Spring in Sarasota FL + Bryce Canyon’s Night Skies – in Trailer Life

We are very proud to announce that the March 2017 issue of Trailer Life Magazine features our article about beautiful Sarasota, Florida, plus a back page column about hiking Bryce Canyon National Park under the stars.

Sarasota's Three-Ring Circus Trailer Life Magazine

Trailer Life Magazine, March 2017
Text by Emily Fagan, Photos by Emily & Mark Fagan

Sarasota, Florida, is a fabulous place to visit in April, and we enjoyed five wonderful weeks there. For RVers that are heading north these days from the hotter parts of southern Florida, a stopover in Sarasota is a true delight.

Venice Beach Sarasota Florida

Venice Beach just south of Sarasota, Florida.

We have been fortunate to visit tropical beaches all over the world, most recently in Thailand but also in many parts of southern Mexico, Hawaii and the Caribbean. Frankly, not one of them has sand that is quite as pure white and fluffy soft as Siesta Beach in Sarasota. It is the texture of confectioner’s sugar! And the turquoise water is ever so inviting too.

Siesta Beach Sarasota Florida

Siesta Beach — Where the sand is like confectioner’s sugar!

But what surprised us was the many other things Sarasota has to offer. A century ago it was just a small fishing village, but the Ringling Brothers decided to settle in the town and make it the home base for their circus, and that changed it forever.

The Ringling mansion Sarasota Florida

The Ringling – Former home of the founders of the circus

Now, The Ringling is a fabulous museum that offers so much for tourists to see that you can get a three day pass — and you need it if you want to see it all.

Ringling Mansion Ca-Dzan Sarasota Florida copy

Ornamentation galore!

The Ringling estate’s mansion is a phenomenal building that is loaded with decorative arches, fanciful cornices, and an altogether fairy tale type of air.

Tourists at The Ringling mansion Sarasota Florida

The Ringling is a “do not miss” Sarasota excursion!

Out front there is a fabulous and enormous rock tile deck that looks out on Sarasota Bay. Standing there I tried to imagine what it was like back in the day when John and Mabel Ringling held parties there. Oh my!

Tile deck at The Ringling mansion Sarasota Florida

Even the deck is absolutely stunning, with inlaid colorful stone tiles.

The Ringling also has a museum that houses the stunning collection of European art that John Ringling collected. Mondays are “free admission day,” and when we got inside we were blown away by this immense art collection.

The Ringling Art Museum Sarasota Florida

The Ringling art museum is free on Mondays and is home to a stunning collection of European masters.

Out back there is a rose garden that was the pride and joy of Mabel Ringling as well as a gargantuan banyan tree.

Banyan tree The Ringling gardens Sarasota Florida

Out back we found a massive banyan tree shading a very cool bar!

Sarasota is one place where it would take a whole season of outings to run out of things to do. One excursion we really enjoyed was going to Jungle Gardens.

This is a zoo of sorts whose welcoming committee is a flock of pink flamingos who go out of their way to say, “Hello!”

Flamingo and photographer Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

At Jungle Gardens they hire pink flamingos to be the greeters!

They are extremely friendly birds, and even though they had plenty of natural spaces to stand around and do their flamingo thing in the water and under the tropical trees, one flamingo took a particular liking to Mark and rubbed his beak all over him!

Flamingo Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

True love… for the flamingo at least!

Jungle Gardens also has a wonderful bird show, and we were delighted by the antics of the various parrots. One parrot, a 79 year old cockatoo named Snowflake, was a seasoned professional when it came to performing. He was so old that he had appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show before I was born!

He can still do great tricks, though, and we watched him ride a bike on a tightrope while a buddy macaw perched on a swing and went for a free ride below him.

Snowflake rides a unicycle with Andy riding underneath copy

Snowflake’s still got it at 79 years old!

There are lots of parks in the Sarasota area, and we got a huge kick out of watching native birds fishing, swimming and flying by us in some of these parks.

Great Blue Heron Sarasota Florida

The native wild birds are a sight to behold in many parks around town.

Sandhill cranes like Sarasota as much as people do, and to our utter delight and complete surprise, a pair of sandhill cranes had a nest with two eggs near a pond at a strip mall.

Sandhill crane with chick in nest Sarasota Florida

A sandhilll crane mom checks on her brand new chick.

On the day that they were due to hatch a large group of fascinated birders and photographers gathered near the nest and began to watch the arrival of the baby chicks through huge telephoto lenses and binoculars.

Sandhill chick and egg in nest Sarasota Florida

“Yawn…It was a lot of work getting out of that egg!”

This little guy was absolutely adorable.

Sandhill crane with chick in nest Sarasota Florida


And the first little one was soon joined by its sibling while the parents pushed the egg shells aside.

Two sandhill cranes in nest Sarasota Florida

“Are you my brother?!”

Sarasota has lots of quirky charm, and there is a mascot that adorns many homes and businesses around town. Nicknamed the Tube Dude, this guy can be seen holding a toothbrush in front of the dentist’s office, wearing a baker’s hat in front of the bakery and sitting in a Kayak at the local surf and kayak shop. What fun!

The Tube Dude in Sarasota Florida

The Tube Dude at a coffee shop with a water bowl for his dog.

Trailer Life has posted our article on their website and you can read it here:

Sarasota’s Three-Ring Circus – Trailer Life Magazine, March 2017

Flipping to the back of the March issue, there is a photo of a wonderfully starry night taken from the Mossy Cove trail at Bryce Canyon National Park. We spent quite a bit of time at Bryce Canyon last summer, which gave us a chance to get out on the trails in the dark several times.

Stars over Fairytale Canyon Bryce Canyon National Park

Hiking Bryce Canyon under the stars is very rewarding.

It is a little eerie hiking in the pitch dark with a flashlight, but we managed not to fall over the edge and we saw some really cool skies.

Fairy Tale Canyon Bryce Canyon National Park Night Stars


Bryce Canyon doesn’t have super dark skies, so there is always a big of a glow on the horizon from nearby towns, but even so, the stars jumped out of the heavens.

Fairy Tale Hike Bryce Canyon National Park Night Stars

We ventured out into Fairytale Canyon

We were there fairly late in the season, in September, so catching the Milky Way was a little tricky as we had to get out into Bryce Canyon’s amphitheater of hoodoos in order to look back up towards the rim to see it. But we caught it sailing across the sky on several occaisions between 3:00 and 5:30 in the morning.

Milky Way Bryce Canyon National Park Fairytale Canyon

The Milky Way is easiest to see in late spring and early summer.

Milky Way and tree silhouette Bryce Canyon National Park


Milky Way Bryce Canyon National Park


Of course, we stayed out so long on these crazy midnight hikes that by the time we got back to our trailer the morning sky was just beginning to lighten into rich shades of blue. And sure enough, there was the Orion constellation hanging over our rig!

Orion constellation over RV Utah

Orion sails high above our trailer.

Trailer Life is an excellent magazine, and we were subscribers for years before we became writers and photographers for them. Whether you are a new RVer or have many years under your belt, if you own a towable RV like we do, you might enjoy subscribing for a year. You can subscribe to Trailer Life here:

Trailer Life Subscription

It’s not expensive, and what I like is that it is professionally edited by terrific editors and it is professionally laid out by a graphic artist which gives it a polish in the print edition that just doesn’t exist online, whether on magazine websites or on folksy blogs like this one.

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Interested in visiting Sarasota? Here are our blog posts from our stay there:

More Blog Posts from Florida

Curious about Bryce Canyon and/or Hiking Under the Stars? Check out these posts:

Night Skies in Waterton Lakes + All Night Timelapse of the Milky Way07/31/16

A Few of the Other Articles We’ve Published in Trailer Life:

Trailer Life Articles by Emily & Mark Fagan

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New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff!!

Jungle Gardens in Sarasota Florida – It’s for the Birds!

April, 2015 – A vacation to Florida wouldn’t be complete without a trip to a tropical garden with exotic birds, and even though we weren’t exactly “on vacation” (well, maybe this was a “vacation from our vacation” ??), during our stay in Sarasota we just had to go to Jungle Gardens.

Zoo trips to kiddie parks may seem to be all alike and not really appropriate for the 50+ set if you don’t have grandkids in tow, but this place held some special treats for us. When we arrived, we were greeted by a beautiful albino peacock who looked like a princess ballerina emerging from the bushes.

Peacock ballerina princess at Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

A ballerina princess makes “her” entrance from the bushes

The flamingos were nearby, walking all around us, and we watched them vie with the seagulls for the free food handouts that people were grabbing from little dispensers around the grounds.

Flamingos and seagull at Jungle Gardens

The food is for the flamingos but the seagulls don’t miss a trick.

I’d never stood next to a flamingo before, and I was quite surprised — these guys are really tall!

Flamingo with me at Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

Seeing eye to eye.

One came over and suddenly became very interested in Mark’s shoes.

Curious flamingo inspects shoes

“What’s that on your shoe?”

I looked away, and when I looked again, Mark had squatted down to take some photos and this flamingo had marched right over to him and was resting his chin on Mark’s head!

Flamingo checks out a hat

“Can I climb on you?”

Then this big pink creature got really interested in something on Mark’s neck.

Flamingo really likes hat

“You’ve got something yummy on your neck…”

Mark turned towards him, and he just kept on poking around, rubbing his beak all over Mark’s back. Crazy bird!!

Crazy flamingo

What’s he looking for anyway?!

These curious flamingos kept us occupied for quite some time, but we finally moved on to check out some of the other exotics in the park. There was an iguana…

Iguana face up close at Jungle Gardens in Sarasota Florida

A face only a mother could love.

…and an allligator pen nearby.

Alligator tank at Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

Wait til these guys grow up!

This is a “garden” and we saw some lovely plants. I especially liked the red and green leaves on a bush Mark found.

Jungle Leaves in the Garden

Despite all these animals, it is a Garden, after all!

But it was the birds that charmed us the most. There is a big group of parrots at Jungle Gardens, and they come in all colors, from light blue to bright orange.

Ring Neck Parakeet and Conure at Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

Pretty colors: a ring neck parakeet and a conure.

Some colors are even “made up” like this hybrid of a green wing macaw (which is red and green) and a blue and gold macaw (which is blue and yellow). The result — orange and green and blue!

Hybrid Macaw at Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

What do you get when you cross red and green and blue and yellow?

But my favorite parrot of all is Snowflake. He’s a greater sulphur crested cockatoo that is 79 years old. And if you look at him closely, you can’t tell that he’s a day over 3. He’s in perfect shape.

Greater sulphur crested cockatoo Snowflake at Jungle Gardens in Sarasota Florida

The star of the show — at 79.

There’s a very fun bird show at Jungle Gardens, and we watched two Macaws, Andy and Cracker, doing the ring toss.

Two green wing macaws do ring toss at Jungle Gardens in Sarasota Florida

Cracker and Andy do the ring toss while a buddy looks on.

Then the trainer introduced Snowflake to do his tricks. We were amazed when she told us he had performed on the Ed Sullivan Show. He rode a unicycle on TV for Ed Sullivan — and he did the same trick for us! One of the macaws got a ride on a swing underneath him as he pedaled across a tightrope. How cool is that?! He’s been performing every day for decades. What a champ!

Snowflake rides a unicycle with Andy riding underneath

Snowflake takes a buddy for a ride.

Afterwards all the kids lined up to get their photos taken with the birds of their choice on their heads and arms.

Little boy with two macaws on his head and arms


I was the only person over 10 standing in line to get my pic taken with a bird on my arm, but Mark nudged me and said he’d take a photo of me with Snowflake. My day was made!!

Snowflake at Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

Holding a 79 year old bird makes me feel like a kid!

Going to Jungle Gardens with kids or grandkids is probably the best way to do it, but if you don’t have any to take with you, it’s still a blast to go and be a kid yourself for a little while…

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The Tube Dude – Spreading Good Cheer in Sarasota, Florida

May 2015 – While we were in Sarasota, Florida, we kept seeing these funny looking metal figures all around town. This big stick figure guy was always busy doing something, and he was always smiling.

Tube Dude baker at Pastry Art Bakery in Sarasota Florida

We saw metal figures like this pair at the Pastry Art Bakery all over Sarasota!

I finally asked the folks at the Pastry Art Bakery downtown — who had a cute pair out front — what these stick figures were all about.

“Oh, that’s the Tube Dude!” the gal behind the counter said with a smile. “He’s very popular around here. A local guy makes them…”

Fishing Tube Dude in Sarasota Florida

The Tube Dude goes fishing

I looked online, and sure enough, he has a website: www.tube-dude.com.

The Tube Dude hangs out on people’s lawns and in front of businesses, doing all kinds of things, from kayaking to getting the mail to parasailing:

Kayaking Tube Dude in Sarasota Florida

The Tube Dude takes a ride in his Hobie Kayak

Mailbox Tube Dude in Sarasota Florida

The Tube Dude holds the family mail

Dentist Tube Dude in Sarasota Florida

Holding a toothbrush, he greets patients at a dentist’s office

Tube Dude at a law firm in Sarasota Florida

The Tube Dudette holds the scales of justice at a Sarasota law firm.

As we drove around town, one or the other of us would spot him in a front yard or next to a business.

“Tube Dude!” We’d yell, pointing.

Parasail Tube Dude Sarasota Florida

On his days off, the Tube Dude goes parasailing!

It wasn’t always possible to get a great pic, but we sure had fun spotting him.

Parasailing Tube Dude Sarasota Florida

The Tube Dude is ready to take off with his parasail.

He’s a busy and happy guy, very similar to his T-shirt brother, Jake, who loves the outdoors and always says, “Life is Good!

Animal Hospital Tube Dudes Sarasota Florida

Tube dudes provide emergency care at an animal hospital.

If you spend any time in Sarasota, Florida, keep an eye out for the Tube Dude.

Bakery Tube Dude Sarasota Florida

Making pizza on a rooftop.

He’s all around town, grinning from ear to ear, and spreading his special brand of good cheer in Sarasota!!

Tube Dude Baker Sarasota Florida

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Sarasota, Florida – Life on the Waterfront

April, 2015 – Sarasota, Florida, is a oceanfront city, and The Ringling is an exquisite spot to enjoy Sarasota’s shores. During our stay, we soon discovered that this pretty city has lots of other wonderful public places on the waterfront, too.

Beautiful colors at Venice Beach Florida

Sarasota’s waterfront is sweet.

Centennial Park is an older waterfront park, but the views across the water of the city skyline are lovely.

Couple on Sarasota Florida waterfront

Looking out on the bay from Sarasota’s Centennial Park

Boats seen from Centennial Park Sarasota Florida

Views from Centennial Park

At one end of Centennial Park, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall backs right up to the shoreline, and it has a deck where we were told theater goers can enjoy a snack with a view at intermission. How fun!

Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Sarasota Florida

The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is located right on the bay — a nice spot for drinks at intermission!

Sarasota is perhaps most famous for its divine sugar sand beach called Siesta Beach. I don’t know if I was more enchanted by the powdery soft sand or the vivid colors of the beach umbrellas and the turquoise water — it was all gorgeous.

We learned that Siesta Beach was rated the #1 beach in America in 2011, and there are lots of proud “#1 Beach” signs all around town. Interestingly, Siesta Beach was followed closely by Coronado Beach in San Diego…another beauty!

Beach umbrellas Siesta Beach Sarasota Florida

Siesta Beach — #1 American Beach in 2011

Marina Jack is the downtown waterfront area in Sarasota, and we were surprised to find another connection to San Diego when we saw the enormous sculpture “Unconditional Surrender.” We discovered that both sculptures were created by artist Seward Johnson and that the one in Sarasota was constructed first, back in 2005!.

Undonditional Surrender WWII sculpture Sarasota Florida

“Unconditional Surrender”
A sister-sculpture to the one in San Diego.

Marina Jack is a large marina with lots of boats of all sizes. Next to it there’s a lovely little walking path that goes around a peninsula called the Marina Jack Trail.

Marina Jack walking path Sarasota Florida

Views from the Marina Jack Trail in downtown Sarasota

A little dinghy pulled up on shore made a perfect photo op. We took turns with some other people getting portraits of each other perched on the dink with pretty Sarasota Bay in the background.

Marina Jack walking path Sarasota Florida

Pausing for a photo op on Marina Jack Trail downtown

A few streets back from the waterfront we enjoyed a wonderful farmer’s market one Saturday morning. This was a sizable market with lots of fresh and beautiful veggies and other goodies.

Farmer's Market Sarasota Florida

The Saturday Farmer’s Market is just a few streets in from the water.

On another day we drove a little south of Sarasota to Venice where we found yet another wonderful beach. Of course this whole coast is loaded with great beaches, but when we got to Venice Beach it seemed like the population of the whole coast had decided to join us there! And how funny to find another California connection in the name “Venice Beach.”

Picnic areas Venice Beach Florida

Picnic areas on the boardwalks in Venice

The beach in Venice has some unique picnic areas that are built into wooden walkways so you are slightly elevated above the vegetation. We hadn’t brought a picnic, but many of these little picnic spots were in use by knowledgeable locals who had staked them out for the day.

Venice Fishing Pier Florida

The Venice Fishing Pier

The Venice Fishing Pier extends well out into the ocean and is popular with fishermen.

Fisherman on Venice FIshing Pier Florida

Gone fishing…

It’s also a great vantage point for getting a look at this super popular beach. On one side of the pier the beach was overflowing with crowds of sun worshippers.

Sunbathers at Venice Beach Florida

The beach scene on one side of the Venice Fishing Pier…

Due to construction going on at the pier, looking over the rail at the stretch of beach on the other side, we saw crowds of another sort…

Seagulls at Venice Beach Florida

…The beach scene on the other side of the Venice Fishing Pier!

Sarasota has freshwater waterfronts too. Payne Park is a tiny downtown city park with some small man-made ponds that have lovely water lilies and a lively collection of unusual birds floating around.


Sarasota has fresh water shores too

A few miles east of there, the Celery Fields park has some wonderful fresh water birding habitats for long legged herons and egrets.

Heron flying over water

A heron flies in at the Celery Fields

Heron walking in water_

Stalking dinner in the shallows

Sandhill cranes are very common in Sarasota (as we found out when we saw some adorable hatchlings) and they are much beloved by birding enthusiasts. Someone had even built them a park bench to sit on, although we didn’t see any sandhill cranes using it.

Sandhill crane park bench

A park bench just for sandhill cranes…

The purple martin boxes were definitely getting lots of use, however, and we watched a pair of them hanging out on their front stoop.

Pair of birds on Purple Martin box_

Home Tweet Home

Nearby, a little ground squirrel had grabbed a discarded piece of bread and he’d run away with it to the safety of a tree branch.

Squirrel eating bread in yellow flowers

Sarasota has lots of wildlife…and most of them have street smarts!

There are dozens more waterfront spots and there’s lots more wildlife to be seen in and around Sarasota, but these are a few of the glimpses we got during our visit there…

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The Ringling – The Art of the Circus in Sarasota, Florida

April, 2015 – We made our way from Pensacola Beach to Sarasota, Florida, with two big missions on our minds: first, to overhaul the electrical system on our RV and second, for me to zip off to New England for a family reunion. But during our stay in the pretty beach town of Sarasota we squeezed in a little sightseeing and discovered some wonderful gems.

John and Mable Ringling Mansion Sarasota Florida

“The Ringling” in Sarasota is an impressive estate that once belonged to the founder of Ringling Brothers’ Circus.

Who knew that Sarasota’s roots are intertwined with the circus?? Back at the turn of the twentieth century, Sarasota became home to John Ringling, the sixth of seven Ringling Brothers, five of whom founded the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1884. Drawn to the small fishing village of Sarasota in 1911, John began using his immense circus fortune to buy up real estate. At one time he and his brother Charles owned 25% of Sarasota.

Ringling Museum entrance Sarasota Florida

Entrance to The Ringling

John was the advance man for the circus, handling bookings and promotion, but he was a savvy invester as well. His holdings were very diverse and included things like railroads and Madison Square Garden. A lover of European art, he also invested heavily in artwork from the middle ages through the 19th century.

Entrance to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Sarasota Florida

One ring circus.

When he died in 1936, despite having seen his fortune crumble in the face of the Great Depression, his massive ornate waterfront estate and his sumptuous art collection were both still intact, and he bequeathed the whole lot to the State of Florida.

Artwork on the walls of the Ringling Museum of Art

The Ringling Museum of Art is a world class collection of European art covering 600 years.

Today, the mansion and art museum and beautifully landscaped grounds make for a fabulous tour. Upon entering the Ringling Museum of Art, we were blown away to see a room full of massive paintings by the Flemish Baroque master of the 16th and 17th centuries, Peter Paul Rubens.

Inside the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Sarasota Florida

From massive wall-size paintings to miniatures, every era of European art up to
the 1900’s is well represented.

Astonishingly, that is just s smattering of the immense collection of Ringling artwork which spans all of European artistic development from the middle ages through the 1800’s. What’s best is that the art museum is open to the public for free on Mondays.

Ringling Art Museum Courtyard Sarasota Florida

The grand courtyard of The Ringling Museum of Art.

The grounds of the entire Ringling estate are beautifully kept, and the courtyard behind the Museum of Art is sensational. An enormous, pillared courtyard surrounds a formal garden that is filled with statues.

Ringling Museum Courtyard Sarasota Florida

Statues grace the rooftops and the gardens.

Above the rows of arches lining the courtyard, there are legions of statues on the rooftop cornices as well.

08 431 Garden statues Ringling Art Museum Courtyard Sarasota FLorida

At one end a bronze replica of Michaelangelo’s statue of David presides over the gardens, surrounded by palm trees.

Replica of Michaelangelo David statue Ringling Museum

John Ringling commissioned a bronze replica of Michaelangelo’s David — to stand between palm trees!

Up on top of the helmeted head of one of the statues, a little songbird sang his heart out for us, filling the air with his melodious warbles.

Singing bird on statue in Ringling Art Museum Courtyard

A little songbird warbled a beautiful melody for us.

Awestruck by the immense scale of this personal collection of art, and trying to imagine what life was like as a circus tycoon a century ago, we were delighted to find a more down-to-earth treasure hidden between the wide banyon trees of the estate. A huge mulberry bush was covered from head to toe in delicious, ripe mulberries. This bush — or tree — was so huge that we could climb inside under its thick branches. There were enough berries in there to feed an army, and we feasted on them for quite some time!!

Eating mulberries in Florida

In between the huge banyan trees we found a massive mulberry bush filled with ripe mulberries!

The huge John and Mable Ringling Mansion is now a museum as well. A very long line of people was waiting outside to get tickets to see the interior rooms of the mansion, but we contented ourselves with wandering around the grounds. The mansion is called Cà D’Zan, which is said to be a Venetian dialect for “House of John.” It is also thought to mean “House of Zany,” and since “Zany” means “clownish,” it is also fitting. John Ringling’s first role with the circus was as a clown.

Ringling Mansion Ca-Dzan Sarasota Florida

These windows of the Ringling mansion look out onto the bay.

Ringling mansion and museum Sarasota Florida

Ornate windows in the Ringling mansion.

Ringling mansion and museum Sarasota Florida-2

What a place to spend the winter!

Ca-dzan Ringling Mansion Sarasota Florida

“Cà D’Zan” (“House of John”) is the name Ringling gave his unique winter bungalow.

The vast marble patio stretches on three sides of the house towards the water, and there is a huge boat dock right out front.

Marble patio Ringling Mansion Sarasota Florida

Colorful marble tiles stretch across the expansive patio.

There are several other museums on the Ringling estate, including a Circus Museum, and it is possible to get a discounted three day pass to see all the museums at leisure. We decided to save that in depth look at The Ringling for another visit, but we were enchanted when we met a longtime Sarasota resident who gave this unusual Sarasota circus connection a personal touch.

Ringling R insignia on metal gate

The Ringling “R” over a gate.

She remembered when the circus train would arrive in Sarasota for their winter break in the early 1950’s and depart again in the spring. Everyone from town would run down to wave at the performers who lived on the 100 car train during the touring season. She also remembered when a group of midgets lived in a nearby neighborhood of miniature homes. Many of the midgets had been cast as Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz in 1939.

How cool is that?!

Added later: Thanks to a heads up from reader Richard Daugherty, here is a YouTube video of child prodigy singer Jackie Evancho performing at the Ringling Museum of Art when she was 11. Check this out!!


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Sunny Side Up – Baby Sandhill Cranes Hatch in Sarasota FL

Sandhill cranes are common in Florida. Indeed, they are so common in the Sarasota area that there are roadsigns in quieter places away from town where they are known to congregate. After seeing the the magnificent flocks in Willcox, Arizona, a few months ago, I was hoping we might see some sandhill cranes up close during our stay in the Sunshine State.

Sandhill cranes hatching area in Sarasota Florida

Well, my wish to see some sandhill cranes “up close and personal” came true in spades in the last few days as we became witness to the most beautiful little slice of life and glimpse of Mother Nature’s wondrous works.

A pair of these enormous birds decided to ignore the roadsigns entirely and build a nest in a most unlikely spot, sandwiched between a Bob Evans restaurant and a Lowes home improvement store in a very busy part of the city next to a tiny pond filled with lily pads.

Sandhill Crane sitting on a nest

Mom takes a turn sitting on the nest (the parents share!)

The parents were attentive to all the traffic and city noise around them, but they were surprisingly calm.

Pair of Sandhill Cranes with a nest

Dad stands watch while Mom snoozes on the nest (with one eye open)

When Mom stood up, we saw two little eggs in the nest. She gently rolled them around and then settled back down on them.

Sandhill crane checks eggs in nest Sarasota Florida

Mom rolls her two eggs around for even baking on all sides. Both eggs have pip holes in them!!

Now, this is not only a very busy area, with locals and tourists driving by all the time, city sirens screaming in the distance, and a general urban hum of activity filling the air, but a flock of crazy photographers and birders had taken up residence right in front of the nest!

Photographers and birders watch the baby sandhill cranes


When our friend and host first took us to the nest, we stuck around for a while to see if the eggs would hatch. No such luck. The sun began to set, and the babies were still in their eggs, so we took off.

When we returned the next morning, the photographers and birders will all in position with huge grins on their faces. The first egg had just hatched!

Sandhill crane with hatchling Sarasota Florida

The baby bird was a little unsteady, but for being just an hour old, he was doing amazingly well, sitting upright and looking around.

Florida sandhill crane chick in nest in Sarasota

Mama kept poking her head down to see how he was doing…

Newborn sandhill crane chick with mom

“I’m okay, Mom”

Sandhill crane chick looks mom in the eye

His little batteries were very small and needed lots of recharging. He’d look around for a few minutes and then he’d flop over and fall asleep.

Sandhill crane checks on sleeping check Sarasota Florida

While he was sleeping, Mom was eager for the other egg to hatch. She helped it a long a bit (we were all quite surprised!).

Sandhill crane helps chick hatch Sarasota Florida

Dad had been hanging out on the other side of the pond. He flew over to the nest and the two parents walked around the chick and the egg for a while.

Pair of sandhill cranes in Sarasota Florida with chick in nest

The baby slept right through Dad’s arrival.

It was amazing to look at these big birds and to think that they had been tiny little chicks once too.

Sarasota Florida a pair of sandhill cranes with chick and egg in nest

When the baby chick sat up again, the sound of camera shutters clicking filled the air as everyone holding a camera leaped into action, from the guys with the huge lenses and tripods to the growing crowd with cell phones.

Florida Sandhill crane chick sits up in nest_

This little guy will have a younger sister or brother really soon!

These chicks have enormous legs and feet, and the little chick tried to get them coordinated underneath himself to walk around. This was not so easy — he instantly lost his balance and fell over backwards!!

Sarasota Florida sandhill crane in nest falls over


Sandhill crane chick on its back in the nest

Oh dear!! Maybe the trick is to roll over…

Newly hatched sandhill crane chick just hours old

He finally got himself upright and situated over his two feet. This had taken a lot out of him. He looked around and let out a big yawn.

Just hatched sandhill crane chick 2 hours old sits up in nest

The audience of photographers were all chuckling at his antics by now. This little bird was just too cute!

“Who’s going to hand out the cigars when that other one hatches?” A guy behind me asked.

We all watched in wonder as this tiny creature that had been tucked into an egg just two hours ago made his way down to the water’s edge. Mom and Dad didn’t discourage him. They were busy eating his discarded egg shell and cleaning up!

Two hour old sandhill chick by pond in Florida

Two hours ago this guy was in an egg!!

It was late morning by now, and we both had hundreds of photos on our cameras. We decided to leave the scene and come back later to see if the other chick hatched.

When we returned later in the afternoon, the crowd of birders and photographers was even bigger, and we found out the second chick had emerged from his egg too. Mom was keeping a close eye on both of her new babies.

Female sandhill crane with two hatched chicks

The two little fluff balls sat side by side while we all said “aw” over and over as they fumbled around.

Sandhill crane nest Sarasota Florida 2 baby chicks

They managed to get themselves up on their feet and face each other, and the crowd gasped in laughing surprise as they began to spar a little and flap their wings.

Two sandhill crane chicks just hatched in Sarasota Florida nest

Mom poked her head in again to see what was going on with these two.

Mother sandhill crane with two babies in nest

All this excitement was a lot for a five hour old bird. The older one in front began yawning again.

Baby sandhill crane chick yawning in nest Sarasota Florida

Then he fell over on his side and crashed, fast asleep, while the other one looked around.

Sandhill crane chick napping in Sarasota Florida nest

After just a minute or two he woke up and sat back up again while the younger bird in back fell over on his side, fast asleep. This business of living takes a lot of energy for a little bird!

Pair of sandhill crane chick babies in nest in Sarasota Florida

The older in front couldn’t stay awake long either. All of a sudden he rolled over on his side and fell asleep too.

Newly hatched sandhill crane chicks nap in Sarasota Florida nest

We tip-toed away, and the other photographers began to wrap up their gear and head home too.

A little later in the day we snuck back to check on them, and the birds were on their own without an audience of people. They had moved about 100 feet from the nest to a new location in tall, protective grasses.

By the next morning, the whole little family was gone!


The photos here were taken with a Nikon D610 camera and a Tamron 150-600 mm lens and a Benro carbon fiber tripod.

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