Temperature: Max 24oC
With the week winding up I was itching to get on the boats early in the morning to catch a sunrise in the mangroves. Myself and Katie set our alarms early and managed to get on the water while the sun was still rising which gave some amazing views over the mangroves. Because of the time and the lack of company we were hoping to see more wildlife than the first time we had used the boats, however we saw nothing we hadn’t seen on our last trip. Despite this we did have a close encounter with a rather ferocious looking coconut in the water (which we believed was an alligator).
After coming across a rather beautiful IO moth (Automeris io) at the field station we set off towards Lovers Key State Park. The state park consists of 1,616 acres of barrier islands including; Lovers Key, Black Island, Inner and Long Key which is run by the Florida Park Service.
Brief history of Lovers Key
Lovers Key was only accessible by boat until 1965 and so was named this due to its secluded location and so visits by young lovers.
In the 1960’s and 70’s the island was earmarked for development. Preparations for this damaged the natural mangrove habitats and included the dredging of a canal system. In 1983 the state acquired the islands which merged with the adjacent Carl E. Johnson County Park to become the “Lovers Key Carl E. Johnson State Park”. The area is open to visitors for a variety of recreational activities such as; swimming, kayaking, cycling, fishing and interestingly “shelling”.
As we first arrived in the park we crossed a bridge where we saw two manatees (Trichechus manatus) swimming towards us, a mother and a calf. What I found interesting was the shape of the tail fin which I had expected would be shaped similarly to a dugong tail but it was in fact a rounded paddle shape. I sketched this in my field notebook.
We continued around the key and came across two eastern screech owls (Megascops asio) in two hollows of a tree. This we were told was a spot where the owls were seen each year.
Two interesting plant species that we had not seen up to this point were the Grey Nickernut (Caesalpinia bolduc) which produced a smooth whiteish seed is used to make jewellery and crafts. And secondly the gumbo limbo tree (Bursera simaruba), an interesting looking tree with red peeling bark. It is fittingly known as the tourist tree (which made a lot more sense by the time that we had left the beach looking a little redder than we had done when we arrived).
My highlight of the Key was witnessing a belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) diving into the water for a fish, this was something that I had never witnessed before which was impressive to watch.
We later headed to the beach and came across many washed up red mangrove propagules (Rhizophora mangle) and many washed up shells along the tide line. These included the interesting looking Fargo’s worm shell (Vermicularia fargoi), the turkey wing ark clam (Arca zebra ) and the shark eye shell (Neverita duplicate).
Once back at Vester we went for a meal in Bonita Springs and packed up our belongings ready for the long drive back to Orlando in the morning.