Category Archives: Florida Parks and Preserves

Some FUNky facts about the osprey

Some FUNkey facts about the osprey

I adventured last week with some fellow nature lovers to Estero Marsh Preserve, a Lee County Conservation 20/20 property in Fort Myers, Florida, where we encountered this beautiful osprey. She was quite vocal and animated about something as we passed by the huge slash pine where she was perched. Here are some FUNky facts I’ve learned about the osprey.

1. The osprey occurs on every continent except Antarctica. It’s the 2nd most widely distributed raptor, right after the peregrine falcon.

2. Ospreys have a reversible toe that helps them to hold onto slippery fish. You can see the toe in this picture, gripping the back end of the branch while the other toes are in the front. However, I have personally witnessed the failure to hold onto a fish. Several years back, I saw an osprey snatch a fish from the pond in my back yard, only to drop it back into the water on the ascent. The bird circled round and round, screaming in frustration, but was not able to find the fish again, and eventually gave up. Lucky fish!

3. The osprey pairs for life, breeding with the same mate year after year. They build a giant nest of twigs and sticks, often atop man-made structures such as channel markers and street light posts. A pair of osprey will cohabitate for about half the year – as long as it takes to mate, lay and incubate eggs, and fledge their young from the nest.

4. 99% of the osprey’s diet is comprised of fish, so they always live near water. They hunt in fresh water as well as brackish and salt water. What comprises the other 1% of the osprey’s diet? They will occasionally catch and eat small animals such as mice, rabbits, frogs, lizards, or other birds.

5. The more dense the local population of ospreys is, the later in life an osprey will breed. This is due to competition for suitable nesting sites – places that will support the massive nests and are high enough off the ground to reduce the risk of predator invasion. Sometimes, environmental or wildlife groups will build platforms to provide more nesting site options.

More photos of local ospreys:

A Sanibel osprey vogues for me

Critter encounters at Bowditch Point (scroll to the bottom on this one)

Sunset cruise on Rookery Bay, Part 5

Inaugural photo foray – Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve

Β© Copyright 2013 | | CLICK any photo for a larger view

IMG_0231I’ve got a new camera. I promised myself that if I could sell $X amount of stuff on eBay within Y amount of time, I could have it. Coveting a camera makes for some powerful motivation, and I not only met my sales, goal, I exceeded it. This is the camera: Canon PowerShot SX50 HS 12.1 MP Digital Camera with 50x Wide-Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom

I did a little messing around with it at home once it arrived, but yesterday – Easter Sunday – was my first foray into the world to give it a test drive. The primary reason I wanted 50x zoom is because I get frustrated with not being able to get close enough to wildlife to take a decent shot. It always astounds me that even with the near-sightedness of middle age, my eyes sometimes see more than my camera can. On the flip side of that, there are some particular wildlife specimens to which it is quite inadvisable to get too close. Therefore, a healthy amount of zoom is in order.

I have much to learn about this camera! Without further ado, here are some of the inaugural shots, taken at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, aka “my cathedral”. Let me know what you think! There will be more posted to my Facebook page.


I was surprised to find out that there is more than one green anole; I’d thought the green one was the American native (Anolis carolensis) and the not-green are invaders. I have since discovered that there is a Cuban green anole (A. porcatus), and that it has blue stripes or specks, like this one (see the area of his shoulder). So maybe this isn’t Anolis carolensis, and it’s actually a Cuban.


A little blue heron hangs out on the “barge” in the middle of Gator Lake. There were also a number of turtles parked on the platforms, sunning themselves.


I don’t really see the blue stripe phenomenon going on here, so my guess is that this anole is a native Floridian.


Up until now, we’ve been looking at zoomed photos. This one was taken as a macro. The macro button is in a different spot than it was on my previous Canon camera, but I finally found it! Oddly, the legs are looking really good, but the body is a bit vague… possibly because it is shiny? The spider was really delicate but patiently waited for me to get my shot. I thanked her profusely πŸ˜‰


From death springs life; the swamp is really cool that way :)


In addition to heat-seeking anoles, there were quite a few gators sunning themselves, too. In this particular pond were three 1 – 1.5 footers, like this one. Of the other two, one was sleeping and the other was quite actively swimming around. This time of year, the livin’ is easy, what with the water levels lower and the ponds shrinking into concentrated pools of food. No wonder they are all tuckered out by afternoon!


I took lots of pictures of this little green heron. He was quite accommodating. Want to know what he was looking at?


There was another little green heron resting in the shade on the far left of the pond.


LOVE this shot – this gator, about a 5-footer, looks so smugly satisfied and comfy in his napping spot in the sun. The arc of his reflection is kind of neat, too.


A bit dark and not the best, but this shot of the pileated woodpecker at work would not have been possible with my old camera. He was simply too far away to capture without massive zoom. According to something the instructor said in a photography class I took last month, I might actually have been able to help this shot along with a long-distance flash.

More shots on Facebook – come check it out! CLICK HERE for more



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The first sea shell I ever picked up in Southwest Florida

Who could forget the magic of finding something so small, so perfect, so enchanting? This sea shell is the Florida cerith, also known as the dark cerith, if you are reading about them on the Bailey-Matthews Shell museum web site.

This was the first kind of sea shell that I ever picked up in Southwest Florida. I’d come for an extended weekend with my three best friends from high school. We were celebrating a milestone birthday with a few nights in a beach cottage on Sanibel Island. I sat down in the sand, with the tide nibbling at my feet, and started examining all the bits and pieces around me. The joy of finding something so tiny and whole and miraculous cannot be adequately described.

Of course, back in my early days of shelling, I wasn’t so discerning and tended to not realize when a cerith was missing it’s “ear” – my term for the aperture. This one is perfectly intact. These little beauties like to hang out in the sandy bottoms and the grass flats of the Gulf, so it’s not uncommon to find them near inlets and bays, and not at all surprising that I spied this one sticking out of the wet sand on Bunche Beach in Fort Myers, FL. To this day, I still get down in the sand to find small sea shells like these. It’s one of my favorite things to do at the beach.

Sand collar on the shore at Bunche Beach

Sand collar on the shore at Bunche Beach

I feel lucky to have finally discovered one of these – it’s a sand
collar, or more accurately, the egg mass of a moon snail. "Moon snail"
is the common name for a family of gastropods known as Naticidae. The
snail uses sand and it’s own mucus to make these collars, which consist
of two layers. The eggs are between the layers. It’s pretty sturdy
until the babies start to hatch; then, it just disintegrates. This
means that no one should really have a sand collar in their
beach-combing collection, for if it’s intact, that means it was still
carrying babies. If you find one, by all means examine it, but then
leave it where it is so the eggs can hatch.

sand collar from Bunch Beach in Fort Myers, Florida

Striped burrfish at Bunche Beach

After photography class the other day, during which I was treated to a dizzying array of fun facts about my digital camera, I went for a walk at San Carlos Bay Bunche Beach Preserve in Fort Myers. The Gulf coast has suffered a recent spate of red tide occurrences, ranging from up in Sarasota to as far south as Naples, on the northern tip of the west Everglades. This, combined with a series of cold fronts, has resulted in some fish kill. While dead fishes washing up en masse isn’t fun for anyone, it does afford an opportunity to examine species that a non-fishing enthusiast (like me) would not normally get to see.

This is a *striped burrfish*, also called a *spiny boxfish*. The first thing I noticed about it, aside from the painful-looking spines, was his black spots. This reminded me of some butterfly species who have “false eyes”, dots on their wings that fool predators into thinking it’s a much larger “something else”, something not so tasty as a butterfly.

According to some quick research, the striped burrfish seems to like warmer waters than we’ve had; although they range up to New Jersey for spawning, that usually happens only when the water up north is warmer, typically July. The southern end of their range is the West Indies. The beaches were cleaned of dead fish after last week’s episode with red tide, so I’m leaning toward the possibility that this little dude expired of the cold.

Honoring CREW volunteers

Honoring CREW volunteers, originally uploaded by Erin *~*~*.

CREW’s management honored a selection of their volunteers for their dedication to the cause and to the trails. After some goodie bags were awarded, they all posed for a few photos. Congratulations and well done, all of you – and thanks you to CREW for a lovely evening.

Tonight’s adventure: wine and cheese under the stars

As a member if CREW – Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed – I was invited to a wine and cheese party this evening under the stars and the Full Wolf Moon. Fun and nature geek friends shall ensue. lets go!

Six Mile Cypress Slough – it’s for the birds!

Β© Copyright 2012 | | CLICK any photo for a larger view

Boardwalk pavilion at Six Mile Cypress SloughI’ve been trying to make it a point to get to the Six Mile Cypress Slough at least once a week during the cooler months. So far, I’m three for three (weeks, that is!). This past Friday, I actually remembered to bring my camera with me, so I was able to avail myself of some optical zoom, which certainly helps when you’re trying to photograph things that will cut and run – or, more accurately, FLY – if you get too close.

As I entered the gated portion of the boardwalk, I was pleased to note how much water there was in the slough. Just last week, parts of the swamp were mere mud puddles. Due to nearly four days of gray skies and rain last week, pretty unusual for December, the slough is nicely recharged. Walking through this section, I heard this little guy before I saw him – a downy woodpecker was pecking his way up and down and all around the branch of a tree. He’s fast! Hard to catch him before he ducks around the other side.

This majestic great egret stood his ground, even when I inadvertently spooked a group of ibis and they fluttered all around him. I was on my way to one of the viewing pavilions, where I saw this next fellow…

This male anhinga has been on the same branch in the same corner of the same pond for the last three weeks in a row. I think that’s “his” branch. He’d probably be annoyed if he ever found someone squatting on it. Also on this pond, but too far away to photograph – two turtles, a black-crowned night heron, a baby gator about a foot long, and another anhinga sleeping with his head all tucked in. Back down the boardwalk and off in the bushes, I was able to capture this fellow…

I could barely see him in the branches – he’s well-camouflaged! I believe this is a juvenile black-crowned night heron. There were a few of these guys hanging out here several weeks ago.

Well, those are the best of the bunch for this week. It’s quite a thrill every time I get to hang out with these guys :)

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Late autumn in Southwest Florida – paradise!

Β© Copyright 2012 | | CLICK any photo for a larger view

What a beautiful time of year it is to live in Southwest Florida!

The summer can be unforgiving – the heat and humidity are relentless, the rain is capricious, and there is always the threat of a hurricane or two hanging over our collective heads.

However, as October melts into November, a kinder, gentler Southwest Florida emerges. Blue skies and refreshing breezes reign in the late autumn and early winter days. It’s a little cooler, a little drier, and much more enjoyable. It’s time to take it outside in Southwest Florida – let’s go!


I got a call earlier in the week from friends who were going to take a boat out of Fort Myers Beach, and did I want to come along? You bet I did! We did a leisurely tour through Matanzas Pass and Ostego Bay, then emerged into the Gulf via Big Carlos Pass, near Lovers Key. That’s the bridge over Big Carlos, behind us (above).


We decided to head for Nervous Nellie’s in Fort Myers Beach after our excursion. The town is all done up for Christmas. As a native New Yorker, it still gives me the giggles to see Christmas decorations juxtaposed against palm trees and blue skies.


Here I am, enjoying royal status for about three minutes – Princess Without A Country πŸ˜‰ You will find this over-sized bench with the cutout near the gazebo beside Nervous Nellie’s, should you have a princess you’d like to photograph.


At Moss Marine, I saw this egret standing on a post and took aim with the camera. I saw the pelican come in for a landing behind him, but did not see the little shore bird on the post in front of him until I got the picture up on the computer screen later on.


A closer look at the egret – handsome fellow, isn’t he?


The sun was setting as I crossed back over Matanzas Pass and made my way toward Summerlin. I decided to take a side trip before heading back to Lehigh, and made my way to Bunche Beach Preserve, where I saw this little blue heron hunting for his supper.


The little blue wasn’t the only one looking for dinner – pelicans and an egret hunted as well. A misty glow enveloped the Sanibel Causeway in the distance – one of those scenes that makes your heart go “ahhh!”


The sky is streaked in Creamsicle shades as the sun descends upon Sanibel’s east end.


A side trip to the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve the next day yielded the delight of finding a cute little two-foot gator sunning himself in the vegetation along the banks of the gator lake. He would not be the last gator I would see this week!


Saturday found me at the C.R.E.W. Bird Rookery Swamp, where I would participate in a geocaching event. It was a glorious day to be tramping around in the cypress swamp’s wide trails. Here’s a balsam pear we found growing wild alongside the path. It’s a relative of the cucumber.


I haven’t identified this moth yet, but I liked the angle of his upper wings against the lower “tail” part of his flying apparatus.


It’s that time of year, when the beautiful but destructive lubbers turn into lovers. These grasshoppers go through several colorful stages before they reach the cooked-lobster hue you see here.


See? Told ya there would be another gator! Actually, there were two, on opposing sides of the path, but the other one was a bit too far away to get a decent shot. I’d say they were about 4 feet or so. We observed them for a while and when we were ready to move on, they quite agreeably slunk into the swamp and let us pass unmolested.

So that was my post-Thanksgiving week. How was yours?

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The colors of autumn… in FLORIDA?!?!??

Β© Copyright 2012 | | CLICK any photo for a larger view

IMG_6572The weather has definitely broken into fall here in Southwest Florida, and that means the delight of being able to exert one’s self outdoors without risking heat stroke and/or coming home dripping wet.

This is an awesome time of year for hiking and exploring in Florida’s parks and preserves. One of my favorites, in part because it is so close to where I live, is Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Fort Myers. The slough is a sacred place, where water moves at a snail’s pace and all manner of flora and fauna grow and thrive. I see something new every time I go there. It never gets old.

Due to the heavy concentration of cypress trees in the Slough, it’s a great place to witness the colors of autumn. Yes, you heard me. Bet you didn’t know that the trees change color and shed their leaves even here in Florida. Well, it’s true! I’ll show you. Ready for a walk? Let’s go!


Let’s play a game. Can you “Spot The Gator”? He was about a four-footer, just catching some sun in the shallows right alongside the boardwalk. Some little kids came by and I put my finger to my lips. They froze and conspired with me, silently tip-toeing over to see what I was pointing at. How excited they were to see their first gator, so close!


I took my leave of the children and soon came to my favorite place to “sit down in the woods and wait”. As many times as I’ve sat here before, I never noticed this…


See that skinny little tree over there? It’s holding on to the handrail!


Or maybe it has grown a tongue, which now laps at the boardwalk. How odd and beautiful it is, all at once.


I then noticed something else about the little tree – it seems to be growing out of another tree, of a different species!


See? The little tree is a cypress, and the “host” seems to be an oak of some sort.


Further along the boardwalk, I saw the situation in reverse – a slender oak is growing out of a cypress tree.


This cypress tree is very tall compared to the little oak.


In the autumn, when the leaves start to wither and die and fall away, a number of things change in the swamp. Leaves falling into the water decompose, turning the water a deep reddish brown with tannins. This decomposing matter settles around the roots of the trees, and makes a great growing medium for little acorns and seeds. This is why it looks like one species is “growing out of” the other – it isn’t really, it’s just using the growing medium trapped there against the mature tree. Another thing that happens is that more sunlight can penetrate the swamp forest. The middle story of the forest opens up too, after the vines start to wither and fall away. The result is a better-lit, cleared away space where one can see the hidden infrastructure of the swamp. I walk through here frequently, and never see so many windfalls as I do when I come through after the leaves have had a chance to fall and the vines have withered and died away.


There are a few red maple trees in the swamp, and they provide for a riot of red here and there. Here’s one along the boardwalk close to the amphitheater.


Here’s a young cypress just dripping in autumnal gold. See? Who says we don’t get fall colors down this way!


A few resistors struggle to maintain their greenery nearby. Who can say why some are so ready to shed, while others hold on to the bitter end?


There are two varieties of cypress here, and they are relatively easy to tell apart – I just keep forgetting which is which! I made sure to bring home photographs of both this time, so I’d be able to look them up and learn this once and for all. This is a pond cypress. The needles are close to the stem and sometimes give the impression of spiraling around it.


And this is a bald cypress. The leaves are flatly fanned out from the stem. There. Now you know the difference, too. πŸ˜‰

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A visit to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge

Β© Copyright 2012 | | CLICK any photo for a larger view

IMG_6509In celebration of the Florida Panther Festival here in Southwest Florida, I participated in a field trip on Friday 11/09/2012 at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Collier County, Florida. Last year, I hiked the Bird Rookery at CREW (Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed); this year, I went a little further afield. The excursion came in two parts. First, we rode along the firebreaks in a swamp buggy, learning about maintenance efforts that keep the habitat in good shape for the Florida panther’s food chain. Then, we took to the trails on foot, exploring “the clubhouse” and back-country areas that are only seen by the public perhaps twice a year. The cell phone signal was spotty, sometimes working great but other times dismal or completely absent, so I did not attempt to mobile blog the adventure. Are you ready to explore? Let’s go!


Our leaders for the field trip were several members of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife team who maintain this refuge as well as Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, also located in Collier County. There were two swamp buggies, each of which could seat 6 or 7 participants, and about 24 people showed up. Therefore, we were split into two groups. One group hiked while the other group rode, and then we made a rendezvous and swapped places. I was in the first buggy group with my friends Charles and Vicki Wright who run Everglades Area Tours in Chokoloskee, FL, and Jacquie Roecker, hiking buddy extraordinaire and sole proprietor of Nature’s Voice Photography in Naples, FL. Jacquie and I do these things together on purpose, but stumbling across Charles and Vicki was a pleasant surprise.


The buggies would stop along the way so the rangers could point out efforts to control overgrowth, invasive exotics, and habitat diversity. They talked with us about herbicides, fire, and hydrology. It’s been an okay summer rainy season here in Lee County, but further south there has been disappointment. They’re just not getting the rain that they should, and man’s efforts to control flooding has resulted in a complex canal system that often diverts water from where it is needed and carries it away to where it’s not. I snapped the above photo while standing on a dock out back of the “clubhouse” that should have been under water. If freshwater wetlands do not receive sufficient water in the forms of sheet flow and rainfall, then they cannot properly support the life forms that depend upon it for habitat and food.

I’ve mentioned “the clubhouse” twice now. It’s an accessible-access wooden structure, screened in, which is intended to someday house an environmental education program about the refuge in general, and specifically about orchids. The failure or success of orchids growing in the swamp is monitored closely, and with great interest. Orchids are an “indicator species” for a Florida swamp; if your habitat has them, then your habitat must be doing pretty well. A lack of them growing where they are supposed to be could indicate that environmental conditions are not right, or perhaps another species is hogging all the resources.


Every now and then, while prowling through panther country, you come across something like this. Panthers like to use a fallen log as a scratching post. The fallen log happens to be alongside a footpath or firebreak trail that is used by humans. It doesn’t matter to the panther. Panthers like to use the trails because they will be unencumbered in their travels by understory plants. In addition to stretching and sharpening their claws on a log, panthers just plain like to play with such things, biting and wrestling and rolling it around. But how do we know that panthers like to do these things while no one is watching?


Someone IS watching! The location of such logs is the perfect spot to install both video and still cameras. In this manner, wildlife can be observed without being disturbed at the presence of people. In addition to capturing the antics of panthers, these cameras pick up the activities of other wildlife on the preserve such as the black bear, the white-tailed deer, bobcats, and raccoons. The rangers mentioned that lately, there is evidence of coyotes moving into the refuge. I’d love to be the person who gets to review the footage :)


Once the field trip was over, we filled out evaluation forms and took a quick turn through the newly built greenhouse, where different plant experiments were in various stages of being conducted. I snapped the above photo at pond near where we had all parked. There’s allegedly a one-legged alligator lurking in there. If there was one bee on these wildflowers, there were a billion! Jacquie and I had each packed a lunch, so we dragged our beach chairs out of our cars and sat in the shade of some ginormous live oaks dripping with epiphyte air plants, ferns, and Spanish moss. One of the refuge interns joined us and we all enjoyed being with our “tribe” for some lively discussion. I drove home contentedly, and felt the wild desire to nap when I got back to the house. An early start and lots of fresh air will do that to a person πŸ˜‰

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Autumn morning walk in the Calusa Nature Center

IMG_6453Calusa Nature Center – perfect morning for a walk in the flatwoods and the swamp. It’s pretty close to where I live, and I had other errands to run this morning, so why not stop by instead of passing by? Plus, we have that extra hour in the morning now that we “fell back” on Sunday, and I was a bundle of energy because of that. Let’s go!

A couple of rehabilitating gators were sunning themselves near their watering hole.

The American beauty berry is in a full riot of fruit.

Parts of the swamp are already drying up and becoming lined with fallen leaves.

Dahoon holly trees are heavy with fruit in the cypress swamp and along the pine loop trail

Something has raked this tree. Gashes look too wide for it to be a bear or a bobcat. Not sure how this happened!

A closer look at the mystery gashes.

Still water in the cypress swamp, and since the berries are popping and the leaves are falling, there are lots of feeding little birdies visible and audible here.

A new little tree struggles to bring itself up beside the boardwalk. I predict a relocation of one or the other!


I have found a lot of things while out walking that other people lost. But I never thought someone could lose their face..

Cassia in bloom

Cabbage palm regeneraging – not sure if the folded-up-ness is normal, as I’ve never seen one do this before!

Reflections in the Gator Lake

Reflections in the Gator Lake, originally uploaded by Erin *~*~*.

One of the great things about the Six Mile Cypress Slough in summer is the opportunity for reflection shots – the Florida sky is mirrored here in the Gator Lake. There’s a big turtle on the platform out there but I am not seeing any gators thus far. I do hear a woodpecker working away industriously at a tree nearby.

Today’s Adventure: Yes, there is water in the Slough

A fan of the Conservation 20/20 Facebook page was interested in water levels ’round these parts, so I hopped in the car and headed for my sanctuary, my cathedral, the Six Mile Cypress Slough in Fort Myers. Yep, there’s water! Let’s go further in and see what’s up…

Please do not feed the critters!

Please do not feed the critters!, originally uploaded by Erin *~*~*.

Last week, an ecotour operator made the fatal mistake of enticing an alligator out of the water for the entertainment of the tourists. He lost his hand. The gator, quite unfairly, lost his life. There’s a reason for the law. These are not trained Disney critters. They are wild and real and you’re in their territory. Please keep your hands and feet – and FOOD – inside the vehicle at all times, and don’t mess with the critters. Thank you.

The Iwo Jima statue

The Iwo Jima statue, originally uploaded by Erin *~*~*.

I had to lie on my back at the base of the monument to get this shot. I am grateful that I can still get up from such a position under my own steam! I am not sure why cape coral chose to replicate the statue, and I wonder if it is to scale…

Cape Coral’s veterans memorial

Cape Coral’s veterans memorial, originally uploaded by Erin *~*~*.

Alongside the road that comes from the bridge, a veterans memorial stands. There’s a vast, shady pavilion, statuary, and you can make a donation to get a paving brick inscribe in memory of a soldier. The World Wars, the Korean conflict, and Vietnam are all represented, as well as more recent wars in the Middle East.

Today’s adventure: Cape Coral’s Four Mile Cove Eco park

I was in Cape Coral this morning, working on a photo project with a fellow nature geek. On the way over the Midpoint Bridge from Fort Myers, I decided it was high time I’d visited an attraction I’ve passed a dozen times but never stopped. Let’s go!

Everglades adventure! Part 2

Β© Copyright 2012 | | CLICK any photo for a larger view

This is Part 2 of a series, 2012-06 Everglades Adventure


Last time on the Everglades adventure!, we drove down through several state parks to Chokoloskee Island, where we met with some fellow nature geeks and boarded a boat bound for adventure. We’re still on the beach at Pavilion Key, observing all the wonders heaped upon it by the tides. The horseshoe crabs were incredibly, um, active with one another. I did some research and found that they are not actually having “sex on the beach”; she is digging a hole and depositing eggs for him to fertilize. He is merely clinging to her back. Research did not indicate WHY he does this – perhaps he is shielding the hole so no one else can fertilize her eggs? It’s as good a guess as any!


A cluster of mostly oyster shells has washed up alongside some yellow-green algae, called sargassum weed – pelagic sargassum. “Pelagic” comes from a Greek word meaning “open sea”. The pelagic zone is the part of a body of water that is not the bottom, nor is it near the beach/shore. Sargassum floats around the pelagic zone on the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. Those little spheres aren’t seeds or fruits; they are BB-sized air sacs or bladders, which provide buoyancy.


This is a rhizome from a plant known as mother-in-law’s tongue, more commonly referred to in this country as a snake plant. My mom had one of these in the picture window at the front of the house while I was growing up. They are attractive house plants, and make excellent air filters. However, on the beach in Southwest Florida, they are invasive exotics. They are native to West Africa. You can see how easily this plant must spread from island to island – all it has to do is send a rhizome out into the world and watch it float away.


Ah, here we have every gopher tortoise’s favorite – the prickly pear cactus. This was a baby, maybe three inches high, and were it not for the center “ear”, I’d be tagging this “hidden Mickey” ΒΊoΒΊ πŸ˜‰


At first glance, I took this for the biggest piece of branch coral I’d ever seen; it was as big as my hand, with wrist attached. However, when I picked it up, I found that it was light and had a chalky feel. Our guide told me it was a sea sponge. I’m not really able to identify it from the books I’ve got here at home; it looks close to what’s called a “variable sponge”, but I can’t be certain.


Here’s a little field of mother-in-law’s tongue aka snake plant, growing on the dune. The plant behind it with the round, flat leaves is probably a sea grape, which hasn’t any fruit on it at the moment.


Ah, the tree – THE TREE! This was a bit of serendipity for me. I think it’s BEAUTIFUL just the way it is, but wondered what it had been in its prime. I started googling for “trees on Pavilion Key”, thinking someone had perhaps documented the wildlife and plant inventory. What I found was a beautiful tribute to this tree, posted on, of all places. I left my own picture (“Ann Terrie” is my geocaching name; private joke between me and my beloved nieces ;))This tree has been dubbed “The Sunset Tree” and is listed as a virtual cache. You can read about the tree here, and see pictures of it in its former glory. It seems the tree is in the surf pretty much all the time, and that may have contributed to its demise. It is possible that Pavilion Key is losing beach, or simply shape-shifting, which left the tree perpetually in the water. I wonder how much longer it will be there.


After my reverie at the tree, I looked up to see our guide, Bruce, pointing to something in the sand. It’s a crawl! A mama turtle came ashore on Pavilion Key sometime after the last high tide (the tracks would probably be gone otherwise). I hurried over to see if there was a nest.


At the bottom of this picture, you can see a disturbed area, which is possibly the nest. Bruce is standing up by a second disturbed area. We pondered this for a bit until I noticed lots of insect activity around the first area, and none in the second area. Thus, we speculated that the first area was more likely the nest, and the second area was merely a place to which she crawled before turning around and heading back into the sea. You can see that there’s some mother-in-law’s tongue growing in the possible nest area, and to the left of that, a small plant with bright pink flowers…


Our guide called this plant “periwinkle” and indicated that it has healing properties relative to certain cancers. It grows in the dunes on Pavilion Key in little clumps here and there. There was also a white variety (previous photo, on the upper right of the “nest”, just below where Bruce is standing). After some investigation, I’ve determined that it’s Madagascar periwinkle, with eight variants, most of which are native to – you guessed it – Madagascar. Indeed, the plant is used to make a treatment for leukemia. It amazes me how many invasive exotics there are growing in Southwest Florida, and I often ponder how it is that they got here, from far off places like African and Asia. We finished up our exploration of the turtle crawl and turned back to retrace our steps to the place where the boat was beached.

NEXT TIME: MORE Pavilion Key, and our return to Everglades City!

Take me to Everglades adventure! Part 3, The Finale

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Everglades adventure! Part 1

Β© Copyright 2012 | | CLICK any photo for a larger view

This is Part 1 of a series 2012-06 Everglades Adventure!


On Friday, I ventured further south in Florida than I’ve ever ventured before, to participate in the annual meeting of the Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism (Florida SEE). The above map, captured from Google, shows where I wandered. “A” is Everglades City, Florida. Not many people are aware that part of the Everglades is Gulf-front, in Collier County. This map clearly shows the proximity of Everglades City to Marco Island, which is just off the coast of the city of Naples, Florida. “B” is Chokoloskee Island, which is partly comprised of a shell mound built by Native Americans over the course of a couple of thousand years. Chokoloskee is in Collier County. “C” is Rabbit Key; there’s a tinier island right next to it (can’t see it on the screen shot, but trust me, it’s there) that’s affectionately, if unofficially referred to as “Bunny Key”. “D” is Pavilion Key. Rabbit and “Bunny” and Pavilion are all in northern Monroe County. All three islands (B, C, D) are part of the Ten Thousand Islands area; Rabbit and Pavilion are part of Everglades National Park.

It took about an hour and a half to get to Chokoloskee from my house up in Lehigh. As you can see from the previous “on the road” mobile post, I had to pass through the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, which is made of of bits and pieces of other lands, including the Fakahatchee Strand, Everglades National Park, and the Big Cypress National Preserve. I went through Everglades City and straight on to Chokoloskee because I was scheduled for an ecotour with Everglades Area Tours, one of the ecotour operators certified by Florida SEE. I was excited to be meeting up with fellow members of Florida SEE and spending time out in the natural world with them. LET’S GO!


After sitting and chatting a few minutes with the other members scheduled for tours, we split up – some were going kayaking, and two of us had opted to tool around the mangroves with a guide looking for birds. Almost right away, we came upon a group of royal terns named John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Kidding, I just gave them those names about three seconds ago. πŸ˜‰


The osprey is one of my favorite critters to look at – they’re just so handsome, physically incapable of taking a bad picture! Naturally, they’ve also been a favorite blogging subject


Tiny shore birds frolic on a sandbar; we saw a bull shark idling by our boat while we were stopped here. The large landmass to the right is Rabbit Key. The tiny cluster of mangroves to the left is the “Bunny”.


The advantage of having a guide whose experience with the area extends back some 25-ish years – he knows where to go in the backwaters to find the pretty critters :) How many roseate spoonbills can you count? Click the picture to see the full size version in Flickr!


A group of 3 (I think) dolphins did a drive-by and started hunting around our boat. This is one of the few times I’ve been lucky enough to get more than a fin while watching dolphins hunt.


Our Pavilion Key welcoming committee πŸ˜‰ We spent some time walking the beach and mourning that shelling is not permitted there.


There was lots of “yard art” on the beach at Pavilion Key. This beat up whelk was longer than my foot and twice as fat. Some of the ones we found were clearly former Calusa tools, with a hole in the side into which a handle was fitted.


If there was one empty, still-attached set of Venus clam shells, there were a hundred. My friend Christene would have gone NUTS on this beach.


Mossy yard art! I could have gone on forever photographing these ginormous old lightning whelks, but I’ll spare you more of them.

NEXT TIME: more stuff from the beach on Pavilion Key!

Take me to Everglades adventure! Part 2

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Today’s Adventure: Hiking through the marsh

We’ve been to the cypress dome down here at CREW – now lets check out the marsh :) Our tour guide is David Cooper, a Florida Master Naturalist who volunteers here. I can tell I will learn a lot from him. Let’s go!

A fair exchange

A fair exchange, originally uploaded by Erin *~*~*.

I did not bring anything to leave in the boxes, because I had no intention of taking anything… that is, until I saw the Mickey Mouse camera toy in one of them! I quickly rifled through my field bag and decided a bug bite stick would be a fair and useful thing to leave it it’s place.

First cache! First to find!

First cache! First to find!, originally uploaded by Erin *~*~*.

I was teamed up with an experienced cacher "Lorriebird" – she has a Garmin, but was familiar with how the iPhone app works. My VERY first cache was also a "first to find" – mine is the first entry on the log. Exciting, and I guess a memo from the Universe that I was in the right place, doing what I am supposed to be doing.

Geocaching at CREW: the crowd gathers

I got there a bit early and was able to chit-chat with a few folks prior to starting out, letting them know why I was there and what I hoped to learn. Everyone was super welcoming and friendly. The infamous "Jungle Pete", Kenny Jenkins, and CREW’s executive director Brenda Brooks were just a few of the folks who were generous with their time and knowledge.

Today’s adventure: Geocaching at CREW’s Cypress dome Trails

Yes, we were just here a couple of weeks ago for the Wildflower Festival. Now we’re going geocaching! Was conferring on Thursday with some classmates in the Florida Master Naturalist Program about final projects, and the subject of safe and ethical geocaching in the uplands was floated as a possible candidate. Since this event was coming up, I thought I would try my hand at it. I did some last spring when my niece was here, so I was not a complete novice but now I have "an app for that", so watch out! Here we go…

Today’s Adventure: CREW Wildflower Festival 2012


The CREW Land and Water Trust, down in Immokolee FL is hosting their annual Wildflower Festival today. There will be hikes, exhibitions and fun. It promises to be a very warm day, too. Oh, and I’ll be hitting the new Trader Joe’s in Naples on my way home. CLICK the flyer to the left to see the details.

What’s not to love about this day? :)

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Β© Copyright 2012 | | CLICK any photo for a larger view

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…


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.


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.


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! πŸ˜‰ CLICK HERE for super-sized photo


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


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!


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.


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.


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!”


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!”


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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Β© Copyright 2011 | | CLICK any photo for a larger view

Hiking ’round Harns Marsh, Part 1

Β© Copyright 2012 | | CLICK any photo for a larger view

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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 πŸ˜‰


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 πŸ˜‰ 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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