The J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge located in Southwest Florida on Sanibel Island is putting on a series of lectures and films by experts and naturalists describing a variety of birds, endangered species, Manatees, reptiles, amphibians, nature photography and other topics. The lecture and films series are held at the visitor center which is shown in the pictures above.
The Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge is visited by thousands of visitors every year especially bird watchers and photographers and people wanting to see a piece of the old and original landscapes and waterscapes of Florida. Ding Darling consists of 6,400 acres of lakes, rivers, mangroves forests, submerged sea grass beds, salt water marshes, and hardwood hammocks. It was established as a refuge by President Harry S. Truman in 1945. It has gradually been enlarged by generous donations of land by the City of Sanibel and property owners.
The refuge can by seen by visitors by driving through a winding road traversing through the refuge or bicycling and walking along the trails. There is a small admission fee to enter to refuge. The lecture and film series which are very popular with visitors and tourists are held in the winter months from January through April. Visit the Ding Darling Wildlife Society website to see the lecture dates.
There are guides who also take visitors through the refuge by foot or by a tram. I have taken many photographs at Ding Darling of White Egrets, Blue and Green and Yellow Crowned Night Herons and other birds. The Tarpon Bay Explorers located inside the refuge also rents kayaks, canoes and takes people out on motorized boats on sightseeing tours.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse shown in the pictures above replaced the old Spanish Watchtower that was constructed in 1824 which was also the first official lighthouse in Florida. The St. Augustine Lighthouse was finished in 1874, took over 1 million bricks to build and stands 14 stories tall.
I didn’t have much time to visit St. Augustine and there is a lot to see and enjoy especially if you are a history buff so I chose the historic lighthouse for my short visit and I was not disappointed. The winding staircase inside the lighthouse with 219 steps is wide enough for two people to walk abreast or past one another. When I made it to the top, there was a circular walkway around the top where you can see for miles and enjoy the panoramic vistas of the city of St. Augustine, Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal waterway.
I found out from reading Wikipedia that St. Augustine was founded by Spanish explorer Admiral Pedro Menendez de Avites who named the city St. Augustine because some of his sailors sighted land eleven days earlier on August 28th which is the Feast Day of St. Augustine. St. Augustine who lived around 354-450 was a very important person in the development and foundation of the early Christian Church and religion.
The grounds around the St. Augustine Lighthouse have the original Innkeepers house, now a museum, artifacts from shipwrecks off the beach, an active boat building area where volunteers are building small boats of earlier times like the “Skipjack” and “Yawl” which were used by local fishermen and British Warships. St. Augustine was once the center of the shrimp fishing industry in the U.S. The website VisitSt.Augustine has some good information about what to see and do in this town. Floridahistoriccoast is another good travelers website.
The pictures shown above are of the visitor center and paths through the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation on Sanibel Island, Fla. SCCF is one of the many attractions on Sanibel because they have several preserves, trails, a garden center and exhibits that show and explain how coastal and inland habitats live and thrive under unique conditions. The main mission of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation is to conserve the coastal resources and aquatic habitats on Sanibel and Captiva and surrounding watershed.
The SCCF has several scientists on staff who monitor the water quality around Sanibel and report on the amount of pollution, dissolved oxygen, salinity and other factors of the watershed. The waters around Sanibel were once filled with healthy oyster beds but they have been diminished and threatened by the amount of pollution coming from nearby places.
The Visitor Center at the SCCF is a great place to see the native animals and plants that live on Sanibel-Captiva including the turtles who nest on the islands. There are live turtles to view and exhibits of habitats. If you have the time and like hiking, there is a trail that winds through the several hundred acre preserve where you can view fresh water habitats, native birds and trees on Sanibel. The trail is well marked and you can take a short stroll or walk the whole length of the preserve which can take an hour or two. The trail contains an observation tower as well.
One of the best well known and cared for parts of SCCF is the Native Garden Center which was recently moved to a better and larger location on Periwinkle Way which contains several acres of plants and shrubs to view or purchase. It is managed and cared for by employees of SCCF and many volunteers.
The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve consists of 3,500 acres of wetlands which vary from slow moving swamps or sloughs, dry areas consisting of hammocks and forests containing many of the native trees of Florida.
The Six Mile Slough was created in 1970 with the encouragement of concerned citizens who saw the natural ecosystems being destroyed by heavy commercial and residential development in South Florida. Sloughs are slow moving swamps that move rainfall over the landscape and help to filter the water as it seeps into underground aquifers.
The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is 11 miles long and 1/3 mile wide and is one of the few areas where visitors can visit a wetland that resembles an ecosystem that dominated the landscape years ago. The depth of the water is usually 2-3 feet deep but the unusual heavy rains and tropical storms this summer have made the slough over 10 feet deep. It is located in Ft. Myers, off of Six Mile Cypress Pkwy.
The South Florida Management District keeps track of the monthly and yearly rainfall levels in South Florida and Lake Okeechobee. Visitors to the slough can enjoy a scenic walk on a 2 mile boardwalk through the slough and also visit the interpretive center which has exhibits of old Florida and plants and animals which inhabit the slough.
The pictures shown above are of the slough. Click on any image for a larger view. The park employs naturalists who give tours of the park on the boardwalk and also give wet walks through the swamp for those who are more adventurous. The Six Mile Slough is also a great place to go birding and view many of the birds who make wetlands their home. Visit their website at https://www.sloughpreserve.org/
I became aware of CREW when I took a naturalist course through the Florida Master Naturalist Program offered through the extension office in my county. (Lee) About 25 of us took a full day class every week for about 8 weeks examining the “Wetlands” in South Florida and learned about the importance of keeping water resource areas such as swamps, lakes, ponds and other fresh water bodies of water safe and protected. Wetlands provide a natural recharge place for rain water to filter back into the ground, and recharge aquifers where we get most of our drinking water. Our class shown above took a field trip to CREW one day and our nature walk took us through different ecosystems of trees, plants, dry and wet areas. Our experienced nature guide explained the different kinds of plants and animals that lived in this 60,000 acre region and what areas get particularly flooded during rainy season.
CREW has a staff of volunteers that work there at different times of the day and week that can offer visitors chances to take guided nature walks through the area. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys learning more about Florida’s natural areas and inland regions. Visit their website to learn more about this watershed and how to take advantage of its learning and ecotourism opportunities.
The Shells of SW Florida are a great collection of marine life that have washed up on beaches including Sanibel, Ft. Myers Beach, Naples, Lovers key State Beach and others. Sanibel is one of the best beaches to collect and view sea shells that have washed up on the beach because of its unique shape which has a long shoreline which faces the Gulf of Mexico and whose currents deposit new shells each day.
Some of the photos above are a partial collection of shells you will see on the beach. One artistic person made a dolphin out of shells on the beach which is not uncommon among the shell collectors on the island. Some of the popular shells of SW Florida include the Lightning Whelk, Lace Murex, Alphabet Cone, Florida Fighting Conch, Lettered Olive and Banded Tulip. Visit the Ft. Myers Sanibel website to see the “Sanibel Six” Sea Shells.
Technically a sea shell is a hard outer covering that is made by a marine sea creature that lives inside called a Mollusk. Mollusks are soft bodied animals without backbones but contain other organs and have feet or a foot that allows them to crawl into out of the shell. Once a mollusks dies or crawls out of it shell, the shells are carried by the ocean tides to the beach and other places. It is against the law in SW Florida to collect live shells or shells containing mollusks.
The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel Island has a great collection of shells from the local region as well as from around the world. There is a live touch tank inside the museum. The staff at the museum also gives daily walks to nearby beaches. I found another interesting website with great shell art at Pinterest. To see larger images of the shells above, click on their images.
Sunsets on Sanibel have been popular for vacationers and residents to enjoy because of the wide vistas and open skies in which to enjoy the views. The myriad of colors and variations of lights caused by clouds and the suns vanishing appearance draws many people to the beaches to see the sun disappear below the horizon.
Popular spots to see Sunsets on Sanibel are the beaches on the island along the Gulf of Mexico and the Sanibel Causeway Islands which runs across the Pine Island Sound and carries the 2 lane road which is the only access point to Sanibel by vehicle. It is not uncommon to see groups of people standing or seated along the beaches and causeway islands watching the sun set and disappearing below the horizon.
The actual time of sunrise and sunset varies of course depending on time of year. The City of Sanibel Web Site has a link which gives the time of sunrise and sunset in this area. It has the chart of tidal information for fisherman and the temperature of water for swimmers.
The pictures shown above were taken at different times of the year and display sunsets at different times of the evening. One of the prettiest sights to see are the rainbows across the sky near Sanibel after a rain storm. Click on one of the photos in this post to see a larger image.
Sanibel Island is famous for the sea shells that cover its’ beach shorelines. Residents and vacationers roam the beaches looking for a wide variety of shells that wash up on the shores each day. The Florida Current and Sanibel’s unique shape allow Mollusks and shells to wash up on its shores. Sanibel Island residents take pleasure in decorating their mailboxes with these shells and artwork with displays wildlife and nature.
Some of the mailboxes are on display in the photo gallery shown above. Click on one of the images for a larger view. Taking a bicycle ride through some of Sanibel’s neighborhoods gives you a great opportunity to see the artwork and shells. The Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel has a great display of shells from all over the world. It is definitely worth the visit. The museum also gives daily beach walks with a marine biologist pointing out the marine life on the beaches. There is also a touch tank in the museum with live shells at Baily Matthews.
While you are on the island,, visit the world famous Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve. You can walk, bicycle or drive through the preserve and see hundreds of migratory birds, alligators and mangrove lined lakes and estuaries. Remember to bring your camera. The Visit Florida website has some good information about where to go and what to do on Sanibel.
Pop Ash Creek Preserve is a 307 acre piece of land in northeast Lee County that is part of the Conservation 20/20 Program. Voters passed a referendum in 1996 which taxed property owners to purchase environmentally sensitive land for conservation and ecosystem protection. Since its inception, Lee County through the Conservation 20/20 program has acquired 123 properties and created 44 preserves which consists of over 24,000 acres.
Pop Ash Creek Preserve was purchased in 2003 for $1.5 million dollars. The land was heavily used for purposes such as soil and rock mining, agriculture and roads for moving cars through neighborhoods. Lee County and the Dept. of Natural Resources worked to reshape the land surfaces to make it look more natural as a wetland and dry prairie. The preserve is located in a watershed consisting of other preserves and large tracts of land which help to move rain and slow moving water in a natural direction, southward. There are dry areas (mesic) and wet areas (hydric) that make up the Pop Ash Creek Preserve.
During my walk through the preserve which was led by an experienced naturalist and guide we encountered a horse back rider who uses the trails for riding. It was nice to see the land used for purposes other than cars. The benefit of buying and preserving lands like Pop Ash is to re-establish land to its natural shape, allow ground water recharge, provide wildlife habitat and recreational uses for people. The 1.5 mile walk through the preserve also allowed us to see filter marshes which helps to clean water which runs across the land and picks up fertilizers and other pollutants which would otherwise end up in our larger lakes and rivers.
The Sanibel Island Bridge was built and opened in 1963 which allowed traffic to freely move between the mainland of Ft. Myers and Lee County to Sanibel Island. Access to Sanibel Island use to be available only by ferry boat. Commercial traffic and businesses sprouted up on the island after the bridge was built but residents have saved the quaint and small island feel of Sanibel by not allowing high rise Condo’s or fast food restaurants.
The Sanibel Island bridge is actually 3 bridges which reach across two man made islands which together make up the Sanibel Island Causeway. The causeway is 3 miles long and consists of several areas where people spend the day to fish, play water sports, picnic or spend time with family and friends. Since the new bridge was repaired and re-opened in 2007 which replaced the old draw bridge, bicyclists can now use a bicycle lane to trek across the causeway and 3 bridges. Caution should be taken however as there is no barrier between cars and bicycles other than a white line.
The main span of the new bridge is 17 ft 6 inches high and allows yachts and most kinds of boats to travel under who are making their way up the Caloosahatchee River or out to the San Carlos Bay or Gulf of Mexico. It’s fun to watch the boat traffic pass under and by the bridge. There are also several kinds of birds especially Pelicans who use the wind drafts along the bridge to glide and look for fish to eat.
On windy days there are many wind surfers who use the wide open Pine Island Sound to race across the water. There are also kayakers, paddle boarders and people using jet ski’s who travel across the bridge and use the causeway islands to launch their craft. The toll to pass over the bridge is still a hefty $6 per car.