May 7, 2011

5/5/11 – Sanibel Island & J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR

My cousin Charlotte told me about Sanibel Island, famous with sea shell collectors all over the place.   It’s a barrier island on the Gulf Coast of Florida, just west of Fort Myers.  There’s a causeway to get there ($6 eastbound only).  We stopped at the Visitors Center, a multi-colored bungalow.  Someone there’s got a great sense of humor:
First stop was Sanibel Island Lighthouse—didn’t stay long because all the beach parking is metered at $2/hour!  One cool thing the lady at the Visitors Center told us is that the City of Sanibel has a lottery and the winner gets to live in the Keeper's Quarters for two years, in exchange for maintaining the grounds.  Wouldn't that be cool?
There’s a National Wildlife Refuge there too, and of course, we stopped (free parking).  J.N. “Ding” Darling was a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist who was very active in the conservation movement, including the establishment of the Sanibel NWR, now renamed after him. 
We took the one-way wildlife drive through the mangroves and along the tidal flats.  There were egrets and herons, and lots of other long-legged birds.  There were also lots of bicyclists--besides seashelling, the big thing to do on Sanibel is ride bikes along the trail.  Florida's totally flat so it's not much of an effort. 
After getting our fill of that we continued north to Captiva Island where we had lunch, then headed south to Bowman Beach.   We only had enough quarters to spend an hour there, so we hustled to the beach.  Best time for shelling is in the winter, after a storm, when there’s a full moon, at low tide.  We were there on a sunny spring day at high tide with the moon barely past new.   We tried anyway.  There are shells laying around all over!  At low tide, you see more, and you can get in the water a few feet out and sift through the sand. 
I didn’t find any conch or whelk shells, but I found some pretty calico scallops and some cockle shells.   George actually found the best shells.  He found a Juvenile Southern Quahog,which has little zig-zag markings on it.  
I’d love to go back and do more beachcombing.  I want BIG shells! 
If you want to see more shells we found, check out the link.  Sanibel Island

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