Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sanibel Island, Florida

• Sanibel Island •
• J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge 

August 6, 2012: After dropping Marissa off at the University of Miami and spending a few lovely days with our cousins, we drove to Sanibel Island.  Originally, we had planned to go on a tour of the everglades and to visit Key Largo.  Our plans rapidly changed when our cousin, Sue, informed us that there were giant mosquitoes (eek!) in the everglades in August.  She recommended that we check out Sanibel Island instead, and we really, really appreciated the suggestion.

We only had the middle part of our day on this charming island, but would definitely go back.  Our first stop was the visitor center.  Since we weren't actually planning this stop and still don't have smart phones, we decided to collect some travel pamphlets and ask for some information.

At J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
I think the idea of this island is to relax.  Since we were on a time schedule, we didn't quite have time for hanging out at the beach and sitting around, but we still had a fantastic time.  Though we spent but half of a day in Sanibel Island, our time there was undoubtedly unforgettable, mostly because we came face-to-face with an 4.5-foot long alligator.  As we drove away later in the evening, we resolved to come back someday and spend a few days chillin' at the beach, shelling, and relaxing.

Tree Crab at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Our real first stop on Sanibel Island was at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  The refuge has walking trails as well as driving trails with spots where you can park and stroll around. We thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent looking for wildlife here.  Actually, it was much easier to find creatures living in the refuge than it usually is when you go to a national park.

We saw several tree crabs with their one, over sized pincher, in addition to several birds and some interesting plants.  The tree crabs were pretty cute crawling around over the tree roots.  However, it was difficult to observe them because as soon as you spotted one, it would notice you and immediately crawl into its hole in the ground.  We were surprised to learn that visitors are allowed to remove up to twenty crabs per day from the park as long as ten or fewer are female.  The activity is called "crabbing", and you can tell if a crab is male or female by the shape of his or her abdomen.  We didn't take any crabs.

Red Mangrove at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Another fascinating feature of this national park is the red mangrove, where the pooling ground water is red.  A guide at the information center explained to us that the water has a reddish color because of tannins from the plants which live there.  The water isn't lightly tinted either; rather, it's bright red.  The only other place I have ever seen something this red in nature (that I don't expect to be red) was a bunch of years ago on a road trip to Sedona, Arizona, where the dirt and rocks are red.

Red Mangrove - J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

By far, my favorite wildlife sighting of the day was when we hopped out of the car and walked up to a 4.5-foot alligator.  The car ahead of us motioned for us to get out and walk over, so we parked, grabbed our cameras, and tried to walk over calmly.  Looking down, we saw an alligator halfway out of the water checking us out.  Previously, I had held a crocodile in Costa Rica back in 2005, but I had never walked up to an unrestrained, full-sized alligator.  In hind sight, I realize this was dangerous, to say the least, but I justified hanging out with my new, scaly buddy by telling myself, "It can't be more dangerous than climbing that volcano in no worries!"  Mom and I seem to have a reptile spotting thing going on.  When she came to visit me in Boston during the summer of 2010 and we drove to Gloucester, MA, we held a snake at a fair.  Now, we found ourselves face-to-face with an alligator.  What will be next?

Alligator at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Anyhow, we strolled over to the alligator and immediately began snapping photos.  Looking around, the alligator stood up, stared us down, and took a few more steps out of the water towards the accumulating crowd of onlookers.  The more people there are, the lower the probability is that I'll be the one to get eaten...right?  The alligator almost seemed friendly, to be honest.  It kept its distance from us, and we kept a respectful distance from him/her.  Mesmerized by the alligator, I got the sense that he/she was as curious about all of us as we were about him/her.  Seriously, the alligator just seemed to be observing us...and then walked closer.

Check out those teeth!  Alligator at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
It was incredible to see the scaly coating, which really seems like armor, up close on a live reptile.  The alligator's tail looked pretty intense too.  Deciding to test my luck, I took a few slow steps closer to the alligator, and noticed that I could see his/her teeth, which are positioned on the outside of the closed mouth.  Looking up, I noticed that the alligator was watching me, so I took a picture or two (or three), and retreated back into what I hoped was mutually considered "inedible" territory.  Then, the alligator either yawned or hissed or snapped at us - I wasn't really sure which it was.  By coincidence I caught the moment on video.  Check it out:

The other really popular activity in Sanibel Island is shelling.  Shelling is the collecting of sea shells from the extensive beaches on the island.  It's very popular to collect sand dollars from the island.  Visitors are permitted to collect shells as long as they check to make sure nothing is living in the shells they take.  Several websites outline guidelines for making sure there's nothing living in the shell.  We never made it to the beach to go shelling because we found ourselves in a downpour.  Instead, we decided to come back another time in the future, and began driving to St. Petersburg and Tampa, our next destinations.
Driving in Tampa Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico

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