BACK IN MAINE! I'm home again! In case you were wondering, I've been away from Maine for a fantastic adventure! While I was away, there was a huge rain and wind storm that ravaged the coastline area, causing four days of power outage and widespread downing of trees. I still haven't had a chance to assess the damage, but know that there are impassable roads and trails at the campground. More on that later.

My first stop was in northern Florida where I got to see some things I had never seen before, like a Gray Fox up in a tree! If you look carefully, you will see looking at me, another trying to take a nap curled up on an upper branch. These were seen in a wildlife refuge. I still have a hard time imagining how they climbed the tree, but there they were.

Alligators were plentiful when we drove down to St. Marks Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf. It was a sunny day and there were numerous Alligators warming up in the sun along the wetlands bordering the road. I was cautioned not to get too close. We kept looking for Armadillos but weren't successful. Birds were plentiful including Coots, Boat-tailed Grackles, Great and Little Blue Heron and Common Gallinules. We also went to Wakulla and had a boatride among White Ibis, Anhinga, Banded Water Snakes and Manatees!

Another outing found us trekking down to what is known as Alligator Point where there is a long shoreline beach with a minimal 2-3 foot tide. It was a great place to see Dolphins swimming and Pelicans flying, while combing the beach to see how Florida creatures differed from our Maine fauna. Almost immediately, we found Five-holed Sanddollars which was a great treat. We also found various sponges, jellyfish, Tunicates, soft corals and one lined Sea Star. The shells were numerous and distinctive including the Giant Cockles, Pen Shells, Turkey Wings, Arks, Olives, and Cowries. The sand was fine and white, though the water contained sediment washed down from a tidal inlet. It didn't encourage swimming or snorkeling! Of course it is cool this time of year in northern Florida.

My main purpose in going south was to make my way to the mountains of Mexico to see the Monarch Butterflies. Most of you know these insects migrate from places like Maine to Mexico where the tall fir trees and relatively constant cool temperatures make their survival possible in winter. These butterflies hang in the trees until warmer temperatures and the growth of Milkweed make a return trip possible, though only their offspring will make it back to Maine.

In subsequent entries, I will describe how one reaches these remote mountain sites, some two miles above sea level. There are trails for hiking up the mountains, but many people prefer to be led on horses up the rocky ridges. I rode up, and was hanging on for dear life while butterflies, on a day time outing, flew around our heads. Once we got part way up the mountain, we took to foot, following trails for a closer look at the clustered Monarchs up in the tall trees on the mountain side. Storms preceded our ascent, and there were times when it was hard not to walk on dead butterflies. But be assured, there were millions up in the trees to hopefully take their place in this marvel of nature. Our adventure was led by knowledgeable Lepidopterists who make these winter treks each year to monitor the health and mystery of these insects. We weren't the only ones on the trails. 90% of the visitors are Mexicans themselves! They have learned to appreciate the experience of seeing and understanding these remarkable butterflies. Ecotourism is encouraged and these sites are being protected by Mexicans with help and encouragement from Canadians and Americans. The butterflies are used as a symbol of peace as these three countries cooperate in their protection. Stay tuned for more.......4/7/10 Ronnie on a jaunt......!