Florida Day Three: A Morning Exploring Big Pine Key. And My First Key Deer!
I awoke early my first full day on Big Pine Key. I was a little disappointed not seeing any key deer the previous day. Key deer are an endangered smaller sub-species of the North American whitetail deer. If you follow my blog you would know that their larger relatives visit my back yard in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The key deer once roamed throughout the Florida keys but now are only found on Big Pine Key. There are only about 1000 key deer remaining. I was told they are commonly seen on the key and I would surely see one. I drove around the back roads of the key the previous evening and didn’t see one. So I was hoping to see one on my morning hike.
I decided to hike the beach trail I visited the previous afternoon and watch the sunrise. The trail was only a mile from my lodging at the Barnacle Bed and Breakfast. I parked at the gate and walked through the short trail through the salt flats to the desolated beach. There were no wading birds in the pools along the trail at sunrise. I had a suspicion they would show up later.
It was mostly clear and a pleasant 72 degrees when I got to the secluded beach. I was the only one there. It was a wonderful, primeval experience walking on the remote beach in the morning twilight. There were not many waves , just a gentle sloshing of the ocean on the sand and coral on the beach.
Soon the sun appeared on the horizon,
I had just entered a grove of dead trees along the shore , a perfect place to watch it quickly climb in the southeastern sky.
As I watched the sun rise, I soon discovered I wasn’t alone.. There was a flock of least sandpipers scurrying on the beach.
And a few turkey vultures were awakening in the trees coastal forest above the beach.
They didn’t not like me intruding on their private beach.
I love walking the shore early in the morning. There weren’t a lot of seashells but it was still cool finding many old conch shells,
and beautiful green seaweed or algae growing on the beach.
I couldn’t explore the beach for long. Breakfast was being served at my lodging at 8;30 a.m. and I wanted to hike some trails in search of key deer. Reluctantly, I left the beach , and walked back to the trail near the gate, On the way I saw a few palm warblers on the beach,
and this pelican in a pond above the beach.
As I walked along the ponds I found dozens of wadding birds. It was an amazing sight, white ibises,
and this reddish egret, a first for me, where fluttering above the pond searching for food.
The reddish egret was the most animated of the birds. It swooped and whirled and dunked it’s head under the muddy waters. Seeing this small pond filled with these exotic wading birds was amazing. Kingfishers and pelican flew overhead. It was already a wonderful first day on Big Pine Key,
I could spend hours watching these birds wading and scurrying in the pond.
However, I had 15 minutes until breakfast. So I decided to talk a quick walk on a trail in the salt flats above the ocean, It was a good idea. Soon after walking on the trail I saw my first key deer . It looked like a small doe. So much smaller than our Pennsylvania white tail deer. It ran before I could get a photo but I was just happy to see one.
I continued my walk on the trail, and saw these invasive but pretty Christmas bush senna,
and bittersweet nightshade flowers both also invasive in Florida.
There were also some pretty sea oxeye flowers, which are native to the Sunshine State.
I also saw some more familiar resident of the woods of Pennsylvania, A pair of red-bellied woodpeckers.
These noisy birds were squawking loudly on the dead trees in the salt flats.
They did not mind my presence and almost seemed to be welcoming me to Big Pine Key .
There were some larger, hardwood trees on the other side of the trail and here I saw some more birds I now from back home, northern cardinals,
a female red-winged blackbird,
and one of my favorites a northern mockingbird. Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with more photos of the birds I saw on my sunrise hike. Florida Day Three Big Pine Key sunrise birds January 12 023.
It was now 8;30 and I was a few minutes late for a delicious breakfast and as wonderful conversation with my host Jane and Time and another couple from Maine. Here is a link to another gallery with more photos from my sunrise hike. Florida Day Three Big Pine Key sunrise hike January 12 2023.
After breakfast I was back on the same trail, still looking for key deer and anything else I could photograph. I was disappointed to find the wading birds had left the ponds Only this great white egret remained.
I walked on the trail above the shore, being careful to avoid the many poison wood trees, These trees will cause a itchy rash far worse than poison ivy if touched. However, they produce fruit which are an important food source for the local wildlife.
The trail got to be overgrown and unpassable to follow so I made my way, through some thick underbrush to the beach, On the way I think I found the USS Minnow.
I loved this desolate and unspoiled beach.
And, also, much to my surprise and delight, enjoying the beach was a young key deer buck.
It seemed to welcome me as it foraged on sea weed and sea grass.
It was a wonderful experience just me and the deer and the desolate beach. We watched each other for a while until it decided to walk into the dense vegetation above the beach. I accomplished my mission. I can share a photo of the smaller relatives of the whitetail deer that visit my backyard in Pennsylvania.
I continued my walk along the solitary shore and saw this American kestrel and,
fittingly, a solitary sandpiper.
It was now near noon and getting hot so I decided to end my hike. I walked though the salt flats, and gumbo -limbo trees and returned to my room. It was a wonderful morning exploring Big Pine Island. I know I will be doing a lot more exploring here on future visits to the Florida Keys. I love the key deer! Here is a link to another gallery with some more photos from my morning hike. Florida Day Three Big Pine Key morning hike January 12 2023
“The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration.” Claude Monet