Tidewater Tours provides a 2-hour boat tour of the outer islands of the Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge that we took today ($26/per person). The refuge was established in 1929 with a primary purpose to serve as breeding grounds for colonial nesting birds. It consists of 13 offshore islands ranging from 1 to 165 acres.
Our guide had a wealth of knowledge regarding the wildlife in the area as well as historical information about the islands. We saw dolphins, migratory birds, fiddler crabs, and a bald eagle (with a huge nest and baby). The tour included a stop at one island (North Island) where we explored a shell covered beach in a small cove.
Dolphins: After spotting several dolphins in the distance, our guide pursued them and waited for them to appear near our boat. When they did, he took off and the dolphins followed in our wake. It was amazing to be so near these beautiful animals. And observe there sheer power in swimming, jumping, and diving. It was a real thrill. A couple of (not so great) photos.
Migratory birds: We saw a large flock of white pelicans (much larger in size than the more common brown pelican). They appear to be all white, but have black on their wings that is visible when they fly. We were able to get quite close to them on a sandbar along North Island and the sight of them taking flight was breathtaking.
Bald eagle: There are 17 known bald eagles in the wildlife refuge. We were lucky enough to see one near his huge nest...and a baby poking his/her head out of the nest. The nest is in the V of the large tree in the center. The eagle is on a branch below and to the right of the nest.
North Island: Following are some photos of the cove where we stopped.
Conch shell (the beach was literally covered with shells of all types and sizes with small fiddler crabs running in between them).:
Lambs Quarters (wild spinach) - this is an edible plant that can be used in lieu of spinach in salads or as a cooked vegetable.
Check out the roots of the trees...the water has washed away the soil underneath them.
View of Atsena Otie Key dock: This island was the original town of Cedar Key. Before Tampa and Miami, this was the only port on the Gulf. In 1839 during the Second Seminole War an Army supply depot and hospital were built on the island. In the mid-1800s commerical business began: a sawmill, broom factory and the pencil mill. Today it is uninhabited but visitors can access the island by boat and a boardwalk has been constructed to enable visitors to explore the island. Poisonous snakes abound on all of the islands, so visitors are advised to be cautious and avoid the thick forest areas.
Views of Cedar Key restaurants from the Gulf
The dock master (brown pelican).
We both really enjoyed our time on the water today. We learned a lot more about the area and loved seeing the wildlife.