Sanibel Island

I had a free day so I hopped in the car and headed down to Sanibel Island for a visit. I have a long list of places to explore here in Florida and Sanibel was near the top.

It was a blustery, but sunny, Tuesday afternoon and thankfully, the island wasn’t very crowded. I started at the historic lighthouse on the eastern end of the barrier island. Built in 1884, the open, iron skeleton tower gives this lighthouse a unique look (compared to others I’ve visited).

While I strolled the beach looking for shells, I wasn’t as intent as the others who were practicing the “Sanibel stoop” (bent over, peering at the shell piles, hoping for rarity). To be honest, I was mostly just enjoying the beauty of the day.

The only imperfection was the brown water in the bay. According to a recent news report, the tea-colored water was the result of releases from Lake Okeechobee. The excess rain from Tropical Storm Sally raised the water level and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wanted to reduce strain on the Herbert Hoover Dike.

Overall, a wonderful introduction to a popular location!

Strange Fruit

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, St. Petersburg, Florida September 2020

This caught my eye across the boardwalk so, of course, I made a beeline for it. Turns out this strange fruit is the nonnative Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia).

While it originated in India, this edible fruit is now grown throughout the tropics. Though this is the showy stage, according to my research, the fruit is actually best consumed when green. With a texture like a chayote the flesh has a slightly bitter taste, hence the common name.

What I found most interesting is the medical potential of the plant. It is being studied for its hypoglycemic effect as well as possible cancer prevention and even infection fighting. Not just another attractive face!

Mystery Photo Revealed

Six Baby Gators (Numbers are to the left of each head)

I only noticed the three “swamp puppies” on the small hummock on my return trip down the trail. Once I spotted them it was relatively easy to find the other three floating nearby. I thought this view would make for a good challenge.

I felt comfortable being that close and spending time capturing their portraits as I was on a raised boardwalk. I did keep an eye out for momma, as I know she had to have been close by, though I never did spot her.

Spreadeagle Atop Siblings

Still Impressive

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, St. Petersburg, Florida September 2020

I was pleasantly surprised to encounter this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) last week. It was truly only a matter of time since there are over 1500 nesting pairs of them in Florida (the highest number outside of Alaska).

This eagle’s imposing presence explained why the south side of Lake Maggiore was so quiet that day – all the Ospreys were giving the area a wide berth!

After spending time in the Pacific Northwest (mostly recently on the Central Oregon Coast and years earlier, the Alaskan Coast) I can see that there is a sizable difference between the birds of these discrete locations. This biological phenomenon is known as Bergmann’s rule; members of a species increase in size when living further from the Equator.

Mainly observable in birds and mammals (and also a few plants), it is related to the surface area to volume ratio. In warmer climates, body heat needs to be released rapidly while in colder climates it behooves the animal to store the heat (perhaps counterintuitively, larger animals emit less body heat).

In this case, Florida Baldies average just over nine pounds, while in Alaska they top the scales at fifteen. No matter what the size, Bald Eagles are still majestic!

Unfortunately, it was not that impressed with me…

Upended Pulchritude

Honeymoon Island State Park, Dunedin, Florida September 2020

The large, lavender bloom (1.5 inches) was the first thing that drew my attention to this Spurred Butterfly Pea (Centrosema virginianum). On closer inspection, I found the growth at the top of the flower to be most curious.

After a bit of research I learned the “spur” is a uniquely formed sepal that is actually the lower lobe (but the flower opens upside down). Presumably, this distinctive twist assists with pollination, as the white line in the middle is a nectar guide (a sort of directional arrow for pollinators, “Good food here”).