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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sanibel Island, FL by Gary Becker

Sanibel Lighthouse on east end of Island

          It was a cloudy, drizzly morning in the middle of January when we set out for Sanibel Island from our base in Naples, Florida.  We chose a less than perfect beach day in the hope that the crowds would be reduced and we would be able to find parking space on this overdeveloped island. Last year we visited and had to turn around as there was no parking space available at any of the beaches. It’s an hour drive from Naples plus a $6.00 toll to get onto the island.  Our bet turned out to be correct as parking was not an issue on any of the beaches. Fortunately the weather gradually cleared and the sun came out and the crowds never materialized. 

         We first stopped at the Lighthouse Beach.  Our luck continued when Susan spotted a small group of shore birds which turned out to be lifers for me:  5 Snowy Plovers.  Although year- round residents I had never seen the bird on any of our beach trips on the Gulf, but what a  great start to the day. 

Snowy Plovers

         We left the Light House area and traveled down to Bowman’s Beach on the opposite end of the island. 
Gary thinking hard about breaking the law

Red Knots

A local travel writer calling himself “Dr. Beach” rated it Number 5 among “Best Florida Beaches”.  It’s fairly desolate with a long stretch of lovely sand plus some good shelling and birding. I found lots of Red Knots, Short-billed Dowitchers, Royal, Sandwich and Forster’s Tern’s, Black Skimmers and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. 
Black Skimmer

Short-billed Dowitchers and Black-bellied Plover

          We spent a few hours there and then headed to the Ding Darling Nature Preserve just a few miles away.  Once inside the park we took a walk on the Indigo Trail where a Mangrove Cuckoo had been seen shortly before we arrived. Our attempts to locate the bird were unsuccessful but we got nice looks at an Eastern Screech Owl, some Roseate Spoonbills, Green and Blue-winged Teal, Tricolored Herons, Great, Cattle and Snowy Egrets and a new find:  the Red Mangrove Crab. 
Eastern Screech-Owl
            These small tree-dwelling crabs turned out to be “vegans” relying  completely on a diet of the Red Mangrove leaves.  After leaving the Indigo trail we drove through the preserve and observed a good-sized flock of White Pelicans and a single Reddish Egret. 

         We returned several weeks later following the “snowstorm of the century” which produced some strong surf and washed lots of animals onto the beaches.  I felt like I was in the Invertebrate zoology lab back at school.
White Pelicans

Susan with Lined Sea Star

Storm wash
          Sanibel is noted for its shells but this went far beyond the usual shells. There were two types of starfish, several variety of sea cucumbers, “salt pork”(a colony of tiny animals embedded in a rubbery lump), sandy-skinned tunicates, crabs, sea urchins, a lone sea horse  and an assortment of soft coral including sea whips and sea feathers. 
Sea Cucumber - squeeze them and they squirt salt water

Lesser Black-backed Gulls

         On our way out of Sanibel we stopped at one of the many gift shops where I found a wonderful book “Florida’s Living Beaches” by Blair and Dawn Witherington. It provided great photos and brief details of almost all the flora and fauna of coastal Florida and helped me ID some of the weird stuff on the beaches.  In their introduction to “What are beach animals?” they read my mind with the opening lines: “Figuring out what is and isn’t an animal-or what used to be one-can be tricky…A wide variety of beach animals seem to be plants, rocks ,trivial specks, or visitors from space…As a rule, live animals twitch when prodded, and dead ones smell worse than rocks or plants.” Not too scientific but it summarizes things pretty well.

 One brief note on Captiva Island which joins to Sanibel by a single road and a small bridge:  there are no accessible beaches or parking unless you are renting on this small island. The only beach area is at the bridge where there are small parking lots on both the Sanibel and Captiva side. You can walk along the Captiva beach from this bridge and enjoy the enormous homes of the well-to-do, privacy loving residents and you might even be invited in.  Well, not exactly” invited in” but  there was a realtor’s  “open house” sign planted out on the beach, so we got to see what 12 million dollars can buy on Captiva Island.  It’s the stuff dreams are made of.

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