American White Pelicans
Captiva and Sanibel Islands, Southwest Florida
25 December 2021 – 8 January 2022
When snow and cold begin to pay a visit to the DC area, it is time to retreat to some place far to the South, where sun and warm breezes dominate. On Christmas day we flew from DC to Fort Myers, Florida, rented a car, and drove to Captiva Island for two weeks of R&R and Nature.
Captiva Island is just north of Sanibel, famous for its shelling beaches. Captiva is home to ‘Tween Waters Inn, sandwiched between Pine Island Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. ‘Tween Waters has been hosting nature-lovers for more than a century—people like Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Theodore Roosevelt, Roger Tory Peterson, and J.N. Ding Darling. We stayed in Frangipani Cottage, one of the original cottages from an earlier century.
The Gulf beach is home to a variety of wintering waterbirds: sandpipers, plovers, terns, gulls, skimmers, and pelicans. Birds are present and active no matter where you go on Captiva and Sanibel.
No other place on Earth supports a larger and more active population of Ospreys. It is not uncommon to look up from your beach chair and see an Osprey plunging into the Gulf waters for a fish. Look up and there are four, no six, no eight Ospreys circling overhead. Are these wintering birds from up North or are they permanent residents? Hard to say... noisy pairs of Ospreys are occupying nest platforms, looking much like breeders...
And yes, there are Bald Eagles here as well. We see these big birds lumbering overhead every day—but not in the numbers equal to the Ospreys, whose high piping notes are heard all day long.
Lots of birds soar overhead in the deep blue Gulf sky. Skinny black birds with long tails appear out of the blue and circle slowly without moving a wing—these are Magnificent Frigatebirds. The male shows off his bright red throat gorget and jet black plumage—handsome indeed! He looks small high up there in the sky. Don’t be fooled, the male has a wingspan of 90 inches.
Flame Box Crab
But there is more to see along the Gulf Shore. How about that Flame Box Crab, which I picked up in the sand one morning. This remarkable creature is apparently common in Gulf waters, along with the better-known Blue Crab.Ophioderma Brittle Star
Sand dollars and sea urchins wash up on the beach, as well as several starfish, the most attractive being the one shown above. The shore every morning is littered with marine invertebrates, mainly in the form of “seashells.” We loved hunting for the more beautiful of these.young Florida Fighting Conchs and Banded Tulips
Every shell collector on the beach is searching for the holy grail—Scaphella junonia, commonly known as the “Junonia.” Carol found a piece of one this season, but whole specimens are rare as hen’s teeth. We settle, instead, for good specimens of the more common species—moonsnails, cockles, whelks, tulips, and the like.tiny Rough and Atlantic Calico Scallops
There is something very relaxing about walking the beach in search of a pretty sea shell. We never get tired of doing that. We bring back large numbers to our cabin, and then return most of them to the shore at the end of our stay. A few of the very best come back with us for display in wooden bowls in the living room at home. We never tire of their beauty.Great Blue Heron
A bike ride through the Nature Loop of the Ding Darling National Wildlife Sanctuary is always worth doing. Herons, egrets, spoonbills, and ibises are the featured birds. Here are some examples.Little Blue Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron with a shrimp
Walking the Gulf beach on the early morning is another birdy experience—mainly for plovers, sandpipers, and terns. The birds on the beach tend to be rather confiding, allowing close approach for photography, another relaxing pleasure here...Black-bellied Plover
A visit to historic Old Sanibel village is a good thing to do on a gloomy day. Lots of 20th century history here, where things got started near the end of the 19th Century. The natural highlight to the village was a Green Iguana (below).Green Iguana
Captiva is famous for its Manatees, which winter in marinas and mangroves all around the back side of the island. They like the marinas because here they can usually find some access to freshwater, which they drink. We would go looking for friendly Manatees every morning, either at the ‘Tween Waters marina or at Jensen’s Marina, in downtown Captiva. We were able to get within a few feet of these wonderful creatures—often adults with little youngsters by their side. Some of these Manatees weigh more than 1,500 pounds, and yet they were often in water no more than a 2-3 feet deep.adult Manatee with hidden baby to lower right (photo: Chris Mocharla)
portrait of a baby Manatee
We had two close-up Manatee experiences while kayaking. In the first instance, a big adult Manatee looked up over the side of the kayak, and in the other, a large Manatee surfaced under our kayak, creating considerable excitement, but no harm to us or to the creature...portrait of an adult Manatee
Kayaking was a favorite pastime. We would take a circuit that crossed Roosevelt Channel to Buck Key, then through a narrow and jungly mangrove passage across Buck Key to Pine Island Sound, and thence back to ‘Tween Waters marina. These circuits provided various wildlife encounters—swarms of small skates on the surface, sunning Anhingas, hunting Ospreys, leaping fish, passing dolphins, and more.
Our favorite butterfly of the area is this Zebra, which we saw most frequently at the Visitor Center of the Wildlife Refuge. I never tire of this tropical beauty!
Perhaps the biggest surprise on the wildlife front was a close encounter with a Bobcat, right on the campus of ‘Tween Waters. Returning from the beach after watching the sunset, we returned to the campus to find clots of people excitedly pointing at something in the gloaming. A lanky adult Bobcat strolled between the cottages, as if this were its home territory. This is a sighting Teddy Roosevelt would have appreciated!
Sunset over the Gulf with Venus in upper right