TOUR IS FUN AND INFORMATIVE
my sister Anne Gibbons and her husband, Bill Fitts, were planning a
trip to Naples, Fla., she asked what outdoor excursions I would recommend.
Here is her account of their visit to the place that topped my list.
closely at the branches. See the little black nodules?" Twenty-plus
people lean on the boardwalk's railing and peer into the thicket of
trees. "They are mangrove tree crabs."
I see them."
who have seen the crabs are pointing them out to those who haven't yet
spotted the tiny creatures.
live on mangrove trees and eat their leaves. The mangrove tree crab
is not an air-breathing species, so it must not dry out. It descends
frequently to the waterline, and females lay their eggs in the water."
on Sanibel Island touring the J. N. "Ding" Darling National
Wildlife Refuge. Our guide, Tracy, works for Tarpon Bay Explorers. Situated
on the wildlife refuge, Tarpon Bay is a "licensed concessionaire
. . . providing low-impact recreational and educational opportunities
to the public under contract with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."
side of the boardwalk, red mangrove trees grow in great profusion; the
end of the walk looks out over water. More mangrove forests are visible
in the distance, and several hundred feet from the boardwalk a lone
mangrove shoot sticks out of the water. Instead of producing dormant
seeds like most plants do, the mangrove reproduces by means of propagules,
germinated seedlings. When a propagule drops from the parent tree into
the water, it has enough nutrients to float for up to a year before
can guarantee that animals will be visible. So we are all thrilled when
Tracy stops the open-air bus time and again to point out various birds,
starting with the roseate spoonbill. In the late 19th and early 20th
centuries, the plumage of these birds was highly prized for ladies'
hats and fans. The birds were also harvested for food. By 1942 as few
as 30 breeding pair of roseate spoonbills were in Florida. Conservation
efforts helped restore populations of these magnificent birds, which
are sometimes mistaken for flamingos.
stops the bus again, a great egret, also known as a great white heron,
is standing less than 20 feet away. Suddenly the long yellow bill stabs
downward then quickly reappears grasping a lizard that soon becomes
the egret's lunch. Also prized for their plumage, great egrets were
nearly extinct at the turn of the 20th century. Their plight helped
trigger conservation movements and some of the first legislation to
protect wild birds.
along Wildlife Drive, Tracy points out a snowy egret. It has a slender
bill, dark legs, a yellow patch of skin around its eyes, and bright
yellow feet. Like many of the other bird species we've seen on Sanibel,
the snowy egret, prized for its feathers, was hunted nearly to extinction.
on Tracy points out a flock of white American pelicans. They are similar
to brown pelicans in shape but are larger (with a 9-foot wingspan) and
have very different habits. Most populations, including those on Sanibel
Island, are migratory. The bird feeds in shallow water by scooping up
fish in its pouch rather than diving for its prey as the brown pelican
the flock of white pelicans is a rare reddish egret, the second one
we've seen. As we watch, it begins its signature dance: rushing back
and forth on the shallow sandbar, stabbing the water with its sharp
beak, then flapping its wings. Every now and then it stands still, holding
its wings out to create shade, which prey may mistake for sanctuary.
It is a comical sight - if you're not a minnow or other small fish.
back to our car after the tour, we decide the Ding Darling nature preserve
also tops our list of must-see attractions near Naples.
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