For the last 6 months Blonde and Brunette have been talking about taking one of Rookery Bay’s educational boat trips. And we did, when it was 90 degrees and one day before the trips end until November.
Rookery Bay Reserve is a very cool research center between Naples and Marco Island in Southwest Florida. Their mission statement is:
“… to provide a basis for informed stewardship of estuaries in Southwest Florida through research and education.“
It is not about meeting Mickey Mouse, wrestling a ‘gator, living la vida loca or even shooting anything (except for pictures). We want you to know places such as this exist in Florida. Rookery Bay has a really great educational center, many interesting programs and kayak and boat trips. These are all part of their outreach to help people see why and how they need to care about and protect the native environment of Florida.
Rookery Bay Reserve covers a wide range. It’s 26 miles long, 10,000 acres and extends all the way to the Everglades. On our boat trip the captain, Randy, stopped to pick up another volunteer, Allison, who lives off the grid on Little Marco Island. He also showed us the coastline nearby Keeywadin Island where Joe Biden’s brother recently purchased a home.
Little Marco and Keeywadin are very lightly populated, well under 20 homes on each, and residents can only access their property by boat; there aren’t any roads. They have to do without or create their own electricity and water supply, go to the mainland for food or any other kind of shopping and really like their privacy.
Allison and her husband built their own home and spend about half the year in it. Most properties have caretakers when the owners are away but, as the homes are all built on 13 foot stilts off the ground, they have been very fortunate in avoiding serious damage from hurricanes or Florida politicians.
As we had our hats blown off boating over to ‘Treasure Island” we passed the usual nests of osprey chicks. Ospreys populate at a rate that the Duggars probably envy. The ospreys in Southwest Florida are about the only species in the area that doesn’t migrate in the summer. They (like Blonde) are year-round residents.
Once we reached “Treasure Island” (we are discreetly not using the real name of the island as it’s off limits to the public and we don’t want a bunch of yahoos finding it and setting up a Starbucks) we disembarked for an hour and a half walk. Randy and Allison took turns trying to educate us as we tried not to perish in the heat and with our (stupid) lack of water. Fortunately, the island is a tropical hardwood hammock which means that it’s shady and dominated by large oaks with many long branches that form a canopy.
The picture above is a three-in-one shot. On the left are tiny curled up ferns, some greenish and some more brownish. They are called “resurrection ferns” because they can lose up to 75% of their water in a drought and still survive. They just sort of close up, turn brown and then when the rain comes they open up and are bright green. Hence the “resurrection” name which Blonde, the theologian of this blogging team must note, is a misnomer, as they never really die.
Slightly to the right you see a clump of small bright red berries. Clearly Christians provided the common names for the plants seen here as these are called “rosary peas”. In the “fun facts” category these peas are so uniform in size and weight that they are used as standards in weight measurement. They are also used to make jewelry and to kill people. The peas are so toxic that ingesting just one can kill a person. (So if you have a necklace made of these don’t chew on it.)
The rosary pea isn’t a native species to Florida. It was brought in as an ornamental plant and now has run amuck and become an invasive and very rude species in Florida. Unfortunately, birds don’t find the seeds to be toxic so they keep on merrily spreading this nuisance all over the place.
And finally, to the right, is a sort of grassy looking plant growing out of the branch. That’s a type of epiphyte. Epiphytes normally grow on other plants for support. They aren’t parasites though, they’re just using the branch as a host not destroying it. There were also some cactus in the forest that were types of epiphytes.
Poison beads and now the largest known Southern Yellow-jacket nest were beginning to give the island a dangerous persona. Or was it our heatstroke and dehydration?
Just so we don’t leave you with the impression that all non-native plants are bad here is a Tropical Almond Tree which is originally from the West Indies but lives happily and plays nicely with plants that are native to Southwest Florida. It also is very confusing because it makes you think you’ve somehow wandered into a fall foliage display in late April.
Randy manfully led us back to the boat where Brunette enjoyed a sudden burst of popularity due to having had the sense to bring a package of Fig Newtons on the trip. After three hours we were all hot, hungry and thirsty and she sold them to us for only $10 apiece which seemed reasonable at the time….
The ride back was windy – which was very popular after the heat. – We saw a manatee and lots of jumping fish. Despite our depleted condition we really enjoyed the trip and want to tell you to have the sense to carry your water with you on the walk even if it means you have to take a bush break and make your own contribution to the environment.
The Rookery Bay Reserve is well worth checking out if you’re going to be in Southwest Florida. If you have kids you can all learn something that isn’t on a mobile device (other than a boat). What an opportunity!