The sunshine state

Great blue heron


If you ever go to Florida, you should spend a day or two on Sanibel Island on the coast of the Mexican Gulf.  It is beautiful on a number of fronts.  First, you’re hard pushed to find even a scrap of litter.  The landscape is tended to an inch of its life.  There are no Wendy’s or McDonalds but there is, arguably, the best ice cream shop in the world which used to go by the name of Pinocchio’s but now has some obscure name which is so obscure, I can’t even remember it.  Fortunately the name change didn’t affect the quality of the product.  The maximum speed on the island is 35mph and nobody exceeds it by more than 2 or 3 mph.  It is the perfect place to ride a bicycle.  Cycles and pedestrians always have precedence at crossings.  There are miles of cycle tracks and no hills!  There are no traffic lights but the occasional traffic officer using hand signals.  Churches are so well attended that a Sanibel police officer arrives at the end of the services to assist the traffic out of the parking lot.  I doubt if he/she has much else to do.

Then there are two ‘Ding Darling’ wildlife reserves, one with a $12 annual pass and the other with free access. These are part of the 500+ reserves of the Great Florida Birding Trail.  Every day at this time of year, you can see little blue, green, snowy, reddish and great egrets, great blue and tri-coloured herons, yellow-crowned and black-crowned night herons, roseate spoonbills, white ibis, brown and American white pelicans, osprey and more.  American alligators are a regular sight, even in the channels running past some of the waterfront houses.  If you’re lucky as we were, you might get a snake or two, maybe a couple of river otters and the secretive mangrove cuckoo.

Unlike our British reserves, there are no hides.  Visitors are restricted to routes but the animals are so used to human activity that they just get on with life and viewing them is easy and relatively up-close.  Except, of course, for the American alligator which should never be viewed up-close…

And even the people are nice.  Today, I was sitting on a bench photographing an osprey eating its tea when I was approached by a young man on a motor scooter.  I thought he was going to ask me why I was sitting in the private tennis court of the adjacent apartments but, instead, he told me about a couple of bald eagles which had been sitting all day on a post in a nearby street.  In a flash, he had me on the back of his bike and took me right to the spot.

And then there’s Sarasota, home to some of the most beautiful beaches where you can dip your toes in the surf while photographing diving ospreys, pelicans  and royal terns, and with wildlife reserves like Myakka River State Park and the tiny but unmissable Celery Fields on its doorstep.   But as different to Sanibel as chalk and cheese – three lane highways, traffic lights, high rise…  and, I have to say, slightly inferior ice cream.  Fortunately, those with an interest in conservation have preserved land for humans and animals to share so even in the city there are green spaces such as Conservatory Park, complete with bald eagles’ nest with its fluffy youngster peeping out.  Just a few miles out of town, Myakka River State Park with almost 58 square miles of  pristine environment hosts both black and turkey vultures, osprey, bald eagle, red shouldered hawks, woodpeckers, wrens, sandhill cranes, alligators by the dozen and all the usual water birds.

Having told you all the people in Sanibel are ‘nice’, our second trip to Myakka proved that not all Americans fit into this description.  A rather large clown in a canoe paddled right up to a resting alligator causing it to hurl itself into the water with a great splash right next to him.  I was more concerned for the welfare of the alligator than the canoeist.  Later in the day I spotted the clown again and passed on my compliments to him.  For all the good it did, I’m now thinking it might have been more of a learning experience for him if he’d paddled even closer.

Check the new pics for a record of another most enjoyable trip to this great, warm, wildlife location.

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