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Directly after we finished up with the Field Trip On Estero Bay, we all got into our cars and drove down to Lover’s Key State Park for some more nature geek fun. First we all congregated in a shady area, settled in at picnic benches and ate our bag lunches. Then we proceeded down the path to the beach to go seining.
“Seine” is not just a river in France. A seine is a net that is used to capture small fish and other aquatic life. The seines that we used on this field trip look like a volleyball net strung between two poles. There are floats at the top of the net and weights at the bottom. I take one pole, you take the other, we stretch the net between us and then we walk through the water, slowly trawling toward the beach. Then, quickly, before someone perishes, we scoop up what we found and place it in tanks for observation. When we’re done learning, we set the critters free.
Lover’s Key is a Florida state park that is comprised of several islands/keys. The Bonita Beach Causeway cuts through it coming down from Fort Myers Beach. This proved to be an excellent site for studying the Southwest Florida coastal environment.
Lovers Key is covered with many different species of plant life. In true geek fashion, I am starting to find the biodiversity of nature to be endlessly fascinating, so I was happy to crawl all over the place with my camera after the expedition had ended. Here’s a shady nook close to the causeway entrance with a path down to the beach. Notice we are standing under the dense shade of a cluster of trees that include seagrapes; the branches overhead were heavy with fruit.
A different path to the beach here leads over a wooden bridge that spans a small bayou of sorts.
This is part of the bayou over which the little foot bridge crosses. Our instructor had wanted to investigate and observe life in the bayou as well as off the beach; however, it’s been marked as a “keep out” zone now, so we had to content ourselves with craning our necks over the side of the bridge to see what we could see. And of course, we all wore shoes 😉
Look at those clouds pop, huh? The beauty of the Southwest Florida sky is endless.
Here’s a view across the bayou toward the beach, Big Carlos Pass and the hi-rise condos beyond. Note that there are plenty of hidey-places along the shore of the bayou; not sure what nests there but futher back in the protected area, I would not be surprised if there were some gators lurking now and then.
Funny thing about protected areas; in addition to the critters, they might be protecting YOU, too! So always take heed of the signs, OK? I don’t want to hear that you became lunch!
A LOVER’S KEY BLUE CRAB | Our instructors equipped us with plastic tanks which we filled with salt water from the beach in preparation for examining our finds. These tanks had “bubblers” attached to keep the water aerated and moving.
Our first seining attempt brought up a couple of crabs. Can’t really tell what the one submerged is – speckled, maybe? but on the right is a male blue crab. Normally, you turn them over to see if they are male or female. The female will have a marking underneath that is rounded like the US capital dome, whereas the male will have more of an obelisk-shaped marking, like the Washington Monument.
In the case of blue crabs, however, the female’s claws are tipped in bright orange. I don’t see any orange on this one, so it’s a male. Floating behind him are his sectioned “swimmies” – swimming paddles that are attached to the rear leg.
I don’t have any other worthy photos of the critters we saw, which included several types of fishes, some snails and a sea horse! It’s hard to photograph them in the tanks with the brilliant sunshine blasting them and the water distorting them. Also, I need to solve the problem of handling my camera while my hands are salty, sandy, wet, or any combination thereof.
After the seining expedition was done, I stuck around to take a few photos and find some plants for identification. Sea oats are one of the types of grasses that grow in the dunes. They are perennial and multiply by means of underground rhizomes. They can grow to be six feet tall or more! You’re not allowed to collect wild sea oats because they play a critical role in helping to keep the dunes together.
This is one of two tropical plants that look similar and are often confused with one another. The inkberry (pictured) and it’s counterpart, the beach naupaka, have pretty similar configurations, including the berries while green and the flowers, which look as though someone had pressed them in between the pages of a book. However, the leaves of the beach naupaka curl while the inkberry leaves do not. Inkberry fruits become very dark, looking like purple/black grapes; the ones pictured here will mature that way, while a beach naupaka’s berries will turn white.
This is a strangler fig; looks like the “host” has long since succumbed to the treachery of its “guest”! These ficus trees are kind of like those guys in Corporate America who get to the top by crawling up the backs of their colleagues. Stranglers germinate on a host tree, sending roots down and branches up. In an effort to support their climb toward sunlight, they “strangle” their host. Here we see the hollow made where the host used to stand; you can see a bit of bark remains, but the rest has rotted away.
The beach trolley trundles its way across Big Carlos Pass. I like the foot/bike section on the bridge. It made me feel somewhat protected even as the vehicles went zipping by. These trolleys are a pretty efficient way to get around this area, especially during “season” when there are too many cars and not enough road down this way. There’s even a starting point on the mainland – park your car at the Winn Dixie on Summerlin Road and in a little bit, a trolley will come by to collect you.
This is the scene when you climb up the hill from the parking lot up to the foot/bike path on the bridge. You can see the bayou off to the left, above the blue truck, and the beach where we did our seining and discovery of cool critters.
Between the boat trip on Estero Bay and then this segment at the beach, everyone was some combination of hot, tired, wet, salty, sweaty, a little sunburnt and very happy by the time we were through.
I proceeded to Sanibel Island after this, let myself into a friend’s house to take a shower and when she got home from a hunting expedition of her own (shopping!), we went out for dinner with some other friends on the island.
Life in Southwest Florida is GOOD.