Canaveral National Seashore – Day Three – Sunrise

David:  “Sunrise?”, I asked again, just to be sure that I had heard right.  “Sunrise”, Jodi said with a little more conviction.  Sunrise was to take place at 7:10 am the next day. Figuring in drive time and a minimum number of snooze button hits, that meant I would have to set my alarm for 4:00 am.  Done.

Jodi:  Let me just start by saying that I’m just not a morning person.  Never have been; I’m a night owl.  So why am I telling you this?  It’s to encourage you to break from the norm.  Leave your comfort zone.  Get up! Up! Up and get out!  What you get in return can be FANTABULOUS!  That’s a hybrid of the words fantastic and fabulous because just one of those words isn’t quite enough to describe being at Canaveral National Seashore (CNS) at sunrise!

David:  We hit the road at about 5:30.  Jodi drove Jeff’s new car.  That thing had all the bells and whistles.  I’m naturally intimidated by any vehicle that may be more intelligent than I am and made a promise to Jodi to not touch anything.  Or sweat.  I couldn’t bear the thought of being sweaty in this vehicle.  Nor could Jeff, apparently – there was already a towel on my seat to shield the interior from a sweaty body.  Worked like a charm!

Jodi:  Once again cooler, camera, bug spray, and sunscreen in hands Dave and I were off to CNS.  Only this time it was 5:30am.  Yawning and little bleary-eyed from the 18 inning baseball game the night before, we made the drive from the neighborhood to the east coast.  We paid our entrance fee to the seemingly always happy park ranger and found our spot on the raised platform at parking area #4.

David:  We drove through the gate at just before 7:00.  The sky was brightening and it was now a race against time and earth’s rotation to get to our spot and set up.  We wanted to get to Lot 4 with its observation deck.  We made it with a couple of minutes to spare!  The wind was blowing straight off the ocean and there was a backdrop of awesome clouds.  The surf was pushing high up the beach leaving only a narrow strip of sand between the encroaching waves and the dunes.  The pictures that follow were taken over a 20 or so minute time period.  Worth the early morning trip?  It was for me.

Jodi:  The show was just beginning.

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The clouds were low and puffy over the horizon with the most beautiful pinks, purples, blues and oranges.  The sun was beginning to emerge from the depths.

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Then she was whole.  The Beatles’ song ‘Here Comes the Sun’ was playing in my head. Do do do do.  What a reward for simply getting up early!  The coast was waking up and looking spectacular!

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The pelicans were looking for breakfast.

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Brown Pelicans

Even Dave and I were photogenic at that hour.

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It was all about the sunrise…

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The photogenic one…

He was a little more camera shy than I.

David:  It was hard to leave that spot, but we wanted to visit some areas we hadn’t had a chance to before and revisit others.  Since we were there at what Jodi described to me as the “golden hour”, we wanted to take advantage of the light at that time of day and made our way to the pier at Parking Lot 7.  We hoped to get some inspired pictures, maybe of Jodi’s elusive shark, or whatever creature made its presence known.  No shark, but I don’t think either one of us was disappointed with the close-up of the mother and baby dolphins.

Jodi:  Golden Hour, the first (or last) hour of sunlight of the day was beginning.  So off to stop #7 and the pier once again to the serenity of Mosquito Lagoon for a peek.  Not a ripple on the water.  Until…

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Mosquito Lagoon – “golden hour”

From quite a distance away we could see a disturbance in the water.  This time ‘it’ was coming our way.  Was I finally going to get to see a shark!?  We saw a fin…two FINS!

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Could it be?

Not sharks…dolphins!  (Not to be confused with Dolphin fish or Mahi-Mahi.)

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Adult and young dolphin

It was a Mom and baby.  Awww!  How cute!

Back in the car we had a list of a few things we wanted to check off before we left.

David:   We then headed back south to Parking Lot 5 (just knew that was going to happen!) to see what the previously unvisited boat ramp area might have in store.  Our (Jodi’s) attention had been on the beach side at this location, but when she saw several large splashes out in the lagoon, her interest was piqued…mine, too.  Jodi asked a young man loading his kayak on to his vehicle what he thought might be making the splashes.  He told her that he thought and hoped they were tarpon.  Apparently, it was or was approaching open season on that fish.  Not sharks maybe, but a large and interesting fish in its own right.  All we saw were the splashes and maybe a glimpse of silver.  Kinda’ cool regardless.

Jodi:  As we were approaching our next parking area #5, we could see something splashing wildly around in the lagoon about 200 yards off-shore.  I walked down to the boat ramp area where another gentleman was also watching the disturbance.  He had been loading his kayak and remarked that the splashing had been ‘going on for a while.’  Neither of us could be sure what it was from that distance.  However it was fun to speculate, so I asked him what he thought ‘it’ was…big fish? Dolphin? Sea Serpent? Mermaid? Shark?  I was close with big fish. He ‘hoped’ it was tarpon noting that it was tarpon season.  Once again, my hopes for a shark sighting dashed.

As the kayaker left, Dave and I noticed more movement close to shore in the shallow water at our feet.  We caught these puffer fish chasing each other back and forth and in circles.

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Southern Puffer

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Southern Puffer

Dave spotted this sea shell…an entire ecosystem in itself.

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Pear Whelk shell with new residents

Then I spotted this shell out for a…stroll?   Can you see his eyes?

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Hermit Crab

This Cormorant was taking a break to dry out its wings.

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Cormorant

David:  We saw quite a bit of life in the shallow waters at the shoreline.  A number of puffer fish were swimming around in what first appeared to be random motions.  After closer and longer observation, we weren’t sure if the movements were quite that random.  There may have been a purpose, but we weren’t sure what it was.  Jodi spotted a hermit crab ambling through the underwater vegetation.  Small and medium “bow waves” gave away the presence of other fish in the murkier waters farther from shore.  There was a lot going on!

Jodi:  Then, typical me, I had to take a few minutes to chase butterflies.

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Gulf Fritillary – side view

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Gulf Fritillary – top view

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Infamous area 5

We walked across to my favorite spot, the beach area of #5.  We noted that the tide was much higher today.  No sign of our friend, Mr. Allovertanman.  It was windy and looked as though it might rain later.  As we walked back up the walkway we noticed this lizard showing off.

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Brown anole

Back to the loop and a stop at the kayak launch at Lot #6 and a walk through a short trail near the water.  Dave says hey Jodi check this out!  Eeeek!  You can take that pic!

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Black racer

This guy was laying on a dead palmetto frond at about my chest level… so not far from eye-to-eye for me.  It still gives me the willies!  We didn’t stay on that trail very long.

David:  We left Lot 5 and headed north to the “loop road” to visit areas we hadn’t seen before.  A sign for Parking Area 6 indicated access to a kayak launch.  We had to walk a short distance down a path that stretched off into the distance along the shoreline.  The launch was a just a narrow clearing in the vegetation which allowed for access to the water…all that was really needed.  We did see a lounging black racer on a palm frond.  Jodi gave this one a wide berth as we walked back to the car.

Our next stop was the Eldora House.  According to the literature, in this case, the Library of Congress, this house dates from the 19th century and is located at a site that was once a, “stop-over point for shippers and travelers in the turn-of the-century riverboat community of Eldora”.  It was renovated and now serves as a museum and is open to the public.  It was, however, closed on this day and we were restricted to the outside gardens and lawn.  The gardens or landscaped areas were planted with many native species which were labeled with interpretive signage.  We found a short boardwalk over a canal at the back of the house.  The water quality in the canal could have used some improvement and I wasn’t sure of its purpose anyway.  Walking back to the car, we passed under an impressive oak with an equally impressive draping of Spanish moss.  This oak with moss kind of completed the picture of an old southern home.

Jodi:  A trip out to stop #8 Eldora, aptly named for Eldora House which sits on the water’s edge with beautiful porch views of Mosquito Lagoon.  Imagine waking up to all of that every morning?  Apparently someone did!

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Eldora House – Front view

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View of Eldora House from dock

We walked the trail admiring the grounds and walkways.  The oak trees were huge and had lots of Spanish moss draping them.  Here’s a shot from underneath one.

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Spanish Moss in oak tree limbs

As we walked we noted that the National Park Service was using a number of different means by which to use recycled and natural materials to slow the erosion of the shorelines on the lagoon side of the park.  Here they were using bags of oyster shells.

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Shoreline stabilization

We stopped here and there along the way to take pictures of some wildflowers.

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Lantana

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Wild Petunia

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Morning Glory

David:  Back in the car for the short drive to Parking Lot 9 and the Eldora Hammock Trail.  The trail was advertised as a half mile loop through the coastal hammock.  While it held some promise, we deferred on this one.  Maybe another time!

We had one more stop that we wanted to make…the Information Center.  We stopped along the way so Jodi could get a couple of pictures.

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Prickly pear cactus

Jodi:  Some prickly pear cacti and some sea grapes.

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Sea grapes

Hey Dave did you know the internet claims that you can make wine from these?  Have you ever made wine from sea grapes?

We drove to the information center parking area and walked out to another fishing dock.  A family was watching a manatee cruise along the water.

David:  Better late than never?  Yes, and I was glad that we finally decided to check out the Information Center.  In addition to printed material, T-shirts and the like, there was a knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff member offering both facts and suggestions.  She informed of us of the elevated sea turtle nest numbers for the year and suggested that we shouldn’t pass up a visit to Turtle Mound.  We thanked her for the information and I even bought what is now my favorite T-shirt.  We walked to the dock out back of the center and saw a family watching a manatee.  On the way back to the car, I asked Jodi if she was ready for one last stop: Turtle Mound.  I liked to think that she was ready for one last “thing”, but didn’t get the same enthusiastic response as with the sunrise which, by then, was about five hours in the past.  She, apparently, tapped into some reserves and we headed to Turtle Mound.

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Record year for sea turtle nesting!

Jodi:  Last stop before a late lunch was Turtle Mound.  Stop #1 on our map.

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Interpretive signage for Turtle Mound

From this plaque we learned among other things that we were about to walk 35 feet into the air on the ‘tallest shell mound in Florida.

David:  Turtle Mound was described as the tallest Indian shell midden in the nation.  It was about 35 feet tall with the peak accessed by an inclined boardwalk.  The walk up was made more interesting by probably the greatest concentration of golden orb spiders and webs I had ever seen.  They were everywhere – above us, next to us and, sometimes, even below us!  I could only assume that these arachnids were taking advantage of ocean breezes to drive some hapless flying insects into their webs for a meal.  We saw one web that was liberally peppered with love bugs.  Whatever the case, we dodged a number of them on the way up.  The view from the top was, in a word, spectacular!  From two observation platforms, we could see the beach and lagoon for miles in either direction.  That was one experience I’m glad we didn’t miss!

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Elevated and inclined walkway up Turtle Mound

Jodi:  Up, up, up we walked on the slowly rising walkway.  We dodged webs.

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Golden Orb spider

Ever seen a spider with 7 legs?

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View from top of Turtle Mound – looking north

For this view of the ocean and the lagoon from one spot!  It was worth every minute! On the way back down we stopped to chase a few more butterflies.

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Mangrove skipper

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Great Southern White

David:  We walked back down the boardwalk and around to the base of the midden that was closest to the shoreline of the lagoon.  Interpretive signage described some of the history of the midden as well as on-going preservation efforts.  Apparently shoreline erosion was an issue and we could see efforts to stabilize the shoreline with native plantings and armoring.  I was glad to see that my alma mater, UCF, was getting in on the act.

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Native plantings for shoreline stabilization

It had been a long day and it was time to seek some sustenance.  I, for one, will come back to this place to seek solace on a nearly-empty beach or watch the wildlife from a pier on the lagoon side.  Jodi’s husband Jeff has expressed an interest in bringing his bicycle back for another day of riding.  Maybe I’ll join him.  I’d place a bet that, this time, Jodi gets her wish for a lounge chair and a good book!

Jodi: Time for a much needed lunch!  Back to JB’s for a dolphin…I mean mahi sandwich!  But, while at JB’s just north of the CNS entrance we spotted one more thing we wanted to share.

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Manatee taking a breath.

Now it’s time for you to get out!  If we’ve inspired you to get up and out to one of the places we’ve been or somewhere that’s new to you… tell us about it!

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About David Hansen

A bunny- and tree- hugging biology-type with an appreciation for what nature has to offer.

2 responses to “Canaveral National Seashore – Day Three – Sunrise”

  1. Jean Hansen says :

    Oh yeah! Nice and beautiful! I also love the national seashore….but I’ve never seen it at sunrise! Definitely something to do! Loved the dolphin family, the “elevated” walkway over the Turtle Mound, and of course, the manatees! That looked like a HUGE black racer! I thought that David surely must have been too close for comfort! And how happy to learn that the turtle nests are doing great! Loving the photography, the locations and the biology lesson! All fun and interesting! I have never heard of the Eldora House. And to answer your question….no I have never made wine from sea grapes. Aren’t those grapes real hard? Is that for real?

    Can’t wait for your next excursion!

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