Sanibel and Captiva Islands

May 13, 2012 at 4:36 am | Posted in For the Family, The Wild Side | 2 Comments
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I hadn’t been to the Gulf Coast in forever!  I have wonderful memories from my childhood of searching for shells, watching the plentiful wildlife, and playing in the ocean at sunset.  Of course, I’m all grown up now (kind of), but these wonderful childhood memories are still quite vivid in my head and heart.  I wanted to get working on some new memories of a place I grew up loving, so I went back to a childhood favorite with my family and I am happy to say that Sanibel and Captiva Islands are just as beautiful as they were 15 year ago.

One of my favorite places of the area are where these two beautiful islands meet at Blind Pass Beach.  It’s a beach that offers so much – the shells come ashore in mounds (see my very top photo of this blog), it’s an excellet fishing spot, and the beach itself is perfect for relaxing on your own to playing with the family.  One of my absolute favorite things about this beach is the wild life.  There are wild birds all over, fish leap from the water, and nowhere have I ever stood on a beach and just watched in awe as wild dolphins play just yards away.  We had gone to Blind Pass to take pictures of my son (which, for the record, turned out adorable) just before sunset.  As we were walking down the beach one last time before we left I heard a couple talking about how they were getting eaten alive by bugs.  Having spent most of my life in Florida, it’s no surprise that I keep bug spray in my camera bag, and being a (usually) nice person, I offered them some relief and lent them some bug spray.  Proving that Karma will take care of a good deed, I turned around to speak to the out-of-towners, and I noticed a dolphin surface just over their shoulders.  I would have never seen them otherwise.  So, friendly couple who I rescued with my Off, thank you for holding my on the beach those 10 extra seconds and giving me a chance to see this!  It was a maternity pod, you can see one of the babies in the photos above.  They were beautiful!  They spent some time in the same area chasing fish and each other and tail slapping before moving on.  The short amount of time we spent observing them touched out souls.

If there’s one thing you’ll find plenty of around here, it’s birds!  They’re everywhere!  These guys were from random locations at different times.  Just walking the beach in Sanibel is sure to give you front row tickets to a bird show, you’ll see everything from the tiny Sandpiper to the giant Great Blue Heron.  Of course, if it’s birds you want, you want to head over to J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge…

Ding Darling was wonderful.  You can explore the park several ways – you can make the 4 mile drive through the park by yourself (feel free to pull to the right and get out anywhere you like), you can ride the tram 9tickets for purchase at the welcome center), and of course you can hike or ride your bike.  Biking seems to be the favorite of most people, but when you’re traveling with a 17 month old, car works best.  I had read online several times that this place is “a birders paradise”, I can see it.  The best time to go is during the winter months when it’s cooler outside and migratory birds are wintering in their Florida paradise.  Naturally, I visited in the spring,  when the birds head North.  That’s not to say we didn’t see a great variety of birds, and one adorable Skink pictured above.  I was hoping to see the Spoonbills that flock into the preserve by the dozens.  Sadly, they had flocked somewhere else and were not to be seen. (I did see them on the trip though, while driving across Alligator Alley in both directions, I saw some flying… of course while driving and my camera was packed in the back.)  I did get a chance to see a few Reddish Egret, which I have never seen before, and which officially completes my “Native to Florida Egret” checklist!  There were a lot of wading birds present in the park, they make their way into the park around low tide to feed.  One of the highlights of the visit was the nest of Osprey that was right next to the road…

We drove up to this family of Osprey as we were close to leaving the park.  We found them at the ferfect time!  Momma bird was sitting with her two fledglings as they were happily shredding and eating a fresh catch of some sort of fish.  They chirped in happiness as they tore it into bits and pieces.  I thought to myself “How lucky we are to see these guys so up close!”  Of course, I still feel it was a treat to watch them enjoy their meal from a front row seat, but it seems in Sanibel that Osprey are just about everywhere!

As we were getting ready to leave the island on the first day there we decided to head straight at the big stop sign intersection toward the lighthouse rather than leaving the island. (I’m not being smart, there are no traffic lights here, the biggest intersection is nothing but a 4-way stop sometimes armed with a police officer directing traffic.)  Over by the lighthouse there was another nest of Osprey right out in the open for everyone to get a good look at.  These guys were funny, they looked back!  But only for a brief second before they went about their birdy business.

On our last day in town, we took a morning boat ride out on Estero Bay.  This estuary is home to tons of wildlife!  Of course, we saw another family of Osprey, a mother with her two feeding fledglings.  The Pelicans were also out in full force, some relaxing in the trees and on signs and some dive bombing into the water trying to catch breakfast.  We saw a couple of dolphin, none of which I managed to get a picture of because I was so giddy with excitement that I forgot to grab my camera in time.  We also saw my favorite marine mammals, the manatee!  There was a group of about 5 or 6 of them with one or two calves in that group.  They were adorable and as inquisitive as ever.  They approached out boat to come have a look at the humans but managed to come too close for their safety, so our captain needed to scare them away for their own protection. (Nothing crazy, don’t worry, just by blowing his horn)  They kept a safe distance after that but were still close enough to appreciate.  The bay was rough this day so observing wildlife wasn’t exactly prime, but we still managed to see a great variety of critters.  Hey, I was happy with just the manatee!


J.N. Ding Darling is a great place to visit.  Again, the best time of year to go is during the winter months, but you’ll still see birds throughout the year.  Try to go about an hour before low tide as the birds usually move in around this time to feed making this the best time to see the wildlife.  Remember your bug spray!

My own personal note – While no oil from the BP spill ever actually reached the shores of Sanibel or Captiva, the media made the country think that every Gulf shore was slicked in oil.  This is not the case here, yet this beautiful area which depends greatly on tourism still suffers from negative publicity.  While the BP oil spill was horrible and tragic and has taken a huge toll on the environment, all is not lost.  It could have been, but it’s not.  Support Gulf Coast business!  The beaches are clean and the Gulf shores in ALL states are ready to welcome you with open arms!  If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway or a fun beach trip with the kids, consider any place that overlooks the Gulf of Mexico.  They need you.  And trust me, more than you might realize, you probably need them too 😉


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