Category Archives: Florida Master Naturalist Program

Hiking ’round Harns Marsh, Part 2

Thanks for a great hikeThis is a follow-up to Part 1 of the same hike, which was posted a couple of weeks ago.

I promised you shelling, and shelling you shall have 🙂 There are at least two different varieties of apple snails at Harns Marsh – possibly, three – but only one of them is a Florida native. The other two are from South America, and having established themselves here in Florida, are considered “invasive exotics”.

There are some other types of freshwater snails in residence at the marsh, too. I’ve seen rams-horn, sprites, and Choctaws littering the shores and paths. Aquatic gastropods make for some tasty dining options for birds such as the snail kite and the limpkin, both of which favor marsh habitats. This means that Harns Marsh is positively INFESTED with empty freshwater snail shells. I was sorely tempted to collect them, but remembering that this is a preserve, I refrained. We’ll have to console ourselves with cyber-shelling. Are you ready? Here we go…


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My foot’s in this photo for scale. The Florida applesnail is only 1.5″; this one is much bigger than that, so we know it must be one of the invasive exotics. I dug this shell out of the sand on the banks of the pond with the toe of my hiking shoe. When I flipped it over, I discovered that the grass growing nearby had sent roots into the shell. There must have been something in there that the grass wanted – moisture, or possibly fertilizer! This demonstrates that the applesnail shell continues to provide value in nature long after the original inhabitant has departed. The shell below the applesnail in this photo belonged to a rams-horn snail. The small one by my shoe might be either a sprite or else a baby rams-horn.

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Here’s a closer look at another rams-horn snail shell. This one is vividly colored. It is showing us its “umbilical” side – see how the whorls are a bit concave, instead of raised? This is right-side up; how the animal would present if we’d found it live. The “spire” side, or the side where the whorls protrude, would be on the underside. I’ve read that the rams-horn snail has hemoglobin in its blood, marking the presence of oxygen. This gives it a nice rosy color. I’d love to observe a live one some time.

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I saw some odd things in the dry pond and stream beds in the marsh. Perhaps they were not visible until the water level had diminished, and therefore no one had gone ’round to collect them before this. Here we see a bunch of snail shells strewn about, along with what looks like half a rubber chicken and what appears to be the red tie closure to a plastic trash bag. If you click the link below, you can check out the original size photo, and you’ll see that around the rim of the rubber chicken, it says “MADE IN TAIWAN”. Scroll around the original size photo to go cyber-shelling – you’ll see lots of applesnails and at least one sprite and one rams-horn. If you spot anything else, leave a comment! 😉 CLICK HERE for super-sized photo

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Someone has recently feasted upon this egg; it looks like a freshwater turtle egg. The outside is pristine, but the inside is full of debris, so I believe the feast was not TOO recent. It was also the only one I found in the area, which may mean that the predator carried it there from the location of the nest. I didn’t have too much time to think about it, for a movement on the path in front of me caught my attention, and I thought no more about the turtle egg or where the nest might be.

Harns Marsh Snail Kite

It’s a snail kite! I thought at first it was a hawk, but on a hunch, I fired up the Audubon app on my phone. Lo and behold, the juvenile snail kite looks just like this guy. I felt very lucky to have spotted one

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While still on the western perimeter path of the marsh, a sign appears that announces the boundary between Harns Marsh, a facility of the East County Water Control District, and some Lee County, FL lands. Conservation 20/20 is the vehicle by which the county acquires land parcels for conservation and water management purposes. Sometimes those two goals can be made to co-exist quite amicably. I later learned that this parcel is called the West Marsh, and trails will be developed so that hikers can cross back and forth between West and Harns at will. What a field trip THAT will be!

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Continuing up the west side of the marsh, the woods veered off and I came upon a vast open wetland with tall grasses waving in the breeze. I scared both a turtle and a great blue heron coming around the bend that leads to this open space. It is beautiful, isn’t it? However, this stretch is relentlessly shadeless, so be prepared if you ever come here and decide to do the loooong 4 mile hike around the North Marsh. It could be killer in weather any warmer than this. Here we see that a group of white ibis have taken the field with their bright red, probing bills.

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I was hot and tired and thirsty when I rounded the corner on the (thankfully) short north end of the marsh. I could see where I’d parked my car, way off in the distance; however, there was this large body of water and grass between me and it, so I figured I should keep on moving if I ever wanted to sit within the confines of its air conditioned comfort once more. And then I saw them – birds that are well on their way to being as tall as I am, with magnificently plumed butts and a loud, distinctive call. These are sandhill cranes, and they had babies with them! My first clue was a little fuzzy yellow head, barely visible in the tall grass; see red arrow in picture above.

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One of the parents – Dad? – began to move purposefully in the direction of the youngster. I glanced to the left and saw the reason why. Standing absolutely stock still was a heron – I think it was tri-color (see the white stripe down the throat?). The youngster stood beside his towering parent and faced the heron down. “Oh, yeah?”, he seemed to be saying. “Well, my old man can kick your butt!”

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From way off to the right, I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. “Why does all the good stuff happen when I’m not there?”, he grumbled as his short little legs worked overtime to get him to where the action was. “Hey wait up – wait for me!”

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The tri-color took off as the second youngster caught up. I’d caught up too, and now that the Dad wasn’t so distracted, he decided to notice me and trumpet his disapproval at my presence. There must have been some magic line in the path over which I eventually crossed, for he stopped honking abruptly the minute I stepped over it and summarily ignored me once more.

In short order, I’d reached the car and broken out some cold water. I was thoroughly satisfied with my day and knew I’d be back to this beautiful place. Actually, the call to hike there once more came much sooner than I’d thought it would. Friends were planning a Florida Master Naturalist “reunion” hike, and did I want to come along? You bet I did! Pictures to come…

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Hiking ’round Harns Marsh, Part 1

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Harns Marsh MapSaturday morning, I stumbled to my computer as per usual, ample dose of caffeine in hand, and sat down to read the news, check my email, and catch up on Facebook. I happened across an article about a nature festival taking place right here in Lehigh Acres, at a place called Harns Marsh, not far from where I live. I recalled that a couple of my classmates in the Freshwater Wetlands class (Florida Master Naturalist Program) had developed a trail guide to Harns Marsh for their final project. Without further fanfare, I decided to strike out for the preserve; gulped down some breakfast, slathered on some sunscreen, grabbed a thermos of water and off I went. I mobile blogged a bit from the trail (see yesterday’s posts) and now I want to share the rest of the photos I took.

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The marsh was engineered to handle runoff from the Orange River, a tributary off the Caloosahatchee River. The Orange River itself had been altered ‘way in the early 20th century; it was originally known as Twelve Mile Creek but then the Army Corps of Engineers dredged it 4’ deep by 50″ wide. Like many of Florida’s freshwater wetlands in winter, the marsh appeared to be significantly dried up as compared to the obvious high water lines that could be seen here and there. That will change as soon as rainy season is properly upon us, circa mid-May. Still, there was plenty of water to sustain abundant waterfowl and other wildlife. I saw turtles, coots, moorhens, apple snails, rams horn snails, a variety of herons and egrets, some vultures, squirrels, anoles, white ibis, glossy ibis, ducks, sandhill cranes, and to my surprise and delight, ONE snail kite on the side of the path.

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Freshwater turtles take advantage of the rocks protruding from the pond, sunning themselves on this glorious March day under sunny Florida skies. It was already past noon when I set out to the preserve, and the day was warm but breezy.

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When you’re out and about in a park or preserve, you can guess what amount of human traffic has been occurring by the behavior of the wildlife. For instance, at Lakes Park, where there are always lots of people walking, running, biking, picnicking and playing, the animals don’t flinch. In fact, they may approach you, if they have learned to associate humans with food. Here at the marsh, I passed the two turtles from a goodly distance, yet the little one hastily slipped into the pond rather than risk unknown danger from this unknown beast (me) treading the waterside path. However, the larger one stood his ground, unwilling to sacrifice his daily dose of D on the outside chance that I was looking for soup ingredients.

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It was not long before I realized that I’d been following a set of tracks in the muddy path. I thought it might be a dog’s paw prints, but then I realized there weren’t any people tracks to go with them, and I thought it odd that a dog might be at the preserve all on his own. I began to consider other options. Possibly, this was a bobcat I was following. I really thought it more likely to be a dog, but I’m not good enough at tracking to know the difference without reference materials.

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The Audubon app on my phone showed me pictures of bobcat tracks, but the prints on my path were not clear enough along the bottom of the pad to determine if it was canine or feline. I figured that the mystery might be solved, or at least a likely suspect identified, if I should come across some scat. I knew what bobcat scat looked like from a previous wetland field trip I’d taken with the Master Naturalists. Time would tell. I continued along the trail.

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As I moved northeast-ish along the path, I began to notice odd things in the water. Here we find a strange, spherically shaped object that looks to have seen better days. From afar, it has that pitted, wave-weary look of an old sea shell, the kind my friend Christene refers to as “yard art”. Now that I’ve got the photo up on the big screen, I confess I don’t know WHAT it could be. Anyone want to take a guess?

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It always surprises me when I come across the inevitable tire-in-the-water tableau. It just seems to ridiculous to be in a remote spot and see such obvious evidence of man having been here. WHY we must leave such evidence of our having passed through is mystifying and troubling to me. Pick up your damned tire and pack it out with you.

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Now, this is more consistent with what I would expect to have naturally landed in the water of a marshland preserve. After getting this home and enlarging it on the big screen, I determined that I’d captured the partially hollowed-out stump of a palm tree, lying on it’s side. Again, during one of my previous hikes with the Master Naturalists, I’d encountered a palm tree growing in erosion conditions, thus discovering that there was a huge, conically-shaped, solid mass under the soil which helps to anchor the tree during the high winds of hurricane season. It was surprising to see, but that kind of adaptation makes thorough sense when you think about other types of trees that topple in storms while palms remain upright.

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I was really excited to come upon this guy – I think this is my first relatively close look at and picture of a glossy ibis. Back in October, I took a hike at C.R.E.W.’s bird rookery swamp and caught sight of a flock of white ibis with juveniles amongst them; they can have very dark plummage, and I thought for a moment I was going to be able to photograph a glossy, but alas! It was a case of mistaken identity. This guy was VERY shy. The minute he became aware of me, he was outta there like a shot, over to the South Marsh. I find the white ibis to be less reticent in the presence of humans, especially if said humans are seated at a table outside of Casey’s hot dog place in the Magic Kingdom 😉

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Ah-HAH! At some point in the trail, I found the poop. I could not be absolutely sure, but again the wonders of the big screen at home enabled me to see the abundant amount of HAIR in this scat sample, which was squarely in the middle of the path. This does not look like dog poop to me! That’s not to say that the tracks weren’t those of a dog; perhaps the dog was following the bobcat 😉 It had rained the night before, which provided the mud that gave us the tracks, yet the scat was not looking terribly waterlogged. I feel pretty certain that there had been a bobcat on the path as recently as that morning, after the rain had stopped.

NEXT TIME: We’ll do some shelling

🙂


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Upcoming Adventures: Food, Family, Fun, and More!

© Copyright 2011 | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | CLICK any photo for a larger view

Good grief, have I got a ridiculous amount of adventures lined up in the next several months! Suddenly, we’re going from zero to 60 in a matter of seconds. I’m still not quite sure how this happened, but my dance card filled up rapidly and I’m looking for places to insert a breath or two 😉

OCTOBER 2011
2010 Food and Wine Festival themingEPCOT International Food and Wine Festival at Walt Disney World | Yes, it’s that time of year again – Chez Bro and da fambly will be rocking Disney World starting next week. I’m going for just three nights, but that should be long enough to sample all the new goodies that will be offered this year. I hear there’s a Hawaii booth offering a really good mai tai… also looking forward to visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the wake of the announcement that there will be a new “land” developed there that’s based on the film AVATAR. This land will be focused on “living in harmony” with the environment. I hear there will be an “AVATAR 2” in 2014, and I’m wondering if they will be coordinating the opening of the new section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom with the opening of the film… that would be pretty exciting 🙂

Arriving at CityWalk - Universal ResortUniversal Orlando Resort and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter | These days, I do not plan an expedition to Orlando without including a visit to Universal Orlando Resort in my plans. I am smitten with The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter. While I don’t think there’s anything really new there to see or do, it’s kind of cool to wander through Universal Studios circa Halloween time – they do the place up nicely, so I’m looking forward to dropping by and taking it all in. One thing that won’t be available there YET is the new book Harry Potter Page to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey – guess I’ll have to pre-order from Amazon like the rest of the world!

IMG_2067-Naples-Florida-zoo-western-cougar-tongueFlorida Panther Festival | At first I thought, “oh dear, I’m going to miss it 🙁 ” because it’s on a Saturday and as I will explain below, my Saturdays are all booked up through early November. Then I realized I could do one of the field trips that wasn’t on the same day as the festival, and I felt a bit better as soon as I signed up. So I’ll get to hike a bit through Corkscrew Swamp, something I’ve yet to do but it’s “on the list”. Eager not only to learn about and experience the swamp, but also to observe a naturalist in action, taking people on an adventure. I think I finally know what I want to be when I grow up… 😉 DISCLAIMER: That is not a panther. I do not have a photo of a panther. However, I had a picture of a western cougar, and since they are the same species (but two different sub-species, separated by the Gulf of Mexico), and also since he is so cute with his tongue sticking out at me like that, I decided what the heck – western cougar it is LOL.

One down, two to go - the certificate I earned in June!Florida Master Naturalist – Freshwater Wetlands Module | Having completed the Coastal Systems module several months ago, and having had a total blast doing it – it’s like day camp for adults 😉 – I am eager to begin the Freshwater Systems Module, immediately upon my return from Orlando. Every Saturday through the beginning of November, I’ll have lecture in the morning and then field trips in the afternoons. One of the field trips will happen in a place that is very familiar to me – the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, right here in Fort Myers. The rest of the field trips are in places up in Charlotte County, to places where I’ve never been before. Oh, yes! New adventures! And I get to learn how to kayak! Doesn’t this just keep getting better and better? 🙂

NOVEMBER 2011

Mote Marine mobile aquariumMote Marine Aquarium, Sarasota | Ever since I saw the “Mote Mobile” at the Mango Festival this past July, I’ve wanted to visit Mote Aquarium, which is about an hour north of Fort Myers, in Sarasota. It’s attached to a Marine Laboratory which was founded in 1955. As if the excitement of a new adventure isn’t enough, I have a Groupon for admission AND they’re opening a new exhibit in November called “Penguin Island”. Since I’m all booked up through the beginning of November, and since the Groupon expires 11/22, guess what I’ll be doing sometime in between? Yep, I’m Sarasota-bound 🙂

DECEMBER 2011

It's Grinchmas! At Seuss LandingHoliday Meet in Orlando | This is becoming a habit – some friends from Ohio typically come to Orlando circa the first week of December each year, and I’ve met them there several times now. We are usually good for dinner somewhere special and an adult beverage crawl around the World Showcase in EPCOT. Of course, I’ll visit not only Walt Disney World but Universal Orlando as well. The SeussLand deco is beyond ridiculous; every possible square inch is covered in tinsel and lights in celebration of “Grinchmas”. I was thinking that this year, I might expand my “in search of Christmas” resort hop; I’ve pretty well covered the Port Orleans resorts, the Boardwalk, and Downtown Disney. It’s time to expand my repertoire! So if you have a favorite resort that you’d like me to visit for the Christmas decor, please leave a comment below and I will try to include it in my itinerary. Thanks!

122720103047Christmas In New York | One of the great ironies of my life is that I’ve yet to spend Christmas Day in my own home. I moved away from New York in 2006 and have been going “home” to Long Island for Christmas every year since then. I basically pull a plug-in two foot tree out of a box to enjoy for a few days before jetting off to points north, LL Bean flannel-lined jeans and waterproof Uggs in tow. I’m-a-skeered – last year, there was a blizzard while I was there! Well, I guess it wouldn’t make very much sense to have Uggs and not get to wear them in the snow. Plus, I bought a round-trip ticket, so I’ll be back in Florida eventually 😉 It’s good for me to go north in the snow; it makes me grateful that I’m not stuck with it and that I get to come back here to warm, sunny Florida.

Well, that’s the adventure report for the rest of the year. If I add something, I’ll be sure to let you know – but I’m pretty much certain that’s all the adventure I can stand! Stay tuned, ’cause mobile blogging from Orlando starts SOON!

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Seining on Lover’s Key, Florida

© Copyright 2011 | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | CLICK any photo for a larger view

06182011648-Lovers-Key-Real-FloridaDirectly after we finished up with the Field Trip On Estero Bay, we all got into our cars and drove down to Lover’s Key State Park for some more nature geek fun. First we all congregated in a shady area, settled in at picnic benches and ate our bag lunches. Then we proceeded down the path to the beach to go seining.

“Seine” is not just a river in France. A seine is a net that is used to capture small fish and other aquatic life. The seines that we used on this field trip look like a volleyball net strung between two poles. There are floats at the top of the net and weights at the bottom. I take one pole, you take the other, we stretch the net between us and then we walk through the water, slowly trawling toward the beach. Then, quickly, before someone perishes, we scoop up what we found and place it in tanks for observation. When we’re done learning, we set the critters free.

Lover’s Key is a Florida state park that is comprised of several islands/keys. The Bonita Beach Causeway cuts through it coming down from Fort Myers Beach. This proved to be an excellent site for studying the Southwest Florida coastal environment.

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PATH TO THE BEACH ON LOVER’S KEY

Lovers Key is covered with many different species of plant life. In true geek fashion, I am starting to find the biodiversity of nature to be endlessly fascinating, so I was happy to crawl all over the place with my camera after the expedition had ended. Here’s a shady nook close to the causeway entrance with a path down to the beach. Notice we are standing under the dense shade of a cluster of trees that include seagrapes; the branches overhead were heavy with fruit.

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CAUTION: SHOES REQUIRED

A different path to the beach here leads over a wooden bridge that spans a small bayou of sorts.

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PROTECTED AREA ON LOVER’S KEY

This is part of the bayou over which the little foot bridge crosses. Our instructor had wanted to investigate and observe life in the bayou as well as off the beach; however, it’s been marked as a “keep out” zone now, so we had to content ourselves with craning our necks over the side of the bridge to see what we could see. And of course, we all wore shoes 😉

Look at those clouds pop, huh? The beauty of the Southwest Florida sky is endless.

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VIEWING THE BEACH FROM THE BAYOU

Here’s a view across the bayou toward the beach, Big Carlos Pass and the hi-rise condos beyond. Note that there are plenty of hidey-places along the shore of the bayou; not sure what nests there but futher back in the protected area, I would not be surprised if there were some gators lurking now and then.

Funny thing about protected areas; in addition to the critters, they might be protecting YOU, too! So always take heed of the signs, OK? I don’t want to hear that you became lunch!

06182011650-Lovers-Key-Blue-CrabA LOVER’S KEY BLUE CRAB | Our instructors equipped us with plastic tanks which we filled with salt water from the beach in preparation for examining our finds. These tanks had “bubblers” attached to keep the water aerated and moving.

Our first seining attempt brought up a couple of crabs. Can’t really tell what the one submerged is – speckled, maybe? but on the right is a male blue crab. Normally, you turn them over to see if they are male or female. The female will have a marking underneath that is rounded like the US capital dome, whereas the male will have more of an obelisk-shaped marking, like the Washington Monument.

In the case of blue crabs, however, the female’s claws are tipped in bright orange. I don’t see any orange on this one, so it’s a male. Floating behind him are his sectioned “swimmies” – swimming paddles that are attached to the rear leg.

I don’t have any other worthy photos of the critters we saw, which included several types of fishes, some snails and a sea horse! It’s hard to photograph them in the tanks with the brilliant sunshine blasting them and the water distorting them. Also, I need to solve the problem of handling my camera while my hands are salty, sandy, wet, or any combination thereof.

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SEA OATS

After the seining expedition was done, I stuck around to take a few photos and find some plants for identification. Sea oats are one of the types of grasses that grow in the dunes. They are perennial and multiply by means of underground rhizomes. They can grow to be six feet tall or more! You’re not allowed to collect wild sea oats because they play a critical role in helping to keep the dunes together.

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INKBERRY PLANT


This is one of two tropical plants that look similar and are often confused with one another. The inkberry (pictured) and it’s counterpart, the beach naupaka, have pretty similar configurations, including the berries while green and the flowers, which look as though someone had pressed them in between the pages of a book. However, the leaves of the beach naupaka curl while the inkberry leaves do not. Inkberry fruits become very dark, looking like purple/black grapes; the ones pictured here will mature that way, while a beach naupaka’s berries will turn white.

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STRANGLER FIG


This is a strangler fig; looks like the “host” has long since succumbed to the treachery of its “guest”! These ficus trees are kind of like those guys in Corporate America who get to the top by crawling up the backs of their colleagues. Stranglers germinate on a host tree, sending roots down and branches up. In an effort to support their climb toward sunlight, they “strangle” their host. Here we see the hollow made where the host used to stand; you can see a bit of bark remains, but the rest has rotted away.

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TROLLEY TO BONITA BEACH


The beach trolley trundles its way across Big Carlos Pass. I like the foot/bike section on the bridge. It made me feel somewhat protected even as the vehicles went zipping by. These trolleys are a pretty efficient way to get around this area, especially during “season” when there are too many cars and not enough road down this way. There’s even a starting point on the mainland – park your car at the Winn Dixie on Summerlin Road and in a little bit, a trolley will come by to collect you.

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LOVER’S KEY FROM THE BRIDGE


This is the scene when you climb up the hill from the parking lot up to the foot/bike path on the bridge. You can see the bayou off to the left, above the blue truck, and the beach where we did our seining and discovery of cool critters.

Between the boat trip on Estero Bay and then this segment at the beach, everyone was some combination of hot, tired, wet, salty, sweaty, a little sunburnt and very happy by the time we were through.

I proceeded to Sanibel Island after this, let myself into a friend’s house to take a shower and when she got home from a hunting expedition of her own (shopping!), we went out for dinner with some other friends on the island.

Life in Southwest Florida is GOOD. 🙂

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Dolphin chase on Estero Bay

© Copyright 2011 | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | CLICK any photo for a larger view

Here’s some bonus footage from the my field trip on Estero Bay with the Florida Master Naturalist program here in Lee County, Florida. One of our classmates made up a song about the joys of Estero Bay and the dolphins seemed to love it. They ended up chasing our boat for a few minutes, leaping in and out of the wake as we sang our way toward the dock. Check it out in this video, below – Email Subscribers: if you do not see a video posted below this sentence, please CLICK through to the blog.


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Field Trip On Estero Bay, conclusion

© Copyright 2011 | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | CLICK any photo for a larger view

IMG_5734-Estero-Bay-NO-WAKEToday we’re continuing our exploration of wildlife and habitats in Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve with my Florida Master Naturalist class (Coastal Systems module).

As mentioned in my previous post, Estero Bay is very shallow. Sunlight penetration allows for the growth of sea grasses (they’re green, they need sunlight for photosynthesis), and sea grasses provide an excellent nursery for marine life, which in turn provides excellent feeding grounds for birds and bigger marine life.

See how it works? 🙂

If you speed through and your prop tears up the grasses, then you’re destroying habitat and the whole ecosystem is compromised. So, always pay attention to the “no wake” and “low wake” signs – they are there for a VERY good reason.


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“DIVE-BOMB BEACH”

As we rounded a corner and emerged from under the Big Carlos Pass bridge, we saw tall high-rise buildings standing sentry over a stretch of unraked beach – kind of unusual, since beachfront high-rise residents usually want to see an unblemished expanse of sand, not dune vegetation. This beach is unraked because it is a bird breeding ground. While we were floating out here discussing the habitat, we saw two people haplessly wander into the breeding ground and get dive-bombed by the birds defending their territory. It was a perfect example of this type of protective, territorial behavior. The people ran for cover; I think they were probably totally innocent and didn’t realize where they were.

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JET-SKIERS ON TOUR IN BIG CARLOS PASS

We could hear the leader of this tour speaking to the group; they might have been eco-tourists too, just like us. It’s actually fortunate that we took this ride in June. During “season” here in Southwest Florida, these waters would have been pretty well jammed with all sorts of recreationists.

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FLYING IN ESTERO BAY ?!?!?!!?

No sooner had we taken leave of the jet skiers and headed out of Big Carlos Pass then we saw this … I’m not sure what it is but it looks like fun! It’s a regular water sports and recreational paradise down here in Southwest Florida.

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TRI-COLORED HERON

I believe we are now heading into what our intrepid boat captains referred to as “Spoon Lagoon”, the location of which we swore never to reveal. I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you…. It’s called “Spoon Lagoon” for reasons that will become obvious soon. This is a tricolored heron. You might be thinking, “Hey wait a minute, didn’t she just tell us that kind of bird was a little blue heron?”. Nope, I didn’t. See the white underbelly? Not a little blue!

 

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RED MANGROVE ROOTS

Here’s a sight I love, although I haven’t quite figured out why yet. This tangled mess is actually a the prop root system of the red mangrove tree. It’s a vast and intricate network, like a very complicated work of architecture or sculpture. I just get lost looking at it, and not unpleasantly so. Well, as it turns out, the prop roots ARE somewhat of an architectural feature. They serve as braces for the tree, to hold it up. They also collect and hold sand and silt, so an island forms under and around the mangrove. Finally, they pipe air down to the actual roots of the tree. Pretty useful, huh?

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BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON

I feel a little sorry for this bird. It doesn’t have any neck to speak of, and it must feel a bit dowdy as compared to the other, more graceful-necked herons. This was the first time I’d seen the black-crowned variety; I’ve had a close encounter with a yellow-crowned night heron before, years ago in Ding Darling. It was doing yoga and smiling at me. Good times, good times 😉

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ROSEATE SPOONBILL and WHITE IBIS

And now we come to the rhyme and reason of naming “Spoon Lagoon” – it’s the roseate spoonbill, which our captain has known to hang out in this particular spot in the bay. Along with our spoony friend is a white ibis.

The spoonbill uses it’s bill to sweep along the mud for delectable morsels to nom-nom-nom, while the ibis has a bill more appropriate for probing down into the mud.

One of the things this class is teaching me is that my camera is woefully inadequate for these purposes. Perhaps Santa Claus will do something about that…

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THE NESTING POLE

Sights such as this one are common in Florida. As habitat is lost, the osprey often improvise, as we have seen previously with the nest on top of a channel marker sign. They are also frequently given a perch like this one. You see these platforms a lot along a certain stretch of the I-4 interstate, where the birds had been building on poles close to dangerous power lines. The chicks would fall out and fry themselves. Conservation groups come along and build these platforms to encourage a safer location for the nests. I’ve also seen these man-made perches back home on Long Island, specifically in the area of the Connetquot River in Oakdale, NY. It’s kind of cool – like building a bird house, only open-air.

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REDDISH EGRET

This reddish egret’s head nearly blends in with the reeds from far away. We recognized him by his lively hunting technique – he flaps and hops and jumps, chasing his prey all over the shallows. We enjoyed watching his antics 🙂

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ESTERO BAY SKYSCRAPERS


I am in love with the Southwest Florida sky. Clouds are endlessly fascinating to watch as they morph and change before your eyes. I am so lucky to live here, and I know it.

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THE FRIENDSHIP SENTRY ON ESTERO BAY

Our friend the cormorant strikes a regal pose atop the manatee sculpture that sits on a sign,which says: “The basis of environmental recovery lay in oneness with creation and with ourselves. Enjoy it.” The sign below it says, “Friendship Sentry”. I guess the cormorant is taking his job seriously!

This pretty much concludes the Estero Bay field trip. It was a wonderful excursion, a great way to spend a Saturday morning, and I highly recommend my classmates and boat captains for this trip, Good Time Charters. They are knowledgeable, skilled and generous tour leaders and no, they didn’t pay me to say this LOL 😉

Fear not – there are more Florida Master Naturalist adventures to document here! NEXT TIME: Lovers Key State Park !!! 🙂
BR> 

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Field Trip on Estero Bay, Part 1

© Copyright 2011 | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | CLICK any photo for a larger view

Snook Bight Marina on Fort Myers BeachOn June 18th 2011, my Coastal Systems Module class in the Florida Master Naturalist program embarked upon their second field trip. This time, we started from Snook Bight Marina on Fort Myers Beach and hopped aboard a sturdy vessel as the guests of Good Time Charters. We were fortunate to have Captain Mike, Captain Cristina and Captain Dwight all in our class, and found them to be excellent and knowledgeable guides for our “three hour tour… a three hour tour….” We had a beautiful sunshiny day for this adventure and the wildlife did not disappoint. There was some speculation that Captain Mike paid them all to show up 😉 Well, if that’s true then it only serves to prove what clever wildlife tour guides those people at Good Time Charters really are!

Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve is the first aquatic preserve designated in the state of Florida (1966). The bay is extremely productive and contains elements of historic (and even pre-historic) significance, some of them submerged. A wide diversity of marine life starts out in the grass beds “nursery”. The environment is also ideal for rookeries, colonies of nesting birds who breed and raise their young on the many islands that dot the bay. Here are a few of the critters we managed to encounter on this adventure.

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LEAST TERNS

Least terns are picky about who hangs around their nests. If you walk through their nesting area, they will dive-bomb your head. We would witness this phenomenon later in the trip near Big Carlos Pass.

 

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BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN

Hard to catch these guys in action; you see them, get the camera on the spot where they WERE and they have already submerged, only to resurface somewhere your focus ISN’T. One of my many field guide books calls them “toothed whales” – as opposed to baleen whales, who have food filters instead of teeth.

 

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WILSON’S PLOVER (maybe…)

I think this might be a Wilson’s Plover but I can’t be sure because I cannot really see what color the legs are; if they are tan, then it is probably Wilson’s. They like to eat fiddler crabs.

 

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DOUBLE-BREASTED CORMORANT

The way to tell a cormorant from an anhinga is to examine the beak. Does it look like it’s good for spearing, or for tearing? This guy, looking very statuesque, has a hooked beak, so it’s good for tearing – and that means he is a cormorant.

 

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BROWN PELICAN and SLOW DOWN!

A brown pelican in breeding plumage (note the chestnut brown on the neck) stands sentry over the low wake zone. I read in the news this week that there’s a certain budding political party objecting to low wake zones, claiming that they elevate wildlife over people. I can only roll my eyes at such arrogant, self-centered ignorance. 🙄

 

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OSPREY NEST, IMPROVISED

Adaptive behavior – in the absence of tall trees, osprey will commonly build their nests on man-made structures such as light poles, tall buildings and yes, channel markers like this one. Saw lots of this type of adaptation in Rookery Bay too.

 

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BIRDING and RESPECTING THEIR SPACE

While observing wildlife, always remember to maintain a respectful distance. You don’t want to get close enough to interrupt their natural behaviors. Another good reason to keep your distance – if you’re in a boat, you risk running aground! We were advised that if you fall overboard in Estero Bay, the first thing you should do to save yourself is… stand up! It’s only a couple-three feet deep out there, which is part of what makes it a great breeding ground. Those are brown pelicans on the far sandbar, an osprey flapping around taking a bath in the middle, and an egret (can’t tell which – from the “fuzzy” head, I’ll guess snowy egret) hanging out in the foreground. I see another egret behind the prop roots, too – looks taller, my vote is great egret.

 

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LITTLE BLUE HERON

The class on the boat spent a bit of time trying to identify this bird from afar. Sometimes the colors can be deceptive in light reflected off the water. In the end, we determined via binoculars, zoom lenses and getting a bit closer that he was indeed a little blue heron.

 

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FLOCK O’ PELICANS

Here’s a closer look at the flock of brown pelicans at rest on a sand bar.

 

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BIG CARLOS PASS and THE PARADE OF CLOUDS

We’re out of the no wake zone now and speeding toward the bridge that spans Big Carlos Pass. I fell in love with that line of cloud formations. They look like they are marching over the bridge toward Bonita 😉

 


Just under a minute of some cruising on the bay – feel the wind in your hair! 🙂

NEXT TIME: More cruising, more critters and a surprise musical performance!

 


 

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Bowditch Point Field Trip – conclusion

© Copyright 2011 | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | CLICK any photo for a larger view

06112011594-Bowditch-Point-BoardwalkThis is the final installment of my first field trip with the Florida Master Naturalist class (Coastal Systems Module). Last time, we explored a few critter encounters at Bowditch Point. Now we’re going to continue on our journey over the hill, through the dunes and onto the beach.

The day was getting pretty warm, and a few of the plants had an “aromatic” (translation: unpleasant!) odor. I believe it was the plant described to us as a “stopper” plant, used by the Calusa natives once upon a time to make a purgative drink.


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The Estero Island Garden Club created a butterfly garden at the top of the hill.

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There’s a statue of a child fishing in the butterfly garden at Bowditch Point Regional Park. I got a kick out of the fact that they use a real branch as a fishin’ pole 🙂

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I’ve written of the EPCOT mystery shoes before, as well as a few non-Disney pairs of mystery shoes. But here’s a new pair – the Bowditch Point Mystery Shoes! They were on a bench near the butterfly garden while our guide was walking us through, and still there an hour later when I came through to take some pictures. Ya gotta wonder…

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There are a lot of coontie plants at Bowditch Point Regional Park. I believe this one is a female. The cones are shaped differently for a male. No I’m not kidding – male and female! This is called a dioecious plant – that’s Greek for “two houses”, and it means that the plant is either a male or a female. The Seminoles dried and ground the roots into flour and made it into bread. I’ve heard it referred to as arrowroot too, but there’s another plant called that… confusing, the world of botany! I guess that’s why people like to use the Latin names. There are no mistakes when you stick to the Latin names. So I’m told!

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You’ve heard of it all your life and now you’ve met one – it’s the prickly pear cactus! A few years back, I saw some of these fruits for sale in Publix but didn’t have the guts to try them. One of our classmates said he’s tried them and he felt great after a few days of eating them – I think they have anti-oxidant properties. Anyhow, the tortoises love ’em so they can’t be all bad, right?

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Railroad vine is related to morning glories and so is their behavior – they are open during the day and close up once night falls. The Latin name, ipomea pes-caprae, relates to the shape of the leaves. Google Translator is telling me “foot she goat”, so I guess the leaves are supposed to look like a girl goat’s hooves (so what do a boy goat’s hooves look like, then?).

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Sea grapes grow in a bunch but you can’t really pick ’em that way. They don’t mature/ripen as a bunch; they are individuals and each decides in its own time when it is ready to be ripe. That’s why you generally see only some missing from a cluster; the other ones weren’t yet ready to eat!

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This tree is called the strangler fig. It’s less than 20 years old and stands pretty much on the crest of the hill, spreading shade in a wide swath. Migratory birds like to stop and rest in this tree, for the fruits are nice to eat. The seeds are spread around via bird poop. Sometimes, the poop lands on another tree, where the new baby strangler latches onto and eventually envelops the host. As you can see, they have a pretty aggressive root system, too. I find it funny that one of my Florida landscape plant books identifies companion plants for the strangler; I’m fairly certain it’s just going to kill all its friends so I’m not getting the point…..

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Well, here’s at least one friend that the strangler won’t bother to strangle – a coontie grows low and spread out in the considerable shade. Our guide pointed out how different it looks from the ones in full sunlight. It definitely looks to me as though it is reaching around to find some sun.

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This plant has so many names, where do we begin? Chinese lantern, common ground-cherry, husk tomato (I’m told it tastes like a tomatillo), sand ground-cherry, bladder cherry (it floats)… a lot depends on where you live, I guess, when it comes to common names. Gopher tortoises like to eat these, too. I guess it makes sense – it’s certainly low enough for a tortoise to munch upon.

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These daisy relatives are called dune sunflowers. They pop up basically everywhere in the coastal system and they flower year-round, with just a bit of a break in the winter time. They are also related to Indian blanket flowers.

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Because of the way the tides flow around this area, Bowditch Point gets eroded and the sand is carted away by the sea. Periodically, the government will decide that “renourishment” is in order. The get a barge and a bunch of pipe, park the barge out in the bay and pipe in sand from “out there” somewhere. On the one hand, it’s intrusive to the environment and counter to what Mother Nature seems to want. On the other hand, Lee County is pretty dependent upon tourist dollars and cannot afford to have any of their public beaches get washed away. I checked this out pretty thoroughly before determining that the pipe was NOT bringing in quantities of good shells. Then I headed for the parking lot.

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There’s a shower and a foot sprayer behind me; to either side are little picnic areas and pretty flowers. It was a long morning and it was getting REALLY hot. I decided I was ravenously hungry and proceeded to meet friends at Jerry’s on Sanibel for lunch before heading home. Thus endeth the first field trip – but fear not, there’s more where this came from – stay tuned!

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Critter Encounters at Bowditch Point

© Copyright 2011 | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | CLICK any photo for a larger view

06112011610-Bowditch-wildlife-signageThis post will pick up where Wilderness At Bowditch Point left off. We’re on a field trip with my Florida Master Naturalist class (Coastal Systems Module), and we’ve got a really great guide named Roger Clark, from Lee County, Florida’s Conservation 20/20 program.

After telling us about a few of the plants and trees that we found growing on the perimeter of the parking lot, Roger led us up the man-made hill at the very northern tip of Estero Island aka Fort Myers Beach. Once on top of the hill, we saw a prominent “KEEP OUT” sign posted on a split-rail fence. Almost immediately, it became apparent that we were in for a critter encounter!


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If you are looking for a gopher tortoise burrow, here’s how to spot one – just look around for a heap of sand that looks like an ant hill on steroids. The ones I’ve seen come complete with a hole that’s partially obscured by brush. I don’t know if that’s intentional, or just one giant co-inky-dink.

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A female gopher tortoise contemplates jumping the fence.


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Whut-oh! Stand back, she’s on the move!


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She’s getting pretty close – Immma-skeered! 😯


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Oh. Em. Gee! She passed very close to me. I got up and moved to the other side of a tree and turned on the video camera …

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This tortoise had a single-minded mission to leave her burrow and head into a scrub area, and no wildlife geek with a camera in her hand was going to stop her! I can’t believe I moved out of her path, and then she headed right for me anyway. You can hear one of my classmates coaching me (translation: playing with my head a bit) about how vicious these animals can be 😀 You can also hear him say “no” when I ask if I should move. In the end, I was running out of options to keep the lens on her and had to stand up to avoid becoming a pretzel. You can also hear scrub jays screaming in the background about the time I stand up.

After the official part of the field trip was over, I doubled back over the route we’d taken so I could get some better shots of the plants that had been discussed. As I came up the hill, I spied this little tableau:

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At first, I thought this osprey had an extra tail, or maybe one of her feathers was coming loose.

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Now we see that it’s definitely a tail, but it’s not hers. It’s lunch! I think this is what they call “mantling” behavior, where they hunch over their food so that nothing flying overhead will see it and try to compete for it.

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She’s really got an impressive profile, with a beak made for tearing. “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.” 😉

There will be one more installment of this Florida Master Naturalist field trip adventure in the very near future – so stay tuned! 🙂

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Camera Critters

Photo Friday:Wilderness at Bowditch Point

© Copyright 2011 Erin | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | CLICK any photo for a larger view

BowditchOnTheMap


For our first field trip, my Florida Master Naturalist class (Coastal Systems Module) went on a botanical exploration of a small wilderness located at the northern tip of Estero Island in the town of Fort Myers Beach, Lee County, Florida. This is Bowditch Point Regional Park, part of the Lee County park system. The site had been used as a repository for channel-dredged sand, and is consequently the highest point on the island at 22 feet. The land changed hands several times over the years until the County had the opportunity to purchase it in December 1987 for $5.75mm. Since that time, much effort has gone into the creation of a natural coastal habitat where native Floridian plants can thrive and wildlife can find refuge.

Our guide for this trip was Roger Clark from Conservation 20/20 here in Lee County. He was patient and knowledgeable and had a unique way of conveying information about a plant or animal; he’d first tell you some facts and attributes and THEN tell you the name. It was kind of like Jeopardy – first you get the answer, and then you get the question.

Roger had a field guide with him which he recommended to the rest of us – Florida’s Living Beaches: A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber. I stopped at Barnes & Noble on the way home and they had ONE left, so I quickly purchased it. I also found it on Amazon. The other book I like to use is the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Florida. It’s the typical slim, easy-to-pack-and-carry Audubon volume, and it’s great for just general identification while you’re out and about. I’ve got the paperback, which seems to be in short supply these days, so that’s a link to the hardcover edition.

I took quite a few photos, so I’ll be splitting it up into several posts. Here is the first installment – enjoy 🙂


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Notice how specific this sign is – couldn’t be plainer. I’ve seen similar signs at all beaches in Lee County, yet I’ve also seen people violating this law 🙁 Most folks, however, are conscientious about it.

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At the bottom of the “mound”, just where it meets the parking lot, there’s a nice little shady spot to sit and enjoy the view of Matanzas Pass. The word “matanzas” is Spanish for “killings”. History tells us that the indigenous people who once lived here, the Calusa, had a habit of paddling out to meet Spanish explorer’s ships while extending a special kind of welcome with the business-end of their spears. Indeed, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon met his fate from a mortal wound received at the hands of the Calusa. There’s speculation that Matanzas Pass is the place where a lot of these “welcome”-type activities occurred.

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What do the gumbo limbo tree and the Florida tourist have in common? They are both red and peeling… ha ha ha ha ha 😉 Migratory birds like the fruit of the gumbo limbo tree. We’ve got lots of these trees here in Southwest Florida.

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I was surprised to find out that palms aren’t really “trees”; they lack a vascular system. The smaller trees in the swale are pond apples. They were planted there because they can well tolerate having their feet wet.

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Pond apples have compound leaves – more than one leaf attached to the same leaf stalk. The apples are edible by animals and humans but they don’t taste very good, I’m told.

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The sea grape wants to be a tree! However, many people chop at them to keep them shrub-like. They are used in landscaping as hedgerows and borders. This one was allowed to be a tree. During this field trip, we found out that there are ANSI standards for pruning trees and that one should NEVER “top” a tree. ANSI standards? Who knew?!?!!

ANSI = American National Standards Institute

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This Jamaica Dogwood is otherwise known as the Florida Fish Poison tree. Powder made from the tree can be used to stun fish, making them more easily captured.

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We’re about to continue up the hill and catch a glimpse of some of the residents. OK, WAY more than a glimpse! Stay tuned – PART TWO of this field trip will be posted in a few days!

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Treasure, Trash and Tracks

© Copyright 2011 Tink *~*~*

http://MyMobileAdventures.com

As previously mentioned, I’ve been attending classes for the Florida Master Naturalist program. The first module is Coastal Systems, for which I need to make a 3 minute presentation. I became inspired by way of indignation while reading about sea turtles and the conditions that can ensure their success in creating a nest – or else pretty much guarantee their failure.

Since my turn to present won’t happen until about 6:30 PM tonight, you guys are getting a “preview” – shhhh! 😉

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Treasure, Trash and Tracks – this presentation aims to deliver key messages about how YOU can Help Coastal Wildlife To Survive and Thrive

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Everyone loves the beach for different reasons. In addition to the relaxing and beautiful environment, I love the beach for the TREASURES that can be found there. I’m always on the hunt for the perfect gastropod, but I see beauty in imperfection as well – decomposition and decay, as seen in worn driftwood and crumbly sand dollars, can indicate that naturally-occurring, healthy cycles are in place and chugging along.

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I’m not just interested in dead things! Wildlife is a kind of treasure, too, offering much beauty to be enjoyed. Plants and animals are bountiful when the environment is healthy and available.

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Rules have been put in place to help wildlife to survive and thrive. These rule were meant to govern the behavior of those who visit the beach, so the wildlife and their habitat are not harmed.

Do people always follow the rules? The sand in the sink is the least of it….

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People who love to the beach come here to play, to create, to celebrate, to build or just to relax. They leave behind evidence that they’ve been here doing all those things. Much of it is beautiful or interesting to look at (ahem – The Man From Nantucket), even thought-provoking like the left-behind shoes and the messages in the sand. But there are other things that people leave behind on the beach that are not beautiful or interesting, and can impact wildlife and the environment in distressing ways…

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Trash is defined as something that’s unwanted, discarded. Sometimes it’s done with flagrant disrespect for the environment and the rules, but sometimes it’s just that things get forgotten or lost, and that’s how it becomes trash. Much is plastic or other materials that won’t biodegrade. It will stick around “forever” and become a hazard to life or an obstruction to natural behaviors.

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A HAZARD is something that can cause risk or danger. Sea turtles and other coastal life have been found dead with the remnants of plastic bottles, toys and other debris in their digestive systems. Wildlife can be injured and even killed from becoming tangled in discarded fishing line. Some of this stuff is not only non-biodegradable, it’s also disgusting. Dirty diaper in the dunes – really? REALLY?

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The trappings of fun and recreation can make a turtle turn right around and head back into the sea without ever having completed her mission – digging a nest and laying eggs.

Baby turtles emerge from the nest exhausted and still need to keep going to reach the water – but they cannot do that with so many obstacles. If a hatchling encounters one of these holes, he may fall in and die there. The smallest things left on the beach can prove insurmountable for the babies.

These holes are also a hazard for humans – people can fall in and become injured. I’ve turned an ankle on smaller holes than these.

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A “false crawl” is when a turtle visits the beach but doesn’t make a nest. There are a variety of naturally-occurring reasons that a turtle will leave – maybe the sand conditions aren’t right, or there are predators present. These are compounded by people-caused conditions such as HAZARDS and OBSTRUCTIONS, noise, light and activity.

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Wildlife and the environment are TREASURES worth preserving.

TRASH and other people-caused impacts can lead to hazards and obstruction of natural behaviors.

If hazards and/or obstructions persist, then turtles will make TRACKS back into the sea without laying eggs

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If you want to help wildlife to survive and thrive, then let this be your pledge – LEAVE NOTHING ON THE BEACH BUT FOOTPRINTS. Thanks very much for your attention!

CREDITS: My friend Tootie provided all of the “trash” pictures, as well as the photo of the false crawl, which she documented on her blog last week. The rest of the photos were taken by yours truly.

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Snook Bight Marina on Fort Myers Beach

My Florida Master Naturalist class is going on a field trip today through Estero Bay in Southwest Florida. Heading out soon aboard Good Time Charters; we are SO lucky that the owners are in our class! Hoping to have some quality critter encounters!

Florida Master Naturalist program starts tonight!

I’m excited to be starting the Florida Master Naturalist program tonight! This is the Coastal Systems Module. There will be multiple field trips during June. If there’s opportunity to take photos during this adventure (I *am* supposed to be learning something) you can be sure I will share!