Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ten Thousand Islands Wildlife Refuge, 12/26/2016

While searching for dog-friendly hikes in the area, I came across Marsh Trail in the Ten Thousand Islands Wildlife Refuge. We went on a boat tour (also dog-friendly) in the Ten Thousand Islands area of Everglades National Park from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center (which was very cool!)

This 2.5 mile round trip trail is about 30 miles from Bonita Springs (where we are staying) and allows dogs (leashed, of course). We packed a picnic lunch, plenty of water, bug spray, sunscreen, and hats, and left our site in late morning. 

Established in 1996, this 35,000-acre refuge protects a portion of the Ten Thousand Islands estuarine ecosystem. The habitats here include: 
  • Marshes - Both fresh (northern part of the refuge) and salt (southern part) marshes are found here.
  • Uplands - Hardwood hammocks that do not flood. Most are found on shell midden (mounds of mollusk shells left by Calusa people). 
  • Mangroves - These trees invade the salt marshes forming islands that provide the breeding grounds for commercial and recreational fish and shellfish.
  • Open water and seagrasses - Seagrasses are homes for manatees (although we did not see any today).
  • Barrier islands - These protect the estuaries of the Ten Thousand Islands area.
There are four trails here, but the Marsh Trail is dog-friendly and provides a glimpse of the area normally only accessible by water. 

boardwalk leads to the paved area of the trail. The observation tower is .25 miles from the parking lot and is great spot to observe wildlife. 

Here are some of the sights from the observation tower. 

After the observation tower, the trail becomes a gravel road that was used by the oil industry (yes, oil has been found and continues to be pumped out of this area). But there is abundant wildlife here among the mangrove tree islands

This alligator looks like he just ate a huge meal! Look at that belly...

We came upon a nesting area for great white egrets that was amazing. The loud call of these majestic birds was something I had never heard before. How many do you see in this photo?

As I stopped to take some photos of the waterfowl, John spotted this gator just a few feet away sunning on the bank of the estuary. Oh my! We were very careful to keep an eye out for them for fear that one might snatch Sadie. 

Many birds could be seen flying over the trail, but I loved this one of three pelicans in flight. 

This is one of the canoe/kayak launches along the Marsh Trail. These trees with red berries were everywhere along the trail, as were the delicate white flowers.

This trail is approximately 1.2 miles and then we retraced our steps back to the observation tower where we had lunch while enjoying the view. It is the only shaded place on the trail. 

In the center of the first photo is a tiny alligator just showing his head on the surface of the water. Nearby was a much larger one. 

This is one last scene of egrets as we made our way back to the parking lot. We saw hundreds of butterflies, but rarely did they alight long enough for me to snap a photo. This one's wings were translucent and quite beautiful.

The endangered Florida panther (about 100 in total in the refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve, and Everglades) also lives in the area, but they are very rarely seen. Nocturnal animals, their primary cause of death is automobile accidents (about 20 a year). Each has a large territory of about 200 acres and they prowl the perimeter. Fences along the roads steer them to pathways under the road to help keep them safe. 

This was a very enjoyable hike. There were some folks on the trail but not too many beyond the observation tower. The wildlife viewing of waterfowl and alligators was fantastic. And, the fact that it was dog-friendly made it a lot of fun for all of us. 

For additional information about things to do at the wildlife refuge, check out their website,

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas in Bonita Springs, FL, 12/24-25/2016

Friends often ask me if I decorate for Christmas in our RV, as our home in Nottingham, PA, was always filled with them. The answer is, yes, of course! Well, a very down-scaled version, that is.

Our stockings are hung in the hallway instead of the mantle; there is just one tiny nativity scene (made of olive wood, which I love); the mistletoe is hung at the doorway to our bedroom; my Lennox Santa still lights up; we have festive bathroom and kitchen towels I use during the season; a lovely ornament we got from John's sister the first year we were married; and, last, but not least, our tiny Christmas tree

On Christmas Eve we strolled through the RV park, Imperial Bonita Estates, where many homes in the village (permanent residences) and RVs here for the winter, were decoratedLuminaries lined the streets which made for a lovely scene.  

We also had Christmas lights that could be seen through the windshield and some exterior decorations as well.

Mostly we watched our favorite Christmas moviesIt's a Wonderful Life and Polar Express.

Christmas morning Sadie opened her presents (a new frisbee, toys, and treats) and we opened ours. Mostly, we buy gifts for our kids, but I always like to have some gifts for us to unwrap, too. Our biggest score of the season was 40 movie DVDs from Amanda. We watch movies when we have no TV reception (we do not have satellite) so we have been having a lot of fun seeing new ones (to us). Another favorite is this tiny, Bluetooth speaker. Now, it's very simple to have music outside of the RV, or anywhere for that matter.

This beautiful red-bellied woodpecker made an appearance next to our site which I took as a harbinger of happiness

We connected with our son and family via Face Time and then our daughter after that so we could be "with them" when they opened our gifts. Our grandson, Andrew (15-months old), had fun playing with the little remote-control car we sent him (the clothes are just too boring at that age!)  We put together this military shadowbox for them of medals awarded to John during his stint in the Army during the Vietnam era.

Amanda loved her new cookbook, guitar tuner, and other gifts (mostly clothes) that we sent. 

We had a nice, long visit with her hearing about her hectic theatre work during the holidays. It's crazy how many shows are crammed into the week before and after Christmas. We miss seeing her during holiday, but that's the deal when theatre is your career. Here's a holiday photo of the crew for Sweet Charity

A group of performers and crew from Blue Man Group went out together after their shows Christmas Eve for dinner, sang carols at church, bought small gifts/wrapped them/gave them to kids at the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center. The kids and their parents loved these random acts of kindness! She said it was a fantastic night with her extended family...colleagues from the show. 

Sadie had fun going to the dog park to play with her new frisbee before our Christmas dinner. 

After we stuffed ourselves with a delicious holiday ham and all the fixings, we watched another Christmas favorite, Love Actually, and reminisced about Christmases past. It was a fun day and we hope your Christmas was wonderful as well. 

May the New Year bring you good health, good fortune and all that you desireHappy holidays from our family to yours.