Florida Spring 2011

Part III: Sanibel Island

(Click on the pictures to see an enlargement!)
Saturday April 30

Last night John called his former teaching colleague Sandy and we made a brunch date for Sunday morning.  He also called his friend Bill in Sarasota, but he has jury duty all week so it doesn't look like that visit with him will happen.  frown

our apartmentSince we had time to kill this morning, we read for a while in the room, then headed into Fort Myers.  We got gas at a Hess station (@$3.85) and filled up on groceries - $120 worth.  I suspect we’ll be eating "in" a lot this week. smile We got to Sanibel around 1 PM and stopped first at the visitor center on the causeway.backyard  It was a very nice place, had great, friendly volunteers and we picked up a lot of information.  We stopped at a City Park near the causeway road (not on the beach, but there were picnic tables and free parking) and had picnic lunch, then we drove all the way down to the end of Captiva to check out our surroundings before coming back to the West End Paradise where we found the studio apartment ready for us.    The apartment is on the right above; the left picture is the "backyard" of the complex.

kitchenetteWe have a 2 room unit - a nice bedroom, big French doors with screens; the kitchenette (at the right) is small but adequate.  There are plenty of pots and pans, silverware, place settings, microwave, 2 burner stove, toaster.  The only thing lacking is a table for eating indoors.  There's a coffee table and a large end table, a loveseat, 2 wicker chairs and 2 bar chairs.  But the only "eating height" tables are outdoors.  This wasn't a big problem for us.  Most of the other units are "suites" that include furnished porches so it probably is not an issue for those.  

John checking out the shells on the beachBecause it's the end of the dry season, the ponds are pretty stagnant and low, though there are still birds, ducks, alligators around.  We saw quite a lot of wildlife as the week progressed.   It rained a bit this afternoon –  only about 20 minutes and not very hard; the first rain since we left home!   We unpacked, loaded the poor fridge (it barely holds everything we brought), and then walked down to the beach.   It's about 2 blocks away - we have a parking tag for the "Tradewinds" neighborhood parking lot, but there are also bicycles available at the West End and most of the time we just cycled down and used the bike racks.  (There are bike trails and bike racks all over the island.)  At left, John checks out the possibilities for shell collecting!

I did 2 batches of laundry (there's a washer and drier available for residents' use) while John fixed supper – trout with a delicate lemon sauce and veggies, watermelon for dessert.  We went back to the beach for sunset.   Since there is no nearby public parking, the beach at this area was never crowded which was delightful.  The first set of pictures below are at the approach to the beach.  At the left is a path leading from the parking lot to the beach - if you enlarge it, you can barely see the bicycle rack under the Australian pine.  In the center and at right are some of the plants in the buffer area between the tree and the beach.  It was really a lovely short path.  Below that are, left to right, an east view of the beach, a west-facing view and our first Sanibel sunset.

approaching beach   beach daisy   plants on beach

Beach looking south beach looking north sunset one

Sunday  May 1

Lighthouse TerraceJohn and SandyWe slept well last night – yay!  We have a room AC in the bedroom but we also, through ducts, pick up the central air from the adjoining unit.  I kept the room one on low all night and it was delightful.  We had brunch with Sandy Warnke today at the Lighthouse Restaurant just across the bridge to the mainland.   We ate on the terrace which was lovely – it's all screened in but the screens are so fine you hardly see them.  They started us all with complimentary mimosas and the meal was very nice.  Sandy and I had omelets, John had a grouper sandwich.  The cost was even rather reasonable until we added dessert!  wink  Mainland from causewayWe also had a very nice visit with Sandy!

Driving over the bridge we saw an osprey sitting on the rail "fishing."  Coming back to Sanibel we stopped along the causeway for a photo op of the mainland and bridge (left), then drove through Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge.  We saw tricolored herons, an anhinga,  lots of egrets and herons, white pelicans and fish leaping about.  We are told that the fish are most likely mullets who frequently exhibit that behavior!  We hadn't applied sunblock this morning; since we weren't prepared to spend a lot of time in the sun, we'll go back another time (with sunblock) and also stop at the nature center.   It costs $5 to drive through the refuge, but the park service "Senior pass" is honored there so it was no cost to us.

A few views from the wildlife refuge - a great egret at left, tricolored heron in the center and leaping fish at the right.

great egret  tricolored heron   mullet leaping out of the pond
ruddy turnstoneblack bellied ploverJohn napped in the afternoon, I sat outside in the shade and read; then he fixed a seafood chowder (with crackers) for supper and we biked down to the beach where we watched the sandpipers until sunset.  At left are a couple of ruddy turnstones and to the right a black bellied plover.  There are also willet, sanderlings and dunlin that will show up in later pictures.  In the evening there are usually pelicans seeking their supper as well!  And our second Sanibel sunset (with sandpipers still hanging at the edge of the surf) below!

Monday May 2it's cold!

beach shellsThis morning we packed up and went down to the beach relatively early (around 9 AM).  We walked up to Bowman's Beach (probably about a mile), watched birds and shell collected (at left is a sample of the shells lying about on the beach; at right is John discovering that the water was a little colder than he had guessed)!  Around noon, we saw a dolphin swimming right along the shore – maybe 10 feet out.   There was a lot of pelican action, too,  which probably indicates plenty of fish that would attract the dolphin, too.   Below, left to right, are a pelican taking flight, the dolphin heading back out into the gulf and a group of sanderlings taking a brief rest from their nearly constant scurrying back and forth.

pelican dolphin sanderlings 

Sanibel lighthouseAfter lunch we drove down to the eastern end of the island to see the lighthouse and beach.  You can only look at the old lighthouse, can't go in it and the beach was quite crowded.  royal poincianaThere is a big public parking lot that costs $2/ hour but its availability attracts the crowds.  We stopped at Pinocchio's for ice cream.  They only had two flavors of gelato but they had lots of good ice cream - I had a mocha java cone.   Then we drove back along the East, Middle and West Gulf Shore Drives to see what the big condo areas were like.  They are all landscaped very nicely (see a stunning royal poinciana tree at right) but the beaches are crowded.   We stopped to browse at a couple of art galleries along Tarpon Bay Drive – saw some nice works but nothing we can really afford, of course.

turtle nestanother sunsetI made way too much chicken and pasta tonight.  We may not use up all of our leftovers before we leave, but that's okay.  After supper we did our usual beach walk again and saw a turtle nest (pictured at left) this time.  I'm pretty sure it wasn’t marked before so I'm guessing it just happened last night.  Too bad we won’t be here to see it hatch!  Interesting effect of clouds in the sunset.

Tuesday 5/3

adolescent osprey

This morning we went to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation nature center, visited the butterfly house there and walked a couple of miles of nature trail.  We saw a medium sized alligator, lots of butterflies, lizards (one without tail) and some adolescent osprey fussing over who gets the "prize" which appeared to be a crayfish.  They were very noisy about it.  The ospreys are at the left.  Below are: a zebra longwing butterfly (state butterfly of Florida), a little blue heron and a spotted lizard that was quite different from the others we've seen!

   zebra longwing  little blue heron   interesting lizard

Junior, our local alligatorThen we went down to Tarpon Bay to the Tarpon Bay Explorers (the concessionaire for Ding Darling) and made reservations for the evening pontoon trip tonight.  After lunch we went over to one of the ponds on the property and enjoying watching the activity there – there are a couple families of yellow crowned night herons.  This afternoon we saw parents plus 3 youth, a small alligator named "junior" since he isn't very large and still looks very green and yellow so probably not very old – maybe 4 feet long (Junior pictured at left).  We also saw what I think is a red bellied turtle but he disappeared before I could get a good picture of him.  We took a beach walk for an hour or so and watched some of the little sandpipers take baths in the gulf!   Had an early supper of leftovers and then off for the boat tour.

Below are the yellow crowned night heron parents and 3 adolescents practicing perching on a branch (click for a better look).  I'm guessing that Mom is at the left since she stayed close to the nest; the one on the right, that I'm guessing is the father, moved around a lot and seemed to be "standing guard."  Later in the week we discovered another nest with younger chicks - stay tuned!  

yellow crowned night heron mom   night heron youth   Yellow Crowned Night Heron Dad

sea horse
At Tarpon Bay, the tour started in the "touch tank" where our naturalist, Bree, showed us some of the marine life and let kids hold the mollusks, sea star, etc.   I took a few pictures but my favorite is the sea horse at right!  Then onto the boat – I think the only bird that was completely new to us was the American Oystercatcher (having a great time on an oyster bar).  We saw Great Blue herons (adults and youth), ibis, lots of pelicans (including some chicks), great egrets, cattle egrets, a young reddish egret, mottled ducks.  The sunset on the bay was lovely and coming back into the dock we saw a roseate spoonbill on a nearby island!. 

Below are some of the fun things we saw.   In the top row, cormorants nesting; at center cattle egrets and at the right 3 great blue heron chicks not quite ready for sleep yet!

cormorants nesting  cattle egret great blue heron chicks

In the row below, brown pelicans at left, a mother pelican with 2 chicks at center and at the right, clumps of mangrove on an oyster bar.  Below that, the sunset from the boat and the roseate spoonbill.
brown pelicans  pelican and chicks  mangrove clumps on oyster bar

bay sunset   roseate spoonbill

When we got back to the apartment, we had popcorn for snack/dessert.  I’ve been sleeping very well at night but am amazingly tired by the end of the day!

Wed May 4

ottersparents and chickThis morning we hung around the Paradise watching the wildlife in the pond.  Two river otters showed up and were frolicking and teasing Junior.  It was a riot to watch – one would pop up and "bark" at him, he'd swirl and head over to it and the other would get behind him and repeat.  They were as big as he was and apparently having a lot more fun.  Finally, one of them caught a fish and they went off under a tree to eat it; one of the night herons promptly decided to steal it and dove after them.  After a lot of racket the bird went back to its branch so it seems the otters retained their catch!  There were at least 2 turtles periodically surfacing and we spotted a second heron nest with younger chicks in it (parents and one chick in picture at right).

at Doc FordsAbout 11 AM, my friend Krystal and her husband, Nathan, arrived.  We walked down to the beach and spotted a couple of dolphins and a manatee!  No pictures unfortunately – they were moving around too quickly.  We strolled and talked for about an hour then went to lunch at Doc Ford’ssunset Reasonable (for the area) prices and good food.  It was over a 2 hour drive for them to get back and Nathan had work to do so they took off after lunch (which was already about 3 PM), but we both enjoyed their visit immensely!

After they left, I did some laundry and John went shopping at the Thrift Shop and the "She Sells Sea Shells" store.  We had a light veggie and rice supper since we had a significant lunch. We biked down to watch the sunset (again) then played Scrabble (I won) before bed. 

Thursday 5/5

great egretsnowy egretWe spent the morning at the Ding Darling Refuge.  We had the luck to encounter one of the volunteers who had a powerful telescope and was very knowledgable about what we were seeing.  There were too many birds to remember them all, but I’ll try to list some: great egret (pictured left - yellow bill, black feet), snowy egret (pictured right - black bill and legs, yellow feet), great blue heron, small blue heron, reddish egret, tricolored heron, ibis, double crested cormorant, American white pelican, osprey, red bellied plover, semi-palmated plover, least sandpiper.  We enjoyed watching the reddish egret do its dancing things and the tricolored catch fish after fish.  We walked around the Calusa Shell Mound Trail – it was interesting to read about the early tribes and how they made use of the shells for tools, dishes, etc.  but there wasn't much to see there.  Below are cormorants, and two pictures of white pelicans - one as they were landing so you can see the black on the wings.  Beautiful birds!

double crested cormorants white pelicans white pelicans landing

Then we went through the nature center there at the Darling Refuge – a wonderful place for kids!  Lots of good interactive and hands-on exhibits.  Back at the West End, Darwin showed us where the green heron nests are, near the "other" pond (they are too well concealed for a picture),  and then I biked down to the beach in time to see the daily (?) dolphin act.  So far we've seen them 3 times between noon and 1 PM which is high tide now.  I can't get pictures because they come up and go down too quickly,  but they're still fun to watch.  I did, however, get pictures of willets (left),  a typical group of sandpipers - the one with the long bill is a dunlin (center), and a royal tern!

willets  sandpipers  royal tern

John and shellsrainbowIn the afternoon we went back to the beach with chairs and equipment.  I soaked up sun and read while John played in the surf finding shells.  Later, he spent some time sorting them and working on identification (at left).

Then, when we were just about to start supper, it poured.  First rain since we’ve been in the state.  It poured for 15-20 minutes then slowed down but it continued to rain for a couple of hours.  When it's light in the morning, it will be interesting to see if we can see a difference in the ponds!  There wasn't much of a sunset tonight because it's so cloudy, but we did get a nice rainbow.

Friday May 6

John collectingjust us fisherfolkThis morning we started at Blind Pass Beach – the Sanibel side of the channel between Sanibel and Captiva (John collecting in the surf at left).  The beach on the Captiva side is known as Turner's Beach.  (At both there is public parking, $2/hr.)   There were lots of fisherfolk there (pictured at right, the birds in the shade under the bridge) - a great blue heron and snowy egret were following some of the human fishermen around.  It wasn't clear that they were even hungry – they were just sort of hanging out.  The egret eventually started playing in the surf and caught several smaller fish.   In the afternoon, I finally got a picture of a brown anole displaying his dewlap (below left)!  John finished sorting his shells and went off to the Pack n Ship and PO to mail home what sea porkdoesn't fit in the suitcase.  

brown anoleOn our evening walk we found a bunch of globs that turn out to be something known as "sea pork" (right) that is really a tunicate containing zooids.  And that's about as much as I know about it, though I did read they seem to appear in bunches.  Apparently they vary in color from pink to green to yellow to gray.  

Wonderful sunset!  We sorted and pre-packed a bit before going to bed.

John watching sunset      last sunset

Saturday May 7

spooky swampIt was raining when we woke up but had stopped before we had to pack the car – kind rain!   I did finally see a swallowtail kite (being chased by a smaller bird) today.  We had a few hours to kill before returning the rental car and had decided to go visit Six Mile Cypress Slough – a Lee County park in Fort Myers.  It was easy to find and they have a delightful boardwalk trail with an informational booklet (also found online  here ).   It costs $1/hour to park but there is no other cost.  This would be a fun place for a Halloween hike - very spooky in places.

young little blue heronWe so enjoyed this walk, I'm so glad we found it!  Right at the beginning of the trail we saw a pileated woodpecker.  It was too quick for a picture, but at least we both got a look at it and we could check it off of our list.  There was also a young little blue heron wading around in Ibis Marsh (right).   There were tons of birds that we could hear but didn't see.  I did see a Carolina wren, wood ducks, anhinga, little blue heron, ibis, gray squirrels, green heron and various turtles.

At Wood Duck Pond we saw an anhinga diving.  It was sitting on a branch in the pond (left picture) drying itself out, then took a dive.  They can stay under a long, long time then pop up (center picture) looking almost like an eel, take a big breath and disappear again.  There were also a number of red bellied turtles there.  At Otter Pond, we saw an alligator, a green heron, and a softshell turtle who had a mess of fish following him around (below, right)!  Apparently the turtle's actions were stirring up food for all of them.

anhinga drying out   anhinga coming up for air   turtle and fish

wood duck pairFinally at Pop Ash Pond we saw a pair of wood ducks (left) – they had a nest and we could see some ducklings but the nest was too well concealed for pictures.   Between there and Ibis Marsh I also saw black swallowtail (below) black swallowtailand white peacock butterflies.

We had a picnic lunch there at the park, took a quick look through the Interpretive Center which really looked quite nice, but we were running out of time and I didn't want to cut the return of the car too closely.

After a quick stop to fill the gas tank, we found our way to the Holiday Inn Town Center where we returned our Advantage rental car and checked in for the night.  What a very nice place!  We had a huge room, refrigerator and microwave, shuttle buses to the shopping center and airport, nice pool and hot tub.  We had supper at the Oasis Restaurant at the hotel, which was very pleasant - good food and a quite reasonable price.  We watched a Netflix movie after supper and went to bed early so we could get up for the 4:20 AM (groan) shuttle to the airport.  Obviously we’ll be all packed up and ready to go tonight!

Sunday May 8

spring flowers in IowaGetting up and off worked smoothly.  The shuttle had us there at 4:30 and the Delta staff didn’t even show up until about 4:40!  But they got us processed quickly and we left on time.  The plane from Atlanta to Quad Cities was 40 minutes or so late but since that was our final destination it didn't mess up connections.  The Motel 6 van came and got us when we called – what a slick deal!  Most definitely a wonderful plan for anybody flying out of Moline. 

And it was a nice day back home in Iowa – t-shirt weather, sunny.  We stopped at Culver's in Coralville for lunch and got home around 2 PM.   We were delighted to see the spring flowers still in bloom, trees budding out and lots of green. (at right)  The sun room was nice and warm and I opened it up.  Finally SPRING!

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