black skimmers. A seagull caught a fish that was almost too big to swallow. The bird played with it for a long time (a live, flopping fish is hard to swallow).

Of course there are risks that come with trying to hold onto a fish when there are other hungry birds around. A willet kept sneaking up behind the gull and made an unsuccessful grab for the gull's fish.

Finally, the gull managed to swallow the fish. That was quite a meal. A few minutes later a black skimmer caught a fish and fumbled with it for several minutes before abandoning it.

A hungry willet ran over and tried to claim it, but a willet's beak just isn't designed to eat relatively large fish.

Finally, the willet lost interest and I walked over to see why the skimmer abandoned its catch. I picked up the little fish and it became immediately apparent why the skimmer did not eat it. Here is the fish:

I noticed that the little fish had very sharp and very stiff spines on top of its body and underneath. Many fish have spiny fins, but they generally fold back against the fish's body rather easily when it is dead. The spines on this fish were rigid and would have damaged the bird's throat.

All of the photos above, except the ones of the fish, were captures from my video camera, so they are not the highest quality. Later I'll post the video of the birds and the fish.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Sunset Cure

Ever had one of those days when no matter how hard you tried, you just couldn't seem to get anything accomplished? I had one of those days today, so I decided I needed to drive out to the beach to see the sunset. Upham Beach, on St. Pete Beach is the closest beach to my house, so that's where I went.

The Gulf was as calm as a lake. The breeze was strong, but it was from the east, so the beach was mostly sheltered by the island. I headed north, past the big yellow erosion control sandbags, toward Blind Pass. Blind Pass separates the island of St. Pete Beach from Treasure Island. There were two fishermen on the rock jetty on the south side of the pass, and quite a few people on the beach enjoying the shirt-sleeve weather on this warm, breezy mid-March evening. The smell of cigar smoke from a tobacco addict wafted down the beach on the breeze--a minor annoyance.

A heavy bank of grey clouds hung over the Gulf, but left enough clear sky for a nice sunset. A few sunrays were already poking through the clouds and reflecting off the water. I climbed up onto the rocks and found a nice flat granite rock to sit on.
pelican flying over the Gulf of Mexico
The tide was moving the water rapidly out from the bay to the Gulf and the strong current was plainly visible. Fishermen in two small sport-fishing boats were casting for fish just outside the pass. Pelicans circled overhead and dove repeatedly into the pass, and then drifted with the current before taking flight again.

A pair of dolphins were playing in the pass and quite unexpectedly began leaping out of the water over and over, attracting the attention of the sunset-watchers on the beach. I haven't seen dolphins jump in a long time.

sunset at Blind Pass, St. Pete Beach

The wind blew the sounds of the live music from Jimmy B's all the way to my mostly quiet spot on the jetty. But I didn't mind a little music--the sunset was serene and beautiful. As darkness approached I lay back on the flat granite and just let the wind blow over me. A crescent moon illuminated the sky, but was not bright enough to overpower the great hunter Orion, looking down from the starry sky.
St. Pete Beach at night
After a while I took a walk south toward the hotels and restaurants, now full of lights and loud music and vacationers out for a stroll or splashing in the pools. The music from the live band at Jimmy B's seemed really loud as I approach. They belted out a southern rock rendition of Suzy Q. I quickly tired of the noise and the lights and headed back toward the water.

The moon was much brighter now and fewer people were on the beach. I felt really relaxed inhaling the fresh salt air and hearing the water lapping the sand. Mission accomplished.

There are very few things that a good sunset on the Gulf won't cure.

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