I hope to post more details, and also pictures, but a very quick overview (note, quick is a relative term, this is still long) of my trip:
Thursday afternoon, July 21, I stopped at EFRC to visit Raja Baby before I left. It was very hot, and Raja Baby wouldn't come off his tower, and neither would most of the other cats, but I was able to not take it personally. I drove down to the south side of Louisville
Friday morning, July 22, I visited Bernheim woods just south of Louisville. This is a park that was set up by some rich guy, that has just recently gotten to spend a whole lot of money setting up a beautiful environmental education building. Some of the park is landscaped, there is an arboretum and gardens, but there's some nice woods to walk in too, and that's where I spent my time. I had my lunch there and then started off on a scenic route through Kentucky and Tennessee. I was having a fine time until I realized that I had time problems, and then stressed out a bit, but I managed to find my way to Bedlam House safely Friday night, where ladyat and I watched a movie.
Saturday, July 23, bedlamhouse's plane was delayed, so ladyat and I drove to the North Georgia Celtic Fest in Gainesville in the van with the sound system they were providing. This is a faily small festival, but I did get to hear some pretty good music, and I had a good time despite being extremely tired. I slept very poorly the night before. It was actually fortunate for me that Bill's plane was late, because the original plan had had them driving in the van while I followed in my car, and I was too tired to be behind the wheel. After we got back to greater Atlanta that evening, we had dinner at a place called Taco Mac's, which despite the name is more known for its wings than its tacos. And its beer. They have over 50 beers on tap and hundreds in bottles. I'm not used to having to actually decide what kind of cider I will have; most places only have one.
Sunday, July 24, I drove down to Waycross, GA, which is the closest place that has motels to the Okefenokee. It was too late in the day by the time I got there to do anything.
Monday, July 25, I explored the Okefenokee Swamp Park entrance to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. This entrance is a privately run tourist attraction, and it probably wasn't the best choice for seeing the Okefenokee overall, but for one day, it wasn't too bad. The boat tour was worthwhile, the walk on the boardwalk was good, the reptile show was good. The train ride was a bit too kitschy, with too much time in the gift shop. Then I drove down to Daytona Beach, where I was able to get a room at a non-inflated price. I might have been able to get a little closer, but Titusville itself was booked up and I didn't want to spend a lot of time and cellphone minutes trying to find the best spot.
Closer to what? Tuesday, July 26, I'm on the east cost of north Florida, and you have to ask? I watched the Shuttle go up. Unfortunately, I got there late, and got to what I thought was a watching place just a few minutes before liftoff, and I didn't realize until too late that I couldn't see the actual launch pad. It was hazy; I could make out a launch pad and I didn't realize the one I wanted was behind a tree until I saw the light from the launch. Which explains why I was able to get that spot at the last minute. I did get pictures of the smoke plume as she went up, but I didn't get any of the liftoff, because of the tree. After the Big Event, I spent a few hours at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge getting a sunburn and taking pictures of the awesome birds. I drove down to Ft. Lauderdale for the night.
Wednesday, July 27, I started my day at Butterfly World. If you only visit one of the tourist attractions (as distinct from the natural areas) I talk about on this trip, this is the one. After a tense half an hour or so when it didn't seem like my camera would ever unfog in the super-humid air, I was able to fully enjoy the rest of the day with an incredible collection of captive butterflies and also some very cool bird exhibits, including a walk-in cage of friendly lorikeets who would sit on you. I left Buttefly World at about 3, thinking to cover the 40 miles from there to the FCF convention in downtown Miami before the bad traffic set in. Ha ha ha. It took almost two hours to get as far as the freeway ran, and then another half an hour to cover the half a dozen blocks from the freeway to the hotel, thanks to the massive construction going on. But I made it there, had my $200 cookie (I spent 4 nights in the convention hotel, and although the room was extremely posh, the only feature that was actually useful to me that wasn't found in the motels along the road was the Doubletree signature cookie, so I joked that the cookie was the reason for the difference in price relative to a Motel 6), and had the one moderately-expensive dinner I paid for on the trip.
Thursday, July 28, in the morning, I got to meet Lynn Culver's 11 week old Geoffroy's Cat and 5 week old Serval. In the evening, Doc Antle dropped in with a baby orangutan, a 6 month old Binturong, and two 8 week old tiger cubs! I got to play with tiger cubs! Life was worth living again, at least for a while. Jim Sanderson, an eminent wild feline researcher, tried to give a presentation, but he was upstaged by the baby animals for a good while. He was delayed enough that Tracy Wilson's presentation on the Playa de Oro reserve (the place where I went in April) was bumped from the program, which I thought was unfortunate and which ruffled some feathers.
Friday, July 29, was the go-out-and-do-stuff day of the convention. We visited a place called Animal Outpost, where we got a reptile show (including poisonous snakes) and got to see some captive cats, we had an airboat ride, we saw another reptile presentation that included alligator wrestling, and then we came to the main event, a tour of Parrot Jungle Island, which is a fairly upscale well-landscaped place with gazillions of parrots, a decent bird show (not quite as good as the Cincinnati Zoo, but they did have an Andean Condor and a cassowary), and a special show from Doc Antle. Doctor Bhagavan "Doc" Antle is one of the top animal trainers in the country; he's provided big cats for tons of movies, and he has a show at Parrot Jungle (which is the only major thing there that isn't about parrots). His normal show shows off a variety of animals, but he gave us a special show where we got to see most of the cats and didn't bother with the non-cats. He also answered non-trivial questions from the audience and told some good stories. I was one of the last people out of the amphitheater, and I ended up staying to watch the cats being loaded onto their travel trailer (the animals he uses in the show don't live at Parrot Jungle; instead, they are transported every day to and from a separate facility). By the time I was done there, I couldn't find our group for a while, but fortunately I didn't get locked out of Parrot Jungle (which was closed to the public by this time) and they hadn't eaten all the food by the time I got there. The food was quite good (despite having been advertised as a "cookout" it was indoors and a perfectly respectable catered banquet). The FCF membership meeting was held there, in an attempt to have a captive audience. I hope the FCF board felt that they got useful input from the members present. The location of next year's Convention was announced: Catherine Hilker has invited FCF back to Cincinnati to see her cheetahs run again. I certainly plan to attend if life doesn't make it impossible.
Saturday, July 30, was the formal presentations. Ron Magill told us about a fantastic outreach program with the Miami Metro zoo using cheetahs in schools. When he told us how seeing a cheetah turned one inner-city black kid -- a troublemaker whose own mother had given up on him -- around so that he ended up going to college to study zoology and graduating with honors, I don't think there was a dry eye in the house. Jeanette Williams related several anecdotes about her lifetime of handling animals, starting with a German circus. Some people think that all circuses are bad, but she clearly demonstrated that it is possible for a circus to take good care of its animals, even if many of them don't. Tracy finally got to give her Playa de Oro presentation. She'd even included a few of my pictures. In the evening, we had the banquet, awards, and auction. The auction was not as painfully long as I remember it being the last two years, but it still went much longer than I wanted it to. I hope that I can get on top of running it more like an Interfilk auction -- with most of the items being sold in a silent auction before the voice auction -- soon enough for next year to make something happen. I'd meant to do that this year but I didn't move on it until much too late. After the auction was over, G. and R. (who aren't FCF board members and might not want their names mentioned on the Internet) let me come to their hotel room to meet their 14 month old Bobcat, Diesel, and spend more time with their 3 month old Eurasian Lynx Romio. I owe you pictures, so if I don't post them, kick me until I do. I must say that these two must be doing something right, because these are two of the sweetest wild cats I've ever met, and though Romio is young enough it's not that surprising, Diesel is nearly an adult, but he's still very willing to meet and be nice to new people.
Sunday, July 31, I drove the Tamiami Trail (US 41, the southern highway through the Everglades), stopping at the Shark Valley visitor's center, where they charged a little too much money but gave a pretty good tour. I was just starting to eat my lunch when I looked up and discovered that there was a Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting in a tree about 10' away and 10' up in a tree. Of course I started taking pictures, and when the hawk finally left, I discovered that a crow was eating my sandwich! There was also a Great Egret that was almost close enough to touch, and a female Anhinga just outside the visitors' center. I spent the night at a Motel 6 in Punta Gorda, where I was rather annoyed to find out when I checked in that the room rate was much higher than was quoted in my directory, or even in the current directory that they were handing out. Unfortunately, it was late and I was too tired to be willing to walk about and try my luck at the next place.
Monday, August 1, I visited a very beautiful state park called Myakka River, near Sarasota. Highly worth visiting if you're in the area. I then drove up to Leesburg, where the Days Inn desk clerk told me how to find one of the largest and oldest Live Oak trees in Florida. Amazing tree. That took care of the day.
Tuesday, August 2, I had made an appointment to visit Amazing Exotics in Umatilla. This wasn't quite the experience I'd hoped for. I was supposed to get to meet an adult white tiger, but (after they'd taken my money) told me he was sick, so I got to meet Gidget, an 8 month old regular-colored female. She was nice enough, but wasn't as well trained as she might have been, and her handler didn't seem to be all that expert. Gidget put holes in my shirt, and could easily have put holes in me if I'd been less ready to handle her and her handler had let her be that free. Fortunately, I've handled tiger cubs before and had a good idea what to expect from her. But from what I saw, it's not at all clear that I would have been safe with the white tiger (who isn't quite full grown either, but he's aboout 400 lb.). Their facilities were not very good. The cages are clean and well maintained, but quite small. They have 30ish big cats and a whole bunch of monkeys and apes. I was able to learn that I'm not interested in their training program -- for their hefty fee, they work you from dawn to dusk, and it certainly appears that it's mostly working, doing the grunt work of running the place, not being trained. It's only a 9 week training program, and it's mostly devoted to husbandry (I think that means doing the work of feeding and cleaning), with actual animal training being secondary, so it's pretty clear that it wouldn't be worth it for what you could actually learn. Whether it would be a useful paper qualification that would open really worthwhile doors I can't guess. After the dude unceremoniously shooed me out at 3 (even though I had intended to ask some more questions), I ate my lunch and took a very abbreviated walk along a trail in the Ocala National Forest. It was abbreviated by the weather; watching the sky I could tell that a thunderstorm was coming and I didn't want to be out away from my car carrying my cameras when it hit. I got back to the car and the weather was fine for almost an hour, but when I got back to town wanting to do some shopping, they'd turned on the fire hoses.
Wednesday, August 3, I did another short hike in the Ocala National Forest; this one limited by the fact that I got off to a late start and had another appointment, with EARS in Citra. This was a much more positive experience. This sanctuary is owned by a rich lady who would rather hobnob with tigers than other rich people. Her enclosures are huge and very nicely maintained, and she let me meet two cubs that she's raising -- a 4 month old snow white tiger and a two month old normal-colored tiger. Then I drove up to Tallahassee where I visited Cougar Ridge, which is run by FCF member Gloria Johnson, who'd invited me to spend the night and insisted on hosting me even though she was sick.
Thursday, August 4, after I left Gloria's, I got frustrated with a couple of unsuccessful attempts to find a place to eat, and I realized that I'd been on the road too long and what I really wanted was to come home and be with my own animals. I spent the night at Monteagle, TN.
Friday, August 5, I was still in the mood to be home. I stopped by EFRC, returned the magnets I hadn't sold at the FCF Convention and gave Joe the money for the ones I had sold, visited the cats. Raja Baby came and wanted to be loved on, but one of the shy girls was being very pissy and chased me away before Raja was done being petted or I was done petting him. Then I drove home. I've been uploading pictures as I composed this, and I'm maybe 3/4 done. I've got to either find some software for handling pictures that will do what I want, or get off my fat ass and write it myself.
Now I have to dig out and resume my life -- starting with getting a new stove -- but right now, I'm about to fall asleep at the keybaord.