A Queen, some Pelicans, Tarpons, little toy-sized Deer, and Polydactyl Cats.

February 22, 2017

We've been in the Florida Keys for 2 weeks now, neglecting our blog.  Neither one of us had ever been to the keys, so we didn't quite know what to expect, but we were thinking sandy beaches, sunshine, and a laid back atmosphere. Well, it can be that, but it can also be heat, humidity, traffic, and bugs.  So, you kind of need to know where to look.  We had enough time to explore and find some interesting things.

The first thing you need to know about staying in the Florida Keys is that it is crazy difficult to get a camping reservation.  Sites open up for on-line reservations 11 months in advance, and are generally gone at 11 months minus 1 millisecond.  I (Steve) spent 2 weeks getting up every morning, finding what sites would be available for reservation at one of the 4 state parks in the keys, picking one, and then competing with 10,000 other people trying for the same site.  This was last March (2016).  We finally scored 2 weeks in John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo, which is the first of 40+ keys.  
Pennekamp is a Coral Reef state park, which has lots of snorkeling available 3 to 8 miles offshore.  It's some of the best snorkeling in the Keys, so that makes it a good location.  But it's also 100 miles to Key West, so you don't go there on a whim.  But with our Honda HRV getting around 40 mpg, we don't mind driving some distances to see interesting things.

The first interesting thing that we found was just a couple miles down the road.  We discovered that the African Queen, the boat from the Bogart/Hepburn movie of the same title, is now located right here in Key Largo.  You can book a cruise on it, but it's rather expensive.  So we just stopped by to look at it.  We found that it was having mechanical problems (it is over 100 years old), and there were a couple guys working on it.  Of course, Jane sweet-talked her way onto the boat, and she got to be on the very boat from that classic movie from 1951.
Here she is befriending the young mechanic.

A ways down the road, on Islamorada, is Robbies.  Robbies started out as a fishing marina near one of the bridges.  After feeding an injured tarpon, they soon found that lots of tarpon were showing up for a free meal.  Now feeding the tarpon is a popular activity at Robbies and thousands come each year to do that.  Robbies is now also a restaurant, and multiple gift shops, as well as boat rentals, etc. We did the normal thing, which is to pay $2 to go out on the docks and feed the tarpons.

Tarpons are huge fish, with a large mouth that opens kind of on the top of their head.  If you dangle a fish just over the surface of the water, one will jump up and take it out of your hand.  The challenge to feeding the tarpon is getting past the dozens of pelicans that also want the meal of free fish.
 Here's a small army of pelicans, just hoping for a handout.

Jane really likes pelicans.  It seems that this one likes her pretty well too, or at least he thinks that maybe she has some fish in that large bag.

Here's Steve dangling a fish above a hungry tarpon.  Note that there are no pelicans here, and that's because Robbies employs a guy full time to just shoo them away.  Catching the tarpon eating the fish is very difficult with a camera, because it all happens so fast.  But follow the link above to Robbies website and you can see more pictures of what it all looks like.

Further down the keys, at Big Pine Key, you'll find the Key Deer wildlife refuge. The key deer is a species of deer that live only in the Florida Keys, and is the smallest of all the deer.  A full grown key deer is between 20 and 28 inches tall at the shoulder.  We had been driving in the areas where these deer are supposed to be found several times, but had not seen one.  So we stopped at the Visitor Center and asked for some tips on where to find them.  An elderly volunteer at the center told us "Oh, you'll see them for sure", but we remained a bit skeptical.  But we gamely headed out to one of the suggested trails.

After 10 or 15 minutes of seeing nothing but palmettos and hardwood hammock, I suddenly noticed something just off the trail ahead. Sure enough, it was a baby key deer, about 12 inches tall, and about the size of a toy poodle.

Here, see if you can find the deer in this picture (above):

OK,  I've zoomed in so you can see him.

While that was the only one that we saw on the trail, we soon met a whole lot of key deer just by driving down some side roads.  We saw 5 munching in someone's backyard garden, and another group of 4 by the roadside.  When you stop to look at them, they don't run away, they seem rather curious and begin to approach your car, to see what's going on.

Our last interesting creature are the polydactyl cats of the Hemingway house on Key West. Polydactyl (six toed) cats are thought by sailors to bring good luck.  Ernest Hemingway was given a six toed cat by a sailor friend of his, and kept it for good luck.  Now, many years later, the hemingway house on Key West has 53 cats, 30 of which are six-toed, all descendants of that original cat, that live on the property in lives of ease.  They have cat houses, cat condos, the full run of the place, 3 cat ladies that tend to their care and feeding, and a veterinarian.
Here's one of them, you can see the extra toe on his front paw.

These are just a few of the interesting things we've found here.  We'll probably write an entire post about our snorkeling adventure, where we saw fish in numbers that can't be counted.  And all the creatures of the Everglades will likely be featured in another upcoming post.  So, stay tuned....

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  1. Pelicans aplenty at the Wild Bird Sanctuary, bayside near Tavernier. Try it, you'll like it. Free. Please donate. Mary Greydanus

    1. Yes, we did go there. Great work that they are doing and quite a collection of permanent residents. We did donate.


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