Category Archives: The Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico Wildlife

Wildlife in and Around the Gulf of Mexico

Sometimes, wildlife in and around the Gulf of Mexico visits you when you least expect it. Not all the dangers are in the Gulf waters, though. Alligators in mating season tend to roam, oftentimes ending up in a backyard swimming pool or taking a siesta under the family sedan.

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Snakes are about. A friend was sleeping in his bed, felt something cold on his leg and found a black snake curled up next to him. Bears are a problem  from time to time, as well. One family’s car was torn apart when a black bear from the Ocala National Park entered it, probably searching for food, and became entrapped when the door closed behind it.

Sometimes it is man himself who harms the environment, as in the case of Beggar, the bottlenose dolphin who used to reside in this part of the Gulf of Mexico. Also known as “Mooch”, Beggar hung out in the Intracoastal, near the Albee Point Bridge and was popular with boaters who delighted in feeding him.

Beggar was a poster dolphin for man’s encroachment on animal habitat. Most dolphin cruise over large areas of the Gulf of Mexico, but Beggar hung out in the Intracoastal and became used to begging.

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Feeding dolphin is against the law, but few boaters can resist that cute face and friendly attitude (of course, Beggar probably felt no affection. He was just hoping for a handout) and unless the Marine Patrol was out and about, Beggar got fed everything from bait fish to Dorito corn chips. Drunk people would try to pour beer down his throat and worst of all, those who find themselves with no food or drink will sometimes throw a non-food item…a piece of plastic, perhaps, or a pop-top…and Beggar, who knew no better, consumed it all.

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When people buy a boa constrictor or a monitor lizard and release them into the wild, it upsets Florida’s fragile ecosystem. When they swim with the dolphins and smear their human germs on them, it harms wildlife. They toss marshmallows to alligators and then wonder why the alligator ate their dog.

Fortunately, not all encounters with Florida wildlife are so intimidating. I was awakened the other morning by a ruckus at my window. It sounded like a cat climbing the screen, probably chasing a lizard, I thought, and rolled over to go back to sleep. The scratching on the screen continued.

I got out of bed, raised the shade and came face to face with a great horned owl! It was a baby, still full of downy gray feathers, and was as surprised to see me as was to see him. I grabbed my digital camera, but it turned its head each time until I stopped and we just stared at each other. I tried one more time…

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…and succeeded. My visiting owl finally had enough and flew away.

 

 

 

Whether in or out of the Gulf of Mexico, Florida’s wildlife never ceases to amaze.

 

 

Discover the Bay Side on Dog Island

Life’s Not Always a Beach. Discover the Bay Side on Dog Island

We walked again, this time to the other side of Dog Island and the dock area where we came in. It gave us a different perspective of the island…and lots of sandspurs.

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We passed private planes and private boats, but we only saw one other person, driving away from the dock.

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Three boats were in. One was the car ferry, and when we returned a truck was parked next to the inn. We’d left the unit unlocked, but the visitors were more interested in the shells on the beach than in my wallet. “Too late!” I wanted to shout. “We picked the beach clean hours ago!”

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Dinner was much better! More dehydrated camping food: Chili Mac & Cheese. The Velveeta cheese I’d brought had gone bad, but we still had half a wheel of Gouda left over from lunch, so I tossed the Velveeta in the trash and chopped off some of the Gouda, and also used the last of the Ritz crackers we’d had for lunch to top off our bowls of warm, spicy chili. We ate on the wood deck, enjoying the cool air as the chili warmed our bellies.

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Just to be on the safe side about finding all the shells, though, we walked again after the people left in their truck, only this time we went in the other direction of Dog Island.

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The wind blew strong during the night, revealing every crack and crevice in the old building known as the Pelican Inn. Its whistle down the breezeway sounded like a child crying for help. Spooky.

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Morning dawned through open windows and we rose just before sunrise. I filled my travel mug with hot tea and grabbed a plastic bag for shells and we headed for the beach just as the sun rose.

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The tide had receded much further out and the shelling was excellent. Private planes flew in and out but the beach remained deserted. When I finished my tea and my bag was full of shells, I went back to our unit and despite the Goodwill-style dishware, I managed to whip together a three egg omelet along with toast and butter (I forgot the jam!). Why does everything taste so much better when you eat it outside? As we ate, we watched dolphin leaping and feeding on fish in the Gulf of Mexico that nearby fishermen couldn’t seem to land.

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Our stay on Dog Island would be ending soon. The sun sparkled and shimmered in the sun, undulating with each wave. Seashells littered the beach, strung out on the sand like scattered pearls from a broken necklace.

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For now, though, we drank in the scenery, pulling it deep in our souls, to save for a later day.

Day Three on Dog Island

Walking the Dog Island Beach, Imagining Yesterday

A good breakfast of shredded wheat and milk was just what we needed for our long walk the next day, down to the tip of the island where Gulf and bay become one.

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I could feel the sand scrubbing the dead skin away, smoothing, detoxifying.

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We saw our first human today. He was walking back to the round house on stilts, a book in his hand. Looked like a journal, maybe a Bible? He waved at us, we waved at him, and it seemed enough. Paw prints, footprints, and bird’s feet in the sand were dead giveaways that someone had walked the beach before us that morning, but we did not see a soul in any direction. Holes in the sand hinted at a mollusk presence underfoot.

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The beach butterflies were everywhere, charming us as they flitted around our bodies as we walked. They seemed to be searching in the seaweed for something; we knew not what. Later we would learn the island is in the path of the Monarch butterfly migration, and they arrive, like snowbirds, for winter in the south. Frightened ghost crabs scurried away at our approach.

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We gathered shells and sponges and driftwood. There were loads of scallop shells, but they didn’t have the variety of shells that we do here on the southwest coast. No Scotch Bonnets, no Cat’s Paws.

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We watched a school of dolphin feed off smaller fish in the water as pelicans rode the waves.

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Completely alone, we sat at the tip of the island and wondered if that spit of mainland was St. Mark’s.

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As we turned back in our walk, made heavy now with our burden of seashells and driftwood, I followed in my husband’s footsteps, seeking firmer ground. “This is the way the Indian couples did it long before us,” I think as my mind’s eye imagines that ancient man and woman walking the beach, scavenging what they seek. I marveled again at how little mankind changes over the generations. Man. Woman. Survival.

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A lunch of Gouda cheese and crackers and sliced summer sausage and dried cranberries tasted wonderful and we sat, side by side, watching the waves that mesmerized, a strange combination of rhythm broken by the unexpected. The waves roll in with regularity but they crest and break in different places.

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I took a pillow and comforter down to the low swing for a nap just as the air was turning. The comforter, folded twice, was just enough cushion to make things comfortable and the pillow was soft. A taller person might not have found it as agreeable, but it made a perfect cradle for me, the movement as gentle as the breeze that came in on a whisper, soft on my skin. The sun peeked in and out and the sky turned cloudy and spit a bit of rain at us, but not enough to persuade us to move.

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Of course, there is another side (the bay side) of this island, and plenty of time for exploring on another day.

 

 

 

 

Vacationing on Dog Island

Our Stay on Dog Island had Some Ups and Downs

Dinner was a dismal affair on that first night of our stay. We’d planned to eat in the gazebo rather than the porch this time.

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Packing food, clothes and water in the T-bird had been challenging because of space, so we decided to take mostly camping food, which we keep on hand in case of hurricanes. I’d decided on shelf-packaged BBQ chicken breasts (Chicken of the Sea, I think…I bought it by the tuna fish in the grocery store), dehydrated garlic mashed potatoes and dehydrated corn (both from the camping store).

We carried drinks and dinner to the gazebo. It certainly looked good. The chicken breasts were dripping in sauce, the garlic mashed potatoes smelled wonderful and I’d followed my mother-in-law’s advice on instant potatoes and added extra butter (I always make mashed potatoes from scratch). The re-hydrated corn looked a bit wrinkled, but I figured it couldn’t taste too awful.

I was wrong.

The chicken was dry. Even though there was sauce on the outside, it was like eating a piece of cardboard. No big deal, I thought. I’m not big on meat anyway and felt I could get enough from the potatoes and corn. HA! I didn’t think you could put too much garlic in a dish, but I was wrong. Garlic was the ONLY thing I could taste. The corn was tough. I ate a bite of all three and pushed my plate away.

We’d had a nice lunch earlier in the day, and skipping a meal wouldn’t kill me. If I got hungry, I could eat the cookies I’d brought for dessert.

After a rather dismal meal, we sat on the porch swing after dinner, under the stars, and drank a mojito and listened to the waves. I could feel the stress roll away.

 

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Later, we sat on the Dog Island beach, under stars laid out on a blue-black sky, facing the ocean.

“God has made such a vast world,” I think, “And we are so tiny in it. This one eco-system, perfectly perfect in all its adaptations allows us to hang suspended in space.”

Rain came in that night, but we were perfectly cocooned in bed, listening to the soft patter muting the sound of the waves through our open windows.

The storm soon strengthened and the wind whistled as it swept down the open corridor that ran the length of the building. Since the place was so deserted, it was a bit unnerving, especially when the wind reached a shrieking pitch, but I burrowed deeper into the bed, reminding myself that I was alone and had nothing to fear on Dog Island.

 

The Beach at Dog Island: Privacy & Seashells

The Beach at Dog Island: Privacy Abounds

Need privacy? The beach on Dog Island is the place for you if you are an adaptable traveler willing to trade luxury for solitude. We enjoyed our time there. A wealth of gorgeous seashells awaited. I collected bags of extra large scallop shells that I turned into spa packages later that year, filling them with fancy soaps and soft washcloth and bath salts/bubbles. I wrapped them up with a big fancy bow. I filled other shells with a small plastic baggie of white sand and tiny seashells and a votive candle…very zen-like! They made lovely hostess gifts. Of course, at the time, I wasn’t sure what I would do with the shells. I only knew they were wonderful and I had to have them.

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We did not see another person all afternoon and evening. We felt completely alone on a castaway island.

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I saw feisty crabs and shy stingrays as well as small seabirds and raccoon tracks.

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I only saw one stingray, but still, whenever I entered the water, I did the “Stingray Shuffle”. Just in case. The stingray is hard to see because of the water’s surface, but if you look closely, you’ll notice the long barb:

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We walked until we lost the light, then turned back and walked in the dark, watching the lightning over the mainland.

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As stated before, the Pelican Inn is rustic. There is a kitchen in each unit, but it is basic. There is no store or restaurant on the island. While the Inn has running water, it is not potable, so drinking water must be carried in.

Unfortunately, during the unpacking of our car, the beer was left behind. My husband wasn’t very happy, but he couldn’t say anything because he’d forgotten his own beer. I pulled one beer out, a can I’d thrown into the cooler, the last one in the fridge, just before we left for our getaway. He took it, happy to have a beer, but still miffed that it would be his last until we left the island. I cheerfully reminded him we had rum and he could have mojitos.

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Okay. He could have rum and coke, too. I felt bad, but there really wasn’t any way to rectify the situation without paying $75 to take the ferry back to the mainland and I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Maybe next time I ask if he got everything out of the car, he won’t snap my head off. Or maybe not. Either way, I still love that old dog.

 

 

 

How a Dolphin Sinks a Boat in Sarasota

Dolphin Sinks Boat in Sarasota Bay

Houseboats and live-aboard yachts used to dot Sarasota’s bay front, an interesting mix of the very wealthy and the working poor, sometimes alcoholic-independent-usually-hippie who lived cheaply in a leaky tub that barely floats. The yachts came and went. The houseboats stayed. The worst of the wrecks have been removed from the bay front since Sarasota started enforcing regulations.

One of the older fishermen (dubbed the “Old Salt”), unlike the other owners of broken down barges, owned a fancy dinghy that he used to row to the pier’s bar at 8 am each morning. But on one particular morning, his routine was suddenly interrupted.

It was a beautiful morning. The dolphin were chasing bait fish through the bay, changing direction the instant they did, and leaping in graceful arches through the air in an effort to close the gap between them.

One of the dolphin leaped high in the air, still chasing the bait fish, and landed, with a loud smack, in the Old Salt’s dinghy. While the folks on the yachts watched, Old Salt tried to roll/pull/push the fish out.

Unfortunately, dolphin are very large and, while not particularly slippery, they’re smooth and bulky and hey, when you have a dolphin in your boat, you know you have a challenge on your hands. One of the men on one of the yachts finally rowed over in his matching rowboat to see what he if he could help.

The fish, of course, didn’t budge, so it was decided that Old Salt would have to sink his dinghy. He transferred his gear to the rowboat, pulled the plug on his dinghy, and climbed into his neighbor’s rowboat.

As the boat quickly took on water, the dolphin swam off without a backward glance, seemingly unaware of the precarious position it had just escaped. Droplets glistened and shone like diamonds as the fish swam away.

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The two men in the rowboat watched the dinghy, now well underwater, slowly sink out of sight.

The yacht owner started to row toward Old Salt’s tug, but he shook his head and pointed to the pier, in the direction of his favorite bar. The yacht owner shrugged, pulled the rowboat around, and headed for the dock.

I guess the moral of the story is that dolphin and yacht owners don’t give a boatload of water about an Old Salt’s assets.

As always, thanks for reading. Please feel free to invite all your friends to subscribe to my blog. A strong readership impresses potential agents!

 

Hunting Fossilized Shark’s Teeth at Caspersen Beach in Venice, Florida

For the Best hunting Ground for Fossilized Sharks Teeth, go to Caspersen Beach in Venice, FL

Caspersen Beach is people-friendly. The new walking trails, paved and unpaved, restroom/shower facilities and walkway have helped make the area even more welcoming to swimmers, sunbathers, fishing enthusiasts, and shell hunters alike.

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The handicap area is well shaded and the rocky shoreline gives way easily to the beach. Families with small children may find low tide to be less challenging for a swim. There is an ADA compliant playground in the pavilion area.

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Some dedicated “shellers” invest in a “Florida snow shovel”, a basket with a long metal arm for sifting through the sand. I’m not sure why the shark tooth hunting is so much better at Caspersen Beach in Venice, Florida, but it is. They are easy to find along the beach and scuba divers who go digging into the Gulf bottom are often rewarded with super-sized teeth as big as a man’s hand for their efforts.

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It takes a while for the eyes to adjust to the telltale gleam of a fossilized tooth of the ancient carcharodon megalodon, a fifty foot long shark that weighed more than a tyrannosaurus rex.

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The teeth are black because they have fossilized with age. The younger, white teeth, are often too hard to find. They are jumbled up in a swirl of seashells that wash ashore with every wave, at the shell ledge, where the tide coughs up its bounty: a confetti of glimmering silvers and whites, broken bits of shell, sometimes a tinge of pink or aqua, depending on the mollusk. A sliver of black streak on a clamshell looks no different from a shark’s tooth at first, but you learn to look for the shiny black that identifies the composite and then, of course, for the shape.

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The area is not without controversy. In 2010, nude sunbathers and those seeking a bit less exposure clashed over their rights and even the police departments could not agree on who had jurisdiction to sort the mess out. The controversy continues. The naturists hope to curry favor by making extra efforts such as organizing regular beach cleanups, but the law and the majority side with those who oppose a “clothing-optional” beach.

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Nature still has her way at Caspersen Beach. There are no gulfside motels and hotels lined up along the shore and the condominium crowd is found further inland. Left to her natural state, Caspersen has repaid visitors tenfold with a seemingly endless supply of shark’s teeth and shells, some from as far away as Australia, Mate. Even better, although the beach is popular, parking is plentiful and the beach is big enough to allow each visitor a sense of privacy. The rocks that protect the soft white sand are full of ever-changing tidal pools that bear exploring again and again as each new wave delivers fresh treasure. The water calls the swimmers and surfers closer, and the sun gently warms the soul. Who couldn’t fall in love with Caspersen’s allure?

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