Category Archives: Southwest Florida

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…

Summer adventures in Southwest Florida, Part 1

Β© Copyright 2012 | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | CLICK any photo for a larger view

2012-07-06 22.04.04The blog has been quiet, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been languishing – far from it! Most people think this part of the country is a paradise only in the winter, a respite from the frozen north. Well, that may be true, and it may also be true that while the rest of the world comes out of the house and comes alive in the summer, we tend to go inside to the blessed relief of central air conditioning.

Despite the heat, there are still things to do, places to go, and people to see in the summertime in Southwest Florida. My month started out a little slow, after all the June excitement with Tropical Storm Debby and the treasures brought to the beach by that natural phenomenon – but I’m happy to report it rapidly picked up speed and I’ve had a blast this summer so far :) Are you ready to see what I’ve been up to? C’mon – let’s go!

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JULY 5TH: The Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida has been on my bucket list for a while. My visit coincided with a special exhibit featuring comic strips and cartoonists who were prominent during the era of Nazi Germany. Both Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney are featured, among others.

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I wasn’t happy with my visit. I was VERY interested in the special exhibit, as you can imagine – I am, after all, a huge Disney fan. Disney’s war propaganda cartoons were being shown in one room, but I was told that a really great docent was about to lead a tour, and the sound on the television was turned off, probably in deference to this tour, so I joined them. Little did I know that this tour would involve the docent delivering a lecture that went on for an hour and did not show signs of stopping; there were some chairs, but most people were left standing. I wandered away and after a quick turn through the rest of the museum, I made my escape. Wish I had better things to say about this experience.

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JULY 6TH: Art Walk in the Fort Myers River District! I began the evening at Ford’s Garage, rendezvous point with friends Charlene and Eric Taubert. Ford’s is one of those places with lots of different beers and ales to try, and if you have dinner there during Art Walk, you can have free valet parking that night. The place was VERY crowded, and it took a long time to get seated. After a good dinner and lively conversation, we took to the streets of the recently revitalized downtown area of Fort Myers to see some art.

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A friend pointed out that the buildings themselves in downtown Fort Myers qualify as art; everything has an art deco feel to it. Here’s the historic Edison Theater, which is no longer a theater but now serves as office space.

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The Howl Gallery had a special exhibit – it was all Mickey Mouse, all the time in there! Check out the Howl’s current show page to see all the art. Above is my favorite, because he’s sort of emo and sweet ΒΊoΒΊ

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JULY 10TH: Freakish and violent weather is not unusual for Southwest Florida in the summertime, but this was scary-freakish. I walked out of the house one afternoon on a grocery mission and saw this in the northeastern sky. Looks like a tornado wanted to form, a little too close to home for comfort! My shopping expedition was in the precise opposite direction, and I hastened away. The house was still here when I got back, so I guess it was all good πŸ˜‰

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JULY 14TH: Out on the town with pal Michele Lorito-Chase. We saw a movie at the Bell Tower, had some dinner, and went for a drink at World of Beer.

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The best part of going out for pizza: bringing some home for breakfast the next morning πŸ˜‰

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JULY 16TH: I’ve been volunteering as social media strategist for Lee County’s Conservation 20/20 organization, which acquires and maintains conservation preserves. I curate their Facebook page – drop by and “like” us! A new piece was added to the Alva Scrub Preserve, so I set out with a friend on a promotional photography mission….


NEXT TIME: a hike through the Alva Scrub Preserve

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A change of venue – The Fish House on Sanibel

Social butterfly that I was today, I left the Mashable meetup and made the perilous crossing over to Sanibel, where I met some friends for dinner at The Fish House. It used to be called McT’s and I had not been there since before the transformation. I went to the ladies room, and there was a martini on the wall

Today’s adventure: Charley’s Cabana

Charley’s Cabana is a bar/grill at the Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa in the Punta Rassa section of Fort Myers. I’m meeting there with local social media peeps who want to participate in Mashable’s annual Social Media Day.

Cocktails in a beautiful setting – let’s go!

Thursday’s treasures from the Sanibel Lighthouse Beach

Β© Copyright 2012 | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | CLICK any photo for a larger view

Catch of the day!

I decided to go back to the Sanibel Lighthouse Beach this afternoon, to see what I could see. Directly to the right of the fishing pier was a Sea of Stink – all the beached pen shells where heaped in a tidal pool, slowly dying. There were some pickin’s to be had in there, but the stench was nauseating, so I continued down the beach. A pair of young ladies, one of whom I’d seen engaged in the same activity yesterday, were on a mission to rescue all of the lightning whelks that were once again stuck in between the roots of the mangroves. They had one of those GIANT beach bags, bright pink, and they were filling it up and relocating the stranded souls to a tidal pool, closer to the surf.

Monster lightning whelks

Right smack dab in front of the lighthouse, I found this pair of monsters, all snuggled up together just below the surface of the sand. They were right under the breaker line, so I did not see them – I felt them through my shoes. I took my trusty net-on-a-stick and used the aluminum edge to pry them up. I was SHOCKED that they were empty. Hadn’t seen any empties of this size since Tropical Storm Debby dumped them all there.

Multi-toned lightning whelk

I always wonder what makes a whelk change colors and patterns midstream in the making of the shell. Was it something she ate? Did the environment change? I have not come across any really good answers about this phenomenon.

Mac 'n cheese

After hunting a little longer in front of the lighthouse, and finding the tulips there, I walked back toward the pier. When I got close, I found this mac ‘n cheese (juvenile horse conch), and it made me smile. It’s a good shelling day, whenever you find mac ‘n cheese. I found the rest of the whelks you see in the first picture in rapid succession after that, just to the right of the pier, in the breaker line. I was pretty happy with my treasures, and made my contented way home shortly thereafter.

I might go back tomorrow, too :)

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More Sanibel Island, post-Tropical Storm Debby

Β© Copyright 2012 | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | CLICK any photo for a larger view

Egret reflectedI’ve got just a few more pictures to share from my afternoon foray onto the Sanibel Lighthouse Beach, plus some videos that are percolating on YouTube and should be ready shortly.

Here’s the parking lot again, the one closest to the fishing pier. Normally, there are abundant spaces in this lot, but today they are limited by the flood left behind by Tropical Storm Debby.

Chemicals called tannins are exuded from the roots of mangrove trees growing on the beach, which is what gives the water its reddish hue. I thought the reflection of the egret was pretty; wish I’d had something other than an iPhone in my hand, so I could have zoomed, but it is what it is! The reflection from the gnarled trees looks especially spooky in the red-tinged water.

Teaming shores

I thought it curious that so many banded tulips were clustered around these two pen shells. It seems unlikely that they are preparing to feast. Banded tulips would typically go after much smaller fare. Curiouser and curiouser!

Trap set adrift

This trap, which washed up directly in front of the Lighthouse, didn’t appear to have snared anything before coming ashore.

Poor wee turtles :(

Poor wee turtles! Storms are not good for turtle nests. They can change the temperature of the nest, causing the eggs to fail. Storms can compact the sand, making it impossible for hatchlings to dig their way out. They can also remove sand from the nest, exposing the eggs to the elements and to predators. It is not likely that a washed-over nest is viable any more.

OK, here come some videos. SUBSCRIBERS: If you do not see any videos below this sentence, please click through to the blog at http://mymobileadventures.com/2012/06/more-sanibel-island-post-tropical-storm-debby


Crossing the causeway, jamming out to No Doubt on the radio. SO, so happy that there’s sun!


A live horse conch rolls around in the surf. I estimate it was about 14″ long. Never get over the shock of what color they actually are, underneath the shell and the dark black periostracum that covers it.

I saved the best for last – unbelievable quantity of live shells in the tidal pool and well above it! I posted it to Facebook; should be visible to all https://www.facebook.com/MyMobileAdventures/posts/316120388480932?notif_t=like

Hoping to go back again on Thursday and maybe even on Friday, to see what happened to all the live ones – stay tuned!

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Everglades adventure! Part 3, The Finale

Β© Copyright 2012 | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | CLICK any photo for a larger view

This is Part 3/the “finale” of a series, 2012-06 Everglades Adventure

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We’re continuing our beach walk from last time on the Everglades adventure – we’re still on Pavilion Key in Everglades National Park. We came to a part of the beach where we would have to make a decision to either start wading to get around this tree, or else turn back and head for the boat. In the interest of time, we turned back. No residents of this osprey nest were evident; they might have been off hunting, or else it was just abandoned.

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On our way back, we came upon this tree with dark, shriveled berries hanging from it. Bruce, our guide, speculated that it might be related to citrus, judging from the configuration of the leaves. I sent a photo to Leafsnap, but it didn’t come back with anything helpful. When I returned home, I emailed one of my instructors from the Coastal Systems module of the Florida Master Naturalist program, Roy Beckford of the Lee County, FL Extension Offices. Roy responded that it’s soapberry; “Fruits are a dead giveaway”, he explained. Further research indicates that the fruits are also referred to as “black pearls”, and are used to make soap, as their name would imply.

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I just thought this was cool, so I snapped a picture of it. A hollowed-out tree stump, still planted in the middle of the beach, provides a hidey-hole for all manner of sea debris – and probably a few critters, now and then πŸ˜‰

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Some chicks are more popular than others; I get that, but this is sort of ridiculous, given that they don’t actually copulate! Also wondering about all the barnacle-like things attached to her… jewelry? I’m betting neither of the dudes bothered with dinner and a movie!

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Na na na na, na na na na,

Na na na na, na na na na,

BATFISH!

OK, now that you all know that I grew up watching TV in the ’60s… he was dead, and just kind of floating around in the surf. I’d never seen one before.

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On our way back to the boat, we passed the kayak expedition; they’d just made shore. We spoke briefly about the turtle nest and then each party went their separate ways. Closer to the boat, we passed these three whelks lined up on the beach. Someone in the kayak expedition must have arranged them there, for I hadn’t noticed them when we started out. Doing some googling around about Pavilion Key, I found some claims that there are THOUSANDS of empty, ancient whelks in the shallows, all bearing evidence that humans had eaten them – the tell-tale hole punched in the shell, through which something sharp would be poked and wiggled around to detach the muscle from the shell. I guess the Calusa were not interested in collecting shells, and therefore did not share our dismay at defacing them in such a manner!

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The batteries in my camera gave up the ghost while we were still on the beach, but I was able to take this dramatic shot with my iPhone once we were back in the boat and amongst the mangroves headed home. Bruce pointed out some butterfly orchids growing on it way up high, which you can’t see because it’s an iPhone. I still like the shot, though – it’s sort of spooky and mysterious.

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The trip around the Ten Thousand Islands ended, and I drove back to Everglades City to check into The Ivey House. On my way to the office, I saw this guy and knew right away that he was too bulky and walked too ungracefully to be an anole. He’s a curley-tailed lizard, and he’s not a native of Florida. He’s from the Caribbean. I believe I might have seen one before, at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve; however, it could have just been an anole holding his tail in a curled-up position. Once I was checked in, I pretty much RACED through taking a shower and headed out to the Everglades Seafood Depot, where the annual meeting of the Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism (Florida SEE) was about to commence.

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The Everglades Seafood Depot was once actually a train depot. The inside is all done up in beautiful exposed beams, and there’s a lanai, bar, boat docks outside.

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The host waits to greet guests and seat them….

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Look at those teeth!

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We had an inspiring meeting, and I was elected to the board. I’m not sure I know what I’ve gotten myself into… I guess I’m going to find out! It was a nice little overnight escape, and I met some terrific fellow nature geeks. Would love to visit again when I’ve got just a bit more time to poke around the various local attractions.


Thanks for tagging along on the 2012-06 Everglades Adventure!

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

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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˜‰

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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.

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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.

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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 Geocaching.com, 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.

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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.

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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…

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

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

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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!

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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˜‰

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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

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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”.

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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: Caracara prairie Preserve hike for National Trails Day

8:14 AM – It’s National Trails Day! I’ve got my hiking shoes on and I’m going on a five-miler at a brand new trail in Immokolee, Florida. It’s gonna be hotter than the hinges of hell! I must be out of my mind. Let’s go!

A day of play in Southwest Florida

Β© Copyright 2012 | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | CLICK any photo for a larger view

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Don’t you love it when you are working on something, but it barely feels like work, just because you are loving it so much? That was today! I started out meeting up with a “work day” group at Deep Lagoon Preserve, one of my county’s land conservation preserves. The county conservation land stewardship and management entity is called Conservation 20/20, and I’ve been helping them to raise their social media profile by creating and administering a Facebook page to promote interest in the preserves. This particular preserve was once a farm. Gladiolus bulbs were raised here. After that, it was turned into pasture and fenced in so the cows would not wander and cause trouble πŸ˜‰ Now, it is slowly but surely being restored to it’s natural form, so that it may serve as habitat to native plant and animal species. During the height of the summer rains, this place is ankle-deep or more under water. It therefore also serves an important recharge function. There is a connection to the Caloosahatchee River and Pine Island Sound, which is salt water, and there’s some tidal flooding action that occurs as well. Therefore, the edges of the preserve are actually home to some mangroves, which I’ve recently read are very efficient processors of carbon dioxide. Worth conserving, I’d say!.

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There are dozens of native plants and wildflowers growing here. These are a variety of loosestrife. They’re on the “rare” list for this region.

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Here’s a closer view; they’re actually called winged loosestrife.

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This thistle has a visitor; he barely gave me a glance, and kept his butt in the air the whole time I was watching him.

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Thistle sans lunch guest; aren’t they pretty?

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After I was done photographing the work day (will publish soon on Facebook!), I decided to check up on a friend on the island, so off I sped, oops I mean off I sedately traveled at a speed no greater than 30 MPH πŸ˜‰ over the causeway to Sanibel Island.

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After having some brunch with my friend, I decided to start at Periwinkle Place and shop my way off the island. This is the butterfly garden out back; there were no butterflies to look at, so I continued on to the little pond across the back parking lot.

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There wasn’t any action in the pond, either. There’s actually a tall berm/hill between two ponds that are sort of connected but not really, and I stood up there with a dad and his two kids, watching bubbles rise periodically from one of the ponds. We were hoping that an alligator would emerge, but if he was down there, he was keeping his own counsel and not pandering to the paparazzi this fine day.

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Coming back from the pond, I passed this tree, and spied something in one of the cubby holes…

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Tree snails live here! Upon further inspection, I saw a few empty snail shells on the ground around the base of the tree. I was reminded of the years before I lived in Southwest Florida, when my niece and I would “go shelling” in my brother’s front garden up north on the Loverly Isle of Long. Now I can just drive to a local beach and go shelling pretty much any time I want. How cool is that? :) I left the snail shells where they lie, smiling to myself.

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At last, it was time to leave the island and go home. Yes, those are storm clouds. No, it did not storm. Yes, we’re wondering when it will, too. It’s too dry here!

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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…

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! πŸ˜‰ 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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Β© Copyright 2011 | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | CLICK any photo for a larger view

Hiking ’round Harns Marsh, Part 1

Β© Copyright 2012 | http://MyMobileAdventures.com | 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.

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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 πŸ˜‰

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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 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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