Posted by: Rachelle Siegrist | May 17, 2015

Fun in the Sun at Sanibel Island and Lovers Key!

Lovers Key State Park and Sanibel Island

By Rachelle Siegrist

swimming at Lovers Key state park

Yep . . . that’s me, the wee tiny little spot, with touches of pink showing, on what seemed like our very own personal island!  Now come a little closer . . .

rachelle siegrist at gulfside beach park on sanibel

I only had to share it with the occasional bird flying over or walking by.  “Nice!” I thought, as I happily floated in the emerald colored sea, seemingly without a care in the world, just enjoying to the fullest, one of my favorite happy places!

rachelle siegrist swimming at lovers key

Feeling the gentle rise and fall of the waves passing under me, I contentedly floated, with the warmth of the sun on my skin and the soft saltwater caressing me, I felt as if I could float there forever, never tiring of this most relaxing hobby!  Wes floated with me for a short while, then dove wearing a mask, looking for shell treasures, of which he found a perfect one during one of his underwater searches.  He walked along the beach, taking photos and looking for more shells, while I happily floated . . . and floated!  I love being in the water, on the water, and swimming, and was so thrilled to spend at least half of our time during our week in Ft. Myers in the water!

ibis  at lovers key state park

We ended up spending 3 days of our week long vacation at Lovers Key State Park, since we fell head over heels in love with it after our first visit!  Lovers Key use to be a group of Wilderness Islands, covered by dense tangles of mangroves and pines. Walking along the beach was just about impossible, and very hard to reach, since you had to crawl through thick underbrush and mangroves, which extended in some places to the shoreline, just to reach the gulf.  In 2004, Hurricane Charley changed it completely, and it now consists of  2 1/2 miles of sun drenched sand and beach! Wes and I never tired of walking along the beach while looking for shells.  Having walked some distance, we came upon a tree skeleton, which had fallen over and was covered with shells in assorted shapes and sizes.

rachelle siegrist with shell tree at Lovers Key state park

I thought it was most interesting and added a shell each time we passed by this adorned tree, with hopes of returning to this beautiful destination some day!  There were snags in all shapes and sizes lining the water’s edge in some areas, creating stunning landscapes, with the gray color of the bleached wood against the backdrop of the turquoise water and clear blue sky!  We felt as if we were far, far away, on a deserted island somewhere, relaxingly walking along,  with the gentle waves and calls of Ospreys and Seagulls serenading us as we went.

old tree snag at Lovers Key state park

Leaving the beach, we decided to walk a couple of the trails located inside the park, which lead you beside mangrove lined lagoons.  We saw numerous Gopher Tortoises in all sizes mostly by their burrows, with a couple crossing the trail in front of us.  I think it’s the most that we’ve ever seen in one place!

gopher tortoise at  lovers key state park

Then Wes just happened to look up and spotted a beautiful Yellow Rat Snake laying on a branch of a nearby tree!

Florida yellow rat snake

We were always seeing something new and neat, Sheepshead fish and mullet in the lagoon areas near the bank, along with assorted warblers and lots of nesting Ospreys, flying above and returning with freshly caught fish to feed their young.

osprey at Lovers Key state park

We came upon a most impressive tall bloom on a large Century Plant! My granny had them in her yard, so I’ve always been fond of them finding this to  be quite a treat!

large century plant bloom

Next along the hike, we stopped by the Gator Pond, where there were indeed several gators . . . 6 young ones to be exact!

baby gator at lovers key state park

At the end of the day, we had worked up quite an appetite, so we went to Doc Fords Rum Bar & Grille, where we enjoyed a delicious dinner.  The view from the outdoor dining porch, located directly on the water, was delightful and offered views of boat filled marinas, complete with numerous pelicans flying over and seagulls passing by.  We had so much fun that first day that we returned again a couple of days later and spent most of our time swimming in the Gulf and combing the beach for shells, of which we found a great and stunning collection!  Each time we headed for the beach, it was always fun walking through the mangrove lined lagoon areas once again, to see what we might spot in the shallow water below.

walkway to Lovers Key state park

That day there were a few more people out enjoying this beautiful sunny spot, with several of them fishing.  One Blue Heron decided it was easier to try and steal an occasional small fish, rather than catch its own!  Several Snowy Egrets also tried this mostly unsuccessful tactic as well.

blue heron at lovers key state park

While floating and swimming, we found ourselves at times surrounded by schools of small fish, catching and reflecting the bright light of the sun when they would quickly turn sideways. Wes also found a few starfish, and we thought this small one was so delicately beautiful!

little starfish at Lovers Key state park

We were so excited to have my family join us for the weekend, and started off our fun with a swim in the heated pool at the hotel on Friday night when they arrived. Saturday, we spent on Sanibel with a visit to the Ding Darling Refuge, followed by lunch at Island Pizza Company where we enjoyed delicious pizza with curly crust! That afternoon we spent swimming and playing at Tarpon Beach there on Sanibel Island.

rachelle siegrist with family at Lovers Key state park

Although Wes and I had also spent an afternoon swimming at Gulfside beach on Sanibel Island, we personally liked the expanse of Lovers Key better, so that’s where our family spent Mother’s Day Sunday. We had a wonderful time, most of it spent in the water with the kids having a ball, especially playing with their water guns! Wes and Tyler really got into it while trying to blast down the sand castle they had built earlier in the day!

wes siegrist with family at Lovers Key state park

We only got out of the water long enough to enjoy a picnic lunch on the beach under the shade of my brother’s beach tent. And as usual, the average sandwich tasted totally delicious just because it was being eaten on the beach! We graciously let my parents take a wee nap, while we all continued to enjoy the surf and sand! Even though we hated to leave, the day was growing short, so after changing and packing up, we all headed to the Bass Pro shop in Ft. Myers, where we spent time checking out the enormous collection of outdoor goodies they have as well as the aquariums.

rachelle siegrist at bass pro in ft. myers

We enjoyed a delicious and fun supper at the Islamorada Fish Company, located inside the Bass Pro store. With a wonderful view of the large saltwater aquarium, we talked, laughed and ate, while being happy to just be together! Needless to say, I was also thrilled to be able to spend Mother’s Day with my Mom as well! Lots of wonderful memories were made during the weekend and our time there that week, and I’m ready to go back already!

Islamorada Fish Company at bass pro ft. myers

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Until next time . . .

Rachelle

Posted by: Rachelle Siegrist | May 13, 2015

Birding in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

By Rachelle Siegrist

grassy field at corkscrew swamp sanctuaryDuring our week long vacation of enjoying fun in the sun, last Thursday we went to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Even though I personally lived only a couple of hours away from this beautiful place for 30 years, I along with Wes had never been there, so we were very anxious to visit! It was yet another beautiful day as we started our walking journey around the 2.25 mile boardwalk trail. Before entering the dense cypress hammock area, you walk over what appears to be a wide river of grass, before coming to the first of many beautiful large Pond Cypress Trees.

wes siegrist at corkscrew swamp sanctuaryThe tender new leaves on the Pond Cypress were so incredibly soft to the touch and appear much different than Bald Cypress needles. Since Corkscrew Swamp occupies about 13,000 acres, upon entering this gem of Southwest FL, you hear only the sounds of life inhabiting the swamp . . . nothing else. The “rap…tap..tap” of the Red-bellied and Piliated Woodpeckers filled the air, echoing deep into the swamp, as well as the calls of the Great Crested Flycatchers, Ospreys, White-eyed Vireo and so many more.

siegrists at corkscrew swamp sanctuaryBeing late spring and a much dryer season, the water was reduced to a couple of small ponds, or gator holes, where the last remaining gators work while swimming around and around to deepen an area in the mud, thus forcing the water to concentrate there, as well as the remaining fish. With no escape, the fish become a smorgasbord for the gator lording over its prized hole! As one gator was slowly making his way over to its hole, an immature Little Blue Heron was following precariously close to the big gator, either checking it out or hoping to catch small fish scared by the gators movements. Regardless of its intentions, I could hear the couple of people standing nearby saying “Oh No . . . don’t’ do it!” which was exactly what I was thinking myself!

immature heron and gator at corkscrew swamp sanctuaryWe sat for quite sometime at the medium sized hole, while watching the gator wriggling along, with its body going sideways to work the fish over to the waters edge, where it would then raise it’s head, quickly lowering it with jaws wide open, sending a big splash into the air and grabbing whatever came its way! It did this time and time again, making short work of its catch each time afterwards. You could almost see it grow bigger as time passed and it ate more and more fish!

gator hole at corkscrew swamp sanctuary

alligator at corkscrew swamp sanctuaryThere were a few other birds at this hole as well, including a Barred Owl, who sat quietly in a tree directly above. Although he mostly slept, he would occasionally open his large eyes, peering down below to watch the gator and all that was happening in the pond. Sitting there and just relaxing, time seemed to stand still and it felt like we had slipped several hundred years back in time, to a simpler place and time.

barred owl at corkscrew swamp sanctuaryWalking along, I noticed several Bromeliads blooming bringing a splash of red with touches of purple to an otherwise very green canvas.
bromeliad blooming in corkscrew swamp sanctuaryButton Bushes were also blooming, and I had to stop and smell them each time we passed, as they offered a delightfully sweet fragrance!

buttonbush at corkscrew swamp sanctuaryAlthough the Cuban Anolis were everywhere, we occasionally spotted a beautiful native Green Anole perfectly matching its background each time. When we spotted one that had just moved to a new location, it would quickly change and match its surroundings before our very eyes!
anolis at corkscrew swamp sanctuaryWalking deeper into the woods, we found ourselves standing in the largest remaining virgin Bald Cypress forest in the world, and amongst trees that are over 500 years old! Being among these beautiful old giants truly makes one feel a sense of reverence!

large cypress tree at corkscrew swamp sanctuaryMany of them had the tightly clinging trunks of Strangler Figs wrapping around them, spiraling their way around the trunk as they went up.  Even though their name suggests they strangle the host tree, in reality they do no such thing, but instead grow up to the top where they spread out a large canopy and steal the sunlight from their poor host.

strangler fig in corkscrew swamp sanctuaryFor someone who is a lover of ferns, such as myself, this is a paradise, as there are a variety of large ferns practically covering the forest floor! I loved the abundant Strap Ferns, most of whom appeared to prefer growing out of the top of the huge Cypress Knees!

strap fern in corkscrew swamp sanctuaryjpgWe never knew what we were going to see next, and enjoyed watching several raccoons at different times, with one in particular being great fun to watch, as he slowly made his way through a shallow pond, working with his paws just below the water’s surface, trying to find edible treats.

raccoon at corkscrew swamp sanctuaryWe couldn’t believe it when at one point a Red-shouldered Hawk caught a crawfish, and flew to the handrail of the boardwalk nearby, where he sat and ate his prized catch as if he were the only one in the swamp!

hawk eating crawdad at corkscrew swamp sanctuaryIn the same pond which provided the hawks tasty snack, a Great White Egret, Little Blue Heron, and Great Blue Heron all patiently watched, waiting for the precise moment to strike with lightening speed, grabbing a morsel to eat with their long pointed beaks!

great blue heron at corkscrew swamp sanctuary

white egret at corkscrew swamp sanctuaryIt was an amazing day to say the least and if you’re ever in that area, I highly recommend a visit to this place of natural beauty!  More to come on Sunday’s post . . . fun in the sun at Lovers Key State Park with my family!

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Until next time . . .

Rachelle

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