“Sunshine State”??…not when we were there! During the first week in June, Bridget and I took the kids to the Fort Myers Beach/Estero Beach area for a mini-family reunion for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. Though we only saw the sun for a grand total of 15 minutes in our six days and survived a blow from Tropical Storm Andrea (60 mph winds, torrential rain…Whitecaps in the pool!), WE ALL HAD A BLAST and I did manage to get out and shoot a bit. I visited the Estero Beach Lagoon behind the Holiday Inn several times, and Bridget and I did some hiking at Lovers Key State Park, exploring the Red Mangrove thickets and wooded hammocks.
Cuban Brown Anolis sagrei Anole Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4204Though the CUBAN BROWN ANOLE (Anolis sagrei) is a fascinating creature, it is an alien here, introduced to the U.S. in the 1970s, and is sadly crowding out the native Green Anole (and will eat them too!). This male is showing his orange-red dewlap…a common feature of lizards and anoles which is used for several reasons…1) to make itself look bigger and to warn off predators, and 2) to impress the ladies during mating season.

Mangrove Tree Crab Aratus pisonii Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4189MANGROVE TREE CRABS (Aratus pisonii) are gorgeous residents of mangroves in south Florida…This species was a lifer for me, and we saw MANY at Lovers Key State Park just south of Fort Myers Beach. Native to Florida and south to northern Brazil (on the Atlantic) and to Peru on the Pacific side. They migrate vertically in the mangrove trees, remaining higher up during high tide and then coming down to beach level at low tide. This was one of the bigger ones at 2-inches across.

Zebra Longwing Heliconius charitonius Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4210An old friend, The ZEBRA LONGWING (Heliconius charitonius) is a fairly common butterfly of south Florida, and I’ve seen them on every trip. Don’t you love it when large stunning critters are actually common! This one was nectaring at a butterfly garden in Lovers Key State Park.

Snowy Egret Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4183SNOWY EGRETS are very common birds in south Florida, and can even be seen foraging in the surf line on busy beaches. This bird is still sporting its feathery finest with delicate plumes blowing in the ocean breeze. Lovers Key State Park.

Mangrove Periwinkle Littorina angulifera Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4430Sea shells are not the only shells along the beach. Terrestrial snails also have beautiful shells. This is the MANGROVE PERIWINKLE (Littoria angulifera) found at the Estero Beach Lagoon in, what else, a Mangrove!

Mangrove Periwinkles Littorina angulifera Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4401 A group of MANGROVE PERIWINKLES (Littoria angulifera). Note the variation in shell patterns.

White Ibis Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4322WHITE IBIS at Estero Beach Lagoon. Check out those blue eyes! Mainly found in the Gulf Coast states in the U.S.

White Ibis Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4318WHITE IBIS at Estero Beach Lagoon. They used that wicked curved bill to pluck crayfish and other crustaceans from water and mud and grass. Will also occasionally eat insects and small fish.

flower Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4252Bridget pointed out this unfurling wildflower in Lovers Key.

Basilica Orbweaver Mecynogea lemniscota Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4234The BASILICA ORBWEAVER (Mecynogea lemniscota) builds a very complex web. In fact, its common name comes from the basilica-like dome it creates by pulling up its horizontal orb web with guy threads (visible in the photo). Native to wetland woods in the SE U.S.

Sea Grape Coccoloba uvifera Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4227SEA GRAPE (Coccoloba uvifera) is a distinctive and common plant of beach dunes and wetland woods. Because of its high tolerance to salt, it is an important dune stabilizer of Florida beaches. Grape-like clusters of fruit hang in bunches and are edible once they ripen red. You can even make jams and jellies out of the fruit.

Lined Tree Snail Drymaeus multilineatus Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4205LINED TREE SNAIL (Drymaeus multilineatus) is another attractive mollusk of the wetland forests.

[All photos taken with Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 lens or Tamron 100mm f2 macro, handheld.]

NEXT POST: FLORIDA PART 2—BEACH LIFE

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