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Florida Nature Study – Exploring a New Habitat

Spending part of my time in Florida immersed in nature study was a highlight of my recent traveling adventure. I prepared ahead of time by purchasing a wonderful book focusing on the Florida Gulf Coast. Wow! There was a lot to be excited about! My trip was specifically to Sanibel and Captiva Islands and then a few days in Naples, Florida. Getting the opportunity to explore a new to me habitat is thrilling!

Since my time was limited but I did have a sweet ride in my friend Tricia’s sponsored car from Kia Optima Hybrid, I wanted to have a general plan for our time outdoors. I narrowed it down to a couple of possibilities and we decided that we would visit Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. We started off in the nature center browsing the exhibits and then I asked at the information desk what they suggested we do to make the best use of our two hours that we had available.

They handed us a map and directed us to take the wildlife drive that wound its way through the refuge and would take about an hour and a half. They also suggested that we drive over to the Bailey Tract and look for gators there.

Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge

We followed their advice and thoroughly enjoyed our time driving along the one lane road through Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. There were many birds right by the side of the road so we could stop and observe or take photos as much as we wanted. What made it really nice was the fact that the Kia Optima Hybrid is super quiet while running on the battery. We did not scare away the wildlife turning the car on and off….it was awesome.

We saw a mama raccoon and her *four* babies as they walked along the road and then across right in front of us. The whole drive was full of wonderful discoveries like the Roseate Spoonbill and the Anhinga who was sunning himself. What a great time we had and so many memories were made in a short period of time! I was so glad I had taken the time to prepare a little before leaving home.

Alligator and other Reptiles at Bailey Tract

Tricia and I were hoping to see a Florida gator on this trip and we were not disappointed. Along the way we also were treated to many butterflies and a few lizards. I can’t tell you how much fun we had hiking out to look for the alligators. We found one lying in the sun, half in the water and with one eye open. Another item to check off my life list!

South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island

Sanibel and Captiva Islands are known for their fantastic shell beaches. As a native California girl, I have spent my fair share of time at the beach looking for shells, but shelling on these Florida islands is much easier and more rewarding. Tricia and I spent one afternoon walking in the sand, wading in the water, and collecting a few beautiful shells in the Florida sunshine.

Our view from our hotel room was out onto the marina and we saw dolphins a couple of times over the weekend. Two times I saw osprey with fish in their talons flying over the marina. There were nesting platforms along the back side of the beach and one morning I saw some osprey on the their nest. What a great sight!

The Beach at Captiva Island and an Osprey Nest

There were shore birds, skimmers, gulls, sand pipers, pelicans, and plovers. It was a bird fest for this nature loving gal.

Pine Flatwoods at Corkscrew Swamp

Tricia left for home and I met another longtime friend at the second location I was able to explore. I stayed in Naples, Florida and was able to visit Corkscrew Swamp Sactuary. There are miles of boardwalks to investigate as they make their way through a variety of habitats. Slash pine and baldcypress were the main trees but there were some palms and saw palmetto too. The sound of birds singing and the cries of Red-shouldered hawks overhead were the soundtrack for the morning. We also learned to identify the Gray catbird by its call.

Epiphytes or Air Plants

We hiked the complete trail loop and took our time as we stopped to use binoculars and video to try to identify the various birds. There were naturalists out on the trail as well and they were super helpful in giving us information and help when we couldn’t identify a bird. This place was awesome and another place I highly recommend if you ever visit the gulf coast of Florida.

I was overwhelmed by all the things to take in…from the overall impression of the new to me habitat to the calls of some really big birds like the Great Blue Heron and the Anhinga. We saw more gators, squirrels, and more new birds to add to my life list like the Great crested flycatcher, the Pileated woodpecker, and the Carolina wren…all very exciting! I was able to use my iPhone to identify or confirm our sightings and then use the notes section on the phone to keep track of their names. Sometimes technology has its place in nature study and this was one time I was super glad to have it along.

Anhinga and Great Egret

One last stop on my whirlwind nature study adventure…the mangroves at Clam Pass Beach Park. My friend who lives in Naples was able to fit that into our day right at sunset. We walked part of the trail and then rode the shuttle the rest of the way…finding the sun just starting to set and people gathering to try to observe the infamous “green flash” at sunset. We soaked in the mangroves and I saw my first ever Blue jay (we have Scrub jays and Steller’s jays here in California).

Bald Cypress at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Florida

I am grateful for the opportunity I had to include some nature study and hiking into my trip to Florida. What a rich experience I had between the wildlife refuge, the beach time, and the time spent wandering the Florida swamps and mangroves.

I have already recorded my time in my nature journal….I did a quick sketch of the view from our window while in Florida and then finished it up at home with watercolors and details from my notes. I have the memories all tucked away in my heart and in a few good photos.

Would like to see some of Tricia’s Florida nature study images? Pop over to read her entry on her blog: Hodgepodge. While you are over there…check out her review of the Kia Optima Hybrid!

Kia Optima Hybrid Review

11 thoughts on “Florida Nature Study – Exploring a New Habitat

  1. Wow, wow – you got to see another gator lurking there in the water? And a blue jay ‘jay! jay! jay’ and a wren? The pileated woodpecker is one of my favorites – enormous bird! I just love the video of the raccoon family – that was such a nice surprise. And that KIA did make it easy to quietly observe nature didn’t it? I so enjoyed our FL days together!

  2. I love your nature journal! I love the colors and the handwriting. it’s a work of art.

  3. I LOVE your nature journal page! The photos are wonderful. Like I told Tricia, fantastic nature and incredible friends…what could be better?

  4. That’s funny – cause I was in your back yard taking photos of pelicans too! I lost all of the first day hwy 101 photos. They got dumped on a coach’s computer. The more I think of it though – the more I want to run over and download them on a card. Ha! Working on a big birding post of that weekend as well. What an amazing weekend we both had!

  5. Angie- I saw your post and I thought about all the times I have stood right where you were in those photos. My aunt lives about three blocks over from East Cliff Drive so that is my childhood backyard. 🙂

  6. Your nature journal page is great! I just can’t get over how beautiful the swampland you visited was, too. It’s much more colourful than I would have expected.

    Ummm…..exactly how close were you to that sunbathing gator?

  7. Barb, I just finished updating my family on our snow adventure. I am so over winter.

  8. Erin-
    We were on a boardwalk above the gator maybe ten feet….I just had my point and shoot camera so we were fairly close but not in any danger. 🙂

  9. This is wonderful! I was at BEECH retreat, too. I wish I had an opportunity to chat with you! I just love these pictures.

    I would have been a little scared seeing that gator!

  10. As I followed y’all on instagram, I had to keep telling myself, “I’m not jealous! I’m not jealous!” 😉

    So happy you had such a wonderful time and got to see so many critters on your list! I’m hoping to do the same on your end of the country one of these days, too!

  11. We just moved from Ohio to Florida -less than a week ago-so I was so excited to find this post and see all of the amazing wildlife we’ll get to explore in our nature studies!

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