Saturday 23 July 2005

Day 5


It's Ding Darling Day!


My first stop on this fine, fine Saturday was Bowman's Beach, which I thought would be calmer now that the moon was waning.  The parking permit says 9:35 AM, but I remember thinking it was off by half an hour at least.  I know I left the hotel room around 8:15 AM (grabbing some fruit and cereal from the breakfast room, to munch on the go), and I KNOW it doesn't take an hour and change to get from the hotel to Bowman's.


On the way across the causeway, I spotted a bald eagle.  He was just sitting there on top of one of the new pylons for the new causeway, surveying his domain, looking rather regal.


At Bowman's, I was once again able to get a shady parking spot, and was relieved to see that the surf had indeed calmed down.  At most, I think it was an hour after low tide, and I found a spot just where the Blind Pass Condos starts that was one of those mini-mother lode spots.  I sometimes think that the animals die all in one spot, and then their ghosts ensure that the shells migrate all together, to be deposited on the shores of Sanibel en masse.  The haul from Bowman's on this Saturday was not stellar, by comparison to trips past.  The entire haul consisted of a couple of nice-sized clam halves, and a handful each of juvenile whelks, juvenile fighting conchs, and lettered olives, all with their crowns still on, and some still retaining their natural gloss.  Oh, and also, one mac-n-cheese, and one tiny tulip.  I barely needed the net at all - no random scooping required on this day, they were all just rolling around in the shallow surf, waiting for me to pick them up.


Saturday's Haul from Bowman's Beach

Here's what got collected at Bowman's Beach today - love all those olives!


After I'd figured out that Bowman's was pretty much a bust, I proceeded westward to Turner, parking under a tree on the Sanibel side of the Blind Pass bridge.  The parking permit says I got there at 11:07 am, three hours after low tide.  I had intended to park on the Captiva side, but had to turn around because of lack of spaces.  It is a longish haul from the Sanibel side parking lot to the rock jetty, where all the piles of shells are.  I stopped briefly to look at what Charlie and his Evil Siblings had done to the pass.  Last year, there was actually water under the bridge, and evidence that the Gulf and the pass waters had recently had a rendezvous; this year, it was the exact opposite.  You could walk under the bridge at any given point, and beyond, and not encounter water for quite a while.  I guess the Evil Siblings deposited a lot of sand there, closing it off some more.  I think I had seen pictures from the air of the immediate aftermath of Charlie, when it looked like the pass had opened again - but that must have been flood waters and/or surge that had not yet receded.  Yep, it looks like, for all intents and purposes, Captiva and Sanibel are no longer two separate and distinct islands.  Looks like they are now officially "Santiva".  LOL


The piles at Turner were incredibly huge, but I must admit to having been spoiled by the past few days of good, relatively easy finds - I was in no mood to sit in the rubble and sort through all the broken shards for the one or two gems.  There was an enterprising older couple there with one of those metal sand shovels.  He kept going out a little into the surf, just on the west side of the jetty, to dredge up a scoopful, and she was stationed on the shore, where he would dump his scoopfuls for her inspection.  Pretty soon, she had quite a pile sitting beside her, and I began to wonder whether the piles on the beach at Turner were due to the influences of Mother Nature, or Mother Older Couple!


There was also a younger couple, Mr. and Mrs. Honeymooner, who were diving down past the breakers and bringing stuff up, only to find that it was inhabited.  Mrs. Honeymooner kept saying, "honey, I really think you picked that one up already, two or three times at least", while Mr. Honeymooner was getting more and more frustrated, retorting, "Well, if I could just SEE down there...".  With such rough waters, I don't know why people expect to be able to see.  Even at the Lighthouse Beach, there is a very strong current and with all the sand and silt swirling around, it's a rare day when one can see anything.  I've only been able to see the bottom ONE time at the Lighthouse Beach - high tide, as viewed from the pier, maybe two trips ago.


I found only a few keeper-type things floating around a little past the jetty, including a smallish fighting conch whose crown was a bit worn, but whose lip was absolutely in perfect condition - not a ding or a rough edge on it.  Which is amazing, considering the rough conditions at Turner, and the high probability of being bashed to bits against the rocks.


Hardly A "Haul"

Pathetic pickin's from Turner Beach

Mother and Father Older couple were now packing up to go, and I decided to go, too.  I headed back across Blind Pass, and made for the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge.  Return readers will recall my utter consternation last year, when I could not walk around the shell mounds due to a swarm of hornets having commandeered part of the trail.  So I rinsed out my shells and shoes at the foot wash, and headed off back to Sanibel, following Sanibel-Captiva Road until it was time to turn into the refuge's parking lot.


First things first - a trip to the ladies room, where I changed out of my salty clothes and coated myself with more sunblock, plus a liberal spritzing of SkinSoSoft insect repellant.  Now I was appropriately armed for an afternoon of exploration in mosquito and noseeum heaven.


The sky and water were an amazing shade of blue, and the pink flamingo I saw (and photographed in Kerry's honor - hi, Kerry!) stood out brilliantly.


Pink Flamingos #1

I took these shots especially for my friend Kerry :-)

Pink Flamingo #2

Pink Flamingo #3

While the refuge was mostly verdant, there were lots more dead trees than I remembered, and also a lot of trees that had been stripped clean of their branches and were attempting to regenerate.  A whole section near the entrance to the mangrove overlook was decimated. 


Amazing Blue Skies

and blue water, too - see the fish jumpin?


Making plenty of pods!

Trees Regenerating

This odd tree has leaves growing right from the main trunk!


I can't be sure if this was from Charlie, but it wasn't like this last year, that's for sure.

I was hoping to see and maybe photograph any king's crowns that happened to be spending a leisurely Saturday afternoon in the shallows there.  What I got instead was the yoga bird.  He was looking rather tall, standing straight up on his spindly bird legs, with his wings held at odd angles.  And he looked vaguely like the Mona Lisa, with a mysterious little smile on his beak.


Yoga Bird #1

What da heck is he doing?

Yoga Bird #2

I dunno!

Yoga Bird #3

Ah, looking a bit more normal!

A woman stated that it was a yellow crested somethingorother, but she didn't know why he would be doing that pose.  She said it wasn't a diving bird, so she didn't know why he would need to dry himself, which is typically the reason that a bird will hold their wings in a position for a longish length of time.  To my eyes, he looked almost fake, like some bird idol that you'd find along the river on the Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom.  I turned my attention to other things on the mangrove overlook, and when I came back that way, he'd returned to a more normal, bird-like pose.

I was later to find out from the Sanibel forum that this is a yellow-crowned night heron (thanks, Dale & Mr. Dale!).  Some theories posed by Mr. Dale:

a) sunning himself
b) drying himself
c) both of the above; or
d) trying to get mites off his belly (by exposing it to the sun)

However, Dale thinks he likes me, and so he's showing me his belly - she pointed out that he smiled for the photo, so I guess this could be theory e)!

I drove down the refuge's road for a bit, and got out to walk one of the side paths, stopping at a pavilion for some shade.  It was hot, hot, HOT out there!  Moor hens were squawking in the brush on the shore, and there was a constant stream of butterflies darting across the path, none of which would stop long enough to throw a Mona Lisa smile at my camera.  At the pavilion, I leaned over and saw a bunch of little crabs scuttling to and fro - one of them had this humongous claw that was so out of proportion with the rest of his body, it was ridiculous.  Here's a picture - the most prominent thing about him is the big-ass claw.  How da heck does he carry that thing around, anyway?

Crab With The Big-Ass Claw

It's hard to see him among all that shore rubble - he's just below the orangey-brown leaf

Finally, it was time to amble back to the car and head toward the end of the wildlife drive, where I would FINALLY get to see the Shell Mounds!  I pulled up to the shady parking area along with a car full of people from Ohio.  They greeted me, and we all set out together.

Your Fee Dollars At Work

I guess they want to remind us of why we paid the $5 bucks at the gate

No Pillaging Allowed!

These signs are seen frequently along the wildlife drive

There was plenty of tree destruction along the initial section of the route.  I don't understand how 99.99999% of the refuge looks fine, while little pockets here and there are completely decimated.  Maybe it was some sort of Evil Siblings-related tornado touch-down?  Or maybe it wasn't hurricane related at all - maybe it's some sort of localized blight.  Anyhow, here's how the initial section of the Shell Mound Trail looks -

Decimation #1

Pretty barren of most greenery

Decimation #2

Half-fallen pines, trying to make a comeback

Traveling through this section, every so often I would hear a sort of grunting sound on one side, and then a response from the other.  The first time we all heard it, we were startled, but soon fell to speculating about it.  Could it maybe be frogs?  Or maybe wild pigs!  I'd read that somewhere, that there were wild pigs on these islands at one time.  Maybe they came here to the Ding Darling refuge to hang out and multiply.  However, I do understand why The Powers That Be aren't cleaning up the ruined trees - this is supposed to be a natural setting, and whatever happens, well that's what happens. 

Which explains why you don't really see any shells along the Shell Mound Trail.  However they were discovered - and one must assume they were at one time uncovered enough to recognize them for what they are - they've been allowed to grow over with all manner of jungle greenery.  Every so often, you see a shard or two of a bleached out piece of a something that is sort of maybe recognizable as having at one time been a shell, but that's it.  Otherwise, you are just walking beside a couple of large lumps of overgrown whatever.  Why, were it not for the signs at the entrance, one would not even know that it was supposed to be a shell mound - one would merely think it was a moderately hilly section of your average hiking trail.

To say I was disappointed is an understatement.  I'd been expecting to see... oh, I dunno, maybe a MOUND of, oh, let's say, SHELLS.  I think they should tell people that they are overgrown, and you can't really see anything to speak of, much less photograph.  I think they should rename it The ALLEGED Shell Mound Trail.  After all, there's barely any visible evidence that there are actual SHELLS under all that weedery - could just be dirt, for all I really know.  Yes, I think they should reset the public's expectations, and not let individuals yearn for a whole year to see them, only to be disappointed by hornets, only to yearn for yet another year, only to be profoundly disappointed by their allegedness.

So, there.  Harumph!

OK, so, here's the closest thing to shells that you will see on the Alleged Shell Mound Trail - I think they closely resemble buttercup clams -

There's Fungus Among Us

and darn attractive fungus, at that!

I'm done being cynically sarcastic about The Alleged Shell Mound Trail, and will now take you to a really pretty place - back to Gulfside City Park we go!

The Brief Boardwalk

It's 2:20 PM, and we're heading from the parking lot to Gulfside City Park Beach

High-Rise Hotels

I do believe that there is Fort Myers Beach


See how flat the beach is, and how shallow the water?

Variegated Tide Line

You can see here what I mean about the tide line being all over the place on this beach

More Tide Line

and a para-water-skier having a tough time in the barely-windy conditions

According to the Sunny Day Guide tide chart, it was only about an hour and a half until high tide, so I really didn't expect to find much on this, my last shelling expedition of this trip.  However, Gulfside City Park wasn't behaving like a high tide.  You can see the variegated tide line that I spoke of previously in the pictures above.  In some spots, the water comes way up; in others, it doesn't.  It's so flat, and so wide, this beach doesn't get the pounding or the submerging that most of the other beaches do at high tide.  By contrast, although it doesn't really get a pounding, the Lighthouse Beach becomes almost entirely submerged at high tide, such that you cannot walk on dry sand - you must slosh through nearly standing water.  In effect, there is no beach there during high tide.  But the waves have to travel a LONG way at Gulfside City Park, and they are stronger, so they actually recede.  The effect is one long, shallow tidal pool in which to shell during high tide!

Everything I found at Gulfside City Park on Saturday was small, but in surprising quantity, considering the high tide.  I was very happy to have selected this location for my final shelling foray of this trip.

And now for the haul -

Gulfside City Park Haul

Tiny, yet satisfying!

Entire Saturday Haul

Top section, Bowman's Beach

Middle row, Turner Beach

Bottom section, Gulfside City Park

Upon my return to the hotel, I cleaned my haul, showered, and took my all my dirty clothes down to the laundry room.  I do like to bring home clean clothes in my luggage!  I had several loads to do, and plenty of quarters.  In between the wash and dry cycles, I sat in my room with a book - I'm trying to get through the Narnia series again, before the film comes out in the fall. 

At one point I arrived in the laundry room to find that someone had removed my still-wet clothes from the dryer and dumped them on the floor, so they could dry their beach towels.  No doubt, on MY quarters, which were already running the machine.  Bastards.  I  returned the favor, in spades.  I put their still-wet towels into a plastic bag, and stashed them around the corner in the little room with the ice machine.  Then I returned my own clothing to the dryer, and sat with it until it was done.  I never saw the people who owned the towels - perhaps they were too scared or embarrassed to come in when they saw me sitting in there, blithely reading.  I wonder if they ever found their towels?

Well, what did they THINK would happen when the owner of the wet clothes came back?

Don't mess with me!  ;-)



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