Pat’s Wildways: Road Trip to Sebastian

By Pat Foster-Turley

I am always on the lookout for new things to see in our part of Florida, but after all these years of road trips here, it is getting very difficult to find something new. But I am a good sleuth and finally found something from perusing a schedule of field trips offered for the recent Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. I didn’t make it to the festival, but I did locate something interesting. A wildlife viewing pontoon boat is based in Sebastian from Capt. Hirams Resort complete with lodging, restaurants, bars and entertainment. Perfect.

I danced alone under van Gogh’s Starry Night at the Wizard of Oz Museum in Cape Canaveral.

At least it was perfect for me, but not so much for Bucko. Although Sebastian was “only” about three and a half hours away via Interstate 95, that was way too far for Bucko. But I insisted and I won. To break up the drive a bit, I spotted the Wizard of Oz Museum in Cape Canaveral on a Google map and read its hyped-up reviews. On Trip Advisor this is listed as #15 out of 1,788 museums in Florida and #21 out of 32,970 things to do in Florida. Wow, we had to see it, right?

The Wizard of Oz Museum has a big collection of Oz memorabilia and touts three different immersive experiences, including the Van Gogh Immersive I paid quite a bit more to see in Jacksonville not too long ago, and all for a senior price of $28 per person. What a deal! Well, the museum and continuing loop of projections on the walls of a large room only occupied us for about a half hour. We were the only ones in the immersive projections room, a really eerie feeling, but hey, with no one watching besides Bucko there was nothing to stop me from free-form dancing under Van Gogh’s Starry Night. But the walls were much lower than those at the Jacksonville event and there were far fewer projectors, so it was not nearly as awe-inspiring. And neither Bucko nor I was really into Wizard of Oz trivia so the museum was pretty much wasted on us. But hey it was something different to do, no doubt about it.

Sports fishermen display their catches at the dock of Capt. Hirams.

Another hour and a half down the road for poor “this is too far” Bucko we finally arrived at Capt. Hirams Resort in Sebastian. And finally, we both agreed. This is perfect! We arrived earlier than our room was ready, so we had a bit of time to linger over a beer in a tiki bar overlooking their dock. We watched happily as a sport fishing boat unloaded its fish-laden passengers for a photo op in front of the resort sign. We weren’t the only ones watching. A group of large white pelicans with a few small brown pelicans mixed in had eyes on the fish cleaning station and the scraps from it. And as we watched, a dolphin joined the mix, but the pelicans drove it away with a splash. I guess pelicans rule the roost here.

Large white pelicans and their smaller brown pelican cousins wait for scraps at a fish cleaning station.

Dinners and breakfasts were great at Hirams, with clams delivered from a nearby mariculture operation, fresh grouper off the boats, and a regular little blue heron fishing in the shallows in front of our table. Live music at the three bars was suited for people our age—many of whom were singing and dancing to the old Beatles tunes.

Best of all, and the reason for this road trip, was the two-hour narrated tour of this part of the Indian River Lagoon and up into the freshwater Sebastian River. This area was new to both of us and despite all the news we had read about the decline in health and biodiversity in the lagoon, all looked well to us, at least here. The boat captain steered us to good viewings of dolphins, manatees, and a supersized alligator while entertaining us with bad jokes.

The Brazilian pepper plant is an exotic invasive species that has taken over much of Central Florida.

Here in the beginnings of South Florida, I soaked in the sights of mangroves, sea grapes, and wild coffee plants and, sadly, large expanses of Brazilian pepper trees, resplendent with their red berries, but an invasive plant here that is shading out the natives. The boat narrator extolled the virtues of the Brazilian pepper plants and all the birds that feed on it, not aware or at least not concerned about how this plant is spreading by just such activities. No matter what, it was a fun boat trip and a look at new ecosystems beyond our north Florida environment.

But, as Bucko said, the trip on I-95 was terrible and stressing for both of us. And stopping at a crowded Buc-ee’s gas station/gift shop was stressful, too. I thought the trip was well worth the drive, but not Bucko. But at least we got there! Score one for me!


Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]