Our first real stop on our journey was the
Garden Key, the main island, is the site of
s six sides, is built of brick, and is surrounded by a moat. There are three levels (including the open top tier), all of which were supposed to be lined with cannons and large guns, but were never fully armed. To accommodate the guns, the walls are lined with open arches through which the guns could be fired. The interior of the fort are the parade grounds, and open area with grass and trees, and some remnants of previous structures such as barracks, ammunition magazines, etc.
During the early spring, lots of migrating birds stop on the island, and last April we saw more than a dozen species; this year we must have been too late, because few birds were in residence, and the only ones we recognized were a gray catbird and seve
ral American redstarts. The redstarts are pretty-dark-bodied with orange/red patches on wings and tail-and they have an interesting way of hunting for bugs in the grass; they raise their tail and hop quickly all around, sometimes flying in a circle just above the ground. The real birds to see are on Bush Key (see picture), which is a sanctuary for nesting boobies (the birds-get your mind out of the gutter), terns, and magnificent frigates. Like Egmont Key on steroids, these thousands of birds feed and fly around, squawking day and night, but it’s a nice kind of sound. When we dinghyed around the bay looking for nurse sharks (it’s also a nurse shark mating area, and no, Mom, we didn’t see any this time, and they don’t have teeth anyway), the sooty terns would fly just over your shoulder and turn their heads to look at you. Very cute!
The water here is also clear and warm, and there’s all kinds of critters around. Some of the most interesting are the large ones. There are enormous tarpon swimming around, and also goliath grouper (the fish formerly know as the jewfish). The grouper like to hang out under boats, and you’ll see them swimming across the anchorage, going from boat to boat. Anne has snorkeled under the boat to see them, and let me tell you, looking at something that big close up is rather intimidating, but all they did was come up and look at me, kind of like a big (like, Newfoundland-size), curious dog.